Jerry Kliewer says he has planted 100 acres of the Mega Kiwi, which grows nearly 50% larger than the standard Hayward variety.
The Reedley-based farmer told Fresh Fruit Portal he had heard about the cultivar’s Greek owners and developed a working relationship with them, later securing the exclusive rights for the U.S.
“It’s been a long process for me, which started about eight years ago,” he said.
“After we had come to an agreement they sent me a few sticks of wood for grafting. They arrived to me very late, around May, so I didn’t think there was any chance the grafting would work, but I didn’t have anything to lose so we tried it.”
The efforts were successful, and the plants then spent two years in quarantine where they received visits from USDA inspectors.
“Then after the two years in quarantine we had a little bit of wood. We grafted some plants and then we went into tissue culture and began to develop plants for commercial size planting operations,” he said.
The Mega is the result of a natural genetic mutation. According to Kliewer, the Greek owners say that the find was a two-million-to-one chance.
Kliewer also grows the Hayward variety and is starting to produce gold kiwifruit too, as volumes of that category begin to ramp up in California.
As well as being significantly larger than the Hayward, Kliewer says the Mega also has twice the vitamin C content and 60% more antioxidants.
“At informal taste tests where we have presented this variety, people have preferred it over the Hayward. But it is very similar in taste.”
He added that “everywhere we’ve gone to it’s been very well received.”
Kliewer has harvested small volumes of fruit over the last couple of years, but this current season is the first that saw commercial quantities of around 800,000 pounds.
While volumes are still relatively small, Kliewer expects production to double or triple annually “for the next four to five years.”
The company is now looking for a suitable partner to also grow the Mega.
Kliewer added that he has high hopes for the variety’s long-term viability.
“From everything that we’re learning about it, it seems to be a superior piece of fruit to the Hayward and I don’t see why the consumer wouldn’t prefer it to the Hayward over the long-term,” he said.