Aronia berries: A sustainable nutraceutical crop for the Northeast
Three 1 acre demonstration aronia orchards were established at farms in Fryeburg, ME, Preston, CT and Mansfield, CT. Demonstration orchards are one of the essential tools we will be using for farmer education and participation. Installation of the demonstration orchards was delayed by one year due to severe shortages of aronia plants resulting from unanticipated high demand and propagators being caught off guard. Initial information was collected during orchard establishment that will be used in the development of farmer business plans. Early planning for a December 2011 symposium was begun. The most extensive aronia germplasm collection was assembled containing 114 different accessions of three species from 20 states and 6 nations. Germplasm is under evaluation for potential value in an improvement program and some was shared with the USDA NPGS. Plant habit, growth potential, ploidy, fruiting characteristics and nutraceutical potential are under evaluation. Findings so far have provided substantial insight into what must be done to develop superior, new aronias for farmers. Several parts of an online manual have been created to help farmers learn about aronia production.
Performance Target. Twelve farmers will each have established an average of 2 acres of aronia by the conclusion of the 4-year grant period. Average production of 15,000 lbs. of fruit per acre will yield 360,000 lbs. of fruit annually. If aronia fruit sells at $1.45 per lb., then aronia production in the Northeast from work performed with funds from this grant will result in $522,000 gross sales annually for farmers.
Milestone 1. Maple Lane Farms, Preston, CT and Western Maine Nurseries will establish 1 acre Aronia orchards to serve as demonstration locations for education of additional farmers. On farm trials will verify successful cultural conditions for production in New England. Installation will be complete by June 2009, and verification of success will continue throughout project.
Planting of two demonstration orchards was delayed until 2010 because of plant shortages. Installations were completed by June 2010. A third, additional planting was installed in Storrs, CT.
Milestone 3. At least 150 small fruit and vegetable farmers will increase their knowledge about Aronia as an alternative nutraceutical fruit crop through presentations at a half-day symposium on Aronia production at the New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference. December 2011.
Initial planning was begun.
Milestone 5. Of those farmers attending workshops and the symposium, 12 will develop business plans and establish Aronia orchards. December 2011 thru October 2013.
Specific data needed for development of business plants was identified by the agricultural economist involved.
Milestone 6. Using findings from evaluations of Aronia germplasm, including USDA’s material, at least 150 farmers will understand which Aronia genotypes will perform best in New England, provide the greatest health benefits to consumers and have the highest market value. December 2011.
The largest aronia germplasm collection in the world was assembled by August 2010 and accessions will continue to be added with additional collection trips. Plant performance evaluation has begun and analysis of fruit for beneficial compounds is underway.
Milestone 7. 500 people interested in learning more about Aronia berry production will download chapters of the Aronia production manual from the internet and increase their knowledge of Aronia as a sustainable fruit crop. July 2009 thru October 2013.
Five chapters of an online manual were written and published to the web, August 2010. Go to http://umaine.edu/agriculture/home/aronia/.
Milestone 1. We had intended to establish 1 acre demonstration orchards of Viking aronia at Western Maine Nursery in Fryeburg, ME and at Maple Lane Farms in Preston, CT by June 2009, but we were unable to obtain plants for these orchards. Demand has been so strong for aronia plants that they have been virtually impossible to obtain, despite the relative ease with which they can be propagated. Plant propagators have not anticipated the dramatic increase in demand for aronia plants. Liner plants were reserved so we would get the first new plants available and 4000 small plants were obtained in fall of 2009. Because the plants were so small, we over wintered them and forced them in a greenhouse using accelerated growth conditions for 3 months so they would be large enough to survive field establishment. To insure that we had sufficient numbers of plants for the demonstration orchards, we also established tissue cultures of Viking aronia and propagated an additional 2000 plants ourselves. The additional plants allowed us to establish a third demonstration orchard in Storrs, CT at the University of Connecticut Research, Teaching and Outreach Farm. Having the “in house” capacity to propagate plants puts us in a good position to help supply more farmers with plants in the future (should shortages continue) and also gives us the ability to rapidly propagate any superior new aronias we identify.
Milestone 3. While the actual symposium event is still a ways off, contacts and preliminary discussions about the format were made with appropriate people involved with the New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference. A list of potential speakers and contact information was assembled.
Milestone 5. During establishment of the demonstration orchards data identified as necessary for development of accurate business plans was collected and will continue as the orchards progress.
Milestone 6. To date we have assembled a germplasm collection that contains 114 different accession of the genus Aronia. We collected accessions of A. arbutifolia, A. melanocarpa and A. x prunifolia. Accessions have been collected from the following states: AL, CT, DE, FL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MI, NY, NC, NH, OH, PA, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, and WV. Additional accessions were from Finland, Japan, Ontario Canada, Russian Federation and former Soviet Union. 44 new Aronia accessions were contributed to the National Plant Germplasm System which has tripled the USDA holdings of this genus.
Accessions have been established in a randomized 3X replicated field planting so they can be evaluated for growth, performance and fruit production characteristics. Evaluation of the germplasm collection has begun and for the 2009 (partial evaluation) and the 2010 growing seasons plants were evaluated for plant growth rate, plant size, plant habit, flowering date, fruits per infructescense, infructescences per stem, fruit ripening date, fruit color and transition, fruit weight and fruit diameter. The fruits of black, and possibly purple, Aronia are known to contain large quantities of antioxidant compounds and anticancer chemicals. Currently, the fruit of the majority of black and purple accessions are being tested for levels of beneficial compounds and specific chemical composition by biochemists at NASA.
In 2009 and 2010, ploidy analysis of most accessions was conducted using flow cytometry. Determining the ploidy of accessions is critical since polyploids in Aronia are apomictic and have limited usefulness for plant improvement. We have collected and are storing tissue of nearly all accessions at -80F and have begun DNA isolation in preparation for genetic analysis using AFLP techniques and microsatellites. Initial AFLP analysis has indicated that the primary commercial cultivar, Viking, is not pure Aronia melanocarpa, but likely a hybrid complex with Sorbus.
Based on the initial findings and evaluation of aronia germplasm, several crosses were made as the beginning steps to develop new, superior genotypes that would enhance productivity of aronia orchards and increase the nutraceutical value of the crop. The usefulness of these progeny is still under investigation.
Milestone 7. Portions of an online Aronia Berry Production Manual were written and the overall structure and functional aspects of the manual were established. A total of 12 sections are planned for the manual and some are dependent to a large degree on what we learn about this crop through the field work supported by this project. The five chapters completed by August 2010 were Aronia Introduction, Section 1. Plant Description and Taxonomy, Section 2. Culture and Harvest, Section 3. Food and Nutraceutical Uses and Section 11. Literature about Aronia.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
It is still too early in the project to be able to report many impacts on farmers, since much of this is dependent on having established demonstration orchards for workshops and farmer training. Our major conference on aronia production has also not been convened yet according to our schedule. Our impacts on beneficiaries are programmed to be largely realized toward the end of the project. We do now have three (one more than required) demonstration orchards established that will facilitate successful completion of several of our milestones and goals. Most of our milestones hinge, to some degree, upon this key element of our project. Now that we have the demonstration plantings in place, we are poised to realize significant impacts as the project develops.
We have established the largest aronia germplasm collection in the world. This collection is also critical to producing substantial downstream impacts in the form of better aronia plants for farmers that require fewer inputs to produce high yields, are easier to harvest and process and contain the highest levels of nutraceutical compounds. The nucleus of information that can be derived from this extensive germplasm base has, at least in part, lead the USDA NPGS to elevate aronia to a top priority and featured genus. We have in fact added 44 aronia accessions to the NPGS and have at least tripled the genetic diversity contained within the national holdings.
Some key findings about the genus Aronia follow. 1. Habit and form can varying from creeping and prostrate, to low mounded, to tall and upright. 2. Black aronia can be either diploid or tetraploid, with the diploids only being found in New England. 3. Only diploids are useful for plant breeding, since tetraploids and triploids are apomictic. 4. Fruit size, fruit color and fruit ripening date for aronia are highly variable with some fruits ripening as early as the third week of July. 5. Significant differences exist in germplasm from southern, western and northeastern parts of the range. 6. The exact relationship and differentiators between purple and black aronia remain unclear.
Associate Extension Educator
University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension
24 Hyde Road
Vernon, CT 06066-4599
Office Phone: 8608753331
Maple Lane Farms
57 Northwest Corner Rd.
Preston, CT 06365
Office Phone: 8608893766
Western Maine Nurseries
4 Nursery Lane
P O Box 250
Fryeburg, ME 04037
Office Phone: 8004474745
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
495 College Avenue
University of Maine CE
Orono, ME 04473-1294
Office Phone: 2075812949
Senior Research Chemist & Analytical Chemist
NASA Life Sciences Services
Dynamac Corp., Mail Code DYN-3
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
Office Phone: 3218612931