Horticulturist tells how to have a berry good farm in Texas

COLLEGE STATION – Be they black or blue, berries can be a profitable business provided growers plant suitable varieties and manage the challenges of these crops, an expert with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said.

“Berries are a great crop in Texas,” said Monte Nesbitt, AgriLife Extension horticulture program specialist. “They can be grown for fun or for commercial purposes.”

Nesbitt addressed about 100 people at the recent Texas Fruit and Nut Orchard Conference in Bryan.

Blackberries can be a profitable business in Texas provided growers plant suitable varieties and manage the challenges of this crop. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Monte Nesbitt).

Blackberries, a type of bramble or caneberry, do well in Texas because they are improved varieties from wild dewberries that grow along roadsides in more southern areas of the state.

Nesbitt said several varieties have been developed for commercial plantings and are very productive with relatively little care.

“Blackberries come into full production within two years of planting,” he said. “They bloom later in the spring and have a long harvest season that may last into the fall.”

In addition to variety selection, growers should decide on planting location, considering that berries grow best in sandy soils and in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 7, 8 or 9, Nesbitt noted.

The horticulturist estimated that about 70 percent of the expenses associated with growing blackberries are for harvest labor. The berries must be picked when ripe since they do not continue to ripen after being plucked from the vine, so having available labor throughout the harvest season is essential.

“Blackberry farms provide a lot of opportunities,” he said. “But they are labor intensive, so sometimes it is more profitable to have ‘pick-your-own’ fields for consumers.”

He said blackberry plants can produce for more than 20 years and may yield up to 10,000 pounds per acre when well managed. A pint basket may sell for $2.50-$4.95 each.

Blueberry farms also can be profitable, Nesbitt added, yielding 15 pounds per plant or 9,000 pounds an acre.

The biggest challenge for this crop, however, is soil, he said.

“It must have the right soil, an acidic soil with 4.0-5.0 pH,” Nesbitt said. “And that can be a challenge.”

Rabbiteye blueberries, native to the southeastern U.S., grow best in East Texas, he said.

“Most rabbiteye blueberries need cross-pollination for good fruit set, so two varieties that bloom around the same time should be planted,” he added. “The harvest season can extend from late May to August, depending on the number of varieties planted.”

Nesbitt and AgriLife Extension horticulturists Jim Kamas of Fredericksburg and Dr. Larry Stein of Uvalde have produced a series of “how-to” publications aimed at helping potential growers learn how to produce more fruits and nuts in Texas. They can be found at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/.
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