Production Costs and Techniques for Blueberry Establishment in Eastern Kentucky

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2004: $3,764.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Matt Ernst
University of KY

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (other)


  • Crop Production: tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    This project compares costs of different methods and techniques for establishing blueberries on an Eastern Kentucky farm. Sustainable/organic methods will be emphasized as economically viable alternatives for conventional techniques. Use of raised beds and subsoiling to increase soil drainage, different mulch types, and pest control methods will be evaluated side-by-side. Attention will expressly be given to an economic evaluation of weed control by using mulches available as by-products from the region’s wood products industry.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Main Objective Summary
    Using the labor and cost estimates gained from this project, establishment costs associated with these combinations will be calculated. These costs will be available for producers to evaluate alternatives that may best suit their individual operation and production area. These costs will also contribute significantly toward estimating the cost of organic blueberry production in Kentucky, for this project will be largely conducted using practices that are qualified for organic production.

    Plot Description
    A one-third acre blueberry planting will be evaluated for the two-year cost of establishment using several different weed and pest control techniques throughout the planting. Labor time and materials costs involved, particularly those involved in sustainable weed control methods, will be tracked throughout the project. The planting site has a naturally occurring pH of 5.0, ideal for blueberry production, and will does not require soil additives to adjust the pH.

    Next to the actual cost of the blueberry plants, labor is the greatest cost variable in blueberry establishment. Labor times necessary for establishing and maintaining this blueberry planting over the first two years will be extensively tracked. The planting will be planted using a split plot design with six replications with bed type (raised vs. flat bed) as the main plot and mulch type as the subplots. Labor will be tracked by time spent establishing and monitoring each replication to arrive at reasonable labor estimates for smaller area blueberry establishment.

    Weed Control
    Weed counts will be monitored prior to hand weeding for each mulch type by counting the weeds in one square foot of each plot. Soil will also be monitored to evaluate potential fertility and pH changes due to mulch decomposition. Labor time involved in hand weeding will also be closely monitored by the producer.

    Soil and Nutrients
    An initial soil test and test at the end of the second year will be conducted to evaluate possible pH and nutrient changes that might arise from mulch breakdown. A foliar analysis of the blueberry plants will also be used to measure any changes in soil nutrients. Foliar analyses will result in more consistent monitoring in possible soil fertility changes.

    Moisture content of the soil will be measured through a series of tensiometers placed at points throughout the test plot. These tensiometers will allow evaluation of moisture content between raised bed and non-raised bed production, as well as moisture differences between the different mulch types.

    Disease Control
    The primary disease that a blueberry planting in Eastern Kentucky is susceptible to is phytophthora root rot. Susceptibility to this disease will be measured by plant survival and growth rate over the first two years. Survival will be measured by observation. Growth rate will be determined by a measurement of each individual plant during each of the two establishment years.

    Final Establishment Cost Estimates
    It is expected that Kentucky blueberry establishment and producer recommendations will be improved at the conclusion of this two-year trial. It is also expected that a financial analysis of these techniques may result in different combinations of optimum production principles for blueberry establishment in Eastern Kentucky. This project is unique from other blueberry establishment research reported to date in the Southeast in that it seeks to combine financial and production considerations, while also considering producers that may value sustainable production techniques.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.