Blackberries a bright spot for Ohio

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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 Ohio State University 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.

First year

“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 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 1-year-old canes.

Drawback

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 noncommercial varieties being evaluated are far superior.

Varieties

“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 5 grams, but we can get an 8- to 10-gram berry from some of the nonreleased 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.

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