USDA grant to pay for analysis of growers' goals

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

The Pacific Northwest harvest of red raspberries in 2011 grew by almost 20 percent over the previous year, making it the second largest ever.

The total harvest was 99.7 million pounds, compared with 83.3 million pounds in 2010.

"This is the best in the past 10 years, second-best of all time," said Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission. He attributed the good crop to more moisture in the berries from early-season rains, a few more acres in the ground and a couple of new varieties.

"No one thing, but they added up," he said.

Washington growers accounted for 72.2 million pounds in 2010; Oregon, 5 million; and British Columbia, 22.5 million. Whatcom County accounted for almost 92 percent of the Washington state harvest.

Meeker continues to be the most popular planting by far, according to Tom Peerbolt, research coordinator at the Washington Red Raspberry Commission. About 60 percent of new plantings in 2010 were Meeker, followed by Wakefield, Chemainus, Cascade Bounty and Willamette.

A priority for the commission for at least the past 10 years has been the development of machine-harvestable floricane varieties for processing. More grower assessment funds have been spent on this goal than any other research objective.

Washington State University will lead a team of researchers in developing a new variety. Scientists at WSU Puyallup and on the Pullman campus received a $50,000 planning grant from the USDA's Specialty Crops Research Initiative to lead a team of researchers throughout the U.S. and Canada to gather grower input.

"Taking the time to listen to consumer and grower needs and map out a plan absolutely will help speed up raspberry breeding," said researcher Patrick Moore, of WSU Puyallup. "But perhaps more importantly, we'll be more likely to come up with the things we really need and want out of future cultivars. We'll have a better product."

The information the team gathers will set the stage for a larger grant to actually bring the latest genomics and genetics research to bear on developing those cultivars.

WSU scientists will work with their counterparts at Salve Regina University, University of Illinois, Brigham Young University, North Carolina State University, Cornell University, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to seek and analyze input from red raspberry growers, processors and consumers.

The first of those listening sessions will be held in Ohio in January.

Bierlink said the commission's priorities are to develop cultivars that are summer bearing, high yielding, winter hardy, machine harvestable, disease-resistant, virus resistant and have superior processed fruit quality.

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