Are pomegranates the new blueberries? Some Bacon County farmers think they just might be

Tom Ellis, of the Georgia Pomegranate Association, demonstrates their pomegranate juicing machine at the Bacon County Development Authority meeting last week.

Some area farmers are hoping a new commodity will be just as “fruitful” for Bacon County as the blueberry has been.

Tom Ellis met with the Bacon County Development Authority board last week to give them an update on the status of pomegranate production in the community.

“We knew from day one, about 10 years ago, this was going to be a 20 or 30 year project,” the farmer said. “But, we’re making progress.”

With the backing of UGA and local government, his group — the Georgia Pomegranate Association — has obtained over $350,000 in grant funds which have been used to do feasibility and other studies, purchase an aril (pomegranate seed) separator, and a pomegranate juicing machine. They’ve also been approved to purchase a pomegranate seed packing system.

“Pomegranates would support and complement the blueberry industry in Bacon County,” Ellis said. “The blueberry facilities here would love to be open longer and more often. They could do that with pomegranates.”

The pomegranate is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree in the family Lythraceae that grows between 16 and 26 feet tall.

The fruit is typically in season in the Northern Hemisphere from September to February. As intact arils (seeds) or juice, pomegranates are used in baking, cooking, juice blends, meal garnishes, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages, such as cocktails and wine.

It’s the fall/winter season that Ellis hopes will make the pomegranate a boon for Bacon County. The fruit would be harvested and processed during the off-season for blueberries.

The pomegranate promoter says it costs about $2,500 an acre to plant pomegranates, and then about $3,000 a year to maintain them with water, fertilizer, etc. The trees generally begin producing a commercially-viable crop in about five years.

Ellis, along with Don Wade, and the late Rever Morris, was among the first to recognize the potential of a this new crop for the community.

“Bacon County could be ahead of the curve on this,” he said. “What we need now is farmers to get hot about this and start putting trees in the ground.”

“We need something our children and grandchildren can take into the future. There are plants being grown right now at Bacon County High School and Lowndes County High School.”

“We’re looking at branding, and at developing new and better varieties of pomegranates. We’re looking at the future.”

Ellis said the plans call for using the group’s pomegranate juicing machine at the new Alma Farmer’s Market and at the state ag-expo in Moultrie.

“Right now, Alma’s the only place on the Georgia Grown U.S. 1 Trail where you are going to be able to get fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice,” he said. “We’re excited about that.”