Nov 17, 2022
Strawberry growers gain support in fight against soilborne diseases

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s California Strawberry Center has won a $1 million grant to fund research to combat soilborne diseases that harm strawberry plants.

The California strawberry industry is challenged by numerous diseases, especially those caused by soilborne pathogens. The grant will expand the center’s ongoing diagnostics services and research on diseases affecting strawberry plants. The funding will help further the center’s work in developing solutions to ensure the sustainability of the California strawberry industry, Gerald Holmes, center director, said in a news release.

The Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, Oxnard and Santa Maria production regions been strongly impacted by the diseases, according to the release. The grant funding will assist growers in managing problem soil areas in all strawberry production districts and will provide benefits to the entire California strawberry industry.

The diseases are impossible to diagnose visually, even for the most experienced strawberry growers, pest control advisors and plant pathologists. A portion of the funding will be used to expand the center’s capacity for diagnostics and additional laboratory space. The expanded lab space will help center staff diagnose and even prevent plant diseases, according to the release.

The funding also enables Cal Poly to fulfill its mission of engaging students in hands-on learning, preparing them to enter the workforce ready to make a difference, Holmes said in the release.

“The more than 300 strawberry growers in California are in a daily fight to ensure healthy plants produce quality strawberries that are in high demand by consumers and generate over $1 billion dollars in farm wages,” Rick Tomlinson, California Strawberry Commission’s president, said in the release. “This grant will further strengthen the commission’s partnership with the center to provide farmers with much needed tools to fight soil-borne diseases.”

The center is a partnership between the commission and Cal Poly that began in 2013. The initial staff began conducting research on soilborne pathogens and fumigation alternatives, two critical pressing issues facing the industry. Over the last decade, the center expanded its research to three main programs: plant pathology, entomology, and automation.

The commission made the initial request to California Assemblyman Robert Rivas (D-Salinas), who worked through the legislature to secure the new funding.

“I’d like to thank the California Strawberry Commission, the California Strawberry Center, and Cal Poly for their partnership and continued research on emerging diseases impacting California’s strawberry farmers,” Rivas said in the release. “This research funding will help create sustainable solutions to new strawberry diseases here in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and ensure California remains the leader in strawberry production amidst the ongoing climate crisis.”

Strawberries occupy a tiny footprint in California’s agricultural landscape. The Watsonville/Salinas area in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are the predominant production regions, producing more than 97 million crates so far in the 2022 season. Collectively, the California strawberry industry generates more than $2 billion annually in production value with a total economic contribution exceeding $3.2 billion to California. More than 90% of these dollars stay in local communities on the Central Coast, supporting the local labor force and fueling the economic engine of the communities, according to the release.




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