Apr 19, 2023
Bernadine Strik, berry research innovator, dies

Bernadine Strik, a leading U.S. berry authority, has died. Strik, 60, died on April 14 in Corvallis, Oregon.

Strik, a veteran Oregon State University professor of horticulture and Extension berry crop specialist and researcher, was well-known and respected in the berry world.

Bernadine Strik

“Her research in blueberry production and nutrient management has had impacts that few have ever matched,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture which recognized her contributions in 2022.

When Strik began her OSU career in 1987, the industry standard was to plant blueberry bushes four feet apart in rows that were mulched with sawdust or had bare ground and without trellises. Today, as a result of Strik’s research, blueberries are grown two-and-a-half to three feet apart with the aid of trellises and weed mat mulch is common, the USDA said.

Strik worked at OSU for 34 years. Strik’s research focused on whole plant physiology, improving yield and quality, machine harvest efficiency, pruning, optimization of production systems, plant nutrition and organic production systems in all berry crops.

She has published more than 240 scientific papers, as well as book chapters and other writings on berry crop production and physiology. She also operates a berry crops consulting business to aid growers and companies internationally.

Strik didn’t limit herself to blueberries. She developed research programs on planting density, trellising, pruning, fruit set, fruit quality and planting systems for strawberries, red and black raspberries, blackberries and cranberries.

The North American Blueberry Council (NABC) and U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) mourn Strik’s sudden passing.

“Strik led ground-breaking research that transformed the blueberry industry, improving yield and quality, machine harvest efficiency, pruning, optimization of production systems, plant nutrition and organic production systems in all berry crops,” Kasey Cronquist, USHBC and NABC president, said in a news release.

“Professional accolades aside, Strik was a benevolent, generous bright light to the blueberry industry and all who knew her. Our industry has lost a great leader, mentor and friend. Bernadine has made an indelible mark on what the blueberry industry is today, and her legacy of innovation, research and passion will impact generations of blueberry growers to come. She was a true legend and champion of the blueberry industry, and she will be greatly missed.”

As an extension specialist, growers repeatedly participated in her field days and her online “blueberry schools” to gain the latest trends and knowledge.

Bernadine Strik

In her time at OSU, Oregon blueberry acreage expanded from 1,200 acres to 15,000 acres with large changes in production systems based on her research. Her landmark 14-year project on organic blueberry production helped drive an increase in Oregon organic acreage as growers adopted Strik’s research-based production methods to increase their profitability, according to OSU.

Retiring in 2021, Strik that year was honored by the highest honor bestowed by the International Society of Horticultural Science for her innovative and industry-changing program on berries.

Born in Holland, Strik’s family moved to Australia and later, Canada, where she earned a doctorate with distinction in horticulture at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, at 25 years of age. At OSU, she started as an assistant professor in 1987 and was promoted to professor in 1997. Strik’s paternal grandfather was a vegetable and strawberry grower in west Holland while her maternal grandfather spent sold produce at his specialty stores. Her parents followed similarly.

Strik is survived by husband Neil Bell, a retired OSU Extension horticulture specialist, and two daughters.

“My condolences to Bernadine’s family,” said Kevin Schooley, executive director of the North American Strawberry Growers Association, based in Welland, Ontario. “Bernadine was so well respected by her friends in the agricultural community and will be sorely missed. She was always willing to share her knowledge and expertise and was fun to be around. We had some great conversations about farming and family. We will all cherish the time we had together and the special memories.”

More details are expected to be available in Strik’s obituary.

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