Organic Strawberry Production

UNH Scientists to Develop First Strawberry Varieties Specifically for U.S. Organic Production
Researchers at Forefront of Using Strawberry Genomics for Breeding
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Scientists with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire have launched a research project that aims to develop the first varieties of strawberries specifically designed for organic agriculture in the United States.

The organic strawberry varieties will be developed for optimal production in New England using advanced genetic techniques. UNH is recognized as one of a very small handful of institutions worldwide working at the forefront of strawberry genomics and its application to strawberry breeding.

“No strawberry varieties yet have been developed specifically for organic agriculture in the United States, and only one company located in Europe offers any strawberry seed-propagated varieties specifically for organic production,” said experiment station researcher Dr. Lise Mahoney, who is leading the three-year project. “This project will contribute to advances in strawberry breeding for organic agriculture and will advance knowledge of the genetic basis for trait variation, inbreeding depression, and hybrid vigor in strawberry.”

“We want to provide strawberry growers with regionally adapted, seed-propagated strawberry varieties that are suitable for organic agriculture and are pleasing to consumers. Organically certifiable, seed-propagated varieties provide an attractive and environmentally friendly alternative to the vegetatively propagated varieties currently relied upon by the strawberry industry,” Mahoney said.

The research project has received strong support from Driscoll’s Berries, Inc., a leading developer and producer of organic strawberries and other berries, and High Mowing Organic Seeds, a leading developer and producer of organic seeds.

“Organic berry production makes up well over 10 percent of the Driscoll’s berry portfolio making Driscoll’s one of the largest providers of organic berries in the United States.  And organic strawberries are one of the fastest growing segments within our business. We see strong potential for this market well into the future. A seed-propagated strawberry variety would provide an excellent way to delivery clean plant material to growers at an affordable price,” said Richard Harrison, vice president of global variety development for Driscoll’s Berries, Inc.

“It is refreshing to witness research thinking outside the box with respect to strawberry varietal development and propagation method. Seed varieties in strawberry, particularly those selected in an organic environment, would provide a valuable and needed option to vegetatively propagated plants. Strawberry hybrid seed varieties and furthermore, seeds that are bred in an organic environment, would open an intriguing new market for us,” said Tom Stearns, founder and owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Experiment station researchers plan to produce both day-neutral and short-day flowering strawberry varieties for organic agriculture that can be propagated by seed rather than by the conventional runner plant approach. According to Mahoney, strawberries typically are propagated vegetatively from runners and purchased by growers as bare-root plants. However, this bare-root production method presents major problems in regards to organic agriculture.

First, the process of generating the bare-root plants requires chemical inputs to avoid transmission of diseases. Second, the grower planting schedule is dictated by the bare-root supplier and therefore planting stock availability is seasonally limited according to the purchaser’s climatic region.

Mahoney and her collaborators, including Dr. Tom Davis, professor of genetics, molecular and evolutionary systems biology, and sustainable agriculture and food systems, and Dr. Becky Sideman, professor of plant biology and extension professor and specialist in sustainable horticulture production, will use an advanced breeding method called marker-assisted breeding. Marker-assisted breeding allows scientists to conduct traditional cross-hybridization and trait-based selection using genetic testing. Mahoney and Davis will conduct the genetic testing using the IStraw90® SNP Array, which they helped develop.

The research will be conducted at the UNH Macfarlane Research Greenhouses and Woodman Horticultural Research Farm, both facilities of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station. Preliminary research for this project was conducted at the two facilities earlier this year.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of strawberries. In 2014, the United States produced more than 3 billion pounds valued at $2.9 billion, according to the USDA. Most U.S. strawberries are grown in California. Strawberries are an important crop in New Hampshire. Sideman estimates the retail value of New Hampshire’s strawberry crops at about $1.85 million.

“Organic farming is one of many approaches to make American agriculture sustainable and responsive to consumer demand,” said Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “These NIFA investments help develop tools necessary for traditional farmers to pursue organic farming and help boost the economic gains for existing organic farmers and ranchers.”

This research project is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) under accession number 1013061. Collaborators also include Driscoll’s Berries, Inc., High Mowing Organic Seeds, and David Handley, vegetable and small fruit specialist at University of Maine Cooperative Extension, a recognized specialist and evaluator of strawberry varieties.

This material is based upon work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state of New Hampshire. This research also has been supported by a broad USDA/NIFA-funded international research effort, RosBREED.

Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire’s land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural research farms, the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.

Lori Wright, NH Agricultural Experiment Station

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Wordless Wednesday

Submitted by:  Jon B., MG since 1996

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Fall Medley

The calendar has rolled over to October and the temperatures are crisp, but as gardeners we’re still thinking about all things gardening. 🙂

Here is a medley of gardening posts that just might be of interest to you.

Want more information on gardening with children and how to apply for a variety of grants? You need to look no further than our friend, Ron Christie, who keeps us current on what is available at NH School & Youth Gardens.

Thinking about planting multiple containers with bulbs for next spring? Blogger, Jason, who maintains a wildlife friendly garden in Evanston, IL, (zone 5) has an informative post on planting hundreds of bulbs in containers and overwintering them on his blog, Garden in a City.

Love pumpkin seeds? Fellow Master Gardeners in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, published a post on harvesting and enjoying seeds from those pumpkins you have at your house this fall.

If you need a refresher on putting your garden to bed, Master Gardeners in Outagamie County also have a list of things to be done.

Ever had to take a moment and think about sun, partial shade, or shade? If so, Laidback Gardener, CN, has a good post on figuring it out as you add a new plant to your garden.

While you are working in your garden this fall, if you see any large, fast-moving worms with a ring around them, please refer back to our post on the invasive crazy snake worm for identification purposes.

Thinking maybe this would be a good time for a soil test? Information and forms for soil analysis provided by UNH Cooperative Extension are covered here.

Wondering how you can become a NH Master Gardener Volunteer? The 2018 Master Gardener training is scheduled for Tuesdays 9 – 4, from February 20 – May 8. Applications are due by January 19, 2018.

Interested in how to shop for plants for a four season garden? Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 21, and attend An Afternoon with Margaret Roach and Claude Monet at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH.

Have other gardening questions this fall gardening season? Let us know, and we’ll try to point you in the right direction. Happy fall. 🍁

Submitted by:  Judy V., MG since 2007

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Wordless Wednesday

Submitted by:  Jon B., MG since 1996

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New Hampshire 4-H

What comes to mind when you hear the words “4-H?” For many, it is the image of a young person beaming with pride as he or she leads a beloved animal into the county fair show ring. For others, it may be the excitement of the 4-H Maker Challenge Mousetrap Powered Car Competition.

4-H can mean many things. Here in New Hampshire it means hands-on educational experiences in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), animal and marine sciences, developing readiness skills for career and academic pathways, as well as service learning, civic engagement, and opportunities to interact with New Hampshire state leaders.

New Hampshire 4-H meets youth and families where they are—geographically, socially and emotionally—to engage them in experiential learning opportunities. Through 4-H, youth learn valuable lessons associated with essential life skills through public speaking and communication techniques, resume writing, and leadership. All 4-H-ers have access to university resources such as subject area specialists, scholarship opportunities, and internships.

Youth and families are not the only ones who benefit from participation in the 4-H program. 4-H infuses the community with active and informed youth citizens who appreciate different points of view and the importance of respectful civil discourse. By preparing a resilient youth population, 4-H empowers and challenges its members to tackle issues they face in today’s world. All of this is built on the foundation of pledging their “Head, Heart, Hands and Health” in an effort “To Make the Best Better.” This is 4-H in New Hampshire.

Every 4-H experience is different, but each carries a common thread: positive youth development encouraged through partnerships with caring, supportive adults. That’s the 4-H way.

Written by:  Jody Jackson, Extension Program Manager
Photo credit:  UNH Cooperative Extension

Links:
4-H Foundation of NH
4-H Afterschool

4-H Youth Development
What is 4-H

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Submitted by:  Jon B., MG since 1996

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Tips for Fall Plant Protections

Since our first frost may arrive tonight, here is some timely information from Extension in Nebraska. Hope your fall gardening is going well. Remember, if you have questions here in NH, the UNH Extension Education Center is ready and waiting to answer your questions. Stop by, call 1-877-398-4769 or email answers@unh.edu.

Plants and Pests with Nicole

Protect plants for winter, blog

Fall has officially arrived. There have already been frost advisories for the western part of the state, so it won’t be long until frosts occur here. It is at this time that you need to think about care for your plants to protect them through the winter. Here is a ‘To Do’ list to prepare your lawn and garden for winter.

Care of newly planted trees should be considered. If it is a thin barked tree, add a tree wrap to protect it from sunscald. Sunscald is a condition that occurs during the winter with the rapid cool down at night of the cells in the trunk of the tree. The warm up can occur in the winter on warmer days but when night comes, those cells freeze and burst, causing damage to the trunk. Tree wraps will help protect young trees from this condition, but only leave the wrap…

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