By Kathy Demchak and Marvin Pritts
Raspberry and blueberry growers found that their 2012 crops can not only survive, but thrive in years of extreme temperature fluctuations. Given the more normal weather pattern experienced so far in 2013, these crop can be expected to be good again – barring an extremely cold late winter.
Demand for berries continues to be strong and growing, especially for locally-produced fruit. But as usual, weather during harvest will be the real determiner of whether profits can be fully realized for strawberry, raspberry and blueberry harvests.
Weather-related challenges and changing pest complexes will continue to put pressure on growers of high-value crops. However, strong demand for these crops will result in growers finding value in technologies, such as high tunnels and other types of protected cultures to help with dealing with these issues.
Bitty bug is biggest concern
The spotted winged drosophila, an introduced pest from Japan, has wreaked havoc with soft fruit growers throughout much of the world. It made its big debut in 2012 with a major negative impact on late-season blueberries, fall raspberries, blackberries and day-neutral strawberries throughout the Northeast.
This pest will likely reemerge across the entire Northeast. Growers will need to be vigilant about scouting, timely harvests and treating with insecticide. There are no other known measures to deter this pest.
SWD populations will start out the spring quite low, especially considering the low temperatures experienced in January. However, protected overwintering site will once again result in a population that will build as the season progresses.
SWD specific baits and traps are in development, and growers are generally better able to recognize this pest. This means that both cultural and chemical measures can be utilized to keep populations at bay.
Tunnels provide no protection against SWD. Some growers removed entire plantings in 2012 because every berry in the fields was infested. Similar pest pressure is expected in 2013.
In addition to SWD, brown marmorated sting bug and sap beetles are increasing in numbers, and they, too, are affecting more berry crops each year. Now, it's a common practice for berry growers to spray an insecticide later in the season.
Consumer acceptance of more insecticide-treated berries and berries with occasional larvae inside has yet to be determined. Organic growers, in particular, will likely be hit hard by SWD.
Demchak and Pritts are horticulture and small-fruit specialists at Penn State and Cornell, respectively.