Small-scale Commercial Juneberry Establishment and Marketing

Final Report for ONE10-124

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2010: $13,040.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Jim Ochterski
Cornell Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

This project evaluated and eventually promoted the adoption of juneberries as a new berry crop for Northeastern farmers. With the testimony of 1,500+ consumers about the appeal of juneberries for flavor, utility, and nutrition, more than 20 growers have established new commercial plantings of juneberries. New data is available about establishment costs and the use of weed suppression and mammal damage control supplies in juneberry propagation. The outreach components have reached thousands of growers across the country, positioning juneberries as a notable, profitable crop, particularly on a small scale.

Introduction:

OVERVIEW

At the outset of this project, juneberries as a commercial crop in the Northeast were virtually unheard of. As the project has gone through full implementation, their recognition as a sustainable, profitable crop has become widespread. They are now accepted among many farms as a crop with excellent marketing and profitability potential.

This project has drawn considerable attention from regional media sources, national agriculture trade publications, and berry-producing farmers. Juneberries are also seen as a suitable crop for new farmers looking for an innovative niche in the marketplace.
Concurrent with the emergence of juneberries as a new berry crop for the Northeast, the project has generated new data regarding establishment costs, maintenance expenses, marketing opportunities, and the use of grow tubes in establishment settings.

Although only four farms were brought into the project as partners, this project has directly led to more than 20 growers in the Northeast planting juneberries as a commercial crop. The actual number may be higher, since there has been widespread outreach, but no way to formally track which farms now have plantings. The number of growers is derived from testimony from those who have participated in the project’s activities and subsequently planted juneberries.

Project Objectives:
1) Determine basic establishment and projected management costs on four on-farm trial plots.

Project data has determined the following establishment costs:

• Cost per plant varies from $4.50 – 6.00 per plant.

• Site preparation and establishment (without irrigation) is approximately $2.20 – $3.00 per plant

• Management costs are still being determined for Northeast growers, but are expected to range annually from $2.55 – 4.00 per plant depending on production conditions and grower efficiency.

2) Evaluate the effectiveness of weed and mammal damage suppression with weed mats and grow tubes.

Paper mulch obtained for this project was proven to be impractical for weed suppression. This temporary mulch broke down prematurely and was regarded as too difficult to install and maintain. A more durable fabric mulch (5-year minimum) is preferable for weed suppression in juneberries.

Extensive grow tube data shows very mixed results as a stimulus for plant height growth and plant health & vigor. At the partner farms, the Blue-X grow tubes proved to be effective against mammal damage, but ultimately suppressed plant development overall. We have determined that solid grow tubes are unlikely to promote additional growth in juneberries, and actually have the effect of modifying the morphology of the plants unfavorably.

3) Quantify the consumer appeal of this minor fruit in you-pick, farm market, CSA, restaurant, and small-scale processing market channels.

This project determined that you-pick markets for juneberries have very strong potential for production and profitability. The resemblance of juneberries to blueberries and their ready-to-use qualities make them highly appealing for consumers. Market prices can reasonably exceed blueberries, and the production costs are similar, and possibly lower (more research needed).

In farm market settings, no data is directly available yet, but there is widespread anecdotal evidence of strong consumer demand. Juneberries will require a small degree of orientation and tasting by farm market customers to distinguish them from blueberries.
Restaurant owners from New York City and local establishments have already contacted the project leader, seeking substantial quantities of juneberries. Based on testimony from culinary professionals, the flexibility of the juneberry and complex characteristics of flavor lend to a wide variety of uses in cuisine. Intermediate wholesale channels for juneberries are expected to be robust.

Several small-scale food processing ventures have already adopted juneberries as key ingredients as a result of this project. A commercial jam maker has already required shipments of juneberries from outside the region to keep up with demand. Other small-scale food processing opportunities explored with promise in this project include chocolate-covered juneberries, ice cream confections, and juneberry fruit for mead and wine production.

Although not intended to be part of the project, the project leader, in cooperation with the Northeast Food Venture Center, developed a process for successfully dehydrating juneberries to expand their use in value-added foods, such as for baking, granola, and shelf-stable confections. The technique is very cost-effective and will allow for vastly expanded marketing opportunities.

4) Disseminate the information gathered through at least three workshops / tours, one production booklet, on-line resources, and grower trade periodicals.

The project website (www.juneberries.org) is the main point of information access and dissemination, attracting more than 1,500 unique visitors during the project period. The site includes extensive images, production and nutrition information, project background and NESARE support, and contact information for the project leader.

The project hosted four substantial learning events:
March 5, 2011: 6-hour Introduction to Juneberry Production at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station
Attendance: 55 participants
Speakers: Gary and Stephanie Craft, G & S Orchards
Jarvis Bluske, Blue Sky Farm (Saskatchewan, Canada)
Steve Fouch, Michigan State Extension

August 25, 2011: 2-hour juneberry production tour to Happy Goat Farm
Attendance: 18 participants
Speakers: Chris Luley, Happy Goat Farm
Jim Ochterski, Project Leader

July 11, 2012: 1.5 hour juneberry production tour to G & S Orchards
Attendance: 24 participants
Speakers: Gary and Stephanie Craft, G & S Orchards
Jim Ochterski, Project Leader

August 31, 2012: Two 1 hour group tours / tasting / small group discussions at Cornell Small Fruit Open House at Cornell Orchards
Attendance: 76 participants

Speaker: Jim Ochterski, Project Leader
The project has also developed and published eight fact sheets pertaining to different aspects of juneberry production. In place of a booklet, the fact sheets are accessible as an on-line download (www.juneberries.org) or direct mail.

Juneberry establishment and production was featured in original, feature articles in the following publications:
NY Small Fruit Quarterly
Cornell Small Farms Quarterly
Country Folks
Lancaster Farming
Growing Magazine

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • David DeMallie
  • Stephanie Ludwig
  • Chris Luley
  • Al Norwood

Research

Materials and methods:

Each farm was provided with all the hard materials necessary for the project establishment and data collection: 100 juneberry plants (4 varieties), weed fabric, grow tubes, measuring devices, stakes, data sheets, and instructions.

Data concerning the cost of establishment was recorded by the partnering farms in 2010. A data sheet recorded the number of man-hours, expenses, and methods of establishment. Each farm had access to different site preparation and planting equipment, leading to great variance in efficiency.

Data concerning plant development was recorded in four sets:
Establishment
Establishment + 1 growing season
Establishment + 2 growing seasons
Establishment + 3 growing seasons

Partnering farmers used standard procedures to measure plant height and vigor, recording them on provided data sheets. Each sheet delineated between plants protected by a grow tube, and those with no grow tube, divided into the four varieties under investigation.

Research results and discussion:
Marketing

Juneberries have a promising future with consumers in the Northeast US, whether consumed fresh or processed into jams, syrups, pie filling, baked goods, or dehydrated forms. Most consumers in the marketing study liked the flavor, the nutrition, or the combination of flavor and nutrition. The marketing challenge faced by juneberry sellers is the fruit’s resemblance to domesticated blueberries. Many consumers presume the flavor to be the same, and find juneberries to taste like a bland blueberry; however, it is possible to influence consumers to expect a more compatible flavor & texture frame of reference. Some consumers felt the flavor experience with juneberries is superior to blueberries and expressed a preference for juneberries.

Costs of production

PThe partnering farms recorded the value of the labor (at $12/hr) required at their farm to prepare and plant juneberries, in addition to the costs of the plants, weed control, and fertility as follows:

Cost per plant varies from $4.50 – 6.00 per plant.

Site preparation and establishment (without irrigation) is approximately $2.20 – $3.00 per plant

Use of solid grow tubes

The extensive data for plant development on the partnering farms was substantially inconclusive. There was no correlation or consistency to the development of the plants that received a grow tube treatment or no treatment.

Juneberry plants are most productive when they are planted and managed to multi-stem and develop many basal branches. The grow tubes caused most of the treated juneberry plants to grow more tree-like, with a single central stem. When the grow tubes were removed, these plants were clearly top-heavy and bent down to the ground.

They will need additional years to recover a more normal morphology to become fully productive. This pattern was not seen on bushes with no grow tube.

Research conclusions:
March 2011 seminar

The signature education event of this project was a day-long seminar at the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station on March 5, 2011. An extensive follow up survey was sent to the participants. We sent out 43 follow up questionnaires to those who attended the seminar. We received thirty completed questionnaires summarized as follows:

Only one respondent was not planning to grow them
13 planned to plant up to 50 at this point
12 planned to plant 50 – 250 plants immediately
4 planned to plant 250 or more immediately

Comments illustrative of grower impact were documented:
“Like the idea of growing a niche crop that doesn’t have market saturation like apples.”

“Most useful was info on how to grow and market the berries. The other material was interesting and timely.”

“Very interesting, learning about all facets of growing/propagating. I am very interested in such a new crop and its nutritive value. I would be very interested in establishing a marketable crop in the southern tier.”

“I appreciated getting info on eating qualities of different varieties-specifically which one to avoid! Hard to know otherwise, since catalog descriptions emphasize the positives almost exclusively. I also appreciated having the need for weed control and irrigation in the early years emphasized repeatedly-wonder how many other types of fruit bushes I’ve handicapped by not providing that.”

“Well put together workshop-knowledgeable presenters-could answer all questions thoroughly. More on soil/site preparation would have been helpful.”

“My direct sales will be on a very small scale so cultural information and nutrient content are of greatest importance to me.”

“I advise commercial berry growers and I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity this presents.”

www.juneberries.org site

The project website (www.juneberries.org) has been extremely popular. It has become the top Internet search result for terms like “juneberry / juneberries”, and has been linked extensively from personal health blogs, the Washington Post, and Cornell berry extension resources. Among the most popular pages have to do with sources of plant material (1,584 page views), the production factsheet set (459 page views), the basic description of juneberries (485 page views), and pest management guidelines (444 page views).

Long-range impact

The original plan as stated in the NESARE grant application was to “kick-start the agronomic and economic potential of juneberries through education, financial analysis, and the development of marketing data and guidelines. “ Unexpectedly, the project took off much faster than expected, and so the eventual impact of this project is expected to be extensive. The popular and farmer-directed media continues to have a fascination with this new fruit. Health and wellness periodicals continue to emphasize healthy eating and juneberries are positioned to emerge as a very popular crop for consumers. The “buzz” that this project has developed will carry the work forward and will likely compound in impact over the long term.

Right now, the project leader is seeking new resources to continue the work necessary to keep momentum going. The example set in Michigan, where juneberries were actively introduced, but then went unsupported by University and Extension services is a lesson best avoided.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
Project public website

Compreghensive website publically available since January 2011: www.juneberries.org

Events

March 5, 2011 Introduction to Juneberry Production seminar

August 25, 2011: 2-hour juneberry production tour to Happy Goat Farm

July 11, 2012: 1.5 hour juneberry production tour to G & S Orchards

August 31, 2012: Two 1 hour group tours / tasting / small group discussions at Cornell Small Fruit Open House at Cornell Orchards

Individual consultations

68 direct-to-grower phone and e-mail advisory discussions during project period.

Media coverage

Three newspaper articles, two TV news stories, 6 grower periodicals (regional and national).

Published factsheets

Juneberry crop profile: Some basic information about the crop.

Selecting a site for planting juneberries: Soils, sun, and other tips
Juneberry Quick Start guide: Basic information for planting with no frills.

The following published factsheets appear on th project website, free of charge and easily downloadable:

Juneberry crop profile: Some basic information about the crop.

Selecting a site for planting juneberries: Soils, sun, and other tips

Juneberry Quick Start guide: Basic information for planting with no frills.

Juneberry/ saskatoon growth and development after planting: What to expect and what to do during the first few years of juneberry cultivation.

Juneberry/ saskatoon growth and development after planting: What to expect and what to do during the first few years of juneberry cultivation.

Planting Juneberries/Saskatoons: Layout, transplanting, mulching, and browse protection.

Pre- and Post-Planting Weed Control for Juneberries/ Saskatoons: How to control competing weeds.

Purchasing juneberry/saskatoon nursery stock: Looking at nursery stock alternatives like bare-root dormant and potted transplants.

Soil testing and fertility for juneberry/saskatoon production (PDF): What the plants need for soil fertility.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Our economic figures suggest that juneberry growers can expect consistent annual yields of 3,500 – 4,300 lbs./ acre. With market prices reasonably close to $6.00/lb, revenues of $21,000 – $25,800 per acre are realistic. The costs of establishment and operations are now better understood to be up to $3,800 / acre, making this crop almost certainly very profitable, especially in the foreseeable future and supply is limited and demand is high.

Fortunately, juneberries are showing a good capacity for the Northeastern climate. Pest management will continue to be a cost consideration, and our data shows that with good management, production costs are very controllable and the overall market and production risks are relatively low.

Farmer Adoption

Farmers from across the Northeast US and many other states contacted the project leader at many points during the project period. The tally at this point is 86 direct inquiries by phone and e-mail from 12 different states. Many growers are using the website instead of contacting the project leader.

When farmers call or write, they are generally looking for advice on acquiring plant material in the US, which is a substantial barrier to continued development of juneberries as a crop. The sources of nursery stock in the US are quite limited, but some nurseries have indicated a willingness to carry the plants. The commercial nurseries have understandably awaited further evidence of the demand, and now it seems to be growing.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Pest management in juneberries and fertility recommendations are lacking. It will take several more years for this crop to be substantial enough to be the subject of more formal University research. Fortunately, the crop is well-established in Canada and many guidelines are already available, and just need to be transposed for use in the United States.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.