PARMA, Idaho — The annual Fruit Field Day is coming up next week at the University of Idaho Parma Research and Extension Center. Whether you’re a home gardener or a commercial fruit grower, this is your opportunity to sample all of the new and improved varieties of fruit that Idaho has to offer.

Garden master Jim Duthie takes us to Parma for a look at what you can expect to see at Fruit Field Day. Plus, he shows us some of the new up-and-coming products that you never knew you can grow here in Idaho.

We all know that southwest idaho grows all kinds of wonderful fruits and vegetables, and there are some new things that are being grown and tested here at the Parma Research Center for the University of Idaho. Things like almonds.

Fruit Field Day showcases the dozens of varieties of peaches and nectarines, plums and pluots, and apples and pears, as well as an endless array of different kinds of grapes. But Idaho’s thriving fruit industry may soon be going nuts.

Among some of the new products being grown and studied here – walnuts and almonds, which could one day be alternative cash crops in southwest Idaho.

There are always new types of fruit being tested here, like this variety of cherry called chromium. It’s native to western Asia, but it thrives here in Idaho. And these juicy, elongated fruits could become the next super food, since they’re chock-full of anti-oxidants.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s grape and wine industry has recovered from the severe winter damage of a few years ago, but that same extreme weather focused attention on two new varieties of grapes that not only survived the cold, but actually thrived. This one, called Thomcord, is a hybrid of the popular Thompson seedless and Concord grapes, and consistently produces large clusters of delicious, juicy purple berries, regardless of weather extremes from year to year.

“After the third year of planting, every year, we’ve had a fairly good crop of this. It makes excellent grapes for table grapes, and excellent ones for juicing,” said Dr. Esmaeil fallahi, UI Pomology Research.

And another variety, called alborz, also came through the extreme weather unscathed. It promises to be another highly productive cultivar that will help expand Idaho’s grape and wine industry. Here, Dr. Fallahi is experimenting with a new method of growing grapes. Under a lush grapevine canopy overhead, the vines are producing an amazing amount of huge clusters of tasty and juicy grapes.

“I think there is a lot of fun to grow grapes. And also an easy crop to eat. And it’s just a beautiful crop. Beautiful crop.”

And now there is an interesting and exciting potential for growing nuts here in southwest Idaho, particularly walnuts and almonds. These walnut trees are producing quality nut crops after only three or four years.

These almond trees have been thriving here even during recent extreme cold winters. And now, California almond growers are putting out feelers to expand that nut industry into Idaho, thanks to cheaper land and abundant water. And local growers are excited with the possibilities.

"So they can work together and it will be a kind of win-win situation.”

Almonds grow in leathery hulls, or pods, that eventually split open as the nut inside matures. The nut shell dries out, and once removed, it reveals the almond kernel. And fresh almonds right off the tree are very tasty.

Almond hulls are a nutritious and inexpensive food source for cattle, which would also be good news for Idaho cattle growers and dairy farmers. And the dried almond shells can be used in landscaping as a ground cover, just like shredded bark.

The bottom line is that Idaho’s fruit industry is not only thriving, but looking to add new and different products to its line-up, and for home gardeners, at some point, you can grow it.

Fruit Field Day is Friday, September 6, from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the University of Idaho Parma Research and Extension Center just north of Parma. The event is free to the public.

By the way, Dr. Fallahi was recently awarded top honors for his work in developing and introducing new fruit varieties by the American Pomological Society, one of the oldest horticultural societies in the world.

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