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Sunday, July 14, 2024

‘Early Bird’ Blackberry Season

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By John Lovett
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station

CLARKSVILLE, Ark. — Jackie Lee, director of the Fruit Research Station, names each blackberry season as if they were hurricanes.

She dubbed the 2024 season “early bird.”

“I have never seen such a synchronous bloom in blackberries, and just so much, and so early,” Lee said to about 90 registered guests at the annual Blackberry Field Day on June 12.

Looking back at the station’s weather data for the year, the average temperature for February was 63 degrees. It was about 10 degrees higher than the previous two years in February, a month that also brought temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below normal in 2021. The higher temperatures this year “got blackberries off to a good start,” Lee said, and a dry April allowed the station to increase its experimental variety crossings.

“Margaret is probably going to have a lot of progenies to look at coming up,” Lee said of Margaret Worthington, director of the Fruit Breeding Program.

In the field, Worthington provided attendees a trellis taste of sun-warmed blackberries, including Caddo, Ponca and the latest variety, Sweet-Ark® Immaculate™. The thornless, late-season blackberry was released in February.

The field day was co-hosted by the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s research and outreach arms — Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Field day-goers also got reports from Aaron Cato, extension IPM specialist, on pesticide experiments to control spotted wing drosophila, and from Hannah Wright-Smith, weed specialist for turfgrass, specialty crops and forestry, on over-the-top herbicide applications in blackberry. Amanda McWhirt, extension fruit and vegetable horticulture specialist for the Division of Agriculture, offered research-based recommendations on fertigation for fertility in blackberries.

Renee Threlfall, a research scientist in enology and viticulture for the Division of Agriculture, gave a rundown on the rules and regulations for Act 1040, also known as the Arkansas Food Freedom Act of 2021, with a focus on added-value blackberry products like jams, jellies, baked goods, ciders, juices and vinegars.

Lizzy Herrera, program manager for the Arkansas Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program, also provided an update on the two-year blackberry promotion grant project in partnership with the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association. The project developed road signs for blackberry growers, as well as educational posters for “u-pick” farms, and social media posts with recipe cards for blackberry lemonade, blackberry cobbler and blackberry popsicles.

One of the highlights of the day, Lee said, was the demonstration by Max Svobodny of Max Drone Service in Fulton County. He programmed a large drone to apply a simulated pesticide application using water. The drone offers more precision than other air-based applicators, Svobodny said, and could stay up for about 10 minutes between battery changes.

Blackberry Month in Arkansas

Also at the field day, Beth Moore of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture presented members of the Arkansas Blackberry Growers Association board a proclamation from Gov. Sarah Sanders recognizing June as Blackberry Month in Arkansas.

“Do you know how much of a presence that you blackberry growers have had in the past few years,” Moore asked. “Agriculture in Arkansas is over $20.9 billion a year and over the last three years you have brought in over $10 million of that.”

Blackberries are the leading crop of the Arkansas Fruit Breeding Program, with 43 varieties developed and about $1.48 million in royalties as of 2020.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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