US (OR): OSU Berry Initiative, funded by Oregon Legislature, gets a new leader

Erica Chernoh, Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist, is the new leader of the OSU Berry Initiative at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora.

Chernoh, an assistant professor of practice in Lane County, is responsible for commercial and community horticulture in the south Willamette Valley. She also coordinates the Lane County Master Gardener program. In her role with the Berry Initiative, Chernoh replaces Javier Fernandez-Salvador, who left OSU for a position with the Olive Center at the University of California, Davis.

As Fernandez-Salvador’s first research assistant in 2018, Chernoh is familiar with the program, which has been supported by the Oregon Legislature since 2017. In this leadership role, she will take on research projects, publishing and outreach education to growers while maintaining her current position as assistant professor of practice Lane County. Chernoh previously worked on strawberry production for the University of California Cooperative Extension as a crop and food safety advisor.

Strawberries grown at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora 

“We are very pleased to have Erica back at NWREC to lead the Berry Initiative,” said Mike Bondi, NWREC director. “Erica has great experience growing strawberries, is familiar with the projects here at NWREC, and will be able to get the most information out of these studies as they come to conclusion over the next couple of years.”

Cora Bobo-Shisler will continue as the project’s bioscience research technician and will manage the day-to-day projects at NWREC. She started as a student worker in the program in 2019 and has been a research technician for the Berry Initiative since August 2020. Bobo-Shisler’s tasks will include supervising three summer students.

Several projects will be completed over the next two years, including the original low-tunnel season extension trial and a greenhouse substrate table-top production experiment. The purpose of the Berry Initiative’s strawberry work has been to develop methods for growers interested in year-round fresh strawberry production in Oregon.

Also supporting the strawberry research will be an incoming graduate student at OSU who will be working with these projects as the basis for her master’s degree thesis project. Joussy Hidrobo worked on the low-tunnel strawberry project as a volunteer international student in 2018 and returns this fall from Ecuador to pursue her degree. Ramesh Sagili, OSU Extension bee specialist, will be Joussy’s main advisor and will add a pollination component to the low-tunnel trial.

“There is definitely a lot going on with the initiative,” Chernoh said. “And, this is really important work as we try to develop a local and fresh year-round strawberry market in Oregon. We will never compete with the scale of production of strawberries in California, but we strive to produce a great-tasting and fresh Oregon berry that is available in local markets for more than just a few weeks in the summer. I look forward to leading this project.”

Other great news for the Berry Initiative program at NWREC came at the close of the Oregon Legislature’s session in June 2021 when two final years of funding were earmarked for the completion of ongoing projects, publish information and conduct grower education programs.

“We really appreciate the continued support of the legislature as we bring this initiative to conclusion,” Chernoh said. “Rep. Rick Lewis (Silverton) and Rep. Christine Drazan (Canby), have been the driving forces to help secure this funding. Over the next two years, we will have production guidelines for season-extension growing of fresh market strawberries in Oregon with protocols for being able to produce product up to nine months in the year. This will be an exciting development for the growers.”


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