Commercial rotating cross-arm trellis technology for blackberry production

The rotating cross-arm (RCA) trellis and cane training method allows the entire canopy of the blackberry plant to be rotated, not break during rotation, and maintain high plant productivity. Traditionally, the blackberry plant canopy had been wide and not amenable to canopy manipulation. The innovative RCA trellis and cane training system, developed at the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Appalachian Fruit Research Station, allows the plant canopy to be brought close to the ground in winter and either vertical or slightly slanted during the growing season. Once the canes are positioned close to the ground, they can be covered with low-cost fabric to minimize winter injury. With the canes still oriented horizontally and the fabric removed in spring, the flowering shoots on the canes develop upward. When the cross-arms are lifted beyond vertical, the fruit is then positioned on one side of the row for efficient harvesting.
Trellis Growing Systems (TGS), a company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, decided to commercialize the technology. TGS’s manufacturing process for the RCA trellis involved the use of lightweight fiberglass components and ease of assembly. The technology transfer effort created an environment that facilitated the rapid evolution from a prototype to a commercially viable RCA trellis and cane training system, accelerated the use of the RCA trellis technology by the blackberry industry, and enabled establishment of over 200 acres of blackberries in areas where commercial blackberry production previously did not exist due to concerns with winter injury.

As of May 2012, the TGS RCA trellis has been shipped to 31 states. In 2011 TGS received $1.1 million in revenue from sales of the RCA trellis components, and in 2012 the company received orders for 100 additional acres. TGS has now delivered RCA trellis components to 28 commercial-size blackberry farms and another 55 farms with one acre or less in blackberries, mostly in the Midwest and the Northeast. The production system innovated by USDA-ARS and TGS has allowed the expansion of blackberries into these regions. Approximately $10 million in annual revenue will be added to the local economies of the Midwest and Northeast when these acreages come into full fruit production in 2013. Dr. John Clark, a professor at the University of Arkansas, informed the audience
at a recent national blackberry meeting that “This technology is the best thing to happen in the blackberry industry in many years and an incredible way to grow the industry.”
Award Year: