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Mamey sapotes. Link to photo information
Mamey sapote is one of many tropical fruits found in the ARS germplasm repository in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. Click the image for more information about it.

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Mainland Markets for Tropical Fruit

By Ann Perry
January 9, 2008

New varieties of tropical fruit may soon make landfall on the U.S. mainland, thanks to work by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They are using crop management practices to increase yield and obtain high-quality tropical fruit that can be imported safely into the continental United States.

Though they seem right at home, many exotic fruits studied at the ARS Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS) come from lands far from Puerto Rico. The island's climate and soils, which include 10 of the 12 soil orders recognized worldwide, provide a unique laboratory for assessing the best ways to develop these crops for commercial production.

For instance, U.S. imports of mamey sapote--a cantaloupe-sized fruit prized by the Hispanic community in the United States--have been restricted by concerns that it may serve as a host for the West Indian fruit fly. But studies conducted by TARS entomologist David Jenkins indicate that these insects are unlikely to infest mamey sapote crops produced in Puerto Rico.

The station also maintains a germplasm collection of other exotic tropical and subtropical plants, including sapodilla, Spanish lime, and species of Annona and Garcinia.

Large-scale cash crop research at TARS focuses on bananas and plantains (in the Musa genus), cacao, papaya, beans and sorghum. Horticulturist Brian Irish and research leader Ricardo Goenaga are conducting research evaluating Musa germplasm.

Human activity, pests, diseases, weather-related causes and uniformity requirements for dessert bananas have diminished the diversity of cultivated bananas. The TARS germplasm collection holds 29 accessions of plantain and 92 accessions of banana, including popularly grown cultivars, insect- and disease-resistant cultivars and other previously uncharacterized accessions.

TARS researchers want to help the tropical fruit industry expand its trade. They also hope to provide small farms and socially disadvantaged farmers with alternative high-value crops and effective management practices.

Read more about the research in the January 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.