Saskatoon

Production in Manitoba

Description

The saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a small to large shrub, or small tree, which belongs to the Rose family. It is closely related to the apple, hawthorn and mountain ash. The saskatoon is a perennial, woody, fruit bearing shrub which is capable to adapting to a wide range of soils and climatic conditions. The saskatoon is native to the Canadian Prairies, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Alaska, British Columbia and the northwestern and north central United States. The saskatoon is hardy to -50º to -60º C. Flowering occurs in early May to early June.

Uses

The saskatoon was an important food source for both indigenous peoples and the early pioneers. The saskatoon is also an important food source for wildlife during the winter season. The saskatoon was also used as a source wood and as a medicinal plant. Today saskatoons are used in a wide variety of ways from pies, jams, jellies, syrups ice cream toppings, wine, liqueurs and flavour concentrates to components of baked goods. They may be used fresh or frozen and can be dried to yield "raisins" or fruit leathers.

Economics and Marketing

At present demand for saskatoon fruit exceeds supply. Traditionally, most orchards market fresh and frozen sales direct on-farm (U-pick and prepicked). Trends are pointing towards more orchards selling more products (frozen) for processing. Increase in mechanical harvesting as well. At present there are a couple of processors willing to buy local product.

Saskatoons are not currently well known outside of the Prairies. Market development and consumer education must accompany increases in production.

Economic Considerations

Saskatoons begin to bear fruit when three to five years old, produce significant yields at six to eight years (provided they have been properly maintained, weeded and watered, etc.), and may not produce maximum yields until they reach 12 to 15 years of age. Saskatoon production is a long-term commitment.

Accumulated costs of production are paid off after approximately eight to ten years with profit taking occurring at ten to 11 years. Thus, actual profit taking does not occur until this time. Saskatoon orchards can be productive for 30 years or more if properly maintained and cared for, considerably less if neglected.

Fruit production by a mature orchard can average 3000 to 4000 pounds per acre (irrigated) although some years no production can occur if blossoms are lost to a late spring frost. Marketability of fruit can also be affected by disease. Over a ten-year period in the productive life of a saskatoon orchard it appears reasonable to expect seven average crops, two complete crop failures and one above average crop.

As the saskatoon industry is still very young the long term economic feasibility of saskatoon production has yet to be determined. As the crop is still in the early stages of domestication specific crop management recommendations have yet to be finalized. There are still a number of production problems (ex, insects, diseases, etc.) which we do not fully understand and/or can not yet control.

Planting/Transplanting/Plant Material

The saskatoon can be propagated via seed, suckers, various types of cuttings (root, softwood, hardwood, etiolated shoots), crown division and micropropagation (same as tissue culture). All clonal propagation methods (essentially all methods listed except seed) produce plant material which is identical to parent stock. With seed propagation anywhere from 20% to 30% of the seedlings produced will be dissimilar to parental stock. Given the potential for seedling variability whether purchasing seedlings or planting seed make sure that the seed used is F1 (first generation).

Seedlings resulting from later generations will be even less similar to parental stock. Where uniformity in time of ripening (ex, for mechanical harvesting) or fruit quality (ex, for processing) becomes important seedling populations may be less desirable (due to genetic variability) than clonal stock. Present plant cost varies widely depending on quantity ordered and method of propagation.

Buyer beware! There are a number of suppliers offering product at a wide range of prices. "Smoky" is the most widely grown saskatoon cultivar in Manitoba (and on the Prairies) primarily as it was the first cultivar available in large quantities. Other cultivars worthy of consideration are "Martin", "Thiessen", "Honeywood" and "Northline" which have performed well in Saskatchewan and Alberta respectively.

There are a number of other cultivars available which have yet to be evaluated locally. At present, there is insufficient research data on which to base a local cultivar recommendation. Consequently more than one cultivar should be planted and probably three or more should be considered.

Fertilizer

Fertilization of a saskatoon orchard is at present an inexact operation as further research is required for specific recommendations. Site selection is important and a well drained, loam soil with adequate levels of fertilizer should provide a good starting point for the orchard. Proper soil testing of the site is advisable and required fertilization should occur prior to planting. However, supplementary fertilization may be required if nutrient deficiencies occur or if site selection is less than ideal. As with any crop a soil test will determine the current level of nutrients present and a recommendation for fruit crops can be obtained from the soil testing lab. Determining fertilizer application rates in saskatoons is outlined in Dr. St. Pierre's "Manual for Orchardists".

Weed Control

Weed control in an orchard is essential. If weeds are not controlled during the early stages of orchard establishment then the future viability of the orchard is effected. Proper site selection and preparation are therefore essential to eliminate as many possible weed problems before the orchard is established. Chemical weed control prior to transplanting should be carried out as well as maintenance after establishment.

See the Guide to Fruit Crop Protection. Hand weed around plants. Young plants are not good competitors with weeds.

Insects

Saskatoons are subject to attacks from many different insects. Insects are not a problem until threshold levels are reached. It is important for growers to monitor for insects and spray only when the insects are present in sufficient numbers to cause economic losses. The following lists common insects found in saskatoons.

Insects that affect saskatoon berries:

  • Saskatoon Bud Moth
  • Saskatoon sawfly
  • Apple Curculio
  • Lygus Bugs
  • Leaf Bugs
  • Forest Tent Caterpillars
  • Wooly Elm/Apple Aphid
  • Cherry Shoot Borer
  • McDaniel Spider Mite
  • Hawthorn Lacebug
  • Pear Slug
  • Leaf-Rolling Caterpillars
  • Gall Insects
Animal pests can also affect saskatoon berries:
  • Birds are a problem, especially solitary species (ie. robins). There are a number of bird scare devices on the market.
  • Deer feeding can also be a problem.
  • Insect Menu
  • Pesticides and Bees

Please consult the Guide to Fruit Crop Protection for further information on control practices and chemical recommendations. Also consult "A Manual for Orchardists".

Diseases

Damage from diseases to the plant and fruit are a significant limiting factor in the production of saskatoons. The limited availability of fungicides for use on saskatoons makes disease control difficult. Often cultural control methods such as pruning, increased air flow, and increased plant vigour are the only methods available to the grower.

Entomosporium Leaf and Berry Spot

  • Favoured by high humidity, moderate temperatures (20ºC to 25ºC) and rainy conditions
  • Spread by rain splash, wind and insects
  • Can affect both fruit and foliage
  • Can cause total defoliation and up to 100% loss of marketability
  • The most serious disease of saskatoons at present
  • Reddish-brown spots followed by leaf yellowing

Saskatoon-Juniper Rust

  • Attacks stem and berry
  • Occurs when we have a cool spring and saskatoons are delayed
  • Two host life cycle - saskatoons and junipers
  • Solution - get rid of all junipers for a two km radius but this is impractical and ineffective
  • Prune out rust galls from junipers
  • Yellowish-orange spots on leaf and fruit

Brown Fruit Rot (Mummyberry)

  • Attacks berry which will turn brown and eventually mummify
  • Berries will remain on the stem and may or may not fall off in winter
  • Humid weather favours development

Cytospora Canker

  • Drying of leaves and buds in spring
  • Bark will develop a wrinkled appearance
  • When cut shoots will display a black stained appearance
  • Prune and burn infected plant material

Black Leaf (Witches Broom)

  • Grey, felt-like growth on underside of leaves
  • No fungicide recommendation
  • Prune off affected growth
  • Pruning done in late fall

Powdery Mildew

  • Not a limiting factor in saskatoon production
  • Can affect marketability of fruit
  • Infection June through August
  • White, fine powdery growth on upper or lower leaf surface

Fireblight

  • Wilting of foliage, buds and ooze produced from crack in bark surface
  • New shoots will exhibit characteristic crook-shaped appearance
  • Prune affected branches and destroy
  • Dieback
  • Prune all dead material

More information…

Please consult the Guide to Fruit Crop Protection for further information on control practices and chemical recommendations.

Irrigation

Irrigation is usually considered supplemental as natural rainfall is usually adequate, however during periods of drought, early orchard establishment and during fruiting periods irrigation is essential. Site selection is important for irrigation suitability since proper drainage and topography are important considerations for determining suitable orchard sites that will not become susceptible to salt build-up or water-logging. Irrigation water quality is critical since accumulations of salt and mineral in the water will cause problems with the irrigation system and over time reduce the quality of the soil. There are many types of irrigation available, however trickle irrigation uses less water than other application methods, does not wet the foliage (reducing disease incidence), provides water where the plant requires it, allows for fertilization through the system, does not require system movement, allows for other field operations to continue and is the most cost-effective for an orchard. Trickle irrigation - 0.13 feet of water per acre per year, 35,440 gallons of water/acre/year. Trickle irrigation every 40 inches. Trickle irrigation approximately $2,300/acre to install (varies widely).

Pruning and Renovation

Pruning

Pruning is an important consideration in saskatoon orchard management because an orchard which does not receive proper pruning and maintenance will have a considerably lower useful life expectancy.

The removal of damaged, diseased and unproductive areas of the plant will enhance plant health and improve yield and fruit quality. New shoots (two to four years old) produce the best quality fruit. Pruning should be carried out to maintain a balance between new shoot development, allowing air circulation, removing lower spreading branches, diseased, weak and dead branches and maintaining an orchard at peak yield potential. The pruning process should start in the first three to four years and continue on a yearly basis (more frequently if required by disease outbreak or plant damage) and become more substantive as the orchard matures at six to ten years. The orchard condition will determine the type and amount of pruning required and careful consideration should be given to providing an open canopy, to reduce disease incidence, promoting vigorous shoots and maintaining a balance between new high yielding shoots and older lower yielding shoots.

Renovation

Renovation of the orchard usually will commence as the orchard reaches maturity (generally within six to ten years). The purpose of renovation is to promote new shoot development, remove diseased, dead or otherwise non-productive trees (to be replaced with new cultivars) and provide for space and accessibility for harvest.

Harvesting

U-Pick

Saskatoon harvesting at present is primarily done as a pre-picked sales operation with some growers offering u-pick berries. This method can be time consuming for the grower, may become market saturated and presents difficulties with consistency of product ripeness, operational size and facility layout, legal implications and local market conditions. Although the main benefit of this operation is the size of the orchard required, less than the ten acres considered economically feasible for processing, considerations such as mentioned above may limit the growth potential of this enterprise.

Mechanical Harvest

Mechanized harvesting of Saskatoons is currently carried out on the Prairies with the assistance of harvesters specifically designed for fruit crop harvesting (eg. currants, high-bush blueberries). The use of mechanical harvesters is usually restricted to operations of ten acres or more due to the economies of scale and the high investment in equipment. Orchard uniformity, both physically and in ripeness is critical when using mechanical harvesters since the harvesting operation is carried out within a restricted time-frame and independent fruit selection is impossible due to the mechanism employed. Spacing and height of the plants in the orchard is also critical as the harvester must pass over the plant during the harvesting operation.

Further Information

At present there is a commercial saskatoon manual and a crop protection guide available. These are: