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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Location: Plant Genetic Resources

2012 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The primary goals of this planning grant are: 1. To assemble an industry focus group that advises on research needs regarding apple, peach, cherry and pear rootstock research. 2. To conduct a tree fruit rootstock conference that brings together multidisciplinary researchers and a larger group of industry representatives including nurseries and growers to identify, prioritize research objectives and assess potential impact on profitability of the tree fruit industry and rural development. 3. To create novel networks for rootstock research that feature economists, social scientists, tree fruit physiologists, root researchers, propagation researchers, plant pathologists, plant genomicists, plant breeders and engineers.

1b.Approach (from AD-416):
The 30+ scientists collaborating in the NC-140 regional project “IMPROVING ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY IN TREE-FRUIT PRODUCTION THROUGH CHANGES IN ROOTSTOCK USE” have made significant contributions to tree fruit rootstock research. Emerging technologies and novel concepts for rootstock propagation, rootstock effects on orchard establishment and management need to be identified and assessed for potential impacts on the profitability of the tree fruit nursery industry, the tree fruit industry and related industry sectors (e.g. biotechnology). This grant will allow the assembly of a focus group composed of representatives from tree fruit nurseries and tree fruit growers to advise researchers collaborating in this project on priorities and areas of interest. We plan to bring together this focus group twice during the preparation of the full proposal to the SCRI. One of the the venues will be the annual meetings of the NC-140 group. The annual meetings of the International Fruit Tree Association ( are the flagship industry meetings for education on research on rootstock and tree fruit topics. They are attended by a combination of nurseries, tree fruit growers, packers and represent a good slice of the industry that we intend to address. We have contacted and intend to partner with this association and sponsor a session of their annual meetings. This session will feature invited speakers covering themes about innovation and networking and a town hall meeting model with professional moderators and then separate smaller focus groups that will distill and identify research priorities and areas of interest that need to be addressed in the full proposal. The interdisciplinary principal investigators and collaborators will draft a plan, identify and secure funding sources for the SCRI non-federal matching requirements, study the feasibility of that plan with the advisory focus group and prepare a proposal that meets the challenges of the tree fruit industry.

SCRI Proposal submission.

3.Progress Report:

Rootstock research is a very expensive endeavor. Efforts by the U.S. tree fruit industry to leverage federal, state and private funds to pay for research on tree fruit priorities have resulted in successful investments in various projects on mechanization or the application of genomic technologies to increase the profitability of the fruit industry. These funds were mostly authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) administered by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The need to leverage some of these funds to advance rootstock research was realized by the NC-140 group of rootstock researchers during their annual meetings in 2008. The group organized a committee (Table.
1)in 2009 that wrote a planning grant to the SCRI which was funded in late 2010. During the period between October 2010 and May 2011 the rootstock research committee assembled several industry/scientific focus groups to develop research priorities for apple, peach, cherry and pear rootstock research. The focus groups, which were attended by rootstock scientists and industry representatives, were held in conjunction with several nationwide industry or scientific meetings like the NC-140 rootstock research committee annual meetings in Provo, UT on Nov. 2, 2010, the meetings of the Washington State Horticultural Society in December 2010, the Great Lakes Fruit Expo in Michigan in December 2010, the New York Apple Research and Development board meetings in December 2010, the California Pear Research Committee in December 2010 and several other extension/industry meetings attended or organized by the rootstock research committee during the year 2011. As a result of these efforts a novel network of rootstock researchers that include economists, social scientists, tree fruit physiologists, root researchers, propagation researchers, plant pathologists, plant genomicists, plant breeders is preparing to submit a grant proposal to the NIFA-SCRI in January 2012 which addresses the needs and priorities identified and supported by the U.S. temperate tree fruit industry. This joint effort needed a name, several were proposed but one resonated with all the community: Dr. Gregory Lang proposed the name Root2Fruit which highlighted the intrinsic connection between rootstocks and fruit –“good fruit starts from the root”. While a proposal was drafted in early 2012, the group failed to raise enough matching dollars to allow the Coordinated Agricultural Project proposal to go through. The group is still active and has plans to submit a pared down proposal in early 2013.

Rootstock Research Priorities:

On March 2, 2011 Root2Fruit held a one day priority setting and education session about rootstock research priorities and potential impacts on productivity and profitability of the fruit industry. This session was co-sponsored by the International Fruit Tree Association ( in Pasco, WA. These meetings were attended by members of the several segments of the tree fruit industry: nursery owners/operators, tree fruit growers, variety managers, marketers, fruit packers, researchers, extension specialists, farm managers and consultants all working on all aspects of production of the temperate tree fruit industry. The priority setting session featured a town hall meeting model where the state of the art of temperate tree fruit research was presented to attendees by lead U.S. researchers, followed by a discussion group that utilized real time wireless polling technologies to prioritize research to be planned/proposed in the next round of the NIFA-SCRI programs. As a result of these meetings, several priorities supported by the temperate tree fruit industry were identified. Propagation (efficiency, techniques, acclimatization, chip budding, germplasm, source material), sustainability (labor ergonomics and root efficiency), integrating rootstocks into management systems and root and soil interactions (replant problems) were among the priorities identified by the group. These priorities have resonated with other grower groups that were interviewed in 2011. These priorities were embraced by a network of researchers advised by industry and generated a gap analysis and other ideas on how to overcome such problems with the scientific tools available.

Because improved fruit tree rootstocks are an essential component of a sustainable and profitable fruit production system, this research is essential to the future of the tree fruit industries. If the project is funded it will have a significant national impact on the tree fruit industries. We (the Root2Fruit team) estimate that annually the tree fruit industry loses $500 million due to poor rootstock performance and/or tree death due to rootstock susceptibilities to biotic and abiotic stresses. Improved rootstocks could reduce these losses with greater adaptability and survivability and further improve profitability by improving yield efficiency. This impact could exceed $1 billion per year and improve the long term sustainability of rural communities that are dependent on tree fruit production.

Last Modified: 7/28/2014
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