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Virginia Is Deemed 'Ripe' For Berry Growing

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VSU to host conference to assist farmers in growing this niche crop

Virginia is not just for lovers, but for berry growers, too, according Dr. Reza Rafie, Virginia State University (VSU) Extension specialist in horticulture. That’s because after conducting extensive research of berry production across central and southside Virginia, Rafie is confident that Virginia’s climate and soil are well suited to grow strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

This is good news for Virginia farmers, because national berry sales have increased in recent years due to growing consumer appreciation for the many health benefits that come from eating these succulent fruits. In fact, with U.S. sales totaling $5.8 million annually, berries are the leading produce category purchased by consumers. And that means Virginia farmers—even those with limited acreage—have an opportunity to tap into this market to gain revenue by helping to meet the growing demand for berries. 

Right now, the Commonwealth lags behind southern neighboring states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia in berry production. Berry crops are versatile for industrial use in frozen foods and other value-added products and have the potential to create small enterprises and jobs in rural communities. 

To assist Virginia farmers with starting or growing berries for profit, Rafie is organizing the 11th Annual Virginia Berry Production and Marketing Conference, at which internationally renowned berry researchers will share information about berry production and marketing that will help growers be more profitable. This popular annual event, hosted by Cooperative Extension at VSU, will be held Thursday, March 21 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Randolph Farm, 4415 River Road, Ettrick. 

Keynote presenter Dr. John R. Clark, a plant breeder and distinguished professor of horticulture at the University Arkansas, will speak on blackberry varieties. Dr. Clark has developed more than 50 varieties of various fruits and has cooperative breeding activities at several locations in the United States, Europe, Mexico, South America and Australia. Dr. Bernadine Strik, a horticulture and Extension berry crops specialist at Oregon State University, will speak about the basics of blueberry production. Berry experts from North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, Virginia Tech and VSU, will present on insect, disease and weed management. Dr. Theresa Nartea, VSU’s Extension specialist in marketing and agribusiness, will present on marketing berry crops. 

“New and experienced berry growers will not only learn the latest information about berry production, berry health and marketing strategies, they’ll be able to have questions answered by some of the nation’s leading berry experts, and also network with other growers,” Rafie said. 

Registration is $20 per person and includes lunch. To register, visit www.ext.vsu.edu/calendar, click on the event and then click on the registration link. 

Persons needing further information or have a disability and desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity, can contact Mollie Klein at mklein@vsu.edu or call (804) 524-6960 / (800) 828-1120 (TDD) during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to discuss accommodations no later than five days prior to the event.

Extension is a joint program of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state and local governments. Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. VSU is an equal opportunity/ affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

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