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It doesn’t look like much now with only stakes to indicate where new plants have been placed on the Delta cranberry research farm, but after two years the test plants will be well on their way to showing their strengths and weaknesses for cranberry farmers.
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BC Cranberry Association’s Mike Wallis at the new research facility in Richmond, B.C.
B.C. Cranberry growers were elated to hear their industry is developing the first ever cranberry research farm in Canada. The idea for the farm, says former B.C. Agriculture Minister John Savage of Delta, came from Jack Wessel, the general manager of the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission.
“Jack became aware that Gateway Construction, who were building the South Fraser Perimeter Road through Delta, had surplus bog land and he asked me if I thought there was a chance we might get some of it on which to build a cranberry research facility,” explains Savage.
“I then contacted Gateway officials and other key government people, including (former) Agriculture Minister Steve Thomson and Highways Minister Shirley Bond, all of whom were enthusiastic about the idea. Discussions led to our reaching an agreement with Gateway to purchase a 20-acre piece of highway right-of-way on which to place the farm.”
Savage says the key goal was to establish a research operation that would allow the industry to evaluate the different varieties grown in the Richmond to Pitt Meadows area and new varieties from other growing areas in North America.
Mike Wallis, executive director of the BC Cranberry Association, says there is no comparison in planting a commercial bog to planting a research bog.
‘Everything at the research farm must be done in detail and every move recorded. While this makes it a very time consuming task, the long term benefits make it all worthwhile.”
Overall the research farm has five bogs. Each bog is about two-and-a-half acres in size and is serviced by an underground water distribution system. At present water is being pumping from a well in Delta through an irrigation canal to the farm, but that will change once electrical power is installed and a pumping station and storage pond are built on the farm.
Current experimental plantings include some varieties from Rutgers University in New Jersey, which were planted last June in small test plots. In another bog four different local varieties are planted in much larger, quarter-acre plots. It takes about three years before a test plant produces a cranberry.
There are plans to hold field days at the farm over the next year or two, where growers can see what progress the different types of cranberry varieties are making in the Lower Mainland climate and growing conditions, what their yield potential is, and whether any new diseases have emerged.
The cranberry crop in B.C. is valued at over $23M with 2,500 acres planted. About half of that is monitored and controlled by IPM (Integrated Pest Management) consultants. While there are several different diseases to be found in North American crops, only viscid rot and phtyophthora are of any concern in B.C. at this time. Control measures are in place for both.
The research farm will also do fertility work, pesticide research, pesticide screening and nutrient management planning on the different varieties.
Growing conditions were excellent for B.C. cranberries this year and estimates suggest the 2013 harvest could be as large as 95 million pounds, the largest ever. Now, with a dedicated cranberry research farm, the future for the industry looks even more promising. ■