Most of a $3 million federal grant will help researchers at Oregon State University and in North Carolina develop more nutritious and high-yielding organic blackberries.

Ann Mills, a deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was at OSU on Wednesday to to announce how the grant also will help address the need for more small farmers.

One grant for $2.4 million will fund research for four years in Oregon and North Carolina to help growers produce nutritional, high-yielding organic blackberries more cost-effectively. Oregon farmers sold nearly $24 million of blackberries last year, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service.

The second grant, worth nearly $700,000, will fund the creation of an online course to help aspiring farmers and ranchers get started.

The research will be conducted at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, at Riverbend Organic Farms in Jefferson near Albany and in North Carolina with help from North Carolina State University.

Researchers will study cultivars that include the commonly grown Marion blackberry and the relatively new thornless cultivar called Black Diamond. Although focused on organic production, findings from the study will also benefit conventional growers.

“Organic production in berry crops has increased tremendously but there is little research-based information to answer the questions that growers have,” said OSU berry crops researcher Bernadine Strik, the lead investigator on the project. “Our goal is to fill this niche.”

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