PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists at Washington State University have been awarded $2.53 million to improve fruit quality and disease resistance of crops in the rosaceae family (apple, blackberry, peach, pear, rose, strawberry, sweet cherry and tart cherry). The production, processing and marketing of these crops in Washington generate an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion, making them the state’s most valuable agricultural commodity, said Jim McFerson, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission research manager.
DNA tools for use nationwide
The project will create DNA-based tools in 22 U.S. breeding programs in order to develop commercial scion and rootstock cultivars more efficiently, accurately and creatively. “The application of modern DNA-based tools, which has been lagging in rosaceous crops, will become more accessible to the country’s 50-plus rosaceous crop breeding programs, including WSU’s apple and sweet cherry breeding programs,” said Cameron Peace, tree fruit geneticist in the WSU Department of Horticulture and project co-director. “This is a fantastic return on investment and a wonderful recognition of the quality of our WSU researchers,” said Jim Doornink, Yakima tree fruit grower and chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
Project among the largest
The grant is part of a $10 million, five-year U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) competitive grant awarded to Michigan State University. One of the largest in the history of the SCRI, the project is directed by Amy Iezzoni. The award supports a second phase of the RosBREED project originally funded by the USDA in 2009. RosBREED addresses diseases identified as key challenges by industry stakeholders across the country. It is estimated that the U.S. domestic wholesale value for rosaceous crops exceeds $12.5 billion annually, said McFerson.
Practical benefits to growers, consumers
“Producers will have more options to sustainably protect their crops, while consumers and the entire supply chain will directly benefit from products with better taste, nutrition, keeping ability and appearance,” he said. “The Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry will benefit from very practical outcomes – rootstock and scion cultivars that will help the grower, satisfy the consumer and allow us to compete better in a very challenging marketplace,” said Doornink. Researchers at WSU include Kate Evans, Nnadozie Oraguzie, Lisa DeVetter, Desmond Layne and Dorrie Main, in the Department of Horticulture, and Karina Gallardo and Vicki McCracken, in the School of Economic Sciences. Peace and Iezzoni will lead a group of 35 scientists from 13 U.S. institutions including: California Polytechnic State University, Clemson University, Cornell University, Michigan State University, Texas A&M University, University of Arkansas, University of California at Davis, University of Florida, University of Minnesota, University of New Hampshire, USDA-ARS Corvallis and USDA-ARS Kearneysville.