Spring means apple bud and bloom time, and hard work by growers to thin and manage their crop. Even with an overall management strategy for this year, growers know they must remain nimble and flexible to deal with Mother Nature. No one year is like the next.
Just as you plan and work hard for your apple crop, the U.S. apple industry must relentlessly pursue ways to improve efficiency and reduce cost for sustainable returns to our orchards and other sectors of our industry. This means developing new varieties and rootstocks, improving planting methods, pursuing harvest automation, and enhancing apple quality characteristics, just to name a few. The apple industry does not have a traditional farm subsidy program linked to production. Instead, much of our future hinges on apple research to discover production and marketing improvements that can yield long-term market opportunity here and abroad. Investment in apple research is key to the future of our industry.
Support for strong funding for apple research is a top priority for USApple. USApple advocates for this funding to continue building an important research foundation for our industry’s future.
Specialty Crop Grants
Congress created a major new research program, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), in the 2008 Farm Bill at the strong urging of USApple. Legislating a Farm Bill is akin to riding a roller coaster; you’re on top and winning one moment, and the next you’re working against opponents attempting to grab funding from your program for theirs. In the last Farm Bill, USApple fought off intense competing interests to secure the new $200 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative program, in partnership with our coalition, the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance. In next year’s Farm Bill, USApple will advocate for strong funding to continue the SCRI.
During USApple’s Capitol Hill Day in mid-March, USApple leadership from around the country urged Congress to fully fund the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as support for the SCRI.
ARS conducts basic research and provides infrastructure, such as staff and labs, vital to meet apple research needs. In today’s tight budget environment, many Members of Congress seek to reduce the size of government and individual programs. USApple’s Board of Directors and state leadership advocated support for apple research as an investment in the future to help promote our industry, which provides healthy apples to combat the nation’s obesity crisis.
These are exciting times in apple research. For example, eight major apple research projects are receiving almost $6 million this year under the SCRI. One is a five-year, $14.4 million RosBREED project to enable market-assisted breeding in Rosaceae crops (related to the rose family), including apples. RosBREED’s nationwide collaborative research includes 12 breeding programs. Their goal is to develop efficient crop improvement technologies, accelerate delivery of new cultivars, and significantly enhance fruit flavor and texture, crop productivity, and regional adaptation and plant pest and disease resistance. Researchers are focused on developing new cultivars to enhance fruit consumption and human health, build industry competitiveness and sustainability, and decrease pesticide use.
USDA research and Extension activities provide the apple industry with a competitive edge in the global marketplace by enabling introduction of new cultivars, implementation of improved pest management strategies, development of more sustainable production practices, and science-based improvement of food safety.
Necessary New Initiatives
The need for a viable ongoing research infrastructure at USDA is underscored by the sudden emergence of a new invasive pest, the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). Experts say that the BMSB is the most dangerous pest to agriculture in a generation and yet there is no effective way yet to control it. The BMSB caused extensive damage to many agricultural crops in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2010 and has spread to 32 states. USDA-ARS is coordinating a major research effort to combat the BMSB. In fact, leading BMSB researcher Dr. Tracy Leskey, entomologist at USDA’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, WV coordinated development of a $9.7 million SCRI research proposal to develop ways to combat the BMSB. Research is the answer to this and other challenges facing the industry.
USApple also actively supports the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN), included in the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides a single nationally-certified source of plant material free of potentially devastating virus diseases for apples and other tree/vine industries.
Growers and consumers benefit from USDA’s Geneva Apple Rootstock Breeding Program which helps to improve disease resistance and increase productivity by developing new rootstock varieties. This program conducts important research in 12 apple-producing states, from Washington to Massachusetts and Michigan to Virginia.
So as you tend your orchard this spring, implement your management plan, and seek to avert challenges from Mother Nature, take a moment to thank those researchers and apple industry leaders whose long-range plans are opening up the promise of research for the future of our industry. The apple industry is benefiting today from their vision and will in the future as long as apple research receives important support and funding. USApple will continue to strongly pursue aggressive funding for USDA and Farm Bill research programs. They are an important part of the vision to expand our competitive position in the global marketplace, provide a sustainable return to the land, and build a strong future for each sector of the American apple industry.