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From family farm to studying stone fruit, UF professor edits new pomegranate book

Growing up in Iran, Ali Sarkhosh worked on the family’s pomegranate farm, which has thrived for four generations.

Later, at the University of Tehran, Sarkhosh wrote both his master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation on pomegranate genetic diversity and breeding. He then worked as a pomegranate expert in Australia for four years. Down Under, he was responsible for managing aspects of 600 acres of pomegranate production.

So, it seems like a crown jewel that he would serve as lead editor of a new book on pomegranates. Sarkhosh, now a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences, leads the UF/IFAS effort to make pomegranates an economically viable crop in Florida. The fruit’s bold sweet – sometimes tart – flavor makes it a consumer favorite.

Ali Sarkhosh, UF/IFAS fruit scientist, teaches growers how to prune pomegranate trees in Peru.

Sarkhosh worked with two co-editors to publish the book, “The Pomegranate: Botany, Production and Uses.” The book is available for purchase through the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International. Hundreds of authors contributed to its contents, which are gleaned from several major scientific journal databases.

Though aimed at researchers and pomegranate producers, the book is also a good read for gardeners and anyone interested in fruit, he said.

Publishing the new book was no easy task. Sarkhosh worked on the volume for four years, but he says he’s glad he stuck with it.

“The book, authored by an international team of experts who have been at the forefront of developments in this crop, provides insights and experiences on pomegranate research,” he said. “This textbook provides a comprehensive survey of pomegranate growing from a scientific and horticultural perspective, covering different issues. Those include botany, production, processing, health and industrial uses.”

For farmers, the book helps them use science-based horticultural practices that will mitigate stresses on production, such as disease. It will also help farmers cope with nutrient management, which will increase yield and improve short- and mid-term profitability and sustainability, he said.

“One of our missions at UF/IFAS is to help growers and farmers at the international level, and indeed this book is a good example of this mission,” he said. “However, the research team at UF/IFAS — including horticulturists, plant pathologists, crop physiologists and breeders — works close with scientists at the national and international levels to accelerate this research. That way, we learn how to help pomegranates grow in Florida.”

The pomegranate shrub is native to the Mediterranean. In the United States, about 90% of pomegranates grow in California. Florida’s wet season and its hot weather pose challenges to growing pomegranates, but UF/IFAS researchers are trying to boost Florida production.

Among other research projects, UF/IFAS scientists are working on managing diseases and are trying to breed a suitable cultivar to produce fruit in July and August. Such a variety would avoid marketing competition with California pomegranates.

“At UF/IFAS, we are working together to overcome these issues by evaluating varieties and by applying genetic and breeding approaches and testing fungicides,” Sarkhosh said. “We need varieties that perform well in the Florida climate and cope with diseases that are problematic in Florida.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
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