Bernadine Streeck, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University whose innovative farming strategies shook up the American blueberry industry, died April 14 at a hospital in Corvallis, Oregon, at the age of 60.
Her husband, Neil Bell, said the cause was complications from ovarian cancer.
Modern agriculture is as much a science as it is a business, and Dr. Strick, whose career began in Oregon State in 1987, has brought a scientifically skeptical approach to blueberry farming.
But she also grew up with her hands in the dirt—her parents owned a nursery and a landscaping business—so she had a keen sense of the practical demands farmers faced.
“She was able to connect with the growers,” Scott Lucas, who took over the Oregon State berry-granting professorship in the Northwest after Dr. Strick retired in 2021, said in a phone interview. He added that she could view the research “from this real-world perspective,” “and be human about it and not get lost in the science.”
Blueberries have been systematically cultivated in the United States since the early 20th century. But demand has grown in recent decades as scientists have touted the fruit’s health benefits, and packaged forms — frozen, pureed, dried, powdered — have made it more accessible.
The United States was the largest producer of blueberries until 2021, when it was overtaken by China, according to the a report Last month from the Foreign Agriculture Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
When Dr. Strick began examining the berry industry in Oregon, she found that growers placed the plants four feet apart in rows because they thought the size of mature bushes required too much space. I also noticed that blueberry plants are grown freestanding, without trellises, and that sawdust was commonly used as mulch because it’s cheap and effective at killing weeds.
In a series of studies that took years to complete, Dr. Strick found that changing those practices could improve yields, according to a 2021 study. profile account On the Oregon Blueberry Commission website.
She discovered that raspberry plants three feet apart produced 50 percent higher yields as they grew, without lowering yields once they matured. The use of trellis has prevented the loss of an average of 4 to 8 percent of the blueberry crop during mechanical harvesting. Using weed mats—an often synthetic material that covers the ground around plants—plus sawdust increased yields by up to 10 percent, even when weeds were effectively controlled by the sawdust.
“It was simply due to the change in soil temperature that the weed mat made,” she said.
Dr. Strick has helped organic farmers maximize their yield by planting on raised ponds instead of on flat ground, a technique that has also benefited conventional farms. She persuaded many berry producers, in Oregon and abroad, to accept her research and adopt her measures.
The Federal Agricultural Research Service, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, said in a statement New release in 2022 states that “The berry crop industries in Oregon and around the world have all benefited from Strick’s research.”
Because of this research, the agency said, “yields during the years of development increased dramatically, and organic production increased from less than 2 percent to more than 20 percent of Oregon’s area.”
Bernadine Cornelia Strike was born in The Hague on April 29, 1962, to Gerald and Christine (Alcide) Strike.
In 1965, the Strax family moved to Tantanola, a small town in South Australia, where her father was a forester. But they got tired of the heat, and in 1971 the family moved to Canada and opened a nursery and landscaping business in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.
After graduating from high school, Dr. Strick earned her bachelor’s degree from Victoria University, Vancouver Island in 1983. She completed her doctorate in horticulture from the University of Guelph in Ontario in 1987. Shortly thereafter she got a job in Oregon at Corvallis.
One of her students there was Mr. Bell, who came to Oregon State in 1990 to study for a master’s degree in horticulture. They got married in 1994.
In addition to her husband, with whom she lived in Monmouth, Oregon, she is survived by their two daughters, Shannon and Nicole Bell.
In 2021, the year she retired, Dr. Strick was named a Fellow of the International Society of Horticultural Science and won an award Duke Galletta Award for Excellence in Horticultural Research From the North American Blueberry Council.
Twenty of her graduate students have been an important part of her legacy, Mr. Lucas said. He noted that Dr. Strick imparted not only academic rigor but also the ability to communicate practically and effectively—a skill he called “science in itself.”