The Araberries project, promoted by the Rural Development Plan (PDR) of Aragon, is studying the adaptation of innovative berry species to the autonomous region's agronomic conditions. The study is serving to test the performance of juneberry, chokeberry, elderberry and blackberry crops in two experimental plots located in the towns of Albalate del Cinca (where they want to check the resistance of these varieties to hot summers) and Benasque (to learn about the capacity of the crops to survive the hard winters in the mountains).
Those in charge of the project had first considered working with blueberries, but found that pre-Pyrenean soils do not have the acidity required by these varieties. This was outlined by Javier Arizmendi, operations manager of Zerya, a company specialized in the implementation of new waste-free management and production systems. He is leading the project together with Luxury Fruit, a family-owned firm dedicated to the production and marketing of fruit. The Aragonese Agro-food Institute (IA2) of the University of Zaragoza is also participating as a technological partner.
They are not dealing with popular species, as those berries, for the most part, are not intended for fresh consumption. "The real interest lies in the fruits' high content of vitamins or polyphenols, which entails great potential for industrial uses," says Arizmendi. He explains that they could be used for the production of vitamin pills, food supplements, pharmaceutical compounds or cosmetic products.
Alternative for the producer
With this project, says Arizmendi, "we want to give producers an alternative crop with which to improve their income by entering very innovative market niches. An alternative that, according to the promoters of the initiative, funded by the European fund Feader (80%) and the Government of Aragon (20%), entails a great contribution to biodiversity, not only because crops need fewer treatments, but also because they are very sustainable and have a great ability to attract pollinators.
The first fruits of this first harvest are now in the hands of researchers from the University of Zaragoza, who are conducting analyzes to find out about the qualities and characteristics of the fruit obtained. The goal, once the project comes to an end in October 2020, "is to have the necessary knowledge to inform and give advice to producers interested in these alternative crops," says Arizmendi.