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Passion fruit (Passiflora sp.) is largely an unknown domestic fruit crop. The latest data regarding passion fruit production indicates that production in the USA is limited to warm climates in areas of Florida, California, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii though some production has been attempted in other states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama. Passion fruit is a high value tropical crop usually grown on small farms. According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture the total number of farms of bearing age was 257 on a total of 85 acres, with an average farm on less than a 1/3 acre. This statistic is likely lower than actual production since Florida production alone is estimated to be on as many as 72 to 100 acres, with an additional 50 acres to be planted soon (Crane, 2018). In south Florida the tropical fruit industry in the area is estimated to be worth $73.5 million per year with 1,800 growers on 14,562 acres. Like many fruit crops, passion fruit is marketed as fresh fruit which is more valuable than processed.In the U.S., fresh passion fruit are sold at farmers markets and in grocery stores by piece or in a clam shell of multiple fruit. Consumers purchasing passion fruit are motivated by the attractive tropical flavor, yet the fruit boast many health benefits including high amounts of vitamins and antioxidants (Leterme, 2006; Percival and Findley, 2014; Talcott et al., 2003). A small portion of the domestic crop is sold through internet sales and processed into added value products such as drinks, ice cream, or desserts. Importing fresh passion fruit into the U.S. is limited due to quarantine restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of insects (such as the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata). Only Australia, Bermuda, Chile, New Zealand, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are approved countries to export fresh passion fruit into the U.S. (USDA-APHIS, 2020). Fruit that are imported are expensive and sold at a piece rate.Domestic production of passion fruit is favored due to increased air shipping costs, import restrictions on most passion fruit-producing countries, and the local food movement. Even though the southern U.S. has a potentially suitable climate for producing passion fruit, current circumstances prevent growers from producing at the highest potential yield. Challenges include disease and pest pressures that are problematic due to the lack of disease resistant cultivars, poor soil quality (e.g., high soil pH, low cation exchange capacity), and periods of cold weather. Because of root and trunk rots, the constant need to re-plant or regrow plantings every two to three years which makes it difficult to earn a sustainable profit at present. While south Florida is a unique environment of the continental United States where passion fruit can be grown due to the high average seasonal temperatures, other areas of the southern U.S. may be suitable with new cultivar development and improved cultural practices (e.g. AL, MS, south TX, south GA, LA). Protected agriculture systems may also expand the regions passionfruit could be grown in the southern U.S. Also, since passion fruit is a high value crop it could be a diversification tool for southern U.S. growers who previously relied on crops that are no longer as profitable or that require longer rotations.While there is great potential for domestic passion fruit production, systematic breeding using modern phenotyping and genotyping methods are currently nonexistent. The primary breeding targets should be designed to improve the agronomic potential of passion fruit, which include fruit quality, crop yield, and disease resistance. The following breeding and research objectives would lead to more productive passion fruit vines: resistance to fungal and virus-caused diseases (vine & fruit), availability of clean (virus-free) planting material, dependable cropping systems, extended season (varieties to produce all year), retention of ripe fruit on vine, higher juice content, and improvement in cold hardiness. Passion fruit molecular technology is still in its infancy, and to fully utilize future technology the availability of diverse genetic resources is essential. Considering the current limitations for passion fruit consumers and growers, the need to improve the domestic production and quality of passion fruit is highly warranted.In summary there is limited information available for the passion fruit grower regarding cultural management practices, cultivars, or rootstocks. There are no publicly available disease resistant cultivars, let alone a variety with high fruit quality adapted to the southern U.S. However, a passion fruit industry is established in Florida, California, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii and to some extent supporting research for passion fruit improvement. Domestic passion fruit consumption is also poised to grow given many businesses marketing tropical fruit in various products, consumer trends in diversifying and improving diets, and the local food movement. Therefore, responding to the needs of current passion fruit producers, as well as future industry needs and challenges, is of utmost importance.This project seeks to bring together stakeholders, researchers, and extension personnel to identify challenges and opportunities that are critical to the growth of the U.S. passion fruit industry. We will develop and implement a survey to identify current and potential passion fruit producers and needs for passion fruit production and research priorities. The results of the survey will allow us to organize a strategic planning meeting to address the needs of the industry and plan a path forward for research and extension projects. We intend to use this strategic planning grant to develop future NIFA-SCRI proposals.This project has short- and long-term benefits for the nascent passion fruit industry. In the short term, the implementation and publication of the stakeholder survey will be a valuable resource for researchers and producers alike. In the long-term, this project will bring together researchers from many disciplines to develop proposals that will address priorities stemming from the survey. Our project evaluator (Downey) will act as facilitator of the Strategic planning meeting and monitor project deliverables, as well as ensuring adequate stakeholder input at all stages of the project.

Stafne, Eric
Mississippi State University
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