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Horticulture student wins award for sustainable mulch discoveries in raspberries

Posted by struscott | October 24, 2018
Full-body shot of Zhang, holding a flat box of raspberries, next to a stack of berry boxes.
Huan Zhang, doctoral student in Horticulture, is helping Northwest raspberry growers find more economical, sustainable methods to grow berries.

Helping farmers grow raspberries more sustainably, Huan Zhang, graduate student in the Department of Horticulture, has won an award from the American Society for Horticultural Science for his research on biodegradable mulches.

A winner in the Scholars Ignite competition, Zhang presented his doctoral research at the society’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

Propagating raspberries by tissue culture offers growers a way to more easily grow raspberries free from viruses and other diseases. Zhang found that polyethylene and biodegradable plastic mulches can help with weed control, improving plant growth and yield in cultured raspberry production.

While the project is in its early stages, his research suggests that plastic mulches can reduce the use of herbicides and the intense labor costs of hand weeding, helping with sustainability.

Now, Zhang and his project team are continuing to study plant growth, yield, degradation of mulches in soil, how parasitic nematodes are affected by the mulch, and barriers and paths to adoption.

Zhang is advised by Lisa DeVetter, assistant professor for berry crops at WSU NWREC Mount Vernon, and co-advised by Carol Miles, professor of vegetable horticulture, also at Mount Vernon.

The project is funded by the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, Washington State Commission on Pesticide Registration, and Washington State Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, with material donations provided by Novamont and BASF.