Berries offer profit possibilities

Commercial growers looking for options to increase their farm profits may want to consider adding blackberries, says an expert from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

New production techniques and new, more winter-hardy varieties, have made blackberries a more viable option for commercial growers to add to their portfolios, said Gary Gao, an Ohio State University Extension specialist and associate professor of small fruit crops at the Ohio State University South Centers.

Gao will discuss commercial blackberry production in Ohio during a workshop Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. during this year’s Farm Science Review, Sept. 17-19 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. Gao’s presentation is part of a series of workshops to be offered at the Review’s Small Farm Center over the three-day agriculture industry trade show.

With the growing consumer demand for locally grown, healthier foods, blackberries can be a good option for growers who want to find ways to potentially increase their farm profits, he said.

“The demand for blackberries has exploded in recent years thanks to consumers who covet the tiny sweet fruits for their many health benefits,” Gao said.

But the major challenge of growing blackberries in Ohio has been that the fruit lacks a large degree of winter hardiness, he said.

“But in the last five to seven years, warming weather trends in Ohio have increased the potential for higher yields in blackberries, along with newer production systems that are allowing Ohio growers to grow them more effectively,” Gao said.

One such method includes using a rotatable cross-arm trellis — a new production system that allows blackberry canes (stems) to be put on a training wire horizontally and grown about a foot above soil level. In cooler months, the entire trellis can be rotated down close to the ground level and the plants can be covered with thick row covers for winter protection, allowing farmers to grow more varieties that traditionally haven’t been winter hardy in Ohio, he said.

“According to the manufacturer, using a conservative estimate, growers can generate a gross revenue of $45,000 per acre using this system, although it can be costly to set up,” Gao said. “Overall, while yields are highly dependent on the type of production system growers use along with the varieties they chose, growers can earn $3 per pound or $5 per quart for blackberries.

“For growers, there is defiantly profit to be made.”

Gao’s workshop is one of several topics that will be presented at the Small Farm Center at the Review.

Other topics will include:

* Utilizing manure nutrients.

* Improving soil structure using cover crops.

* Farm-based food businesses: Legal issues.

* Small-scale poultry production.

* Worker protection standards for small farms.

* Understanding farm animal behavior.

* Small farm financial management.

* Good agricultural practices for small farmers.

* Choosing a production system: organic, sustainable, conventional.

These issues are just a sampling of some of the topics participants can expect to learn about during the three-day farm trade show that annually draws more than 130,000 farmers, growers, producers and agricultural enthusiasts from across the U.S. and Canada.

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