Dr. Dan Barney’s Research Archive

I finished harvesting the breeder plants and evaluated a few thousand more seedlings. Three of the selections continued to be outstanding and another very good. If possible, I want to release these by 2012 or sooner. A few selections had only limited numbers of fruit, but quite large. They’ll serve as parents for more crosses. I’ve attached some photos.

Reports are that berry crops are heavy and fruit size is good at lower elevations. Priest Lake sounds especially productive. I expect the size and yields to drop at higher elevations unless we receive some moisture and cooler weather.

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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Contacts: John Hammel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, (208) 885-7694, calsdean@uidaho.edu; Bill Loftus, CALS science writer, (208) 885-7694, bloftus@uidaho.edu

College Considers Planning Process

For Closure of Research and Extension Centers

Written by Bill Loftus

MOSCOW – The University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will involve faculty, staff and stakeholder groups around the state in its planning for the proposed closures of research and extension centers.

The college and University of Idaho Extension operate 12 research and extension centers throughout the state, and another based on the Moscow campus that oversees nearby facilities.

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean John Hammel outlined the proposal during a recent presentation to the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance – Appropriations Committee.

Hammel said the college plans to form a planning committee with broad membership from internal and external groups interested in the research and extension centers to help the college’s leadership assess the options.

The college will await legislative action on the state’s agricultural research and extension appropriation, which is not expected until late March, before the college finalizes its plan.

Hammel said the college’s leaders reviewed all available options before arriving at the proposal. The controlling factor was the agricultural research and extension budget is mostly dedicated to salaries. Only $3.3 million in operating funding is available to fund maintenance, program support, capital outlay and travel.

“We have little flexibility in our operating budget and we must not continue to markedly erode these resources,” Hammel said. “Doing so will severely limit our capability to adequately support our existing research and extension programs, many of which are already underfunded, and to address future priorities driven by the changing landscape of Idaho agriculture, communities and our clientele.”

The closure of two or more centers is the college’s proposed response to expected cuts totaling 7 percent or $1.94 million in the college’s agricultural research and extension appropriation from the state for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1.

In addition to the center closures to save approximately $1 million, Hammel said the college planned to eliminate 15 vacant faculty and staff positions to save $800,000 and cut travel budgets by 25 percent.

In a memo last week to the college’s faculty and staff, Hammel said no centers have been chosen for closure and the process to determine which centers would close under the plan has not begun.

Hammel said he will seek recommendations from those within the college and university and those who rely on the centers to keep Idaho agriculture healthy and competitive.

“We must stress that no centers and programs are currently targeted and that we have not yet initiated the review process,” Hammel said.

Some of the criteria that will be used to evaluate the centers will include:

*Current and future relevance

*Impact on industry and the specific industry sector affected by closure *Program priorities across Idaho *Potential partnerships or collaborations to meet need.

The list of criteria is not final, nor are the exact parameters that will govern the decisions, Hammel said, adding, “We will communicate the finalized review process and the criteria by which these actions will be determined.

About the University of Idaho

Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu

Bill Loftus, Science writer

Educational Communications

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences University of Idaho

W: (208) 885-7694, C: (208) 301-3566, F: (208) 885-9046

Ag Science 18, Sixth and Rayburn P.O. Box 442332, Moscow, ID 83844

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January 20, 2009

I’m still here. Officially, I leave on 1 April. When I actually can get into the Sawtooth depends on the snow levels. Between now and April 1, I will also be taking 10 days off for annual leave. It’s either use it or lose it and I can use the time to get ready for my trip.

As for the interviews, probably sooner than later would be best and Fridays are tentative.

Thanks for the invitation; I can join the wild huckleberry group any time, just let me know what I need to do.

As for what is up, you may have heard that the UI and all other state universities and agencies are faced with major cuts. We have already had a 13% budget cut in operations and are facing more. Hopefully, we’ll survive. I have quite a few plants started for spring 2010 distribution to cooperators. I was able to do a rather thorough job of evaluating
fruit last summer and a few selections appear to be superior, in terms of fruit size and yields.

I am preparing a grant proposal to establish huckleberries, bilberries, and beargrass onto private forest ground near Sandpoint. This would be a great site for workshops as it has a nice building that is being remodeled for educational programs. I’ll be using what we already know and what I learn this year to base the trials on. The idea is to refine our management strategies for wild huckleberries and bilberries, with an eye to sustainable commercial harvests.

I also have been developing a plan for an organic and sustainable research & Extension Center near our existing farm. The budget crisis has put crimps into that, but I am hoping to get some outside grants that will cover the cost of developing the new farm. Organically-grown huckleberries and bilberries will be one of the main research projects.

Hope all is well for you.

February 5, 2009

Last week, the University of Idaho College of Agricultural & Life Sciences announced that at least 2 of the 13 Research & Extension Centers statewide will be closed due to expected state budget cuts. I’ve attached the official press release.

Because Sandpoint is one of the two smallest stations, we are a likely candidate for closure. At this time, the College does not plan to fire tenured faculty. Those affected, however, may have to relocate to Moscow or one of the other centers. How this will affect our huckleberry research, I do not know. I do know that the soils, climate, and location at Sandpoint make it an ideal place to study wild and domestic huckleberries. At present, we have plants in our nursery that should be ready for shipping in the spring of 2010 to cooperators. For those stations that are closed, we do not know yet how quickly they will be closed following the final decisions, which should come in mid May 2009.

I am requesting that my sabbatical leave to study wild huckleberries and bilberries be postponed for one year. I was supposed to be on leave in the berry fields of Washington from April-September 2009. I’ll need to be here to assist in the evaluation and selection process, act as a contact point for clientele and the public, and close the station, should that be necessary.

If you believe that this information would be of interest to the International Wild Huckleberry Association, I encourage you to pass this message along to the members. Decisions on which stations will be closed will partly depend on stakeholder input. If the members believe that our work has benefitted them and the industry, I would appreciate their
making that known to Dean Hammel and participating in the stakeholder process.

Thanks for the support you have provided over the years.

April 21, 2009

The blue ribbon panel convened to decide which R&E Centers will be closed met last weekend. Now it’s in the Dean’s court to make the final decisions. We should know by May 15 of this year. Lots of things could happen, one or two of them even good.

For now, I am working feverishly to establish new selections in vitro and back up all plants with multiple copies. I also started the breeding for 2009 today, planning on 31 crosses this year. I have many F1 seedlings from 2005-2006 crosses. Those seedlings are one year old and in the greenhouse. I want back up seed for all of the crosses between our best selections, just in case we have to move or shut down the UI program. I believe the last possibility is remote, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ll also be making more seed collection trips this summer to fill in gaps and replace aging seed from our first collections from sources that have proven good. We have about 4,000 seedlings from
2004-2006 crosses and open pollinated seedlings from wild collections in the greenhouse. More are in the bark beds and we have plants ready to go for a fall 2009 or spring 2010 distribution to growers.

I have tentative plans to offer two workshops at Sandpoint this summer, about the second or third week of July. The first workshop will be huckleberry cultivation for home gardeners. The second will be cultivation for commercial production. Until we know for sure what is going to happen here, the plans are tentative.

Depending on where or if I will be working for UI, the prospects are excellent for a large grant to study introduction of huckleberries, bilberries, and beargrass into forest areas where those plants are no longer found. It will be a great opportunity to test our model management systems for wild huckleberries. If things are a go, funding could start as early as this summer.

May 21, 2009

I am buried in research right now trying to preserve our most important germplasm and selections in case my station is closed. Although the controlled pollinations are done for the year, we are just starting tissue culture and cutting propagation, and will move from that into harvesting breeder trials and replacing old seed collections in the core germplasm collection.

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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February 14, 2008

(In response to an information request from Europe)

I suggest you visit my website at www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint. We have a great deal of information on the different huckleberry and bilberry species, including how to grow them.

The names huckleberry, bilberry, whortleberry, and blueberry are interchangeable and it is not unusual for a single plant to be called all of these names. There are also many different plants in at least two families and three genera that are called huckleberries. As far as what is a “true” huckleberry, it is a common name and widely used for many plants.

I work with Vaccinium species that are native to western North America, although some of the species are also found across North America and some in Asia and Europe. With one exception, alpine bilberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, all are found in genus Vaccinium section Myrtillus.

One species I work with is Vaccinium myrtillus. We call it bilberry or dwarf huckleberry in North America. It is best known as bilberry in Europe and is commercially harvested from the wild in Scandinavia and probably elsewhere. Bilberry has a long history of use for medicinal and culinary purposes. This would be by far the easiest huckleberry to obtain in Germany. The fruits are smaller than mountain and Cascade huckleberries native to the eastern U.S., but the flavor is excellent.

Red huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium, is first cousin to both bilberry and the large-fruited mountain and Cascade huckleberries. It is also found in section Myrtillus. The fruits are a bright red and tend to be quite tart. Red huckleberry has low anthocyanin and antioxidant concentrations and also lacks the strong flavor components of the Cascade and mountain huckleberries or bilberry. Red huckleberry is harvested commercially from the wild and used primarily, I believe, for pastries.

April 3, 2008

We still have no idea how our huckleberries fared the winter. They are still covered by 19 inches of snow. Nice insulation. I’m especially anxious to see how the bark beds turned out.

My primary focus now is getting the huckleberry cultivars developed, with most other projects on hold. I’ll be starting seed from crosses I did in 2008 and making more crosses early next month. We also have quite a few young plants ready for the greenhouse. On the positive front, I believe I have identified a main problem with tissue culturing some ofour selections. A different iron compound in the medium seems to be largely preventing the poor growth and death we have with many of the selections. I need to run a few more tests, but I think we will be able to turn out many more test plants for cooperators.

I will be in Alaska from June 14-30th and in Oregon July 13-17. In late August and early September, I will be making some trips to Lolo Pass and probably a few other huckleberry sites to collect samples. Most of the summer and fall will be spent getting ready for my sabbatical next summer.

Hope all is going well

March 4, 2008

Winter has not been too bad, just more than average snow and it hasstayed for a very long time. We still have about 24 inches on the level at our farm. Good for the plants. We had plenty of snow cover for insulation.

The new UI campus at Sandpoint is still on hold. The Wild rose Foundation put everything on hold when Coldwater Creek share prices dropped from $25 to $8. The prices are now down to $5.40 and I don’t see a turnaround soon.

Mr. Pence did donate 18 acres of land for a new experimental farm. About 8 acres are tillable and another couple suitable for container yards and the like. I still have to meet with the dean and director to find out what they want me to do and what I have to work with.

I’m propagating test plants as rapidly as I can and refining our in vitro techniques to establish the remaining selections. I am also starting seed from our past breeding trials. I was waiting for a new greenhouse, but that does not appear to be coming soon.

I just gave two talks on huckleberries at the pacific Agriculture Show in Abbotsford, Canada. There is some interest in producing bilberries and huckleberries in B.C.

July 18, 2008

My huckleberry crop at Sandpoint was very good, perhaps a couple of weeks late. Most cultivated crops are running two to three weeks later than usual throughout the region due to a long, cold spring.

The Priest Lake crop at about 2,600 feet looked average to above average in early June. I have not been back to see the ripe fruit, but probably will be next Thursday or Friday. I’ve been gone most of the past month to Alaska and Oregon.

I expect to have a good lower elevation crop early. Fruit size should be average to above average. The higher elevation crop is likely to be problematic due to little rain and high temperatures. I would rather expect a sporadic crop, with reasonably good yields on cooler, moister sites and few or small berries on drier sites.

I just returned from the International Vaccinium conference. Lots of good information that applies to huckleberries and bilberries. We should be able to greatly refine our nursery production of planting stock. Also, researchers in Norway, Finland, and Ukraine are working to domesticate bilberry (V. myrtillus) but are not as far along as we are. We are sharing information and, hopefully, germplasm. Their germplasm resources are incredible and we can offer help in propagation and production methodologies. All of us should profit from the exchange.

Breeding went well for mountain huckleberry this spring and terribly for oval-leaved bilberry. Practically no fruit set on the latter. We have made more selections of V. myrtillus and planted out F1 seed for many crosses in 2006. One of the V. myrtillus plants has very large berries. Baby crops can be deceiving, but it looks promising and is very late, as well. The raised bed and bark bed trials are doing exceptionally well and bore fruit this year.

We have the land for the new farm, so it looks like we are going to be in business for a long while. The site is a mess, however, and will take a few years to clean up and get into production. We expect to begin fruit plantings there in 2010 and 2011. I will be distributing planting stock in 2010 to cooperators.

July 30, 2008

I’ve managed to get into the high country a bit and the crops in northern Idaho look good so far. Fruit set was very good at all elevations I have been at and across a fairly wide area. I finished picking my crop at the Sandpoint R&E Center (2,000 feet elevation) on July 11. I noted pickers in the 3,000 foot elevation range last week and berries seem to be both abundant and quite large at that elevation. Higher up, the berries are still green but set abundantly and seem to be sizing up well.

We’re getting a little more moisture than last year, but it is still very dry and higher elevation berries are likely to be rather smaller than those lower down that are already ripe.

We’ve made more bilberry selections this year (V. myrtillus) and the market demand worldwide is very strong. I just returned from the International Vaccinium Conference where I met with researchers from Finland, Norway, and the Ukraine who are also working to manage or domesticate bilberry. We are sharing information and prospects for the industry appear excellent. Demand is especially great in Europe for the bilberry, but niche markets in the U.S. and Canada could easily be expanded with a little creative marketing.

We have had great success with growing huckleberries and bilberries in raised beds and bark beds under hybrid poplar. I’ll update our website and get information for the Western Huckleberry and Bilberry Association website early this fall.

Please feel free to contact me with questions and success stories.

November 5, 2008

Starting a new industry and fruit breeding can be slow and frustrating. At least we are making good progress on improved varieties and growing practices, as well as forest stand management. I should have a great deal of new information after next year’s sabbatical leave project in the Sawtooth. We are also propagating planting stock for a 2010 distribution.

I appreciate the support and should be able to link your new site to my existing huckleberry pages. Please let me know how you would like to proceed.

Thanks and good luck.

September 7, 2008

Right now I am tied up with a number of projects, including propagating huckleberries and getting ready for sabbatical. I’m also developing agrant for huckleberry studies establishing and managing berries in forest stands. Should be a perfect case study for your site.

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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March 5, 2007

I have been asked by the Forest Service to give a presentation at the Mt. Adams Ranger District on March 12. They are planning a large restoration project in the Sawtooth Berry Fields to enhance huckleberry colonies. The Forest Service has also agreed to let me spend a six month sabbatical in Washington and Oregon National Forests studying huckleberry and bilberry responses to environmental factors. I still need to get University approval for the project.

My schedule for March and April is still in flux. I expect to be called as a witness in a hearing and possible trial, but am not yet sure of the dates. When I know, I’ll schedule visits with cooperators.

March 7, 2007

The use of rakes to harvest huckleberries has long been a highly emotional one. During the early 1900s when there existed a large commercial huckleberry industry in the Northwest, many pickers used rakes or other devices. This is well-documented in “A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest – General Technical Report PNW-GTR-657, 2006, USDA-Forest Service by Rebecca Richards and Susan Alexander. If the rakes damaged the bushes and berry yields, the pickers would not have been able to return year-after-year to the same sites.

I have harvested all nine species of western huckleberries and bilberries by hand and with rakes. Used properly, rakes cause little or no damage to the bushes. Our western huckleberry and bilberry species bear fruit on shoots that form that same season. In other words, when you are harvesting berries, the wood that will bear next year’s crop does not exist yet. To damage next year’s crop, you would have to either break off fairly large shoots or damage the lateral buds along those shoots. I have not observed either type of damage when using rakes to harvest huckleberries or bilberries native to the northwestern United States.

Rakes do not work well for some species due to small berry size, twig conformation, or the way the fruit borne on the branches. For other species, rakes can be used to quickly harvest fruits without damaging the plants.

If a harvester is breaking off twigs and leaves with a rake, then the rake is not being used properly and the harvester is going to spend a lot of time picking few berries and much more time than necessary cleaning them. In other words, they are not going to be making any money and are not likely to persist with the rake.

I, personally, do not support the sections of the legislation banning mechanical harvesting devices.

As for the U.S. Forest Service banning such devices, The only National Forest, to my knowledge, that does so is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington.

I am far more concerned with the practice of cutting or breaking the branches off and harvesting the berries from the detached branches. This practice can severely damage the plants.

Likewise, I have seen formerly productive colonies damaged by people digging up the plants, apparently with the idea of transplanting them in mind. Particularly sad is the fact that, for several native species, most of the transplants will die. Container-grown plants transplant easily. There is no good reason for digging wild huckleberry or bilberry bushes from public land for transplanting.

Please feel free to share this information with others. Again, these are my personal views and do not represent the University of Idaho.

July 12, 2007

Marie and I spend nearly every July 4 week camping on the St. Joe River.

I’ll be in Orofino July  17 and meeting with cooperators from Moscow to Grangeville Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week is scheduled for vacation camping along the North Fork of the Clearwater. I have actually found huckleberries along the river, but very few and very small.

As for huckleberry crops, all reports I have received so far indicate a poor crop from Northern Idaho to Yellowstone. A few of my selections bore well at Sandpoint, but overall the crop was nearly nonexistent, largely due to pollination problems related to storage and our timing in bringing the plants out.

Berry size in my plants appears to be below average and the berries are going from green to overripe rather quickly. I have also hear reports from around the region that berry numbers and sizes in wild crops are below average and the bears are heading to the low country.

I suspect last summer’s record low precipitation, a dry spring, and two extremely hot summers in a row are taking their toll.

Picking sites I would have recommended ten years ago are well known and are picked out rather quickly. Some harder to reach sites but larger berries and generally good crops are:

Along the east side of Lake Pend Oreille along the High Drive (Forest Road 278) and roads leading off of it. Dirr Point is often a good site.

West side of Priest Lake at 4000 to 6000 feet elevation from Binarch Mountain and other roads north to Granite Pass. Plan on at least a pickup and a four wheel drive is recommended.

Reeder and Distillery Bay areas along the west side of Priest Lake were good, but are heavily targeted today.

Roman Nose area north and west of Sandpoint is usually good. Well known to local pickers but not so accessible.

Trout Peak area just east of Sandpoint can be very good in some years.

July 25, 2007

We’re not sure what the problem is. We did have the state lab examine some samples and they found phytophthora root rot. Not at all uncommon in the area. Whether that is the sole culprit remains to be seen.

I don’t believe this is something we imported and I don’t see it as a risk to wild stands. Our raised beds and bark bed plants are still perfectly healthy. Only the container-grown plants affected. So we go with a scorched earth policy and propagate all new plants. Could have been much worse.

July 26, 2007

Sorry I’ll miss you on the 3rd. Marie and I will be on our way home from the agroforestry conference in Vernon, BC.

The Board of Reagents is supposed to be taking up the issue of the UI North campus in August. We should know within a month if this is a go.

My staff and I and the Bonner County Extension faculty and staff meet with the architect next Tuesday to review the Ag and Life Science building plans.

August 7, 2007

Glad to hear you had a good picking year. Reports were generally poor to sporadic except in moister locations. Higher elevation crops seem to be especially poor. The site we visited last week in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia had lots of mountain and dwarf huckleberry, as well as grouse whortleberry. The plants were generally healthy, but showed stress from three dry years and few berries.

This industry will take off, it is just going to be a few years more until we get the materials in place. I will probably retire in another ten to twelve years.

If I was any good about making money, I would keep the information proprietary and sell it as a consultant. Comes from being a teacher. I’ll never have to worry about being rich.

September 26, 2007

(In response to an inquiry)

As for the Bay Area of California, the species you are most likely to encounter is the evergreen (aka shot or blackwinter) huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum. You can find more information on this species on my research page at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/research.htm

A student exposition of the species appears at http://bss.sfsu.edu/holzman/courses/Fall 2003 20project/vovatum.htm

I have little experience with this species in California. It normally ripens late in the year. I have collected the fruit in coastal Washington during November. The California fruits ripen earlier.

I suggest you contact the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve at http://www.ebparks.org/parks/huckleberry for more information.

Good luck.

October 8, 2007

My colleague at the University of Idaho, Dr. Caleb Nindo, is looking for some huckleberries to conduct research on. Professor Nindo is a food engineer in the Department of Food Science & Toxicology. His assistance in studying huckleberry processing and nutritional characteristics would benefit all of us in the industry.

I presently have no fruit available and we are looking for a source. I am not sure of the quantity he needs,  probably several gallons at this time. Frozen berries are fine.

If you have some berries for sale, would you please contact Dr. Nindo at cnindo@uidaho.edu.

Thanks.

P.S. despite rumors to the contrary, the Sandpoint R&E Center is still in business. Our research farm is moving to a new location nearby and we will have new laboratories and state of the art greenhouses as part of the new University of Idaho campus at Sandpoint. The huckleberry program is continuing and we are propagating plants for cooperators. We had a setback due to a new disease problem and lost our planting stock this summer, but I think we have found a solution. I’ll get more details out soon.

November 9, 2007

We finally have been able to update our website and have greatly expanded the huckleberry and bilberry sections at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/index.htm.

Please let me know if you find any mistakes or if additional information is needed.

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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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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January 5, 2005

My contact with the Wisconsin researcher was less than satisfactory. He is,  apparently, completing some research and plans to publish it on in vitro  propagation of western Vaccinium species. Understandably, he did not want to  share any of his results and declined an invitation to collaborate on joint  projects. For his information, we’ll just have to wait until he publishes.  In the meantime, I have a graduate student working on the same problem. I’ll  also be back in the lab beginning today propagating test plants for  cooperators.

February 4, 2005

(In response to a grower request for a pro forma “budget” for growing huckleberries…)

I believe you are referring to enterprise budgets. With an abundance of production data available from many regions over decades of commercial production, we have excellent budgets for most or all domestic fruit crops. Unfortunately, as huckleberries have not yet been cultivated, we are guessing at many factors, including yield, years to crop maturity, and so on. Also, management of wild stands will produce a very different budget than cultivation.

Your suggestion is an excellent one, and development of enterprise budgets should be high priority items as we develop the necessary bases of experience and data. At this time, we could probably put together a draft enterprise budget for wild stand management. Budgets for cultivation are probably ten years away.

We have a good start with cooperating growers. Once improved varieties are available for planting in different growing regions of the Northwest, we will be in position to generate the required information.

As for factors to consider in terms of cultivation, equipment, soil modification, and so on, I would choose to use a blueberry enterprise budget as blueberry and huckleberry crops and cultivation practices are similar. I will be putting together a new blueberry budget within a year or so and will notify members of the list when it is ready.

Thank you for your suggestion

February 11, 2005

I hope we can generate interest in a  community-directed huckleberry program, although I’m not sure exactly how  that would work. The idea of a huckleberry festival sounds great. Other  communities throughout northern Idaho and western Montana sponsor them.

I can travel to Elk River a couple of times this summer for preliminary  meetings in the spring and a late spring or early summer meeting for the  public. I particularly like the idea of a tour of a producing huckleberry  field. As I have not collected in the Elk River area before, I am not  familiar with the terrain or huckleberry stands. I would have to do a bit of  scouting before the meetings.

My initial thought is that we should focus on management of forest stands,  versus cultivation. Stand management is possible right now, while  cultivation beyond experimental plots is still a couple of years away. We  might want to coordinate our efforts with the district Forest Service  Office.

I worked under a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation in the early 1990s  and found the organization reasonably easy to work with and supportive of  this type of program. Our emphasis was alternative agriculture, which  actually allowed us to move into huckleberry research. I’m sure they would  be pleased to see the earlier grant bearing fruit, so to speak.

Please let me know what you would like me to do in terms of contacts,  organization, or information.

By the way, I received a call from a Canadian consulting firm looking for  information on commercial production of bilberries (dwarf huckleberry) in  the upper Midwest. Given the present lack of cultivars, they may not  continue efforts in that direction. Given the many other contacts I receive,  interest in commercial production of these crops is strong. Someone will  start producing them. Hopefully, we can move rapidly enough to develop a  centralized industry in the Northwest.

March 4, 2005

Management of naturally-occurring colonies is possible now and I have some  clients doing so. The first cultivars for field production should be  released in about five years. My advanced selections are going out for  testing beginning this year. We have eight mountain huckleberry, four  oval-leaved bilberry, and one bilberry that will be tested. Many more  selections are in my advanced trials at Sandpoint.

The industry is presently decentralized with little or no coordination or  cooperation. All very secret, especially regarding sources of berries,  prices paid, and volumes purchased and processed. All berries come from the  wild, with prices of $4-5 per pound typical. Recently, export markets for  raw fruit have developed, some domestic and some to the Pacific Rim. prices  have gone as high as $7 per pound, exceeding what our local processors can  pay. Also, we are shipping fruit overseas at relatively low prices, where it  is freeze-dried and ground to make nutritional supplements that are sold at  much higher prices. Seems like we could do that processing in the Northwest  and keep a larger share of the profits.

The idea behind the huckleberry association is to expand the industry by improving coordination  and communication between producers, harvesters, brokers, processors, and  marketers. My efforts are directed at developing improved varieties and  production systems. For the industry to expand, we must first increase  supplies, reduce the variation in fruit supplies, and provide fruit to  processors reliably and at sustainable prices.

March 17, 2005

If we cannot find strong community support for a huckleberry program, I  suggest holding off for a year and focusing on our cooperating growers. If  we can generate some domonstrable success stories, we will have a better  chance for expanding.

For right now, my main focus is getting the prospective cultivars propagated  and out for testing. The sooner we can release some decent cultivars, the  better our chances of getting the industry moving. We have a number or  plants rootd and are propagating more as rapidly as we can.

I’ll be arranging on-site visits with huckleberry growrs. If you would like  to participate in some on site visits in the kamiah area, please let me  know.

July 7, 2005

Interest is high and demand looks good.

Dan Fagerlie of the WSU Cooperative Extension office in Republic and cooperator with the Colville tribe called in response to the Spokesman article asking to work as a cooperator. We have some good opportunities for expanding the regional industry.

The biggest hold up right now is planting material. My grad student and I are working with that now and are making some progress.

July 8, 2005

Thought I would give you an update on the huckleberry and bilberry program. I am writing to people who have expressed interest in participating in the huckleberry and bilberry domestication program. If you would like to be removed from the list, please let me know.

The germplasm evaluation program has generated thirteen promising selections that are ready for testing. My graduate student and I are propagating them as rapidly as possible for distribution to those of you who have expressed interest in testing huckleberries and bilberries in your locations. We’ll have a small number of plants from a few of the selections ready to ship this fall, with more in 2006.

Propagation has proven the challenging part, especially establishing mature plants in vitro. If all goes well, we’ll have all of the selections established in vitro by this fall. We are working on some new protocols that appear promising. We should know by the end of the year if they are successful.

We have F1 plants from the breeding program established, but are several years away from evaluations.

We are refining the in vitro protocols for several species and should complete the seed and in vitro propagation trials by early 2006.

The initial soil survey is complete and we are in the process of publishing. The best soils will probably be well drained loams or sandy loams. Well drained silt loams can also be acceptable, at least for some species. For silt loam soils or where drainage is otherwise less than ideal, I suggest growing on raised beds. Alpine bilberry (V. uliginosum) will tolerate a wider range of soil types than the other western species and tolerates seasonally wet sites as well as dryland sites. Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum) also tolerates seasonally wet sites.

The soil pH should be near 5.0 and a range of pH values from 4 to abut 5.5 acceptable. In native stands in five northwestern states, we found pH values from 3.6 to 6.2. Retired professor Nellie Stark observed mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) at near neutral pH values.

High concentrations of volcanic ash or organic matter were not universally found in our survey, indicating that these materials are not required for survival or productivity. Likewise, many of the species we evaluated tolerated a wide range of nutrient concentrations and often thrived on low nitrogen sites. Container-grown plants in a peat moss-based potting soil respond strongly and positively to liquid fertilizer, usually 20-20-20 during the spring and early summer and tapering off to 10-30-20 or so in the late summer and fall. Field grown plants have not necessarily responded well to granular fertilizers and we presently use liquid fertilizers applied in irrigation water for our field plots. More extensive soil studies are in progress at Sandpoint.

Shading studies are in progress. Mountain huckleberry, Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum), and oval-leaved bilberry (V. ovalifolium) survive from full sun through 70% shade, provided soil moisture is adequate. Not all genotypes are equally adaptable, even within a species. An ideal location would probably be a cool, north-facing slope. In hot and/or dry areas, light shade on the order of 30% may prove beneficial. I have field trials under a thinned hybrid poplar stand and many of the accessions are growing and producing well. I have observed generally good fruit set at 50% shade, but the fruits tend to be sour.

Interest in huckleberries remains strong. An Idaho Public Television Outdoor Idaho special entitled Tastes of Idaho aired last night and featured our huckleberry program. the Spokane, Washington Spokesman Review newspaper ran a front page article earlier in the week and Associated Press plans to pick the story up for an upcoming weekend in July. Please contact me if you would like an electronic copy of the article.

Demand for planting stock remains strong, although some purchasers complain that the plants grow very slowly. We have found the seedlings remain juvenile and grow slowly for about two years and then begin to grow rapidly, producing mature shoots in the second or third years. I have found fruit on plants as young as three years and do my first selections at four to seven years. Bilberry (V. myrtillus) and mountain huckleberry seem to come into bearing more rapidly than the other species that we work with. Oval-leaved bilberry is slower and Cascade huckleberry slower, still.

One cooperator from central Washington has had excellent results with seedlings, producing four-to-six inch tall plants with mature foliage in a single season. Transplanting the seedlings to four- to six-inch containers early appears to allow for more rapid growth. We formerly produced our seedlings under 50% shade cloth, but full sun to a light shade may give more rapid growth. We will be testing that hypothesis next year.

The Western Huckleberry and Bilberry Association was formed last October, representing producers, processors, marketers, and researchers.

We have cooperative programs underway with the Clearwater Resource Conservation & Development Area of the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Clearwater RC&D Council, Inc. Rural Roots and other non profit groups have also assisted us with programming. A Washington Cooperative Extension office in northeastern Washington has expressed interest in participating in the program. The goals of our program relate to expanding the huckleberry and bilberry industries in the Northwest. At this time, the emphasis is on increasing supplies of the fruits through cultivation and production in managed forest stands. Providing high quality, productive plants to growers is the most serious limiting factor we have now.

The University of Idaho website has quite a lot of information on native Vaccinium species, as well as a grower’s guide. Check out the research page for general information. The publication Growing Western Huckleberries is available free on-line at http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint/UI 20Publications.htm.

A workshop for prospective and established huckleberry producers will be held in Elk River, Idaho on July 29. The focus of the program will be on managing forest stands. More information on the program is available at

For those of you in central Idaho and east central Washington in the Pullman, Moscow, Kamiah, and Weippe areas, I can arrange on-site visits during the week of 25 July. Please contact me if you would like a visit.

For those of you in the northern three counties of Idaho, northeastern Washington, and northwestern Montana, I can schedule visits after the July 29 workshop.

I will be traveling throughout Washington and into north central Oregon in late August collecting seeds to complete our studies. I can try to arrange to meet with cooperators in those areas at that time.

Thank you all for your interest and support. Have a great summer.

August 1, 2005

(In response to questions from a prospective grower)

How successful huckleberries will be at your site depends on soils and, to a lesser degree, elevation and snow cover. If you provide me with a specific location, I can provide more precise information.

The best sites for most huckleberry species have well-drained, acidic, loam or sandy loam soils with a soil pH near 5.0 (7.0 is neutral). Depending on the species and site, from two to six feet of snow cover during the winter is beneficial to necessary. All of the species I have tested will grow in full sun, but can benefit from light shade on hotter, drier sites. Two species are adapted to seasonally wet soils around ponds, lakes, streams, and on dry lake bottoms.

I suggest you start by looking over my website. The research page has quite a lot of information on the different species and their growing requirements. Also check out the Extension page on-line publications, specifically the 2004 Berry Bulletin and the bulletin Growing Western Huckleberries. Both are available at no cost in PDF format, or a nominal fee for printed format.

At present, we do not have improved varieties ready for the public. We are developing varieties and have many promising selections, but still have to test them for several years. At this time, we have all the test growers that we can manage. We also work with people who would like to experiment with growing huckleberries on their sites.

For now, people are managing existing huckleberry stands, starting their own seedlings, or purchasing seedlings from several nurseries. The downside with growing seedlings is that only a small percentage produce good yields of high-quality fruit.

Mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is Idaho’s state fruit and abundant in western and central Washington at elevations of 3,000 feet and above. You can sometimes find them lower and I am producing them in Sandpoint at 2,000 feet elevation. This species will not tolerate wet soils but also does not tolerate drought.

Oval-leaved bilberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) is native around Priest Lake, Idaho, throughout the Cascades, and along the Pacific Coast from northern California to southern Alaska. It grows mostly on cool, shady sites on moist soils. The fruits usually lack flavor but are rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants.

Cascade huckleberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) is native to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains and along the British Columbia coast at elevations of 2,000 feet and above. It is adapted to seasonally wet soils or drier upland sites. It grows well for me in Sandpoint. This species has especially fragrant and flavorful berries.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) grows on sites similar to the mountain huckleberry. Although the berries are small, they have excellent flavor and are rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants.

These are the four species I would focus on. You might also consider red huckleberry, although it has not been tested in western Washington and may not survive the winters.

Please feel free to contact me as you have questions. You may also visit our plantings in Sandpoint. It is a good idea to call a week ahead of time as I spend much of my time traveling.

August 10, 2005

We are up to our eyebrows in huckleberry propagation and research at the moment, When things slow down around the first of September, I’ll update my research site to include the PowerPoint presentation on management, and provide a link.

Reporter Vin Tahn from the Seattle Times is writing an article on huckleberries. Should be out in a week or so.

Crops I’ve seen so far this year are light to very light. Reports from southern Idaho and central Washington are the same. Not sure why.

August 15, 2005

I’m seeing quite a few people selling berries along the highways. All very informal. Crop reports continue to come in very light throughout the region. If you need berries, I would buy sooner than later. We usually see a price runup later in the season in years like this. My grad student and I will be collecting our samples for propagation studies next week. We’ll be collecting throughout Washington and northern Oregon. I’ll let you know what we find.

September 12, 2005

I am swamped with research at the moment. I was stationed in Cordova, Alaska  with the Coast Guard in the 1970s and picked berries there myself. Most of  the coastal blueberries are probably Vaccinium ovalifolium, Oval -leaved  bilberry. It is sometimes called Vaccinium alaskaense, Alaska blueberry.  Although the flavor is mild to poor compared with other species, the berries  are exceptionally rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants. The real potential  for many of the Alaska fruits is for nutritional supplements and botanical  products, not culinary products.

You also have V. caespitosum, dwarf huckleberry, and V. uliginosum, alpine  bilberry, in your area. Good flavors but small fruits. The uliginosum is  harvested commercially in China and Russia for use in wine production. You  also have wild cranberry, V. oxycoccus.

If you would like more information on these species, check my website at  www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint. The research and extension pages go into some  detail. When time allows, I will be adding a section on forest stand  management, which is probably the best option for Alaska.

Please contact me as you have questions.

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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May 4, 2004

The conferences have generated more than enough interest and there is no shortage of volunteers to work as cooperating growers. Most I believe will obtain sufficient information from newsletters, websites, and annual conferences to manage their plots. I plan to select perhaps 20 growers and forest land managers in the region to serve as designated cooperators where we will establish trials for data collection. I already have two designated growers identified. At this time, I caution against soliciting more prospective growers. Let’s get some on-farm or forest trials established for testing and demonstrating first.

More soil analyses arrived last night, describing soil types for naturally-occurring huckleberry colonies around the five northwest states. I still have to break the data down and analyze it, but it looks as if we have some reasonable flexibility on soil types. Soil pH and water drainage appear to me more critical than soil texture, although sandy loams and loamy sands still appear to be the most common huckleberry soils. There were enough loam designations,however, to indicate slightly heavier soils are not necessarily unsuitable for culture.

I’m presently fully occupied breeding huckleberries and bilberries, but plan to get a newsletter out to those on my huckleberry mailing list in June.

On a research note, It appears we finally have a Cascade Huckleberry selection that may approach cultivar quality. I have numerous promising mountain huckleberry and oval-leaved bilberries identified.

June 29, 2004

As for using the blueberry fertilizer guide for huckleberries, it may serve as a starting point, but there are significant differences between huckleberries and blueberries in the way they respond to nutrients in field plantings. By the way, Bob Mahler and I revised this guide several years ago.

When grown in containers, huckleberries and bilberries respond well to fertilization. The guide Growing Western Huckleberries provides detailed instructions on container culture. A no-cost on-line version is available at:
http://info.ag.uidaho.edu/Resources/PDFs/BUL0821.pdf

In forest stands, fertilizing huckleberries, bilberries, and their close relatives has produced inconsistent results. Sometimes it is beneficial, but has also sometimes been detrimental. If other, competing plants are present, they may respond more rapidly to the fertilizers and compete even more strongly with the huckleberries and bilberries. Remember that these species thrive under wild conditions with no fertilization. What appears much more important is soil pH. In a survey of 60 huckleberry soils in the five northwestern states, the only consistent factors we found was that the soils were moist and well drained and had pH values averaging between 4 and 5, with some acceptable sites in the 5.5 range (7.0 is neutral).

Given our present knowledge, I believe the best sites for huckleberries and bilberries include acidic, moist, well-drained sandy loams to loamy sands, pH 4-5, open north-facing slopes or partially shaded slopes with other orientations. In areas with winter temperatures of 0 F or below, consistent 2-5 feet of snow cover during the winter is highly beneficial. People near the Pacific coast have more options on which species to grow. Whether snow cover is needed for high-elevation species grown at sea level remains to be determined. In areas with cold winters and little snow cover, winter protection may be needed.

I have a newsletter focusing on huckleberries that is almost finished. If you are not sure if you are on the mailing list and would like to receive the newsletter, please send me your name, mailing address, and email address.

Commercial harvests have started at low elevations in northern Idaho and surrounding regions. Although we had an extremely early spring, bloom occurred just a little before average. Some late frosts hit the region, but it is too early to tell how much they impacted the crops. No news yet on the quality or quantity of fruit. Demand from processors and brokers for berries is, reportedly, strong.

We had very high survival rates in our field plantings and outdoor containerized plant yards  over the winter. We did have some cold temperatures in October and November with little or no snow cover. We also experienced subzero temperatures during the winter when the tops of the plants were exposed above the snow. Many of the plants showed damage to or death of exposed canes. This again emphasizes the desirability of snow cover in colder climates.

Several oval-leaved bilberries appear especially promising in terms of early production and large numbers of fruits. We are not yet finished with 2004 evaluations and selections, but I anticipate several new oval-leaved bilberry selections this year.

July 25, 2004

Specialty crops have great potential for northern Idaho and surrounding regions. None of them, however (including huckleberries) are going to make anyone rich quickly with little effort. We saw that mentality destroy fledgling raspberry and herb industries in this area before they had a chance to properly establish themselves.

The key is to select a crop that is well adapted to your site, start small and grow slowly, and keep in mind that marketing is critical. In a study a few years ago in northern Idaho, we found that the greatest challenge, by far, for specialty agricultural enterprises was marketing. Next came capital to start and maintain the enterprise until it was profitable and labor to manage or process the crop. Actually growing a crop was the easiest part of the process.

August 4, 2004

2004 is shaping up to be an average to slightly above average crop in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington for mountain huckleberries. Oval-leaved bilberry crops appear to be average to somewhat below average in berry size and yields. Early rains did produce large fruits on the early-ripening sites. Our unseasonably hot and dry summer, however, is likely to reduce berry quality and yields on some droughty, late-ripening sites.

I collected on August 2 west of Priest Lake in Bonner County, Idaho and Pend Oreille County, Washington. Mountain huckleberry and oval-leaved bilberry fruits were beginning to ripen at 4,200 feet elevation, with fully ripe fruits at lower elevations. The best locations in this region at this time are between 3,000 and 4,000 feet elevation, with late-ripening colonies still producing acceptable fruit at 2,500 feet.

I will be collecting today east of Lake Pend Oreille in Bonner County, Idaho in the Trestle Creek and Lightning Creek drainages. Contact me if you nee information on berries in those areas.

September 3, 2004

One of the conference attendees from central Washington brought me some plants last week. Plants they sowed from seed in January of this year are as large as my three-year-olds. The longer season in central and western Oregon and Washington will give nurseries there a huge advantage. Our best prospects are probably in fruit production, processing, and marketing.

As of right now, I believe we have eight cooperating growers, with one or two more likely. They are located in northern, central, and southwestern Idaho, northwestern Washington, and central Washington. That number of growers is just right to begin with.

As for the Spokesman, no, I did not hear from them. I was interviewed by the Missoulian, Whitefish (Montana) paper, Boise State U., and a few others this year. Interest in the huckleberries remains high.

I’m concerned about exports of raw fruits. I have heard apocryphal reports of groups of pickers being brought in from out of state, harvesting the fruit, and then selling it for high prices in areas like Utah. I am also hearing similar rumors of large amounts of raw fruits being exported to the Pacific Rim. Increasing our production is certainly an important goal. Equally important to the survival of the industry will be generating money locally and regionally from value-added products and marketing.

September 9, 2004

I am just leaving for several days fishing on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene, and will get in touch with you when I get back into town.

I have been considering funding for the huckleberry work and there are several options. I am submitting a germplasm evaluation grant proposal this morning to fund research here, but a grant to support establishment efforts by growers is also needed. A SARE grant is obvious, but amounts available are far less than what they used to be. The Idaho State Department of Ag distributed federal funds for specialty crop research/establishment for a couple of years. The status of renewing the program is still in question. The Organic Farming Research organization sponsors small grants. From a marketing perspective, organic production would be highly desirable for these crops. Regional economic development or federal rural development grants might be another source of funding. We might also consider grants for forest management, focusing on multiple resource management, i.e. huckleberries, bear grass, mushrooms, etc.

Two of our biggest challenges are inertia and the tradition of secretiveness by everyone in the trade. Those weaknesses are being exploited by brokers who are buying local berries cheaply and exporting them at high prices overseas or to other states. For this industry to survive and expand, we need to be converting the raw fruit into value added products and marketing them out of our region. Once we get the production side going, we need to consider forming cooperatives linking producers, processors, and marketers.

Thanks for your continued interest in the project.

December 6, 2004

I just returned from the Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research (NCSFR) meetings in Boise. It looks like we received another year of funding to complete phase one of the project. I also learned of another researcher in the upper Midwest who has developed a shortcut for producing nursery stock with these species. I’ll contact him this week for details. Dr. Chad Finn from the USDA in Corvallis has some advanced selections of his own that are going out to the same cooperating nursery we plan to use in Oregon. Interest in the program is high and the administrator of the NCSFR plans to highlight our program to the USDA as a success story. I also just heard from a grower in Alberta who wants to grow huckleberries and offered to participate in the program.

My goal has always been to develop an industry for the Northwest that is unique to the region and can benefit, especially, our rural areas and contribute to the tourism industry. Unfortunately, the information generated by this project is rapidly available all over the world and there are those who will try to capitalize on that information. At present, my plant materials are safe, but once they enter the nursery trade, that could change rapidly. I’ll work with the UI Research Foundation to try and patent the materials in such a way that we can protect our intellectual investment and keep in here for the people who helped develop it.

Another very serious concern I have is the import of nursery stock from other countries. We are already facing a serious problem with sudden oak death in the region and have had the currant and gooseberry industries destroyed by imported pine seedlings carrying whit pine blister rust. I’ll be working with the blueberry industry and departments of agriculture to ensure appropriate quarantines are in place.

December 15, 2004

(In response to a grower inquiry)

Thank you for your interest in our huckleberry program. I have been working to develop managed and cultivated huckleberries as commercial crops for the Northwest for about ten years. We are finally at a point where experimental plantings are feasible, although release of cultivars is still a few years away. I am working with about fourteen cooperating growers in Idaho, Washington, and Montana establishing experimental plantings or managing naturally occurring stands of huckleberries and bilberries. I will also be working with two commercial fruit nurseries to test prospective cultivars, probably beginning in the spring of 2006.

I have a website  that provides quite a lot of information on huckleberries of the Northwest and their prospects for cultivation. That site is at www.ag.uidaho.edu/sandpoint. The Berry Bulletin newsletter issue on the home page is dedicated to huckleberries. Our research page goes into detail on our research. A production guide, Growing Western Huckleberries, is available.

The Northwest Berry and Grape Information Network also has huckleberry pages, but I have not updated them recently as much information has been developed within the past few months and we are still trying to integrate it. http://berrygrape.oregonstate.edu/fruitgrowing/fruitgrowing.htm

The Hood River area is home to perhaps eight western huckleberry and bilberry species, at least five of which have commercial potential. For culinary products, mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) and Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum) have outstanding flavor and aroma. Red huckleberry (V. parvifolium) is less flavorful, but seems to be popular in some areas west of the Cascades for pastries. Bilberry (V. myrtillus) has an established market for nutritional supplements and botanical products and oval-leaved bilberry (V. ovalifolium) may have potential for similar products.

We do not have improved varieties yet, but a few nurseries carry seedlings that you can use to test at your location.

As for site selection, loams and sand loams with pH between 4-5 are preferred.

Market potential is strong, especially for locally-produced specialty and niche products targeting the tourist and gift trades. The variety of products now available is staggering, including culinary, cosmetic, nutritional, and ornamental items. We have a number of huckleberry processors in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Limited supplies presently limit market expansion. As I mentioned, demand frequently exceeds supplies. I have reports of raw fruits being shipped to the Pacific Rim for use as nutritional supplements. It certainly seems feasible to produce the supplements in the US and ship the finished product at substantially increased profits.

In October 2004, the Western Huckleberry and Bilberry Association was formed to represent producers, processors, marketers, and researchers. We are in the process of setting up a leadership organization and bylaws. The minutes of the organizational meeting are attached. Annual dues were set at $25 initially.

At this time, managed production and cultivation are strictly experimental. I am not encouraging anyone new to get into processing the berries because all fruit now comes from wild stands and demand already exceeds available supplies. Our focus at this time is to increase the supply side, provide education, and facilitate networking among Association members.

My goal is to expand the huckleberry industry in the Northwest to provide economic opportunities for areas hit by loss agricultural, timber, and mining industry jobs.

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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By Dr. Dan Barney, University of Idaho

Commercial harvests of huckleberries and bilberries from the wild predate the nineteenth-century European settlers when these fruits were traded and bartered by Native Americans. By the late twentieth century, wildcrafted huckleberries had developed into a significant industry in the northwestern United States. Mountain huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is the primary source of fruit for today’s culinary market, with Cascade huckleberry (V. deliciosum) and oval-leaved bilberry (V. ovalifolium) occasionally being harvested for their fruit. Along the Pacific Coast, evergreen huckleberry (V. ovatum) is often harvested from the wild and occasionally grown in cultivation – not for its fruit, but for its attractive foliage that is sold for use in floral arrangements. Northwest natives that are seldom used commercially in North America but are popular in Europe and parts of Asia include bilberry or dwarf huckleberry (V. myrtillus) and alpine bilberry (V. uliginosum).

Huckleberries and bilberries are popular for many reasons. Some, like the mountain and Cascade huckleberries, have outstanding flavors and aromas and lend themselves to the production of a vast array of culinary and cosmetic products. Restaurants throughout North America, from mom-and-pop diners to upscale resorts, feature huckleberries in specialty sauces, desserts, and salad dressings.

In today’s society, people are intensely interested in foods and other natural products that can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and other health problems. Research in Europe and North American have shown that huckleberries and bilberries are rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants, and other compounds that may be beneficial to human health. In recent years, some brokers have begun exporting huckleberry and bilberry fruits and products to overseas health food markets.

Besides their practical uses, huckleberries epitomize wilderness and nature. With a large, growing, and affluent population in western North America, combined with an expanding tourist trade, high-value huckleberry products targeting the gift and tourist markets are enjoying great popularity.

Could the huckleberry and bilberry industries expand? Absolutely! Unfortunately, demand for the fruits often far outstrips available supplies. Also, as demand has increased and wild crops have dwindled or become less accessible, prices have risen to the point that they are becoming prohibitive, especially for small-scale processors. The obvious solution, at least for some product lines, is to grow huckleberries and bilberries in cultivation as we do blueberries and raspberries.

With the exception of a few, small evergreen huckleberry farms near the coast, huckleberries and bilberries have not been cultivated. Attempts to cultivate these species have been made, but most ended in failure. These failures can usually be attributed to a lack of knowledge about the crops and their growing requirements, growing the crops in areas where they were poorly adapted, trying to transplant plants from the wild, and lack of improved cultivars.

Many of those barriers still exist today, but we have made great progress. Past research by the U.S. Forest Service and University of Montana laid the groundwork for current programs at the University of Idaho and Montana State University. We are learning much about the soil and climatic requirements for huckleberries and bilberries and are developing and testing cultural practices for managing these crops in forest stands and cultivating them in fields. The University of Idaho, aided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service, has an active program to develop improved cultivated varieties. Promising selections of mountain huckleberry, bilberry, and oval-leaved bilberry will be provided to cooperating researchers and nurseries for testing throughout the Northwestern U.S. beginning in 2005. We should see the first named cultivars between 2008 and 2020.

So, what are the prospects for commercial production of huckleberries and bilberries? The reality is, field cultivation of these crops is unproven. Without more development and testing, large-scale attempts to grow these crops would be very risky. We are, however, at a point where growers can begin small-scale trials to evaluate which crops and practices might be appropriate for their particular sites. Seedlings are commercially available to prospective growers and the University of Idaho can provide guidelines on propagating and growing these crops.

Whereas large-scale field cultivation is still at least several years away, we have the knowledge needed to commercially manage huckleberries and bilberries in naturally occurring forest stands. Typical strategies include controlling competing vegetation, water management, and managing shade through tree density. Improving stands with the addition of high-yielding or otherwise superior plants is feasible on some sites. Similar strategies were applied to “North American wild blueberries,” formerly known as lowbush blueberries (V. angustifolium and V. myrtilloides). Combined with effective marketing, wild stand management propelled the wild blueberry industry to great success in the late twentieth century. Although risks remain, management of “wild” stands will almost certainly represent the first step in expanding the production and marketing of western huckleberries and bilberries.

Will cultivation and managed production destroy the huckleberry mystique and ruin the market? Some processors and marketers have expressed this fear. A century ago, blueberries were wild crops, not considered suitable for cultivation. Efforts to domesticate them probably met with many of the same fears. Instead of destroying the mystique and market, highbush, lowbush, and rabbiteye blueberry production became large and profitable industries in North America and abroad.

Also, the goal in the huckleberry and bilberry development program is to expand opportunities and profitability in the industry while protecting valuable natural resources. It seems likely that wildcrafted berries will remain a valuable part of the industry, particularly for high-value, niche products. Large-scale processors, restaurateurs, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical companies, and export brokers who require large volumes of fruit and leaves should welcome the uniform, reliable crops cultivation and stand management are likely to provide.

The bottom line? There are certainly opportunities. There are also risks, particularly with field cultivation.

If you are interested in producing cultivated or managed huckleberries or bilberries, start small. For field cultivation, 100 to 1000 plants will help you evaluate your site and develop your skills and appropriate production practices. For trial purposes, an area of one-tenth to one-quarter acre is sufficient.

The same caution applies to managing a forest stand. Most private forest landowners will probably find that managing one to ten acres of huckleberries will provide all of the work they can handle at first. As your skills and experience grow, you can decide whether a huckleberry enterprise is really desirable on your site. If so, you will be in a good position to expand your enterprise successfully. If not, you can close the enterprise without a serious financial loss.

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Article in the Capital Press, Wednesday April 29

Huckleberries may be next hot berry
Research centers on taming wild berries so they’re easier to cultivate

Matthew Weaver
Capital Press

New and improved huckleberry varieties will go to cooperating growers, researchers and nurseries next spring.

“We have the plants out in our nursery. They need another season of growth before I’m comfortable shipping them out,” said Dan Barney, University of Idaho professor of horticulture and superintendent of the university’s Sandpoint Research Extension Center.

The huckleberries will be tested to determine if they are good enough to name and release to the public. More varieties would then be available in 2012 and 2013.

“We are in position to make tremendous advances rapidly in the quality of the material because we’re so early in the breeding program from the wild,” Barney said. “We can make quantum leaps in quality.”

As the breeding program progresses, improvements become more incremental, he said.

“Some of the early varieties are going to be good, but they’re not going to be as good as the ones that come on later,” he said.

Barney said huckleberries are an up-and-coming crop with tremendous economic potential, both for fruit production and nursery production of the plants to sell to fruit growers.

Cultivating huckleberries will also protect wild stands from excessive harvesting, he said.

“It is an important natural resource we would like to protect from over harvesting and poor management practices,” he said.

Such measures would protect the plants and berries for recreational pickers and small processors, marketers and native Americans who use the plants as part of their culture.

Huckleberry research began in 1994, Barney said.

The huckleberries of most interest to the center fall within the taxonomic section Myrtillus, which includes the Idaho state fruit, the mountain huckleberry; the European blueberry or bilberry; the oval-leaf bilberry and the Cascade huckleberry.

The mountain huckleberry is most widely harvested throughout the Northwest and in Canada, Barney said.

Malcolm Dell is founder and executive coordinator of the fledgling International Wild Huckleberry Association, which has about 50 members.

“The wild huckleberry resource is in trouble,” Dell said, citing changes in fire frequency, logging practices and climate. Commercial producers are also competing for berry sources.

Barney’s research will take the pressure off the wild resource, as international and national markets increase for huckleberry products, Dell said.

“We have more companies starting up using huckleberries at the same time we have a declining resource,” he said. “It’s kind of a scary situation. Last year was the best crop in 15 years in huckleberries, but it was the exception, not the rule.”

Using Barney’s research, there is the opportunity to provide field-grown huckleberries, which would be a slightly different market but allow businesses a quality, cultivated product at a lower cost than wild berries.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find people to harvest the wild resource in this country,” he said.

It’s not certain how large the huckleberry industry actually is, Barney said, because a majority of it takes place “underground,” and there is no central organization.

Huckleberries are sold regionally in many different products, and are exported, particularly to Pacific Rim countries, and are popular in upscale restaurants. At a recent luncheon, President Barack Obama served huckleberries in the featured dessert.

In addition to the association, Dell and his wife, Sandy, operate Gourmet Innovations LLC, which includes a variety of huckleberry products, from syrups and jams to salsa and mustard.

The association formed after a similar organization languished, Dell said. The Dells decided to create a supporting website and bring people together to discuss the wild berries.

“We’re mostly in the building phase right now, trying to get people together and talking about what this organism is going to be when it grows up,” Dell said.

They are also getting involved in legislative issues.

Because huckleberries grow singly on a stem, as opposed to blueberries, which can be harvested quickly, they are picked individually by hand or using a rake. Different methods of harvest are being examined, Barney said. Rakes date back to native Americans, but Washington state bans the use of rakes.

Barney said the law is “not based on research, just more of a philosophy-type of thing.”

Dell said huckleberry rakes make for good tools that don’t damage plants.

Researchers are also working in cooperation with native populations to rediscover past methods of growing and harvesting the berries, Barney said.

The research primarily impacts nursery growers and fruit growers who either manage wild stands or cultivate huckleberries, Barney said.

The Sandpoint center has been primarily funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northwest Center for Small Fruit Research and a grant to examine the health properties of huckleberries and bilberries.

“They are indeed very rich in anthocyanins and antioxidants,” Barney said.

A grant typically runs from $10,000 per year to $28,000 per year, with the exception of a $100,000 grant several years ago from the federal government to look at the biochemistry.

“We’re hoping to increase that,” Barney said.

Barney’s program is in danger of losing funds as a result of the current Idaho budget squeeze, but the association is trying to rally support, Dell said.

One of Barney’s pet peeves is people coming into the area, picking the fruit and shipping it overseas.

“There’s no return to our area in terms of the economy,” Barney said. “So there’s no additional resources to help maintain this. I would like to see that change, so the production, processing and marketing take place here. The whole world still can benefit from this, but let’s keep this an important resource for our area. This can be the huckleberry center of the world.”

Dell wants to see huckleberries get the acknowledgment and value he feels they deserve in the marketplace, similar to blueberries. He’d like to see healthy growth in the industry without worrying about supply.

“Blueberries are a wonderful berry, but if you really like a berry, huckleberry has many advantages,” he said. “Because huckleberries have a more intense flavor, of course they have some detractors. But most people who like blueberries love huckleberries.”

Matthew Weaver is based in Spokane, Wash. E-mail: mweaver@capitalpress.com.

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