Choosing the Best Figs for Hawaii

 

Hawaii’s range of microclimates makes it possible to grow hundreds of different crops all of which have varying degrees of profitability for farmers.  From the WSARE-funded “12 Trees Project”, (Development of a Sustainable Polyculture and Marketing System for Exotic Tropical Fruits), we learned that figs could be extremely profitable for growers depending on elevation and irrigation as well as cultivar. Profit from figs can be ten times greater than that of the area’s most popular crop, Kona coffee. There is a large demand for the fruit as demonstrated by sales from the 12 Trees Project site. Currently choices are limited to 3 cultivars available in Hawaii: white kadota, black mission and brown turkey.  Having additional cultivars available, which produce at different times at varying elevations, will add to the sustainability of farm operations and offer growers additional choices for greater diversity.  The availability of other cultivars also offers growers a wide range of choices in the development of value added products.

 

The USDA germplasm repository in Davis keeps more than 130 types of figs in their collection. This project proposes to grow a number of cultivars previously unavailable in Hawaii in order to determine how well they perform at different elevations and environments as well as their desirability among chefs. We also plan to test various non-chemical ways to repel birds and other pests by use of reflective materials.

 

Figs are fairly easy to cultivate and grow from cuttings, often fruiting within one year of planting. Once these newly introduced cultivars are grown are established and producing, cultural practices will be examined over the course of this proposed three-year project. Investigation will include water requirements, susceptibility to pests and diseases and yields. Taste testing for chefs, cost of production and marketing fresh and processed figs will also be analyzed. Asian pruning and growing systems will be tested along with those of other major fig producing areas.  Packaging for wholesale and grocery markets will be examined.

 

The cultivars will be planted at a number of locations in order to support the three-year tests. These locations will include the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative, University of

Hawaii Experiment Station, Love Family Farms, and GS Farms. The roles of the university experiment station as a cooperator are to insure germplasm protection in Hawaii, to provide different test elevations, to monitor pest problems that would not be feasible with on-farm trials, and to facilitate distribution of cuttings to interested farmers once trees are mature and cuttings become available. The technical advisor will be responsible for the test plot at the experiment station. The producer, Love Family Farms, grows and sells brown turkey figs at local markets. Currently, these are sold out 3 months in advance of harvest. Love Family Farms grows and sells a wide variety of tropical fruits. This project will enhance the producers operation and contribute to greater sustainability and diversification.

    

Organic and sustainable practices would be employed at the four planting sites.

 

During the course of the project, meetings would be held to introduce growers to fig growing systems as well as the different cultivars. Through the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers organization, additional cuttings would be requested from the USDA Germplasm repository. The entire project from start to finish will be documented on

www.Hawaiifruit.net. A university extension publication at the end of the project will be available to growers interested in further information.  Project findings will be presented to interested agriculture commodity groups in Hawaii, such as the Kona Farmers’ Alliance, the Young Farmers Association and different chapters of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Association

 

Since figs are not currently grown commercially in Hawaii in quantity, Dr. Ed Stover, the fig expert from the USDA Germplasm Repository in Davis, CA, has agreed to work with the growers during the course of the project.

 

The producer along with hired labor will be responsible for planting, maintaining, testing and monitoring the 4 test plots. He will also be responsible for supplying data from the various tests and information received from the cooperators to the technical advisor.

 

The role of the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative will be to provide land for a test plot for the different cultivars and be able to distribute cuttings to any of its 300 members when the project is completed and cuttings become available.

 

The role of GS farms will be to provide space for a test plot at a different elevation from other cooperators.

 

The project technical advisor would be responsible for organizing data supplied by growers and making sure the university experiment station test field and grower plots are in compliance with the stated goals. The advisor along with the producer will be responsible for the extension publication at the end of the three-year project.