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Long-time aronia specialist looks at growth of industry

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Commercial aronia berry production in the United States is in its infancy, according to Dr. Eldon Everhart, president and owner of Everhart Horticulture Consulting, Atlanta.

"Within the next few years, we will have several thousand acres of aronia berries in production with most of these acres in the Midwest," Everhart said.

A commercial horticulture specialist for Iowa State University Extension for 25 years before staring his own company, Everhart grew up in the horticulture business.

He has been working with horticulture for over 50 years.

Everhart is one of the nation's lone experts on commercial aronia berry production, processing and marketing. He consults with both established and what he calls "want-to-be" growers as well as with other specialty crop producers throughout the country.

Iowa currently has the most aronia growers in the United States but plantings are going in all over the Midwest and beyond, Everhart said. Aronia berries are being sold retail direct to consumers as well as wholesale to producers, he said.

"Currently the demand for aronia berries is greater than the supply," he added. "It's a sellers' market."

He predicts this market will continue its growth for the new few years as more people learn about the heath benefits of the berries.

Everhart also warns his clients that the supply will eventually catch up with the demand.

"When this happens, prices will plummet and small, inefficient growers will go out of business," he said.

Everhart advises those considering future berry operations to seek out advice before this new undertaking.

He and his associates often provide assistance with aronia business plans and writing proposals for grants, he said.

This work is based on scientific knowledge and years of experience not on testimonials, unproven beliefs or wild guesses that could cause concern for new producers, Everhart said.

"You can find a lot of information today about aronia berries on the Internet and from some of the people who have already planted aronia," Everhart said. "Unfortunately, much of this it is outdated, misleading, or just not true."