University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point researchers are working with
a Portage County farm on an economic development project that could expand the
farm to a “pharm.”
Knowing Dick Okray was forward-thinking and interested in growing
crops other than potatoes, Paul Fowler, executive director of Wisconsin
Institute for Sustainable Technology at UW-Stevens Point, approached him about
the possibility of growing cold-tolerant grapes in central Wisconsin.
The interest was not in making jelly or wine, but in extracting an
antioxidant used in health supplements. Resveratrol
is a natural ingredient increasingly used in hand and face creams, as a food
additive and to combat diseases associated with aging, such as arthritis.
resveratrol comes from China, and quality is variable, Fowler said. “With
homegrown products, we have good quality assurance and control.”
was interested in the collaboration and worked closely with Fowler and Paul
Skinner, a UW-Stevens Point alumnus and
successful wine producer in California.
partners needed to select varieties that would be hardy in central Wisconsin
and produce high levels of resveratrol.
this instance we’re doing farming with a “ph” instead of an “f,” Okray said.
Using natural products with health benefits is known as the nutraceutical
initial planting occurred in June 2014. They’ll soon be growing eight varieties
on about two acres along Highway 54 south of Stevens Point as part of Plover
Farms, LLC. Okray’s niece Gabrielle Eck learned about grape production, from
installing plants to trellising and pruning. She learned to winterize them – a
labor intensive process of digging a 12-inch trench, burying vines and covering
them with straw.
grapes carries all the concerns any Wisconsin grower has, Okray said, citing
harsh winters, variable weather, diseases and predators, including wildlife and
insects. He also wants to keep the crop away from pesticide drift.
far, so good, Eck said.
Research Associate Shona Duncan began testing components of the grapes for
resveratrol. She discovered the highest concentrations are not in the skin,
pulp or juice. It is highest in the canes, rachis and
peduncles that support grape clusters. A U.S. Department of Agriculture
grant to WIST is supporting the research lab testing portion of the project.
project seeks to determine which grape varieties grow best in a cold climate
and yield profitable quantities of resveratrol. The ingredient seems to
increase when plants are stressed by weather or absence of water, so Plover
Farms and WIST staff also are testing different stressors and timing of harvest
as well as variety of grape.
takes three years to develop a grape crop. This is the first year production is
expected to be about one-third of its potential.
fall, after grapes are harvested, the canes will be pruned and bundled so
resveratrol can be extracted.
Farms credited UW-Stevens Point researchers for innovation and expertise in
developing this alternative crop. “If it wasn’t for Paul and WIST, this
wouldn’t even be a project. He suggested it, provided the brains, the
chemistry, and connected us to Dr. Skinner,” Eck said.
too early to assess the results, the partners hope the venture is both
economically viable and sustainable. That will depend on factors such as the
volume the grapes produced, the cost to extract resveratrol and the results of
clinical trials on health benefits of the product. This bio-material could provide
diversity to Wisconsin farm crops and add value to rural economies.
Plover Farms have made a real investment in this project and enthusiastically
embraced the collaboration, Fowler said.
“I love the opportunity to collaborate with smart people and to
try new things. Whether it succeeds is less important to me than that we
tried,” Okray said.