HISTORY

How did kiwifruit get it's name?  read Frieda Caplan's remarks.  (link) 

Kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) is indigenous to southeast Asia where it has been known to the inhabitants of China and southeast Asia since ancient times. Kiwifruit vines are found growing naturally on the edges of the forest of China's Yangtze Valley, where it may reach heights of 30 feet and more as a vigorous fruiting vine. There are approximately 50 other species in the genus Actinidia, of which all are native to Asia. The species Actinidia deliciosa is the most favored fruiting species for commercial purposes. Some other species are grown in other areas of the world as ornamental plants.

Kiwifruit was an unknown crop several decades ago, but it has gained worldwide acceptance in the last decade. Now it is a major fruit crop with 170,000 acres planted in both hemispheres. The United States has about 7,200 acres planted, of which almost all is planted within California.

The plant itself was not exported from China until the turn of the 20th century when a New Zealand native, Isabel Fraser, took some seeds home with her and gave them to Alexander Allison. Allison grew these seeds successfully in Wanganui, where the vines first fruited in 1910. All New Zealand kiwifruit varieties are now believed to be descended from those first vines.

The first commercial crops were produced years later from plantings in the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand's north island. After early marketing success and following World War II, more plantings were added, resulting in added export sales into the 1980s.

New Zealand's success in kiwifruit marketing did not go unnoticed by the rest of the world and thus other temperate-zone countries began to import vines for trial plantings. These trials developed into successful commercial plantings in Australia, Chile, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

The United States Department of Agriculture first introduced kiwifruit into the U.S. in the 1930s. The fruit was thought to be a potential new crop that could be adaptable to the southern and western United States. Plants were distributed for trial in those areas, but the fruit was not quickly accepted by consumers. Most plants disappeared before long from the gardens they were planted in.

One of the plants originally introduced in 1934 thrived at the USDA Plant Introduction Station in Chico and became the showpiece vine for the future California kiwifruit industry. A cutting planted there in 1935 has served as a source of propagating material for today's California vineyards and is still producing well.

One of the first to prove that kiwifruit could be successfully grown in California was Robert Smith, a research horticulturist of the now closed USDA Plant Introduction Station in Chico. He also was able to provide seed, cuttings and advise to growers establishing vineyards.

In the early 1960s Judd Ingram became interested in growing kiwifruit in the Delano-McFarland area of the San Joaquin Valley. Ingram discovered that Chico had similar weather to Porterville, but his early effort to grow plant material obtained from northern California was not successful. In 1966, with the help of the California Department of Agriculture he obtained a permit to import 20 plants from New Zealand. He immediately planted these into five gallon cans. After he saw their successful growth, Ingram ordered 200 more plants which he planted directly into the field in 1967. Although he did everything wrong (by his own admission), he was still quite successful.

Judd Ingram started his own kiwifruit nursery and sold plants for many years throughout the San Joaquin Valley. He packed his own fruit since there were no other packers to do it. He used an egg sizer and packed the fruit into fig flats.

Around 1970 Frieda Caplan began importing New Zealand kiwifruit toCalifornia. After the New Zealand fruit arrived, Caplan began selling kiwifruit grown by the Tanimoto brothers, Judd Ingram and JohnHeinke, a grower who farms in Butte County. Interest in growing kiwifruit increased quickly with the Los Angeles wholesale market price at $1.50 per pound.

Little was known about the cultural practices needed to successfully produce kiwifruit in California and so many failed in their endeavors during the 1960s and 1970s. Many failures were the result of substandard plants, poor soil conditions, improper irrigation or planting site preparation, inadequate training and trellising, and a general lack of knowledge concerning commercial kiwifruit culture. Some vineyards were abandoned altogether, while others required many replacement plants. It was found that a lack of chilling in the San Diego area made it economically unfeasible to produce kiwifruit there. Many vineyards planted in the 1970s became highly productive with good management, more experience and more knowledge.

The 1980s saw an increase in production with wholesale prices decreasing, resulting in a leveling off of plantings. Plantings in both hemispheres saw increases in production come into competition with California. With a decade or more of experience, California kiwifruit production and quality had become competitive with the best in the world.

California has had very few new vineyards planted in the 1990s. Production is currently concentrated in the counties of Butte, Sutter and Yuba in the north and Fresno, Kings, and Tulare in the south.

The first commercial kiwifruit vineyard of any size in California is credited to the Tanimoto brothers of Gridley. They obtained some seed from Smith in 1965 and later some scion wood for grafting. These grafted vines were planted in an acre block in 1968 in the Sacramento Valley and produced their first commercial crop in 1971.

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