An interview with Dale Hilgenkamp and Dr. Dean Duval about current and future markets for aronia berries.
Dale Hilgenkamp is an aronia farmer near Omaha, Nebraska and president of the American Aronia Berry Association (formerly the Midwest Aronia Association).
Dr. Dean Duval is an aronia farmer in Castana, Iowa as well as a board member of the association with a focus on research and development.
JASON FISCHBACH 0:00
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.
Dean Duval 0:09
I’m laughing, I visited farmers markets where they were selling aronia, excuse me, elderberry stuff and I said hey, have you ever tried an aronia berry? Because one, we’re better from a health benefit standpoint of all the nutrients we’ve got in there and two, it’s a lot easier to grow and harvest than it is in elderberry.
Steffen Mirsky 0:47
Welcome to another episode of The Cutting Edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I’m Steffen Mirsky, Outreach Specialist for emerging crops with UW Madison Extension. I’ll be your host today and co-hosting with me is Jordan Schuler, the extension educator for Jefferson, Rock and Walworth Counties. How’s it going, Jordan?
Jordan Schuler 1:09
Going good, Steffen. Excited to be here and learn about some aronia berries.
Steffen Mirsky 1:14
Cool, cool, me too. A quick interruption to say that Jordan’s internet went out shortly after we started recording. So if you’re wondering why she’s so quiet, now, you know. Okay, back to the intro. So today’s episode is all about aronia berries, and specifically the markets for aronia. We have two guests with us today to help us explore that topic. Dale Hilgenkmap is an aronia farmer and president of the American Aronia Berry Association. Alongside him is Dean Duval, chair of the research committee for the association. And I’ll have both of them introduce themselves and give a little background on their experience with aronia. Dale, do you want to go first?
Dale Hilgenkamp 2:00
Yes, I’d be glad to be. We live approximately 35 miles northwest of Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve been a grain farmer my whole life. We first planted our aronia berries in 2009. So we’ve been at it for a while. Enjoy growing them. I’ve been on the board of the formerly the Midwest Aronia Association. We changed our name a couple of years ago to the American Aronia Berry Association to broaden its scope a little bit. You know, I’ve been on the board for about four years, I guess so far. The last two years I’ve served as president and we’re just trying to do what we can to promote the aronia berry and gain some market penetration.
Steffen Mirsky 2:59
Alright, thanks, Dale. Dean, do you want to introduce yourself and give us some background and your experience and your role with the association?
Dean Duval 3:06
Certainly. I grew up in a farm in northwest Iowa, about 65 miles now north of Omaha. And I kind of switched careers, went to graduate school at Iowa State got a doctorate in chemistry and worked for Procter and Gamble for 32 years. I also taught some at the University of Cincinnati, and I got interested in aronia. And we started planning them around 2015. And my interest in it was from a health standpoint, I had heard about the health benefits, I knew it was very high and the phytochemicals. And so I’ve been kind of exploring that part as well as trying to grow them. And I’ve been on the board, I think about a year and a half now. And what I tried to do is share information, identify what’s needed or what’s out there from a scientific publication standpoint, share it with our growers, and, and people that are trying to sell the berries. I’m also currently looking at the patent literature trying to understand, you know, what companies are interested in aronia berries, who’s trying to protect what and so forth. And again, it’s about sharing information more than anything. But I personally, I grow the berries, I eat the berries, I’ve seen the health benefits personally. And so I’m an advocate of it. But I also realize having worked for Proctor for 30 some years that you can’t get something to market unless you get everything right, from the technology to the products to the message to the supply chain, etc. And that’s part of the challenge that we face going forwards is how do you get everything right for a berry that, frankly is astringent. When you put it in your mouth. It makes you pucker because of the chemistry. But that’s also that one of the health reasons I mean it’s it’s makes you pucker because there’s so much health benefit chemistry in the berry.
Steffen Mirsky 5:00
Yeah. Can you talk about like, what what are some of the products that aronias are used in? Since they’re so astringent? I’m assuming they’re not really much of a fresh eating berry, but what kind of things do they work well in?
Dean Duval 5:17
Well, in Europe, which has, that’s where the majority of the market is, you see him being used in wines in jams and jellies in syrups. Also, you know, supplements, whether it’s a powdered, a capsule, I’ve seen used in yogurts and breakfast drinks and so forth as well. It’s also used as a natural food dye, because it’s very dark, intense blue, purplish color.
Dale Hilgenkamp 5:44
Yeah, I agree with Dean to like, I think primarily in the US, the biggest product so far has been juice, either in, you know, just straight juice are in concentrated form. Another big thing that’s coming on is like aronia, powder, you know, to be used as an ingredient and other products. And just lately, you know, the gummies have really become popular and all kinds of supplements and so forth. And there’s starting to be some of those appear in the market as well.
Steffen Mirsky 6:21
Yeah, can you two just give like a broad market assessment of like, where we are today with with aronia? What are the main markets?
Dale Hilgenkamp 6:32
Well, I can give you a little bit of our history, you know, like you said, it takes about, you know, three to four years to get in a significant production. And initially, we belong to an aronia co-op, you know, we got a bunch of growers together. That probably survived for maybe two to three years, and then it failed. Then we got involved with a another group of growers that, you know, this individual was retained to like, you know, market the various for us, we were involved with that for about three years, but nothing was happening, and they were unable to really make any significant sales there. Then we joined another group, actually, they were based out of Wisconsin, that really had some success and get in a market organize, they were affiliated with a company had a juice product going on, they were making payments on a monthly basis, which everything was looking good, then COVID hit. And that company, you know, course their sales dwindled, and they evidently, eventually were forced out of business. And the company, the group that we were affiliated with, you know, they took a big loss, they were unable to pay them for the berries. So consequently, we weren’t being paid, and they didn’t have the sufficient capital to weather that. So that is that failed also, and just within the last year or two, there’s been a couple of individuals that have assembled some teams, you know, in research and, you know, finances have launched a couple of serious campaigns to introduce some products. And so it’s looking, I think, better than it has for quite some time, but you know, it just I think that’s the main thing, you know, people have failed because of the lack of capital. And it’s so expensive to, as Dean alluded to, to get products developed, and, you know, promote them. So that’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Dean Duval 8:45
I think the people that are being most successful right now are people that are already attuned to agritourism. So you know, whatever their businesses, whether it’s having a vineyard and a winery on site, or going to farmers markets, and so forth. To get started, those people tend to do the best because they understand the process. They control their own supply chain, they control their own business. And I’ve seen one example of one couple that they started out with energy bars, and they’ve expanded into supplements and so forth. They’ve done well, that that company is out in Colorado, there’s another one in Missouri, that’s more of a traditional agritourism, where people come visit their farm and you know, they’ll come out of St. Louis or Kansas City. And so that model has been very successful. The model where people trying to go big and so forth. I see some of those failing in terms of not having the proper product, not having the proper price controls, not having the proper supply chain and the people that tend to get burnt the worst on it are the farmers because we’ve grown the berry we’ve invested in growing them harvesting them and cleaning and so forth. And then we don’t get money back. And so that’s kind of a catch 22. Now, that’s not to say big companies aren’t interested, I continue to see that. And certainly, when I look at the top, patent assignees, related to aronia, Berry, we’re talking about big multinational food companies, drink companies and so forth is. So that’s, and it’s public knowledge. But they seem to be interested with that part. And there’s a catch 22 In terms of, for a big company to get involved. And to create a product or a brand, they need to have a big supply, and the supply chain isn’t there yet. And so it’s kind of the horse in the buggy question, which comes first, or the horse in the cart. But they’re, they’re wanting to see more production. And farmers are wanting to see a big interest from somebody big, so they know it’s going to take off. And I think there’s a happy medium, or a way you get started before you get to that with smaller, smaller fields, smaller production, and just gaining the awareness out there and winery that I was talking to last year, or earlier this year in central Iowa, when they started with their berries, and they’ve also got a nice vineyard, but they started growing aronia berries, and in 2013, none of their customers ever heard of aronia. And when I talked to him earlier this year, they said now about 60% of their customers have heard of Iranian and or at least willing to try the wine. And so education is part of it. Supply chains are part of it. I mean, there’s a lot of pieces that have to come together, but at least it’s looking brighter than it has been over the last, I don’t know at least five, eight years with my experience. Do you want to comment on it?
Dale Hilgenkamp 11:51
I think you’re exactly right. You know, the big companies, the supply isn’t there at the present time for them to, you know, jump into the market to satisfy their needs. But on the other hand, people aren’t willing to grow more, until there’s a market. So we’re kind of going back and forth between those two states. And yeah, give me the smaller producers that are doing well, you know, with farmers markets, you know, people coming out to the farm. But if you’re growing any significant amount, you know, those aren’t really practical. I mean, it’s it’s not a big enough market to, to absorb, you know, a larger production. So that’s what we’re trying to overcome right now.
Steffen Mirsky 12:36
Are you seeing growers kind of grow on, like, both sides of the, like, either side of the spectrum, like very large scale to sell to wholesale markets? And then small scale growers to sell direct to consumers? Or which, what kind of scale are our people growing at? And what is what scale successful?
Dale Hilgenkamp 13:01
Well, in the last few years, I mean, the majority of growers haven’t even harvested their crops, because there’s just been no market for it. So there really isn’t a good wholesale market. I mean, you can’t call somebody up and say, Hey, I’ve got, you know, X amount of pounds of berries, what’s the price, I mean, it’s just not there yet. So I mean, those groups that are finding success are, you know, growers kind of band together, and with their production, so they can approach some of these bigger markets. And the small producers, it’s very difficult for them, because, you know, they probably don’t have a harvester, they have to hire custom done and also the transportation expense, most of these are transported and you know, large semi reefers. So, I mean, if you’ve got, you know, just a few 1000 pounds or, you know, it’s it’s hard to pull those together with other growers to get them shipped as well.
Dean Duval 13:57
I think there’s kind of a break point in, I mean, I would strongly encourage people not putting a lot of money into putting a bunch of acres into berry production. And I’m trying to remember Dale, I don’t remember the number exactly what our median production is, or number of bushes. That’s normally how we kind of count the size. But I think it was around 1500 bushes is median, and you can’t afford to harvest or to ship or you know, to be a large production with that. But it gets you started if I mean if you have, say 500 bushes in the ground here or 1000, you’re talking about an acre. You want to plant about 900 to 1000 bushels an acre. And that’s enough to get you started to do the small stuff, but it’s not enough to really be involved in big production. But it’s easy to propagate these plants once they’re four or five years old. If you decide okay, I’ve had them in the ground three to four years, the business is now taken off you can, you know, can take cuttings from the bushes you’ve got and you can quickly propagate up. But we’ve got members that have 30 to 75 acres, you know, so a lot of bushes and they have to go by way of trying to sell to wholesalers. But they can also afford to buy a harvester to bring in a reefer, I think the breakpoint on a reefer is going to be probably 4500 bushes. Because that if you’re getting 10 pounds a bush, that’s enough to fill a reefer, and then you can start selling to a wholesaler. So it’s kind of like, you know, what’s your business model. And I, first and foremost, even though I’m a chemist by training, I think as business person, it’s been hammered into me over the last 30, some years working with Procter. And if your business model is small scale to get started to learn the business, to learn the berry, learn how to grow the bushes and produce berries, I wouldn’t get overly excited about, you know, jumping in full foot, or with both feet. But if you want to, you know, if you’ve got a market, if you’re and there’s people that do all the clean harvesting up in Wisconsin, that’s one of the nice things about your area, because of the cranberry production and so forth and the other small fruit production, you’ve got some ready made industry in there, it’s just a question of whether the market is going to take off. But there’s a lot to learn when you get started. And so I would encourage you not to invest, you know, 1000s and 1000s of dollars to get started, I would suggest joining an association go and visiting some aronia farms, learning how people are producing it and what the issues are, and then decide whether or not you want to start small scale, you want to start large and whether you’ve got a market oriented or if you think the markets going to take off in the next five years.
Jordan Schuler 16:54
Do most people starting off that want to start small? Do they typically pick diverse berries? Are they just in on aronia, or just in on another berry crop?
Dale Hilgenkamp 17:07
I think there’s some of each. You know, I’m aware of several places that they grow, you know, maybe blackberries, strawberries grapes, that have kind of heard about aronia and planted them. But I think most of the people in our association, they’re just, you know, they have an acreage or you know, they take off a few acres from their farm regular farm and plan aronia kind of to get started. I mean, we’ve seen people fail on both ends of the spectrum, a lot of small producers have tore up their plants or just don’t harvest them, but because it’s not that big of a financial commitment for him. But also on the other hand, I’ve heard of large, you know, 100 acre aronia farms that were commercialized and have gone out of business, I mean, it just, there was just no market there. So another big thing we face is, you know, most of the world’s production is grown in Poland. And they export, you know, most of their crop all over the world, either as a concentrate, or things and, you know, their farmers are subsidized by the government. So it’s really hard to compete with that here. And when people can just import it for, you know, a fraction of what they would have to pay here.
Dean Duval 18:19
I think it’s also a piece, you know, as we’re going forwards, I think it’s a matter of understanding what are the pieces were missing. For instance, Dale talked about the production in Poland, I think it’s what 90 95% of the world’s production is in Poland, they’ll freeze a lot of their berries. And some of the supplement companies in the US are actually buying those berries, shipping them to China to be processed for extracts, getting the extracts shipped to the US and then they’re selling the extract was like, Okay, wait a minute, what’s missing in our supply chain, so that we cannot compete on that. And I think that’s where being close to the food industry or the juice and the dairy industry like the folks in Wisconsin, you can sort through what are your missing pieces? And can you borrow from other small barriers, small fruit industries, such as extracting freeze drying, and so forth, or however else you want to process it. And I think it’s getting those pieces together. And that’s, I mean, I was the technology leader for for breweries when we launched nationally and internationally. And what I learned is you really have to pay attention to your supply chain that you have to get all the other elements, right? What’s the product you’re selling? What’s your marketing? Who’s your target consumer? What’s your brand? How are you going to get it there? And I see people are starting to do better when it comes to like the quality of the juice and so forth. But if you’re selling juice, what are you doing with the promise? You know, can you make more money off from your side product or your waste streams and so forth? Are you controlling your costs on shipping logistics, processing and so forth. So there’s a lot of business questions that a small producer has to figure out. If you want to produce, you know, enough to go to wholesale.
Steffen Mirsky 20:15
You mentioned the cranberries in Wisconsin that there might be some, some sharing of resources or some some overlap between aronias and equipment that I’m just curious if you can talk a little bit in more detail about how that industry in Wisconsin might benefit the or that might benefit the aronia producers.
Dale Hilgenkamp 20:42
I mean, we shipped berries up to Wisconsin before and like Dean mentioned earlier, I mean, it’s a great fit for Wisconsin, because, you know, the seasons are a little bit different from cranberry to aronia. So when they’re done with cranberry, I mean, they can switch their processing lines over to cleaning and the stemming over to aronia. They’ve got the labor force, they’ve got the equipment. And they’ve also got plenty of cold storage, right in, in a small area there. So I mean, it’s, it’s really a good location. Cold storage rates are a lot cheaper in Wisconsin than they are here in the Midwest, which is another big plus. But the downside is, you know, it costs a lot for us growers in the Midwest to ship them up there. It’s kind of a detriment.
Steffen Mirsky 21:27
Yeah. You meant you talked a little bit about grower networks. And I was wondering if you could go into that a little bit more, and just talk about some of the networks that you’re involved in, and kind of the pros and cons of selling individually as opposed to being part of those grower networks?
Dale Hilgenkamp 21:47
Well, I mean, it’s really difficult to sell individually. I mean, unless you’re a really large producer, it’s hard to approach, you know, even smaller companies, because, you know, the volume they desire, I mean, a lot of these processors have minimum runs that they that they will do. So it’s it’s difficult to do that. And it’s so capital intensive. Like I mentioned, we’ve been involved. This is about the fourth group now that we’ve been involved with. And like I said earlier, I think the biggest downfall has been the lack of capital. I mean, they’ve just run out of money. Basically, I think of a story of Lynda Resnick with a POM Wonderful. I mean, they were billionaires to start with, and they dumped $25 million into just promotion and development. So you know, not very many people can afford to do that. So by teaming together with other growers, the group that I’m kind of aligned with now, I mean, there’s, you know, a significant number of growers, I mean, we’ve all invested in the company, and and they’ve got some other financial backing. So they are in the process of developing some products, but it’s just so expensive. It takes a long time. So but it’s, it’s looking better than it has, and I know, I think Dean is affiliated with another group, maybe he can address his experience.
Dean Duval 23:14
Yeah, I mean, it’s I’ve been trying to learn from other people’s mistakes and not invest a lot of money into groups, organizations, unless I see that they’ve got everything that they need to be successful. And the group I’m in continues to grow. There’s at least 30 growers that are involved in it. And I did not sell my berries last year. But we’re we’re also located in the center of the drought area that has hit the Midwest last year. So I wasn’t too worried about it. But I also looked for groups, or we’re looking for groups that had all the requisite experiences, from being involved in the food industry, to understanding processing to somebody that understands supply chain, to somebody that understands the marketing side. And the group that I’m associated with, has six different principles that have that requisite background and so forth. And they also are working with celebrities to get the endorsements to also get the education gold and they’re also they’ve set it up where the farmers own a piece of the company by signing the contract to supply their berries with them. And it’s, yeah, we will hit it eventually. But I’d say you got to be in it for the long haul. And you got to be able to say okay, I’m not worried about it. It’s something I believe in because of the health benefits. It is the superberry that I don’t know whether you’re looking at just pure biochemistries and it’s the oxygen radical absorption kappa st is number one versus all the other berries. If you’re looking for the amount of anthocyanins it’s number one, if you’re looking for the amount of resveratrol, it’s number one. If you’re looking for quercetin it’s number one. If you’re looking for epic catechins it’s number one. So that’s why I believe in the chemistry is everything. I mean, we’re behind in terms of awareness, education, and so forth. But if you look at the basics of the technology, it is the best that you can find that Mother Nature is made. It’s now a matter for us as growers to work with groups that are putting the pieces together that also believe in the berry that also have all the requisite capabilities to make it a breakthrough and get it to the big markets.
Steffen Mirsky 25:50
Yeah, I wanted to ask about competition in the market from other superfood berries like elderberries, they seem to have been getting a fair bit of traction in the last few years. And how has that affected the markets for for aronias.
Dale Hilgenkamp 26:08
Well yeah, elderberries, you know, they’ve been grown for a long time people are well aware of their of their health benefits. I mean, anytime you walk into a national natural food store, I mean elderberry. There’s elderberry, honey, elderberry, gummies elderberry syrup, elderberry juice. I mean, it’s, they’ve done a great job of, you know, developing products. And, you know, most of those ingredients for those are imported. I mean, you know, but we do have some advantages. I mean, elderberries have to be harvested by hand, they don’t have the ability to be harvested mechanically, like aronia berries do. And they’ve, they’ve just done a great job.
Dean Duval 26:56
But, you know, I would say, Yeah, whoever picked elderberry, though. I mean, I grew up on the farm, and we made elderberry, jelly in jam, and so forth. And it’s a pretty nondescript berry. But it was a royal pain, because it’s hard to harvest and it’s isolated from all the stems and so forth. It’s a really small berry. And I’m laughing I, you know, visited farmers markets where they were selling aronia, excuse me, elderberry stuff, and I said, hey, have you ever tried an aronia berry, because one, we’re better from a health benefit standpoint of all the nutrients we’ve got in there. And two, it’s a lot easier to grow and harvest than it is in elderberry. It’s just, I laugh because they’re doing a lot more work than somebody producing aronia berries has to do in order to get it into a product. So I think that inherent advantage is what’s going to leave a switch in the market at some point.
Steffen Mirsky 27:57
Is there an opportunity there? I mean, with elderberries coming, coming on strong and new products being developed to incorporate elders? Yeah. Does that present an opportunity for aronias?
Dale Hilgenkamp 28:12
Well, the eroding industry has missed a huge opportunity here these last few years. I mean, of course elderberry has long been known for it’s helping with colds and flu and so forth, aronia is excellent for that as well. In fact, I think one of the things we really need to capitalize on is, I mean, it’s documented that Native Americans used aronia for that very purpose to fight colds and flu. So and they’re native to American. So and they’re grown, you know, here and in the Midwest and the upper parts of the states. So I think we really need to capitalize on that. And one other thing. Also, especially with the last couple of years with COVID. You know, there’s been studies done that, you know, this is all in vitro and a lab but, you know, aronia juice has actually killed the coronavirus, you know, in a lab situation. So, I mean, there’s some tremendous opportunities. You know, there we really can’t say too much yet, because, you know, there haven’t been enough studies done, but they’re just, you know,
Dean Duval 29:23
Yeah, the big advantage we have is aronia. Because of its antioxidant capabilities, it really does help support the immune system. So if you, whatever your health issues are, I mean, there’s over around 100 articles just on heart health, cardiovascular. There’s a lot around gut health and so forth. But in reality, what it’s doing well, there’s a lot of different mechanisms, but it really does support the immune system, which is what fights your COVID and I’ve been in a household that was ravaged by COVID. I lost my mother in law to COVID. I’ve never gotten sick with COVID, even though I’ve been exposed to it multiple times. Now is that because I constantly take aronia berries? I don’t know. I mean, I, I’ve been hit with flu bugs and cold bugs and so forth. But I’ve not gotten COVID. But I think it’s because I’ve done things to really strengthen my immune system.
Steffen Mirsky 30:24
Yeah, I was going to ask how the markets have changed in the last five years or so. And particularly in response to COVID? Because I think you mentioned earlier that some of the markets fell through during COVID, which is maybe a little bit counterintuitive, because some people may think that COVID would have would have helped the aronia market, can you just talk about how, how COVID has affected it and kind of what the what the trend has been in the last five years or so?
Dale Hilgenkamp 30:58
Well, you know, we can’t say too much, because there probably there hasn’t been enough research done. As far as aronia, preventing COVID I would never go that far. Because you know, but there are studies being done that shows, I think this once that study was done in Germany, last year or so, but, of course, that was just, you know, one study, but I think Dean’s right, it strengthens the immune system. But you know, I think unfortunately, the markets, there still really is no market. So in that sense, things haven’t changed. But as we’ve discussed, there’s a couple of grower groups that have gotten into the mix now. I mean, they’re well capitalized, and, you know, can do the research and product development and the promotion is, is what’s really been lacking. I mean, we can’t afford as even as an association. You know, our numbers have dropped pretty significantly over the last number of years, just because there hasn’t been a viable market. But, you know, we just don’t have the funds to do a large scale, nationwide promotion. And like I said, the berries really aren’t there right now either to sustain that, but so it’s, it’s kind of slow going.
Dean Duval 32:16
I think, in general, it hurts agritourism too, because people were afraid to go out in public and so forth. And I think people are finally getting over that. So I expect agritourism to pick up. I know, over the last three years, a number of food companies were doing the research and investigating aronia for various foods, additives and so forth. So I mean, it’s not like the work behind the scenes wasn’t happening. It just hasn’t come to fruition yet. I think our big biggest detriment when it comes to selling berries is awareness. Dale mentioned me the Potawatomi Indians hundreds and hundreds of years ago, we’re using these berries, for colds and so forth. But nobody’s aware of that. And I think education is a big part of that, that requires marketing dollars. We don’t have that. But I think that that’s coming along where, because of the general health trends, people are more interested in healthy foods and so forth. Unfortunately, they’re also interested in ready to eat very convenient foods. And aronia isn’t a convenient ready food, if you’re buying the berries, you’ve got to process them, you’ve got to put him in something, you’ve got a cookout, and whatever. And so we’re really kind of dependent on the food industry getting to the point where they’re delivering something to consumers that is, quote, healthy, convenient, and meets the consumers needs and awareness. Now when you think about where’s the market for people that really like healthy foods, you think Midwest, not Midwest, you think West Coast, East Coast, etc. Those are where the really healthy messaging works well. And we’re growing berries in the Midwest. So how do we reach the right consumer is a big question too. And I think it comes through on a large scale that comes through using the food industry to leverage our message and to leverage our berries
Dale Hilgenkamp 34:25
I just wanted to add one more thing about you know, the marketing. I was affiliated also with another group that had some products they just sold like kind of an a direct marketing approach. And we pass that on to a number of our friends and acquaintances and they tried to juice but you know, this is not like taking a pill here in the States. We’re accustomed to taking a pill and seeing immediate results. You know, that really doesn’t happen with, you know, a lot of these natural foods, it just takes time for them to work in your body. And the aronia berry affects pretty much every system in your body. And people would try it for maybe a week or two and say I’m seeing a difference and quit taking it. But, you know, you’ve got to take it for, you know, three to four months, maybe before it varies within individuals. But before you see any impact. And also, I mean, I eat berries every morning at a smoothie, I mean, they’re just great for that, and a great way to utilize them. But you know, research has also shown that it stays in your bloodstream, the antioxidant for maybe three to four hours. And so it’s really important to maybe take another shot, you know, later in the day, just to keep that going. And, and speaking from personal experience, I saw a big difference, then taking them in the morning, and then taking some more juice later in the day, you know, made another huge impact. But people need to be patient and wait for the results.
Dean Duval 36:03
Yeah, there was a good meta analysis done last year, some researchers out of Tennessee had looked at over about 400 papers, they then separated out about 25 clinical studies. Yeah, and most of the research is in vitro or in vivo, but they looked at small seven, they finally broke it down to seven small clinicals that were done, you know, double blind and so forth, proper clinical procedures. And they concluded that there was a clear blood pressure and total cholesterol benefit. And I’d encourage people to take a look at it. But personally, I had medical procedure done yesterday. And yeah, I’ve had high blood pressure. And I had mentioned it well, when they got me on the gurney and checked my blood pressure. It was 113 over 64. And it’s been that way, it took me about nine months of taking aronia supplement every day. But it’s made a huge difference on my blood pressure and my total cholesterol. I’ve had high cholesterol, my whole adult life. And now I’m down in the 150 to 160 range. And you know, a part of it is a lifestyle change. And but I taken aronia berries as part of that lifestyle change. And it’s made a difference for me. But I also believe it took nine months at least before I got the to where I was feeling better I was my mind was sharper. And my blood work blood chemistry was where it needed to be. So that’s, I think that’s anything that takes is a chronic benefit is hard for consumers to stay with. And so you have to find a habit, that’s easy for you, I have freeze dried powder and capsules that I take Dale does the powder into the or the berries into the smoothies. It’s what fits with your lifestyle. And that’s where we have to have a variety of products that reach a broader range of consumers. But when you think about it, what’s the percent of adults in the US that have heart problems or blood pressure problems, it’s almost half of the US adult population. Same with gut, and even though it doesn’t get into your bloodstream and so forth, very can stay there very long. Your immune system, about half of it is in your gut. And that, you know, the berries are there, the powder is there where it makes a long term benefit on your immune system. So I think you know, the types of claims. You know, we’re not medical doctors, and we’re not clinicians, but I would say expect to take it over a period longer period of time to see benefits because it’s chronic, and it’s got the chemistries that we’ll we’ll do the work, you just have to stick with it. And, you know, we also need to do more from a research standpoint, we need to be working with US universities versus universities all over Europe and Korea, China and so forth. Most of the research is done outside the US.
Steffen Mirsky 39:14
You touched on how Poland is the world’s largest producer of aronias, does the US, I assume that imports a lot of berries from Poland. Does that affect the markets here? Does that undercut prices or how does that affect production in the US?
Dale Hilgenkamp 39:34
Oh, absolutely. You know, we as an association have tried to identify, you know, how many pounds are coming in or how much juice one of the problems is aronia berries doesn’t have its own individual category. It’s just lumped in the category other berries, so it’s hard to break that down and get accurate information to how much is coming in. Uh, you know, as, as Dean mentioned also earlier, you know, when you can, that these big companies can, you know, buy it overseas have a process somewhere and bring it here, it’s, and I think the numbers that I recall, you know, imported juice or concentrate whatever may be, you know, 25 to 30% of the price that, you know, domestic is. So, you know, most manufacturers are going to jump on that that’s why, you know, we’re really trying to stress, you know, grown in America, as part of the promotional work that we do do, because it’s just hard to overcome that price advantage that they have.
Dean Duval 40:45
I think long term, though, I mean, I, in some ways, I’m a little bit different, I don’t mind the competition or the supply chain, because that may bridge the gap between our lack of supply. And large companies actually getting into aronia. I think long term, because we have the advantage where we don’t have to play pay nearly as much for logistics or transportation, as somebody that is producing it around the world, or some other region of the world, we’ll have an inherent advantages, once we reach a certain scale. We don’t have that advantage now, because we don’t have the scale. But, you know, if large producer or large manufacturers want to get started, I don’t care because I do believe in the American farmer long term and being able to produce somebody halfway around the world.
Steffen Mirsky 41:38
I’m just wondering what kind of strategies producers in the US can use to differentiate their berries from from overseas berries? And specifically, I’m wondering, is there is there a market for organic
Dean Duval 41:53
Dale is the right person to talk on that one.
Dale Hilgenkamp 41:56
Yeah, the, you know, as was mentioned, you know, most of the people who take aronia are really interested in the health benefits and the organic growth is part of that, I mean, organic of all crops has been growing tremendously over the last number of years. So, I mean, yeah, there is, you know, people who specify they want organic berries. You know, I think that’s really important, like at farmer’s markets, and so forth. And or at least try to minimize the, you know, the synthetic inputs you use as much as possible, which is kind of what we try to do. But, you know, it’s, that’s tough with organic, I mean, you know, there’s, you know, weed issues become, you know, difficult. And so, I mean, you need to, you need to have a premium, there are some products, excuse me, coming, I think down the pike as far as organic herbicides and, and pesticide treatments, but they tend to be much higher cost. So, yeah, it’s, I think it’s heading that direction, but it’s just hard to get there.
Dean Duval 43:12
I would say that the growers from Wisconsin have dealt with this on all of their other products to where, you know, people want organic, but producing things organically is a ton more work, and it’s more difficult. And Japanese beetles, love aronia berries, because it’s in the rose family, it’s, it’s their pomes, just like apples and so forth. And that’s where the Japanese, Japanese beetles love to go. And I haven’t seen an organic, including neem oil, that’s all that effective over multiple seasons that controlling that. But I would say I, you know, I trust the farmers there because they’re used to doing things with good agricultural practices, or with their organic certified practices that whichever way they go, they’re being very ethical and how they’re producing their berries and not going overboard with chemistries that they don’t need to be because one, it’s added cost. You’re not going to do it unless you have to. But yeah, the farmers that are doing organic, they understand the issues and they can deal with the organic aronia berries just like they do with organic cranberries, or blueberries or any other fruit, small fruit crop.
Dale Hilgenkamp 44:26
You know, I just wrote an article just in the last couple of days about the blueberry industry. This particular article stated that they spray an average of seven times a year for pesticides. I mean, the aronia industry is nowhere near that I mean, you may have to spray once for Japanese beetles. And that varies from year to year and SWD or spotted wing drosophila is another one that is really bad for blueberries, but the aronia has a tougher skin. It’s harder for them to penetrate to lay those eggs. So I mean that we’ve set traps out. And I mean, we’ve seen a few, but really not to the extent that you really need to spray. But so I guess that’s one advantage to that also is there with aronia. It doesn’t require there to that intensive of a spray program.
Dean Duval 45:17
If I sprayed once, two years ago and twice this year, and you know, it’s around the end of June, mid July, and that’s it, and you’re gonna harvest six to eight weeks later. So Dale’s right, it’s a hardy crop, there’s not very many pests. So there, it’s pretty easy to grow and pretty easy to prevent pests from overwhelming your production.
Steffen Mirsky 45:48
Are there actually markets for certified organic berries?
Dale Hilgenkamp 45:54
Well, you know, it’s, I would say, you know, yes, and no, people want that, but, and some of these groups are willing to pay more for organic for the reasons that we’ve just discussed. But you know, now most people, I think would take either, you know, because of the limited pesticide that is used, but, you know, definitely there’s a trend towards more organic.
Steffen Mirsky 46:28
So, just thinking about Wisconsin in particular, and, you know, what, what would you say to somebody who is interested in growing aronia berries on their farm, they may be, you know, know a little bit about them want to expand into some alternative crops, they have a few acres. Yeah, what would you what would you tell them as they’re, you know, exploring aronia. And just how to approach, you know, what scale to grow at, and what kind of preparation they should be doing before actually putting the plants in the ground?
Dale Hilgenkamp 47:06
Well, I think I Wisconsin is ideally suited. Wisconsin tends to be more small farms that I guess, and here in the Midwest, per se, you know, they’re more small farmers up there, you know, a lot of dairy. So they, you know, may have a few acres that can produce them. You know, aronia, probably one of the biggest threats is a late freeze, you know, like when they’re blooming. That’s we don’t experience it often here. And I’m not sure if it’s really been a problem with Wisconsin, but seeing how it’s naturally colder up there, that might be more of an issue, but they tend to flower later than most other plants. So that’s kind of to their benefit. And we’ve already talked about the processing and storage facilities. So yeah, I think, you know, Wisconsin would be a great place.
Dean Duval 47:58
Yeah. Well, and they’re self pollinating. You don’t have to worry about the bees and so forth, for the most part. But I would say step one, go visit somebody that’s grown aronias. Every aronia grower that I’ve ever met has been more than willing to give advice to talk about their experiences, so forth, good and bad, to share what works, what doesn’t work. And the other thing I’d say, besides go and talk to somebody that has experience is, don’t expect to put it on a field that or someplace where it was lousy for corn and soybeans. So I’m gonna plant this stuff. No, they require good soil, just like anything else, if you want good production. So make sure you get some experience. Find out what your soil chemistry is, if you’ve got a fairly alkaline soil, you’re going to have to adjust the pH down. And make sure it’s not compacted soil and so forth. So if you need to go, you know, plow the field or whatever, to loosen up the soil to get aerated and so forth. So be it. But I would make sure when you’re putting in a good place, you talk to people about what is their practices over a year? I mean, what are they doing in January and February to plan ahead to get the right chemicals to get the fertilizer and so forth? What are they doing? When are they trim the bushes when it’s dormant and so forth in the February March team timeframe. So when the buds break, then what are they doing? When they start putting air start working on weed control? When are they putting the mulch the fertilizer down? When are they spraying for the spotted wing drosophila or the Japanese beetles and so forth? If that’s a problem in Wisconsin, I don’t know if it’s gone that far north and then you know, we tend to look at bricks. So the sugar content, the pH and we look at the grow degree days before so we know when we’re going to harvest the berries, we want a certain Brix, if at all possible. And that requires a certain grow degree day. So where did they get that information for their location, I know where to get it for Iowa, because I can go to the Iowa State website and find it for literally, the weather stations are within a few miles of my farm. So it’s kind of like understand what what’s the season look like? What are the activities you got to do throughout the year. Just so you know what you’re getting into, and then plan for the long term, it may take another three to five years before the market takes off, we don’t know. But we’re in it for ourselves for our own health benefits, we’re in it, because we believe it’s going to take off in the future because of what it provides to the consumer. And that’s why we’re in the groups that we’re in. Because we’re trying to work together, it’s not that some other farmer is going to cause me to lose share, it’s that other farmer is going to help me get to the volumes or us to the volumes where it’s going to take off because consumers are now aware of what the product is, and the health benefits it provides.
Dale Hilgenkamp 51:09
You know, another thing I would really stress and in that regard is get aligned with one of these grower groups now, yes, you know, you may not be produced, and you know, it takes probably four years before you’re going to have significant production, but get aligned with one of these groups now. So when the time comes as the market grows, they’re ready to take your berries, when yours come into production. Don’t wait until they’re ready to harvest and then try to find somebody but make contact with them now get on their list. You know, so they’re aware of what what you have.
Dean Duval 51:44
Yeah, and they may have farmers already associated with them near you, where you can share equipment or share, you know, if you both have to rent a harvester or a reefer to, you know, get your various to cleaning facility, it’s great to plan ahead and make those connections so that when it is time, you can help them and they can help you. And I mean, this September, I was going down to you know, I was driving an hour to help another farmer, harvest his berries, because you need hands on deck to help move the totes and so forth or to get things moved from one location to another just so the harvesting is so efficient. And you can get the very totes onto pallets onto the the refrigerated trailer so that it can get off there quickly to the processing plant. So it’s it’s not how much you have by yourself, it’s how much you can do with somebody else to get started get going.
Steffen Mirsky 52:45
So as we kind of wrap things up, I’m wondering, given that aronias take three to four plus years to really start producing for somebody or producer entering into aronia production now, they’re going to kind of have to, or they’re going to want to know where the markets are going to be five years from now. Do you have any idea? What what those will look like? What’s your prediction?
Dale Hilgenkamp 53:15
That’s really difficult to say, we planted our berries in the fall of 2009. And people were telling us, boy, your timing is great. You’re gonna catch it right as it comes mainstream. Well, we’re still waiting, you know, after you know, 12 years. So, but like we’ve discussed, I mean, I think things look better now than they ever have. I mean, these people that are involved now have the financing and the backing and the staff to to make it successful. So, but it’s if we get the funds to promote it, and do a good job there and increase awareness. You know, I think it will be successful, but it’s kind of hard to predict right now.
Dean Duval 54:03
Yeah. Well, the other nice thing about this berry, I mean, it’s it’s a perennial, but I’ve seen the fields where the family was in agritourism. They’ve been in it for 30 plus years, and they showed me a field that the bushes have been in the ground for 30 years. And they looked like they were four to five year old bushes. Because you can go in I mean, the canes or the stalks, whatever you want to call it. When they get too thick, you’re going to either prune them off or at some point, say 10 years down the line, you’re going to mark them off. They’ll come back they come back very quickly. And so yeah, you take a certain percentage of your bushes out of production every year once you you know they’ve grown, but it’s not like you have to reinvest in in New bushes every 10 years. If you’re properly pruning and trimming and keeping up with things. You can have these bushes around 30 to 50 years no problem. The bushes are already, you know, sunk costs, your cost from year to year is going to be your your chemicals, your your labor, and your harvesting.
Steffen Mirsky 55:13
Yeah, so I just wanted to give you an opportunity to make a plug for the American Aronia Berry Association to and, and also give a little more detail on what what the benefits of membership are and what you do as an organization, and what what kinds of things members can get out of that their membership.
Dale Hilgenkamp 55:35
Well, initially, when the when I joined the association or started growing aronia, the big emphasis was on, you know, growing practices, fertilization, you know, as Dean talked about what to do when, but it’s now it’s kind of shifting to increasing market awareness and educating the public about the benefits of aronia. So I mean, that’s kind of where we’re really at. Now, we Dean is our research person, I mean, he gets articles all the time, about the health benefits of aronia, we send them out, you know, on a monthly bimonthly basis, to the membership, so they can go to the website and see these studies. We also hold a conference every year, typically in March, where we have outside speakers come in on, you know, a variety of topics, either growing practices, you know, marketing, you know, different research people. So, I mean, we try to have a good program there, that’s beneficial to our members. And it’s a good time to meet with other growers and discuss, you know, issues you’re having with them.
Dean Duval 56:47
Yeah and all those old conference talks that you know, whether, you know, if you’re new and you want to learn about growing or maintenance, or you know, insect control, and so forth, those are all available to members, and the scientific articles, you can go on in on our website under research. There’s 20 plus tabs of, you know, whether it’s cardiovascular, immune, endocrine system, whatever it is, you can click on it and see all the latest publications. I update that about once a month. The board members, we also interact globally, we have people from well, last year we had from Turkey and Poland come and talk at our conference, I gave a talk at the Polish conference via zoom in in September, and I’ve been asked to go back to their conference again next year. And that global connection also we bring in or cross cross fertilizing people with ideas about how to do things better how to create a market, what are the products we can use? And so the benefits just as a lot of education, connections and helping synergistically drive awareness across the population.
Steffen Mirsky 58:00
And you mentioned the America Aronia Berry Association was formerly the Midwest Aronia Association. Is your is your membership been primarily concentrated in the Midwest? Or is it all over the country?
Dale Hilgenkamp 58:14
We’ve got members in, Iowa is the largest state, there was a there’s been a lot of work done at Iowa State, you know, in the last 10-15 years. There’s also Nebraska, we’ve got members and you know, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri. So it’s we’re, it’s primarily in the Midwest, but you know, we get I guess I’m surprised that the emails that come into the association, I mean, they can be you know, they’ve come from all over a little bit of even some internationally.
Steffen Mirsky 58:50
Great. Well, thank you, Dale, and Dean, so much for joining us. Is there just want to give you an opportunity to say any last comments about aronia. Any, any final words?
Dale Hilgenkamp 59:05
Well, I just appreciate your reaching out to us, Steffen. I mean, it’s been a great opportunity for us to, you know, get the word out about aronia. And, you know, hopefully, your podcast will help in that regard. So thank you.
Dean Duval 59:18
Yeah, and my last word would be our motto: better berry, better life.
JASON FISCHBACH 59:44
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai