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Small Fruits

Small Fruit Research

Delivering applied solutions to help the green industry grow

In our science, we are thinking of the future!

Make strawberries cleaner, faster and have a lower footprint.

Did you ever asked yourself where a strawberry is coming from? Most of us probably don’t care, but it is till very important: Every strawberry is grown on a plant. Every plant was propagated in a strawberry  nursery. It sounds easy, right? It isn’t. First, strawberry nurseries are not located where strawberries are grown for consumption. Which means every year, billions of strawberry plants are being shipped across the continent from nurseries to growers.

But that is not all: propagating strawberries is also a multi-year and multi-location process that is highly depended on the local climate. That explains why there are only a few fully developed strawberry nurseries in America. Those nurseries are system-critical, and are also very vulnerable! First, a single chemical, Methyl Bromide (MB), still is the bedrock of strawberry propagation in the US.  But the heavy reliance on this chemical without any alternative is just one of the many factors: Climate change is already threatening the operations around the globe, with changing weather and sparse water sources. Diseases can move around on planting material and are affecting growers every year.

We made it our scientific mission to investigate and research tools to improve strawberry propagation, and to support the nursery industry and entrepreneurs into a cleaner future. Therefore, since 2021, we lead a nationwide collaborative of researchers and industry partners to develop indoor propagation tools for the strawberry industry.

Annualize grape production systems for a future with less inputs and more returns.

Vineyards are great to look at, and often attractions to millions of tourists in America. But have you ever wondered if a vineyard also is sustainable? There are cases in which vineyard management has low inputs. However more often than not, vineyard management has high labor and pesticide inputs. Systemic diseases such as viruses or certain fungi, and a phenomenon called ‘replant disease’, are large problems for every vineyard on the globe, leading every year to millions of dollars of losses.

Wouldn’t it be more sustainable and more cost-effective to use grapes than can fruit in one year? We do think so. Currently it takes an average of 30 months from planting to first crop in a vineyard. We think we can reduce that to 6-8 months, and are a leading a world-wide first-of-its-kind project to condition grapevines indoor for better fruitfulness. We call this ‘Precise Indoor Vine Conditioning’ or PIVC. The nice thing about PIVC is that we also want to increase carbon sequestration by using the grapes natural talents to store carbon in their root systems. PIVC vines potentially can be used as annual or bi-annual systems, or as ‘starter’ vines for a vineyard, reducing cost, pesticide input and labor.

Sustainable and also profitable? Fresh-market Muscadines are a good example

Sustainable agriculture means to produce food in a system, that is non-exploitative to environment and inclusive to community and economically stable. Most crops are not produced in such a way. But we think that fresh-market muscadines can become a model system for successful sustainable crop production in the Southeast. The native muscadine is grown for centuries in this region, always as a low-input crop. However, new fresh-market cultivars with great flavors, crisp texture and good balance of sugar and acids have propelled the industry in to steep growth. At the same time, small U-Pick operations are wide-spread and well built into the fabric of the Southeast. We therefore took the lead on projects to develop muscadine growing guidelines and investigate with scientific methods how those new cultivars can be grown the best.

Evaluate grape and strawberry cultivars for the Southeast.

Last, but not least: Cultivars are change. Change is the essence of progress. And progress is what is needed in an ever-changing world. At the end of the day, we treat a piece of land every year as if it would be the same, while everything else around it is in constant change. We thereofore are always at the lookout of new cultivars, be it in strawberry, muscadine or vinifera grapes.

 

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