PARMA, Idaho — A $103,000 specialty crop grant will allow University of Idaho researchers to continue experiments aimed at helping growers produce new fruit and nut crops in Idaho.
A 2-acre fruit orchard trial at the university’s Parma research station in Southwestern Idaho has grown alternative fruits such as persimmon, quince, Asian pears and table grapes for several years.
The grant will allow researchers to take that work to the next level and try to improve quality and make them economically viable for commercial growers to produce here, said UI researcher Essie Fallahi, who heads the research project.
“We are trying to focus on those alternative fruits that were showing the most promising results during the first cycle of our study,” said Fallahi. “This is the next step — fine-tuning the cultural practices on the ones we feel we have a very good chance of growing in this area — to make sure they are economically viable.”
The grant, which was awarded by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, will also allow the Parma station to begin research on other alternative fruit and nut crops such as white apricots, pomegranates, strawberries, blueberries, pecans, walnuts and almonds.
Idaho growers have produced apples, peaches, cherries and plums commercially for decades but Fallahi, director of UI’s pomology program, said a lot of people thought those other types of crops couldn’t be grown in Idaho.
The results so far have disproved that, he said.
“We know we can grow apples and peaches here,” he said. “But there is this huge potential to grow alternative fruits here also. They can be grown here.”
Donn Thill, who oversees UI’s agricultural research stations, said Fallahi has an outstanding track record when it comes to having his research adopted by commercial fruit growers and he will focus on ensuring these alternative crops are economically viable to grow here.
When the Parma research station was slated for possible closure several years ago because of budget cuts, Idaho’s fruit industry stepped in and helped provide the funding necessary to keep it open.
“The amount of adoption by fruit growers of the research information that Essie has developed is phenomenal,” Thill said. “He knows how to focus his research to the industry.”
Chad Henggeler, field manager for Henggeler Packing Co. in Fruitland, said commercial growers are closely watching Fallahi’s alternative fruit and nut research.
“We are always looking at alternative crops we can grow,” he said. “If he can show it works at the experiment station … we’d certainly take a look at it.”
Henggeler said he is particularly interested to see if Fallahi is successful in growing almonds.
“If he finds an almond variety that works in our climate, I would certainly try it,” Henggeler said.