Feds show continued support for small fruits research

October 3, 2003

CORVALLIS - Small fruits are big business and support many small farms in the Northwest. In 2002, the farmgate value of berries and wine grapes was $109 million in Oregon alone, according to Bernadine Strik, Extension berry crops professor in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University.

"It's crops like blueberries, marionberries and other high-value cane berries and wine grapes that sustain small-acreage family farms," said Strik, berry crops specialist with the OSU Extension Service and faculty member of OSU's Horticulture Department.

"Small fruits, on relatively small acreages, are big business and crucial to the quality of life in western Oregon, especially the Willamette Valley," she added.

Processed, small fruits were worth about $350 million in 2002, said Strik. Overall these products had an estimated gross economic impact of $900 million.

The Pacific Northwest congressional delegation, with the special support of U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, recently announced funding of $397,000 for the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research (NCSFR) in Corvallis, for the fiscal year 2004.

"These funds are of immense benefit to Oregon's small fruit industry," said Strik. "They'll help OSU, and the berry and wine industry to stay competitive globally. In addition, MCSRR funds can often leverage dollars from other granting agencies including grower organizations or commissions."

The NCSFR, housed adjacent to the Oregon State campus, is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and conducts collaborative research in genetics, pest management, berry and grape processing, production, physiology and wine.

The center is a consortium Oregon State University, Washington State University and University of Idaho Agricultural Experiment Stations and Extension Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service and Oregon, Washington, Idaho grape and berry growers and industries.

"It is not just one center," said Strik. "It's a consortium of people, industries, programs and research stations working in unison to meet common goals."

The NCSFR, established in 1990, provides a forum for Northwest small fruits producers, processors and wineries to share problems, determine priorities and direct federal grant dollars that augment state funded programs to create research solutions. It is nationally recognized for its unique approach of unifying organizations with a common goal.

Research findings and new varieties developed through the work at NCSFR and OSU have helped berry and wine grape growers improve the economics of their operations.

Successes include research on high-density plant spacing in blueberries, including using trellises.

"The economic gains from trellising in blueberries are astounding," Strik said. "We've found that machine-harvest losses are reduced 3 percent to 8 percent of total yield each year. In a mature blueberry planting, that can mean an extra 1,000 pounds of fruit per acre that you are retaining.

"At 50 cents a pound," she added, "you've paid for the cost of installing the trellis for a 30-year planting in one year."

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Bernadine Strik