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Two new berry cultivars released by USDA-ARS

Exciting news for berry producers: new blueberry and blackberry varieties have recently been released to the public: the Baby Blue and Columbia Giant. “The industry has exploded and there’s so much interest in fresh market,” said Chad Finn, Agricultural Research Service geneticist at Horticultural Crops Research Unit in Corvallis, Oregon.

The Baby Blue blueberry is small in size and produces very high yields. “It’s consistently the one that is most popular during sampling. It’s a bright blue – even after being frozen it maintains its nice waxy layer,” he said. He says it’s one of the berries that will be of interest to those in small fruit applications and can compete alongside the low bush blueberries from Maine. Baby Blue is a single cultivar compared to Michigan’s fruit and another benefit is its consistently uniform size and colour. 

The blueberry-breeding program is relatively new for ARS. The blackberry program dates back to 1927 and the strawberry program goes farther back to 1912. “It’s always exciting (creating something new). The program has a long history of releasing cultivars that dominate the industry.”
Columbia Giant is a trailing blackberry that’s long and conical. He says currently the main blackberry is Marion but is being replaced by the Black Diamond and Columbia Star varieties. The main reason for replacing the Marion berry is because it has thorns; Columbia Star and Columbia Giant are thornless. Even though Finn says Marion berries have fantastic eating qualities, growers have been concerned about lawsuits because of the thorns. “(Growers) want something that’s thornless, especially because the crop is machine harvested. Even with a hand harvested product you can still get thorns – that was what our charge was.” Columbia Giant is a sibling of Columbia Star and will machine harvest well. 

Finn says it will likely find its niche in the market, especially because it’s visually impressive, however too big for clamshell packaging and would likely require specialty packaging. “We know that in no time at all it will be in the all of the farmer’s markets and trialing blackberry production. It will definitely bring people to the stands. Finn says fresh sales could benefit with the berry as well as markets. “Anybody who’s doing roadside market, you’ve got to have Columbia Giant in the mix. We know it will also work as a processed berry.” He adds that it can also be machine harvested and frozen. “In the case of Baby Blues if you’re a grower/packer who sells small fruit and who’s looking for small fruit by all means you should be looking at Baby Blues.”

There have been many changes to the berry market in the late decade and Finn feels it’s rapidly changing with the availability of new products like the thornless berry. Years ago customers may have seldom seen blackberries except for a couple of weeks in a season when they were fresh and local. “Now whether it’s in smoothie mixes or companies that are making product from blackberries it’s now in the grocery store almost 52 weeks a year,” said Finn. “We’ve gone to things that are just amazing - whether it’s coming out of fresh from Arkansas or cultivars coming out of northwest - they’re just amazing. It’s a remarkable shift.”
For more information: 

Chad Finn
Agricultural Research Service, Horticultural Crops Research Unit
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