Blackberries are generally referred to as caneberries, which includes all berries that grow on a cane, including raspberries, marionberries and boysenberries; they are also often described as “bramble” plants.
Blackberries are native to several continents, including Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Learing of land for agriculture in North America allowed native blackberries to disperse and hybridize. Cultivation then followed between the years 1850-1860 (NRAES, 2008).
In 2014, U.S. blackberry production was valued at $50.1 million, up from the past two years. $4.91 million came from fresh market sales, and $45.2 million came from processed sales (NASS, 2015).
In 2014 the processed rate for blackberries was $1.08/pound, where the price for fresh blackberries was $1.55/pound (NASS, 2015).
The number of farmers’ markets has increased 76 percent since 2008. The most recent data from 2014 says that there are 8,268 farmers’ markets currently operating in the United States. Although this is great news for farmers who sell their produce locally, it also means more competition. Thus, more thought must be put into value added procedures (USDA, 2014).
According to the Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES), one of the most essential aspects for adding value to bramble fruits is preparation prior to marketing them. Bramble fruits are quick to perish therefore having a cooling facility on site is crucial (especially for berries destined for the wholesale market). Another aspect to consider is having adequate parking for U-pick customers (NRAES, 2008).
Another way to add value to your berry fruits is to consider their packaging. Packaging often makes the first impression on the consumer. More consumers are becoming environmentally conscious and are willing to pay a little extra to support sustainability. Using biodegradable pint baskets is a great way to be environmentally responsible while still receiving a fair price for your produce (Ohio State University - Extension, 2008).
Oregon is the predominant geographic source of cultivated U.S. blackberry production in the United States. In 2014, Oregon produced 45.4 million pounds of blackberries on 6,100 acres. Average blackberry yields per acre were 7, 390 pounds (down 15 percent from 2013 and down 17 percent from 2012). 3.1 million pounds were sold as fresh berries and the remaining 41.9 million pounds were sold as processed product (NASS, 2015).
Blackberries frozen for commercial packs have remained relatively consistent around 23 million pounds, from 1980 through 2006, with volumes ranging from a 1984 low of 11.1 million pounds to a high of 31.5 million pounds in 1992.
In 2014, the United States imported 124.7 million pounds of fresh blackberries and 26.7 million pounds of frozen product. Imported fresh blackberries were valued at almost $207 million and imported frozen blackberries were values at $30.75 million.
Mexico provided nearly all U.S. imported fresh blackberry volumes, representing a four-year annual average market share of 96 percent from 2011 to 2014. Chile led in U.S. imports of frozen blackberries, accounting for a four-year annual average market share of 58.4 percent from 2011-2014.
Currently, U.S. blackberry export data is not available (ERS, 2015).
Blackberries are classified based on growth habit. There are erect, semi-erect and trailing varieties, and both thorny and thornless plant cultivars. The erect varieties do not need to be trellised if they are properly pruned. Semi-erect and trailing blackberries require extensive trellising and routine pruning. Well-managed blackberries can remain productive for more than 15 years. Blackberries thrive in temperate climates with well-drained loose soil. Once established, bramble plants have rather large root systems and are not too susceptible to drought, however, bramble plants are very sensitive to over watering (NRAES, 2008) (Texas A&M AgriLife - Extension, n.d.).
A goal of farmers has been to extend the growing season of berries while keeping costs low. This can be achieved with high tunnel production. High tunnels are large hoop houses covered in plastic that cost a fraction of greenhouse production. The implementation of high tunnels allows for a longer season with summer-bearing (floricane) varieties producing fruit as early as May and fall-bearing (primocane) varieties continuing to produce fruit into November. Berries receive a premium price early and late in the season, therefore an extended season allows farmers to acquire a bigger market share (Cornell University, 2012).
Helpful enterprise budgets for blackberries:
• 2008 Kentucky Blackberry Cost and Return Estimates – University of Kentucky College of Agriculture - Cooperative Extension ID-149, 2008. This online blackberry budget provides estimates for all aspects of blackberry production, harvest and marketing.
• Blackberry Budget Program – North Carolina State University - Cooperative Extension, 2011.
• Budget Tool for Organic Blackberry Production – North Carolina State University - Cooperative Extension, 2015.