California strawberry industry awarded US$8.8M to manage diseases

August 28 , 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded two research grants to help California strawberry farms manage soil disease.  

One grant for US$4.5 million supports a national team of experts led by the University of California (UC) Davis to identify strawberry plants naturally resistant to certain diseases.  

The other grant for US$2.5 million supports another national team of experts led by UC Santa Cruz to continue research on bio-fumigation (a natural process that suppresses soil disease). 

“California strawberry farmers have a history of innovation and collaboration with scientists at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz,” California Strawberry Commission president Rick Tomlinson said.

“We are optimistic that these two world-class research projects will identify new solutions to help our local farms through sustainable improvements to remain competitive in a global environment.”

Natural Disease Resistance

The grant for US$4.5 million will support a team of scientists from UC, Davis, UC, Riverside, UC, Santa Cruz, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Agricultural and Natural Resources, and University of Florida, to identify genetic markers that are naturally present in some strawberry plants. 

This work will help plant breeders use plants with natural disease resistance to develop new strawberry varieties that can tolerate disease in the field, while still producing delicate and great tasting fruit for the consumer.

After a briefing with UC Davis researchers, strawberry farmers took action by adding another US$1.8 million to the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program. 

These funds will augment the US$4.5 million to support a collaborative research initiative to support the long-term sustainability of U.S. strawberry production.

“The California Strawberry Commission continues to be a key partner in advancing the work of the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding program, “ UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program director Steve Knapp, who will head the collaborative team of scientists.

“We look forward to another century of support from California’s strawberry growers to develop the world’s best strawberry varieties and production practices.”

Developing Bio-Fumigation 

USDA also announced a $2.5 million grant to UC Santa Cruz, for further collaborative research integrating knowledge in anaerobic soil disinfestation, crop rotation and strawberry varieties to manage diseases in strawberry production.  

The core of the research focuses on adding a soil supplement such as rice hulls, and then adding water to cut-off the oxygen supply. 

The microbes in the soil naturally shift to an anaerobic state, digesting the soil supplement to clean the soil of disease. In recent years, the California Strawberry Commission has funded UC Santa Cruz scientists, and introduced this natural process to strawberry farmers.  

The additional USDA funding supports work to make bio-fumigation a more reliable process for a variety of different soil types and conditions, and for different diseases.

“These projects are a natural extension of the commission’s farming without fumigants initiative launched in 2008. This grant is key to crucial research addressing plant diseases in the soil as fumigants are phased out,” said Dan Legard, vice president of research and grower education at the commission.

“California continues to lead the world in agricultural innovations. These grants are good news, keeping our state’s strawberry farmers at the forefront of sustainable farming practices,” said Karen Ross, Secretary for California Department of Food and Agriculture.

 “As a representative of the salad bowl of the world, I believe it is of the utmost importance to equip our researchers and farmers with the most effective tools possible to foster innovation and growth,” said Congressman Jimmy Panetta, representative of the central coast region of California.

“These USDA grants will help our strawberry farmers thrive.”

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