Later this year I will be headed to Oklahoma to do some consulting for the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council. The idea is to help growers improve production and quality in the vineyard. Since I spent 6 years there I have knowledge of the diverse eco-regions within the state and some of the challenges that growers face. Something that I heard while there and after is that consumers don’t want/won’t try wines they aren’t familiar with. This means that the winery believes they need a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, etc. to be successful. While I don’t dispute that wine consumers are narrowly focused, I also don’t buy into the idea that they won’t try or buy anything else. I look to Minnesota and Missouri, which have thriving wine industries, without any or very little Vitis vinifera grapes being grown. There are some states that cannot grow these grapes for one reason or another (too cold, disease, etc.). Many states can grow them, but sometimes I question why. Does the world need another mediocre/decent/good Cabernet Sauvignon? I don’t pretend to know the answer to that and can only speak for myself — almost without fail I can find a superior bottle of wine at the store for far cheaper than the winery. Now, I don’t want to diminish the wineries doing it — they produce a local product that helps the agricultural and tourist economies of the state. Good for them and good for us. But some places just shouldn’t be growing certain kinds of grapes when others produce a better product. Since I work with the grape and wine industry I like to taste different wines to get a perspective on them. I know I am in the minority, but I would choose a hybrid wine over almost any vinifera wine any day of the week. Why? To me vinifera wine is about nuance, the parameters of what the wine can offer is limited in scope. If one buys 5 bottles of Cab from 5 different wineries in 5 different countries, do they taste the same? No, but they are all familiar. I like to seek out unfamiliar wines that challenge me. Hybrid wines do that for me. I have had some outstanding hybrid wines. There are hybrid varieties that can produce excellent wines — Traminette, Chardonel, Frontenac gris, Norton, Chambourcin, Noiret, etc. I like these wines. Even a mediocre bottle of these wines has something to offer. As Americans we like familiarity — every McDonald’s in the U.S. has the same food. We expect that, we are comforted by that fact. But, that doesn’t make it good. I believe hybrid and vinifera wines can co-exist. The problem is not in the vineyard or the winemaking — it is in the marketing and consumer education. Until wineries and consumers branch out into the unknown, hybrid wines will be looked upon as inferior. Unfortunately, that is a fallacy.
I often get the question, “What is the best variety of red raspberry to grow here in Mississippi”? My answer is usually a long silence before sputtering out, “I don’t recommend them”. Why not? Well, for one reason they are not tolerant of our heat during the summer. Red raspberries (Rubus ideaus) are not native to North America. In fact they come from northern Europe originally. Now, I’ve never been to northern Europe, but I am willing to bet it isn’t quite like Mississippi in the summertime. These raspberries also have problems in areas with up-and-down temperatures during the winter. Since they are generally have very good cold hardiness, they deacclimate quickly and can be damaged by late winter and early spring frosts and freezes. Years ago some work was done at Mississippi State University to breed a heat tolerant raspberry. The outcome of that was a release named ‘Dormanred’. ’Dormanred’ is not pure Rubus idaeus, in fact it is part Rubus parvifolius. As for how it does in the heat, the answer to that is that it does well. It has a trailing growth habit and can produce a good amount of fruit. The downside? The fruit is dark-colored, sometimes crumbly, and not very delicious. Dump enough sugar on them and you won’t mind, but eating them fresh isn’t the same experience as a true red raspberry.
When I was a graduate student at the University of Arkansas I studied the photosynthetic capacity of red raspberries as an indicator of heat tolerance. The results were not encouraging among available varieties at the time (it was 15 years ago, but the varieties are still available). Red raspberries really prefer moderate temperatures (15-20 C) to high temperatures (30+C). I also included a blackberry in the study and it performed much better. You can download my paper on this here: Stafne et al. 2001. HortScience 36:880-883 Another part of the study looked at raspberry growth at two different locations in Arkansas. That is available here: http://arkansasagnews.uark.edu/483.pdf (starts on page 44).
In another paper I looked at several different genotypes, including ‘Mandarin‘. If you click the link you can read about ‘Mandarin’. It is difficult (if not impossible) to find at nurseries, but I did hear recently that a nursery in North Carolina is now propagating it. Not sure if or when it will be available to the general public, but Dr. Gina Fernandez (NCSU) is trying to get it reintroduced. It is one of the more promising raspberries out there for southern production — but it does have its problems too. You can download my paper that included ‘Mandarin’ here: Stafne et al. 2000. HortScience 35:278-280
I wish I could in good conscious recommend a raspberry for Mississippi. Some growers may have luck in situations where afternoon shade can be provided on a small scale. If ‘Mandarin’ becomes available I would recommend it on a trial basis for backyard and very small scale commercial growers, but until then we are stuck with ‘Dormanred’.
On March 21, I will be at this field day to talk about fruit varieties and site selection for fruit crops. To get more info, read below and download the pdf at the link. Once the field day is over I will post my presentation on this blog.
The Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production is hosting a field day on Friday, March 21, 2014 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at their demonstration farm near Goodman, MS in Holmes County. This field day will feature topics on plastic mulching laying and irrigation and construction and production in high tunnels.
Please see the attached flyer for more information and a list of remaining field days for 2014. These monthly “field days” are designed to provide hands-on/on-farm learning opportunities. The basic idea is to cover issues and topics that you should be dealing with at that particular time. The cost for this event is free, but everyone is asked to pre-register; to RSVP for the March 21st workshop please contact Keith Benson at 601-988-4999 or email@example.com.
The keynote speaker for this year’s blueberry workshop in Mississippi was Dr. Fumiomi (Fumi) Takeda of the USDA-ARS in Kearneysville, West Virginia. Dr. Takeda is a recognized leader in the evaluation and improvement of mechanized harvest technology. You can view more information on Dr. Takeda by clicking HERE. Dr. Takeda is involved with a USDA-NIFA-SCRI grant that looks at scientific assessment of blueberry impact in mechanical harvesters and ways to minimize fruit damage, potentially leading to methods of mechanized harvest for the fresh market. He gave a well-received presentation that showed what happens to the blueberry as it travels from the bush through the harvester and into the packing shed. The results indicated several areas where improvement is necessary to minimize bruising and thus extending shelf-life. Please view his presentation at the link below:
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is of concern to all food producers. It is not yet well-understood among the masses, but as it comes closer to passage, we must share as much information about it as we have gathered. To do this, Dr. Barakat Mahmoud, Food Safety Specialist with Mississippi State University agreed to come and deliver a talk on FSMA. Understandably, there is some concern about the potential for some stipulations to be onerous to the producer. You can see Dr. Mahmoud’s presentation at the link below:
Post harvest handling of blueberries is a concern of blueberry growers. Food safety and shelf-life are important components in the blueberry industry. Dr. Frank Matta, professor at Mississippi State University in Starkville, stood in for Dr. Juan Silva (also of MSState) to give a presentation on post harvest handling of blueberries. Dr. Silva’s graduate student, Amanda Pegg, was also there. Attendees helped with a blueberry tasting she had set up as part of her thesis project. Always good when we have industry folks help out with research! The presentation by Dr. Silva, Dr. Matta, and Ms. Pegg can be found below.
The dreaded Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD) is drawing a lot of interest from blueberry growers in Mississippi. Some growers have had serious issues with it, but others have not yet been impacted. It is only a matter of time until everyone feels at least some of its wrath. This insect can be devastating to soft-fruited crops like blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Control of this pest takes a true integrated pest management approach, with trapping, identification, and spraying all part of the equation. Last year (2013) we had some good talks on SWD from Dr. Oscar Liburd, Dr. Blake Layton, and Dr. Blair Sampson (which can be found here:)
This year, Dr. Sampson was back and talked about the progress that has been made in combating this pest, as well as what we have learned about it in Mississippi this past year. For his presentation click on the link below:
This is the second presentation from the 2014 Blueberry Workshop that was held on February 13 in Hattiesburg. This time, Dr. Eric Stafne (hey, that’s me!) presented on Potential Micronutrient Deficiencies in Blueberry. Unfortunately, there is no photo to capture the moment, but the presentation can be seen at the link below.
Although we don’t really know the extent of micronutrient deficiencies in Mississippi blueberries, they can exist. Often it is strongly affected by soil pH. So keep the soil pH in the proper range and most micronutrients are available to the plant. An industry survey done with leaf samples would provide great information — if only I had the $$$…
The 2014 Blueberry Educational Workshop was held on February 13 in Hattiesburg, MS at the Mississippi State University Forrest County Extension office. By our estimates, there were 66 attendees to hear updates on new research by experts in their fields. The program last year was in response to the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), but this year was more diverse. Our invited speaker, Dr. Fumiomi Takeda, is an expert in mechanized harvest and his presentation was on current research being done to improve harvesters, packing sheds, and cultivars in regard to mechanized harvest. I will post his presentation next week. But first up is a presentation made by Dr. John Adamczyk, Research Leader at the USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, MS. In it, he gives some background on the Lab as well as tidbits on current and upcoming research. Dr. Stephen Stringer, Research Geneticist, also assisted by talking about some new blueberry releases that will occur in the very near future. You can read more about those in the January-March 2014 issue of the award-winning (more on that later) Mississippi Vaccinium Journal. To view the entire PowerPoint presentation as a PDF file, click on the link below.
Last week I was in Wiggins and gave a presentation on basic pecan production practices to an enthusiastic group of attendees. Many were wanting to renovate their existing trees, but some were interested in planting a new orchard. I promised that I would post that presentation on this blog, so lo and behold, the link to the PDF is below.
There is considerable interest in Mississippi about pecan production, but most of it is for homeowner use and not commercial. Most of the commercial production is in the Delta, but South Mississippi has a rich history in pecan production. Unfortunately, hurricanes have had a devastating effect on orchards over the years.
Hopefully the tips in the above presentation will get you started on putting your pecan trees back into production. It is not always an easy, quick, or inexpensive proposition, but it is always rewarding.