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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1133: XI International Rubus and Ribes Symposium

Blackberry production in the Pacific northwestern US: a long history and a bright future

Authors:   C.E. Finn, B.C. Strik
Keywords:   breeding, horticulture, processing, machine-harvest
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1133.6
The Pacific northwest of the United States has a long history of blackberry production and research. The breeding program began in the 1920s with George Darrow and soon thereafter with George Waldo. They utilized the native species, Rubus ursinus, along with 'Logan' in their breeding program to develop the first important commercial cultivars 'Pacific' and 'Cascade' in the 1930s. These two, along with 'Logan', 'Santiam', and the R. laciniatus selection 'Evergreen', served as the basis for the trailing blackberry processing industry. Initially fruit was canned and shipped back to the population centers in the eastern US. Freezing to preserve the crop to ship back east became common once the technology for freezing was developed in the 1920s. The breeding programs developed 'Olallie' in the 1940s that became, along with 'Boysen', the major cultivars in California until the blackberries developed by Driscoll Strawberry Assoc. (Watsonville, CA) surpassed them in area in the early 1990s. In 1956, 'Marion' was released and while it took about 10 years for 'Marion', marketed as marionberry, to become popular, it then became the dominant cultivar in the Pacific northwest. The release of 'Marion' in the 1950s and the development of the machine harvester in the 1960s combined with the ideal climate of the Willamette Valley cemented this region's importance for blackberry production. The industry has been challenged by having 90-95% of production sold for processing. However, even with a small percentage of area devoted to fresh, this region is one of the most important also for fresh fruit in the US. Winters with cold, injurious temperatures have led to large fluctuations in production and grower price, making processors reluctant to develop new products. Thorns in the machine-harvested product also have been a challenge that needed to be overcome. 'Black Diamond', a thornless, high yielding, and more cold hardy cultivar helped increase the reliability of a high quality crop. This stable production combined with increased consumer interest has led to a steadily increased production of fruit for processing as well as for the fresh market. A wonderful climate and a determined industry that has supported collaborative cultivar development and horticultural research have been keys to the development of a vibrant blackberry industry in the Pacific northwest.

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