Finn: The berry processing industry in Oregon goes back well over a hundred years, and during much of that time there’s been a dynamic relationship with USDA and OSU working together with growers and nurserymen, all building the highest quality industry.
Strik: Historically, our berries have been used primarily in processing, but recently there’s been a shift toward fresh markets and new cultivars adapted to organic systems. It’s a global market, whether fresh or processed.
Finn: The biggest challenge to breeding new cultivars for all these crops is meeting constantly increasing standards for a variety of industries. For example, blackberry growers have long wanted a thornless, cold-hardy berry that can be machine-harvested and tastes as good as Marion. We’ve just released Columbia Star, which seems to satisfy all those criteria. In the case of strawberries, we’re working to expand markets with cultivars that ripen over a longer season and that are more efficient to pick, because labor can be expensive with berry crops.
Strik: The partnership of horticulturist and plant breeder allows us to have larger plots of advanced selections grown to industry standards at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center. There, we can evaluate selections based on yield and fruit quality, and also on labor costs, end uses, and economics. Industry input and financial support from the various berry commissions are critical to the program’s success.
Finn: The berry breeding program benefits from a tremendous amount of collaboration, in horticulture, plant pathology, food science, and industry support. We work with state and federal scientists in breeding programs in Washington and Canada. There’s no other program like this in the world. That’s another reason we’ve been so successful.