Excerpts from Dr. Barney’s Research Reports – 2006

July 17, 2006

There is an incredible demand for bilberries worldwide and our area is in a position to take the lead in producing these crops in managed production. …  As part of Cooperative Extension, I also have an obligation to help citizens throughout the country.

I have thirteen selections I want to send out to our cooperators for testing. I also have a surplus of seedlings that I might be able to make available to our cooperators. My director, however, has asked me to hold off on that temporarily. The University has had some problems lately with varietal releases and we need to make sure all the legal ducks are in a row so that we can get these selections through the pipeline as quickly as possible.

The science is easy. Politics and legalities are hard.

I’ll be in touch later this summer or early fall when we know better what our program will be. If all goes well, I will be able to dramatically increase my interaction with and support for huckleberry and other specialty crop growers starting in November.

August 4, 2006

Reports are that the early crop was very poor across much of the region. We had several frosts during late April through early May that were just cold enough to damage the flowers at lower elevations.

I have not heard about the higher crops yet, but would expect about an average crop. With the heavy snow pack and plenty of spring moisture, the berries that do develop should have a good size.

You’re right about the rapid movement of information today. At least I don’t have to actively aid our competitors.

Some good news here. I made several advanced selections for Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum) and bilberry (V. myrtillus) this spring. We now have advanced selections of the most important crops. I also have plants ready to ship to cooperators for testing as soon as I can work out a new non-propagation agreement with UI. We have had some problems with variety releases on other crops lately and my Experiment Station Director has asked me not to distribute materials until we get that worked out.

I’ll keep the group advised as to plant material availability. They should have plants available for spring planting.

October 17, 2006

What is up is hot water and the depth is about chin level.

University of Idaho President, Dr. White, has proposed selling the existing Sandpoint R&E Center property to construct a university learning center/campus and high school campus on the existing site. That appears to be a done deal. According to the Dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, plans are to relocate the R&E Center to a smaller (20 acre) location nearby and construct a new office complex, laboratory, and greenhouse.

When and how that process will take place is still in the concept stage.

The good news is that plans are to rebuild the station with up-to-date laboratory and greenhouse facilities. Also, the existing station is much too large and diverse for my small staff and I to maintain, given our funding. We will be building a smaller, more efficient facility that focuses on huckleberries, bilberries, and ornamental nursery stock.

My appointment is changing the first of November from mostly research to mostly extension. This is being done at my request. A 20% research appointment will allow me to continue the huckleberry and bilberry cultivar development program. The increased extension appointment will allow me to spend much more time with prospective and established members of the industry, on site and in meetings.  I will also have more time to contribute to the website and will be able to take a far more active role in the WHBA.

Research has come along very well. This spring, I obtained seed from 60 crosses in the huckleberry/bilberry breeding program and added 23 advanced and 42 early selections to the group We now have 97 early or advanced selections that appear to have commercial quality or are at least suitable as parents for breeding.

Due to problems involving varietal releases and plant patenting at the University, I was asked not to distribute any plant materials during 2006. I now have permission to distribute selections for testing and will do so beginning early next spring. We have many plants ready to go that are overwintering in our outdoor or indoor storage facilities. Part of my new program will be to provide some planting stock for experimental plantings as part of our selection evaluation process. This should really help our producers. This winter, I hope to iron out the problems in propagating mature, hard to propagate selections. Our preliminary soil work is completed. An optimal production site will have a moist but well-drained loam or sandy loam soil with pH between 4.0 and 5.0. Silt loams are acceptable if adequate drainage can be provided, although amending the soil with sand or organic matter will help with the heavier soils. For all soil types, I recommend planting on raised beds about 12 inches high. Incorporating rot d bark or wood into the planting beds and/or mulching the beds with bark will probably be helpful. Irrigation will be necessary on most field cultivation sites.

Best production will be in full sun on a cool, north-facing slope. On more southerly exposures, light shade, particularly in the afternoon can be helpful. Even on a southerly exposure, full sun is acceptable if adequate soil moisture is available. We have found that liquid fertilizer work much better than granular formulations.

Depending on when the relocation takes place, life could be rather hectic for the next year or two. Fortunately, my department is allowing me some flexibility in developing a new program.

Rather than having one large meeting at a central location this year, I suggest having a series of two to four small meetings throughout the state that we can combine with on-site visits and consultation with individuals and local groups.

As you can see from the French pharmaceutical company’s email, market demand is tremendous. The Alaska Berry Growers are already harvesting and processing oval-leaved bilberries commercially. Bilberry (V. myrtillus) looks very promising for production and marketing and I have some very nice selections ready to test.

The big bottleneck in getting our industry going is getting commercial quality cultivars to the growers, so that will dominate my program. Fortunately, I believe we have selections of Cascade huckleberry, mountain huckleberry, bilberry, and oval-leaved bilberry that meet the requirements, but still need to be tested in different areas. Plants coming out of my breeding program will probably be better, but will take years to evaluate and get through the process. I’m trying to fast track some of the better selections we already have in the pipeline. I have some seedlings of red huckleberry and early selections of dwarf huckleberry and alpine bilberry and will be testing those to see how well they perform for us.

I can’t say I am at all happy to lose my existing station. At least we should be able to rebuild it and make it better focused and easier to manage.

I’ll be presenting some of our results at the Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research the first of December in Kennewick. I obtained funding for the coming year.

Hope to see you early next spring. Feel free to refer people to me and tell the members not to lose heart. We’re getting very close to making this happen.

November 27, 2006

2006 was a very complicated year for us at the Sandpoint R&E Center and we were unable to complete all of the activities that we had planned. I was notified in early June that the R&E Center will be undergoing major changes in programming, location, and facilities. The good news is that we will still be in business. We only found that out on November 16.

Due to legal problems with potato and wheat variety releases involving the University of Idaho, Idaho Research Foundation, and commodity groups, I was asked in late spring not to distribute any planting materials. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the situation was resolved and I obtained permission to do so. By then, all of our planting stock had been placed into winter storage.

I have oval-leaved bilberry and Cascade huckleberry plants available for you for early spring 2007. I will need you to sign a material transfer agreement. Basically it says that you agree not to propagate any of the plant or give them to anyone else.

We now have 97 early or advanced selections that are in our testing program. They cover dwarf huckleberry, Cascade huckleberry, mountain huckleberry, bilberry, oval-leaved bilberry, and alpine bilberry. Most have to be propagated for field trials. Thirteen are scheduled for cooperator testing as soon as I can propagate them. We will be shipping out two selections for testing in the spring and you should receive both of those.

My graduate student completed his program in October and we are in the process of publishing research articles on seed propagation of dwarf huckleberry, Cascade huckleberry, oval-leaved bilberry, and red huckleberry, \as well as in vitro propagation (cloning) of mountain huckleberry, Cascade huckleberry, and oval-leaved bilberry. This winter, I hope to work out the procedures for effectively cloning mature plants. That will greatly speed up the cultivar development and release program.

My appointment has changed from mostly research to mostly extension. I will spend 20% of my time developing cultivated varieties. 45% of my time will be spent working with the fruit and ornamental industries, giving me much more time to visit growers on site and provide training. I am scheduled to be in Kamiah on March 28 for a Master Gardener workshop and will spend at least several days in the area meeting with people interested in huckleberries. That might be a good time to bring down your planting stock.

I will be in touch with our cooperator group after the first of the year to schedule visits and training.

Thanks for the continued interest.

December 8, 2006

Interest in huckleberries is growing rapidly. I have had several queries recently from firms in the U.K. and France looking for huckleberries and bilberries. Requests from brokers and processors inside North America are also frequent.

The huckleberry program here is strong and is taking on new life. Our first test plants for cooperators will be shipped in spring 2007 and I will be traveling around the state visiting members of our group. With a new appointment at the University of Idaho, I will have much more time and opportunity to work with the industry. Please contact me if you would like to set up a visit or have questions or suggestions.

Best wishes,

Danny L. Barney, Ph.D.
Professor of Horticulture
Superintendent
University of Idaho
Sandpoint Research & Extension Center
1904 North Boyer Avenue
Sandpoint, ID 83864
Phone: 208-263-2323
Fax: 208-263-4470
Email: dbarney@uidaho.edu
Website: http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/index.htm

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