“You’re not going to be able to jump on the pomegranate bandwagon with your pockets bulging with gold without a lot of hard work,” said Kevin Day, farm advisor with UC Cooperative Extension Tulare County.
In general, pomegranate trees do well in hot and dry conditions with high alkaline soil. Frost and rain can wreak havoc on pomegranates, including cracked fruit, Alternaria rot (commonly called “black heart”) and other issues. Pests to think about for pomegranates include flat mite (Brevipalpus), aphids, and in some locations filbert worm. Day noted that the leaf-footed plant bug can also infest pomegranate orchards, though he hasn’t witnessed actual fruit damage caused by this pest.
The primary varieties of pomegranate planted commercially in California are Foothill Early, Early Wonderful and Wonderful. Day noted that the two early varieties can be harvested six to eight weeks earlier, but aren’t as sweet as Wonderful.
A pomegranate orchard can contain between 150 or 200 trees per acre, with about 18-20 feet between rows, and a tree every 12 or 18 feet. Day said that though he’s heard talk about machine harvesting pomegranates, he’s not very optimistic about the possibility.
For fertility, Day recommended a nitrogen application at around 50 pounds per acre. He noted that Farm Advisor Jim LaRue used to recommend dormant spraying of Zinc, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with that recommendation.
Day said that the original use for pomegranate juice was grenadine, but new juice products like Pom Wonderful have stimulated consumers’ and growers’ interest in pomegranates.
He noted that from 2006 to 2009, the number of acres in California planted with pomegranate trees has increased from 12,000 or 15,000 acres in 2006, to 29,000 acres in 2009.
“We’ve double in three years, and that’s a lot of young pomegranate trees,” he said.
Increased competition often means lower prices for growers.
In Tulare County prices were reported in 2006 at $350-$450 per ton for any variety. In 2008, prices were reported at $100-$150 per ton — with many lots rejected and one variety (Wonderful) almost the only variety successfully sold.
Day suggested that another option for pomegranate growers is to do the processing themselves in order to sell pomegranate juice concentrate.
However, prices named for pomegranate concentrate (at 65 degrees Brix) have also become more competitive, sliding down from $45 per gallon of concentrate in March 2008 to $23-$27 per gallon of concentrate in March 2009.
“You’re going to have to do the value-added (processing) yourself, I think, in order to make money,” Day said.