(418) The Development of a Southern Region Organic Fruit Initiative

in HortScience

Southern organic fruit production is limited by a lack of regionally appropriate, scale-neutral, and market-focused research and technology. There has been limited research, outreach, and cooperation among universities on organic fruit crops in the southern region. Organic research and outreach activities, based on producer input, must be focused on the most limiting areas of the organic system in order to allow southern producers to receive the economic and environmental benefits that organic agriculture can provide. With funding from USDA-SARE and USDA-SRIPMC, researchers at the University of Arkansas have collaborated with scientists, extension specialists, growers, and representatives of the organic industry in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee to create a Southern Region Organic Fruit Working Group (SROFWG). The SROFWG conducted in-state focus group meetings through which barriers to production and marketing, and opportunities for organic fruit in the region were identified. Prioritized research and outreach needs that were identified in the focus groups included use and understanding of organic fertilizers and nutrient management; methods, knowledge and awareness of pest disease and weed control including orchard floor management; information on transition to organic; consumer awareness and market development and the economics of organics. The planning activities of the SROFWG support the development and submission of grants for cooperative and collaborative research and outreach programs to sustain and expand organic fruit production in the southern region.

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