Good Fruit Grower

December 2012

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COLD AIR DRAIN Frost Protection ® WILD roots B lueberries were not cultivated as a crop until the 1900s. Wild blueberries were native to many parts of North America, but were concentrated in Maine and the Atlantic coastline north and east across Canada. There they were—and still are—called low- bush blueberries. Maine has nearly 25,000 acres of them, most of the U.S. lowbush crop. About a century ago, a New Jersey agricultural specialist, Elizabeth Coleman White, began a collaboration with USDA researcher Frank Coville to develop a commercial blueberry from wild varieties. White worked on her father's cranberry farm and gradually converted it to blueberries. She offered cash for wild blueberry plants that had large fruit. Coville's breeding work resulted in the variety Rubel, from which many of the current cul- tivars originate. Coville released 14 of the 18 new varieties released between 1910 to 1942. Many of his varieties are still grown today. Modern varieties grown in plantations are highbush varieties, taller than the more creeping wild berries. While New Jersey was the first state to grow cultivated highbush blueberries, Michigan entered the business in the 1930s, finding the blueberry well adapted to the flat, sandy- peaty, naturally acidic soils along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It quickly became the nation's largest producer. But the berry also crept south, across Georgia and Florida, led mainly by the efforts of USDA breeders, who still churn out new varieties for the Gulf states. After World War II, blueberries went west into the peat soils of western Washington and Oregon. Growers in California, working with Fall Creek Nursery in Oregon, did the pioneering CO T E COST EFFECT POWERFUL! VERSATILE! ATIL CTIVE! Most system Minima ma No maintenance contracts. StatState-o theoff-the-art pro Size & power mal site prep. Fuel efficient. ance mss have a 100% re Fu Targeted protection for frost pockets, swales, slopes, valleys, etc. Use alone or with wind machines, water, or heaters. r o options avai ab r fr ailable to mee cke meet your needs. wal FREE COMPUTERIZED FROST ANALYSIS & PRICE QUOTE! SHuR FARMS® Frost Protection 1890 N. 8th Street, Colton, CA 92324 877.842.9688 or 909.825.2035 c. 100% payback rac ropeller sends co ack i in the firs cold air rst year r u up ap ar. approximately 300 ft. applied research needed to adapt blueberries to desert conditions. That research ulti- mately led to plantings on the dry side of Washington and Oregon, Fall Creek owner David Brazelton said. Improved Breeding has provided improved varieties that have high quality and flavor, Brazelton said, and the production and marketing season has been greatly lengthened. Not only have new varieties lengthened the season in traditional production areas, but new pro- duction areas in the South and in California brought blueberries into the stores earlier. Now, counter-seasonal production in the Southern Hemisphere has made blueberries into a near year-round fruit. "Blueberries are easy to grow if you give them exactly what they want," Brazelton said, tongue in cheek. Growers in many areas have been able to find exactly what that is. Blue- berries hate wet feet, but are shallow-rooted and very sensitive to drought. They like very acid conditions. In the South, growers learned to create these conditions by putting them on ridges for drainage, providing trickle irrigation for water, and using pine bark to increase organic matter in the soil and conserve moisture. "Areas of growing and consuming are both expanding," Brazelton said. Poland, he believes, "is on the edge of cold hardiness," and Russia may be too cold. Still, breeding has overcome many of these barriers in other fruits, and breeding has overcome other barriers in blueberries. "New varieties have been the lifeblood of the blueberry business, especially in the at upcoming tradeshows near you! at upcom m tradesh near yo h o 56 DECEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER BLUEBERRY ACREAGE is growing in Washington State A bout a decade ago, blueberries jumped the Cascade Mountains and entered the tree fruit country of eastern Washington State. This year, about 30 percent of the blueberries in Washington were grown on the eastern side, and that percentage will rise to half in five years. That's according to Alan Schreiber, director of the Washington Blueberry Commission in Eltopia, Washington. There are about 10,000 acres of blueberries in the state. "Washington is one of the fastest-growing production areas in the country," he said. The state produced about 60 million pounds last year, ranking as the sixth largest producing state. Years ago, no one would have predicted that blueberries would move into east- ern Washington. The high pH soils are exactly the opposite of what acid-loving blueberries want, so soils need to be intensively modified with addition of acid- forming sulfur. But blueberries respond well to managed irrigation, since they like it neither too wet nor too dry. Traditionally, on the west side, blueberries are grown by growers of brambles and other berries, Schreiber said. They are grown for processing and harvested by machine. But on the east side, growers are mostly tree fruit producers, and they are using their packing facilities to bring blueberries into the fresh market. These berries are picked by hand. Some of the large vertically integrated tree fruit com- panies, such as Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, and Zirkle Fruit Company in Selah, are handling blueberries. Fresh-market blueberries are labor-intensive, Schreiber said. For apple grow- ers, blueberries come in early, in June, and provide a longer season for workers. But for the sweet cherry industry, blueberries compete for workers. As blueberry acreage grows and labor supplies shrink, the cherry industry could be hurt by the easier-to-pick blueberries. —R. Lehnert V isit uVisit us West," he said. Fall Creek works with breeders all over the country looking for new vari- eties that work commercially, and the company works all over the world. In addition to propagating varieties from public breeding programs, Fall Creek has a breeding program of its own. —R. Lehnert

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