A new fruit favorite has shown up among the locally grown apples, pears and other autumn-ripening favorites: Alabama-grown kiwis. As most of us know, these egg-shaped fruit is a native to China, where it has been revered and cultivated for centuries. Kiwi gained its current name and an international fan base after growers in New Zealand successfully commercialized and marketed the crop. Large-scale production soon expanded to other countries, including Chile, Italy and the U.S., primarily in California, which established a thriving kiwi industry in the 1980s.
About that same time, Auburn University horticulture professor and small fruit expert Billy Dozier saw potential in Alabama for this semi-tropical fruit. Working with Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station researchers across the state to evaluate kiwi varieties and their cultivation requirements in southeastern growing conditions, Dozier identified one of the biggest challenges for production in Alabama: the winter. Or, rather, the lack of winter.
The Chilton Research and Extension Center in Clanton has been the hub of Auburn’s kiwi research for years. Director Matthew Price said to properly set the fruit, it must be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees for a specific number of hours each year, which can be a challenge in mild-wintered Alabama.