Margaret Worthington, Assistant Professor of Fruit Breeding and Genetics, Department of Horticulture, University of Arkansas
A national survey of growers and related industry professionals was recently conducted to assess the current status and needs for research and extension in the US blackberry industry. The survey was launched with the goal of updating production statistics and assessments of stakeholder priorities that were fragmented and out of date, did not reflect new challenges (e.g., emerging biotic and abiotic stresses and labor shortages) or opportunities (e.g., new production techniques and markets) for the blackberry industry.
Many readers of Small Fruit News may recall receiving an invitation (or several invitations!) to complete the U.S. blackberry industry stakeholder survey between November 2019 and January 2020. Hardcopy and online versions of the stakeholder survey were distributed through commodity group meetings, industry collaborators, growers’ association networks, and social media.A total of 174 survey responses from 33 U.S. states were received. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents were growers and other stakeholders located in the Southern U.S. Arkansas and North Carolina were particularly well represented with 29 and 24 responses, respectively.
Some important findings of the study included:
- The most important pest and disease issue across all production regions was spotted wing drosophila. Anthracnose and Japanese Beetles were also listed as important pest and disease issues specifically in the South.
- Weed control, postharvest losses, and red drupelet reversion were all identified as nationally or regionally important cultural issues. Southern stakeholders identified weed control and rain during harvest season as their biggest cultural constraints.
- Labor costs and availability were the most important production issues nationwide and in the South.The top postharvest issue in the South and overall was leaky or overly soft berries. Botrytis and other fruit rots, red drupelet reversion, and white drupelet disorder were all also listed as important postharvest issue by Southern stakeholders.
- Stakeholders indicated that the most common complaints from consumers and grocers about blackberries included inconsistent flavor (too tart or not sweet enough) and soft, leaky, or over-ripe berries.
- Most (67%) of respondents agreed that Investment in health benefits research would lead to greater sales volume.
- The top national research priorities identified in this study were control of spotted wing drosophila and breeding for improved flavor, firmness, and disease resistance.
The survey was funded by a USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative planning grant and the results also guided discussion in a two-day strategic planning meeting held immediately after the 2020 NARBA meeting in St. Louis, MO. Twenty academic researchers and extension specialists working on blackberries across the country and 18 growers and industry representatives participated in a discussion of the major opportunities and challenges facing the national blackberry industry.The discussion in the meeting was very engaging and all participants learned a lot about the issues that growers in other production regions like the Pacific Northwest and California are encountering. Many ideas emerged from these discussions but flavor, postharvest quality, and labor issues were identified as the most important constraints to the growth of the U.S. blackberry industry. The next goal for the project team is to take all this valuable stakeholder input and develop a large interdisciplinary research and extension project that will increase the profitability and sustainability of the US blackberry industry!
The results of this survey were already used to develop an updated Pest Management Strategic Plan for the Southeast and will be submitted for publication in HortScience this summer. We hope the survey will help growers’ associations and funding bodies to identify and revise strategic priorities for research and extension efforts! Anyone interested in receiving a full copy of the 128 page survey report should contact Margaret Worthington at firstname.lastname@example.org.