May 21

Organic Blueberry Production Systems in Oregon

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Organic blueberry production trials at Oregon State University's 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. Organic blueberry acreage in the USA increased from 480 acres in 2003 to 1,950 acres in 2008. Blueberry acreage continues to grow with new growers requiring basic information and existing growers struggling to remain economically viable in a global market. 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 whole systems, organically certified study in highbush blueberry in the world. The long-term goal of this work is to develop organic production systems for highbush blueberry that maximize plant growth and yield; facilitate weed, water and nutrient management; and provide economic benefit to growers. With NIFA-OREI funding totaling $494,600, the support of Oregon and Washington Berry Commissions, and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research, we have developed organic production systems with similar yield and production costs to conventional systems.

With grower input, information gained from this study has allowed us to develop a blueberry economics publication for organic production. Some of our findings will benefit all blueberry growers by promoting sustainability and environmental quality. The organic blueberry work already is producing short term benefits and is expected to have significant long-term benefits for growers.

Weeds are a significant problem in all organic production systems. Oregon blueberry growers have readily adopted our findings in the use of landscape fabric for weed control 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. The positive effects of landscape fabric on plant growth and yield will likely lead to reduced herbicide application in organic and conventional plantings alike. 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 NIFA-OREI funded work indicates greater yield from minimized fertilizer use benefiting the grower and the environment. In addition, maximizing fertilizer and irrigation efficiency will likely be of environmental benefit. This project has used eOrganic to enhance outreach and disseminate findings.