Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2009
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2012
Grant Year
Project Director
Barnes, R. C.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Trellis installation is a major expense for establishing new commercial blackberry or raspberry (bramble) plantings. Research by the USDA and universities clearly demonstrates that by developing novel trellis designs and methods of manipulating bramble canes, costs of labor for cane pruning and training and winter injury can be reduced and hand-and mechanically-harvested efficiency, fruit quality and yield can all be improved. A system like the Rotatable Cross Arm (RCA) improves hand harvest efficiency, can be combined with a winter protection technique and is amenable to harvesting fresh market quality fruit with an over-the-row mechanical harvester. But, the high cost of trellis posts and hardware has limited the expansion of this system into the commercial sector. In Phase I of this SBIR project, Trellis Growing Systems (TGS), LLC proved the feasibility of an improved modular trellis concept. Based on the RCA design, TGS, in partnership with USDA and Cornell University, developed the AV trellis system. Phase I included successful demonstration of laboratory load testing on fiber reinforced trellis post, cross arm components and aluminum brackets and hardware. Phase I also included successful field trials of the RCA and AV trellis systems at TGS (Fort Wayne, IN), Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) and USDA-ARS (Kearneysville, WV). Phase I efforts also focused on reducing the estimated production cost of the RCA trellis design by 50 percent. At the end of Phase I, TGS reduced costs by 46 percent; Phase II will focus on surpassing the 50 percent cost reduction goal. Phase II will also focus on researching innovative manufacturing technology to design fiber reinforced low-cost components. These components must offer easy in-ground installation, the ability to be configured to create a range of designs needed for commercial bramble production and offer easy disassembly. Phase II will continue the successful partnerships offered in Phase I with the USDA (Kearneysville, WV) and Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). Efforts will focus on RCA Trellis System for blackberries at USDA and on AV trellis systems for high tunnel production of red raspberries and black raspberries at Cornell University. Phase II objectives are: (1) design and prototype rotatable cross arm (RCA) and adjustable V (AV) trellis systems; (2) lab test trellis system components; (3) field test prototype systems for structural integrity and functionality; (4) beta test prototype systems with growers and research institutions; (5) analyze costs (material, manufacturing, packaging and shipping); (6) measure and quantify the value of product features; and, (7) develop final reports. Successful completion of Phase II objectives will lead to the commercialization of the AV trellis system. Potential markets include both commercial producers as well as home gardeners. Based on a technology niche assessment conducted by Foresight Science and Technology, a new light-weight, easy to install and affordable trellis system offers extensive promise in today's marketplace.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The overall goal of this SBIR project is to develop and evaluate a novel modular trellis post and hardware system that will facilitate crop positioning, winter protection, sun protection and cane manipulation in blackberries and raspberries for less cost than the existing technology. Phase II efforts will focus specifically on refining trellis component design and beta test trellis systems in different growing environments. The specific technical objectives for Phase II are as follows: 1) Design and prototype rotatable cross-arm (RCA) and adjustable V trellis (AV) systems 2) Lab test trellis system components 3) Field test prototype systems for structural integrity and functionality 4) Analyze costs (material, manufacturing, packaging and shipping) 5) Measure and quantify the value of features such as adjustable trellis wire and attachment of winter and sun fabrics 8) Develop post stabilizer brackets 9) Develop final reports All Phase I subcontractors will continue their involvement in Phase II. The work involving the design and field testing will be conducted at three different locations: Trellis Growing Systems, LLC (Fort Wayne, IN), USDA (Kearneysville, WV), and Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). The expected outputs of the research will be a modular trellis system design which can be economically produced, distributed to the growers, easy to install, and long lasting. Our beta testing results will identify trellis system performance and specific requirements in different growing locations and conditions. Addressing these requirements and incorporating into final trellis design will create value to a broader group of growers.
Project Methods
TGS team, at the direction of Barnes, will complete design for next version of prototypes and build and supply to Cornell University and the USDA by April of 2009. Based upon observations and analysis of Phase I prototypes, these new versions will include new cross-arm length dimensions, improved wire stay, improved post stabilizer, and improved end post anchors. Prototypes will be evaluated in laboratory at USDA (Kearneysvlle, WV) for structural integrity and submit report to TGS. Evaluation will include analysis of assembled trellis to vertical, lateral and horizontal force. Upon performance approval by TGS, first versions of Phase II prototypes will be installed replacing older versions of the RCA and AV systems at all three field trial locations: USDA (Kearneysville, WV); Cornell University (Ithaca, N)Y; and, TGS (Fort Wayne, IN), by May 2009. Performance of latest prototypes will be reviewed over the growing season from May through September 2009. Any changes required for product improvement will be implemented and incorporated into the next version of prototypes. TGS will select 10 sites for beta testing latest versions of RCA and AV trellis systems which will include both commercial growers and research stations. These growers will represent a diverse variety of growing conditions which will expose the trellis systems to a range of growing conditions. Installations will begin in September and will be completed by the end of November 2009. This will allow two full growing seasons for all varieties, with the exception of primocane fruiting raspberries which will be one full season an a partial second season. TGS will use the Normative Comparison method in gathering and analyzing the data provided to the team by beta tester sites. Each grower will replace a section of their existing trellis (the control) with an equal amount (in row feet) of either the RCA or AV trellis. The plants in both the RCA or AV trellis and the control trellis trials will be managed exactly the same. The only variable will be the trellising methods. TGS will provide each grower with defined criteria and log forms for recording findings. Each grower will have the exact same forms. These forms will include specific grower information as outlined above. Growers will gather data on both the newly installed RCA or AV systems and the control for comparison. Methods of manufacturing technology and different materials will be researched with comparative cost analysis and recorded. At the directions of J. Branstrator, a comprehensive cost analysis of product materials, methods of manufacturing, packaging and shipping costs will be conducted throughout the research period of this grant. By analyzing the data from the beta test sites and observations by TGS and subcontractors, the cost/performance value of product features such as ease of installation, end post anchor system, post stabilizer bracket, adjustable wire stays, attachment of winter cover fabric and attachment of shade protection fabric will be determined. TGS will use beta testing results to measure the differences between the growers' previous trellising methods (control) and the TGS system.

Progress 09/01/09 to 08/31/12

OUTPUTS: At TGS, we have continued to educate the public and commercialize our technology through several avenues including production of product brochures, development of "Proforma" spreadsheets detailing the economics of commercial blackberry operation, upgrade to website, presentations at Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference and OPGMA Conference, several Field Day events at Rhoads Farms, Circleville, Ohio, exhibiting at several events including Farm Progress Show, Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference and OPGMA. ARS scientists participated in outreach efforts in Belleville, IL, Parlier, CA, Watsonville, CA, Circleville, OH, Owasso, OK, Queenstown, MD, and Thurmont, MD directed at small blackberry farm operators in California, the Midwest, Mid-Continent, and Mid-Atlantic coast regions, respectively, by demonstrating the function and benefits of the Rotating Cross-Arm Trellis technology. The most significant output of the research was the development of a business model for establishing commercial blackberry plantings in the colder climates of the U.S. utilizing the product technology developed under this grant. This business model includes site selections, plant selection, supply and installation of bedding, plants, trellising, irrigation, and winter cover along with advisor service for all disciplines associated with growing and marketing blackberries. Marketing the fruit is also a big piece of our service. PARTICIPANTS: Fumi Takeda, PhD (Co/PI Phase II) Research Horticulturist and Lead Scientist Appalachian Fruit Research Station United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service Kearneysville, WV 25430 Marvin P. Pritts, PhD (Co/PI Phase II) Professor and Chairman Horticulture Cornell University Ithaca, NY 14851 Jerry Branstrator (Co/PI Phase II) Trellis Growing Systems LLC 2427 S. Hadley Rd. Fort Wayne, IN 46804 Richard Barnes (PD Phase II) Trellis Growing Systems LLC 2427 S. Hadley Rd. Fort Wayne, IN 46804 Camille Cupa Tanglewood Berry Farm Fort Wayne, IN 46804 TARGET AUDIENCES: Our target audience continues to be parties interested in establishing commercial berry operations with a focus on hardiness zone 5 in the Midwest and New England areas of the U.S. TGS will continue to host Field Day events and participate in trade shows and conferences. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: The major change in our commercialization of the technology has been focusing on a systems approach with advisor services rather than just selling the hardware.

ARS made significant progress in enhancing blackberry productivity in more northern climate. Demonstration plots were established at two sites in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 in Iowa using the Rotating Cross Arm Trellis technology developed by ARS researchers in Kearneysville, WV. With this technology blackberry plants can be laid down close to the ground and covered with floating rowcover in winter. Winter survival of blackberry plants grown with this technology was excellent. In spring after flower shoots emerged, the entire canopy was covered again with floating rowcover to protect plants from spring frost. This treatment was highly effective in protecting blackberry plants in Iowa. Little spring frost damage occurred in treated plants compared to more than >90% damage in uncovered, control plants. These findings will lead to widening geographic zones and temporal restrictions and seasons.. In just two years (since 2010), this effort has enabled establishment of nearly 200 acres of new blackberry plantings in areas where commercial blackberry production previously did not exist due to concerns with winter injury. The production system innovated by USDA-ARS and TGS has allowed expansion of blackberries into these regions. In tests done by TGS and ARS, the RCA trellis technology was successfully used in Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and other states in the north central and northeastern United States to produce fresh-market quality blackberries. The RCA technology allows the blackberry canopy to be brought down close to the ground in winter and covered with lightweight blanket. The blackberry plants in the Midwest that were produced by this method have survived extremely low winter temperatures and produced a satisfactory crop. This technology has been many years in the making and will be changing the geography and economics of blackberry and likely raspberry production in the US. The value of improved blackberry production system achievable with 200 acres of the RCA technology already implemented will have a direct impact on the rural economy at $10M annually for the next 15 years. A conservative estimate of RCA adoption by just 5 percent of the blackberry industry will represent a value of more than $50 million annually to US agriculture. Dr. John Clark, professor at the University of Arkansas, informed the audience at a recent national blackberry meeting that, "The RCA technology is one of the best things to happen in the blackberry industry in many years and an incredible way to grow the industry."


  • Milkovich, Matt, Fruit Grower News, April 2010, Volume 49, Number 4, Rotating trellis system protects blackberries from cold.
  • Middleton, Nicole Marshall, Tulsa World, May 27, 2012, Blackberry-picking easier with new trellis system.
  • Takeda, F. and Phillips, J. 2011. Horizontal cane orientation and rowcover application improve winter survival and yield of trailing `Siskiyou' blackberry. HortTechnology 21:170-175.
  • Takeda, F. 2012. Innovating blackberry production systems. The Bramble, newsletter of N. Amer. Raspberry and Blackberry Growers Assoc. 27:12-14.
  • Takeda, F., D.M. Glenn, and T. Tworkoski 2012. Rotating cross-arm trellis technology for blackberry production. J. Berry Research 3 (4):xx-xx (in press).

Progress 09/01/10 to 08/31/11

OUTPUTS: The last year has been very productive with positive product improvements generated from the knowledge gleaned from our field trials at grower beta test sites, Cornell University, USDA-ARS, and TGS. Activities include: 1) working with our ten beta testers around the country and documenting comments and results, 2) continue to log inputs from 10 acre commercial planting (Rhoads Farms)established spring of 2010 in Circleville, Ohio, 3) held 7 events at Rhoads Farms for current and prospective Midwest blackberry growers, 4) presented at Blackberry Field Days at Kearney Research Center, Univ. of Calif., 5) several articles on our technology ran in Prairie Farmer, Ohio Farmer Magazines, Fruit Growers News, and AgWired, 6) exhibits and presentation at NARBA annual conference in Savannah, GA, 7) several open house events at Cornell University greenhouses throughout the season, 8) videos of both trellising assembly and installation and cane training are completed, 9) beta testers spreadsheets are continually updated with inputs and comments, 10) website, has been updated, 11) commercialization has begun with more than 80 acres of commercial blackberry plantings with RCA trellis system technology established within the Upper Midwest and New England 12) a no cost extension was requested and granted to research another growing growing season cycle including winter protection, cane training and harvesting. Final report to be completed September of 2012. PARTICIPANTS: Richard Barnes, PI, overall management, coordinated efforts and projects at TGS. Coordinated efforts with subcontractors. Jerry Branstrator, Co/PI. Coordinated product design, supplier relations, product testing, data collection, Excel spread sheet development and management of inputs. Camille Cupa, managed field trial plantings and grounds at TGS location. Margy Hooker, office/clerical. Dr. Fumiomi Takeda, USDA-ARS, subcontrator. Manager of field trials at Kearneysville, WV. Interaction with various growers with blackberry management assistance. Dr. Marvin Pritts, Cornell University, subcontrator. Host of several field days open house events. TARGET AUDIENCES: Our target audience would be individual growers throughout the country interested in commercial berry growing. We have established a model commercial farm for prospective growers to visit and gain knowledge. Continue to participate in university sponsored field days across the country. Established web site. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: In order to move commercial production into colder areas,(zone 4), we need additional winter field trials in colder areas to measure the amount of protection. This winter we will be conducting field trials in northern Iowa. The no-cost extension will give us another winter for trials.

We have made several improvements to our RCA trellising system over the past year. These include, 1) heavier ground post for more strength, 2) larger side plates to increase the distance from pivot point to cross arm support, 3) reinforced long cross arm for more strength, 4) improved system for tie back wires to end posts, 5) improved winter cover protection system. Establishing of commercial growers in the Midwest continues to grow with more than 80 acres of RCA trellising installed this past year. 2011 winter trials to measure temperatures under winter cover showed significant winter protection from our protection materials and system. Cornell University showed a five fold increase in fruit yield with covered canes versus uncovered while TGS trials at Rhoads Farm showed <2% cane damage with protected canes versus 100% loss for open field blackberries. This technology may help move blackberry production into hardiness zone 4. This technology is creating a new industry in the Upper Midwest and New England and helping growers improve farm income while supplying a regionally grown food with less carbon foot print than west coast or imported berries. With the AV trellising system, improvements include, 1) adjustable wire stays, 2) wider side plates.


  • White, T., 2011, Blackberry Partners, Ohio Farmer, 117 West Main Street, Suite 202, Lancaster, OH 43130
  • White, T., 2011, Berry Blanket, Ohio Farmer, 117 West Main Street, Suite 202, Lancaster, OH 43130
  • Kershner, L., 2010, Another cash crop for Iowa, Farm News,713 Central Ave., Fort Dodge, IA 50501
  • Zimmerman, T, 2011, RCA Trellis System Turns Acres Into Profits, AgWired,

Progress 09/01/09 to 08/31/10

OUTPUTS: Activities include: 1) Installation of both rotating cross arm trellising for blackberries and adjustable V trellis for raspberries at ten beta testers across the country, 2) visiting beta testers to assist with cane training techniques and management practices, and 3) analyzing performance results of trellising at beta test sites. In partnership with Rhoads Farms, we established a commercial size (10 acre) planting of blackberries in Circleville, Ohio. This planting is also used for a working model which is used to analyze inputs and outputs as well as a showcase for interested growers of this technology. Events for this period include field days at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, University of California, Parlier, CA. In addition, we have established demonstration sites at USDA-ARS, Kearneysville, WV, Penn State, Pennsylvania Furnace, Michigan State, Holland, MI, and Tanglewood Berry Farm, Fort Wayne, IN. At Rhoads Farms, we have have had nine groups of growers for one half to full day visits. Events attended include Midwest Fruit and Produce Show, Grand Rapids, MI, SE Fruit & Vegetable Conference, Savannah, GA, NARBA Annual Conference, Monterrey, CA, Blueberry & Blackberry Field Days, University of California, Parlier, CA, and The Farm Progress Show, Boone, IA. Through beta tester feedback and TGS field testing, product improvements have been made and incorporated into new versions. Videos and photos of both trellising assembly and installation and cane training and management have been shot and are in the editing process. Sales literature has been created. Detailed spread sheets created and updated every two weeks with inputs and outputs pertaining to the economics and management of 10 acre commercial planting. Website,, in process of being updated to focus entirely on the RCA and AV trellis systems with emphasis on the commercial market. PARTICIPANTS: Richard Barnes, PI, Overall management, coordinated efforts and projects at TGS. Coordinated efforts with subcontractors. Jerry Branstrator, Co/PI, Coordinated product design, supplier relations, product testing, data collection, Excel spread sheet development and management of inputs. Margy Hooker, Office/clerical. Camille Cupa, Managed field trial plantings and grounds. USDA-ARS, subcontractor. Lab testing and field testing. Cornell University, subcontractor, field testing and field day host. University of California, collaborator and field days. TARGET AUDIENCES: Our target audience is individual growers throughout the country interested in commercial berry growing. Our efforts included establishing a model commercial farm for prospective growers to visit and learn from. Also, established field days at several universities and existing growers. Developing a web site which is RCA and AB trellis specific. PROJECT MODIFICATIONS: Nothing significant to report during this reporting period.

Change of knowledge is underway. Our RCA trellis system has features which positively effect blackberry growers in both the south and the Midwest. In the warmer regions, the University of California, Parlier, CA, has been field testing our RCA system for two seasons. They gave a presentation earlier this year at the NARBA Conference, Monterrey, CA, highlighting the reduction of sun scald and improvement of harvesting efficiency. In regions which have high ambient temperatures and direct sun, blackberries will become damaged through sun scald or develop white druplets. With the RCA trellis system and cane training technology, fruit is positioned to one side of the trellis and protected from the late afternoon sun greatly reducing sun damage. Harvesting labor is also greatly reduced with the all the fruit on one side and not hidden in the canopy. One of our beta testers, Southern Grace Farms, Enigma, GA, this first season, had tremendous improvements with the RCA trellis system over conventional growing practices. With the Natchez variety, sun scald damaged fruit was reduced from 35-40% to less than 5%, harvest labor was reduced by more than 35%, and berries dried much faster after a rain event, greatly reducing mold. In the Midwest, blackberries can now be grown successfully with the RCA technology. This is achieved by rotating the trellising and lateral canes to the ground in late fall and covered with a winter cover fabric for cold and wind protection. The impact is huge and will create a new industry and opportunities for growers in the Midwest. The economics are very positive with blackberries selling at 50-100% more during the Midwest harvest season as compared to the harvest season in current growing areas of Georgia, North Carolina, and California. Change of Action is beginning. Southern Grace Farms is considering installation of the RCA trellis system on 60 acres. Surrounding growers in the area are also interested. Web site and telephone inquiries are increasing and sales in general are increasing. We are projecting more than 50 acres of commercial plantings of the RCA trellis system for 2011. Virginia Tech is contracting with us to install both RCA and AV trellis systems at their research center in Petersburg, VA. In addition, we will be conducting training seminars twice per year to help educate Virginia growers. This technology will enable growers to change the conditions through improving farm income and supplying a safer food source with less dependence on imports.


  • Milkovich, Matt, Fruit Grower News, April 2010, Volume 49, Number 4. Rotating trellis system protects blackberries from cold