What is Your Marketing Plan?

You might be surprised to find out that this is usually my first question when someone says they wish to put in a planting of fruiting crops.  Not soil types, not cultivars, not cultural management, and not diseases.  All of those things are critically important, and believe me, I would I could stick only to those things (because that is my knowledge arena).  However, the world of growing and selling fruit is not an easy one to navigate. Overproduction and excess supply of some fruit make selling it difficult.  Sure, you can be a great grower, but if you are not a good marketer then you might as well forget it.

I don’t know how many times I have talked about marketing to the many, many growers I have dealt with. It is so crucial to understand that growing the fruit is not enough. The thought is, “If you build it, they will come.”

Wrong.

It should be, “If you build it, you better hustle and work to make sure they can find you.” Upfront education and the willingness to develop a marketing plan that is adaptive to change is key, because doing the same thing year after year (also called stagnation) is also a losing proposition.

I’m not a marketer. It is not my area of expertise. But, if you are planning to get into fruit production you need to become an expert or have the help of one in order to survive.

Winter is a Great Time for Education

Most of us are quite content to ignore our fruit plantings during the winter. At least I know I am guilty of that. Winter brings about other challenges for me — end of year reporting, conferences to attend, data to analyze, papers to write, etc. I know that everyone has their own stuff to deal with too making it difficult to keep your mind on something that isn’t growing (or at least appears that way). Of course there are a myriad of things that could be done to improve the planting, of which pruning and sanitation are some of the most important. However, I believe the most important thing to do during the time when it is too cold to get outside and you would rather bundle up in a blanket next to a warm fire is to learn. Education is a never-ending process. New things are discovered every year about fruiting crops. New pests, new varieties, new methods of management, etc. The great thing is that you no longer need to drive somewhere during sleet, snow, or icy drizzle to get to a meeting. Extension is starting to embrace online education techniques like webinars and blogs to keep clientele apprised of new discoveries. I would also encourage social media interaction. There are lots of Extension specialists and agents on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.  These are all platforms to interact with us. If you don’t know how, just ask and any of us would be happy to help you learn these new things.  The world is digital and not going back. If we can find common ground with our learning environments we can all be so much better informed. So, what to do during this winter? Try something new and learn, learn, learn.

Alternative Uses of Fruit Crops

Sometimes I think we put certain fruits into a narrow box and they can only exist in that form.  Grapes can be wine, juice, or fresh eating.  Oranges can be juice or fresh.  Apples? Fresh or juice.  Those ideas lack creativity. How else can fruit be used that is out of the ordinary?  I have some friends in the craft cocktail and brewery industries.  Those folks know that interesting and compelling flavors can drive sales.  That got me to thinking about the passion fruit that I was harvesting.  What can I do with it?  I could eat it fresh, but there are so many arils each filled with a seed.  I could dry them and then suck on them like candy.  I could juice them and drink the juice or make wine from it; however, the chemistry just isn’t there to make a good product.  So what to do?  My decision was to make a passion fruit syrup.  It was easy and turned out pretty darn good (although when using it in a drink a little goes a long way in terms of flavor).

Passion fruit syrup

Passion fruit syrup (the peppers are for looks only in this photo, I did not use them in the recipe).

Passiflora incarnata is a native fruit (some say weed) that has some tropical fruit notes, which makes it desirable.  However, in order for me to get the pulp out, I had to remove the outer rind by hand. There is commercial-grade equipment out there that would make it easier (I think), but for now it was easier to do by hand.  It is time consuming, but the outcome made it worthwhile. To make the syrup I started with about 24 ounces of juice.  I reduced it by about half, then added 1.75 cups of sugar.  It depends on how sweet you like it.  The juice was acidic and not too sweet so I needed to kick the sweetness level up a little.  I stirred the sugar and the juice together and voila! A passion fruit syrup.

Passion Fruit Harvest

Two days ago I harvested some native passion fruit (Passiflora incarnata) from my research vineyard.  It was planted in places where I did not have grapevines.  Last year it produced some fruit, but this year the bounty is larger.  I harvested a 3-gallon pot worth of fruit in short order.

Harvested passion fruit

Harvested passion fruit

As you can see, some were riper than others but all were taken off the ground.  That is one of the management issues with passion fruit of this species, as the fruit falls off when ripe (or even not quite ripe).  So lots of time is spent on hands and knees or stooped over.  I have a few different wild vines and there is variability in fruit size and shape.

Size variability in wild passion fruit (P. incarnata)

Size variability in wild passion fruit (P. incarnata)

Now I have the fruit, what do I do with it?  My plan was to create a syrup from the juice.  I peeled off the outer rind and put the inner arils with seeds into a bladder press.  Eventually I ended up with about 24 ounces of juice.

Passion fruit juice after pressing

Passion fruit juice after pressing

I did not check the brix but I did taste it and the juice was tart.  It will need some sugar.  I hope to start doing more work with passiflora in the future.  Passiflora incarnata is a fascinating plant with great potential.  All it takes is time, money, determination, support, etc.

Ambrosia Beetles Found in Muscadine Vines

Now muscadine growers have a new pest to concern themselves with in south Mississippi.  Recently, Chris Werle (USDA-ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory Poplarville, MS) found ambrosia beetles attacking muscadine vines.  These beetles are extremely harmful to the plants they attack.  Not only do the beetles attack the plant, but they also transmit a fungus (e.g. Fusarium spp.) that can eventually take down the plant.  Infested plant parts should be removed and destroyed.  Plants showing heavy infestation and/or significant related disease symptoms should be removed to halt further spread.  Control must be done before the beetle burrows into the plant.  The two links below have suggestions as well as photos of the pest.

North Carolina State University http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/O&T/trees/note111/note111.html

Clemson University http://www.clemson.edu/cafls/departments/esps/factsheets/turforn/ambrosia_beetles_to22.html

Below are some photos from Chris Werle of ambrosia beetle damage on muscadine and fig.

Ambrosia beetle damage on fig. Notice sawdust from boring hole

Ambrosia beetle damage on fig. Notice sawdust from boring hole (Photo by Chris Werle)

A trunk of a muscadine vine heavily infested by ambrosia beetle. Notice the many entry holes. (Photo by Chris Werle)

A trunk of a muscadine vine heavily infested by ambrosia beetle. Notice the many entry holes. (Photo by Chris Werle)

Ambrosia beetle damage on muscadine vine cordons.  Diagnostic "straws" of sawdust indicate the presence of the insect. (Photo by Chris Werle)

Ambrosia beetle damage on muscadine vine cordons. Diagnostic “straws” of sawdust indicate the presence of the insect. (Photo by Chris Werle)

Kiwifruit in Mississippi: Feast or Famine?

Most of us have seen kiwifruit in the grocery store and have even eaten it sometimes.  The bright green flesh with the black seeds and fuzzy exterior all make for a strange looking fruit.  That species of kiwifruit is Actinidia deliciosa. This species is the most commercial, but also has difficulties growing in temperate climates.  It is not especially cold hardy, has a moderate chilling requirement, and requires a very long growing season.  Other species have been used to overcome some of these obstacles — such as Actinidia chinensis .  Auburn University has done considerable work to develop new kiwifruit cultivars from this species. The USDA-ARS in Poplarville is trialing some of these cultivars now, but it will be a good bit yet to know any results as the vines are still very young.  A couple problems have cropped up though — vines die for unknown reasons and pollination has not been great (low fruit yields).  Time will tell if these are isolated problems or long-term issues.  Auburn has a Kiwifruit Production Guide.  Below are some photos of Kiwifruit at the USDA-ARS station in Poplarville, MS (from summer 2014).

Vining growth of a vigorous female kiwifruit plant

Vining growth of a vigorous female kiwifruit plant

Developing kiwifruit

Developing kiwifruit

Although we don’t know a lot about how this fruit will do in Mississippi, other states like Alabama and Georgia have begun to explore planting this fruit in larger quantities.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the market develops over the next few years.

Reported Fruit Problems in Mississippi 2014

The list below illustrates the types of pathogens/problems found on fruit plants submitted to the Mississippi State University plant diagnostic lab in 2014. The general format of the list shows the common name for the disease, followed by the scientific name of the pathogen, followed by a number in parentheses that indicates the number of times this problem was diagnosed in the lab.

Apple (Malus x domestica)
• Apple Scab suspected (Venturia inaequalis) (1)
• Cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniper-virginianae) (1)
• Diplodia canker (Diplodia mutila) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (1)
• Flyspeck (Schizothyrium pomi) (1)
• Phoma Leaf spot (Phoma sp.) (1)
• Russetting (Abiotic) (1)
• Sooty Blotch (Gloeodes pomigena) (1)
• Undetermined (mummified fruit ) (1)

Blackberry (Rubus sp.) ‘Arapaho’
• Abiotic (Freeze damage) (4)
• Blackberry Rust (Phragmidium violaceum) (1)
• Cane blight (Coniothyrium fuckelii) (1)

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
• Abiotic (Cold injury) (1)
• Abiotic (Possibly Glyphosate) (1)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora rubi) (1)
• Leaf spot (Septoria sp.) (1)
• Fruit Spot (Exobasdium maculosum (1)
• Twig Blight ( Fusicoccum sp.) (1)

Cherry (Prunus sp.)
• Insufficient sample (Vascular disruption suspected) (1)

Fig, Common (Ficus carica)

• Diplodia canker (Diplodia sp.) (1)
• Rust (Cerotelium fici) (1)
• Undetermined fruit rot (1)

Fruit Trees (Prunus sp.)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Grape (Vitis vinifera)
• Abiotic (Magnesium deficiency suspected) (1)
• Abiotic (Freeze injury suspected) (2)
• Black Rot (Guignardia bidwellii / Phyllosticta ampelicida) (2)

Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
• Borers suspected (1)

Jujube (Ziziphus jujube)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora sp.) (1)
• Fruit injury undetermined (1)

Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
• Insect infestation (1)
• Sooty mold (1)

Peach (Prunus persica)
• Brown fruit rot (Moilinia fructicola) (2)
• Peach leaf curl (Taphrina deformans) (1)
• Root rot (Armillaria sp.) (1)
• San Jose Scale (Quadraspidiotus perniciosus) (1)

Pear (Pyrus sp.)
• Abiotic (Chemical root injury suspected) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (2)
• Phomopsis Twig Blight (Phomopsis sp.) (1)
• Quince rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes) (1)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

• Abiotic (Possible Nitrogen Burn or nutritional issue) (1)

• Animal injury suspected (1)

• No pathogens (1)
• Pecan phylloxera (Phylloxera devastratrix) (2)

Plum (Prunus sp.)

• Abiotic (Sunscald suspected) (1)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Plum (Prunus spp.) ‘Shiro’
• Bacterial spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. pruni) (2)
• Brown rot (Monilinia fructicola) (1)
• Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) (1)
• Scale insect (1)

Satsuma (Citrus reticulata)
• Root/Stem injury suspected (1)

See the entire list here: http://msucares.com/lab/2014list.pdf

MSU Fall Flower and Garden Fest 2014 — Presentation on Fruit Crops

Last week, I gave a presentation on Fruit Crops for your Yard at the MSU Fall Flower and Garden Fest that was held in Crystal Springs.  This is a big event, with over 5,000 attendees each year.  You can find more info on this event at this link: Fall Flower and Garden Fest

As for my participation, I presented on some of the common fruit crops that are grown in Mississippi.  Unfortunately, the time is short (45 minutes) and I can’t go into all the details I wish I could.  But I tried to give the basics on several different popular fruit crops.  To access the PDF version of the presentation, click below:

Fruit Crops for your Yard

Mississippi Chill Hour Accumulation

I have previously wrote on the topic of chill hours, but I also get a lot of requests for what the accumulated hours are for the season.  This year I will be posting them on this site on the page entitled Chill Hours (on the right hand side of your screen).  By visiting this page, you will be able to keep up to date on the accumulated chill hours as reported by locations in five counties in Mississippi — Copiah, George, Jones, Lee, and Wayne.  The recordings are reported by volunteers, so they may or may not be available for each week.  In the future I hope to put together data from previous years (at least those I have) and also make them available on the site.

As of today, the first posting is up.  Each recording season runs from October 1 to April 1 of the following year.

Fruit Crops for Mississippi Farmers’ Markets

Yesterday I gave a presentation on “Best Fruit Crops for Mississippi Farmers’ Markets”.  It was part of the “Microfarming – Growing for Farmers’ Markets” workshop put on by Dr. Rick Snyder and others.  You can see more info on the workshop as well as links to other information related to Farmers’ Markets here: http://farmersmarkets.msstate.edu/conference/.

My presentation from the Farmers' Market Workshop

My presentation from the Farmers’ Market Workshop

The full presentation can be accessed here as a PDF file: Fruit Crops for MS Farmers Markets