Health of Produce Industry Hangs on Berries’ Health Benefits

Health of Produce Industry Hangs on Berries’ Health Benefits

In early 2005, I attended a meeting in Little Rock, AR, where Dr. Tom Bewick, USDA Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Service (now the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or NIFA), presented the idea of a national organization to represent the recently defined “specialty crop” industry.

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As many of you know, this was a newly defined term for horticultural crops — considered “minor” as opposed to “major” crops such as corn and soybeans — in the U.S. I thought Dr. Bewick had a pretty wild idea — getting potentially 300 grower or production organizations to unite in representing the large “specialty crop” industry. I snickered at the idea; but I was impressed with Dr. Bewick’s enthusiasm and wished him well.

Somewhat out of curiosity, later that year I attended a formative meeting of what would become the National Berry Crops Initiative (NBCI) held at the historic New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. Again, I was intrigued with the idea of berry crops potentially being a part of this mix. I was particularly impressed when I realized I was sitting next to Jerry Lohr, a major Paso Robles, CA vintner, who came to the meeting to share the role the wine industry was playing in this evolving National Farm Bill Alliance.

I felt if he had traveled all the way across the country to show his industry’s support of this idea of a multi-commodity alliance, it was about to get some traction, and the berry industry should be a part of it. Here is what has happened since then.

What is NBCI?
The organization’s website says “The NBCI is a partnership of industry, academia, and government, formed to develop a strategic plan for the continued growth and sustainability of berry crop production in the U.S. Berry crops include, but are not limited to: strawberry, brambles (raspberry, blackberry, others), blueberry, cranberry (including lingonberry) and ribes (currant and gooseberry).”

The NBCI’s core purpose is to enhance the health and sustainability of American berry crop industries.

The organization’s vision: Consumption of domestically grown berry crops will triple by 2020. As a result, the American berry crop industry will be viewed as a model of agricultural efficiency, sustainability, and prosperity. Berry crop consumption will result in improved human health and nutrition, and prosperity for rural and agricultural communities.
The NBCI is led by a 15-member board of directors, and the current President is Chris Christian of the California Strawberry Commission. Members represent diverse areas of the U.S. as well as a range of crops.

Focus on Berry Health Benefits
Darcy Kochis, NBCI Administrator, shared that NBCI’s focus the last few years has been to foster berry health benefits research and interchange with the scientific community. A further emphasis is to promote awareness and understanding of the health and nutritional benefits of berries, leading to increased consumption. This is done through the oversight of the Berry Health Benefits Symposium and with NBCI-supported research to more fully identify the important role of berry fruits in public health.

Over the last few years, NBCI has worked on research projects that help identify knowledge about America’s fruit consumption and berry intake patterns, including knowledge and attitudes underlying fruit choice behaviors across and within representative economically and demographically diverse populations. A peer-reviewed research paper resulted, which provided a research base for marketing and promotion initiatives to grow berry awareness and increase use and consumption. Individual berry groups, and the entire berry industry, can use these projects and the derived data for individual or collaborative efforts.

The Health Research Project Committee within the NBCI is actively working to ensure that the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call out berries as a fruit that is notable because of its nutrients and bioactive compounds, putting the government’s stamp of approval on berries as an important part of a healthy diet.

As mentioned earlier, one of the major events sponsored by the NBCI is the biennial Berry Health Benefits Symposium, where research findings from a group of renowned researchers are presented. The next symposium will be May 7-9, 2019 in Portland, OR. This meeting is intended for scientists and non-scientists alike.

Join the Conversation
The NBCI is always looking for new members to join the conversation at the intersection of the berry and health industries. If you, your organization, or your business is part of either of these industries or is concerned with how they develop together, consider joining the NBCI. The membership page can be found at http://nationalberrycrops.org/membership/ with more detailed information and a membership application form.

All of us involved in berry crops know we have great products, they are always getting better, and the health of our industry and population will be enhanced with more widespread consumption of berries in our everyday diets. The NBCI’s sustained attention to berries, and to the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance for all specialty crops, are making a substantial impact on national policy. Let the berry good times roll!