Alternative crop: Goji berry research started in Wyoming
A study at the University of Wyoming (UW) aims to evaluate goji berry, Lycium barbarum, for its potential as an alternative high-value crop for Wyoming and explore the option of organic production for the crop.
“There is great interest in alternative crops to diversify Wyoming agriculture, especially for high-value crops,” states UW Extension Northwest Area Agriculture and Horticulture Educator Jeremiah Vardiman.
Goji berry is a deciduous shrub that grows 12 feet tall naturally but, with pruning, is only three to six feet in height. The shrub produces an orange-red fruit the size of a grape tomato.
Goji berry is also called wolfberry, boxthorn and matrimony vine and is a part of the tomato family, Vardiman says.
Study and market
The UW study is being conducted in Powell and Sheridan to evaluate the plant’s performance at both locations. In both places, days required for flowering and fruiting, growing season length and yield per plant will be estimated, according to Vardiman.
Goji berry propagation using hardwood and softwood cuttings will also be evaluated.
“With a Zone 3A hardiness rating, early maturity and the ability to break dormancy early, goji berry seems to be compatible with Wyoming’s harsh climate,” Vardiman states.
Typically found as a powder, juice and dried fruit, the product is very valuable. However, at the commercial level, most of the world’s goji berry is produced in China, Vardiman continues.
“The current market for goji berry is in health foods, and goji berry can command a price as high as $40 in the U.S. market,” Vardiman comments.
Advantages for farmers
Along with the push to create local food hubs and the movement for local produce, this study could provide Wyoming farmers with another product to market and sell to diversify.
In 2017, an amendment to the Wyoming Food Freedom Act (WFFA) was passed that would benefit individuals who want to market their products directly to consumers. Individuals who want to sell their products in higher value markets will also receive benefits from WFFA, according to Vardiman.
“The project will benefit current growers of fruits and vegetables under field and protected conditions, several homeowners and also prospective growers who are considering diversifying their agricultural operations,” says Vardiman.
Approximately, 75 to 100 growers are expected to be beneficiaries, he continues, with the potential for further growth as the product becomes more established.
Goji berry hurdles
Pest pressures and labor are the two main hurdles of goji berry production, Vardiman says. He adds that fruit damage has already been observed and reasonably determined to be caused by insect and birds.
“Pests, such as insects and birds, could potentially impact the yield from the plants, as pests consume the berries and lower their quality,” Vardiman states.
Labor is also a hurdle for goji berry production because weed management must done by hand or hoeing.
Vardiman mentions that harvesting is also done by hand and can be labor intensive.
“If an operation had a half an acre or more of goji berries to manage, the cost of the labor required to cultivate and harvest could be very difficult,” he says.
Further research on growing goji berry in Wyoming may be conducted after initial feasibility of the alternative crop is determined.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.