AURORA, Ore. - With record yields, increasing acreage, good demand, new discoveries about health-enhancing phytonutrients and good prices, interest in blueberries is up. And it shows.
A big crowd of blueberry growers, processors and field representatives from the Pacific Northwest, California, Europe and South America showed up for Oregon State University's recent blueberry field day at its North Willamette Research and Extension Center.
They came to hear the latest about OSU and U.S. Department of Agriculture research findings and management issues, and to check out the latest in equipment, techniques and varieties.
Orchestrated by OSU berry crops professor Bernadine Strik and her colleagues at the OSU research center, the event featured talks by OSU Agricultural Experiment Station and USDA-ARS researchers and Extension Service faculty. Among the highlights:
OSU is starting research on organic methods for blueberry production at the North Willamette station, Strik says.
"We have a few very successful organic blueberry growers in the Pacific Northwest, but there has been very little research on organic production methods in this crop," she said. "Growers, organic and more conventional, have asked for help. We are not comparing conventional methods of growing blueberries to organic methods; we know how to grow blueberries and what it costs. Our goal is to find the best and most cost effective methods of fertilization and weed management, organically approved, to produce the best blueberry possible."
Wei Yang, OSU berry crops Extension faculty reported on his work on the effect of sawdust on nitrogen requirements of blueberry plants. "Mulch is good," he said. "Sawdust is beneficial to young plants. The roots do best in heavy soil amended with sawdust. And sawdust can be used to rejuvenate plantings."
Fertility and soil management research in newly established 'Elliot' blueberry showed that sawdust incorporated before planting to a good silt loam soil, actually reduced blueberry growth, while mulching was beneficial, explained Linda White, of the Coos and Curry County office of the OSU Extension Service.
Irrigation studies at OSU's Lewis-Brown Horticultural Research Farm in Corvallis compared sprinklers, drip and microsprays (raised smaller emitters that sprinkle individual plants) on newly planted fields of Duke and Elliot blueberries. Strik, USDA-ARS's David Bryla and Robert Lindeman have two years of results, showing that drip watering can be more efficient, if plants are disease-free. If they are not, drip can contribute to root rot. They plan on at least three more years of work measuring crop growth, water use, yield and fruit quality before the studies will be complete.
The most common irrigation method for Northwest blueberry growers is overhead sprinklers. Drip takes half the amount of water than sprinkling does, and microspray falls somewhere between in water use, said Bryla.
OSU blueberry researchers are conducting on-farm research on the use of grow tubes to establish blueberries. The tubes, much like the grow tubes forestry uses for planting trees, protect the young blueberry plants from adjacent herbicide control for weeds. So far, early results show that the tubes make the blueberries grow taller, but plants have a smaller crown and root system than plants without tubes. Further on-farm research with OSU is underway at Pan-American Farms near Salem.
Azalea bark scale is a new pest identified on northern Oregon blueberries, explained Vaughn Walton, the new entomologist in OSU's Department of Horticulture. Walton led growers out into the field to show them how to identify this new hard-to-see pest.
"Damage to blueberries will be due to unsightly honeydew that the scale excretes, which fosters sooty mold, a black-fungus."
Walton encouraged growers to scout for this pest and keep it from spreading. Proper pruning, insect growth regulating hormones and dormant oil applications will help combat the spread of the pest as well, he said.
In ongoing variety trials with USDA-ARS researchers in Corvallis, OSU's North Willamette station and Washington State University, hundreds of selections and varieties of blueberries have been evaluated over the decades. Each year, these researchers collect data, eventually eliminating all but the standout blueberry varieties. Recent new releases from Michigan State University that have performed well very here are Liberty, Aurora and Draper. These varieties are being widely planted by growers in the Pacific Northwest.
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