For good luck in the New Year, Americans eat sauerkraut. For cost savings and a higher-quality product, Ohio cabbage growers and processors turn to theexperts at Ohio State University.
During the past five years, The Fremont Company -- thecountry's second largest producer of sauerkraut, based in Fremont, Ohio -- haspartnered with OSU Extension and theOhio Agricultural Research and DevelopmentCenter (OARDC) to test cabbage varieties for their suitability to the region'ssoils and growing conditions.
The trials -- conduced at OARDC’s North Central AgriculturalResearch Station, which is located just six miles from The Fremont Company -- aredesigned to help the processorand the farmers who supply it with cabbage determinewhich varieties perform better in terms of yield and quality.
"We tested 20 varieties in 2011, from early-maturing tolate-maturing types, and compared them for yield, head quality, good color forkraut, maturity rates, impact of planting andharvesting time on quality, andother characteristics," said OSU Extension educator Mark Koenig, who runs thetrials along with station manager Matt Hofelich. "The idea is tosupport localgrowers through scientifically based, unbiased, replicated trials conducted in fieldconditions similar to the ones they encounter on their farms."
According to Bruce Hanzel, plant manager at The FremontCompany-- whose products includeFrank's Kraut and Snow Floss Kraut -- the processor and its Ohio growers wouldbe at a significant competitive disadvantage without these trials.
"Wisconsin and New York are the hotbeds of processingcabbage production in the U.S.; the major seed companies are located in NewYork and conduct their own variety trialsthere," Hanzel explained. "But thedifference in soils and climate between New York and Ohio make those trials oflittle value to us. Varieties that work well in New York may ormay not workhere, or their maturity dates don't match. These trials (at the Fremontstation) are extremely valuable to us because selecting and growing the rightvarieties increasesefficiency and lowers costs."
Ohio may not be the leading producer of sauerkraut, but itscabbage industry is no side dish. According to the latest figures availablefrom the U.S. Department of Agriculture(2007), 1,501 acres are dedicated toprocessing cabbage production in the Buckeye State. Most growers are located innorth-central and northwest Ohio counties along Lake Erie'sfertile plains —and most in relative proximity to OARDC's Fremont research farm.
"We invite our growers every year to the station to checkout the trials and learn from the work done here," Hanzel said. "We are soclose, we can look at the different varieties andcharacteristics in real time,whether it's varieties we are currently using or experimental ones coming downthe road. The trials give us a side-by-side comparison we can't get fromanyother source."
OARDC has been involved in evaluating new cabbage varietiesfor Ohio's sauerkraut processors and growers since the early 1970s -- first ata research site located near GreenSprings in Seneca and at the North Central AgriculturalResearch Station since its establishment in 1979. Additionally, cabbage varietieshave been evaluated for food-processingcriteria in collaboration withscientists at Ohio State’s Food Industries Center in Columbus.
OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms,respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and EnvironmentalSciences.