Cream of the Crop

Innovators, Trailblazers Amid Blueberry Hall of Fame’s Inaugural Class

The Florida Blueberry Growers Association is proud to announce the initiation of a Florida Blueberry Hall of Fame. The Florida Blueberry Hall of Fame, located in Gainesville, will honor leaders who’ve made significant contributions to the industry. 

Five individuals will be inducted into the inaugural Hall of Fame class: Dr. Paul Lyrene of Gainesville, Mr. Jimmy Miller of Interlachen, Dr. Alto Straughn of Archer, Prof. Ralph Sharpe (deceased) formerly of Gainesville, and Mr. Ken Patterson of Ocala.

  • Dr. Paul Lyrene developed and patented 31 blueberry cultivars during his 32-year tenure at the UF blueberry breeding program. His cultivars had increased yields of larger, higher quality berries, improved disease resistance and field survival, increased shelf life and firmer berries. His focus on low-chill varieties that ripen early gave Florida growers an economic advantage and was the basis for the rapid growth experienced by the Florida blueberry industry in the past 20 years. 

  • Jimmy Miller began commercially growing blueberries in 1979. Over the years, he developed and shared with other growers and with the university much information on the art of freeze protection, the use of hydrogen cyanamide, the importance of cross pollination, and the strengths and weaknesses of new varieties after they were released. Miller Blueberry Nursery has been one of the most reliable sources of high-quality blueberry plants in Florida. 

  • Ken Patterson began growing u-pick blueberries and blackberries in north Georgia in the mid-1980s. In 1990, Ken and his family relocated to the Hawthorne area of north-central Florida. He merged with a nearby company to form Island Grove Ag Products, where he became the managing partner. Island Grove Ag Products continued to expand and made a substantial investment in a new farm near Arcadia in southwest Florida that required the development of new cultural practices today known as “evergreen production.” Patterson worked closely with the UF blueberry breeding program to help accelerate the release of new cultivars. 

  • Professor Ralph Sharpe was instrumental in the release of the first so-called “southern highbush” cultivars that permitted early-season production in Florida and other warm areas. His work represented a breakthrough for future cultivar development that has fueled a new industry based on low-chill, early ripening, blueberry cultivars grown in Florida and other warm climates worldwide. 

  • Dr. Alto Straughn pioneered the use of computers to enhance Extension’s response to client needs. He initiated the industry’s move away from rabbiteye varieties to more profitable early ripening southern highbush varieties. Many blueberry production practices common today were developed and proven to be successful for blueberries by Dr. Straughn. He was instrumental in the success of the UF blueberry breeding program .

The Hall of Fame dinner celebration will be October 24 in Howey-in-the-Hills. Visit for more information. 

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