Post-harvest Health, Public-Private Partnerships, GIS

A Better Way to Manage Fruit Rots

Chang-lin Xiao. Photo by Brian Charles Clark
Chang-lin Xiao. Photo by Brian Charles Clark

Providing consumers with the best possible eating experience is a constant goal of the Washington tree fruit industry and its research partners. That goal is being met through delicious new varieties of fruit as well as through more behind-the-scenes developments. One of those recent developments has growers using few inputs to retain apple fruit quality after harvest.

Traditionally, harvested apples and pears are given a drench with a fungicide that controls post-harvest rots. But consumers prefer fruit that is not treated with pesticides after harvest and regulators around the world are echoing that demand. In order to respect consumer demands and stay competitive in the global market, an alternative means of controlling post-harvest diseases is needed.

Enter plant pathologist Chang-Lin Xiao, a researcher based at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. “The control of post-harvest rots is very challenging because we have to deal with multiple diseases,” Xiao said. “Some marketing companies already have zero tolerance for decay, and most of the apple-producing countries in the European Union already severely restrict the post-harvest use of fungicides.”

Xiao and his colleagues have tested a pre-harvest treatment that controls post-harvest issues. “Based on work done here, we were able to facilitate the registration of a reduced-risk fungicide in 2005 that helps manage post-harvest diseases in apples and pears,” Xiao said. The treatment is now in wide use in Washington and Oregon, with about 20 percent or more of apple and pear crops being treated with the new product.

“Our role was to work with the fungicide manufacturer to test the product’s efficacy,” Xiao said, “as well as to determine usage protocols in terms of how much to use, how often – and also in terms of the timing of applications.”

One of the problems with the traditional post-harvest fungicide drench, said Xiao, is that it necessitates wastewater treatment and risk contamination. “The water used in the drenching process is recirculated,” Xiao said, “so there is a chance that non-target fungal spores will survive the process and contaminate the fruit.”

Xiao and his colleagues have also developed a new way of getting information about new pest and disease management strategies to those who most need them – the growers and packing house managers.

“We organized the WSU Fruit School,” Xiao said. Xiao collaborated with retired WSU post-harvest specialist Gene Kupferman to get the school up and running. “With some financial support from the agri-chemical companies, we host the fruit school in May or August, so that fresh information gets to growers and packers in a timely manner,” Xiao said. “We get about 140 attendees at each annual meeting, which represents about 90 percent of the packing industry.”

Developing management strategies for post-harvest fruit storage issues is just one thrust of Xiao’s research. In the next issue of On Solid Ground, we’ll look at another key component of his work: managing fungicide resistance. As Xiao said, “We have effective tools, but must use them judiciously.”

–Brian Clark

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Public-Private Partnerships Build Capacity, Sustain Farming Industries

The Washington apple is an icon of excellence around the world.
The Washington apple is an icon of excellence around the world.
Washington-grown wheat helps feed the world.
Washington-grown wheat helps feed the world.

What do Washington-grown wheat, wine, and apples all have in common? Growers of these economically vital crops all rely on Washington State University research and Extension for science-based solutions and innovations to keep their operations productive and profitable.

Consider Washington wheat, the source of the daily bread—and noodles—for millions of people around the world. For Washington wheat growers, one variety does not fit all. Southern Whitman County, for instance, is just a few miles from northern Asotin County – but is a much drier climate requiring a different type of wheat. That’s why Washington State University collaborates with the Washington grain growers to develop and test wheat varieties in the region’s various microclimates – and why, too, those same growers have been such strong supporters of WSU over the decades.

The same is true with wine grapes. Along with a group of pioneering growers, WSU horticulturist Walter Clore established beyond a shadow of doubt that Washington is one of the world’s best places to grow premium wine grapes. The nearly 50-year-old partnership between the university and the wine industry has helped the state grow to be the nation’s second largest wine producer with a prestige that circles the globe.

And when you mention prestige, you don’t have to look any further than the iconic Washington apple. Growers from the Columbia Basin to the highlands of the Okanogan and beyond grow the finest, tastiest, most nutritious apples, pears, cherries and soft fruit in the world. Working alongside the growers of Washington are WSU scientists and Extension agents. Through a long-standing partnership with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, the industry continues to invest in research to ensure science-based solutions to drive innovation and create a competitive economic advantage.

The Washington wine industry has grown to be a major contributor to the state's economy.
The Washington wine industry has grown to be a major contributor to the state's economy.

What else do these commodities have in common? They are supporting WSU with unprecedented investments. In recent years, Washington grain growers have established seven endowments to permanently support faculty research and Extension. The Washington wine industry just recently committed $7.4 million in order to build a world-class wine science center at WSU Tri-Cities. And, even as we speak, the Washington tree fruit industry is considering an investment of $32 million that would establish six endowed chairs, create five new positions for information and technology transfer, and provide support for operating research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee.

Why are funds like these so important? Because they inspire researchers to focus efforts on the needs of the industry, and enable researchers to travel to meet farmers, distributors, consumers and colleagues in order to learn firsthand about the issues they face and the things they need to succeed.

These gifts build upon WSU’s existing research capacity and leverage faculty expertise in everything from molecules to markets. With more than a century-long history of providing solutions to farmers across the state, consumers around the world can look forward to exciting new apples, pears, cherries, wine grapes, and wheat varieties – all grown in ever more sustainable ways, thanks to the research done at WSU.

–Brian Clark

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Knowledge is Multi-Dimensional in New GIS Class

Richard Rupp in a CDPE-created video. Photo by Brian Maki.
Richard Rupp in a CDPE-created video. Photo by Brian Maki.

Most maps have two dimensions. Very few have three. Geographic Information Systems creates maps with a fourth dimension: a new topography of digital information.

GIS works like this: Data is collected about anything that can be measured or calculated – income levels, water pipes, traffic, soil composition, animal habitat, the widgets in a warehouse, the locations of people trapped in quake-crushed buildings. The data can come from traditional sources, such as a census or from satellite photos and planes that use lasers to create 3-D maps of the landscape.

Computers place the data over the relevant base map. Different data sets can be layered over the same area. People can then make decisions based on a deep new stratum of digital information.

This fall, students – regardless of their geospatial locations – will be able to learn about GIS in a new WSU online course, Soil Science 368, Introduction to Geographic Information Systems. The course is taught by Richard Rupp, GIS coordinator at Washington State University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Also this fall, WSU will begin offering a minor in geospatial analysis, which includes remote sensing and spatial statistics.

Though GIS technology is relatively new, the practical applications have been of astounding range. Farmers use it for planting, cities for planning, businesses for managing everything from inventory to parking spaces. Rescue workers in Haiti used it to rescue earthquake victims. The City of Portland uses it to map utilities, fight graffiti, and tell commuters when their bus will arrive. At WSU, the technology is often associated with precision agriculture and natural resource science, as well as archaeology, geology, and civil engineering. But it’s quickly becoming a crucial tool for commerce worldwide.

“Business is the biggest user of GIS in the country,” Rupp said. “Government is number two.”

The new online course will focus on geography, but the process applies to other data.

“Students will learn not just ‘about.’ They’ll learn ‘how to,’ ” said Charmaine Wellington, the e-learning consultant at the Center for Distance and Professional Education who is working with Rupp. “They’ll create a map for each assignment.”

The course also will include video created by the CDPE and screen-capture sequences made with Camtasia software.

Rupp earned his bachelor’s degree in bacteriology from Iowa State University in 1980, and his Ph.D. in microbiology from WSU in 1986. He became interested in GIS about 15 years ago, just as it was growing into a major force.

“I’m kind of a data freak,” Rupp said. “I love numbers.”

Rupp’s interest in maps goes back to when he was 10, when he started a National Geographic subscription.

“Until my wife finally convinced me – in a weak moment – to get rid of them, I had a huge collection of National Geographic maps, going back 20 or 30 years.”

He still subscribes, still admires the maps, but no longer saves them: “Now I can make my own.”

–Richard Miller

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