Summary of Awards to Date

Enhancing agricultural profitability and sustainability through specialty crops.

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Date

Aug. 1, 2009 - Jul. 31, 2011

Award Number

ARK02250

Funding Agency

Center for Produce Safety

Investigator

Jean-Francois Meullenet, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas

Summary

The production and marketing of specialty crops can be characterized as suffering from a lack of research in production systems, a lack of education about technology, a large need for knowledge and assistance in marketing, and the lack of education of consumers regarding the value of these products in a healthy diet. Increased knowledge about the production and marketing of specialty crops and development of related value-added products can significantly enhance the viability and sustainability of the small and medium-sized farms that dominate the production of specialty crops in Arkansas and the South. Moreover, this knowledge will lengthen market windows and reduce seasonal fluctuations that complicate local purchasing by consumers. The assessment of the Arkansas blueberry industry to determine crop status and problems facing the industry continues. Once the problems are determined, environmentally sustainable solutions can be determined and implemented. Developing, producing, and evaluating value-added products that increase the farmer's share of the food dollar can better utilize and broaden market outlets for blueberries. Value-added products prepared using small-scale processing techniques appropriate for on-farm product production will be evaluated against similar commercially-available products for quality, acceptability, and cost. Recommendations will be made regarding strategies appropriate for successfully marketing specialty crops and value-added products produced from them. A project is underway to study the feasibility of using waste products from fruits and vegetables industries to produce lactic acid for use in the production of polylactic acid. Another will identify the potential anti-staphylococcal and prebiotic properties of blueberry byproducts. Additional research activities will provide assistance to the small- and medium-sized farmer producing specialty crops. The comprehensive approach will address the development and evaluation of production systems, and alternative production methods. Identification of new value-added products and development of affordable further processing techniques that maintain or enhance their sensory and nutritional characteristics will be undertaken. The nutritional aspects of these products and consumer acceptance of them are important. Identifying and optimizing the health-promoting aspects of these products will be a major component of product development efforts. Training programs to maximize food safety will also be emphasized.

OBJECTIVES: The project seeks to provide profitable production and processing systems for small-, mid-size, and transitioning producers and processors, Cultural practices used in the production of blueberries will be evaluated in order to identify causes of production declines and identify environmentally sustainable ways of addressing these problems. These assessments will be extended to additional crops. The development and production of value-added products that increase the farmer's share of the food dollar and better utilize and broaden market outlets for blueberries will be evaluated. The commercialization and growth of specialty-crop producing and processing enterprises will be facilitated by identifying and communicating key success factors required to serve market outlets available to small- to mid-sized growers or processors. Educational programs to educate growers in Northeast Arkansas and the Delta on the economic potential associated with specialty crop production and marketing will be developed.