Division of Agriculture scientists report progress during annual meeting of small fruit researchers

Oct. 31, 2011
Contact Information:

Dr. Elena Garcia, Extension Fruit Specialist, Department of Horticulture
479-575-2790, megarcia@uark.edu

Dr. John Clark, University Professor and Fruit Breeder, Department of Horticulture
479-575-2810, jrclark@uark.edu

By Fred Miller, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Communications
479-575-5647, fmiller@uark.edu

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tom bewick

Tom Bewick, national program leader for horticulture in the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, gives a report on the state of USDA research funding during the NCCC212 Small Fruit and Viticulture 2011 meeting at the University of Arkansas Oct. 25.
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elena garcia

Dr. Elena Garcia, extension fruit specialist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, describes her research using high tunnels to expand the growing season for blackberries, raspberries and other small fruits during a tour of fruit research at the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville. The tour was part of an annual meeting of small fruit and viticulture researchers from across the country. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture hosted the meeting Oct. 25-27.
(Click on image to download full-resolution version.)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Small fruit researchers from across the United States met at the University of Arkansas Oct. 25-27 to compare notes and build collaborations for ongoing research.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture hosted the annual meeting this year.

Tom Bewick, national program leader for horticulture in the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, said the USDA was currently operating on continuing resolutions while waiting for the U.S. Congress to pass an appropriations bill. He said the Senate has passed a plan that cuts about $200 million from the USDA budget and the House of Representatives passed a bill cutting $700 million.

“We like the Senate bill a lot better,” he told the meeting participants.

The differences will have to be ironed out in a conference, Bewick said.

Bewick also said work will not begin on a new farm bill until the budget supercommittee, assigned to come up with a plan to reduce the national deficit, has finished its work.

The Division of Agriculture has received a total of about $1.7 million in USDA funding for fruit research, said Mike Sisco, division grants officer.

Bewick said 2012 is the last year that the U.S. farm bill authorizes funding NCCC-212, the USDA program that was the purpose and subject of the meeting. It’s designed to promote collaborations and exchanges of information among small fruit researchers who receive funding through the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Arkansas scientists summarized their fruit research during the group’s state reports on the second day of the meeting.

Division fruit breeder John R. Clark said blackberry breeding has long been the largest breeding effort for the Division of Agriculture. A record number of seeds from crossbreeding in 2010 provided more than 13,000 blackberry seedlings for 2011. Winter injuries to parent plants reduced the number of crossings made in 2011 and hampered seedling evaluations. Nevertheless, he said, an immense number of seedlings are being held for 2012.

Several blackberry selections are in advanced stages of testing, including thornless lines of both floricane- and primocane-fruiting plants, Clark said. Three thornless selections in particular, including one floricane-fruiting line and two primocane-fruiting lines, are showing the most promise for release as new varieties.

Clark said table grape crossing has ceased in the Arkansas breeding program, but seedlings will continue to be evaluated through 2013, the 50th year of the grape breeding program. Four selections are in the final stages of evaluation for release as commercial grape varieties, he said, and he expects a total of five to 10 improved grape varieties will be released in the next two to six years.

Muscadine grape breeding is going full steam now, Clark said, with more than 8,500 seedlings planted from crosses made between 2005 and 2010. He said 66 have been made so far with notable variations in traits, including fruit size, texture, flavor, leaf shape and winter hardiness.

A limited number of blueberry selections also are being evaluated, Clark said.

Clark also noted numerous collaborations in blackberry and muscadine breeding with researchers in other states.

Elena Garcia, extension fruit specialist reported she had ongoing research to develop fertilizer recommendations for primocane-fruiting blackberries. She is working in collaboration with scientists in North Carolina to determine the best sampling dates and the optimum rate and application timing for nitrogen fertilizer.

Garcia also described research on the use of high tunnels to extend the harvest season for strawberries. Strawberries planted in mid-September and early October 2010 were continuously harvested throughout the following winter despite record low temperatures.

Although yields were slightly below spring harvest systems, Garcia said, she expected growers could receive premium prices for locally produced strawberries available out-of-season.

Garcia said she began a biofumigation study this year to evaluate the use of Indian mustard and mustard meal to control pests in the high tunnels. She will also continue to evaluate yield and quality of fruit grown during November and December and determining the most suitable strawberry varieties for high tunnel production.

Garcia also began a new study this year to compare high tunnel production of table grapes with conventional outdoor production.

Donn Johnson, professor of entomology, described his research on alternative tactics to prevent damage to blackberries and raspberries from borers and mites. The study includes evaluations of several pesticides and development and testing of a sticky trap that mimics the color and odor of primocanes.

In other research, Johnson is collaborating with Missouri scientists to develop sustainable production systems for wine grapes in the Ozark Mountain region. He is monitoring insect and mite densities in high tunnel grown brambles, strawberries and grapes and testing Surround pesticide against Japanese beetles and releasing predatory mites as bio-control agents against spider mites or broad mites. He is also developing a trap, lure and killing stations for monitoring and control of Green June beetles.

Plant pathologist Yannis Tzanetakis has been identifying, characterizing the traits and tracking the ranges of new viruses in blackberries and blueberries. He has also determined that cucumber mosaic virus and strawberry necrotic shock virus can infect cranberries. He has been studying the transmission of blackberry viruses by mites and hoppers and the diversity of rubus viruses across the country. He has also been conducting a survey of strawberry virus in the U.S.

Tzanetakis has also been developing genetic tests to detect and identify viruses in small fruits, including the use of next generation genetic sequencing to detect viruses in advanced breeding selections.