Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Trending in Specialty Crops: Heirloom Dry Beans, Honey, Tomatoes, Lobsters, Wine

Five specialty crop-related subjects that are trending on this Tuesday...

There is profit potential in growing organic heirloom dry beans.
Consumer and restaurant demand for locally grown organic heirloom dry beans is on the rise. According to HortScience, the number of acres of land used for certified organic dry bean production has increased significantly in recent years. Heirloom dry bean cultivars were evaluated for yield and yield stability at four small-scale organic vegetable productions in Minnesota. The mean yield of heirloom cultivars was about 44 percent lower than commercial market class checks, however, the production of certain heirloom cultivars, especially 'Jacob's Cattle Gold,' 'Lina Sisco's Bird Egg,' 'Peregion,' and 'Tiger's Eye,' could allow growers to diversify production, differentiate themselves in local markets, and realize profits.
Lina Sisco's Bird Egg - photo credit: Seed Savers

USDA reports less honey produced in 2015, and prices down 4 percent.
United States honey production in 2015 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 157 million pounds, down 12 percent from 2014. There were 2.66 million colonies from which honey was harvested in 2015, down 3 percent from 2014. Yield of honey harvested per colony averaged 58.9 pounds, down 10 percent from the 65.1 pounds in 2014. Producer honey stocks were up 2 percent over a year ago, and United States honey prices decreased 4 percent from 2014. As for bees, California farmers are experimenting with a variety of almond tree named "Independence" which is self-pollinating, or, at least requires far fewer bees for pollination, saving almond growers a bundle of money.

The tomato crop, a $60 billion industry worldwide.
In March, 50 innovative tomato growers from 9 countries participated in a Philips Horticulture LED lighting event in Finland. They visited four greenhouse growers there, who are using LED grow lights to improve the yields, quality and cost-efficiency of their tomato crops in Finland's very cold northern climate. Tomato production is a $60 billion worldwide industry. Tomatoes were domesticated in the Americas 2,500+ years ago, and the word "tomato" comes from the Aztecs. Today, robotic harvesters are able to sense ripe tomatoes, knowing which ones to pick.

Lobster harvesting in the face of climate change.
Harvesting lobsters used to be predictable, but starting in 2012, warming waters caused early lobster shell shedding, disrupting the normal harvesting schedules of lobstermen. Record harvests that year resulted in near-record low prices approaching prices not seen since the Great Depression. The sudden increased supply in 2012 was out of balance with processing and demand, making it a devastating year. The lobster industry adds $450 million to Maine, money that has increased 400 percent since 1985. Because the lobster business has been declining significantly in states south of Maine, thought due to warming waters, Maine fears their lobstering industry will also be hit in the not so distant future. They are exploring ways in which to optimally adapt to the lobster's new shedding schedule.

Vineyards are changing hands as their climates change.
According to Bloomberg, the French Bordeaux vineyard owners are buying up Napa vineyards, even as the Chinese are buying up French vineyards. Bordeaux wines have been out of favor lately, while cabernets are booming. It is expected that many family-owned Napa vineyards will be sold in the next five years, so this French interest is viewed as welcome. Across France, wine grape harvests are, on average, taking place two weeks earlier now than in the past. Previously, earlier harvests have been associated with higher quality wines, but this new climate era suggests a less predictable outcome than in the past.

Readers, note that "Trendspotting on Tuesdays" is a new feature of this site. To view last week's trends, click here.--k.m.