- Fruits: berries (other)
- Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, cropping systems, plant breeding and genetics, varieties and cultivars
- Education and Training: extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
Widely cultivated in Northeast gardens since its introduction to the region in 1877, the kiwiberry is a high-value and nutrient dense perennial fruit strongly suited to the diverse agroecological systems and markets of the Northeast. Globally, commercial kiwiberry acreage has more than doubled since 2019; and interest in this underutilized crop is growing among regional farmers, consumers, and processors. Despite it many merits, however, commercial vineyard establishment remains hampered by kiwiberry being a relatively unfamiliar and unsupported crop with a 5-7 year return-on-investment. Through this NE SARE Research & Education project, a region-wide cohort of 40 farmers will acquire the knowledge and skills needed for successful kiwiberry production via guided, hands-on establishment and management of small pilot vineyards (12 vines each) on their own farms. Beyond educating interested farmers about kiwiberry production best practices, the project will result in the establishment of 320 fruiting vines across the region, serving as demonstrations for further expansion, opportunities for consumer education, and a long-term revenue source for the participating farms (≥$80,000/year, in total).
The distributed network of pilot vineyards created through this project provides not only an effective educational framework but also an ideal research platform for participatory, multi-environment trialing of improved varieties for the region. Since its launch in 2013, the Kiwiberry Research and Breeding Program at the University of New Hampshire has been at the forefront of developing molecular characterization methods, improved varieties, and economically viable production practices for Northeast farmers. Using an innovative citizen science research design known as tricot (“triadic comparison of technologies”), 20 advanced selections from the UNH program will be assigned in a partially-replicated manner across the 40 pilot vineyards, augmented by the region’s current recommended variety (‘Geneva 3’). While learning hands-on about commercial kiwiberry cultivation, farmers will provide simple preference (best/worst) feedback about the advanced selections, thereby enabling identification of new superior varieties for the Northeast. Following the same augmented tricot approach, farmers will also evaluate fruit samples from the UNH research vineyard, further supporting variety selection while becoming familiar with kiwiberries from the perspective of the consumer.
Although increasingly recognized as a key strategy for food system resilience, farming system diversification via novel, underresourced crops is risky for farmers. By providing needed materials and compensating participating farmers for their time (60% of total direct costs), this project seeks to mitigate such financial risks and opportunity costs. Another important benefit lies in the establishment of a knowledgeable community of practice of regional kiwiberry producers. By convening this first cohort of pioneering farmers and connecting them via shared training, resources, and an online forum, the project lays the groundwork for ongoing farmer-to-farmer support and innovation, further removing barriers to experimentation and helping to jumpstart this promising industry.
Performance targets from proposal:
Through this project, at least 35 Northeast specialty crop farmers will be trained in kiwiberry production best practices; will establish pilot vineyards of advanced kiwiberry selections on their farms; and will provide simple preference feedback to the UNH breeding program to inform downstream variety commercialization efforts. Returns on project investment include enhanced practical understanding of kiwiberry production among participating farmers, at least 20 farmers reporting a belief that kiwiberry production will be a valuable enterprise for their farm operation, and the first formalization of a farmer network in the region for this emerging crop.