Friday, July 18, 2008

$28.4 Million in Funding for Specialty Crop Research Announced By USDA.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer has announced that USDA is making available $28.4 million for research and extension projects in fiscal year 2008 to address the critical needs of the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address needs of specific crops.

"This is a substantial investment in scientific research and technology for production of specialty crops that will advance their large contribution to America's agriculture both domestically and in world markets," said Schafer.

The U.S. specialty crop industry is comprised of producers and handlers of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops, including floriculture. It is a major contributor to the U.S. agricultural economy, accounting for 10 million harvested cropland acres in 2004. The total value of U.S. specialty crops is over $50 billion in sales, which puts the combined value of these crops in league with the five major program crops.

Funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative was a major initiative in USDA's farm bill proposal and is authorized through the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. The 2008 farm bill provides an additional $50 million each year for fiscal years 2009 through 2012 for a total of $230 million over the five years of the farm bill. Those interested in applying for funding can access the request for applications online at

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative has five focus areas: 1) plant breeding, genetics and genomics research to improve crop characteristics; 2) efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases; 3) innovations and technology, including improved mechanization and technologies that delay or inhibit ripening; 4) efforts to improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; and 5) methods to prevent, detect, monitor, control and respond to potential food safety hazards in the production and processing of specialty crops.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Healthy And Productive Olives With Saline water irrigation

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL - The news that olives are sources of "good fat" has increased worldwide demand for the luscious, versatile fruits. Olives have become extremely popular, enjoyed as condiments, appetizers, spreads, and additions to salads and sauces. Their heart-healthy oil has is also enjoying superstar status in kitchens around the world.
The olive's reputation as a health food is being borne out by modern science, as studies of olive-consuming Mediterranean peoples have shown. To keep the world's olive lovers satisfied, an intensive wave of olive planting has occurred in the past decade in many parts of the world. Traditionally, olives have been cultivated in the Mediterranean region. But fresh water is becoming increasingly hard to come by in semiarid areas, and irrigation of most new olive plantations is often accomplished with low-quality sources of water that contain relatively high levels of salt.
The relationship between the use of "saline water" and olive cultivation has been actively studied for many years. According to Professor Zeev Wiesman, Department of Biotechnology Engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, it is well-known that saline conditions can limit the development of olives, mainly because the salty water interferes with the olives' root system and causes "toxic accumulation of chloride and sodium ions on the leaves."
Weisman and other researchers recently published the report of a long-term study in which they established a new saline irrigation controlled experimental olive plot. The plot was planted with 12 local olive cultivars as well as olive varieties from Mediterranean countries, then divided into identical subplots: one irrigated with tap water, the second with moderate saline water. "In the study, we aimed to evaluate and compare the vegetative and reproductive multiannual response of mature yielding trees of the 12 tested olive cultivars drip-irrigated with tap water and moderate saline water in a commercial orchard simulation study in a semiarid area", stated Weisman.
Olive trees in both subplots were evaluated for trunk growth, olive yield, oil percentage, olive oil yield, and other characteristics. The data clearly showed a significant difference between the tested cultivars in terms of growth, yield, and oil parameters. Researchers concluded that all the tested olive varieties could be cultivated with moderate saline water irrigation. Weisman added: "Although a significant variation in terms of horticultural performance was found between the various tested olive cultivars, the differences may be attributed to the natural characteristics of each cultivar or to their rate of adaptation to the environmental conditions in the tested area, rather than to moderate saline drip irrigation."

Contact: Michael W. Neff
American Society for Horticultural Science
The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

Remote Sensing With Satellite And On Site Digital Cameras Aid Measuring Water Demand And Other Statistics About Horticultural Crops

Measurement of canopy cover on 2-year-old almond orchard using the TetraCam camera on a 6.1-m stand.
Credit: Photo by Thomas Trout
FRESNO, CA - Horticultural crops account for almost 50% of crop sales in the United States, and these crops are carefully managed to ensure good quality. But more information is needed about the crops' growth and response to seasonal and climatic changes so that management practices such as irrigation can be precisely scheduled. Existing research can be difficult to generalize because of variations in crops, planting densities, and cultural practices.

Determining growth stage, size, and water needs are especially important for horticultural crops because most crops are grown in limited water environments and require irrigation. The measurement of "canopy light interception" is a primary means of determining water and irrigation needs. Fractional canopy cover (CC) is a relatively easily measured property that is a good indicator of light interception. Canopy cover, the percent of the soil surface covered by plant foliage, is an important indicator of stage of growth and crop water use in horticultural crops. Methods of using remote sensors to determine canopy cover in major crops have been studied for years, but the studies have not included most horticultural crops.

Thomas J. Trout, Research Leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, along with colleagues from the NASA Earth Science Division, recently published a study that addresses the relationship of remotely sensed normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) relative to canopy cover of several major horticultural crops in commercial fields.

The research team measured canopy cover of 11 different annual and perennial horticultural crops in various growth stages on 30 fields in California's San Joaquin Valley with a handheld multispectral digital camera. Canopy cover was compared with NDVI values calculated from Landsat 5 satellite imagery. According to Trout, "The NDVI was highly correlated and linearly related with measured CC across the wide range of crops, canopy structures, and growth stages, and predicted CC with mean absolute error of 0.047 up to effective full cover. These results indicate that remotely sensed NDVI may be an efficient way to monitor growth stage, and potentially irrigation water demand, of horticultural crops."

The research indicates that NDVI can potentially provide field-specific and regional estimates of CC for horticultural crops with minimal requirement for supporting information. This new information may also be useful to improve estimates of crop growth stage and water use.


The complete study is available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education and application. More information at

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

USDA Introduces Patriotic Lilacs.

WASHINGTON, DC - Lilacs. The word evokes memories of promising spring days and visions of colorful, perfumed blooms. Lilacs have long been well-loved staples in America's yards and gardens, and have played a storied role in U.S. history.
Native to East Asia and Southeast Europe, lilacs were brought to North America by the first settlers and were sold in American nurseries as early as 1800. The oldest living lilacs in North America may be those at the Governor Wentworth estate in Portsmouth, N.H., believed to have been planted around 1750. In 1767, Thomas Jefferson recorded his method of planting lilacs in his garden book, and in 1785, George Washington noted that he had transplanted lilacs in his garden. Today, over two million lilacs are sold annually in the U.S., accounting for over $13 million in wholesale sales.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently developed and introduced three new cultivars of lilacs. Honoring the patriotic role lilacs have played in U.S. history, the new shrubs have been dubbed 'Betsy Ross', 'Old Glory', and 'Declaration'.
Betsy Ross (left), Old Glory (middle), and Declaration (right).
Credit: Photo by Margaret R. Pooler

Dr. Margaret Pooler, a research geneticist at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and U.S. National Arboretum, published a report in the April 2008 issue of HortScience, announcing the release of the new lilacs. According to Dr. Pooler, The National Arboretum's lilac breeding program was started in the 1970s to develop lilacs that were adapted to warmer climates, had good mildew tolerance, and a showy, fragrant floral display. 'Betsy Ross', boasting pale cream buds that emerge into pure white flowers, was released in 2000. 'Old Glory', and 'Declaration' were introduced in 2006. Both of the newer lilacs came from the same controlled hybridization, but have markedly different traits.
'Old Glory' was selected for its abundant fragrant bluish-purple flowers, rounded growth habit, and disease-tolerant foliage. According to Dr. Pooler, "In the Washington, DC, area, 'Old Glory' reaches a mature size of approximately 12 feet tall by 13 feet wide, and shows good tolerance to Cercospora blight and Pseudomonas syringae in warmer climates where these diseases are a problem."
'Declaration' was selected for its large, fragrant, dark reddish-purple flowers and open upright growth habit. In Washington, DC, its mature size is 8.5 feet tall and 7 feet wide; however, it performs best in traditional cooler lilac-growing regions. The names of all three cultivars were selected as part of a "U.S. Flag" series of lilacs from the National Arboretum. Both 'Declaration' and 'Old Glory' were tested by growers throughout the U.S. and are currently being propagated and should be available at retailers this year.

More information;

Betsy Ross, Old Glory, Declaration