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Blueberry Breeding Making 'Exciting' Progress
By Chad Finn, USDA-ARS

The USDA-ARS/OSU blueberry breeding program is making exciting progress with the Commission's support of breeding with a special focus on Blueberry shock virus tolerance and support of testing and evaluation of selections and new cultivars. We are releasing a new cultivar and have two selections that are either in grower trial or are being propagated for planting in grower trial in the fall. ORUS 10-1, which we will release, has been planted in a commercial grower’s field. This is a niche cultivar. It is high yielding, machine harvestable and has terrific fruit quality, especially flavor. The berry came out of efforts to develop a small-fruited genotype. Its abundant fruit are less than half the size of ‘Bluecrop’ fruit. Anyone who has ideas for a good name, please send them to us!

ORUS 197-4 and ORUS 235-4 are being propagated for grower trial as they have been high yielding with excellent fruit quality. We wish we had both of these out this past fall to see how they would respond to the cold we had in December.

ORUS 10-1 has been planted for nearly 10 years in Michigan, and has not had any winter injury problems. ORUS 197-4 was planted in Lowell where it was about -10F. It seemed to have no cane or vegetative bud injury but was too small to have flower buds. While we are optimistic about its hardiness, it will take further testing to be sure. ORUS 235-4 was not in Lowell, but its sibling, ORUS 235-1, had cane injury and most of its flower buds were killed there. Clearly we will need to put ORUS 235-4 in locations where its cold hardiness can be evaluated.

‘Calypso’ and ‘Osorno’ are two new releases from Michigan State University that were in trial. ‘Calypso’ has produced high yields of large fruit on a beautiful bush, however, there are some questions on the firmness/texture with hot weather that we are trying to evaluate more closely. ‘Osorno’ will have its first small crop this summer, and while the plant looks good at NWREC, where the temperatures fell to about 8-9F in December, in Lowell, where it was much colder, there appears to be significant winter injury. This is probably not surprising as one parent of ‘Osorno’ is ‘Legacy,' which experienced winter damage at 4-5F this past December.

The netted trial at OSU-NWREC in Aurora saw the addition this past fall of a number of new cultivars from the Fall Creek Farm and Nursery and the Oregon Blueberry Nursery breeding efforts, as well as new cultivars from North Carolina and Georgia. A couple dozen ORUS selections were planted under the net and a couple dozen ORUS selections were dug up and discarded due to lack of yield or, more commonly, insufficient fruit quality; it’s a cruel world where only the best survive.

Seed from the successful crosses done last year were germinated and our greenhouses are full of blueberry seedlings in 16 cell flats that will be ready to plant this summer. In 2013, we made 54 crosses and have 46 planned for 2014. Flowers are opening quickly and so we are in the middle of the crossing season. The theme for the crosses the past two years has been to use parents that will give us outstanding fruit quality along with high yields. In addition, a subset each year has been among parents that show low (Bluecrop, Blueray, Elliott, Aurora, Draper) and very low (Legacy, Jersey, Burlington, ORUS 10-1) occurrence of Blueberry shock virus. (Note that we are less confident in Draper’s tolerance now than we were in 2012.) In 2012, 31 of the selections made were from crosses where one or both parents showed shock tolerance. These selections are now being tested for performance at the OSU-NWREC Station.

We are excited about the quality of the selections we are developing. If selections prove themselves to be commercially viable, they will be publicly released so anyone in the Northwest can grow them. We have come a long way in a short time on our breeding effort and are appreciative of the support we have received from the Commission to make this goal a reality.  If you have any input, questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

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