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The Science of Specialty Crops

Posted by struscott | October 1, 2009

Jim McFerson, Jim Doornink and Amid Dhingra spoke about the role technology plays in tree fruit production.

Doornink is a producer, owning 200 acres of farmland near Yakima. Doornink said it is important to incorporate new technology into his business. Doornink said the price producers are getting for their product is less, while the amount spent on labor is going up.

“If science doesn’t come up with something, we’re headed down a collision course,” said Doornink.

McFerson said specialty crops are becoming increasingly important in the United States. Specialty crops are perennial crops that grow on bushes and big trees making them hard to harvest. Examples of specialty crops are apples, cherries and grapes. McFerson said research is being done to find new technology to make these orchards easier and more efficient to take care of.

Various companies have created different machines with the hopes of using them in orchards in the near future. Oxbo/Picker Technologies have created a machine that has a platform which workers stand on and pick fruit from. The machine sorts apples by size as it moves down orchard rows. Vision Robotics has another new technology. Their machine can take pictures of the trees, allowing orchard owners to watch their fruit develop and be on the lookout for signs of codling moths and other pests.

McFerson said another way technology is altering fruit production is with the help of genetics. McFerson said by changing the genetics of a tree, they can be altered to grow better suited for Washington’s environment.

“The foundation of everything is genetics,” McFerson said.

Dhingra, a scientist who works with genetics in fruit production, said his program works on trying to understand what genes can and cannot do. Dhingra works on sequencing apple DNA, creating a blueprint map of the genes’ functions. Dhingra said this allows them to create apples that grow best for a particular situation.

“I am the solution they’re looking for,” Dhingra said.

— Whitney Parsons, CAHNRS Marketing and News intern

Learn more

Visit the genomics Web site

Learn more about specialty crop research at WSU