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Fruit Research

Grapes

grapes

North Dakota production agriculture and related businesses are transforming to meet changing consumer demands in the 21st Century. These trends are creating opportunities within the state to differentiate innovative value-added products from traditional commodities. Small-acre niche farms are increasing in popularity and proportion to conventional farms, providing an excellent environment for high-value horticulture crop production and offering more locally grown fruits and vegetables. Like many Americans, North Dakotans are consuming more wine and making more conscious choices regarding locally grown produce; these factors have spurred the development of six wineries in the state since 2002. Naturally, grape wines are most economically valuable for wineries, and this is stimulating state agriculture programs to more seriously examine sustainable viticulture in northern climates.

Lack of high quality wine grapes has been a stumbling block for vineyards of the north, though cold hardy vines are becoming more available to the public. Challenges for northern viticulturists include severe winters and short growing seasons, yet grapes are native to riparian areas of North Dakota and even further north into Canada. Recent cultivars potentially suited to this region have been released by the University of Minnesota’s grape breeding program and private breeders such as the late Elmer Swenson of Osceola, WI. In 2004, the NDSU High-Value Crops program initiated a cultivar study at the Horticulture Research Farm near Absaraka, ND, and at the Williston Research Extension Center to assess the suitability of sixteen grape cultivars across the state. The NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center was added as a new cultivar test site in 2006.

Additional program objectives include assessing the influence of different cultural practices in northern vineyards. Because grape cluster development and ripening are affected by canopy management and vine training systems, an experiment was initiated in 2005 to assess the productivity of Frontenac grapes using different trellising methods. Another experiment was planted in 2006 to examine the usefulness of top-grafting St. Croix onto various hardy rootstocks. Understanding these and other viticulture production management issues may greatly enhance northern vineyard productivity.

Juneberries

juneberriesJuneberry (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.) has long been a treasured prairie wild fruit. Historically, the hardy native shrub was widely used by many North American Indian tribes. Flowers and fruit were important in native ceremonies. Several parts of the shrub were used medicinally. Wood was used for arrows, tools, basket-frames, and canoe cross-pieces. The fruit were a staple food and because of their importance, many tribes held ceremonies and feasts to celebrate the beginning of the juneberry harvest. Fruit were used fresh or steamed, mashed and dried to a brick-like consistency for reconstitution at a later time. Pemmican, a mixture of dried lean meat, melted fat, and juneberries molded into cakes would keep for months in a cool, dry place and was a winter stable.

Today, juneberries are used fresh, made into pies, juneberry pudding, and other delicious baked goods and desserts. They are also processed into jams, jellies, ice cream toppings, lemonades, and wine. Several growers in North Dakota are starting to grow juneberries on a commercial basis. Plants begin bearing fruit two to three years after establishment and if properly cared for, should be productive for 50 or more years. Research at NDSU is evaluating cultivar differences, weed control methods, water needs, and methods to enhance propagation. There seems to be considerable potential for expansion of production and processing of juneberry as many processors and distributors have reported they would use large quantities of this unique fruit if they had an assured supply at a reasonable price. However, consistent high yields and quality and improved pest control are required and this can only be achieved through increased research efforts.

Other Fruits

raspberries

Numerous other small fruit can be grown in North Dakota. This list would include: Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata), Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulea), Currants - red, white, and black (Ribes sp.), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Gooseberry (Ribes grossularia x), Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea var. edulis), Raspberries – red, purple, and black (Rubus sp.), Seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides), Strawberries (Fragaria sp.), and perhaps even more.

Currently, the high-value crops project has been involved with micropropagation methods for purple raspberries and cultivar evaluations of honeyberries. However, all the species listed above have nutritional merit and several have exceptional antioxidant and total phenolic levels, making them a healthy choice.

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