University partners in fig industry revitalization project
Representatives of the California Fig Advisory Board have gained support from California State University’s Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) program headquartered at Fresno State to help revitalize the California fig industry.
The goal of the project is to advance the long-term interests of the fig industry by expanding market opportunities and updating industry practices, reported Richard Matoian, manager of the California Fig Advisory Board, based in Fresno. The project is being conducted in partnership with the Viticulture and Enology Research Center (VERC) at California State University, Fresno.
The first phase of the revitalization effort included improving the inspection data collection and dissemination system for dried figs through the development of a customized software system, Matoian said.
“All dried figs are required to undergo mandatory inspection for grade and quality,” he said. Under the new software system, once an inspection is complete, growers receive an email indicating that it is available via a secured website. Once logged on, the grower can access their individual inspection, thereby receiving results almost as they occur.
“The electronic inspection system is user friendly and growers have adapted relatively easily to this electronic process,” Matoian said.
A second project phase featured research regarding consumer attitudes about fresh and dried figs. Focus groups were formed in order to obtain information regarding consumer buying habits and trends that might enable improved target marketing and promotion activities.
The research results suggest there is a significant opportunity to increase purchase and consumption of fresh figs in the United States through effective marketing communications, Matoian said. The focus groups indicated that a number of people are receptive to purchasing figs more often, especially fresh figs.
A final phase of the research has focused on determining the potential health benefits associated with fig consumption, specifically the potential for reducing heart disease, Matoian said. Because coronary heart disease continues to be a major health problem and the leading cause of death in the United States today, strategies for reducing risk have included lowering levels of total cholesterol or LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
A study was commissioned through the Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center to determine if inclusion of dried figs in the diet would have a lowering effect on LDL cholesterol. A panel study of hyperlipidemic adults was conducted. Participants consisted of 138 males and females between the ages of 30 and 78. In the study, half the panelists received dried figs on a daily basis for six weeks and half received none. Then after a one-week break, the diet regimes were reversed.
The first six-week results were positive and showed reductions of LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels by at least 10 percent in participants consuming the fig diet. In addition, many of the participants reported that they experienced an overall feeling of well being while on the fig diet regimen. The second six-week results, however, were inconclusive, leading project directors to suggest a third study, which is being conducted this year, Matoian said.
Ultimately, project directors hope that the information provided to the fig industry through the different phases will enable it to successfully advance its long-term economic interest in California and the United States.
Funding for this project was made available by the Governor’s “Buy California Initiative,” the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through the ARI Program. The Agriculture Research Initiative is a collaborative partnership among California State University campuses that have colleges of agriculture.
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