Nov 28

Use of Wetland Systems to Treat Nursery Runoff

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A constructed wetland

Constructed wetlands filter pollutants from nursery runoff. Growers can use this technology to protect surface waters from nutrient enrichment.

More than 56.6 million acres of land were irrigated in the United States in 2007, of which 56% was irrigated by sprinkler and microirrigation systems.1  We are developing treatment technologies to cleanse irrigation runoff either before reuse for irrigation or release into the environment.  By developing constructed wetland and vegetative buffer design technologies for use as an environmental best management practice, our team will provide growers with plant-based technology to remove sediment, nutrient, pathogen, and pesticide contaminants from water.

Through collaboration among plant scientists, plant pathologists, and environmental toxicologists, with commercial nursery and greenhouse growers in GA and SC, we are designing ecological treatment systems to cleanse water.  These treatment systems rely on natural processes to remove contaminants rather than chemical treatments.  Developing this technology will increase reuse of irrigation runoff (saving potable water resources for non-irrigation uses) and increase worker safety.  Close cooperation among researchers and commercial growers takes advantage of everyone’s expertise, ensuring progress towards implementation of the science into practice.

During the past three years, we have monitored the efficacy of two constructed wetlands to facilitate removal of nutrients and pathogen contaminants from runoff.  The wetlands reduced export of total nitrogen by 69%, phosphorus by 39%, and Phytophthora spp. (a pathogen) by 80%.  Over 630,000 gallons of water flow through these wetlands each day, and an average of 143 lbs. of nitrogen and 0.12 lbs. of phosphorus are removed from runoff on a daily basis.  Given that it takes only 0.02 ppm phosphorus to contribute to nutrient enrichment and potential impairment of surface waters2, optimizing best management practices to reduce nutrient export into surface waters is critical.  This technology to filter contaminants from runoff not only helps to protect our surface waters, but can also be applied to increase re-use of irrigation runoff to save potable water sources for other uses.


Nov 22

Hazelnut breeding for disease resistance and climate adaptation

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Oregon produces 99% of US commercial hazelnuts, with farmgate sales at $60-75 million. Oregon hazelnuts attract a premium price for large nuts compared to any other production area. Commercial plantings began in 1905; the area planted to hazelnuts reached 29,000 acres in 1986 when eastern filbert blight (EFB) was found in Clackamas County, OR.

Chemical control of EFB costs $160/acre/year. Scouting and removal of infected branches is an additional $150/acre/year. Infected trees experience dramatic yield reduction as they gradually die. From 1986 to 2010, new orchards were planted (mostly ‘Lewis’) and old diseased orchards were removed, and the total acreage remained at 29,000 acres. About 70% of orchards are infected, or are close to diseased orchards.

The goal of this SCRI-funded project is to develop disease-resistant hazelnuts, develop varieties adapted to nut production in eastern North America, and develop varieties providing Midwestern growers with an additional biofuel enterprise. The ‘Gasaway’ gene confers resistance to EFB. It is fully mapped and characterized, although work continues to refine our understanding of its function. Cultivar ‘Jefferson,’ EFB resistant and valued for its large nuts, is being readily adopted.

Beginning in 2010, plantings have expanded at a rate of 3000 acres per year with availability of new resistant cultivars. Continued research will identify and study new sources of resistance, and use them to develop new cultivars with stable resistance. Hazelnuts provide an alternative enterprise to the Willamette Valley’s grass seed growers, who continue to suffer from stagnant markets since the fall of the housing market in 2008. In a fully establishment orchard, EFB resistant trees return $1,940 per acre over cash costs to the grower, as compared to -$3,014 for the EFB susceptible planting, a difference in cumulative cash flow of $4,954 per acre. China is the principal export market for US hazelnuts.


Nov 19

Farmers Improve Sweetpotato Production Efficiency

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Hills of 'Evangeline' sweetpotatoes

Growth in the processing sector and nutrition conscious consumers are fueling sweetpotato popularity in the United States.  Production of the crop exceeded two billion lbs in 2010, the largest crop since 1950.  In addition, domestic per capita consumption increased by 34% during the last decade.  Yet variable yields, ranging from 350-900 bushels/acre, and rising production costs, exceeding $4,000.00 per acre, have left many producers on the edge of profitability. Unfortunately, producers must contend with huge variations in storage root yield, quality, disease, and storability in fields.

The long term goal of this project is to improve sweetpotato production efficiency, by overcoming production limitations that reduce yield, improving root quality and addressing food safety and emerging disease threats.  Through research and on-farm validation of an initial production model we identified conditions that lead to yield loss.  Producers who participated as case studies are not only aware of the model based decisions concerning sweetpotato production, but they implemented these practices on their farms, made informed decisions and subsequently realized optimum results, thereby demonstrating that our research has already impacted early adopters.

Through workshops and surveys, we are identifying food safety hazards and developing crisis communication plans for all participating states which will serve as a system for ensuring food safety for a $400 million industry.  Our participatory approach will aid in the development of a decision support system which will reduce yield variability and improve efficiencies.  Ultimately, our efforts will ensure our producers capitalize on expanding opportunities and remain profitable.


Nov 18

Meeting the demand for Eastern Broccoli

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New broccoli varieties (right) will be at less risk for distortions that ruin quality (left).

Broccoli is one of America’s most popular vegetables, worth nearly a billion dollars a year to farmers. A lot of broccoli is eaten in the East, but little is grown there. Buyers want eastern broccoli because locally grown food is popular, and high fuel prices raise costs. Unfortunately, current varieties under eastern growing conditions too often make heads that are not good enough to sell.

Plant breeders at public institutions have recently developed broccoli strains that make top-quality broccoli despite warmer eastern weather. They will be the basis of varieties that make year-round eastern production possible. This project provides a complete solution to the problem by addressing each of the six barriers to success.  We will improve germplasm, test regional experimental varieties across the eastern region, release new varieties, produce hybrid seed for growers, inform broccoli growers of the best production and food safety methods, and establish robust distribution channels.  Our assembled team includes breeders, production specialists, and market developers. Team members come from industry, land grant colleges and the USDA.  We have the breeding stocks, expertise and market presence to develop a substantial eastern broccoli industry in 5-10 years. This project will benefit society in many ways. It will make more local food available, provide economic development in depressed areas, reduce energy needed for transportation and save Western irrigation water. Our vision is to create a regional food network for an important nutritious vegetable. That network may serve as a model for other specialty crops.


Nov 18

Increasing the Efficiency of Irrigation Water Applications with Smart Sensor Technology

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Sensor networks aid better irrigation management decisions by farmers, increasing the efficiency of water use.

More than 56.6 million acres of land were irrigated in the United States in 2007, of which 56% was irrigated by sprinkler and microirrigation systems. (1)  We are developing advanced sensor technology to precisely monitor plant water use, to allow for better control of irrigation water applications and increase the efficiency of water and nutrient use in nursery and greenhouse operations. By using cost-effective networks of soil and environmental sensors, we are providing growers with real-time information about soil moisture and plant water use on their computers and smart phones at any time. Through ongoing collaborations between plant scientists, engineers, and economists with commercial nursery and greenhouse growers in MD, GA, TN and OH, we have developed new sensor technology and software to automatically control irrigation based on plants’ needs.  Close cooperation among researchers and commercial growers is taking advantage of everyone’s expertise, to ensure rapid progress towards implementation of the science into practice.

During the first three years of this project, commercially-available sensor technology was deployed on these farms, which growers are using to make daily irrigation decisions.  We have already reduced water applications by more than 50%, by making smarter irrigation scheduling decisions.  Improving water management not only reduces nutrient leaching but also improves plant quality and reduces losses from plant diseases.  In the case of one nursery, improving their irrigation practices resulted in a $1 per square foot economic benefit for a specific crop.  These savings from just one small area of this nursery operation would have paid for the sensor network in less than two months.  Given that most nurseries have 10’s to 100’s of acres in production, the economic benefit for individual nurseries is likely to be many thousands of dollars each year.  However, better irrigation not only benefits growers.  By improving ornamental irrigation efficiency by 50%, we can save more than 42 gallons water per person for each of the 310 million people in the US each year (2) that will help conserve the nation’s water resources.  More detailed results from the project can be found at

(1) Kenny et al., 2009.  Estimated use of water in the United States in 2005:  U.S. Geological Survey Circ. 1344, 52 p.

(2) U.S. Dept. Agric, 2009. 2008 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey: Horticultural Operations Data. Nat. Agric. Stat. Serv., Washington, D.C.


Nov 16

RosBREED: Improving the Profitability and Sustainability of the US Rosaceae Fruit Industry with Advanced Plant Breeding Tools

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Fresh and processed products of the Rosaceae plant family (almonds, apples, apricots, blackberries, peaches, pears, sweet cherries, tart cherries, strawberries, raspberries, roses and other ornamentals) provide vital contributions to human nutrition, health and well being.  Collectively their production constitutes the economic backbone of many rural communities with a collective U.S. farm gate value of approximately $10 billion.  Although current domestic production value of these crops is expanding in both domestic and export markets, the U.S. rosaceous crop industries face numerous limitations to profitability and sustainability. Overcoming these limitations requires rapid development and deployment of new cultivars with improved characteristics that meet dynamic industry market and consumer preferences.

The RosBREED project is developing and deploying genetic technologies that for the first time enable the cost-effective application of DNA diagnostic plant breeding tools in the first set of rosaceous crops (e.g. apple, peach, cherry and strawberry). We have created a broadly-accessible advanced breeding tools infrastructure for U.S. breeders and researchers, which allows everyone quick and easy access to a broad range of information. Our stakeholders and advisors include people from not only the production/processing sector but also the marketing sector of the supply chain, to prioritize breeding priorities. Substantial dollar savings have already been realized from the access and use of this information in breeding programs, by speeding up the breeding process, and early elimination of selections with poor quality fruit.  This dramatic increase in breeding efficiency will result in the more rapid availability of new cultivars with superior fruit quality for U.S. growers, increasing their profitability and competitiveness in the global marketplace. The knowledge and data gained are accessible on the project web site at and through the Rosaceae genetics and genomics website at


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