Soldotna grower excited about new super berry

The Japanese haskap plant is well-suited to Southcentral climate.

Associated PressSeptember 1, 2012 

SOLDOTNA -- Brian Olson says he will spend the rest of his life cultivating what he said is the country's new super berry.

Olson, co-owner of Alaska Berries, has begun growing the berry that grows from the Japanese haskap plant, The Peninsula Clarion reported Saturday.

The berries are "hardy, the fruit's great and I'm really excited for it because I think it can be a new commercial crop in this state that people can actually commercially grow," he said.

The 57-year-old grower said the berry is resilient.

It will be a significant contribution in a state that is not predominantly known for its crop productions, Olson said.

There are other berries grown in Alaska that are suitable for the state's short and harsh growing season, but he says none rivals the haskap for its health benefits.

He says the haskap berries trump blueberries, another "super berry," in levels of antioxidants, phenols, Vitamin A and C, anthocyanins and bioflavonoids.

"People will recognize it, and they'll know it and they'll love it and there will be a lot of products out there for them to purchase," he said.

He has cultivated a genetically unique product that he said is unlike any other berry.

"A strawberry has a strawberry taste; a raspberry has a raspberry taste; a blueberry has a blueberry taste. This berry is multi-flavored," he said.

He said it hits all his taste buds.

"When you put it in your mouth you roll it around; you get the sweets, you get the sours, you get the tang, you get some zest," he said.

The berries harvest early too.

The heavy rains in late August often shorten growing seasons, but the berries on the haskap plant -- known in its Latin name as Lonicera Caerulea, var. emphyllocalyx -- are best picked in early to mid-August before the rains.

On average a year-old plant produces a handful of berries, he said. By year five, he said, it can produce four to five pounds, and by maturity, 10 to 12 pounds.

Each plant has a 50-year life expectancy, he said, nearly doubling that of other berries he grows on his farm.

The plant's native land in Hokkaido, Japan, is similar to the environment of Southcentral Alaska. He said much of the work developing his new strains was in honing the berries' taste, size, output and ease of being plucked.

"I'm just a farmer, and I was just taking the seeds from the best of the best, planting those and then seeing what kind of crops I could come up with," he said.

Janice Chumley, a cooperative extension service IPM research technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said she has worked with Olson over the years as he grew his berry farm, and she said Olson has put a lot of effort into his haskap plants.

"I think that the breeding that he's done, it's a good deal," Chumley said. "They're lovely looking plants, they produce well, they're winter hardy. What's not to like?"

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