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SFA field day focuses on crops and berries with market potential

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 09/23/2013 9:35 AM

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STAPLES, Minn. —The plots are small, but the specialty crops and fruits featured during a new crops field day near Staples late last month may have a future.

Ten novel cereal crops, including amaranth, teff, spelt and low-gluten corn and specialty fruit-bearing bushes aronia and seaberry were highlighted on the afternoon tour at the Central Lakes College's Ag and Energy Center.

Some of the plants already have shown marketplace promise.

The center has been paid $110 per gallon for aronia berry juice, said CLC Ag and Energy Center director Bob Schafer. Aronia berries are high in antioxidants and often are used in smoothies, he said.

Seaberries were used during World War II in Russia as a vitamin C substitute, he said.

The group was invited to pick from the bushes and taste the berries.

Soft white wheat and amaranth are good values for consumers and farmers. The soft white wheat, high in fiber and protein, is often used by Amish bakers, said Tom Bilek, member of the Buckwheat Growers of Minnesota. Amaranth, part of the pigweed family, is a great forage, producing four to five tons of dry matter for hay.

"It's nice to find a market for a crop like white low-gluten corn," Bilek said. "If you don't use herbicides, it takes a lot of cultivating and doing a lot of things right. Weather is also a big factor. ''

Forty hives pollinate his crop, he said. Buckwheat honey produces cough medicine.

Canola and camelina will be studied for production, quality and oil.

Schafer, who has a background and interest in biofuels and renewable fuel production, has spearheaded the center's work on biofuels. Staples was among the first communities to consider renewable fuels. An ethanol plant was built in the town in the 1970s.

The initial hype is off of biofuels, Schafer said. When the center offered renewable energy tours at one point, the tour would attract 30 to 40-plus people, he said. About 10 people attended the last one.

"The shine is off, and it has to be proven," Schafer said. "But we shouldn't take our focus off it right now."

He called raising canola, a novelty crop, an "eye opener."

One of their field studies will have the Ag and Energy Center double-cropping camellia and soybeans.