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South Centers

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


2014 Fruit Research and Extension Progress

By: Gary Gao, PhD, Small Fruit Extension Specialist and Associate Professor


Polar vortexes in 2014 wreaked havoc on fruit production in many parts of the United States. Ohio was no exception. Our fruit research and Extension programs at OSU South Centers have been set up to deal with many challenges that growers face every day. From trials of cold hardy Polish blackberry cultivars; to high tunnel production of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries; to blackberry production on rotatable cross trellis; to primocane bearing blackberries; and to super cold hardy wine grape cultivars, we are doing what we can to help fruit growers in Ohio. With ever-changing weather conditions in Ohio and beyond, the production of high value crops, such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and even wine grapes, will need to be placed under protected structures so that a consistent crop can be produced and harvested every year. We also started exploring new "super berries" for Ohio growers.

High Tunnel Production of Blackberry and Raspberries:

With the support of a specialty crop block grant from Ohio Department of Agriculture and excellent craftsmanship of our research support staff at OSU South Centers, we built two demonstration high tunnels. One was for blackberry production while other one was for raspberry production. Both tunnels are designed to take snow load and are classified as four-season tunnels.

There has been quite bit of work done on high tunnel raspberry production by Dr. Eric Hanson, professor and Extension specialist at Michigan State University. Season extension, yield increases, and fruit quality improvements have resulted from protection of high tunnels. Preliminary results from our own high tunnel demonstration work have been quite positive. We will continue this research for several years. There is also an excellent free publication from Cornell University. More information:

Blackberry high tunnel production also deserves a serious look. Four-season high tunnels can provide much needed winter protection that blackberry floricanes need to produce a crop year after year. Our preliminary results are quite encouraging. Earlier fruit production, consistent production, and fuller berries are some of the main benefits of high tunnel blackberry production. We have seen successful commercial production of blackberries under high tunnel in Ohio. Growers are encouraged to try blackberry high tunnel production on a small scale since high tunnels, though less costly than greenhouses, can be quite expensive.


A "Super Berry" Grant:

We are very pleased to have received a specialty crop grant from Ohio Department of Agriculture to work on "super berries." Some of the new super berries are Aronia berries, Chinese goji berries and elderberries. Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are also classified as super berries. It is worth noting that there are approximately 1,000 acres of Aronia berries planted in Iowa. There is even a Midwest Aronia Growers Association. Aronia berry juice seems to be getting quite popular as a health drink. It is consumed in small quantities, more like a nutrient supplement vs. fruit juice.

Elderberries are getting very popular, especially in Missouri. About 100 acres of elderberries have been planted there. I tried elderberry jam for the first time when I attended the Great Lakes Expo in Grand Rapids, Michigan in December 2014. It was very tasty! Elderberries can also be used in baked goods. I was told that elderberries make excellent red wine. It is too early to tell what the marketing potential is for elderberry wines or elderberries yet. Do not go out and plant hundreds of acres of elderberries yet.

We will also test Chinese goji berries for their viability in Ohio as a cash crop. I have tasted dried Chinese goji berries and really like them. I drank goji berry tea and liked it as well. Goji berry tea is more Chinese than American though. Dried Chinese goji berries can be purchased from Chinese grocery stores. The Chinese Goji berries I tasted are really sweet. When I visited a new blueberry farm last year, one grower had me taste a few goji berries on her farm. I was surprised that it had more of a peppery taste. There might be a huge variation in taste and growth characteristics. Stay tuned for more information.

Wine Grape Research and Extension: With many thanks to the Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC), we get to continue our wine grape research and Extension program at OSU South Centers. Dave Scurlock and Gary Gao also oversee the grape insect research and Extension for Ohio.


Out of a few wine grape cultivars we tested at OSU South Centers in Piketon, ‘Regent,’ a red wine grape cultivar, survived the polar vortexes the best. We planted this cultivar under two different training systems. ‘Regent,’ a European and American hybrid, has more European ancestry than American, and makes an excellent red wine. Some growers have planted this cultivar on a small scale. We hope to see more of this cultivar in Ohio!

We Went Global!

Dr. Tom Worley and Dr. Gary Gao applied for and were awarded a USDA Scientific Cooperation Exchange Grant with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture under the leadership of Dr. Mark Erbaugh. Other project members were Pam Bennett, Mike Hogan, and Dave Scurlock. We toured many urban farms in Beijing, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, and Shanghai in August 2014 in China. Tom and Gary also made presentations and provided technical advice to Extension professionals, university professors and farmers in China.



Gary Gao 740-289-2071 ext. 123 |

Ryan Slaughter, Research Assistant

740-289-2071 ext. 144 |