WOOSTER, Ohio – Ohio blackberry growers, get your brush hogs ready.
A plant breeder half way across the country is changing the way you’ll grow your crop.
Arkansas plant breeder John Clark’s work has created a type of bramble that takes away the headache of wintertime losses and offers more marketing opportunities.
Ohio researchers are putting the new variety to the test, and all indications say it will work here.
Varieties. Prime-Jim and Prime-Jan were developed by Clark, an Arkansas agricultural researcher.
They are the world’s first commercial blackberries that will produce both spring and fall crops.
The difference. All other blackberries now in production have a perennial root system with biennial canes. Each year, the plant grows new canes, called primocanes, that neither flower nor fruit, Clark said.
These canes become floricanes in their second year, when they do flower and produce fruit. Then they die.
Each year, the plant grows new primocanes to replace the dying floricanes.
The primocanes on Prime-Jim and Prime-Jan flower and bear fruit their first year after the new cane has matured.
On these plants, the floricanes produce berries in early June and the primocanes produce fruit beginning in mid-July and continue until frost.
In Ohio. For Ohio growers, the new variety is revolutionary.
The No. 1 problem for Ohio-grown blackberries is winter damage, according to Michele Stanton, an Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center researcher.
The state’s harsh winters often kill all or a good portion of the crop, Stanton said, leaving canes growing in spring with no buds and growers without berries.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 below. [The new variety] removes the main obstacle for growers in the state,” Stanton said.
Advantage. Growers will mow the canes each fall, letting the plant overwinter below the ground and come back in the spring and fruit in the summer, Stanton said.
The advantage to mowing the canes and leaves is it will get rid of any insect pupa on the plant. Growers should also have a lot less trouble with fungal diseases, Stanton said.
Less reliance on chemicals to treat insects and fungus on the plants may make Prime-Jim and Prime-Jan candidates for organic growers, too.
Bigger yields. Growers can also look forward to bigger crops, since the primocanes flower and fruit all the way to a hard frost.
“Now you can sell as much as you can grow, and you’ll be able to grow more,” Stanton said.
“Growers sell regular blackberries in July. Now you’ll have something for customers through October,” she said to bramble enthusiasts at the Ohio Fruit Growers Society summer tour in Wooster.
Another plus. In addition, the variety flowers and fruits at the end of the cane, yet the canes are semi-erect, Stanton said.
Ohio growers may not have to use trellises for the berries, allowing them to cut one more cost from production.
Stanton said the berries aren’t firm enough to ship, but are good for jam and farm market sales.
She also said berries she’s tasted range from slightly sour like traditional Chesters to sweet, but taste isn’t consistent.
Test battery. Ohio researchers are looking at the plants for their heat tolerance now in plantings near Piketon, Stanton said.
At temperatures above 85 degrees, the plants will flower but produce no berries, she said.
“We don’t get weeks on end with those types of temperatures. We think these berries will do fine in northern Ohio,” she said, noting researchers are still looking into the plant’s heat response.
In Oregon test plots dominated by more moderate climates, the berries grew as large as 10 grams, according to Arkansas research.
“We’re not sure yet if we’ll have blockbusters or go bust,” Stanton said of performance comparisons between Ohio and Oregon.
Breeders are also working on creating a thornless variety of the berries.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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