Apr 09

RosBREED: For the first time, U.S. peach breeders implement Marker-Assisted Breeding


The perfect peach, one that meets consumer preferences for flavor and texture and producer preferences for performance, remains elusive.  Peach breeders are striving to fill this need; however, breeding a new peach cultivar is slow and inefficient, often requiring more than 15 years. Peach breeders have a hard time predicting which individuals would be the best parents and face the daunting challenge of selecting winners from populations of thousands and seedlings.

To efficiently and more rapidly deliver superior, commercially successful new cultivars, peach breeding programs need to implement new genetic technologies. Marker-Assisted Breeding (MAB), using DNA diagnostic information, is one such technology that is particularly effective to select parents and their offspring for desirable fruit quality traits such as size, color, flavor, and texture.

MAB can identify parental combinations that increase the probability of finding the most desirable offspring. Further, MAB increases the efficiency of selecting for target traits at the seedling stage, before plants are even planted in the field or nursery. This early screening reduces expenditures for planting, maintaining, and testing full-grown plants, an expensive and time-consuming proposition for peach. While this approach can enhance all rosaceous crop breeding programs, it is especially helpful in perennial rosaceous crops such as fruit trees, because it can take more than 25 years to develop and commercialize a new cultivar. Tools, knowledge, and training in this area were needed for Rosaceae breeding to capitalize on decades of upstream scientific advances.

“RosBREED: Enabling marker-assisted breeding in the Rosaceae” was funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative. This project was dedicated to the genetic improvement of U.S. rosaceous crops by targeted applications of genomics knowledge and tools to accelerate and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of breeding programs. This multi-state, multi-institutional project focused on five rosaceous crops: apple, peach, strawberry, and sweet and tart cherry.

Within RosBREED, peach breeders in California, South Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas evaluated important parents, their ancestors, and their offspring for a range of fruit quality traits.  Evaluating these individuals across these four very different sites added to our understanding of key traits and their interrelationships, making it possible to more efficiently improve them genetically.

RosBREED scientists developed DNA tests to predict peach maturity date and fruit quality traits including fruit texture, flavor, size, and skin color. These new genetic tests now help identify parents with the greatest likelihood of transmitting favorable traits, as well as pinpointing the best seedlings for further testing. All this reduces the effort and expense of growing out and sorting through thousands of seedlings with unacceptable fruit quality.

Peach breeders can now develop superior cultivars that meet the needs and desires of consumers and producers more efficiently, accurately and creatively. The impact is already being realized:

  • Participating peach breeding programs have applied MAB since 2012 to choose better parents to result in superior offspring
  • Corrected pedigrees of parents, selections, and seedlings enabled breeders to make well informed crossing, culling, and advancement decisions rather than partially informed guesses.
  • MAB increased the efficiency of peach breeding programs by focusing resources on seedlings that have the greatest potential for commercial success.

Nine graduate students in RosBREED peach breeding programs have received state-of-the-art education in MAB.

 

 

RosBREED_Legislative_handout   Download RosBREED’s Legislative handout

 

Feb 19

RosBREED: For the first time, U.S. apple breeders implement Marker-Assisted Breeding


Apple boxes

The success of recent introductions of new apple scion cultivars in the U.S. provides clear evidence that both consumers and the industry are eager for genetic innovations with appealing new fruit quality characteristics. The spectacular commercial impact of ‘Honeycrisp’, developed by the University of Minnesota, is an exciting indicator of this opportunity.

However, developing and delivering a new apple cultivar is slow and inefficient, often requiring more than 25 years. Apple breeders have a hard time predicting which individuals will serve as the best parents and face the daunting challenge of selecting winners from populations of thousands of seedlings after making their crosses.

To efficiently and rapidly deliver superior, commercially successful new cultivars, apple breeding programs need to implement new genetic technologies. Marker-Assisted Breeding (MAB), using DNA diagnostic information, is one such technology, applicable to selecting parents and their offspring for desirable fruit quality traits such as flavor, texture and color, disease resistances, or a range of important horticultural characteristics.

MAB can identify parental combinations that increase the probability of finding the most desirable offspring. Further, MAB ups the efficiency of selecting for target traits at the seedling stage, before plants even flower. This early screening reduces expenditures for planting, maintaining, and testing full-grown plants, an expensive and time-consuming proposition for apple. While this approach has been standard practice in many agronomic crops for years, it had not been applied to apple, or other important rosaceous crops like almond, blackberry, cherry, peach, pear, raspberry, rose and strawberry, until the RosBREED project.

“RosBREED: Enabling marker-assisted breeding in the Rosaceae” was funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative. This project was dedicated to the genetic improvement of U.S. rosaceous crops by targeted applications of genomics knowledge and tools to accelerate and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of breeding programs. This multi-state, multi-institutional project focused on five rosaceous crops: apple, peach, strawberry, and sweet and tart cherry.

Within RosBREED, apple breeding programs in Minnesota, New York, and Washington evaluated important parents, their ancestors, and their offspring for a range of fruit quality traits.  Evaluating these individuals across these three very different sites added to our understanding of key traits and their interrelationships, making it possible to more efficiently improve them genetically.

RosBREED scientists developed DNA tests to predict apple skin color, fruit firmness, crispness, juiciness, acidity, storability, and storage disorders. These new genetic tests now help identify parents with the greatest likelihood of transmitting favorable traits, as well as pinpointing the best seedlings for further testing. All this reduces the effort and expense of growing out and sorting through thousands of seedlings with unacceptable fruit quality.

Apple breeders can now develop superior cultivars that meet the needs and desires of consumers and producers more efficiently, accurately, and creatively. The impact is already being realized:

  • Participating apple breeding programs have applied MAB to choose better parents to create more useful offspring since 2011.
  • Over 14,000 seedlings were discarded in 2011 to 2013, prior to field planting, after DNA screening predicted they would have inferior fruit quality or disease susceptibility, thus avoiding resource expenses totaling over $200,000.
  • Three graduate students in RosBREED apple breeding programs have received state-of-the-art education in DNA-informed plant breeding.

 

RosBREED_Legislative_handoutDownload RosBREED’s Legislative handout

 

 

 

Oct 15

Better irrigation in greenhouses and nurseries saves both money and water


The US greenhouse and nursery industry supplies consumers with ornamental plants, vegetable seedlings, and fruit trees for use in gardens throughout North America. Irrigation in greenhouses and nurseries can be difficult to manage, because many of the plants are grown in fairly small pots that may need to be watered several times per day. And most greenhouse and nurseries grow a wide variety of crops; adjusting irrigation of all these crops based on the actual watering needs is too time-consuming for growers.
To address this challenge, we have developed wireless sensor networks to help growers automate irrigation based on the actual water needs of their crops. The principle is simple: soil moisture sensors are inserted into the pots and they measure how much water is present. The sensors are connected to a ‘node’, which radios the data to a computer, where the data is presented in charts. Growers can see whether the various crops have adequate water. More importantly, they can use this computer to instruct each node when and for how long to turn on the irrigation. This way, plants get watered only when needed and only with the amount of water required.
We are testing this system in a commercial nursery in Georgia. For the testing, we decided to pick gardenia ‘Radicans’, one of the most challenging crops produced by this nursery. Typically, this nursery loses about 20 – 30% of the plants during the production, and most of these losses are due to watering too much.
Using the wireless sensor networks to automate the irrigation of this crop eliminated these losses. And just as importantly, we found that we could actually grow the crop much faster; the normal production cycle for these plants is 14 months, but with precision irrigation we were able to grow them in only eight months.
The precision irrigation had various benefits to the nursery: since none of the plants died because of overwatering, the nursery could sell 2,000 more plants than they anticipated. And shortening the production cycle from 14 to 8 months reduced the production inputs (labor, fertilizer, pesticides). Combined, the extra plants that were sold and the reduced production costs resulted in an economic gain of $20,700 or approximately $1/sq. ft. The required hardware only costs about $6,000, so the return on investment was just a few months.
This research not only benefited this nursery, but also society at large: by irrigation more precisely, the nursery withdraws les ground water, leaving more water for other uses. And after seeing the benefits of better irrigation practices, the nursery has adjusted their irrigation practices throughout the entire nursery. We conservatively estimate that this has reduced their water use by 100,000,000 gallons per year, enough water to supply about 800 households or about 2,000 people.

 

May 21

Weed, Water, and Nutrient Management Practices for Organic Blackberry Production


Blackberry production test plot at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center

Oregon’s berry crop industry is diverse and economically important. In 2011, about 23,000 acres on over 1000 family farms were harvested for a farm gate value of more than $123 M. Blackberry acreage continues to grow with new growers requiring basic information and existing growers struggling to remain economically viable in a global market. Growers require knowledge on production and physiology questions in order to make educated decisions that will improve farm profitability and sustainability. We seek to assist growers wishing to establish or transition into organic berry production make educated decisions and improve economic viability and sustainability.

To our knowledge, ours is the only organic study in the world on blackberry for processing. The long-term goal of this work is to develop best irrigation, fertigation and weed management practices in organic machine-harvested blackberry bound for processing, best management practices for fresh blackberry production, and an understanding of the healthful properties of blackberry fruit. With NIFA-OREI funding totaling $2.5 M, the support of Oregon and Washington Berry Commissions, and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research, we have developed organic production systems trials on organically-certified land at an OSU research station (NWREC) and at two grower-cooperator sites (in Oregon and North Carolina).

With grower input, information gained from this study is allowing us to develop an organic blackberry cost of production guide. Some of our findings will benefit all blackberry growers by promoting sustainability and environmental quality. We are gathering science-based information on the effectiveness of organic weed management techniques, the importance of post-harvest irrigation, fertigation, and primocane management on processed, machine-harvested, organic blackberries. We are also collaborating with research and extension colleagues at NCSU to develop fresh blackberry production systems and determine the effect of production system and cultivar on the healthful properties of fruit.

Weeds are a significant problem in all organic production systems. Oregon blueberry growers have readily adopted our findings in the use of landscape fabric in new plantings. Implementation of the practice has increased from less than 10% of the newly planted acres in 2006 to more than 80% of the new acreage in 2010. We will see whether blackberry growers likewise adopt this practice. Should similar positive effects of landscape fabric on plant growth and yield be noted, increased use of landscape fabric will likely lead to reduced herbicide application in organic and conventional plantings. Organic production systems are thought to be better for the environment in that use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited; run off and leaching of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to water sources simply does not occur. This project is working with the eOrganic staff to enhance outreach and disseminate findings.

 

May 21

Organic Blueberry Production Systems in Oregon


Organic blueberry production trials at Oregon State University's North Willamette Research and Extension Center

Oregon’s berry crop industry is diverse and economically important. In 2011, about 23,000 acres on over 1000 family farms were harvested for a farm gate value of more than $123 M. Organic blueberry acreage in the USA increased from 480 acres in 2003 to 1,950 acres in 2008. Blueberry acreage continues to grow with new growers requiring basic information and existing growers struggling to remain economically viable in a global market. We seek to assist growers wishing to establish or transition into organic berry production make educated decisions and improve economic viability and sustainability.

To our knowledge, ours is the only whole systems, organically certified study in highbush blueberry in the world. The long-term goal of this work is to develop organic production systems for highbush blueberry that maximize plant growth and yield; facilitate weed, water and nutrient management; and provide economic benefit to growers. With NIFA-OREI funding totaling $494,600, the support of Oregon and Washington Berry Commissions, and the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research, we have developed organic production systems with similar yield and production costs to conventional systems.

With grower input, information gained from this study has allowed us to develop a blueberry economics publication for organic production. Some of our findings will benefit all blueberry growers by promoting sustainability and environmental quality. The organic blueberry work already is producing short term benefits and is expected to have significant long-term benefits for growers.

Weeds are a significant problem in all organic production systems. Oregon blueberry growers have readily adopted our findings in the use of landscape fabric for weed control in new plantings. Implementation of the practice has increased from less than 10% of the newly planted acres in 2006 to more than 80% of the new acreage in 2010. The positive effects of landscape fabric on plant growth and yield will likely lead to reduced herbicide application in organic and conventional plantings alike. Organic production systems are thought to be better for the environment in that use of synthetic pesticides is prohibited; run off and leaching of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to water sources simply does not occur. This NIFA-OREI funded work indicates greater yield from minimized fertilizer use benefiting the grower and the environment. In addition, maximizing fertilizer and irrigation efficiency will likely be of environmental benefit. This project has used eOrganic to enhance outreach and disseminate findings.

 

Mar 03

Locally Grown Ethnic Greens and Herbs: Demand Assessments and Production Opportunities for East Coast Farmers


Purple Amaranth - an ancient high-protein plant from South America, with leaves are among the most nutritious of vegetable greens

Hispanics and Asians living in the United States had a combined purchasing power of almost $1.5 trillion in 2009, representing a major market opportunity for farmers on the East Coast. The primary focus of this project was to analyze consumer demand for ethnic greens/herbs, understand willingness to pay a premium for fresh leafy greens/herbs, document ethnic consumers’ preferences for local produce, and better understand demographic characteristics of likely buyers. The motivation for studying demand for ethnic greens/herbs is based on size of the Asians and Hispanic immigrant population, in this region. A 2006 consumer survey of the total ethnic produce market on the East Coast was estimated at more than $1 billion. To increase profitability and sustainability, many farmers have begun growing specialty crops, to target this sizeable horticultural market.

During 2010, we conducted four online focus group sessions with consumers who identified with one of four ethnic groups of interest (Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Asian Indians and Chinese), who identified a final list of 40 ethnic greens and herbs. Based on 2010 census data, there are 1.3 million Asian Indians, 1.2 million Chinese, about 3 million Mexicans, and 3.6 million Puerto Ricans in Washington, DC and the 16 Eastern US states covered by our study. A telephone survey instrument was developed, and a total of 1,117 interview samples were randomly collected from these target audiences. On average, Asian Indians spent $112 dollars per month; Chinese consumers spent $87 per month; Mexican consumers and Puerto Rican consumers spent $79 and $85 per month, respectively, on ethnic greens and herbs.

Based on the purchasing behavior and numbers of consumers in each of these demographics, the potential farm-gate value of these ethnic vegetables could conservatively be over $200 million per year in Washington DC and 16 US states covered by the study. Our team has utilized a number of follow-up strategies to reach potential producers and extension specialists. An online webinar was conducted by team members, during which outcomes of this survey were presented (see http://www.primetechrepair.com/symp//EthnicCrops/Ramu_Govindasamy/player.htm)
Team members have also developed a world crop website to promote outreach to clientele at http://www.worldcrops.org/

 

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