May 21

Weed, Water, and Nutrient Management Practices for Organic Blackberry Production

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Blackberry production test plot at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center

Oregon’s berry crop industry is diverse and economically important. In 2011, about 23,000 acres on over 1000 family farms were harvested for a farm gate value of more than $123 M. Blackberry acreage continues to grow with new growers requiring basic information and existing growers struggling to remain economically viable in a global market. Growers require knowledge on production and physiology questions in order to make educated decisions that will improve farm profitability and sustainability. We seek to assist growers wishing to establish or transition into organic berry production make educated decisions and improve economic viability and sustainability.

To our knowledge, ours is the only organic study in the world on blackberry for processing. The long-term goal of this work is to develop best irrigation, fertigation and weed management practices in organic machine-harvested blackberry bound for processing, best management practices for fresh blackberry production, and an understanding of the healthful properties of blackberry fruit. With NIFA-OREI funding totaling $2.5 M, the support of Oregon and Washington Berry Commissions, and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research, we have developed organic production systems trials on organically-certified land at an OSU research station (NWREC) and at two grower-cooperator sites (in Oregon and North Carolina).

With grower input, information gained from this study is allowing us to develop an organic blackberry cost of production guide. Some of our findings will benefit all blackberry growers by promoting sustainability and environmental quality. We are gathering science-based information on the effectiveness of organic weed management techniques, the importance of post-harvest irrigation, fertigation, and primocane management on processed, machine-harvested, organic blackberries. We are also collaborating with research and extension colleagues at NCSU to develop fresh blackberry production systems and determine the effect of production system and cultivar on the healthful properties of fruit.

Weeds are a significant problem in all organic production systems. Oregon blueberry growers have readily adopted our findings in the use of landscape fabric in new plantings. Implementation of the practice has increased from less than 10% of the newly planted acres in 2006 to more than 80% of the new acreage in 2010. We will see whether blackberry growers likewise adopt this practice. Should similar positive effects of landscape fabric on plant growth and yield be noted, increased use of landscape fabric will likely lead to reduced herbicide application in organic and conventional plantings. Organic production systems are thought to be better for the environment in that use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited; run off and leaching of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to water sources simply does not occur. This project is working with the eOrganic staff to enhance outreach and disseminate findings.