Smokey House Center

Improving Blueberry Protection and Production Study

2023 Grant Amount: $3,200

Blueberries are Vermont’s most important berry crop with 289 commercial producers reported in the 2017 Agriculture Census. Thousands of Vermont landowners also raise their own blueberries. Since 2011, spotted wing drosophila has been a serious pest in Vermont blueberry production. Economic loss due to spotted wing drosophila blueberry damage in Vermont is significant but the extent is unknown (a 2020 study conducted on Maine’s wild blueberry industry estimated that an annual loss of $6.8 million could occur). This project will provide on-farm data that will help other producers in the state better understand the potential extent of economic loss if no preventative measures are taken.

Vermont berry producers struggle with the most labor and cost-efficient ways to control losses to weeds and birds. According to Vermont Fruit and Berry Specialist Vern Grubinger, poor weed control can reduce berry production by more than 40%. Losses by birds are highly variable but can also reduce production by more than 50%. This study will help hundreds of Vermont farmers and thousands of landowners better understand how to get the most and best quality fruit from their blueberry plants.

This project will divide the two-acre Smokey House Center organic blueberry farm into categories of management of nine different levels of intensity, each containing approximately 50 plants. Treatments will trial different approaches to weed control and different approaches to managing pests (birds and spotted wing drosophila). Smokey House staff, with the help of 12 student volunteer assistants from local high schools, will weed, cover and harvest approximately 500 blueberry bushes with approximately 50 plants in each sub-treatment during the 2024 growing season. In addition to management, students will help collect data for the project over the growing season. Since much of the management of the blueberries will be done with the assistance of local high school students, the project will also help many highschoolers better understand the local food production system and the challenges it faces as well as give them valuable experience around using scientific methods in a real-world setting. 

This data will be used to publish a PDF document that summarizes the findings of the study for blueberry producers across the state. Student participants will gain valuable experience in conveying information to land managers by helping to write and publish this document. Smokey House will then distribute this resource through partner networks and online. Students will also record video of the project at all stages and will record video of the findings of the study. These videos will be edited into a short video describing the project and findings that will be posted on the Smokey House Facebook and YouTube channel – stay tuned!