PIKETON, Ohio -- Blackberries are a popular, high-value fruit crop for Ohio growers looking to produce a niche agricultural product. But getting the most out of the crop requires intensive inputs and high maintenance. Ohio State University Extension horticulturists are evaluating cultivars that may make production easier.
Shawn Wright, with OSU South Centers at Piketon, is collaborating with John Clark from the University of Arkansas on a Midwest evaluation of primocane-bearing blackberries -- brambles that require little to no pruning.
"It's a characteristic of brambles that everyone is looking for. The fruit is produced on the first-year cane and then the plant is mowed to the ground," said Wright. "Primocane-bearing blackberries eliminate the intensive, elaborate pruning common in other blackberry varieties. A grower can cover an acre in a hour as opposed to an entire day."
Wright said that primocane blackberries are an attractive alternative for fruit growers, not only because of their low maintenance, but because they can easily overcome the production limitations associated with overwintering. They are designed to be mowed back in late winter, resulting in little pruning labor. Additionally, unlike most traditional varieties that bear fruit on the second-year canes, primocane blackberries will bear fruit on one-year-old canes. One drawback is that primocane blackberries currently being evaluated are very thorny, although breeding efforts are under way to eliminate the thorns.
For the past five years, Wright and his colleagues have been evaluating Prime Jim and Prime Jan, two varieties that are now commercially available. Five additional varieties were planted in 2006 and four more in 2007. The purpose of the study is to compare their performance characteristics to determine how well commercial varieties fare under Ohio conditions and to identify new varieties that would be more suitable.
Based on results to date, Wright has found that, although Prime Jan and Prime Jim are suitable for Ohio, the non-commercial varieties being evaluated are far superior.
"They grow more vigorously, produce higher yields with a larger berry size and the berries have better flavor. Prime Jan and Prime Jim can produce a berry in Ohio of about five grams, but we can get an eight-to10-gram berry from some of the non-released varieties," said Wright. "If these varieties are released, they may have a place for growers who wish to extend their market because the primocane berries will produce until the first hard frost. Prime Jan and Prime Jim are more ideal for homeowners looking to raise a small blackberry crop and who don't want to have to trellis the plants."
Blackberry production in Ohio is growing in popularity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2002 Census, blackberry acreage increased 34 percent since 1997. Wright estimates that about 80 percent of the blackberries grown in Ohio are ‘Chester Thornless', which produces consistently but does not have the highest flavor characteristics for fresh consumption, and requires trellising and pruning.
"The demand for a less labor-intensive blackberry variety is coming directly from the farmers. They want something that doesn't have the high labor requirements for pruning," said Wright.
Researchers are also evaluating the performance of primocane-bearing red raspberries and black raspberries.
To learn more, contact Shawn Wright at (740) 289-2071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.