Mississippi Farmer, Researcher Team Up to Study Fruit Tree
MISSISSIPPI STATE, Mississippi – A Mississippi State University assistant research professor in horticulture is teaming up with a farmer in Northeast Mississippi to explore the production and marketing of a fruit tree, which appears to require no chemical inputs, as an alternative crop for growers.
Ramón Arancibia and farmer James Keller are using a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) On-Farm Research Grant to study the jujube as an alternative fruit crop for Mississippi farmers interested in organic production and other sustainable ag practices.
The jujube, also known as Chinese date, is an ancient fruit tree from China that is being grown sporadically across the South in such states as Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. Its small fruit is similar in appearance to a peach, but with flavor reminiscent of an apple. The jujube has been used for centuries by various cultures as a medicinal plant.
“This project is completely producer-driven,” said Arancibia. “The farmer, who is growing several varieties of jujube, came to Mississippi State University to see if we could help him grow and promote jujube. This developed into a partnership to study how well the tree grows and produces fruit under Mississippi environmental conditions.”
Arancibia said that the fruit tree might be an attractive alternative crop for small fruit farmers interested in organic production or alternative production practices.
“Many farmers in Mississippi grow peaches and other small crops, such as strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, and all require some level of chemical input to control insects and diseases,” said Arancibia. “With the jujube, research literature seems to indicate that the tree faces little to no pest and disease problems. So for farmers interested in, say, organic production, the jujube could be a good alternative.”
And with over 400 varieties identified, plenty of options may exist for producers. Under the SSARE funded project, “Developing Jujube (Ziziphus jujubaMill.) or Chinese Date as an Alternative Fruit Tree Crop to Improve Sustainability of Small Farmers in Mississippi,” Arancibia and Keller will be monitoring the production of the jujube trees, recording time of flowering, growth conditions, fruit production and yield, and potential insect and disease pressures that might show up. In addition, Arancibia plans to measure the nutritional value of the fruit.
“We plan to introduce the fruit to the local farmers market and survey buyers to capture their impressions of the crop,” said Arancibia. “That’ll be a first step in developing a marketing plan.”
With so little known about the jujube, especially for Mississippi growers, Arancibia, a former fruit tree researcher, said he is excited to be working on the project.
“I’m from Chile where fruit trees are very important crops, so this is bringing back memories,” he said.
The SSARE project has been funded at $15,000 for two years.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.