prev | next
index for this volume | New Crops News | NewCROPS home page

New Crops News, Spring 1993, vol. 3 no. 1

New Fruit and Nut Crops for Indiana

The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) at one time dominated millions of acres of forests from Georgia to Maine, providing food for native Americans and settlers for hundreds of years. These heavy producers of nutritious nuts fed not only people, but numerous herds of domestic cattle and swine as well. These great trees were all but wiped out by the Chestnut blight fungus (Endothia parasitica) which was accidentally introduced in the early 1900's. The chestnut blight fungus is still present throughout the U.S., which prevents the successful production of American Chestnuts. Chinese Chestnuts (Castanea mollisma) and their hybrids are resistant to the blight fungus and therefore have potential for commercialization.

Chestnuts are receiving wide recognition as a highly nutritious food. Unlike other nuts that are over 50% fat, chestnuts contain less than 5% fat, are higher in complex carbohydrates and lower in protein. They are more like potatoes or grain than nuts, and can be consumed in many different ways. Fresh or roasted chestnuts are sweet and nutritious snacks. Chestnuts in stuffing, casseroles, or as vegetables are popular. The nuts can be dried and ground into a flour that is used in cooking.

Chestnut production is increasing rapidly in the U.S. and will continue to do so in response to the large imports of this crop. Growers in the Great Lakes region have planted more than 200,000 chestnut trees over the past five years, with the first nut harvest in 1990. Projections are for a million pound crop by the end of the decade. The U.S. imports 20 million pounds annually at a value of $30 to 50 million. There is a shortage of chestnuts on the market, and many markets are not being supplied now. It is obvious that the potential for commercialization in the Midwest is tremendous.

In addition to Chestnuts, new fruit crops such as Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) have potential in the Midwest. Pawpaw has potential both as a fruit crop and as a source of natural botanical insecticides and anti-cancer agents, based on research conducted by J.L. McLaughlin, Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at Purdue University. The bark of pawpaw has been shown to contain biologically active compounds that may have commercial potential. Studies are underway at Purdue's New Crop Center by Bruce Bordelon, J.E. Simon, and Jules Janick to develop methods to produce renewable sources of pawpaw biomass.

Both chestnuts and pawpaw have their own unique place in the market. There is presently a developing market channel for both crops. The Midwest Nut Producers Council and the Great Lakes Chestnut Alliance each purchase chestnuts from producers for resale and distribution. Pawpaw fruit is being marketed through the Michigan Marketing Association as well as directly by producers.

New fruit crops such as Chinese chestnuts and pawpaws offer a source of diversification for growers of other crops, and a source of added income for families that farm in addition to regular jobs. Additionally, these tree crops provide a form of sustainable agriculture for highly erodible lands and even reclaimed strip mine lands.

Research is in progress to identify the best genotypes for the region and to develop methods to grow and harvest these crops. The upper Midwest could become one of the leading producers of these new crops over the next 20 years. The Midwest Nut Producers Council, in cooperation with Purdue University and Michigan State University, has established cultivar evaluation plantings of chestnuts and filberts. The next meeting of the MNPC will be at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, MI on the weekend of July 23, 1993. More information can be obtained from Steve Wozniak, MNPC President at (313) 277-1633.