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Summer Berries

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Oregon berries are the best in their class.
marionberries
Marionberries were named after Marion County, Oregon, where most of the world's supply is still grown. Photo courtesy of the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission.

Under the warm touch of the summer sun, Oregon berries put their sugars into full production. At night the cool air allows relatively little respiration and few of the precious sugars are lost. Colors deepen. The berries ripen slowly and are picked only when absolutely ready.

No place else on earth produces berries quite this good, according to Bernadine Strik. And since Strik began work as an OSU Extension specialist and berry crops research leader, no place else on Earth produces berries as abundantly as Oregon.

The consumer market for Oregon berries exploded in the mid 1990s when blueberries and blackberries were rated as one of nature’s best sources of antioxidants, offering healthy benefits for the cardiovascular system along with luscious taste and purple tongues. OSU researchers stepped in to help growers meet the new demand.

When Strik first walked through rows of commercial blueberries, she saw wide-open spaces between plants, some as broad as five feet.

Yields were good. But Strik figured they could be better with tighter spacing, particularly in young fields. She set out to demonstrate that blueberry bushes planted closer in the row produced the most berries per acre, even when fields are mature. The narrowest spacing had yields almost 100 percent higher than the standard spacing. With this simple innovation, Oregon blueberry growers now produce the highest yield per acre in the world, in an industry worth $67 million a year in Oregon.

barefoot strawberry pickers by istock
blueberry conveyor
Oregon is one of the nation's top producers of berries. Among the most productive counties are Clackamas, Marion, and Washington, where berry fields share the landscape with growing metropolitan areas.

Blueberries have eclipsed strawberries as Oregon’s signature berry crop. Oregon still produces superior strawberries with excellent color and great flavor. But in 1955, when bobby-sox teens provided much of the harvest labor, commercial Oregon strawberries covered 17,500 acres, in contrast with about 1,900 harvested acres last year. The marketplace recognized superior quality; in wholesale processed fruit markets Oregon berries fetch nearly 20 cents per pound more than California berries.

And what about blackberries? There’s more to enjoy beyond wild roadside hedges. In 1956, George Waldo, a berry breeder with the U.S. Department of Agriculture working with Oregon State College horticulturists, developed a superior blackberry and named it after Marion County, where the berry had been extensively tested and where most of the world’s marionberries are still grown.

The marionberry grows on long trailing vines with fruit that is considered to be tastier and juicier than other blackberries. There’s still a drawback, however, and the cooperative breeding program continues with the goal to create blackberries that are thornless. In addition, Strik and her colleagues are developing organic production systems for both blueberries and blackberries. Their work is helping Oregon berries be the best in the world; Oregon’s climate does the rest.


Web resources

Northwest Berry & Grape Information Network