The Southern Region Organic Fruit Production Initiative: Identifying Barriers, Needed Research, Markets, and Opportunities

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $15,555.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Curt Rom
University of Arkansas


  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), peaches


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, focus group, networking, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: biological control, botanical pesticides, cultural control, integrated pest management, mating disruption, physical control, traps, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation

    Proposal abstract:

    Southern organic fruit production, especially apples, peaches, blackberries, and blueberries, is limited by lack of regionally appropriate, scale-neutral and market-focused research and technology. There is very limited research on organic fruit crops currently underway in the southern region and there is no coordination in research and outreach programs among the southern states. It is proposed to create a Southern Region Organic Fruit Working Group of scientists, extension specialists, growers, and representatives of industry and marketing organizations, to conduct in-state focus groups and a region-wide Working Group meeting through which barriers to production and marketing, and opportunities for organic fruit in the region will be identified. The outcome of the in-state focus groups, and the regional Working Group through this planning activity will be the development and submission of grants for cooperative and collaborative research and outreach programs to sustain and expand organic fruit production in the southern region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Statement of Problem, Rationale and Significance

    Problems and Solutions: Several obstacles hinder organic fruit production in the Southern Region. There is a lack of environmentally appropriate, scale-neutral technology to support and enhance organic fruit production in the region. Therefore, because fruit crop establishment is a high-risk operation and requires high capital investment for the long-term production system, growers would not likely start a venture without substantial confidence in locally appropriate research and demonstrated technologies. Because the environment of the southern region is significantly different than in other regions such as the cooler northeast region or more arid western region, there are unique biological and environmental hazards to southern fruit production. These region-specific hazards are not addressed by organic research in the other regions and thus much of the available information developed in other regions is not directly applicable to southern fruit producers. In a survey of organic fruit growers (1), the need for science-based and proven methods for production was expressed. Producers indicated that there are significantly more challenges in producing organic fruit in the humid, warm south and east versus the arid west of the US (2). Further, it was stated that adequate research and extension information for organic fruit production was a limiting challenge to growers.
    Most universities in the Southern region have produced some, albeit limited, information on organic management, for several crops, especially vegetable production, but there is little information on organic fruit production (3). Thus, southern organic growers have few resources for new and tested information because of the limited research and extension programs on organic production due to institutional limitations. Funding is needed to establish research programs directly aimed to support and expand organic fruit production in this region. Cooperative research and outreach programs of southern universities based upon extramural grant funding will most effectively and efficiently correct this situation.
    In order for southern organic fruit production to be sustained and to expand, it is necessary to identify barriers to marketing and production and then develop research and outreach programs to address those barriers. It is proposed to create a region-wide, multi-institution and multi-disciplinary Southern Region Organic Fruit Work Group (SROFWG) of scientists, extension specialists, and grower/industry representatives. The SROFWG will identify key needs through stakeholder input and generate collaborative grants to develop research and outreach programs to overcome the barriers to organic fruit production in the region. The outcomes of the proposed project include 1) Identification of both state-specific and region-wide market opportunities and production barriers, 2) Formation of the SROFWG, and 3) Development of grants, and cooperative research and outreach programs to address key questions. As a result of this proposed project, the SROFWG will develop plans and begin coordinated research through the submission of grants to agencies and programs such as SARE, USDA-CSREES and NRI, OFRF, etc.
    Significance: Fruit production used to be a significant component of southern agriculture. Although this has changed due to farm consolidation, mass-market changes, and a shift of horticultural production to the west coast and offshore, tremendous opportunities exist for organic produce to satisfy expanding local and high-value niche markets. As a result of this project and the expected research and outreach to follow, it is planned that organic fruit production in the Southern Region will expand as barriers to production and marketing are eliminated through coordinated, multi-disciplinary research and outreach efforts. Thereby, it is expected there will be an increase in farm families producing organic fruit crops, a closer linkage between farmers and communities and a shift to more environmentally appropriate production practices. Further, any reliable, environmentally benign production information and technology developed through this project will also be available and useful to conventional growers. Thus, the implications of this project are far reaching.
    Relation to other SARE Projects and Other Projects: The proposed project is a unique project in that it is a R&E Planning Activity grant that seeks 1) to identify state-specific and region-wide barriers to production and marketing of southern fruit, 2) to work on multi-crop fruit farming systems, and 3) to develop a multi-disciplinary collaborative working group for organic fruit production. A review of the SARE database of projects indicates that there have been few R&E grants for apples, peaches, blackberries and blueberries in the Southern Region (2, 3, 0, 2, respectively) and no planning activity grants for these crops. The proposed project is similar to others such as LE88-001, “Development of a Sustainable Apple Production System for the Northeast”, however the proposed project includes other important southern fruit crops. The multi-crop orientation is proposed because most fruit producers in the Southern Region produce multiple crops in order to expand the harvest season and strengthen their market potential. Multiple cropping systems pose special challenges in that a broader range of pests and diseases occur, and more integrated crop management strategies are needed. Additionally, the proposed project differs from LE88-001 in that it seeks to identify problems specific to the South. The proposed project will utilize findings in grower surveys from Kentucky (LS98-098) and Georgia (LS02-142), “Defining Research Needs of Farmers in Organic Horticulture Production in the Southeast”. Data from these projects will be used to develop focus-group interview and discussion questions. Findings by the previous SARE projects will be compared to discovery of the SROFWG to further identify critical research need areas. The proposed project has been planned directly to accomplish the mission and outcomes of SARE by attempting to provide leadership, forge partnerships, and facilitate coordinated research and education among several disciplines, within several institutions and among several states, and foster linkages between stakeholders and research faculty for the benefit of farmers in the southern region.
    Recently several collaborators on this project received a $10,000 Southern Region–IPM planning grant to coordinate research and outreach for IPM for transition and certified organic apple production. The proposed SARE project is complimentary to the SR-IPM grant but greater in scale, as it incorporates a more holistic approach, multiple crops, and product marketing. The SR-IPM grant along with the proposed grant will allow the leaders of this project to capitalize on funds needed to conduct the projects and develop comprehensive programs for transition through certified organic production.
    1) Develop a Southern Region Organic Fruit Research Working Group to:
    a. Assess the state of organic fruit production in the South;
    b. Develop focus groups in each state that identify interest, obstacles and management issues in organic production and organic information needs;
    c. Develop innovative partnerships of research, extension, industry, tree fruit growers and local farmers' markets;
    d. Develop an organic fruit research initiative to investigate and develop new organic management techniques.
    2) Develop full research proposals based upon research priorities determined in Objective 1 and submit to appropriate agencies and foundations, in order to develop an Organic Crop Management Plan to support and develop organic fruit production systems in the Southern Region.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.