University extensions in both Idaho and Montana are experimenting with various varieties of berries in an effort to determine which berries, if any, can be grown successfully at a commercial scale in the Intermountain West.
In southwestern Idaho, a hop grower and University of Idaho researcher are coordinating in an attempt to grow blueberries. Brock and Phillip Obendorf Farms in Parma, Idaho is working through making changes to the farm's soil so that the blueberry plants can better absorb micronutrients from the soil.
Blueberries are not easily grown in most parts of Montana, however other types of blue and purple berries and small fruits can be. Honeyberries or haskaps are really short season and hardy. They grow wild above 6500’ elevation. Haskap fruit a little their second year, but fruit more heavily at age three or four. However even in maturity, they don’t bear as heavily as commercial blueberries. The fruits have three times the antioxidant potential as blueberries and are more well-suited for most farms in Montana.
The berry feasibility project aims to:
- Determine which “superfood” fruits are productive and profitable;
- Educate growers and consumers on which fruits do well in the state and how to grow them; and,
- Increase the supply and demand for Montana-grown fruits.
Brian Jackson of Bitterroot Valley Greens LLC and Sapphire Mountain Vineyards LLC has experimented with haskap berries and hopes that the Bitterroot Valley can become the haskap capital of the United States.
The University extension research underway on berries in both Idaho and Montana is critical to the success of individual landowners as well as the regional success of specific berries. It takes several years for orchards to produce profits in part because of the high initial costs of planting, fencing and labor. The risk associated with high upfront costs and thin margins early can be partially mitigated by certainty being added in other sections of the operations such as plant cultivars and market opportunities. Extension research primarily aimed at answering questions of which plant cultivars are going to do well and fit their markets helps landowners potentially increase their likelihood of success.