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$ 4 million grant to improve boxwood blight prevention

Boxwoods are a popular staple in landscaping and bring life and energy to gardens throughout the year around the world, allowing for extensive customization of the green shrub.

But boxwood faces a threat – a fungal infection that is easily transmitted through the nursing industry by plants that show no signs of infection.

A multi-institutional research team led by Chuanxue Hong, project manager and professor at the Virginia Tech School of Plant and Environmental Sciences located at the Hampton Roads Center for Agricultural Research and Extension, will find innovative ways to protect the nation’s largest evergreen shrub against boxwood. lesion. The disease was first detected in the United States in 2011 after it was discovered in the United Kingdom and New Zealand in the mid-1990s. After crossing the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the disease has been seen in two states and is now in 28 states plus the District of Columbia.

The disease quickly wipes out boxwood, the most common evergreen shrub in the United States, and staples in both modern and historic gardens, while also causing permanent damage to affected areas.

With a nearly $ 4 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture that will run through August 2024, the team will work to protect boxwood from this disease by preventing the spread of this disease through plant breeding, genetics, innovation and economics. Analysis and education.

A better understanding of the boxwood pest will be developed in nurseries alongside the identification of Critical Control Points to help farmers keep Calonectria pseudonaviculata, the pathogen that causes boxwood pest, in getting rid of or eliminating it altogether.

The team will investigate boxwood genetics and associated microbiomes, pathogen colonization, and epidemiology, as well as analyze the benefits of individual innovations and integrate in the form of best management practices in production and post-production sites for optimum performance and economy. Publication of boxwood pest management strategies.

Several major innovations will be produced as a result of the project, including robust diagnostic kits, more resistant varieties, boxwood self-defense enhancers, pesticide repellants as physical barriers, and biological controls. In addition, the research will integrate several newly developed technologies and provide economic analysis to enhance their adoption by stakeholders

After the technologies are adopted, the farmers will be able to produce, sell and ship the stock of the pest free plants only, making them more competitive in the domestic and global markets, and the garden and horticultural coordinators will be more able to protect the existing farms and more effectively manage the disease in the affected sites.

Through their unique areas of expertise, the entire multi-institutional research team will find solutions for the entire horticulture chain, from farmers to consumers, and all citizens who cherish historic gardens, so that boxwood trees can be enjoyed now and for generations to come. .

This was one of the few grants awarded by NIFA through the Specialized Crops Research Initiative program. Others include:

Sherif Sharif, Associate Professor of Fruit Cultivation at Alson H. Smith Jr. Virginia Agricultural Research and Experiment Station, is a lead investigator on a $ 4.8 million project on accurate crop load management for apples.

This is a four-year project led by Cornell University that aims to develop sustainable and accurate crop load management strategies that integrate predictive models, automated crop management machines, computer vision tools, geo-referenced horticulture maps, and applicable tactics for precise and chemical pruning. Apple orchards thin. Sherif’s role in this project is to develop and evaluate pollen tube growth models for commercial apple varieties. These models should help apple growers succinctly determine the timing of their chemical dilution sprays. Timely thinning applications not only give apple growers the optimum advantage of producing the best quality fruit, but also help reduce the risk of excessive or incomplete thinning, improve predictability of fruit set and facilitate logistical planning of spray sets during flowering.

Laura Straw, Associate Professor of Food Science and Technology and Cooperative Extension Specialist in Virginia, “Scientific Challenges and Cost-Effective Management of Risks Associated with Implementing Product Safety Regulations,” $ 7 million distributed across a number of organizations, including about $ 450,000 for Virginia Tech.

The research team will focus on how to mitigate disease-causing microorganisms, including bacteria, parasites and viral pathogens, and the impact of these pathogens on food safety risks. The focus will be on the effect of agricultural water and biological soil amendments during production, ground contact production, animal interference with crops, and cross-contamination after harvest. The team will identify the most important factors leading to risks and drivers of change. Straw leads the Extension Education and Outreach component of the Grant Team.

David Langston, Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist at Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk, and Steve Ride Ott, Professor and Extension Plant Pathologist located on Virginia Tech’s main campus in Blacksburg, “Control Alt Delete,” $ 2.8 million between the University of Georgia, Virginia Tech, Cornell University, and University of Nebraska.

“Control Alt Delete” aims to control Alternaria leaf spot and head rot using a multi-pronged approach that includes identifying the actual pathogenic Alternaria species; Identify vaccine sources, allowing us to avoid disease before it becomes possible; Pathogen management by identifying resistant varieties, fertility and irrigation systems that do not favor disease, and determining effective fungicides. The team will also determine the frequency and distribution of the pathogen isolates that are resistant to the fungicides currently used against it. Virginia brassica producers have experienced increasing losses due to this emerging disease and are encouraged to provide input or ask any questions they may have. Visit the “Control Alt Delete” website for more information.

Tony Wolf, Professor of Fruit Cultivation at Alson H. Smith Jr. Virginia Agricultural Research & Experiments, on a project on high-precision vineyard nutrient management.

Led by Washington State University, the overall goals of the multi-state project are to develop non-destructive sensors and other means in real time to assess grape nutrient status and micro-fertilization practices in vineyards. Wolf will collaborate with Amanda Stewart, Associate Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, to better understand how exogenous nitrogen fertilizers affect the quality potential of fruit and wine under growing conditions, including unique varieties found in the Mid-Atlantic.

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