New cultivars, swings in production offer challenges to regional growers
By STEVE BROWN
Global markets for raspberries and blackberries have shifted in recent years as demand has increased, industry members say.
Serbia had an especially good raspberry crop last summer, so those berries went to Europe, and South American berries that would have gone there came to the U.S., Paul Askier of Berry Brokers International said. But because most South American berries are from older plantings they are "crumbly" and primarily used for juices and concentrates.
Growers are also moving into Mexico, where much of the fresh-market raspberries and blackberries come from in the winter.
Some British Columbia growers even pulled out blueberries and planted raspberries, he said.
British Columbia and northwest Washington are the main source of raspberries in the U.S. The two growing areas produced almost 95 million pounds in 2011, up from 80 million in 2010.
Most blackberries are grown in Oregon, where growers produced more than 51 million pounds in 2011, compared with 41 million in 2010. Oregon also grew 2 million pounds of black raspberries, up from 1.5 million in 2010.
In the meantime, demand for caneberries has increased.
More raspberries and blackberries have gone to school lunches as managers follow strict new rules, he said. The popularity of fruit smoothies has blossomed, even showing up in fast-food restaurants.
Weight-loss programs and health programs are also incorporating berry juice diets.
Marionberries continue to be the most popular blackberries, but some growers are turning to "Marion-like" cultivars that are almost as sweet, Askier said. Last July they were selling for around 10 cents a pound less than Marions, but were yielding twice as much per acre.
Researchers continue to improve mechanization techniques, not just for harvest but also for tying and pruning canes. Tom Peerbolt, research coordinator for the Washington Red Raspberry Commission and the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, said manually tying and pruning canes can cost $500 to $600 an acre.
Peerbolt said he keeps growers up to date on the spotted-wing drosophila, which is a growing menace in the Northwest. The fly attacks berries and fruit.
"They minimized losses with quick and responsible reaction to (the fly)," he said. "We've got a lot of research invested in finding an answer. We keep managing from an on-farm basis while researchers look for answers."
January temperatures dropped to 9 degrees Fahrenheit in Whatcom County, Wash., and raspberry growers there hope that knocks back the drosophila, he said.
Raspberry cultivar development focuses on resistance to raspberry bushy dwarf virus and root rot. Other characteristics under study include machine harvestability, suitability for use as individual quick frozen fruit and fruit composition.
Raspberry growers from around the world will gather June 3-7 for the eighth International Raspberry Organization conference, to be held in Abbotsford, B.C.
The conference will include field trips to Washington's Whatcom County and to British Columbia's Fraser Valley, with visits to farms, industry facilities and research stations.