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

 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.

“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.

Read the full release here: https://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/48664

About UC Riverside

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment is now nearly 23,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

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