Spreading the success of producers | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Fun fact: strawberry plants have thousands of identical siblings. They are propagated or reproduced from a mother plant over several years in special nurseries and then sold to commercial strawberry growers for planting.

Another fact that is not so funny: Plant diseases can spread in the soils and leaves of these propagated plants, sometimes undetected. When this diseased planting material is transferred to commercial fields, it can create economic havoc for the strawberry growers who plant them.

“This can happen at any time in any strawberry-growing region in the United States,” said Mark Hoffmann, berry extension specialist and assistant professor.

Hoffmann will lead a team of researchers from the state of North Carolina and 10 other partner institutions to tackle this problem in all states, including states like North Carolina, which ranks third in the country for the production of Fresh market strawberries in crop value, producing about 20 million pounds per year on about 1,500 acres. The annual production value: about $ 26 million. Much of this is generated in rural communities who depend heavily on agriculture to support their economies.

The research project funded by a four-year, $ 5.294 million grant and sponsored by the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) will develop innovative new propagation technologies for the U.S. Strawberry nurseries, whether they reproduce strawberry plants in fields, greenhouses or indoors. and without the use of methyl bromide, a minor use pesticide that is being phased out for environmental purposes.

“Nurseries often use methyl bromide to fumigate their soils,†Hoffmann said. “From a nursery perspective, if it loses methyl bromide, it loses business. From a grower’s point of view, he needs cleaner plants. We are working on these new technologies to reduce the problems on both sides.

Hoffmann says the project will develop an additional set of tools for strawberry nurseries and help protect the bottom line for all commercial strawberry growers, including those who grow the specialty crop in economically struggling North Carolina counties. and are more vulnerable to large crop losses.

“The goal is to elevate strawberry nurseries by giving them the tools to profitably produce cleaner plants without the use of methyl bromide. Such an achievement would help all strawberry growers, including the more than 300 strawberry growers scattered across North Carolina, whether they have a half-acre farm or over 150 acres. “

Hoffman’s team plans to work with nurseries and entrepreneurs across North America – particularly North Carolina, California and Canada – to develop and implement these new protocols using technologies on the field, in greenhouses and fully controlled environments.

Among the technological protocols, Hoffmann and his colleagues will develop: precise indoor propagation protocols (PIPs) for strawberries in fully controlled environments, such as growth and propagation chambers; greenhouse propagation protocols; optimized indoor strawberry conditioning protocols to condition strawberry plants for propagation, fruiting and storage; and genetic detection tools to determine optimal protocols for propagation and conditioning.

“By developing and implementing potential new technology-driven protocols with early adopters, strawberry growers around the world will benefit from potentially higher fruit production and less economic loss from pathogens,” Hoffmann said.

Hoffmann says economics will be an important component of the studies, looking at all the economics of these systems, from nursery operation to plant physiology to the supply chain.

“From an economic perspective, we will focus our efforts on cost-effective implementation of our technologies with different key industry stakeholders and on analyzing supply chain effects,†Hoffmann said. “We need to make sure we understand the complexity of a nursery operation to ensure optimal adaptation of this technology.

Hoffmann and his team will also research ways to improve open-field nursery operations through plant nutrient inputs and the use of row covers to help establish early propagation rates in tall nurseries. altitude.

“It’s difficult to develop new technologies,†Hoffmann said. “There is a lot of adaptation to be done, but the preliminary data is very promising. This shows that we can probably not only create cleaner systems, but also increase the productivity of those systems for the benefit of growers across America – and especially North and Southeast Carolina. “

The team is also planning national and regional field days to help raise awareness of the industry and the use of these newly developed technologies – as well as highlight them at a research conference at the end of this year. the four-year period.

“This research is the latest of many North Carolina state research projects that are driving our progress in the specialty crop industry,†said Adrian Percy, new executive director of the NC Plant Sciences Initiative. “With NC PSI’s core laboratories, state-of-the-art equipment, and team-based interdisciplinary science, we are poised to further elevate North Carolina State’s agricultural research while supporting the economy. of our state. ”

Hoffmann says the grant is an important victory for North Carolina, as research funding historically goes to the two largest strawberry-producing states in the United States: California and Florida.

“It’s exceptional to have such a large strawberry grant with the lead funded outside of Florida and California,†Hoffmann said. “This project was a real team effort. There was a will from everyone to make this happen, and I feel very honored to have the opportunity to lead this group of exceptional researchers, specialists and producers. “


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