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UF/IFAS study shows flavor trumps health for blueberry buying

Topic(s): Crops, Cultivars, Economics, Nutrition, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Taste trumps health benefits for blueberry buyers, sending a strong message that fruit consumers value flavor most, new University of Florida research shows.

About 61 percent of blueberry consumers buy the fruit for its flavor, while 39 percent do so for psychological reasons, according to two national online surveys. By “psychological,” researchers mean those consumers may buy blueberries because they believe the fruit, which contains antioxidants, provides health benefits.

UF horticultural sciences assistant professor Jim Olmstead will use the data as he breeds new types of blueberries. Olmstead uses traditional breeding methods to create blueberry cultivars that have traits consumers want.

“What we’re trying to determine is: What is the consumer’s perception of the ideal blueberry? What should it look, taste and feel like?” said Olmstead, a faculty member with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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UF/IFAS study: Strawberry monitoring system could add $1.7 million over 10 years to some farms

Topic(s): Crops, Economics, New Technology, Research

Natalia Peres strawberries

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida-developed web tool can bring growers $1.7 million more in net profits over 10 years than a calendar-based fungicide system because it guides growers to spray their crop at optimal times, a new UF study shows.

The Strawberry Advisory System, devised by an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher, takes data such as temperature and leaf wetness and tells growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than is needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, said Natalia Peres, associate professor in plant pathology, who led the system’s development.

Not all strawberry growers use the system, but this research might persuade them to do so, said Tatiana Borisova, an assistant professor in UF/IFAS food and resource economics department.

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UF/IFAS study finds simple solution to monitoring major berry pest

Topic(s): Crops, Economics, Pests, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Using a yeast-sugar-water mixture, berry growers can easily keep tabs on a pest that causes millions in damage each year in the U.S., a new University of Florida study shows.

Farmers can conduct a test to determine if the spotted wing drosophila is in their field – and if so, how prevalent. They punch holes near the upper rim of a covered plastic cup and pour in a yeast-sugar-water mix to about 1 inch high in the cup.

The liquid mixture lures the pest, and growers add a drop of dishwashing liquid to thicken the bait and keep the bugs from escaping. Growers check the traps once a week to see how many bugs are in them. Knowing the pest population is the first step to controlling the bug, also known as the drosophila suzukii.

The female insect cuts a slit in the fruit’s skin and lays eggs there. The larvae consume strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and other thin-skinned fruit, said Oscar Liburd, a UF entomology and nematology professor.

“The drosophila suzukii is the biggest threat to berry production in the United States,” said Liburd, a faculty member at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

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UF/FAS and Florida A&M announce innovative farmer awards

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Honors and Appointments, IFAS, Livestock

Gainesville, Fla. ─ The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M University’s Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Focus Team are pleased to announce the three winners of the Innovative Farmer Award for this year’s conference.

The Innovative Farmer Award recognizes farmers and ranchers who are innovative leaders and excel in making their farming systems more profitable over the long term, using farming practices that enhance natural resources, leading or participating in activities that support viable communities and providing outreach and/or education about sustainable agriculture ideas and practices to others.

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No browning, maybe less oil with Florida’s Elkton potato

Topic(s): Agriculture, Crops, Economics, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new potato variety grown for use as a chip should be more marketable because it averts a process that causes the crop to brown, and may be less oily than current tubers, a University of Florida researcher says.

The Elkton potato does not succumb to internal heat necrosis, said Lincoln Zotarelli, a UF assistant horticultural sciences professor and faculty member at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The disorder is caused by high temperature and changes to soil moisture and nutrients and leaves the potato brown inside.

UF/IFAS and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists put Elkton potatoes through 19 trials, from 2003-2013, in Florida.  Numerous trials were also conducted in Maine, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The trials tested Elkton’s adaptability to soils in the those states and showed the variety exhibits characteristics growers want, said Kathleen Haynes, a research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland.

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Annual conference to teach farming, livestock, local foods, more

Topic(s): Agriculture, Announcements, Crops, Economics, IFAS

2011 Small Farms Conference.  UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If you’re thinking of starting a small farm or want to know about the latest in local foods, organic and hydroponic production, livestock production, farmers markets and more, you might consider attending the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference.

Like last year, about 800 people are expected to attend the conference, Aug. 1-2, at Osceola Heritage Park, 1875 Silver Spur Lane in Kissimmee, said Jose Perez, small farms specialty crop statewide program coordinator and the event’s publicity chairman.

Now in its sixth year, the conference is presented by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida A&M University.

Typically, those who attend include small family, transitional, beginning and experienced farmers; allied-industry representatives; educators; researchers; policy makers; small farm commodity associations; foundations and others dedicated to strengthening Florida’s small farm community.

Ed Skvarch, commercial horticulture extension agent in St. Lucie County, said those pondering farming can learn much of its business side at the conference.

“If you’re starting a small farm, I believe it is crucial to have passion, the technical knowledge on how to grow vegetables or raise livestock and a working plan on how to grow the business,” Skvarch said. “Most beginning farmers I work with have the passion and possess some knowledge of growing vegetables; however, what they lack is a plan on how to grow their business. All three are important.”

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Climate, genetics can affect how long virus-carrying mosquitoes live

Topic(s): Entomology and Nematology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s just math: The longer a mosquito lives, the better its odds of transmitting disease to humans or animals.

But as it turns out, factors such as the mosquito’s own genetics and the climate it lives in have a big – albeit complicated and not wholly understood – role to play in its lifespan.

University of Florida researchers, hoping to better understand how West Nile virus affects mosquitoes, set up an experiment they outline in the Journal of Vector Ecology’s current issue.

Mosquitoes can transmit any number of pathogens to humans, including protozoan malaria, West Nile, dengue and chikungunya viruses. Malaria cases range between 350 million and 500 million each year, with 1 million to 3 million deaths every year.

In the experiment, UF researchers examined survival rates for mosquitoes from two laboratory-reared colonies, one from Gainesville and one from Vero Beach.

Half of each of the mosquito colonies was fed West Nile virus-infected blood, the other half kept as a control population, and fed blood without the virus.

They divided the groups once more, this time keeping the mosquitoes at two temperatures, one group at 80.6 degrees, the other at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit – a rather large difference in temperature for cold-blooded insects.

Their findings were both unexpected and illuminating, said Barry Alto, a UF assistant professor of arbovirology based at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

“Our results indicate that interactions between mosquitoes and arboviruses are really complex … these things that haven’t really been taken into account previously might make a difference,” said Alto, part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The researchers found that warmer temperature shortened survival.  Also, for the most part, the Vero Beach mosquitoes lived longer than those from Gainesville, indicating that some groups, or strains, of mosquitoes might just be genetically hardier than others.

They found that in general, the mosquitoes fared better at cooler temperatures.

But they also found that the West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes from Gainesville fared worse than their counterparts at the hotter temperatures, and to their surprise, that the Vero Beach-bred mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus lived longer than all other groups at the cooler temperature, including control-group mosquitoes not exposed to the virus.

Ingesting virus-infected blood may take a toll on the mosquito’s health, Alto said, but it’s clear that other factors: immune response, genetics and the environment, are also at play and need more study.

“It’s quite complex, there’s a lot of stuff going on here,” Alto said. “But I think the take-home  message is that these viruses, when they’re in mosquitoes, not only can they alter parameters like survivorship that are really important to disease transmission, but they can alter them in non-intuitive ways — sometimes enhancing, sometimes decreasing survivorship, and that those situations arise when you start considering other factors of the environment, like temperature.”

Adding to scientists’ knowledge base of how disease affects insects is key to finding the best ways to limit its spread, Alto said.

“In the most general sense, in order for humans to control disease, we really need to know how the mosquito interacts with these viruses,” he said. “In the absence of a human vaccine, the best way to control any sort of mosquito-borne virus is to control the mosquito. Simply put, if the mosquito doesn’t bite you, you’re not going to get the pathogen.”

Besides Alto, the research team included Stephanie Richards, an assistant professor at East Carolina University; Sheri Anderson, a former graduate student at the Florida Medical Entomology Lab and Cynthia Lord, an associate professor in modeling of vector-borne disease transmission, also of the FMEL. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and UF/IFAS.

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Beloved crape myrtle in nurseries now susceptible to bacterial leaf spot, researchers say

Topic(s): Landscaping, Pests, RECs, Research, Uncategorized

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s enough to send gardeners into conniptions.

Crape myrtle, a tree adored for its bright flowers that scream summer, care-free maintenance and even its colorful bark, now has a disease problem – although so far, only in the commercial nursery setting.

University of Florida researchers had been getting sporadic reports from nursery owners over the last five years of a leaf spot problem, and those reports have only increased in frequency. Through genetic testing, scientists identified the disorder as being caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas axonopodis. The disease is most likely spread by wind-driven rain or overhead irrigation, and some crape myrtle varieties are more susceptible than others.

“I’ve been working with crape myrtles for a long time, and they’ve been such a disease-resistant plant for such a long time, so it’s pretty significant when their susceptibility to disease is increased,” said Gary Knox, an environmental horticulture professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The U.S. crape myrtle crop had a value of nearly $43 million in 2010, and Florida is its second-biggest producer, behind Texas. Florida has more companies producing crape myrtle, however, with 130 compared with 72 in Texas.

In the June issue of the journal Plant Disease, the UF/IFAS team outlined the first report of the disease and the work they did to identify it. They believe it is the first report of the bacterium causing leaf spot in crape myrtle.

Bacterial leaf spot doesn’t kill the ornamental tree, but creates spots on its leaves that eventually turn yellow and drop.

The researchers say, for now, the disease affects only crape myrtle commercial producers and is spread by factors such as overhead irrigation systems and large numbers of plants kept in close quarters.

The bad news is that the bacterium is widespread.

“I think you can safely say that nearly every crape myrtle producer would have the disease at this point,” Knox said.

While the disease appears contained in the commercial sector, that could change.

“Most bacterial diseases can be spread in wind-driven rain, and in Florida, we know there’s no shortage of that,” said Mathews Paret, an assistant professor of plant pathology who led the study.

Paret and Knox are based at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy.

Scientists suggest an integrated management approach to the problem, rather than a silver bullet that only stops the problem temporarily.

Choosing resistant varieties, moving from overhead irrigation to drip irrigation and the limited use of bactericides would be part of such an integrated strategy, the researchers said.

The varieties Natchez, Osage, Fantasy, Basham’s Party Pink and Miami have proven highly resistant to bacterial leaf spot while Carolina Beauty, Arapaho, Tuscarora, White Chocolate, Red Rocket and Rhapsody in Pink were more susceptible in field trials funded by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association.

Steve Bender, a senior writer at Southern Living magazine, “The Grumpy Gardener” blogger and well-known gardening author, says it would be a huge disappointment if the disease ever makes the leap from nurseries to home gardens.

Crape myrtle is so close to Southern gardeners’ hearts that they endlessly debate such topics as how to spell its name (variants include crepe myrtle, crape myrtle and even crapemyrtle),  and the annual rite Bender calls  “crape murder” – an unceremonious lopping of its limbs.

It’s an iconic tree, he said, mostly because it’s little work for a big payoff.

“It’s ideally suited to the southern climate, it blooms for a long time, it comes in lots of different colors and you even get nice color in the fall,” Bender said. “It’s kind of hard to kill, and pretty much any idiot can grow one. And up until now, it’s had very few problems.”

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