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For a stronger fruit industry.

When dedicated in 1979, the Appalachian Fruit Research Station (AFRS) at Kearneysville, West Virginia, was commissioned to serve the needs of the eastern U.S. fruit production area from Maine to Georgia. ARS scientists here work to support, strengthen, and expand the East Coast fruit industry to give consumers a wider choice of apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, plums, strawberries, and thornless blackberries.

The intervening years have broadened the scope of the station's work and brought collaborative research with national and international organizations.

In line with the challenge of the 1990's to promote food safety and protect the environment, scientists at Kearneysville have established cooperative research and development agreements with EcoScience in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Ecogen, based in Langhorne, Pennsylvania-companies that are developing alternatives to pesticides.

These companies hold licenses to market naturally occurring organisms discovered and patented by AFRS scientists that protect fruits and vegetables from post-harvest diseases.

The research station's clients range from small farmers who sell strawberries and apples at roadside markets and look for help in increasing their production, to large growers who may need results from our research on molecular biology and genetic engineering.

Some AFRS projects that should soon benefit fruit growers include:

* Development of recirculating orchard spray equipment for use on apples that will significantly reduce the volume of chemical pesticides applied in orchards. This technology and equipment can be adapted for use on many tree fruit crops, resulting in better quality fruit and a much cleaner, safer environment.

* Identification of several genes that are involved in softening of peaches as they ripen. These genes are candidates for producing genetically engineered peaches that can be marketed at a riper, sweeter stage without quickly deteriorating on the grocer's shelves.

* Collaboration with other research institutions on a peach genome map that would greatly reduce the time necessary to breed new, improved peach varieties.

* Introduction of management practices for young orchards that reduce soil erosion and protect underground water supplies. Establishing and maintaining a productive orchard now depends on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. By planting grass groundcovers such as rescue beneath trees and between rows and then killing the grass and leaving it on the ground to protect the soil, we have increased fruit yield by 50 percent. And the grass has diminished rainfall runoff, thereby reducing soil erosion. This "killed sod" treatment has also helped control soil nematodes and has increased soil organic matter at less cost than applying compost.

* Design and patenting of a new valve for controlling irrigation water that senses when and how much water to release into the soil for orchard and row crops such as strawberries and vegetables. The valve has only one moving part and does not require electricity.

* An interdisciplinary effort involving a horticulturist and a plant pathologist at Kearneysville, working with a researcher at the University of Maine. The AFRS scientists have selected and identified 12 yeast and bacterial antagonists from populations of naturally occurring microorganisms on ripe strawberries that help prevent gray mold (Botrytis) on strawberries. Currently controlled with fungicides, Botrvtis is the major disease that attacks strawberries and other small fruits. One of the antagonists is now undergoing field tests in Maine. Although not as effective as fungicides, the antagonists have given good control of the disease under postharvest conditions and would be even more effective if used along with other controls.

In our efforts to find alternatives to chemicals to protect and preserve the food supply, we are relying on a combination of natural weapons, along with pesticides. This combination approach will reduce the amount of chemicals released into the environment. And as the cover story in this issue shows, we are also using biotechnology to breed insect and disease resistance into pears and other fruits.

The changing face of American agriculture presents many challenges to agricultural research. Here at Kearneysville, we anticipate the demands these challenges place on our research efforts and work hard to improve quality and production efficiency that not only affect U.S. consumers, but will also increase our competitive edge in world markets.

Stephen S. Miller Director, ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station
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Author:Miller, Stephen S.
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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