Will Cactus Become A Cash Crop On The Westside?

Cactus is a common sight in California but will it soon become a big cash crop on the Valley's Westside?{} The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Fresno State and Westside grower John Diener joined forces years ago to create a new market{}for the prickly pears{}produced by cactus plants.

Eight years ago researchers decided to give{}Optunia Cactus a shot in commercial agriculture.{} The fruit on the plant comes in all colors including red, green, orange and purple.{}

Westside farmer John Diener of Five Points is all in on the experimental project.{} "Gonna be kind of a fruit drink with an anti-oxidant type product and kind of a smoothie type of drink that would be for a health store type atmosphere"

But the challenge for researcher Gary Banuelos is to make it grow in marginal soil that has been fallowed.{} "Crops that are salt and boron tolerant and also possess some type of ability to absorb some of the selenium in the upper part of the soil"

Soil was taken from John Diener's farm seventy miles away to create the same growing conditions at the USDA Station in Parlier.{} Another key was to get the cactus to thrive on limited, low quality water.{}

More than 250 different commodities are grown on the Westside, one of the most productive regions in California.{} But thousands of acres have been idled{}due to high levels of selenium, salt and boron.{} So will rows and rows of cactus lead the comeback on bad soil?{} John Diener is a believer.{}"I see this as being another of those niches that California becomes dominant in because we have the right environment, the right soil conditions and weather to make it happen.

For years cactus has been a backyard landscape staple.{} Soon it could become a big cash crop for California agriculture.

The four varieties of cactus now have patents.{} They are co-owned by Fresno State, USDA and Red Rock Farms owner John Diener.