California Farmers Try New Crops


CALIFORNIA food shoppers are used to seeing purple eggplant, purple onions, purple grapes - but purple asparagus? Sure - now they can regard this latest odd-color veggie as a new-style bin-filler in many of the big-city produce markets.

Purple asparagus, grown in the Sacramento delta, is the newest in an expanded list of over 50 California specialty crops produced in the nation's No. 1 agricultural state.

A cousin to green asparagus, the purple variety known as Viola, has been test marketed in eastern city markets as an eaten-raw hors d'oeuvre and is expected to appeal to gourmet appetites.

Trying out purple asparagus is only one of the state ag-industry's efforts in further crop diversification/marketing ideas. Last year, many produce markets in the state were successful in selling farm-prepared, pre-packaged fresh salad greens - a promotion aimed at two-breadwinner families with today's hurried, 6 p.m. food-shopping lifestyle.

A similar effort began here last fall with a new idea for marketing citrus. Oranges and grapefruit were assembly-line peeled, placed in disposable trays and shrink-wrapped. This experiment targeted heavy-meal-turnover outlets like schools, hospitals, and restaurants.

The idea, intended to reduce bulk storage and end-use handling, had modest success in supermarkets, too, industry analysts say. This operation requires close supervision at all levels and is being further monitored by citrus marketing officials.

Mangoes, those oblong tropical delicacies with the juicy pulp and cosmetic-blusher rinds, have always been sold in California markets as a seasonal staple. Up until last year, most on the market were imports.

Recently some had come under environmental scrutiny because of pesticide use by foreign growers.

The latest mango imports now carry labels calling attention of buyers to hot-water treatment being used instead of pesticides. And US buyers are watching these to determine whether the end product is any different with regard to shelf life or spoilage.

Now, to penetrate this market dominated by imports, California's Coachella Valley growers are adding mangoes to the state's specialty crop list.

Not only is this fruit expected to reach domestic markets with shorter hauls than imports, but it is expected to create a new time-slot market for itself.

The California crop will be available in the fall months up until November. This time-frame is one in which imported mangoes are generally not on the US market.

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