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Revised September 2021.
The pomegranate might be one of the most attractive fruits with its royal crown and deep red color. However, its unique look and rich color only show the outward appearance of this super fruit. Its sweet-sour flavor and high antioxidant content are more reasons why manufacturers and consumers alike are mesmerized by the pomegranate (University of Florida: IFAS - Extension, 2013). Along with the many uses of the seedy fruit, the leaves and flowers of pomegranate trees or often used for teas.
The pomegranate, Punica granatum L., belongs to the family Punicaceae, which includes only one genus and two species. The other species Punica protopunica is native to the island of Socotra and is not of economic importance. Pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the entire Mediterranean region of Asia, Africa and Europe. In 1769, Spanish settlers brought pomegranate to California (Purdue University, 1987). Currently, California is largest grower of pomegranates in the United States (NASS, 2018).
The marketing season for pomegranates usually starts in September for early ripening varieties and continues through October for later ripening ones (Texas A&M – AgriLife Extension).
The most sought after part of the pomegranate are the arils (the ruby red juicy coating surrounding the seeds). Arils are a delicious snack on their own or a great addition to meals. Getting the arils out of the pomegranate is somewhat challenging for consumers. One way to add value is to sell pre-packed ready-to-use arils (Pomegranate Council, 2011).
Juicing pomegranates is another way to add value. Pomegranate juice is claimed to have many health benefits, such as being high in antioxidants and having anti-inflammatory properties (University of Florida: IFAS - Extension, 2013) (Zarfeshany, et al, 2014). Pomegranate juice can be processed as 100 percent pomegranate or as blends. Pomegranate juice has a very tart flavor and is often more palatable if combined with other juices. Blends of pomegranate juice are often combined with other fruits high in antioxidants such as acai berries, blueberries, cranberries and cherries. Pomegranate juice can also be used to produce pomegranate wine (Twin Pomegranates, 2015).
Pomegranates are commonly used as decorations during the fall and winter seasons. They can be displayed fresh and used later for consumption, or they can be dried (Pomegranate Council, 2011).
The most recent Census of Agriculture from 2012 states that the U.S. had 1,056 pomegranate farms and was growing pomegranates on 32,887 acres. That was a substantial increase from 2007, when there were just 599 farms and 24,517 acres. At the time of the 2012 census, 29,667 acres were bearing production (NASS, 2014).
California produces more than 90 percent of the pomegranates within the United States. According to the California County Agricultural Commissioners’ Reports: Crop Year 2012-2013, the harvested acreage for the state was 26,935 acres, yielding 10.5 tons of pomegranates per acre, and a production total of 282,532 tons with a value of $115.4 million (CDFA, 2015).
California could be heading into its fifth year of drought during the 2015-2016 water year. This drought has impacted pomegranate farms and producers in a number of ways. In 2014, some growers resorted to pulling out their pomegranate trees so water could be utilized for their other crops, such as almonds and pistachios. Other growers such as the company Ruby Fresh experienced their early varieties ready for harvest more than two weeks earlier than normal, and their pomegranates were down one size (Fresh Fruit Portal, 2014). Fortunately, the drought has not affected the nutritional value of pomegranates (NPR, 2014).
Pomegranates can grow as a large shrub or small tree, 20 to 30 feet high, however, it is recommended to train them as large shrubs for easier management. To do this, select three to five suckers or trunks as the plant begins to grow and remove all other shoots. Pomegranate plants are prone to suckering at their base, thus frequent removal will be necessary. Pomegranates are adapted to regions with hot dry summers and do best in alkaline soils with good drainage. Pomegranate plants are considered highly drought tolerant, however, plenty of irrigation is needed for larger fruit production. Pomegranate plants usually start producing fruit after three or four years. The fruits are non-climacteric, meaning that they cannot ripen off the tree, thus it is extremely important to pick them only after they have reached complete maturity (Texas A&M – AgriLife Extension).
During harvesting, the fruit must be clipped (not pulled off) as close to the base as possible leaving no stem. Leaving part of the stem could cause damage to other pomegranates during shipping. Since pomegranates are often used in arrangements during the fall and winter seasons, appearance of the fruit is very important. Therefore, protecting the fruit from too much sun exposure and sunscald is another key management action (Purdue University, 1987).
Helpful enterprise budgets for pomegranates:
- 2010 Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Pomegranates in San Joaquin Valley-South, University of California-Davis - Cooperative Extension, 2010.
2012 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), USDA, 2014.
California County Agricultural Commissioners’ Reports: Crop Year 2016-2017, NASS, USDA, 2018.
California Agricultural Statistics 2013 Crop Year, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 2014.
Pomegranates, Texas A&M – AgriLife Extension, 2013.
Pomegranate Council - Founded in 1997 by international produce marketer Tom Tjerandsen and charter members from POM Wonderful and Simonian Fruit Company, the Pomegranate Council is a non-profit organization that exists to promote the pomegranate fruit and its variety of uses.
Pomegranate Health Benefits, by Taufer, J. University of Florida: Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) – Extension, 2013.
U.S. grower cites new ‘phenomenon’ for pomegranate production, Fresh Fruit Portal, 2014.
Why California's Drought-Stressed Fruit May Be Better For You, by Sasha Khokha of National Public Radio (NPR), 2014.
Potent health effects of pomegranate by Zarfeshany A, Asgary S, Javanmard S.H. (2014). Advanced Biomedical Research, 3:100