Aronia berries: A sustainable nutraceutical crop for the Northeast

2012 Annual Report for LNE09-281

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $151,821.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:
Dr. Mark Brand
University of Connecticut

Aronia berries: A sustainable nutraceutical crop for the Northeast


Three 1 acre demonstration aronia orchards were maintained 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. Demonstration orchards had their first year of moderate production, yielding 1.5 lbs of fruit per plant (an impressive number since it was only the 3rd growing season). Field days were held in August in Connecticut and Maine. Growers have been identified who are interested in establishing aronia orchards and micropropagated Viking aronia plants are being supplied to some of these growers to help with orchard establishment. Contracted biochemical analysis of many of our wild aronia accessions has been completed. Findings showed that there is great variation in wild germplasm for antioxidant capacity, anthocyanins and polyphenolic content. This variation can be used to breed better aronia cultivars. One new cultivar has been breed and identified as having characteristics that should make it a successful new introduction. New cultivars are desperately needed since all aronia production results from a single genotype. The new cultivar has been multiplied using tissue culture and in 2013 it will be trialed with several growers to assess its performance and suitability. Key new collaborations were formed with a scientist who is an expert in fruit biochemical analysis and with a second scientist who is an expert in the area of fruit taste, particularly with bitter and astringent qualities. These new collaborations will facilitate development of information for farmers about how to produce aronia crops that are the most healthful and best tasting.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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.

Demonstration orchards established at Maple Lane Farms, Preston, CT, Western Maine Nurseries, Fryeburg, ME and the University of Connecticut Research and Outreach Field Facility, Storrs, CT were maintained and monitored for progress.

Milestone 2. At least 120 farmers and 10 extension educators will increase their knowledge about Aronia as an alternative nutraceutical fruit crop through presentations and tours at workshops held at the two demonstration farms. Summer 2010.

Aronia workshops were held at the University of Connecticut demonstration orchard, Storrs, CT (August 9, 2012) and at Highmoor Farm, Monmouth, ME (August 16, 2012).

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.

Previously accomplished in 2011.

Milestone 4. At least 35 of the farmers who attend the field days or symposium will express an interest in establishing Aronia orchards. Summer 2010 and December 2011.

This was accomplished at the two workshops held in 2012 and during the Specialty Fruit session at the 2011 New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference.

Milestone 5. Of those farmers attending workshops and the symposium, 12 will develop business plans and establish Aronia orchards. December 2011 thru October 2013.

We have partially completed this milestone and currently have 4 farmers identified for business plan development. We expect to identify additional participants during the 2013 season.

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.

At all educational events, growers have been informed of our findings about aronia germplasm. This portion of the grant will really begin to come together in 2013 as more data collection and analysis is completed, especially regarding beneficial fruit compounds. A number of crosses were made and hybrid seedlings are under evaluation for release as new cultivars.

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.

The online manual was maintained on the web and continues to be accessed by people interested in Aronia.


Milestone 1. The demonstration orchard of Viking Aronia at Western Maine Nursery in Fryeburg, ME had been expected to produce a moderate fruit crop in 2012, but fruit production throughout the orchard was inconsistent, primarily due to excessive competition from weeds that were not properly managed by the farmer cooperator. At Maple Lane Farms in Preston, CT fruit production was also inconsistent, but in this case the cause was deer predation. Some parts of the orchard fruited well, while areas close to deer cover were damaged significantly by heavy deer browsing. Steps are being taken by the grower to control the deer problem. At the University of Connecticut Research and Outreach Field Facility plants produced a consistent, moderate fruit crop (about 1.5 lbs. per plant). Heavy fruiting should occur in 2013. The crop at the University of Connecticut Research and Outreach Field Facility was used in a study where fruits were harvested weekly during a 9 week ripening period from first color to fruit shrivel. The important questions we were trying to answer with this study were how do fruit biochemicals and fruit flavor/sweetness change over the course of fruit ripening. Also, how long of a window do growers have to harvest aronia fruits when their biochemistry and flavor are at peak? These are questions we have repeatedly heard from aronia growers. For the nutraceutical biochemical work we collaborated with Dr. Brad Bolling (Nutritional Sciences, UConn) and for the flavor sensory testing we collaborated with Dr. Valerie Duffy (Allied Health, UConn).

Milestone 2. Two successful field days were held in summer 2012, to educate potential aronia growers and provide them with enough information make a decision about aronia production. These field days were held in Storrs CT (August 9) and Monmouth ME (August 16), both during the early part of the aronia harvest season.

Aronia is a crop that appeals to several audiences: small fruit producers, vegetable producers, nursery professionals, new farmers, Master Gardeners. The following efforts were made to reach as many of these people as possible:

1-Agendas for the programs were uploaded to UMaine Cooperative Extension’s website, to register people.

2-Agendas were posted on the UMaine and UConn online calendars of events.

3-Agendas were posted on these websites:
www.sare/org/Events (two field days were listed separately) (two field days were listed separately) (UConn field day was listed) (two field days were listed separately)

4-Agendas and accompanying information were sent to 18 Master Gardener coordinators in the New England states plus New York, to share with Participants in their programs.

5-Agendas and accompanying information were sent to 18 professional groups in New England plus New York, to post online and/or communicate with members. These groups included the New Hampshire Fruits Growers, Seacoast Growers, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, New Hampshire Plant Growers Association, Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association, New York State Vegetable Growers Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association (separate groups in several states), and Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association.

6-Agendas and accompanying information were sent to 49 professionals identified as crop advisors (most of them at universities and cooperative extensions) in New England and New York.

7-Agendas and accompanying information were sent to state department of agriculture professionals in the New England states plus New York, to send to their farmer/grower email lists and/or to post online.

Field day speakers addressed the culture and marketing of aronia. Time was allowed for participants to ask questions and interact with speakers. Speakers at the CT workshop were Andrew Ristvey (University of Maryland Cooperative Extension: Growing aronia and growing an Industry), Allyn Brown (Maple Lane Farms, Preston, CT: Selling aronia: connecting with processors) and Mark Brand (University of Connecticut: Aronia germplasm: can we build a better aronia plant?). Speakers at the ME workshop were David Handley (University of Maine Cooperative Extension: How to grow aronia and other “bush fruits”), Lois Stack (Universtiy of Maine Cooperative Extension: Is aronia the right crop for you?) and and Mark Brand (University of Connecticut: Aronia germplasm: can we build a better aronia plant?).

Highlights of these field days included:

1-At the UConn field day, participants were able to see Dr. Mark Brands one-acre of aronia, and also his extensive aronia collection. This brought to life several topics covered in the presentations. In particular, participants were able to taste fruits of more than 40 selections in the germplasm collection, an activity that made clear the potential of breeding for improved flavor, larger size, and early and consistent ripening.

2-At both field days, participants sampled aronia products such as juice, gummy bears and jelly. This enabled them to consider the importance of developing value-added products for small-scale and locally sold aronia.

3-At the UConn field day, a presentation by grower-cooperator Allyn Brown provided insight into the juice processing business, and the importance for large-scale growers to connect with a processor in advance of production.

4-At the Maine field day, participants were able to learn about small fruit production in general, and to view many other small fruits at UMaine’s Highmoor Farm; this is important, as many growers who assess aronia as a crop also consider growing other small fruits.

5-At both field days, participants learned about the genetics of aronia, the potential of plant breeding for improving available cultivars, and other aspects of the research components of this and related projects.

Milestone 4. 42 potential aronia producers from four states attended the two field days. Of the 29 participants who returned evaluations of the event, 27 received enough information from the event to make a decision about planting aronia; and 27 plan to plant aronia. Mark Brand produced 500 micropropagated Viking aronia to give to interested growers wanting to establish an orchard. Plants will be delivered to 2 different growers (one in VT and one in ME) in early spring 2013 so they can install aronia orchards.

Milestone 5. Dr. Ben Campbell recently joined the University of Connecticut (Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics) and he will be working with us to develop a very robust aronia production budget. We have also identified a resource economics PhD student who will work with us during 2013 to complete the production budget. He will be working with identified farmers to develop specific business plans for aronia production on their farms.

Milestone 6. Morphological and biochemical analysis of our aronia accessions continued in 2012, especially as some of the more recent additions began to bear fruit. Based on some of our earlier evaluation and genetic data, crosses were made between aronia and other Pyrinae genera to build a pre-breeding germplasm collection that will be useful for producing improved forms of aronia for commercial growers. We have a new hybrid that we believe will essentially be a smaller growing form of the important commercial cultivar Viking. This plant has been placed in tissue culture and hundreds of plants will be ready for evaluation in 2013. Growers will need multiple commercial cultivars for the industry to move forward, since all U.S. growers are currently utilizing what amounts to a single clone of aronia.

Significant and substantial progress was made in conducting AFLP and microsatellite analysis of our collected germplasm. This analysis provides information about the level of genetic diversity that exists in wild aronia germplasm and the genetic relationships between various genotypes.

Preliminary data from biochemical analysis suggests that fruits of red chokeberry may be even more effective at reducing inflammation than fruits of black chokeberry.

Milestone 7. In response to four requests from field day participants, a list of nurseries that sell aronia plants, both wholesale and retail, is being developed for posting on the aronia website. This list will include local sources, including two production nurseries that were represented at the field days. Field day participants also suggested several questions that we will address in a FAQ section of the website.

The website has also attracted growers and potential growers who register to ask questions, learn more about aronia, and be alerted to events like the 2012 field days and updates to the website. This list currently includes 28 people, representing 10 states plus Romania.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Although our evaluation is not yet complete, we already know that having a large, and well characterized, set of aronia germplasm to work with will enable us to efficiently develop new cultivars of chokeberry for farmers. This is critical since our research has shown that aronia growers are currently using only a single genotype for fruit production. Even though more than one named cultivar may be in use, the cultivars are all genetically identical due to apomixis. We have a number of pre-breeding lines developed that will facilitate breeding of more and varied cultivars of aronia for farmers to utilize. We also have one new cultivar that will be entering production trials during the 2013 growing season.

We have been able to develop some key, new collaborations that have been invaluable in advancing our understanding of aronia and its potential. While we have completed contracted biochemical analysis of a subset of our accessions, we have developed a collaboration with a nutritional science biochemist at the University of Connecticut who is helping us do a more thorough evaluation of fruit biochemistry for our entire germplasm collection. Furthermore, he is helping us pinpoint the actual bioactive compounds. Information generated from this collaboration provides breeding direction as we creation new genotypes for farmers to grow.

Similarly, we have a new collaboration with a food taste sensory expert who specializes in bitter and astringent food properties, two aspects of aronia fruit that make it less appealing for fresh consumption. This scientist, who is part of the Allied Health Sciences department at the University of Connecticut, has been helping us determine when farmers should harvest aronia fruits so they have the best flavor. She will also be helping us determine which of our new cultivars have the best flavor.

Two abstracts have been accepted:

Park J, Rawal S, Brand M, Durocher S, Sharafi M, Duffy VB. Aronia Berry Juice Sensory Analysis by Harvest Time and Oral Sensory Phenotype. Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) Meeting, April 2013, Huntington Beach, CA.

Martin, D., Taheri, R., Brand, M., Draghi, A., Sylvester, F., Bolling, B. Polyphenol-rich red and purple aronia berry extracts inhibit interleukin-6 from mouse splenocytes. Experimental Biology Meeting, Boston, MA. April 20-24, 2013.


Joseph Bonelli
Associate Extension Educator
University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension
24 Hyde Road
Vernon, CT 06066-4599
Office Phone: 8608753331
Allyn Brown III
Maple Lane Farms
57 Northwest Corner Rd.
Preston, CT 06365
Office Phone: 8608893766
Rick Eastman

Western Maine Nurseries
4 Nursery Lane
P O Box 250
Fryeburg, ME 04037
Office Phone: 8004474745
Lois Berg-Stack
Extension Specialist
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
495 College Avenue
University of Maine CE
Orono, ME 04473-1294
Office Phone: 2075812949
Lanfang Levine
Senior Research Chemist & Analytical Chemist
NASA Life Sciences Services
Dynamac Corp., Mail Code DYN-3
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
Office Phone: 3218612931