Pawpaw (Asmina triloba) is the largest endemic edible fruit in North America. Its significant cultural importance is recognized in its declaration as Ohio’s State Native Fruit. Pawpaw is on the precipice of becoming a significant specialty crop within the NCR-SARE region but the next ten years will be critical. Orchard acreage is increasing both nationally and internationally (e.g. South Korea, Japan, France, Italy and Romania) but pawpaw orchards take five to ten years to reach full production and will thus not address the short- to medium-term critical issue of limited supply. Traditionally, pawpaw has been foraged and harvested from wild patches within forests and farm woodlands and currently at least half the fruit on the market is derived from such sources. Wild harvesting plays a major role in current pulp production (critical for value-added industries) and provides important supplemental income for rural communities. The woodland pawpaw economy could be expanded but is hampered by low levels of productivity. Meanwhile, consumer demand for pawpaw fruit and derived value-added products is growing rapidly leading to shortages in several nodes across the value chain.
In cooperation with growers, our preliminary studies have suggested that a set of agronomical limitations and lack of technical knowledge and training could be overcome to improve production. Our preliminary data shows productivity of woodland trees is highly variable between years and sites. Growers tell us a complex of factors may play a role including: low pollination rates, self-unfruitfulness in genetically homogeneous patches, and competition among pawpaw and neighboring plants for light and nutrients. We will work closely with woodland pawpaw producers on research and extension activtities that span the social, environmental, and economic spheres of sustainability.
Working closely with growers, we will enhance production knowledge and deliver it to woodlot operators via extension programs. By doing so, this project will enhance the resilience of economically challenged rural Appalachian communities that sell wild-grown pawpaw for living. The project will connect production practices to management of invasive plants and woodland restoration leading to direct benefits for ecosystem health. Market insights will demonstrate how attributes of woodland pawpaw fruit can be used for promoting value-addition. To achieve this we will: (i) examine impediments to increased production and quality of woodland pawpaw, (ii) evaluate potential win-wins between pawpaw production and restoration of woodland ecosystem health, and (iii) generate opportunity for value aggregation in woodland pawpaw based on an analysis of consumers’ preferences.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Extension: Engage growers, consumers and woodland managers to incentivize uptake of new pawpaw products and management systems. Learning Outcome – Consumers perceive enhanced value for woodland pawpaw; growers implement techniques to provide consistent, high-quality pawpaw products.
- Research: Quantify impediments to woodland pawpaw production and quality associated with genetic homogeneity and wild genotypes. Learning Outcome – Growers improve cross-pollination and patch genetic quality to improve productivity.
- Research: Evaluate woodland management practices to improve productivity and sustainability in existing pawpaw patches and establish new ones. Learning Outcome – Growers manipulate light and competition to enhance patch productivity, fruit quality and forest health.