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Soft fruit breeder Ralph Scorza and colleagues developed this pitless plum.

Soft fruit breeder Ralph Scorza and colleagues developed this pitless plum.

Continuing budget constraints at U.S. universities will result in fewer scientists and less research for growers to draw upon, predicts Larry Gut, entomologist at Michigan State University.

“People are being laid off and let go,” Gut said. “I’m afraid it will impact specialty agriculture, like apples, tremendously.”

Few people understand the role that universities play in helping growers do what they do, he added. He does not think private companies will step into that role because growers could not afford to pay for those kinds of resources and services.

Gut expects that other countries that can afford to make the investment will lead global agricultural research in the future. For example, China, which has a large apple industry, probably has the economic resources to do that. In the past, other countries looked to the United States for expertise. “I think that’s at a shifting point right now,” Gut said.

The greatest change Gut foresees in entomology is the use of more automated technology to reduce labor. He thinks mating disruption will be a primary means of controlling codling moth, but it won’t be applied in a way that requires a lot of labor, as the hand-applied dispensers of today do. He is working on a completely new delivery system.

He believes that mating disruption will become a stand-alone system that won’t require use of companion insecticide sprays. “That’s my mission before I retire,” he said.

Better biocontrol

Vince Jones, Washington State University entomologist, expects to see more stable pest management with better biocontrol. Biological control will become a more important aspect of pest management in the next decade, Jones believes.

Jones heads WSU’s Decision Aid System for Tree Fruit, which is a Web-based program that provides phenology models for insects and diseases along with management recommendations.

He and his colleagues are developing traps for natural enemies that will allow growers to monitor natural enemies in the orchard. The traps, which use inexpensive attractants rather than pheromones, will be commercialized in the foreseeable future. The scientists also plan to develop phenology models for natural enemies that growers will be able to use, in conjunction with the existing models for pests, to apply pesticides at times when they are most likely to control the pest and least likely to interfere with natural enemies.

“I think what will happen is we will end up with a more stable, environmentally friendly, and cheaper pest management system overall,” Jones said. “And it’s going to require more education and outreach, and more tools like the Decision Aid System for us to get there.”

While this should lead to fewer interventions being needed to control pests, Jones said it won’t mean the end of pesticides. “We’re still going to have pesticides, absolutely no question about that.”

But it should allow growers to use pesticides more effectively, he said. “I think in the long run, you’ll get a more stable system and less fear of flare-ups of secondary pests, such as aphids and mites. I think it’s going to be an exciting ten years. There are a lot of possibilities.”

Pitless stone fruits

Ralph Scorza, U.S. Department of Agriculture soft fruit breeder, believes stoneless soft fruits could be a reality within the decade. Scorza and his colleagues at the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia, are already working on a stoneless plum. After that might come a stoneless peaches or? Or even cherries.

“The absence of pits in grapes and watermelons has been an incredible boost to the consumption of those fruits,” Scorza said. “We think we can do the same kinds of things for stone fruits.”

It’s all part of an effort to develop novel fruits that are higher quality or more convenient to eat, or have other traits that fit with the lifestyle of consumers today. It’s an effort to make fruits into snack foods so that people are more inclined to pick up a piece of fruit rather than a piece of chocolate or a bag of chips or candy.

“That’s the area we need to go into because we need people with different lifestyles and different socieoeconomic conditions to eat more fruit because that really is so important for health,” Scorza said.

Growers might be less excited than consumers about a plethora of new varieties becoming available, but Scorza believes there’s a place for the mainline varieties, too. There will be growers who produce the specialty varieties for consumers who want something new and different, but there will be growers who produce the basic varieties of fruit at a reasonably low price for consumers who want food that is more affordable.

“I don’t see it as either/or,” he said. “Let’s have more variety, but let’s not get rid of the old ones.”