April 25, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes and other small fruits provide a good marketing potential for Kentucky growers.

Interest in small fruit production is increasing in Kentucky as farmers look for alternative sources of income from tobacco production, said Kathy Keeney, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service horticulture agent for McCracken County.

"We feel like we've got some pretty strong demand for blackberries in this state," said John Strang, UK Extension fruits and vegetables specialist. "Generally, demand exceeds supply and they grow well in just about all parts of Kentucky. They don't ship or store well so this increases the demand for locally supplied fruits."

There are also some opportunities to do some processing with blackberries. The fruits can be made into jams and jellies and wine, Strang said at a production meeting Monday in Paducah.

Raspberries do not have as good a potential but it depends on the market, Strang said.

"You've got to look at your local market and see what they are interested in," he said.

Site selection is extremely important when planting brambles - blackberries and raspberries. Well drained, deep fertile soils are important. Sites with adequate air drainage can reduce freeze damage and winter injury and north or northeast facing slopes are preferable, he said.

"Irrigation is important on any small fruit crop, particularly in the first two years, until they develop a good root system," Strang said. "Weed control is also extremely important. A lot of new growers think once they have them planted that most of the work is over. But it is just beginning. Controlling weeds, spraying for insects and diseases, pruning and harvesting all require significant time commitments."

Good management skills are vital for growing horticultural crops, Strang said. If something needs to be done, such as spraying for a disease, it cannot be put off, he said.

Blueberries also have a lot of potential and are a crop that we can almost guarantee a yield on every year, he said. They are seldom lost to frost injury and have few pest problems. The biggest problems are maintaining a low soil pH, birds and keeping them mulched.

Blueberries also contain very high antioxidant levels, which are very desirable from a health standpoint, Strang said.

Keeney said they have calls regularly at the extension office in Paducah seeking U-pick blueberry locations. The limiting factor is high pH, but once that is lowered it can be a good crop, she said.

Strawberries are another popular crop in Kentucky being one of the first fresh fruits of the season. The amount of acreage in the state is increasing as new growers realize the opportunities and seek ways to diversify their operations.

Most strawberries are sold on a U-pick basis in the state but the demand for already picked berries is increasing as more two-income families find they have less time to pick their own.

Kentucky's climate is right for growing grapes and western Kentucky has the potential to grow the popular European grapes that are always in high demand for wines, said Garth Vinson, state viticulturalist.

At one point Kentucky was the leading producer of grapes in the United States, but then came prohibition and the state has never recovered its commercial grape production, Vinson said. Grape production is gaining momentum and some wineries have opened in the state, but there is room for many more, he said.

For more information on commercial small fruit production contact your county Cooperative Extension service office.


Kathy Keeney, 270-554-9520 John Strang, 859-257-5685