- Fruits: Aronia, Saskatoon, Haskap, Dwarf Sour Cherry, Currant
- Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, cropping systems, fertilizers, food product quality/safety, irrigation, nurseries, varieties and cultivars
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: feasibility study
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems
A fruit evaluation project is being conducted at three locations in Montana: MSU Bozeman Horticulture Farm, The MSU Western Agriculture Research Center (WARC) in Corvallis, and Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. The project was established in 2015 by a Specialty Crop Block Grant, with ongoing support from that program to continue fruit production, storage, marketing, and consumer acceptance. The purpose of the trial is to evaluate cultivars of 6 fruit species commonly known as Aronia, Black and Red Currants, Dwarf Sour Cherry, Juneberry, and Haskap. The trial includes between 2 and 8 cultivars per species at all sites, with extra varieties trialed in Corvallis. The trial aims to measure the suitability of different cultivars to the Montana environment. Targeted research includes monitoring; yield and quality factors, cold hardiness and survival, pest and disease incidence, and growth phenology. Fruit quality was the focus of this SARE-funded component of the larger fruit evaluation project.
These fruits are believed to have nutritive qualities comparable to other contemporary super-fruits, as well as other qualities such as dark pigmentats which are proving attractive to food and beverage production entities for their health food marketing potential and natural colorant uses.
Despite increased interest in these species, there is little data about the specific quality parameters of these crops. Establishing these details for producers will allow them to make best practice decisions regarding location siting and preparation, fertilization, integrated pest and disease management. Furthermore, analysis of the nutritional quality of these cultivars will allow producers and processors to select for fruit with targeted nutritional properties.
The intent of this project is to quantify and report the phytonutrient contents of these unique fruit. Specifically, the fruit were measured for phenolic content and compounds. This research complements other research on fruit quality by the author, and the overall project.
Fruit from Bozeman and Corvallis research plantings, of multiple species and cultivars but primarily haskap, were collected for analysis in 2016 and 2017. Haskap provided the most samples as it was the fastest maturing species. The fruit were analyzed for Total Phenolic Content in the MSU Food and Health Lab under direction and mentorship of Dr. Selena Ahmed. In 2019 the fruit extracts were analyzed via UPHLC analysis under the guidance of Dr. Ganesh Bala, in the MSU Mass Spec Facility.
The educational approach utilized by the Cold Hardy Fruit Program in Montana has largely been one of a hands on, learning farm approach. Under this philosophy, the public and other interested parties are invited to tour the research orchards. This allows an in-depth introduction to the many elements of successful orchard operation, and allows a tailored approach to each group’s interests and experience levels. Such varying stakeholder demonstrations have included master gardeners, children, indigenous students, aspiring and established orchardists, and students of MSU Bozeman and Flathead Valley Community College as well as attendees of annual public field days at the Bozeman and Corvallis sites.
The fruit have been included in the CSA offerings of the Bozeman Hort Farm’s Towne’s Harvest Garden, and Corvallis Loyal-to-Local multi-farm CSA, increasing exposure to stakeholders who might otherwise not have experienced such novel offerings.
Further outreach has occurred with regular presentations by associated individuals to interested stakeholders such as the Flathead Valley Cherry association, master gardeners conferences and the Montana Organic Association.
Both an extension MontGuide and a journal article of results are nearing completion.
Additionally, a web page with information about the fruit and results is maintained by the Western Agricultural Research Center at http://agresearch.montana.edu/warc/index.html.
Total Phenolic Conent
Total phenolic content (TPC) was measured extensively among haskap cultivars and some samples were procured of black currant, aronia and dwarf sour cherry. Results in Montana were largely equal to or superior to reports from other cultivar trials, supporting a hypothesis that the cold climate and high elevations of Montana might produce fruit with superior qualities to more favorable cropping environments.
Aronia TPC in Bozeman of two cultiars was found to range 2000 to 3600, averaging 2800 mg per 100 grams of fresh fruit. The cultivar McKenzie produced the highest TPC.
Black Currant TPC in Bozeman of four cultivars was found to range 398 to 677 mg, averaging 520 mg per 100 grams of fresh fruit. The variety Blackcomb was observed to produced the highest TPC.
Dwarf Sour Cherry
A single dwarf sour cherry sample was analyzed from Bozeman in 2017. This sample of the cultivar Carmine Jewel found a TPC level of 570 mg per 100 grams of fresh fruit. This data was very preliminary but suggested that Dwarf Sour Cherry cultivars, despite their dark coloration, do not contain TPC levels higher than other sour cherry fruit.
Haskap TPC was measured for 2016 and 2017 fruit from both Corvallis and Bozeman.
On average, haskap cultivars produced 866 milligrams of TPC per 100 grams of fresh fruit, with a range of 450 to 1250 mg. The highest values were observed in Borealis, Solo, Aurora and Indigo Gem.
When looking at the cultivars on the combined basis of yield and TPC, the cultivars which produce the largest total yield of phenolic content include Borealis, Solo, Aurora, and Tana.
Phenolic compounds of 70 haskap cultivar samples were analyzed for 6 different phenolic compounds via UPHLC in 2019. Despite multiple analysis runs under close mentorship of the lab professor, half of the compounds results did not correspond with published results. Regardless, concentrations were uniform across cultivars and sites and may still be used in comparison of cultivars.
The compounds analyzed consisted of three anthocyanins; cyanin chloride, callistephin chloride, and kuromanic acid, two flavonoids; quercetin 3 glucoside and rutin, and a phenolic acid; neochlorogenic acid.
Cultivars from Oregon and Saskatchewan tended towards lower production of cyanin chloride, neochlorogenic acid, rutin and kuromanin than the low yielding Sugar Mountain Blue and Czech cultivars trialed in Corvallis.
In contrast, quercetin 3 glucoside was more prevalent in high yielding cultivars.
Across sites, Indigo Gem produced the highest concentrations of observed compounds, with Sugar Mountain Blue following closely. The lowest total concentrations were observed in the high yielding varieties 85-19, Tana and Taka.
It is not yet possible to quantify farmer adoption based on these quality factors as suitable stakeholder materials (chiefly an Extension MontGuide) are shortly forthcoming. However, interest in these fruit are continuing to grow, and such resources will doubtless provide relevant and suitable data. To the author’s knowledge, no communicating farmers have yet inquired about antioxidant content and potential when selecting their cultivars. As the market develops, niche economies and interest specifically in high TPC fruit will likely emerge, as much of the interest exists in the processed food system.
The overall project has certainly contributed to farmer adoption, as the narrative of the story and the products of such trial have already reached a large audience. This has offered considerable guidance to established, emerging and future farmers on all avenues of such a venture: orchard planning, development, production and marketing.
A considerable and unexpected element to come out of the project has been peer networking at events which attract established farmers and businesses. Essentially the project has contributed to spontaneous trade fairs where the public and existing agricultural entities comparing stories, trading business savvy and good, establishing collectives and promoting their trades.
This project has multiple objectives:
- Contribute to the larger project, the Montana Cold Hardy Fruit Evaluation, providing important details about the performance of unique and healthful fruits in the Montana eco and food system.
- Determine phytonutrient phenolic attributes of cultivars. It is rare that individual cultivars are tested in this way. The results will allow stakeholders and producers to choose cultivars based on metrics of potential healthfulness or potentially colorant qualities. Together with yield and growth information produced from the variety trial, producers will be able to enter markets without having to conduct their own research on potential varieties.
- Analyze haskap phenolic compounds. An assessment of haskap cultivar’s phenolic makeup enhances understanding of the super-fruits chemical constituents that may contribute to healthfulness and other factors of importance to production, consumption and industrial use of such compounds.
- Educate consumers, producers, and buyers. The results of these evaluations have been shared with stakeholders using a variety of formats and media. Workshops and field tours have and will continue to be held at the three sites. Project description and results are and will continue to be published on the WARC website (http://agresearch.montana.edu/warc/). In addition, results have and will be communicated through presentations at local, regional, and national scientific, and producer meetings.