Boxes of berries sit on stand at a market on May 8, 2007. Berries are difficult to grow, harvest, and handle with brief growing seasons and the berries are vulnerable to insects, disease, and even birds. In the 1950's, the U.S. Department of Agricultureâs (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) actually saved the strawberry industry in the Great Lakes region when the agency released the first varieties that could survive red stele, a root-rotting fungus. Fifteen years ago, blueberries were practically nonexistent in the Gulf States. But USDASâs ARS early-ripening varieties have extended highbush blueberry culture to the Deep South. Today, over 10,000 acres are grown in Dixie, with more than 4,000 acres thriving throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. In the Pacific Northwest, where most of Americaâs red raspberries are grown, Willamette, a 1943 release, still accounts for 40 percent of the red raspberry acreage. USDA ARS scientists introduced the first truly genetic thornless blackberries, Thornfree and Smoothstem, which caused a small roadside revolution. The new varieties were just what some growers needed to establish pick-your-own operations. USDA photo by Scott Bauer.
May 12, 2014