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Report on Study Tour to the usa 9-18 April 2012 p j gregory Summary

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Report on Study Tour to the USA

9-18 April 2012

P J Gregory


  1. The purpose of this study tour was: first, to visit leading research centres in the USA to find out the research that they are undertaking and the approaches that they are developing to improving fruit production systems especially crops grown under protection and rootstocks; and second, to raise the profile of research undertaken at EMR, and to explore the opportunities for international collaboration on specific research projects.

  2. The study tour comprised visits to the Appalachian Fruit Research Center, Kearneysville, WV; the Fruit Research and Extension Center, Biglerville, PA; the Department of Horticulture, Penn State University, College Station, PA; the Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Geneva and Ithaca, NY; the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Wenatchee, WA; Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata, WA, and the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Prosser, WA.

  3. Formal presentations to large groups about research at EMR were given at Kearneysville, and Biglerville.

  4. Research highlights included:

  • Transgenic plums with dormancy broken permitting faster breeding

  • New methods for investigating IPM

  • The apple rootstock breeding and trialling programme in the USA

  • New approaches to investigating soil:root interactions

  • The importance of developing new growing systems to gain the full benefits of genetic improvements – examples in apple, peach and cherry were viewed

  • Opportunities for collaboration exist in the apple rootstock genetics, breeding and assessment programmes, and in tree physiology and nutrition.

10 April

Appalachian Fruit Research Center, Kearneysville

This Centre has a staff of about 80 comprising 17 scientists and many highly skilled technicians; the experimental farm comprises about 550 acres of which about 200 acres is planted with fruit (mostly apple and peach). The Centre has a budget of $8 million p.a. with research organised in a series of CRIS (cooperative research information systems) projects. Each scientist has a personal budget allocation of $25 k p.a. to use at their discretion.

The major areas of science discussed were:

  • Improving cultivation systems and winter survival of blackberry. New collapsible support systems allow the canopy to be brought closer to the ground and then covered with fleece over winter; this reduces winter kill. Use of looped canes in which the tip of a long cane is rooted have doubled the fruit carried per length of cane and also doubled (from 16 to 32) the number of plants in a metre of row. New canes can be produced by rooting cuttings from the axillary buds. Some genotypes root quickly while others are poor. The reasons for these differences are unknown but hormones are being studied. Could the same looped cane system work with raspberry?

  • Investigation of computer vision systems for mechanisation. Exploring computer vision systems to locate fruit for harvesting and branches for pruning. Experimental work to control tree architecture is underway involving studies of gene expression, cytokinins and auxins, and size control by rootstocks. Particular emphasis is being given to pillar trees and the factors leading to this architecture.

  • Functional and applied genomics to improve stress and disease resistance. Particular emphasis is being given to developing fireblight tolerant rootstocks in a collaborative project with Geneva, Washington State and New Zealand. Resistance has been found in Malus sieversii rootstocks and markers for scion improvement are being sought in 200 accessions plant at Kearneysville and Wenatchee. QTL are being identified in crosses of Splendour (NZ cultivar) and Gala and Splendour x Pink Lady. Pedigree mapping of apple, peach and strawberry is taking place within the Rosebreed consortium. Over 200 transgenic lines of apple have been created including dormancy genes from peach in scions growing on M26 rootstocks. Research on water use efficiency involves use of delta 13C measured in dormant branches – materials used include Malus sieversii from Kazakhstan and Royal Gala. Initial studies used seedlings growing on their own roots but rootstocks have now been introduced. Hydren proteins and cold hardiness is also being researched.

  • Biological approaches to disease management. Two products (Aspire, yeast and Biosave, a bacterium) have been developed to control fungal pathogens of apple and peaches. Fungi developing in skin wounds were the initial targets but have now mover on the study latent fungal storage diseases. Screening of the Kazakhstan materials for blue mould resistance is underway. Bacteria and yeasts will continue to be the main organisms studied for biocontrol.

  • Genetic improvement of fruit crops. This programme involves six scientists with a wide range of expertise from sequencing to breeding. Development of FT transgenic plums has removed dormancy so that the plants now flower continuously thereby shortening considerably the breeding process. Plum has been sequenced and genes associated with pillar (columnar) growth habit identified. Exploring genes controlling the endocarp and the development of seeds – a precursor to the more rapid development of seedless fruits. Pear breeding has led to fire blight resistant varieties being released; work to control tree architecture is underway in pears and plums.

  • The brown marmorated stink bug. This introduction from Asia arrived in the USA in the 1990s; there is no known control agent. In 2010 the population exploded in the mid-Atlantic region causing losses to apples alone of $37 million. It is now attacking many plants (including peaches, maize, tomatoes and peppers) and overwinters in houses. Kearneysville is heading a large multi-institutional project to determine a way to control this pest. Response to blue light and identification of a pheromone offer cause for hope.

11 April

Fruit Research and Extension Center, Biglerville

This centre has a scientific staff of four (one pomologist and three entomologists), five field technicians, a farm manager, an administrative assistant, and about ten part-time assistants. The farm is about 220 acres with a second, smaller facility located on the other side of town. The present facility was built in 1971 with a donation from the Musselman Foundation. 75% of PA fruit comes from the Biglarville region. The centre has an operating budget of $250 k p.a. of which 60% comes directly from local industry.

The Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) funded by the USDA has been a major source of funds for scientists at the Centre. There is $50 million p.a. for apple but projects have to have equal matched funding government: private and be multi-state and multi-disciplinary, and include extension.

The major areas of science discussed were:

  • Systems for growing apples and peaches. The industry is moving to higher density systems for several fruits including apples, cherries and peaches. V and double V systems for peaches have proved more productive.

  • Extension. The SCRI for apple includes an innovation initiative with extension as a key element. Extension includes marketing and retailing which has provided a new angle for producers.

  • Entomology and the brown marmorated stink bug. Research had led to the development of IPM systems for apple which resulted in only 3-4 sprays being applied post flowering. The systems involved mating disruption and use of selective products with little effect on beneficial insects. This all changed in 2010 with the arrival of the stink bug. The wide host range means that although it is east to kill with insecticides, its wide host range allows new populations to move into orchards from elsewhere. The result is that farmers used 10-15 sprays in 2011. Another ne introduction is the spotted winged drysophila which arrived in the east coast in 2011. It attacks immature fruit laying eggs inside strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and cherry. Research is focused on understanding the biology and behaviour of these invasive pests.

  • Evaluation of fungicides and bactereocides. Field trials are undertaken on 70 different treatments and results supplied to chemical companies and the extension service. The main targets for control in apple are fireblight, scab, powdery mildew and cider apple rust. In the last five years, fungicide resistance has appeared so more attention is now being paid by growers to different modes of action.

12 April

Penn State University, College Station

I visited the field station to view the apple rootstock trials which involved Malling, Geneva, German, Japanese, Russian and other rootstocks with Aztec Fuji or Crimson Gala as scions. These trials are part of a major programme across 24/25 locations in the USA, 5 Canadian provinces and a site in Mexico. The trials are funded through the SCRI with additional support from state horticulture funds. In addition to rootstock, there are major effects of soil type and management (especially pruning) on scion vigour.

Laboratory studies have examined interactions of rootstocks with disease resistance especially to fireblight. Gala was grown on a range of rootstocks and gene expression measured using a 56k EST array (now 26k). Sorbitol dehydrogenase was higher in bigger trees and linked to fireblight resistance. EST sequences allowing pinpointing of genes involved in differential tolerance – 670genes found; PR-1 picked out in all studies. In future, would like to develop QTL associated with disease resistance.

13 April

Cornell University, Geneva

Geneva is the main centre for apple rootstock breeding in the USA. In 1998, rootstocks became a 50:50 Cornell/USDA programme. The group is looking for collaboration to secure funding for a large SCRI developing roseaceous rootstocks with improved plant nutrition and disease resistance. We visited the glasshouse screening facilities and field trials. M rootstocks are no longer being used as parents because of their lack of fireblight resistance; dwarfing and precocity have been captured in previous crosses. We also visited the collection of apple cultivars and wild relatives from China and Khazakstan.

Rootstocks with Gala are being tested nationwide for fireblight resistance. Russian material is currently being investigated and a new trial will be started in 2016 with New Zealand and Geneva rootstocks.

The physiology of orchard management programme has investigated tree planting arrangements, densities and pruning arrangements. Optimum densities of 1-5 k trees/ha were found compared with traditional 300-500 trees/ha. Have settled on 3k trees/ha with a tall spindle system. The work is now expanding to pears. Cherry rootstocks (Guisler 5) are being tested at 2 k trees/ha with either spindle or Spanish bush systems. Branching compounds are being investigated.

Cornell University, Ithaca

Research areas discussed included:

  • Nutrition/physiology of tree fruit. Research on the role of sorbitol in growth/response to stress. Sorbitol is 60-80% of newly fixed C in apple and is converted to fructose in fruit. Transgenic apple is used to study transport in the phloem which, unlike other plants, is largely passive with unloading in the apoplast. Exploring the use of foliar sprays after fruit harvest to explore tree nutrition and fruit production in the subsequent year. More work on the metabolomics of fruit is planned.

  • Viticulture. Focus is on fruit composition and the role of methoxypyridines (these give an herbaceous smell) which are desirable at low levels but not at high levels in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Working also on the volatile aromas in Reisling – the petrol smell of TDN is induced by sunlight on grape bunches. Modelling of techniques that affect grape quality is a third research area.

16 April

Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee

This Centre has five faculty staff from WSU and seven staff employed by the USDA-ARS. The WSU staff comprises three entomologists, one agricultural economist and a pomologist. The local grower community has recently pledged $27 million for three endowments which will fund six endowed chairs, several extension posts, and the maintenance of the field research facilities and orchards. This is “an up-front investment” by the industry that will facilitate submissions to the SCRI. The levy collected on fruit will be doubled for 8 years to fund the endowments (equivalent to 2 cents per box of apples).

The USDA-ARS group undertakes research on soil biology, fireblight, fruit development and post-harvest quality. Using metabolomics to predict and diagnose disorders in collaboration with Cornell, Leuven and New Zealand – especially effects of CO2 and O2 injury on different varieties of apple. A joint ARS/WSU appointment is researching the molecular genetics of fruit development.

Areas of research discussed included:

  • Soil-plant-microbe interactions and the active management of soil biology. Adopting an ecological approach to bacteria/protozoa interactions; protozoa elict production of compounds that inhibit predation. Studies of isothiocyanates from brassica showed that their release was trivial but disease suppression occurred. Seed meal suppressed rhizoctonia but stimulated streptomycetes inducing systemic resistance to some pathogens. The interactions are complex; B. napus stimulates pythium but B. juncea controls it – thrichoderma appear to be the agents of this control. Research has recently commenced to examine the microbial communities in the rhizospheres of different rootstocks (M9 and G11). Preliminary data show differences in bacterial communities.

  • Applied business studies. Industry demand initiated this research programme in 2008. It is now an integral part of the SCRI project on enhancing biological control in Western orchards – valuing ecosystem services and goods, and RosBreed in which the economic value of various traits is being assessed. A methodology to determine the values that will be assigned is under development. The programme is developing a data base of production costs for different fruits which will assist innovation in the industry.

  • Entomology. IPM programmes are generally unstable and new means to conserve natural enemies are being sought. Presently 85% of growers use mating disruption for codling moth but most also spray once – this can result in outbreaks of mites and aphids because predators are killed. New ways to examine impacts of pesticides on different taxa (130 in a typical orchard) are being pursued. The use of kaolin to control pearsilla, sun-burn and codling moths is being investigated. An SCRI grant with Carnegie-Mellon University is investigating the use of electronic zappers to identify insects.

  • Apple breeding. A 14-18 year cycle of breeding for apple scions has resulted in two recent releases. Honeycrisp is the standard but it doesn’t grow and store well. We visited trials at the field station.

Willow Drive Nursery

This nursery started in 1964 now produces 4.5 million rootstocks per year and 1.5 million finished trees. The most important traits for apple rootstocks are fireblight and replant disease resistance. M9 is still the standard although the Geneva rootstocks are starting to overtake them because of fireblight. Geneva rootstocks do not root well except when kept juvenile in tissue culture; costs could be cut if tissue culture could be avoided.

17 April

Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, Prosser

The centre is the base for 18 WSU scientists working on perennial crops and 9 USDA-ARS staff working in vegetables. The site has 1200 acres for experiments spread over four farms. Everything is irrigated. Prosser is the home of the Washington wine industry.

Areas of research discussed included:

  • Machinery and automation. Although casual labour for picking is not an issue at present, the industry is planning for the days when it will be. Mechanical harvesting of cherry, apple and pear is being developed plus mechanical pruning. The research aims to build prototypes and then move them to a machinery manufacturer. 90% of hop production in the USA occurs around Prosser so a hop tying machine is under development. The focus is on designing concept machines for picking fruit from tree walls comprising a leader and horizontal branches. The main issue is the approach time of the robotic arm because the trajectory differs between fruits. Robots with multiple arms may prove faster than humans eventually. Cherry harvesting is by shake and capture.

  • Cherry breeding. Trying to extend the growing season. Using advanced selections for a new crossing programme; mark-assisted selection for self-fertility, bloom time and large fruit employed routinely in selection of parents and seedlings.

  • Stone fruit physiology. Focus is on cherry and growing systems. The V system allows ease of harvesting and the fruit wall is also popular. Using Geisler rootstocks. Part of an SCRI with Oregon and Michigan on cherry.

Appendix 1 Itinerary of visit

Monday, 9 April 2012

London-Heathrow (Terminal 5) flight BA0217 –departing 10:10Arrive 13:05 Washington Dulles International (1 Saarinen Circle, Dulles, VA 20166-7506)

Pick up hire car

Drive to Shepherdstown WV (approx. 35 miles)

Overnight in Shepherdstown WV

Clarion Hotel, 233 Lowe Drive, Shepherdstown, WV, 25443

Phone: (304) 876-7000

Tuesday 10 April

Visit Dr Michael Glenn – Plant Physiologist – 304-725-3451 ext. 321;

USDA ARS, Appalacian Fruit Research Station

2217 Wiltshire Road, Kearneysville, West Virginia 25430

Overnight in Shepherdstown

Clarion Hotel, as above

Wednesday 11 April

Drive to Biglerville (1.5 hrs)

Visit Dr Jim Schupp –

Fruit Research and Extension Center, College of Agricultural Science, 290 University Drive, Biglerville PA, 17307

Tour of FREC, followed by lunch (you are to give a presentation about EMR over lunch). Faculty visits after lunch, completion of tour with possible visit to commercial orchard.

Overnight in Biglerville

Thursday 12 April

Drive to Penn State (2.5 hrs)

Visit Rich Marini

Penn State University, 117 Tyson Bldg, University Park, PA 16802

Overnight in Penn State

Days Inn State College

240 South Pugh Street, State College, PA 16801 US

Friday 13 April


Drive to Geneva (193 miles = 3 hrs, 27 mins)

Visit Gennaro Fazio – Plant Genetic Resources Unit, ARS-USDA, 630 North Street, Geneva NY 14456-0462 email


Drive to Ithaca (50 miles = 1 hr, 11 mins)

Visit Marvin Pritts

Cornell University, Department of Horticulture, 134A Plant Science Bldg, Ithaca NY, 14853

Overnight in Ithaca

Best Western University Inn

1020 Ellis Hollow Road, Ithaca, New York, 14850-2808

Saturday 14 April

Drive to New York JFK Airport, Jamaica, NY 11430

Drop off hire car

Fly to Seattle

DL 1043 - depart: 16:00 arrive Seattle Tacoma: 19:21 17801 International Boulevard WA 98158

Pick up hire car

Drive to Lake Union, Seattle (12 miles)

Overnight in Seattle

Silver Cloud Inn Lake Union

1150 Fairview Avenue, Seattle, WA 98109

Sunday 15 April

Drive to Wenatchee WA, 98801 (2.5 hrs)

Overnight in Wenatchee

Holiday Inn Express Wenatchee

1921 N. Wenatchee Avenue, Wenatchee, WA 98801

Phone: (509) 663 6355

Dinner with INN rootstock guys (Kate Evans arranging)

Monday 16 April

Visit Kate Evans

Washington State University, Tree Fruit Extension Center, 1100 N. Western Avenue, Wenatchee WA, 99801-1230

a.m. Meetings with Kate Evans and colleagues

p.m. Visit to WSU orchards - Kate Evans arranging

Visit to Willow Drive Nursery en route to Prosser

Overnight in Prosser

Best Western Plus The Inn at Horse Heaven

259 Merlot Drive, Prosser, Washington, WA 99350-9533

Tuesday 17 April

Visit Prosser

Appendix 2 People visited

Appalachian Fruit Research Center, Kearneysville
Michael Glenn

Fumiomi Takeda

Thomas Tworkoski

Michael Wisniewski

Jay Norelli

Carole Bassett


Ralph Scorza

Chris Dardick

Richard Bell

Liu Zongrang

Tracy Leskey

Fruit Research and Extension Center, Biglerville
Jim Schupp

Tara Baugher

Greg Krawczyk

Neomi Halbrendt

Penn State University
Rob Crassweiler

Rich Marini

Tim McNellis

Jonathan Lynch

Kathleen Brown
Cornell University
Genaro Fazio

Terence Lee Robinson

Lailang Cheng

Justine van den Heuvel

Marvin Pritts
Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee
Jay Brunner

Jim Mattheis

Mark Mazzola

Karina Gallardo

Vince Jones

Kate Evans

Willow Drive Nursery, Ephrata
Ken Adams

Neal Manly

Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, Prosser
Pete Jacoby

Qin Zhang

Manoj Karkee

Nnadozie Oraguzie

Matthew Whiting

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