Join Mike Breckel an elderberry farmer from Vernon County and Dr. David Handley, Fruit Crop Specialist from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension as they discuss production and marketing potential of elderberry.
Cutting Edge: In Search of New Crops For Wisconsin
Episode 24: Elderberry
Recorded May 14, 2021
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast, about new crops, you’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
Mike Breckel 00:12
There was very little interest at all in elderberries. And then over the last five years, it’s just been growing and growing and growing and it’s like, Okay.
Ashley Olson 00:41
I’d like to welcome everybody to the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I am your co host, Ashley Olson with the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension serving as the agriculture educator in Vernon County. And joining me today as my co host is Jerry Clark, and he serves as the agriculture educator in Chippewa County. Jerry, how’s it going up that way this morning?
Jerry Clark 01:07
Hi Ashley, it’s been kind of cool the last couple of weeks here. So I think spring it says spring on the calendar, but we even had a wind chill report the other day. I think we need some warmer weather to get moving here in order for the plant planting and growing season to really be official, I think.
Ashley Olson 01:26
Yeah, and I’m a few hours south you were dry and I’d like to welcome both of our guests we have today we have Mike Breckel joining us from Vernon County, Wisconsin, not too far from myself being in Vernon County, along with David Handley from the University of Maine. So we’ll be getting some lots of perspective here today. And with that, Mike if you want to start out introducing yourself and then David that would be great.
Mike Breckel 02:01
Alrighty, um, my name is Mike Breckel. And I’m I’ve retired from working at Gundersen, Lutheran hospital in Lacrosse at I worked there on an information and crisis line for 23 years. And right now I’m spending my time growing elderberries and helping my daughter with her maple syrup business, we live between Westby and Coon Valley about 2025 miles east, southeast of Lacrosse.
David Handley 02:37
I’m David Handley, I’m the vegetable and small fruit specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, I spend most of my time with berry crops as we have another vegetable specialist here. And we too, like you guys are talking about have had a lot of interest in elderberries lately. So we’ve been working with them here at the University of Maine with a small variety trial and also with some startup commercial production as well.
Ashley Olson 03:00
You know, how did Mike, did you get into growing elderberries? And where did your interest come from?
Mike Breckel 03:07
Um, it’s kind of a long and convoluted story but I’ll make it as short as as possible here or try to, my first introduction to elderberries was actually using the the stems, hollowing out the pith of the stems and using them to tap maple trees back in the 1970s after reading a book by Euell Gibbons, “Stocking the Wild Asparagus”, and that’s, I guess that kind of dates me, after that I kind of elderberries kind of went by the wayside a little bit and wasn’t until the mid 90s that a neighbor who is disabled asked me to help them make some elderberry wine. He knew I had been brewing beer for quite a while and he thought beer, wine, it’s all the same stuff so but because he couldn’t gather his own elderberries, I was, it my job to gather the elderberries. He would destem them by hand, and then we’d juice them and make wine, that continued till about the year 2000, 2001 somewhere in there when my lovely wife Rita discovered a article in the Vernon Memorial Hospital newsletter, about elderberries been antiviral. At the time on my work on the information line, we were giving out lots of information about one of the flu viruses, whether it was SARS or Mars or bird flu, one of those. All of them were viruses and so I thought, huh, this is interesting. And so I went to the hospital librarian and said, You know, I’m not part of the medical part of this hospital, but is there any way I can get this research? And she said, I don’t know, but I’ll look into it. I knew her from playing volleyball. And she said, if, if I find it, you owe me a beer. So I, I said fine. Two days, the next time I went to work, which was I think two days later in my email, there was the entire research project by Madigan, and I’m going to kill the last name here. But it’s, Cucolo from Hebrew University in Tel Aviv, I believe it was from the abstract, which was very straightforward, it was obvious that she found that elderberries did have a definite statistically significant affect on several flu viruses. The number of people studied was very small. It was one Kibbutz in Israel. But the difference was significant. So I thought that’s, I’ve got a, I’ve got to do something about that. In the meantime, a house fire set me back a little bit, and so it wasn’t till 2006 that I’ve planted my first elderberries. In the meantime, between mid 90s and mid aughts, the county and the township had started spraying the roadsides with pesticides and stuff like that and herbicides to kill the end wound up killing an awful lot of the elderberries or at least made me uncomfortable picking them so in 2006 I planted my first elderberries about 250 plants, and it was it was kind of a nursery run. I didn’t know anything about elderberries in terms of varieties in that so I just planted 250 they advertised Standard American Elderberry and Tall American elderberry. And so I had 10% tall and the rest were standard. In 2011, I heard of a gathering in Hartsburg in Missouri at the farm of Terry Durham, for elderberry growers. And I took the opportunity to go down there. And it was really interesting because it was the first time there were like 25 to 50 people who were actually interested in growing elderberries, some that had grown elderberries Terry had been growing elderberries for a few years. And it was kind of an exciting thing. One of the thing one of their practices down there was to mow their elderberries down every year, and let them shoot a send up new stalks or new stems every year and then they would they would produce bigger heads, and they would be a little bit more determinant. So the next year in 2012 I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. So I did an experiment half of my rows I cut half of them I didn’t. And the ones I cut. I got tremendous growth. They were probably a foot or two taller than the ones I didn’t cut. But I got absolutely zero flowers and zero therefore zero berries.
Jerry Clark 08:57
So Mike, if I could just jump in here a minute. And just maybe I’ll ask David, what are some of those early I guess production techniques that you’d look at for elderberry from the standpoint of the standard versus tall or, or mowing versus not mowing those kinds of things.
David Handley 09:16
Well, believe it or not, and as Mike implied, we’re actually still working on that in that there’s still a lot of research going on. I mean, if you let the bush do what it wants to do, it will be a fairly good sized shrub and it can get up 10 feet or more, depending on how long it’s been there and what location it’s in, how much shade it’s getting and so forth. They tend to stretch. The older bushes tend to get taller just like any bush because the new growth is looking for light and it’s struggling with what’s around it so it keeps creeping upward upward so if you cut it short every year you tend to get a shorter growth habit out of it unless there’s a lot of fertilizer down there and it will go but it is one that will break from the roots pretty easily so you can mow it down and it does unlike a lot of other Berry crops that we work with it will fruit on this year’s wood. If you look at a blueberry for example, it fruits on two year old wood, grapes, likewise. So you can’t do this with a bush like that you mow it down, it’s gonna be two or three years before you’re back in production. elderberries? No, you can mow them. The question has been, and this is one of the things that we’re looking at in Missouri and other places, if we mow it, is that’s awful hard on the storage system, which is down in the roots to keep replenishing that growth every year. And is there adequate time for the leaves on that one year to replenish all the nutrients it needs down in there or are you slowly depleting the resources that the bush needs to continue growing. So there’s some thought that mine can work, but it might be something that you only want to do every other year, or every third year or something along those lines to basically rejuvenate it. And this is not dissimilar from how we we deal with some other crops, wild blueberries, for example. But left to itself, it’ll be a full size plant. But you have to figure with any Bush, what it wants to do versus what you want it to do, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into it to get it to do what you want it to do, which in this case is more fruit ripening, hopefully at the same time, and having good commercial quality. And that’s where the pruning and the fertilization and all that sort of stuff comes in.
Jerry Clark 11:21
It’s a it’s a good. Mike can comment on this as well. But I’ll ask you first, David, is so that when it fruits, is it all the fruit come out at the same time? Or is it you know, you pick just the ripe ones, and then let the rest kind of mature on its own or, you know?
David Handley 11:38
Most of the varieties we’ve selected of the American type, the Sambucus canadensis will ripen pretty uniformly, especially if you’re you’re doing a pretty good job of pruning. So you have wood that’s roughly the same age typically what we want to do is prune so we have one, two and three year old canes, and not much else. Older stuff goes out because that tends to ripen later. So we just do that. And then we tend to be able to go over and do a once over a harvest. If you’re doing it by hand, which is how most people do it, you might go over it a second time to pick up the late stuff. This is one of the disadvantages of the European type. Sambucus nigrum, which is what’s grown over the pond so to speak, is that we find that we grow it here, not only do we have winter hardiness problems, but it does not tend to ripen uniformly, it tends to dribble along into the late summer and fall and becomes a pain in the neck to get all your crop in when you want to get it in so you can start processing it. Because this is a processing crop is you know, it needs to be dried, it needs to be squished and used for juice, it’s not really a fresh market crop.
Mike Breckel 12:35
My experience was that at least the bushes that I had, again through it with a nursery run. They weren’t producing on the on the first year, you know, again, I knew nothing about them. And they were not varietals, they were not selected for any particular thing. But characteristics. And so that’s that’s where I was and I. So I started basically pruning, selectively pruning back, almost like with grapes, cutting back considerably, but not cutting them all the way down to the ground. And then on my second year growth, I got decent berry production, then.
Jerry Clark 13:20
I think if the bush is stressed hard, and mowing it might do that, especially to a young bush, it might quote unquote, take a year off from fruiting. But typically with a mature Bush, you will get some yield. Just to your other point about you know, your your, what you started with, with just selections of short or tall. It’s interesting that even the varieties that are available, a lot of those are selections from the wild, they’re not actually intend to in cross with intention, you have to go back a ways to get things like Adams and York. But most of this stuff coming out of Missouri, for example, are just selections from the wild. And even some stuff coming out more recently is are just selections from the wild. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s just a an interesting point that there hasn’t been a lot of breeding work done with elderberry, at least certainly not in this millennia. And even in the last one, there wasn’t a whole lot done with it because the stuff in the wild is actually pretty darn good. And there hasn’t really been the demand the pressure on breeders to produce a better plant.
Ashley Olson 14:23
I’m intrigued by this, because Mike started talking about a couple of varieties that he started with kind of as an experiment. David, you mentioned a variety that I can’t pronounce, I apologize the name. And so how, then do you determine or Mike like how do you and David even with the research you’re doing out there? How So then how do you know what varieties to plant or mix if they’re wild for the product that, I mean, so how do you know like I guess for the final product, how do you know what you want, then? Or is this still, you’re still working on that?
Jerry Clark 15:02
That’s that’s kind of my job. We do the variety trials and so that growers don’t go out and buy a bunch of plants that aren’t going to work. Let me take the lump so you don’t have to is it because you know, I’m not trying to make a elderberry farm here. So one of the things we found out really quickly was that the selections that they’re doing in southern Missouri aren’t selections that are going to work in hardiness zone four and five, it doesn’t work. Those those were winter killed. And the other thing we found is that the nigrums, the European types, really don’t like it up here. There is one called Marge, that seems to be doing very well. There’s some thought that that might actually be a interspecific hybrid between the canadensis and the nigrum. But that, as far as I know, that hasn’t been been proven one way or the other yet. But that’s the only one of those that I would recommend. But, so far, none of the Missouri stuff has done well. It’s the stuff that was bred in Canada and New York, that seems to be doing fairly well here. So we lean back and say, look at the older stuff and some of the newer selections from that. For example, ‘Coomer’ and ‘Good Barn’ are some newer selections, but again they’re selections from the wild. We even have some selections here walking around this Experiment Station there’s plenty of wild elderberry around and we found some that we said golly the fruit on this is larger than anything in our variety trial. So we made some cuttings we cleaned them up and now they’re in the variety trial. ‘Highmore One’ and ‘Highmore Two’. So that’s not necessarily a bad thing to do. If you’re thinking of growing elderberries, take a look around you and see if there’s some decent plants there. One nice thing about elderberries is they are very easy to propagate. You can take hardwood cuttings or softwood cuttings, and if you know your way around the propagation book, you can figure it out pretty quickly.
Mike Breckel 16:45
That’s basically that’s what I’ve been doing here. David, I, I found that Bob Gordon, Wildwood just were not suitable for my, I’ve got rich land it’s very heavily clay. And they just did nothing here. I’ve had Wildwood in one Wildwood. I put in 50 of each and I got one Wildwood that survived and zero Bob Gordon. Of the Wildwood. I don’t think I’ve gotten one berry off of that in seven or eight, or more than almost 10 years. They just come up and they grow but they just don’t fit just don’t they flower but they just don’t berry. So what I’ve been doing is exactly what you’re suggesting. I’ve got probably 20 or 30 different, I’m going to call them lines because I don’t I don’t know enough about how you classify varieties. I set those aside, but 20 or 30 different lines of wild elderberries that I’ve gone out and Vernon, all through Vernon County, and I’ve gotten ones from all over the place in the in the driftless area here, too, that were just great in the wild, brought them back, cloned them. And my thinking was was that with that genetic pool, eventually we were going to get some really good varieties that were adapted to this area. And I really think that the elderberries themselves, do a good job of adapting themselves to whatever location they’re in, you know, and I leave my, oh. I’ve got 100 or 200 migrants that come through every year and pick the berries and eat them and then deposit them around my farm and around everybody else’s farm in the area and I go around every year and pick out ones that have characteristics that I I’m looking for, which is primarily determined, at least within the head. Whole plant determinant is difficult to do with elderberries, but at least within the head, so when you pick the head, all of the berries are ripe at the same time. Also, that the berries aren’t going to drop. Berry drop is a major problem with, at least wild elderberries and, and then head size, that was the, that’s the third criteria that I use, and it’s over the last 20 years I’ve gone and picked the best of the best and then I found something out on the edge of my woods or in my fence line and brought it back. And so that’s basically I’m doing similar things there. But David I’m trying to run a Berry Farm too.
Jerry Clark 19:46
So David is the so the the, the American elderberry that’s a native, correct. I mean is that it’s been here a long time anyway. And so is that self pollinating? Do you need, is it just it takes care of itself as long as you get an American elderberry you’re good to go? It’s thought to be mostly wind pollinated and somewhat self infertile, but if there’s nothing else around they usually will pollinate you’ll get much better set and fruit size if it’s got friends and neighbors around. But mostly when pollinated so yeah, and it is a native there’s records you know, the the native people who were here used it as as Mike said, no, no better way to get a natural tubing than than elderberry cane to tap maple trees or whatever use you might find for it. It is important to note that as far as edibility is concerned it’s only the ripe fruit and the flowers, the rest of the plant is actually toxic. So it’s something to consider if you’re planning on growing elderberries is, do you have kids around who are kind of curious and put everything in their mouths. This would not be a good bush, especially the roots but pretty much all the plant parts except to the ripe fruit, and the flowers are toxic. So Ashley shouldn’t pasture her cattle out there if that’s part of the case.
David Handley 21:07
Cattle are usually pretty smart and don’t eat it.
Jerry Clark 21:10
Smarter than we are right?
David Handley 21:11
Jerry Clark 21:12
They know what to avoid.
David Handley 21:13
Yeah. Having said that, though, Jerry deer will browse it and deer can be a big problem for it. If you if you’ve got a healthy deer herd around when they bud out in the springtime. Deer think that is a delicacy and they will go after it.
Jerry Clark 21:24
Well, that’s that’s a great segway. I guess something about pest management. I mean, being a native it probably doesn’t require a lot or is there some native, some natural pests that get into this.
David Handley 21:36
It’s a native but unfortunately, the biggest pest problem we we have right now is not and that is spotted winged drosophila, which is an exotic pest, it arrived on our shores at this time in 2009. Spotted came several times before that, but fortunately we were able to eradicate it this time we weren’t. And it got to us by 2011 I don’t know when it hit Wisconsin. I think it was a little later than that.
Jerry Clark 22:00
It’s yeah, we’ve had it the last maybe five years it’s maybe been a little longer than that in certain parts of the state but it’s been over the last decade anyway.
David Handley 22:07
It likes dark colored fruit and it like soft fruit and elderberry fits both of those categories, and the populations are really high toward the end of the season. Again, elderberry fits that category very well. So it is a good host for it. A
Ashley Olson 22:19
And Mike, you experienced that correct?
Mike Breckel 22:23
That’s how I met Ashley I was trying to sell some elderberries at the farmers market. And I picked them and sanitized them and very, very happy with them look beautiful, had them in metal trays and I, it was a night market and I set it up then at the night market and I looked down and there was something seemed to be moving in the elderberries. And I opened it up and I’m looking in there with these little white little spots in there. And so I thought, well, I repacked everything, put it back in the truck and went home. And I went up the next day or next time. Ashley was in the office and said, can you test these for SWD? And she did and it turned out to be positive. Now that was the only year I’ve had trouble with them though. That was the only year.
David Handley 23:21
Yes. It’s been irregular here. But my SWD story is we were out in the variety trial one time on a Friday afternoon and we looked we said oh this is perfect. These berries have ripened just right. Well pick them first thing on Monday. I come in Monday morning and take photos of them and then we’ll do the harvest. So we went in Monday morning and all of them had shattered. I mean, most of the fruit was on the ground. So my so we went down and we started looking we started squeezing them and then like you said they made they were just loaded with maggots. And we’re like, uh-oh, here we go. So that was our lesson in SWD and elderberry.
Jerry Clark 23:56
So the processing side of this that so yeah, you get this fruit. And then of course my hopefully minus the maggots or the Spotted Wing Drosophila that’s on there. And then so it’s mainly a processing fruit so we grow these on these shrubs. harvest the late summer, early fall, is that kind of the timeframe? And then I guess David and Mike if you want to respond to the kind of comment on the harvesting side and then where we’re headed with processing
Mike Breckel 24:22
My my earliest start about the first or second week in August.
Jerry Clark 24:29
You’re earlier than us where we’re usually earliest would be mid August, most of its late August early September.
Mike Breckel 24:35
I’ve got one one line that from the wild that basically produces about two weeks earlier and that one starts the first week and then the majority of the crop is middle of August till the first frost.
Jerry Clark 24:51
Mike, you might have something there Mike if you get a variety that’s early enough ripening that the nice thing about that is the earlier they are ripening, the less trouble with SWD you’re going to have.
Mike Breckel 25:00
Absolutely, absolutely, it is only the late season where you really, you really get hit with that.
Jerry Clark 25:06
Yep. And right now it’s pretty much all hand harvest. There are apparently some mechanized units over again across the pond in Europe, but it’s hand harvest. So it’s somewhat labor intensive. And it is pretty much a processing crop, there is some fresh sales, as Mike said, you can go to farmers markets where the people are going to take them home and squish them and make juice and jelly and wine, or whatever, but it’s not really a fresh eating crop. And then of course, there’s the other 100 pound 500 pound gorilla in the room. And that is that once you you buy them on the cyme, on the stem, and those stems have to come off no matter what you’re doing with them if you’re going to squish them. To get that juice, you want the stems out of there. So another labor intensive end of things is trying to get those little stems off. And there’s several methods of doing I’m not sure what Mike uses, but there are several methods.
Mike Breckel 25:57
Well, actually, I invented a de-stemmer.
David Handley 26:01
Mike Breckel 26:02
And it’s I can do just. I saw Terry’s de-stemmer, down in Missouri. And that just seemed it just didn’t seem efficient to me. And again, I love Terry, but I just thought there might be a more efficient way to do it. And I was told by the engineers down there that it wasn’t, my idea when work, and so that, of course made me say I think it will. And so basically over in 2014, I went down in the basement and made a de-stemmer. And it’s based on on an rotating cylinder, almost like a combine or any other thing like that. But it will do it was designed to go right down the row and actually de-stem in the field. And you still have to hand harvest, you still have to hand pick them. But you can come out and you come out of the field with your your baskets of berries and no stems, the stems are left right back on the field. And in a stationary operation, just feeding it by hand, I can do well over 100 pounds an hour. So that’s and berries come out pretty much unscathed. They’re they’re not split, you know, they’re there their whole berries, which is what the market wants. If you want to David if you want to take a look, it’s if you go down my Facebook page, or coach mountain elderberries. There’s a video of it on there.
Ashley Olson 27:59
I was just gonna say I the the video that you had sent us, Mike, prior to this is it’s pretty neat to watch the short YouTube video that that of the de-stemmer that you created. And so that might be something those of you listening here today on our cutting edge podcast, may want to go check out and Mike one more time did you want to repeat that that Facebook page that you have, so listeners could check it out?
Mike Breckel 28:27
Oh Ocooch Mountain, it’s O-O-C-O-O-C-H Mountain Elderberries. And it’s my that’s my go there and you go to the my Facebook page. It’s right up there. And it’s kind of a fun video my son in law videoed it, and when I was designing that whole thing. That was my dream. But it took me 10 years to go from something I made in the basement to my one son in law and a who’s an engineer and an a friend of his coming up with a food grade motorized version of this thing that was made of scrap plywood and angle iron that I found in the basement to something that really is a very efficient tool for getting past that bottleneck in elderberry production.
Jerry Clark 29:20
That’s what that’s what farmers do is invent stuff, right? That’s always if you’ve got a welder and a saw, you can usually come up with something made. David Mike brought something up about the the production side, what are we looking at for yield in terms is it pounds per bush pounds per acre or how many plants per acre per 1000 square feet just some of that general production type information what what should a grower kind of expect?
David Handley 29:45
It depends on the spacing that they’re going to use. Typically we would plant at about five feet apart, the bush is five feet apart. I’ve seen them a lot closer than that. I’ve seen them a little further apart. It depends on your pruning practices. I’d like to see at least 10 feet between the rows. If you’re having more than one row because you need to get down in between there. And once those cymes are loaded with fruit, they’re going to drape down and weep, and you drive any equipment through there, you’re just going to put a lot of fruit on the ground and waste it if you don’t give them their space, plus, you’re going to get lots of air movement and light between the rows then and that will keep the plants dry, and give you a lot less trouble with with a fungi, fungal disease problems and so forth. So at that rate, you’re planning somewhere between six and 800 bushes per acre. And most of the data we’ve seen is you’re going to be pulling in somewhere between four and eight pounds of fruit per bush, if everything is going well. Some growers have gotten much better than that. Some growers struggle to get that, it really depends on site and management. One of the biggest problems we run into is one, people plant them too close. First, they say like, 10 feet between rows, that’s ridiculous, that’s way too much space , I haven’t got that much room, so they crowd them in there. And then what happens is they can’t get down between the rows. So the weeds come up and really do a job. In the first few years. elderberries are very poor competitors, you have to do a good job in those first few years, once the bushes get established, they do a pretty good job of shading out what’s underneath them. But those first couple years are critical in terms of keeping the weeds down. So getting growers to prep their site properly, especially getting the weeds under control. Prior to planting is the biggest chore, we often have the biggest challenge we often have. But as you can see, if you’re getting that many, you’re getting considerable yield per acre. So it may not take that much, you know, you may not be looking at a 20 acre plantation and you’re still going to have enough fruit to bring to market or to process yourself. And I think that’s the big question you have to ask yourself when you’re sitting down saying, I’m going to be an elderberry grower because you know, these are the nutraceutical value of these is great. I really want to have some, okay, what are you gonna do with them? And if it’s not you, who’s gonna buy them from you? That’s one of the things we ran into here in New England is people started growing them and looking around and say, well, wait a minute, I thought people were going to be knocking on my door asking for these things. And generally, that’s not the case, you need to go and find someone who wants to process them to make some wine to make some. In our case, we have a woman who’s making some different syrups and tinctures with them doing very well with that, by the way, but she’s become pretty much the market for a lot of the growers, which is good in some ways, but scary in others because that means someone else is controlling the price. So if you’re doing this commercially, you need to think about that. And maybe a lot of the growers have said well I’m not happy with that. So I’m going to either make some products myself, or I’m going to take fresh fruit to market and encourage other people to do it.
Mike Breckel 32:44
Yeah, I would agree that finding the market is the crucial element for any grower because you can’t compete with the price of European elderberries, you know, you just can’t and so you’ve got to you’ve got to find either individuals or small at this point small scale processors that are willing to that are that are that understand the value of the elderberries and are willing to process them for you or like you say, process them yourself to jellies jams syrups or an additive to something else I, it’s really strange because over the last six months, I’ve seen several vitamin companies advertising on televisions that they have dried elderberry in them, and they’re very, they’re, they’re right there pushing that. So I don’t know if that market is going to be a permanent market or if it’s kind of like the flavor of the month type thing and that’s that’s going to be a deciding factor on terms of whether elderberries can be a viable alternative crop or not. You know, it like when we had the hops shortage hops were very, very important. There was a big push for those. But then all of a sudden the market fell out of that. And I’ve I grow hops for myself and people have been trying to I would come home and sometimes there would be hops, rhizomes just waiting for me and I have no idea where they came from, you know?
Ashley Olson 34:33
So Mike, you as a grower, and you know, you’ve been working with this and and researching as well, with what you’re doing you. Well, I should back this up a little bit. So in Viroqua, we have a food enterprise production center where lots of businesses can rent out space to produce their product and and Mike, did you mention that you are going to be in there? Or are you in there producing product with your elderberries?
Mike Breckel 35:09
Um, some of my elderberries will be in there. There is a, I have to brag if I talk about that.
Ashley Olson 35:22
That’s okay, we still got to keep going we got time we want to hear it.
Mike Breckel 35:27
My my daughter’s maple syrup business, they make bourbon barrel aged maple syrup that’s been their Hallmark that’s they age their maple syrup in bourbon barrels. And basically, it adds a tremendous amount of taste to it, their new product, and they’re they’re coming up with an additional product line, and it’s a energy drink, called Embark. And it is a salted maple, salted coffee, maple, and elderberry maple. So within the next few months there and they and they’re there, they process the things at that food Enterprise Center in Viroqua.
Ashley Olson 36:14
Okay, so that’s where the elderberries will be coming into the Enterprise Center.
Mike Breckel 36:19
And also, my de-stemmers will be made there, there’s a up in works, basically, we’ll be doing the manufacturing of the elderberry stemmer. They’re working on a production line model working out all the kinks now for, for being able to put those out in, in numbers.
David Handley 36:45
Any idea what that’s going to run for cost?
Mike Breckel 36:48
Right now, again, it’s hard saying because we haven’t got a production set up yet. But they’re we’re looking at somewhere around $6,000, $6500, something like that.
David Handley 36:59
You’re still running less than most of the destemmers I’ve seen, they’re up around eight or 10,000. So that.
Mike Breckel 37:04
yeah, Terry’s is nine to 10,000.
David Handley 37:08
Mike Breckel 37:08
And it takes two people to run. This, you run it right down the row. And you’re you have no additional cost to de-stemming basically.
David Handley 37:17
This is a valuable idea, there’s gonna be some people interested in that. That’s great.
Ashley Olson 37:20
Well, that is that that is interesting and and to see this, you know, coming all these different products, and then this December that’s going to become available commercially. That’s just awesome Mike, that’s, that’s really cool.
Mike Breckel 37:37
It’s it to me, it’s kind of mind boggling, because for almost 20 years, seeing the advantages and the tremendous benefits of elderberries, you know, all the way back to Hippocrates, who basically said elderberries are the medicine chest of the country, folks, that was 1000s of years ago. And seeing that, and all of a sudden, it was just, there was very little interest at all in elderberries. And then over the last five years, it’s just been growing and growing and growing. And it’s like okay.
Jerry Clark 38:17
So David, at with your work there at the University of Maine, are there are there medical colleges or schools looking at that medicinal side of this? I know, we’re in that seems like we’re in that age now where there’s a lot of claims. And of course, with social media, you can say this, this and this works on this, you know, type of thing. But is anyone that you know, of looking at it from a medical research side of things that we know there’s antioxidants, vitamins, and that kind of thing, but something that actually does part of the you know, slowing down viruses and these kinds of things.
David Handley 38:54
There is some work going on, there was some work going on at the University of Maine with not only elderberries, but a couple of other things aronia and some of these other really dark colored berries, because they do contain high numbers of antioxidants and anti radicals, mostly from phenolic compounds and polyphenolic compounds, and flavonoids, this whole group of chemicals that seems to be really good at attacking and binding to the chemicals that are thought to cause well, aging, and in some regards a breakdown of cells and so forth. So far, what we’ve been seeing in most of this research is that at a very small level, at the chemical level, the biochemical level, and to some extent at the cellular level, we can see these effects. What happens when you throw it into a full blown biological system, like a rat or a person, the effects don’t seem to be quite as clear. And that’s kind of where we’re at right now. There’s some studies in Europe that are saying we haven’t seen any long term affects of these things. Certainly no negative affects, but no long term beneficial effects. Some of the stuff that’s coming out in the US is now saying, Well, no, we are seeing some what look to be potential benefit, beneficial effects. But I think, as Mike was saying earlier, we’re really in our infancy here in terms of being able to understand how this stuff works. But anecdotally, for centuries, millennia, really people have said, they seem to help us when we either as preventatives or to shorten the duration of illnesses, and that’s kind of what we’ve got to track down is, where are those connections at, from my perspective, be it elderberries, or aronia, or whatever the flavor of the month is. There’s no magic pill here. What, what’s more important for people to understand is if you have a diet that’s rich in fruit, especially dark colored fruit, we know that now, but also rich in vegetables, again, high colored vegetables tend to be higher in these phenolic compounds, you’re going to be healthier, that’s all there is to it. So a good diet that has a lot of fruit and vegetables as a base is going to create a much healthier diet and less problems, health problems, then someone who’s not following that kind of diet, somebody who’s going with, you know, mostly a heavy protein, heavy fat diet. So that’s where we’re at it to me, it’s to get people to eat more fruit, I don’t care what kind of fruit is just eat more fruit. If you go from the dark colored stuff, that all the better, but eat more fruit.
Mike Breckel 41:30
The University of Missouri College of Medicine is doing has been doing some research as well. It’s Albertson Memorial, Dr. Albertson memorial is he was one of the leaders in doing research when we were down at the first international symposium on elderberries, at University of Missouri, we actually got up and saw some of the research there and the research that we particularly saw was on dementia and in mice control group of people the control group versus mice that got freeze dried elderberry added to their diet. And you can actually see the difference in the speed of how they ran the the mazes. So again, there’s lots of at this symposium, there were research medical researchers and growers there from 20 different countries. And the everything is on a very small scale at this point. And very preliminary, but the breadth of what’s being investigated was it was just kind of mind boggling to me. And, and the results were not conclusive on any of these because they were so small, but they gave hints that it may be I agree with you, David completely. Elderberry or any fruit or any vegetable is not a miracle cure for anything. But it helps your body it helps your body act the way it should. And yeah, that’s, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Jerry Clark 43:12
So along those lines, kind of I guess the one of the final questions I would have is from a marketing from a marketing standpoint, we know we got to process it. Is there a point? I guess David, I’ll ask you first and then we can go to Mike but when do we saturate the market? Is there lots of opportunity to you know, when we when we reach that commodity point where the price has crashed, like Mike said with hops, but is elderberries, still something that you know has a room for as an alternative crop on a small farm? Or have we just is that market not there?
David Handley 43:51
I think there is still room for marketing elderberries, um, however, you need to make that decision before you stick a plant in the ground, am I going to be marketing these or am I going to be depending on someone else to market these. And if you’re going to be dependent on a processor, just understand that there’s probably not a lot of competition there. So that processor is going to set the price. And if three guys down the road set up elderberry farms too, you can see that price is going down and you have no control over that. Suddenly, it doesn’t look so good. So it’s always best to have a diversified market and say okay, so I’m planning I’m going to sell some to processors, but I’m also going to either make some jelly myself, make some syrup, or I’m just going to take fresh fruit to the farmers market or put it out on Facebook that I have fresh elderberries and you can come and get them. So there are some alternatives. They’re putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak, when it comes to marketing is never a good idea, especially if you’re a small farmer. So take a look around at the markets that are there. But I think with the continued interest we have in these kinds of fruit, and the potential health benefits from them. There’s a strong market but the big caveat with with elderberries and some of these other fruit is that it has to be processed, you’ve got an extra hurdle that you have to go over. It’s not like strawberries or not like blueberries where people want to come and eat them, you know, they’ve got an extra step and that’s going to discourage a lot of people, they don’t want to take that step they want you to do it for them or somebody else to do it for them.
Mike Breckel 45:20
I think that any small producer of elderberries or anything else, they have a second crop that they have to cultivate, and that is their customers, you know, and whether whether that’s direct I sell the vast majority of my elderberries on a pick your own basis, they pick the elderberries, I de-stem them, they leave with a smile because they’ve got berries that they can do whatever they want with, but again, cultivating that customer base is just as important as cultivating your your elderberries. And we’re gonna spread by word of mouth, and you treat your customers right, and you have the wherewithal to get out there in the media and stuff. That’s, that’s as important as being able to produce a healthy crop.
Ashley Olson 46:18
And do you have anything else Mike that you would want to add? For say somebody thinking about getting into elderberries, you talked a little bit but any, any other I would say wisdom from a grower? And, andthat goes for David too.
Mike Breckel 46:37
Any other words of wisdom, I would say start small, make your mistakes on a small level, small scale, learn about the crop on a small scale. And then as you’re cultivating your, your customers grow to meet that demand. Because I’ve had people call me almost in tears because they were convinced to put in 25 acres of elderberries. And they had 25 acres of elderberries in free in the freezer, costing them to keep them in the freezer, and they had no market for them. After last year, that market disappeared, I mean that those elderberries disappeared because of the COVID virus. But again, it’s going to be cyclical, it’s going to, the market is going to go up and down. But if you can have if you can have a base of customers that want them or want to process them themselves or a processor, that’s going to be your best.
David Handley 47:44
I agree 100% and it’s it’s do your homework, really do your homework before you put a plant in the ground. Understand what you’re getting yourself into, not only in terms of growing the plants, but where you’re going to sell them who’s going to buy them. And then take your time. start out small, as Mike said. So you learn the game as you go and do this little prep. That’s just critical, get the ground ready, or you will save so many headaches. So many people get discouraged because they start in a hurry. They don’t do the prep, the weeds take over the pest takeover, and they get discouraged. And if they had just taken the time to step back and taken a year to get ready for it. It would have been a whole different story.
Mike Breckel 48:22
Oh, one other thing I wanted to add in terms of it’s not a pest but it’s a rust, elderberry rust is last year was just major for me. Out of my one field, I’ve got two different fields. Out of my one on my South Side field, I took over 100 pounds of elderberry rust out of there. And it was just terrible. We had two really wet years the years before that. And in 2019 I was gone for a good portion of the summer so I didn’t do a good job of getting the rust out that year. And it was just terrible. Apparently, there is a co host of sedge that elderberry rust needs to keep going. And apparently in dry and in wet years. It’s it’s a real problem. So anyhow, that’s another one it’s beautiful to look at in some respects, but it’s it’s orange and yellow and takes a branch and will twist it all around and then zap all the energy out of the plant. But that’s it, that’s the only other pest. Oh and I do have a little bit of a problem with stem borers but nothing that’s overwhelming.
Ashley Olson 49:41
With that we’re getting close to the end and wrapping up our podcast for today. So I would again like to thank Mike Breckel for being on one of our local elderberry producers here in Vernon County, Wisconsin, and also David Hanley with the University of Maine. As a vegetable and small fruit specialist, we thank you both for joining us today and getting your input and learning all about elderberries. So with that, again, we’d like to thank you for joining cutting edge a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
JASON FISCHBACH 50:24
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension.
Growing Elderberries: A Production Manual and Enterprise Viability Guide for Vermont and the Northeast