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Dragon Fruit’ One Answer To Farm Water Shortage

— San Diego farmers looking for a profitable plant that will reduce their water bill have one strong option.

San Diego farmers explore the possibilities of dragon fruit, a new cash crop that doesn't need a lot of water.

Dragon fruit grows on a cactus and it's native to Central America. Today, it's seen by some local farmers as an alternative to citrus and avocado groves, which are more water intensive.

Ramiro Lobo is a farm adviser with UC Cooperative Extension, and he's been doing field trials of dragon fruit plants in San Diego. Lobo said when he was a kid, the fruit grew wild in arid parts of his native Honduras.

He said modern varieties have a reddish flesh whose taste and texture resemble kiwi or watermelon.

"It's a combination of flavors. I mean different varieties will strike you differently. Some will be really juicy and the flavor will hit you right up front," said Lobo.

Lobo said several San Diego farmers have cultivated the fruit, though it's hard to know how commercially successful it will be. He said one farmer in Escondido has planted 17 acres.

Eric Larson is the executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau Federation. He said many farmers have become reluctant to invest in growing avocados, San Diego's one-time signature crop, due to the high price of water. And he has seen acres planted in dragon fruit that could be planted in avocados.

"So far, the return looks good," said Larson of San Diego dragon-fruit farms. "For some growers who can find niche market it holds promise."

But Larson added that the market for dragon fruit will be limited. He said once demand is met, farmers won't be able to take it much farther.

Lobo said that so far, most dragon fruit grown grown in San Diego is shipped to markets in LA, where demand is greater. San Diego farmers have to choose crops that have a high return per acre, given the high cost of doing business in San Diego County.

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