A mechanical harvester is part of a major research project relating to production and marketing of  stem-free sweet cherries.

A mechanical harvester is part of a major research project relating to production and marketing of stem-free sweet cherries.

More than $60 million dollars in grants have been awarded so far through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative specifically for research ­projects in tree fruit and grapes.

This is the fourth year of the five-year program, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. Most projects involve scientists of various disciplines from multiple institutions and private companies.

This fall, the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which administers the program, announced the fourth year of awards. The largest new grant, for $5.7 million, was made to a team led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, to develop economically and environmentally sustainable pest management practices for the brown marmorated stinkbug.

Other new grants relating to grape and tree fruit  ­production included:

Pollination: $3.3 million to the University of Massachusetts to research diverse pollination methods for fruit and vegetable production in the Northeast.

Innovative management: $2.5 million to Michigan State University to develop innovative management technologies and tactics for apple and cherry production systems.

Cold-climate grapes: $2.5 million to Cornell University, New York, to address production and marketing constraints for the emerging cold-climate grape and wine industries in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Grape breeding: $2.1 million to Cornell to accelerate the development of new grape cultivars.

Pesticide drift: $50,000 to Ohio State University to host a workshop on injuries to fruit and vegetable crops caused by herbicide drift from row crops.

Bird damage: $2.0 million to Michigan State University to develop cost-effective and environmentally sustainable strategies to reduce bird damage to blueberries, cherries, wine grapes, and Honeycrisp apples.

Water management: A $0.6 million continuation grant to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Albany, California, to research strategies to reduce the water requirement for grapes and manage salinity in vineyards.

Canker diseases: $50,000 to the University of California, Davis, to develop controls for canker diseases of grapes, stone fruits, and nuts.

Continuation grants were awarded to the following:

RosBREED: $2.0 million to MSU to continue research on marker-assisted breeding to deliver improved plant materials to the apple, peach, sweet and tart cherry, and strawberry industries. The project, led by Amy Iezzoni, will receive $7.2 million in SCRI funding over four years.

Tree fruit genomics: A $1.0 million continuation grant to Washington State University for a project entitled, “Tree Fruit Genomics Database for Rosaceae: Translating Genomics into Advances in Horticulture.” Total SCRI funding for the project, led by Dorrie Main, is $2.0 million.

Current projects

The following grants relating to tree fruit and grapes were awarded during the first three years of the SCRI program:

Automation: Comprehensive automation for specialty crops, $6.0 million. Led by Sanjiv Singh at Carnegie Mellon University. Objectives: Develop automation technologies, including autonomous vehicles for mobility and augmented harvesting, along with plant stress detection, disease and insect infestation detection, insect monitoring, tree caliper measurement, and crop-load scouting.

Spotted wing drosophila: Biology and management of spotted wing drosophila on small and stone fruits, $5.8 million. Led by Vaughn Walton, Oregon State ­University. Objective: Develop an economically viable and environmentally sustainable IPM program for managing spotted wing drosophila and deliver information to ­growers, farm consultants, and homeowners.

Sweet cherries: A total systems approach to developing a sustainable production, processing, and marketing system for stem-free sweet cherries, $3.9 million. Led by Matt Whiting at Washington State University. Objectives: Develop efficient fruiting wall orchard systems for cherries, determine the genetic basis for cherry abscission, improve labor efficiency and safety with mechanical harvest technologies, extend the shelflife and consumer appeal of cherries, develop markets for stem-free cherries, and demonstrate the economic benefits of adopting new technologies.

Grape and wine quality: Improved grape and wine quality in a challenging environment: An eastern U.S. model for sustainability and economic vitality, $3.4 million. Led by Tony Wolf, Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Objective: Create, refine, and encourage industry adoption of uniquely eastern United States grape and wine production practices to achieve a robust and sustainable eastern U.S. wine industry.

Sensors: Precision canopy and water management of specialty crops through sensor-based decision making, $2.5 million. Led by Shrinivasa Upadhyaya at the University of California, Davis. Objective: Develop sensors that can be fitted to mobile platforms in order to help specialty crop growers in their decision making, resulting in better crop quality, efficiency, and profitability and a smaller environmental footprint.

Biological control: Enhancing biological control in Western orchards, $2.2 million. Led by Vince Jones at Washington State University. Objectives: Evaluate the effects of new pesticides on natural enemies; develop phenology models for key natural enemies; develop traps to monitor natural enemies; monitor predation of codling moth by generalist predators; analyze the effect of biological control on the costs of integrated pest management programs; and find ways to encourage quicker adoption of new ­technologies.

RosBREED: Enabling marker-assisted breeding in Rosaceae crops, $2.1 million. Led by Cameron Peace. Objective: Correlate quality traits in fruits, such as apples, pears, and berries, with DNA-based genetic markers in order to improve the speed and accuracy of breeding.

Grapevine leafroll: An invasive mealybug pest and an emerging viral disease: A dangerous mix for West Coast vineyards, $2.0 million. Led by Kent Daane, University of California, Berkeley. Objectives: Study the identification, distribution, symptoms, and epidemiology of grape leafroll disease and the seasonal relationship between the ­disease and mealybug vectors.

Fireblight: Integrated genomics and management systems for control of fireblight, $2.0 million. Led by Schuyler Korban, University of Illinois. Objectives: Develop new controls for fireblight by capitalizing on knowledge of the biology of the pathogen, host, antagonists, and inhibitors, and on advances in nanotechnology for delivery of ­controls. The long-term goal is to incorporate genetic resistance into apple.

Postharvest disorders: A diagnostic toolbox for integrated management of postharvest disorders of apples, $1.5 million. Led by Dave Rudell, ARS, Wenatchee, Washington. Objectives: Develop tools, based on biomarkers, to predict, diagnose, and distinguish postharvest disorders, thereby allowing storage managers to target treatments and make storage and marketing decisions to improve quality assurance through the supply chain.

Native pollinators: Determining the roles and limiting factors facing native pollinators in Pennsylvania apple production, $1.4 million. Led by Dave Biddinger, Pennsylvania State University. Objectives: Determine which native bees are important pollinators in and around Pennsylvania orchards, develop guidelines for conserving and using nonhoneybees in orchards, and create public awareness of their importance in agriculture.

Thinning: Innovative technologies for fruit thinning, $1.0 million. Led by Paul Heinemann at Penn State. Objectives:  Study mechanical blossom and fruit thinning as a low-cost alternative to chemical or hand thinning.

Faster fruit breeding: FasTrack—a revolutionary approach to long-generation cycle specialty crop breeding, $637,330. Led by Ralph Scorza with the ARS in Kearneysville, West Virginia. Objectives: Use transgenic trees that flower early and continually to ­evaluate new plum varieties in a shorter time frame than with traditional breeding ­techniques.

Plum curculio: Manipulating host- and mate-finding behavior of the plum ­curculio: Development of a multilife stage management strategy, $559,531. Leader: Tracy Leskey, Agricultural Research Service, Kearneysville. Objectives: Explore the use of behavioral stimuli to attract adult insects to specific locations in the orchard where they can be treated, with the goal of reducing insecticide use and costs.

Decision Support System: Development of a national Web-based decision support system for apple IPM, $50,000. Led by Harvey Reissig at Cornell University, New York. Objectives: Develop a national tree fruit integrated pest management Web site to facilitate transition to IPM programs using newer, reduced-risk pesticides. The Web site will include information on management of postharvest diseases and storage disorders.

Sprayer technology: Development of a smart targeted spray application technology roadmap for specialty crops, $46,146. Led by Gwen Hoheisel, WSU. Objectives: Increase the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of orchards and vineyards by improving spray application technologies and encouraging growers to adopt them.

Block grants: Other grants for tree fruit and grape research have been made through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program administered through the states. $169 million since 2008 and will provide another $55 million in grants in 2012. For details on specific projects, see the article “Specialty crop block grants back fruit research” and “USDA grants $3.1 million for Washington specialty crops” on the Good Fruit Grower Web site at www.goodfruit.com.