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Enhancing Agricultural Profitability and Sustainability through Specialty Crops

Investigators
Meullenet, Jean-Francois
Institutions
University of Arkansas
Start date
2009
End date
2011
Objective
The project seeks to provide profitable production and processing systems for small-, mid-size, and transitioning producers and processors.

Cultural practices used in the production of blueberries will be evaluated in order to identify causes of production declines and identify environmentally sustainable ways of addressing these problems. These assessments will be extended to additional crops. The development and production of value-added products that increase the farmer's share of the food dollar and better utilize and broaden market outlets for blueberries will be evaluated.

The commercialization and growth of specialty-crop producing and processing enterprises will be facilitated by identifying and communicating key success factors required to serve market outlets available to small- to mid-sized growers or processors.

Educational programs to educate growers in Northeast Arkansas and the Delta on the economic potential associated with specialty crop production and marketing will be developed.

More information
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The production and marketing of specialty crops can be characterized as suffering from a lack of research in production systems, a lack of education about technology, a large need for knowledge and assistance in marketing, and the lack of education of consumers regarding the value of these products in a healthy diet. Increased knowledge about the production and marketing of specialty crops and development of related value-added products can significantly enhance the viability and sustainability of the small and medium-sized farms that dominate the production of specialty crops in Arkansas and the South. Moreover, this knowledge will lengthen market windows and reduce seasonal fluctuations that complicate local purchasing by consumers. The assessment of the Arkansas blueberry industry to determine crop status and problems facing the industry continues. Once the problems are determined, environmentally sustainable solutions can be determined and implemented. Developing, producing, and evaluating value-added products that increase the farmer?s share of the food dollar can better utilize and broaden market outlets for blueberries. Value-added products prepared using small-scale processing techniques appropriate for on-farm product production will be evaluated against similar commercially-available products for quality, acceptability, and cost. Recommendations will be made regarding strategies appropriate for successfully marketing specialty crops and value-added products produced from them. A project is underway to study the feasibility of using waste products from fruits and vegetables industries to produce lactic acid for use in the production of polylactic acid. Another will identify the potential anti-staphylococcal and prebiotic properties of blueberry byproducts. Additional research activities will provide assistance to the small- and medium-sized farmer producing specialty crops. The comprehensive approach will address the development and evaluation of production systems, and alternative production methods. Identification of new value-added products and development of affordable further processing techniques that maintain or enhance their sensory and nutritional characteristics will be undertaken. The nutritional aspects of these products and consumer acceptance of them are important. Identifying and optimizing the health-promoting aspects of these products will be a major component of product development efforts. Training programs to maximize food safety will also be emphasized.

APPROACH: The Arkansas blueberry industry will be assessed by conducting on-site surveys of the status of plantings throughout the state. Farms will be visited and the grower asked to complete a questionnaire to determine the cultural practices used on the farm. Soil, foliar and leaf samples will be collected and analyzed to determine crop status and problems facing the Arkansas blueberry industry. Once the problems are determined, environmentally sustainable solutions can be determined and implemented. Blueberries of the cultivars commonly grown in Arkansas will be used to prepare value-added products using small-scale processing techniques appropriate for on-farm production. Products will be evaluated against similar commercially-available products for quality, acceptability, and cost. Fruit composition will be determined for each cultivar. A study designed to determine the demographics of shoppers at farmers markets in Northwest Arkansas as well as their interests in purchasing alternative (organically-grown) crops will be expanded to other parts of the state, in particular, the Northeast and Delta regions. Information obtained will be used to develop recommendations to producers of alternative crops regarding strategies appropriate for successfully marketing alternative crops and value-added products produced from them. The project will develop outreach materials and workshops that address aspects related to production, processing, and marketing of specialty crops. Intended to attract potential new growers as well as being a source of information for existing growers, These activities will inform about technology, finance, regulation, certification, food safety, nutrition, and consumer acceptance. All materials will be made available on the Internet as well.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
ARK02250
Accession number
218499
Categories
Chemical Contaminants
Natural Toxins
Bacterial Pathogens
Commodities
Produce