Bernadine Strik, Whose Insights Helped Blueberries Thrive, Dies at 60

Bernadine Strik, a horticulture professor at Oregon State University whose innovative cultivation strategies shook up the American blueberry industry, died on April 14 at a hospital in Corvallis, Ore. She was 60.

The cause was complications of ovarian cancer, said her husband, Neil Bell.

Modern farming is as much science as labor, and Dr. Strik, whose career at Oregon State began in 1987, brought a skeptical, scientific approach to blueberry cultivation.

But she had also grown up with her hands in the dirt — her parents owned a nursery and landscaping business — so she had a strong sense of the practical demands farmers face.

“She was able to connect with the growers,” Scott Lukas, who took on Oregon State’s endowed professorship for Northwest berry production after Dr. Strik retired in 2021, said in a phone interview. She could view research “from that down-to-earth perspective,” he added, “and be a human about it and not get lost in the science.”

Blueberries have been systematically cultivated in the United States since early in the 20th century. But demand has grown in recent decades as scientists have trumpeted the fruit’s health benefits and as packaged forms — frozen, puréed, freeze-dried, powdered — have made it more accessible.

The United States was the largest producer of blueberries until 2021, when it was surpassed by China, according to a report last month from the Agriculture Department’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

When Dr. Strik began examining Oregon’s blueberry industry, she found that growers placed plants four feet apart in rows because they thought that the size of mature bushes required that much room. She also observed that blueberry plants were grown standing free, without trellises, and that sawdust was commonly used as mulch because it was cheap and effective at killing weeds.

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