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Historical document

Blueberry symposium and study tour, USA July 2008 (BB07003)

Key research provider: NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI)
Publication date: 2008

This is a final research report from Hort Innovation’s historical archives. Please note that as these reports may date back as far as the 1990s, the content and recommendations within them may be superseded by more recent research.

What was it all about?

Members of the Australian Blueberry Industry recently participated in a study tour to the United States, organised and led by NSW DPI extension officer Phillip Wilk and Soils researcher Justine Cox, and supported with funding from Horticulture Australia Ltd. The group attended the 9th International Vaccinium conference in Oregon, and visited farms and research stations in California and Oregon. Participants from Victoria and NSW viewed production systems from cooler temperate regions and sub-tropical areas, investigated marketing strategies and emerging industry issues.

The study tour objectives were to: improve adoption of sustainable farming systems in the Australian blueberry industry; improve methods of marketing and promotions of the Australian product and assess current large scale US production techniques that may be transferable to the Australian industry.

The USA was the recognised leader and most sophisticated producer and marketer of blueberries world wide. The availability of blueberry was almost year round in the USA as seasonal production begins in Florida then continues into California and then to traditional cooler areas in Oregon, Michigan and the north eastern states.

The 9th International Vaccinium Symposium in Corvallis Oregon provided a forum where blueberry researchers, marketers and extension people from over 16 countries gave updates of the latest information relevant to the blueberry industry.

The study tour visited a number of farms, nurseries and research facilities in Oregon and California, highlighting production systems, varietal trials, and marketing methods. The pre-conference tour in Oregon provided an opportunity to see growing conditions similar to those in Victoria and Tasmania, while the post-conference tour in southern California highlighted growing conditions similar to northern NSW sub-tropical growing conditions.

The pre-conference farm tours visited the Willamette Valley, the main agricultural region of Oregon. Blueberries here were produced under cool season conditions for both domestic and export markets. Apart from 2000 hectares of blueberries, the region also produces grass seed, Christmas trees, hazelnuts, and nursery plants. As part of this tour, the group also visited Fall Creek Wholesale Nursery, which supplies most of the west coast of the USA with blueberry plants. Major retail outlets including supermarkets and farmers markets were also visited to view marketing methods.

During the post-conference tour, the group went to Ventura County in California meeting extension and research staff from University of California Cooperative extension and advisory service who accompanied them to local farms in the region to view production systems. Extension staff were able to provide great insight into market entry requirements, timing of production and the limitations to supply within the region.

The group then travelled to the San Joaquin Valley in central California. Here they visited Kearney Agricultural Research Centre at Parlier and met with research staff to view research being undertaken on blueberries, including organic mulching, varieties, pruning and production systems. The tour included visits to three farms in the region.

Farmer participants of the tour were asked to synthesise key messages gleaned at the end of each days travel. Observations during the tour highlighted:

  • Blueberry marketing in the US was more diversified than in Australia, with greater variety of packing types, presentation to consumers and price range
  • Research into new varieties was strongly supported by key growers and groups, in partnership with researchers
  • Greater use of organic mulches was made in both Oregon and California, particularly during the establishment phase
  • In contrast to Australia, very little use of made of netting for bird protection, substantially reducing production costs
  • Machine harvesting was used more widely for fresh and processed product, resulting in increased reliance on optical sorting of fruit, machine-harvestable varieties, and impacting on orchard layout
  • Almost all irrigation applied now comes from double-drip irrigation lines, with irrigation lines often suspended on adjustable trellises although all growers previously used overhead sprinklers and microjets.

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Funding statement:
This project was funded by Hort Innovation (then Horticulture Australia Limited) with the voluntary financial support of Australian Blueberry Growers Association Inc.

Copyright © Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited 2008. The Final Research Report (in part or as whole) cannot be reproduced, published, communicated or adapted without the prior written consent of Hort Innovation (except as may be permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)).