2 years ago

Could patented golden kiwifruit be Alabama’s next export success?

Orchard manager Clint Wall, right, and coworker and fellow Auburn horticulture alumnus Eric Houser (courtesy Auburn University)

REELTOWN – A small community in eastern Alabama is home to the nation’s only commercial golden kiwifruit orchard, an innovative operation that could lead the way in establishing a new specialty crop for growers across the Southeastern U.S.

The Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative, established in 2014 and located in Tallapoosa and Macon counties, grows varieties of golden kiwifruit developed and patented at nearby Auburn University, and aims to export them to far-flung global markets.

Golden kiwifruit, in contrast to its green counterpart, has bright yellow flesh and smooth, not fuzzy, skin. It also has a sweeter, more mellow flavor than the tart taste of green kiwifruit.

“The goal is to get it overseas to places like Japan and Southeast Asia where gold kiwifruit is in high demand,” said Clint Wall, co-op vice president and manager.

EXPORT ‘HIGHWAY’

To launch the developing orchard, the horticulture graduate of Auburn’s College of Agriculture is drawing his on eight years of experience working in New Zealand, a global hub of kiwifruit production.If the orchard is successful, it could also boost the fortunes of other fruit and vegetable growers across Alabama.

Kiwifruit is extremely profitable, particularly golden kiwifruit, Wall said. Once the orchard’s vines mature, a sophisticated, post-harvest system will be installed to pick, pack, process and cool the kiwifruit in preparation for shipment overseas.

That same system could also be used for peaches, satsumas, blueberries and other Alabama-grown produce to follow a similar path.

“I think it’s time that that sort of intensity is brought to the fruit growing sector here in Alabama,” Wall said. “You know those Chilton County peaches that run down your chin when you take a bite? There could be a huge export market for them.

“If we pave a road for our fruit to Japan, we can put other things on that highway.”

AUBURN CONNECTION

So just how did a kiwifruit orchard come to be in Alabama?

Wall says he 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,” he said.

China is the world’s largest kiwifruit producer, while Italy and Chile are also major players in the global industry. New Zealand has a fairly small footprint of total acres devoted to kiwifruit, but the country is No. 1 in production per acre.

In the U.S., all kiwifruit orchards are in California, except for the Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative in Reeltown.

Alabama and kiwifruit connect through Auburn, where horticulture professor Billy Dozier has long pursued a dream to turn kiwifruit varieties he has patented into a viable niche crop for Southeastern growers.

Several years ago, Dozier, along with nursery owners and brothers Wayne and Jimmy Bassett, formed Gold Kiwi Group LLC, with the exclusive right to propagate, grow and sell five patented cultivars Dozier and others developed at Auburn.

The partners bought land for the orchard from former Auburn football coach Pat Dye. They then tapped Wall, who 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.

GROWTH AREA

A recent study by the global kiwifruit industry identified the Southeastern U.S. as a possible new growth area, specifically a swath running through Alabama and into Georgia and South Carolina.

Among the benefits of the region are a frost-free growing season, abundant rainfall, plenty of lakes and rivers and a favorable soil profile. Another plus is that the U.S. has never had an outbreak of a devastating bacterial canker that nearly wiped out the global kiwifruit supply in 2011.

The study results did not surprise Wall.

“I always kind of knew that. 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,” he said.

The Reeltown operation is still in the development phase, since it takes about four years for a kiwifruit vine to produce well. Currently, the orchard has about 40 acres of vines that are that age, but it won’t fully produce on all of its 180 acres until 2022.

CREATING A PATHWAY

The coming year will be one of experimentation, Wall said, as he tries to figure out some growing issues with the help of graduate students from Auburn. They plan to study the use of trap crops, rotating organic and non-organic pesticides and how to improve pollination using both honey bees and bumble bees.

“By 2019, we would like to make an informed decision about how we proceed,” he said. “Do we plant more acres? Do we not? Do we try to do it somewhere else? It will be an interesting couple of years.”

If the Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative is successful and has to create the infrastructure to get its products to market, Wall said he would love to see other Alabama-grown commodities go to market through a similar pathway.

“It’s a big world with high demands out there, and it would be unfortunate for such fantastic commodities to be undervalued by keeping them here,” he said. “We could introduce them to a greater audience, which would be thrilled, and that thrill is going to turn into dollars.”

 (By Dawn Azok, Courtesy Made in Alabama)

6 mins ago

University of Alabama School of Social Work receives $3.2M grant to address opioid crisis

The University of Alabama’s School of Social Work, which oversees a trio of state-focused behavioral health projects, has been given a $3.2 million grant to address the Yellowhammer state’s opioid crisis.

The four-year project, dubbed “Project FREEDOM: First Responder Expansion of Education and Distribution of Overdose Medication,” will focus on first responders take place throughout the following counties: Blount, Cullman, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Jackson, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, St. Clair, Shelby, Walker, Winston, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa.

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The project will be funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Alabama’s first responders have a critical role in the battle against the opioid overdose epidemic,” said Dr. David L. Albright, UA’s Hill Crest Foundation Endowed Chair in Mental Health Research and Vital primary investigator.

He added, “In this project, we will work to support our first responders by studying burnout, fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress among emergency medical service workers and municipality and volunteer fire personnel, and develop outreach and training related to the experiences of our first responders, including learning communities on opioid overdose within the 16-county area.”

According to a press release, “first responders will receive training and education on opioid overdoses and reversal, opioid safety and occupational hazards related to opioid exposure.” The project is also set to provide education to the “general public about opioid safety and the Good Samaritan Law.”

“In addition to first responders, the project will have a focus on healthcare provider training related to opioid overdose dangers, overdose surveillance data in their county, and treatment and recovery options for their patient population,” said Shanna McIntosh, UA Vital project director.

She added, “It is important for Alabamians to understand the dangers of exposure overdose, proper use and disposal of prescribed opioids, and the Good Samaritan Law, which is in place to encourage bystanders to take action when someone is in need. A targeted media campaign will run statewide, and community education forums will be held in the 16-county area. Community trainings will cover the dangers of high toxicity opioids, opioid prescription safety and Mental Health First Aid.”

Project FREEDOM is the third state-focused project the Vital Team is overseeing. The Vital Team recently began work on a state-funded project to reduce infant mortality rates in Alabama.

Federal health authorities have reported there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, for a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people. The state of Alabama had more than 5,100 overdoses from 2006 through 2014.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

10 hours ago

Mayor Randall Woodfin throws down the gauntlet at Birmingham Business Alliance meeting

BIRMINGHAM — Delivering opening remarks at the Birmingham Business Alliance’s (BBA) annual meeting on Wednesday, Magic City Mayor Randall Woodfin challenged the region’s business leaders to stop being so “risk averse.”

Woodfin opened his speech with words of praise for outgoing BBA chairwoman Nancy Goedecke and incoming chairman Jim Gorrie.

He then transitioned into a call-to-action.

“Usually I would get up here and give you all some stats about what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished,” the mayor advised. “I think it is fair to say that 2019 has been a good year for many [in] your organization — individually and collectively for our Birmingham Business Alliance.”

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Woodfin advised that the BBA leadership is pointing the region’s business community in the right direction.

“And the question is: as members of this organization, are we prepared? Are we ready?” he added.

“I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that since the Great Recession… 60% of all jobs have only gone to 25 cities in America,” Woodfin continued. “You need to know that Birmingham is not on that list. So the question becomes, when you walk out of this room, are we prepared to invest in our competitiveness? Do we want to compete? Do we want to set ourselves apart and not be like any other city in America?”

“We don’t have to be like Nashville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or Austin,” he said. “We need to be the best versions of ourselves.”

The mayor outlined the road to getting to that goal.

“That is going to require us to shake off the way we’ve always done things… just based on the sheer nature of what you do, you’re risk averse. But being risk averse in this time as we move into 2020 under Jim’s (Gorrie’s) leadership will not work for us as an organization or as a city. Or for the future and present of what we want our business community to be — to attract, retain, grow and many other things we have to do,” Woodfin stressed.

“As my challenge I leave to the members of this organization in this room, that we are willing to stand behind Jim, just as we did with Nancy (Goedecke), but really be aggressive,” he concluded. “Really be the opposite of risk averse and be hungry enough to do something that’s going to be different to make Birmingham a place that attracts more businesses and for the current businesses in this community to be and remain successful.”

RELATED: Almost two years in, Randall Woodfin reflects on biggest initiatives

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Above and beyond: Regions associate honored with Better Life Award after learning sign language to serve deaf customers

Regions Bank on Wednesday honored one of its Alabama associates in a major way for going above and beyond to better the lives of the company’s customers.

In a story posted on Region’s “Doing More Today” website, the company announced Gayla Land was presented with the Better Life Award. This is the top honor bestowed upon Regions associates “for outstanding dedication and job performance, as well as exemplary involvement and commitment to the community.”

For Land, a Regions Bank branch manager in Dothan, the genesis of the award goes back to 2016. She was reportedly serving a deaf customer but wanted to be able to do so better, as communicating properly was a real issue.

“I felt there was something missing. It frustrated me,” Land reminisced. “I could only provide what I could write down. I couldn’t share the information in his approved language.”

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The Regions associate turned that frustration into a solution. Land, on her own time, went out of the way to enroll in American Sign Language classes at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.

However, her dedication did not stop there. She not only learned sign language herself but decided to strike up a partnership with the school.

“I fell in love with the deaf community and the language itself,” Land explained. “Then I told the school, ‘Let’s make a partnership to have them come into the branch for financial education seminars,’ and they agreed.”

The student subsequently became the teacher, as Land began teaching in sign language a series of lessons that cover money management, retirement, identity theft and fraud prevention. Her first group reportedly graduated earlier this year.

This is having a real impact on the lives of Regions customers with hearing impairments.

“They feel more confident in their ability to make financial decisions, and I learn something new every time they are with me.” Land advised.

Her commitment to the hearing impaired continued to be displayed Wednesday when she received the award from Regions. The company donates $1,000 in the honoree’s name to a nonprofit organization of his or her choice, and Land chose the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind to receive the money.

“They do great work providing skills and education to the deaf and blind communities,” she remarked. “I know they will make great use of the money to provide for those families.”

However, her journey is not done yet.

Land is planning to sharpen her sign language fluency by taking advanced classes.

She also used her new platform to urge others to learn the language as well.

“Don’t be fearful or feel judged. Just try to learn. Even if it’s just one new word every day,” Land concluded. “Your eyes will be opened to a new perspective, and you’ll be embraced by the deaf community because you tried.”

You can watch an almost six-minute video on see Land’s work in action below or here.

RELATED: Merry and bright: How Regions’ headquarters building lights became a holiday tradition

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Auburn’s Bo Nix named SEC Freshman of the Year, Derrick Brown named best defensive player

The Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) 14 coaches have voted Auburn University quarterback Bo Nix as the SEC Freshman of the Year and defensive tackle Derrick Brown as the Defensive Player of the Year.

The honors were announced Wednesday by the league office. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players.

Brown was also named by the Associated Press as the AP’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year earlier in the week.

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Nix now holds the Auburn Tigers’ freshman record for passing yards (2,366), pass completions (200) and touchdown passes (15) in a season. The Alabama native also rushed for seven scores.

Brown had a monster season on the defensive side of the ball and landed as a finalist for just about every national award possible.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Rogers’ report from Washington: The season of giving across East Alabama

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each Christmas season, I like to highlight a few of the kind things folks across East Alabama are doing for others.

Below is a small sample of ways our fellow Alabamians have cared for each other over the past year.

In Clay County at Central High School, a teacher, Amanda East, gathered the school supplies that were going to be disposed of from the locker clean out. Those items are now set up to donate to students who need them.

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In Lee County, The Hallmark Channel is coming to Beauregard to present new homes to the 15 families who lost everything when the EF-4 tornado devastated the area.

Hallmark will also serve residents a holiday meal at Providence Baptist Church with Santa and toys for the little ones, too.

In Calhoun County, Dara Murphy of Rosa Lee Boutique organized a White Bag Project for individuals to grab a white bag and fill it up for a child in need. They are also taking clothing and furniture to 20 families.

In Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa Counties, Rep. Peeblin Warren assists 400 seniors with gift baskets.

In Randolph County, the Roanoke Police Department is holding its annual toy drive to ensure local children get a Christmas gift.

In Chambers County, the Christian Service Center collects food and toys to donate to families.

In Montgomery County, Woodland United Methodist Church/Town of Pike Road distribute food. Pike Road and Central Alabama Health Care Systems also distribute hygiene items for local veterans.

Reading these stories makes me proud to be from East Alabama. It is truly heartwarming to see our brothers and sisters across the Third District taking time to take care for someone who needs it most.

May we carry this attitude of service to others all year long.

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas. Remember the reason for the season.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks.