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New KREC greenhouse boosts SJV crop research

The cutting edge of research on 45 San Joaquin Valley crops is keener with the new, $3 million, state-of-the-art greenhouse at the University of California’s largest off-campus research site, the Kearney Research and Education Center (KREC) at Parlier.

The new the 20,000-square-foot building features 24 modules equipped for computerized, tailored temperature, humidity, and light, plus all utilities, for individual, high-priority research projects.

It replaces several smaller, cramped structures, each of about 600 square feet, shared by KREC scientists for decades. It allows completion of projects on-site without the researchers having to commute to facilities until now available only at the Berkeley, Davis and Riverside campuses.

Completed last winter after 15 years on priority construction lists, it was dedicated by UC, local government, and industry representatives during a recent open house with field and laboratory tours and a barbecue lunch.

The occasion drew more than 450 persons and also marked the 40th anniversary of the 260-acre center serving 17 Central Valley counties with 90 research projects each year.

Noting that KREC is the “flagship” of the university’s research and education efforts, W.R. “Reg” Gomes, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the new greenhouse is an integral link for commercial agriculture from “field to consumer.”

David Grantz, plant physiologist and leader of the Kearney Agricultural Center, the team of two-dozen resident scientists at KREC, said “research keeps California agriculture competitive in the world and relies on the close cooperation between world-class scientists and industry. KREC is an example of how land grant institutions work to keep our research current.”

Grantz accepted a California Assembly resolution commemorating the greenhouse dedication and 40th anniversary.

Several researchers were on hand at their respective greenhouse modules to discuss current projects. Entomologist Walter Bentley demonstrated his project on the fork-tailed bush katydid (FTBK), an established species which has become serious pest of stone fruit in recent seasons from Merced to Kern counties.

The reason for the economic outbreak of the FTBK, which overwinters in the soil, is due partly to its greater survival in reduced tillage fields and partly to elimination of harsher organophosphate insecticides. Although adults feed on foliage, nymphal forms feed on fruit, making it unmarketable.

The registered compounds, Imidan and Success, control it, and Bentley said that it can be managed in the spring along with treatments for peach twigborer. In the new greenhouse he is investigating how it is attracted to fruit color, scent, and variety in hopes of developing practices for timing control treatments during the spring. Another part of Bentley’s research is aimed at learning how FTBK communicates at night with its distinctive sounds.

A few modules away, entomologist Beth Grafton-Cardwell told of her work on insect pests of citrus. “With this new greenhouse, I am able to control temperature, light, and humidity better than I have ever been in my career.

“These modules are well-designed, and we can run experiments separately at the same time. Before with the smaller greenhouses we might have two or three projects crowding into the same space. We had problems with different temperatures or contamination between projects.”

In three modules, she is presently doing separate research simultaneously on pests of citrus. In one, she is rearing red scale for infection of grapefruit to screen a dozen new materials to replace Lorsban. In another, she is rearing cottony cushion scale for observation on ornamental plants, and in a third she is using the reared scale for a project studying Vedalia beetle, an important predator of the scale. At the far end of the same wing of the greenhouse, Anil Shrestha, an IPM weed ecologist, is working on improved methods of weed identification, in the early as well as adult stages.

Noting that no single herbicide or cultivation removes all weeds, and growers often apply the wrong herbicide for weeds in a field, Shrestha said “Weeds that emerge with or before the crop can cause more damage than those that emerge after the crop.”

On the other hand, he adds, “Perennial weeds like field bindweed can cause economic losses even after the crop is well established.” Plant pathologist Themis Michailides is employing his greenhouse space for advancing use of molecular tools for diagnosing diseases of tree fruit, nuts and vines.

For pistachio, for example, leaves thought to be infected with Alternaria could be collected from an orchard and analyzed by commercial laboratories with the molecular process within a day or so. Earlier tests took much longer.

“We can use the molecular method to predict the amount of Alternaria so the grower can decide on his spray program,” he said.

Outside yet another module, staff research associate Roland Gerber told of plant physiologist David Grantz’ work on the effects of ozone on growth and development of cotton in the San Joaquin Valley. Various measured amounts of ozone are introduced to individual chambers within the module and those plants are evaluated against other plants grown in the same conditions except with ozone-free air.

“The idea is to eventually develop plants that will produce better in an ozone environment,” Gerber said.

Ozone has long been known to have an adverse effect on cotton, particularly Pima varieties, but exactly how this occurs within the plant remains to be learned.

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