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Matthew Arrington and Lisa Wasko DeVetter

Fruit set in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) can be low under certain climatic conditions, contributing to reduced yields in northwestern Washington. The mechanisms influencing fruit set are complex, but reduced fruit set may be associated with inadequate nutrient availability during critical stages of flowering, ovule fertilization, and initial fruit development. Calcium (Ca) and boron (B) are of particular interest for reproductive developmental processes and are frequently applied annually by growers in the Pacific Northwest region because of the perception that these nutrients enhance fruit set and corresponding yields. Evaluation of commonly applied products containing these nutrients and their effects on fruit set and yield are of specific importance to justify the application of these nutrients. To address this, commercially available fertilizers containing Ca and B were applied to ‘Draper’ and ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry as foliar sprays, either alone or in combination, during the 2015 and 2016 growing seasons in northwestern Washington. Treatments included calcium chloride (750 and 1500 ppm Ca), calcium sulfate (150 ppm Ca), and tetra borate (125 and 250 ppm B) foliar sprays, repeated six times per season every 7–10 days from early pink bud through petal fall. No significant increases were observed for fruit set, estimated yield, and fruit quality (firmness and berry weight) across the treatments. Increased concentrations of B were observed in leaf tissues in 2015 and 2016, and to a lesser extent fruit tissues. Calcium remained unchanged regardless of treatment and tissue type. Under the conditions of this study, foliar applications of Ca and B did not lead to increased fruit set or yield. This research suggests that other approaches should be explored to increase fruit set and corresponding yields of highbush blueberry grown in northwest Washington.

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Matthew Arrington and Lisa Wasko DeVetter

Yield components including fruit set and berry size in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) can be limited in key production regions like western Washington. Climactic conditions influence the activity levels of blueberry’s primary commercial pollinator, honey bee (Apis mellifera). Cool springs with frequent rainfall, which are common during the spring bloom period in western Washington, can reduce honey bee activity, pollination efficiency, and subsequent fruit set and yields. Increasing honey bee hive density may be a simple technique that growers can employ to increase the number of honey bees foraging during periods of good weather, interspersed with the poor weather, and therefore, increase fruit set and related yield components. The objective of this study was to evaluate if increased honey bee hive densities improve pollination and subsequent yield components in western Washington blueberry. Three field sites with mature ‘Duke’ plants were stocked with 10 hives/ha of honey bees (control), and three other field sites (also ‘Duke’) were stocked with 20 hives/ha (high hive density). Honey bee visitation and yield components, including fruit set and berry weight, were measured. Estimated yield, seed number/berry, and fruit firmness were also monitored. There were no significant differences in fruit set regardless of honey bee hive density. However, honey bee visitation and estimated yield increased with increased honey bee hive density. Berry weight and seed number per berry were also increased with increased honey bee hive density, although firmness was unaffected. Results indicate that increasing honey bee hive densities can help blueberry growers improve berry size and overall yields, suggesting this is a practice growers can implement if their production is constrained by insufficient pollination.

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Lisa Wasko DeVetter, Rebecca Harbut and Jed Colquhoun

Recent cultivar releases of cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have been reported to differ in terminal bud development, biennial bearing tendencies, and external bud appearance. However, verification of these claims and cultivar comparisons with respect to these characteristics are lacking. The objectives of this project were to 1) evaluate flower initiation, bud development, and potential return bloom across several cultivars of cranberry, including recent introductions; and 2) determine the relationship between external appearance of buds and the presence/absence of flower initials. Samples of upright shoots representing the cultivars Searles, Stevens, HyRed, and Crimson Queen were collected from a commercial cranberry marsh located in central Wisconsin during the 2011 and 2012 growing seasons. Collected uprights were separated based on reproductive status (i.e., reproductive or vegetative). Buds were then dissected and analyzed for presence/absence of flower initials using light and scanning electron microscopy. Growing degree days (GDD) were calculated and related to the progression of bud development. Flower initials were first observed on 29 July 2011 and 10 July 2012, or 290 and 322 GDD, respectively. Excluding ‘Searles’, dates of initiation were the same across all cultivars and did not differ based on reproductive status. Descriptive bud data demonstrated that wider buds are more likely to contain flower initials and overall bud width tended to be greater among recent cultivar releases. Biennial bearing tendencies were also lower among recently released cultivars, as exhibited by greater occurrences of potential return bloom. Results from the study provide evidence that recently released cultivars differ in bud development, have an increased potential for return bloom, and overall wider buds. These findings suggest newer cultivars may have different mechanisms regulating mixed bud development and other yield-contributing factors.

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R. Karina Gallardo, Eric T. Stafne, Lisa Wasko DeVetter, Qi Zhang, Charlie Li, Fumiomi Takeda, Jeffrey Williamson, Wei Qiang Yang, William O. Cline, Randy Beaudry and Renee Allen

The availability and cost of agricultural labor is constraining the specialty crop industry throughout the United States. Most soft fruits destined for the fresh market are fragile and are usually hand harvested to maintain optimal quality and postharvest longevity. However, because of labor shortages, machine harvest options are being explored out of necessity. A survey on machine harvest of blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) for fresh market was conducted in 2015 and 2016 in seven U.S. states and one Canadian province. Survey respondents totaled 223 blueberry producers of various production sizes and scope. A majority (61%) indicated that their berries were destined for fresh markets with 33% machine harvested for this purpose. Eighty percent said that they thought fruit quality was the limiting factor for machine-harvested blueberries destined for fresh markets. Many producers had used mechanized harvesters, but their experience varied greatly. Just less than half (47%) used mechanical harvesters for fewer than 5 years. Most respondents indicated that labor was a primary concern, as well as competing markets and weather. New technologies that reduce harvesting constraints, such as improvements to harvest machinery and packing lines, were of interest to most respondents. Forty-five percent stated they would be interested in using a modified harvest-aid platform with handheld shaking devices if it is viable (i.e., fruit quality and picking efficiency is maintained and the practice is cost effective). Overall, the survey showed that blueberry producers have great concerns with labor costs and availability and are open to exploring mechanization as a way to mitigate the need for hand-harvest labor.

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Zongyu Li, R. Karina Gallardo, Wendy Hoashi-Erhardt, Vicki A. McCracken, Chengyan Yue and Lisa Wasko DeVetter

Pacific Northwest North America (PNW) strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) growers are transitioning away from the processing to fresh-market sector in response to changes in local and regional markets. However, many of the regional cultivars bred for the PNW were not developed for the fresh market. There is a need to gain a better understanding of growers’ priority traits and their relative importance to enable breeders, researchers, and extension specialists to better serve this growing industry. The objective of this study was to provide such information on strawberry genetic traits of importance for the changing strawberry industry in the PNW with an emphasis on fresh-market production. Six surveys were administered to 32 growers representing ≈53%, 23%, and 15% of the total strawberry acreage in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada, respectively. Growers ranked the relative importance of five plant and fruit traits, including fruit quality, disease resistance/tolerance, insect pest resistance/tolerance, plant stress tolerance, and other plant factors. Information about target markets, marketing channels, and general grower characteristics were also obtained. Whereas overall responses differed among the surveyed locations, fruit quality was considered the most important trait across all locations, with disease resistance/tolerance as the second most important. Specific fruit quality traits of importance were external appearance free of defects, skin color, size, sweetness, firmness, and flavor, whereas phytonutrients, seed color, and low drip loss after freezing and thawing were less important. Plant stress tolerance was identified as less important for strawberry growers in all locations. Results also showed many growers have already or are in the process of transitioning to the fresh market. Information obtained from this survey can be leveraged to target important breeding traits for fresh-market strawberry breeders within the PNW. Results also suggest priority areas of synergistic research and outreach activities to help growers achieve high fruit quality while managing diseases for fresh-market producers.