U.S.: Alabama kiwifruit co-op aims to export locally-developed gold varieties

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U.S.: Alabama kiwifruit co-op aims to export locally-developed gold varieties

A kiwifruit co-op in the southeastern U.S. state of Alabama is growing gold varieties developed and patented at a local university, with hopes to one day export them to Asian markets. 

Reeltown-based Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative, which was established in 2014, is believed to be the only commercial kiwifruit operation in the U.S. outside of California.

Local publication Made In Alabama reported the entity's vice president and manager Clint Wall gets 'a few strange looks' when he tells people what he does for a living.

“People are usually just surprised that kiwifruit grow in Alabama. They think it’s tropical, but it’s not. It doesn’t grow in a tropical climate,” Wall was quoted as saying.

Several years ago, University of Auburn horticultural professor Billy Dozier, along with nursery owners and brothers Wayne and Jimmy Bassett, formed Gold Kiwi Group LLC, according to the article.

This company had the exclusive rights to propagate, grow and sell five patented cultivars he and others developed at Auburn.

The partners reportedly bought land for the orchard from a former Auburn football and then tapped Wall - who had been working in the global kiwifruit hub of New Zealand and wanted to return to the U.S. to be closer to family - to run the operation.

A former student of Dozier’s, Wall used his industry connections to help land the support of investor Sun Pacific, the largest kiwifruit producer in the U.S. The Reeltown orchard is the company’s first foray into golden kiwifruit, the story reported.

The U.S. Southeast is described as being an ideal area to grow kiwifruit, with benefits including a frost-free growing season, abundant rainfall, plenty of lakes and rivers and a favorable soil profile. 

"Auburn has been growing kiwifruit at the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station’s Chilton Research and Extension Center near Clanton since the mid-1980s. It was just never commercialized,” Wall was quoted as saying.

Once the co-op's vines mature, a sophisticated, post-harvest system is to be installed to pick, pack, process and cool the kiwifruit in preparation for shipment overseas.

“I think it’s time that sort of intensity is brought to the fruit growing sector here in Alabama,” Wall was quoted as saying. 

The representative is eyeing markets including Japan and Southeast Asia, saying they have a preference for gold varieties and pay good prices.

Photo: www.shutterstock.com



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