The University of New Hampshire will conduct a market feasibility study to assess the viability of cold-hardy kiwifruit, or kiwiberries, as a novel, high-value horticultural crop that could spur economic development among small farms in northern New Hampshire.
Iago Hale, a researcher with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, and Seth Wilner, a specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension, have received a USDA Rural Business Development Grant for $38,000 to conduct the study. Hale established a kiwiberry breeding program at the NH Agricultural Experiment Station in 2013, with initial work focusing on characterizing and evaluating for the first time the entire North American collection of cold-hardy kiwis, nearly 200 accessions, to identify promising varieties for the region and parent plants for new variety development.
Cold-hardy kiwifruits are a nutritionally dense superfood with high levels of vitamin C, beta-carotene, anthocyanins, and lutein. The berry-like fruits, harvested in the early fall, are also remarkably flavorful, given their thin edible skins and pleasing balance of sugars and acids. With their general adaptation to the region, their attractive appearance, intense and complex flavor profiles, high levels of bioactive compounds, and easy consumability, kiwiberries have been recognized as economically promising in New England as early as the 1950s.
“New England fruit and vegetable agriculture is distinct in both the diversity of its production and its high proportion of direct sales to consumers. The large and growing demand for diverse, local produce in the region presents an opportunity for developing and introducing entirely new horticultural products, such as kiwiberries,” said Hale, a plant breeder and assistant professor of specialty crop improvement at UNH’s College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.
“Based on their adaptation to the region, their great flavor, and their suitability for direct marketing, kiwiberries show promise as a high-value horticultural crop for northern New England growers who face distinctly challenging growing and marketing conditions,” he said.
By surveying both consumers and producers, the project aims to develop a business plan to support the decision making of potential kiwiberry producers in the region. Results of the study also will be used to set cultivar and production system performance goals for the breeding program so that it may better support those growers investing in this innovative crop.
"I applaud Dr. Hale's systematic exploration of a potential new commercial crop for New Hampshire producers. This project will explore the market feasibility of kiwiberries to inform growers about consumer preferences and price points. Growers will then have data to decide if it fits within their systems and goals. Dr. Hale is looking to expand crops that can return profits to New Hampshire growers and is exploring production and economic data to help them make informed decisions," Wilner said.
Hale is already working with several northern New Hampshire farmers in Coös County who are interested in diversifying their crops with hardy kiwis. One of those farmers is Kitty Kerner, whose family operates WinterGreens Farm and Aquaponics in North Stratford. The family has been working to expand its selection of high-value crops, and according to Kerner, “hardy kiwis seemed just right for our challenging climate, given their native habitat extends all the way to Siberia!”
“We are excited to be part of professor Hale's kiwi selection trials and believe this crop has great potential as a new opportunity for farmers in New England — especially in the northern areas,” Kerner said. “Should the kiwis be successfully established on our farm, we are definitely hoping to expand the vineyard and also looking into their potential use for value-added products such as for wine-making, jams, and perhaps dried fruit.”
This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 233561.
Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire's land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural farms, the Macfarlane Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 13,000 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students.
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