NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Stephen F. Austin State University continues its research on the Golden Kiwi through a Texas Department of Agriculture grant, partnering with 7 kiwi farmers across East Texas and the Gulf Coast.
For the next few weeks, pollination will be applied via paint brushes at the plots on the SFA campus. It’s part of a trial in parts of the state to identify where kiwi might be adapted.
“We’ve received a grant in collaboration with my friends at Texas A&M, and we’ve been at it for 4 years now,” said Dr. David Creech, director of SFA Gardens. “We now have 7 farmers -- we call them evaluation plots -- from Mount Pleasant, Daingerfield, Tyler, [Nacogdoches]; we’re looking at Twin Wood, Simoneton area down in southeast Texas, and also at College Station.”
The goal of the trial is simple: can the farmers grow kiwi commercially by way of cross pollination?
“It takes times, takes two to three years to get into fruit production,” said Creech. “So it takes time to find that sweet spot in Texas where kiwis are going to be best adapted.”
The bloom is pretty, but has little fragrance and produces little nectar, so it’s not a favorite among bees. Growers that can’t hand pollinate will sometimes put the expensive pollen on the doorway of a bee’s hive to catch it on their feet before flying off with hopes the bees stop long enough to check out the kiwi bloom to pollinate it.
However, if the bees don’t want to work that day, the kiwi grower has a lot of work to do themselves. Kiwi reproduction is a tedious job for Creech’s assistant, Malcolm Turner. There’s a narrow window of 24 to 36 hours that the female kiwi bloom is receptive.
“The pollen we received from a grower in California that grows only male plants," said Turner. “I put a little on a paint brush and spread it around inside the female flower.”
A proven method for assuring kiwi pollination, Creech explained. He studied kiwi farming in China, New Zealand, and Chili. There’s such a demand on kiwi fruit, especially in China and Asia, that growers have discovered if they can better control the pollination they have more fruit to cold store for shipments to your neighborhood grocery stores.
Their returns add up into the billions of dollars.
“If you look at global industry it’s moving to artificial pollination," Creech added.
The banks of the Lanana Creek, where the vines are prolifically growing, is working out. One year, 875 lbs. of golden kiwi was harvested from the small plot. Creech can only imagine what artificial pollination could bring from a larger East Texas field.
East Texas kiwi production isn’t there yet, but Creech and his assistants said there’s now some room for optimism.
The kiwi blooms will exhibit fruit in the coming days and weeks, while it won’t be ready for harvest until late summer or the fall.