The Pacific northwestern United States is an important region for production of cultivated blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2014). The proportion of total U.S. blueberry production grown on certified organic and exempt organic (less than $5000/year gross income and not requiring certification) farms was relatively small (3%) in 2008 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2010). However, the Pacific northwestern region accounted for 49% of the total blueberry organic area planted in the United States in 2008, when the last survey was conducted. The certified organic area has grown considerably since the last survey, increasing to an estimated 915 ha in Oregon and Washington in 2011, 55% of total U.S. organic blueberry area (Strik, 2014). By 2014, the organic blueberry area in Oregon and Washington accounted for about 20% of total blueberry area planted. Growth in organic production continues as consumer demand for organic products remains strong, and this region offers substantial advantages for organic production (DeVetter et al., 2015; Strik, 2016; Strik et al., 2016; Strik and Yarborough, 2005).
A wide range of cultivars are grown in this region for the fresh and processed markets, offering a range in fruiting seasons from the earliest (‘Duke’) to the latest (‘Aurora’) (Strik et al., 2014). The development of yield and fruit quality of the range of cultivars grown has not been compared in research studies, likely because of the relatively long time from planting to maturity (about 8 years). Differences in the performance of cultivars have been found in organic production of ‘Duke’ and ‘Liberty’ blueberry (Larco et al., 2013a, 2013b; Strik, 2016; Strik et al., 2016) and various blackberry cultivars (Fernandez-Salvador et al., 2015).
Blueberry plants are adapted to soils with low pH (4.5–5.5) and high OM (>4%) (Hart et al., 2006). Organic and conventional growers are interested in using composts because of hypothesized OM, nutrient, and microbiological benefits (e.g., Forge et al., 2003) on soil properties and nutrients. Because organic sources of nitrogen (N) are expensive and often laborious to apply, the potential benefit from a slow-release N from compost is also of great interest to growers. However, use of plant- and animal-based composts as a preplant amendment may be problematic in this crop as these materials have a high pH and often a high salt content (animal-based) (Sullivan et al., 2014).
Our objective was to characterize yield and associated plant and fruit quality traits of important highbush blueberry cultivars in the region from planting to maturity and evaluate their adaptation to common organic amendments and mulches used in certified organic production.
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