USDA recently awarded two research grants to help California strawberry farms manage soil disease. One grant for $4.5 million supports a national team of experts led by University of California (UC) Davis to identify strawberry plants naturally resistant to certain diseases. The other grant for $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,” said Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission. “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.”
The grant for $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 $1.8 million to the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program. These funds will augment the $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, “ said Steve Knapp, director of the UC Davis Strawberry Breeding Program, 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.”
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 biofumigation 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.