Blackberry producers from around the nation are taking part in a Tasmanian-led research project to combat redberry mite, a tiny pest which threatens the industry’s ongoing expansion.
The project is led by Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture entomologist Dr Stephen Quarrell, and involves collaborating with producers to find out how integrated pest management strategies can be implemented on commercial blackberry farms.
Dr Quarrell wants to understand why redberry mite is a problem in some situations but not others.
The research team is collecting fruit from a wide range of blackberry crops for extraction of both redberry mites and potentially beneficial predatory mites.
This information, along with the crop production history, will help the team develop the best pest management options to protect fruit quality.
“We’ve had a fantastic response from blackberry producers around Australia, with almost 20 volunteering to contribute fruit samples, take part in fruit surveys and research trials,” Dr Quarrell said.
“We are encouraging producers to share with us their redberry mite experience and there’s still an opportunity to get involved in crop surveys and research trials.”
The institute provides blackberry growers with sample kits to collect 40 red berries from a block of blackberries.
The research team will start conducting interviews this month to decide which blackberry cultivars, growing regions and management systems favour the pest, and why it occurs in some regions but not others.
“Trials will run from winter through to harvest in late summer, and will focus on developing and testing practical integrated pest management strategies,” he said.
Dr Quarrell said the project had gained significant interest from producers, industry groups and international researchers.
As part of BerryQuest International 2018, Dr Quarrell provided an overview of the project to attendees at a field day at Hillwood Berries.
Simon Dornauf of Hillwood Berries is one of the Tasmanian producers taking part in the project.
“Hillwood Berries is excited to be part of the redberry mite project. I see it as a positive way to improve our blackberry production and am confident this research can help find a solution for industry,” Mr Dornauf said.
“We have experienced crop losses of up to 20 per cent due to redberry mite. It not only compromises our yield of first grade fruit but impacts on our harvest costs. Harvest is slower and more costly when there is redberry mite fruit present,” he said.
Redberry mite causes blackberries to ripen unevenly, typically creating a berry that is half-black and half-red.
This damage reduces the yield of first grade blackberries available for sale.
The project is funded by Hort Innovation using the research and development Rubus industry levy and funds from the Australian Government, supported with in-kind contributions from the institute.
Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture is a joint venture between the Tasmanian government and the University of Tasmania.
To take part in this project or register for updates contact Dr Stephen Quarrell on firstname.lastname@example.org