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Serving: MI
Two types of potato crops Jennifer Kiel
RESEARCH: White mold is a significant threat to dry bean and potato crops in Michigan. One of the research projects includes helping growers apply fungicide effectively during periods of elevated white mold risk.

MSU scientists earn $1.4 million for plant-based research

Twenty-six plant agriculture research projects will receive grant funding.

Michigan State University researchers have earned more than $1.4 million for research and outreach projects to continue strengthening Michigan’s agrifood industries.

Thanks to Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), 26 plant agriculture research projects will receive grant funding.

Project GREEEN is Michigan’s plant agriculture initiative, based at MSU, and a cooperative effort between plant-based commodities and businesses together with MSU AgBioResearch, MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Jim Kells, MSU professor and Project GREEEN coordinator, says the proposals put before the project selection committee previously were delayed because of the uncertainty amid the pandemic.

"As we confronted COVID-19, we decided to modify and postpone funding of these projects," Kells says. "However, as research continues to ramp back up, investments in appropriate research are more important than ever. The selection committee looked for innovative projects that respond to challenges within the industry and to help move Michigan agriculture forward during these unprecedented times. We are mindful to ensure that every dollar is invested wisely."

A few examples of projects funded this round include:

Integrating crop production systems with lamb grazing for Michigan. In a sustainable agricultural system, crops and livestock are integrated into a functional network where components can enhance each other. In 2019, the team received funding from the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture to evaluate performance of sheep grazing cover crops grown after wheat.

This Project GREEEN proposal will expand that work by evaluating how the grazing affects soil health and productivity of a subsequent corn silage rotation, including weed pressure, insect populations, disease incidence, and silage yield and quality. The lead researcher is Kim Cassida.

Managing tar spot through improved irrigation timing. Tar spot was first reported in Illinois and Indiana in 2015. In 2018, tar spot exploded across the west side of Michigan with 26 counties confirmed and multiple reports of losses in specific fields of up to or exceeding 50 bushels per acre.  

One of the more striking aspects of tar spot disease development has been the role of leaf moisture, particularly that driven by irrigation. Multiple confirmed reports have emerged of irrigated producers actually incurring yield loss through irrigation, as compared to nonirrigated fields or dry corners not covered by the pivot.

The goal of this MSU Extension project is to educate growers and demonstrate best irrigation practices, which will aid in reducing the impact of this challenging disease. The lead researcher is Martin Chilvers.

Advancing monitoring and early detection of downy mildew in cucumbers using spore traps and molecular tools. Michigan is the second-largest producer of fresh market and processing cucumbers in the country. The production of cucumbers in Michigan is threatened annually by the highly destructive cucurbit downy mildew pathogen, costing growers $6 million annually for fungicides.

Researchers will provide in-season disease forecasting by detecting airborne CDM spores with spore traps and molecular markers. They will improve CDM management by testing new spore trap models and new molecular markers.

This project will help to deliver more accurate disease management recommendations and improve fungicides application timing. The lead researcher is Mary Hausbeck.

Improving biological control of spotted wing drosophila in Michigan farms. To meet the market demands for insect-free fruit, spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii (SWD), is managed through repeated application of insecticides. Although effective, this strategy is expensive, and not economically or environmentally sustainable.

The team has surveyed natural enemies in Michigan farms and found that a few native parasitoid species attack SWD, but only at low levels. Since biological control is a fundamental component of integrated pest management programs, this project aims to increase the levels of biological control for SWD using a native species (Trichopria drosophilae) that has shown promise in other regions of the world.

Researchers also will test how individual plant species and larger wildflower plantings affect parasitism rates, as installation of wildflower plantings on farms may help support local parasitoid populations. The lead researcher is Rufus Isaacs.

Use of controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage to improve quality retention and market value in asparagus spears. Michigan’s nationally leading asparagus industry faces an increasingly competitive marketplace. Seasonal spikes in Michigan production exacerbate downward pressure on price. Production spikes in the marketplace during periods of lower demand results in “fire sales” and general low pricing, which lingers after supplies taper off.

If beneficial for shelf life, it could be possible for growers to selectively cut asparagus during production spikes and place it into CA storage, thereby reducing the downward pressure on price.

The research will assess the potential for CA storage to benefit the Michigan asparagus industry by determining the effects of storage atmosphere, harvest method (knife versus snapping) and the harvest date on the value proposition of CA. The lead researcher is Benjamin Werling.

Integrated white mold management for specialty cropping systems in Michigan. Michigan is nationally and international recognized for dry bean and potato production, and is the nation’s leading producer of black beans, cranberry beans, small red beans and potatoes for chip processing.

White mold, however, is a significant threat to dry bean and potato crops in this region. Integrated management strategies have proven effective in soybeans and other crops. However, they have not been well studied in dry beans or potatoes.

Sporecaster, a weather-based model developed in soybeans, helps users to time fungicide applications effectively during susceptible crop growth stages and periods of elevated white mold risk.

These studies will investigate the use and performance of Sporecaster, alongside other strategies including varietal resistance, nutrient management and alternative herbicide treatments. The lead researcher is Jaime Wilbur.

A complete listing of 2020 newly funded and continuing Project GREEEN research and Extension projects is available at canr.msu.edu/project-greeen/funded-projects.

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