$4.5 Million Grant Advances Research Toward Disease-Resistant Strawberries

UC Riverside researcher is among collaborative team working to improve sustainable strawberry production

This photo shows a strawberry plant that died from Fusarium wilt disease.

A strawberry plant that died from Fusarium wilt disease. UCR’s Alex Putman is part of a collaborative team working to develop disease-resistant strawberries.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) —  A team of researchers in California and Florida, including one from the University of California, Riverside, has received a $4.5 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the disease resistance and sustainable production of strawberries throughout the nation.

Strawberries constitute a $4.4 billion-dollar industry in the United States, and 94 percent of the nation’s strawberry fruit and nursery plants are grown in California and Florida. The fruit is especially vulnerable to soilborne pathogens, which destroy plants and greatly reduce yield. Since the 1960s, strawberry growers have depended on fumigants like methyl bromide to treat soil before planting berries to control disease. But methyl bromide has been phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency and will no longer be available after 2017.

“Following the elimination of methyl bromide fumigation, strawberry growers are under greater economic pressures, and there is an urgent need for improved, disease-resistant strawberry varieties that will thrive without fumigation,” said Steve Knapp, director of UC Davis’ Public Strawberry Breeding Program and the lead researcher on the grant.

Knapp will head an impressive team of scientists from UC Davis, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, UC Agricultural and Natural Resources, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and the University of Florida.

Together, the researchers will mine elite and wild genetic resources to find natural sources of resistance to pathogens and accelerate the development of public varieties resistant to a broad spectrum of diseases and other pests.

A headshot of Alex Putman

Alex Putman

“In addition to developing resistant plant varieties, we will target the pathogens directly with early detection and intervention tactics. These two approaches complement each other in a powerful way toward reducing losses from soilborne diseases,” said Alex Putman, an assistant cooperative extension specialist and assistant plant pathologist in UCR’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and collaborator on this grant. Putman leads the Vegetable and Strawberry Pathology Program at UC Riverside, which is focused on developing improved tools for managing soilborne diseases that threaten strawberry and other crops in California.

The collaborative grant is good news for strawberry farmers and consumers everywhere, according to Rick Tomlinson, president of the California Strawberry Commission. To signal its support, the strawberry commission pledged an additional $1.8 million to the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program.

“Thanks to their ground-breaking research and strong partnerships, Director Steve Knapp and his colleagues are developing improved strawberry varieties publicly available to farmers,” Tomlinson said.

The grant is funded by USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Key collaborators include: Rachael Goodhue, Thomas Gordon, Julia Harshman, and Thomas Poorten at UC Davis; Oleg Daugovish with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; Julie Guthman at UC Santa Cruz; Gerald Holmes and Kelly Ivors at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; and Seonghee Lee, Natália Peres, and Vance Whitaker at the University of Florida.

In addition to his involvement in the USDA grant, Putman recently received $485,314 from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to lead a project that will integrate state-of-the-art pathogen detection, precision agriculture, and remote sensing for farm-specific management of soilborne strawberry diseases. This research will provide tools to reduce fumigant use while providing targeted management of soilborne diseases. Collaborators on this project are Oleg Daugovish and Andre Biscaro with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Frank Martin with USDA-Agricultural Research Service, and Steve Fennimore and Rachael Goodhue with UC Davis.

This press release includes content provided by UC Davis.

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