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Berry Growers Look To Soil For Answers

Blackcurrant and boysenberry growers may be able to boost their income with consistently higher yields and better-quality fruit by improving soil management, a research project has found.

Crop & Food Research, in association with HortResearch, carried out the project for Blackcurrants NZ Ltd, which represents blackcurrant and boysenberry growers. The growers were keen to produce more and better fruit from sustainable practices.

"Increases of even 10 or 20 per cent would make a huge difference to growers' incomes," Blackcurrants NZ product manager Ian Turk says.

"Sustainable growing methods also boost export prospects in 'green' and quality-conscious markets."

The project found that growers could monitor the health of their soil by using several physical, chemical or biological indicators, according to Crop & Food soil scientist Tony van der Weerden.

"For example, by knowing how well the soil stores water, it's possible to manage irrigation practices more efficiently," Dr van der Weerden says. "We are also looking at ways growers can reduce soil compaction, which affects the roots' health."

The research team has developed a score card consisting of photos and written descriptions that help growers to rate the structure of their soil. Crop & Food has previously found that well-structured soils produce higher yields.

Technology New Zealand - part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology - helped to fund the project.

Mr Turk says the project has shown that increasing soil organic matter by mulching and spreading cuttings and clippings from bush-pruning improves soil health. Other recommendations are confidential, he says, but they concern methods for allowing growers to produce good-quality crops through better soil management.


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