By Loretta Sorensen
Could aronia berries be the next new small scale alternative crop to take root in the Dakotas?
Some people think go.
Aronia berries are rich in anti-oxidants and gaining favor as a health food. Jeff and Jolene Stewart, Wagner, S.D. are growing aronia berries and selling them to natural foods store and to wineries. An aronia berry/apple juicing facility may be built Akron, Iowa, in the near future."
The Stewarts have found aronia berries easy to grow -- at least on a small scale. "If you plant more than one acre of berries, there are capital expenses such as harvesters, mowing, weed control, freezer storage and transportation as well as marketing," Jeff says. The Wagners have purchased a mechanical harvester.
The U.S. is mostly likely on the cusp of seeing aronia berries becoming a major new crop, says Eldon Everhart, of Everhart Horticultural Consulting, Atlantic, Iowa.
"Worldwide, there's more demand than supply," Everhart says. "More acres of aronia berry are planted every year, but demand probably hasn't peaked yet. Soybeans were the last new U.S. crop. Aronia berries could potentially become an equally important crop."
Low start-up costs and low incidence of pests and disease make aronia berries an attractive specialty crop.
"Because there aren't many acres of them here, pests and disease aren't an issue," Everhart says. "Between 2-10% of the bushes flower and produce berries the first year. By the third year each bush produces five to 10 pounds of fruit. By the sixth year, they'll yield between 30 and 40 pounds of berries per bush."
High fruit yields are only possible if best management practices are used.
"This includes proper planting, pruning, weed and pest control, fertilization and irrigation when needed," he says.
Some growers sell frozen aronia berries for as much as $10 to $12 per pound. Wholesale prices average $1 per pound.
"We like being an integral part of bringing healthy, sustainable, locally produced berries and berry products to South Dakota and the surrounding area," Jeff says. "We're dedicated to educating the public about the berry's health benefits and connecting consumers to healthy aronia berry products. Our production motto is 'Making America Healthier One Berry At A Time.'"
Sorensen writes from Yankton, S.D.