UD’s Ernest receives USDA grant for research on lima beans

December 11, 2013 under CANR News

Emmalea Ernest Research Assistant for Vegetable crops. Plant and Soil Science, Cooperative ExtensionEmmalea Ernest, extension agent in the University of Delaware’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), has received federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program for a project aimed at developing heat-tolerant lima bean varieties.

“Lima beans are Delaware’s largest acreage vegetable crop and anchor the state’s processing vegetable industry,” said Ernest. “The varieties that are currently available to growers suffer yield loss or delayed yield when they are exposed to high temperatures during flowering.”

In order to be eligible for funding from the program, grant money had to be used toward specialty crops as opposed to field crops, such as corn and soybeans, or animal agriculture. Specialty crops are a wide-ranging category that includes fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops.

With her funding, Ernest aims to develop procedures for heat tolerance screening in the existing lima bean breeding program, examine the physiological mechanisms for heat stress tolerance or susceptibility in lima beans, and investigate the underlying genetic basis for heat stress tolerance in lima beans. Her findings could greatly impact Delaware vegetable farmers’ yields.

Ernest said she has collaborated on multiple USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants in the past six years and acknowledged that the program has been a vital source of funding to the Extension Vegetable and Fruit Research Program. The money has allowed Ernest to help address production problems many Delaware fruit and vegetable growers have experienced, as well as explore new crop prospects.

The SCBG program seeks out projects like Ernest’s in order to promote and enhance the local agricultural economy.

“My past and current grant projects through this program have included work on lima beans but also on a variety of other crops, including processing sweet corn, blueberries, snap beans, cucumbers and cantaloupes,” said Ernest.

Her research with lima beans will be over the course of the next three years and take place on UD’s research farm in Georgetown.

Ernest said that in the genetics portion of the project, which will be built off of work funded by the Building a Better Bean SCRI Grant awarded to UD researchers last year, she will be working closely with colleague Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, and Gordon Johnson, extension vegetable and fruit specialist.

Article by Angela Carcione

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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UD Extension researchers look to blueberries as a small wonder for Delaware

June 27, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Blueberries,Vaccinium corymbosum, the tiny, sweet blue fruits touted for their health benefits are growing as a favorite among fruit lovers and health-conscious people everywhere. With consumer demand trending toward buying local, blueberries could be a no-brainer bonanza for the First State. For Delaware to do it right, knowing the best varieties to plant and documenting the ideal growing conditions for commercial production is essential.emmalea ernest works with blueberries

At the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and beyond, Emmalea Ernest is informally known as “the lima bean lady” in part for her research efforts to build a better lima bean, a vegetable crop that has enjoyed success and prominence in Delaware.

An Extension agent and fruit and vegetable researcher, based at UD’s Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center, Ernest works closely with her colleague, Gordon Johnson,  Vegetable and Fruit Extension Specialist. Ernest’s efforts have focused on evaluating varieties of crops that can be grown in Delaware for commercial production. Though lima bean breeding remains her specialty and area of doctoral study, Ernest also conducts trials of sweet corn, lettuce, watermelon, pole beans and for the third year in a row, blueberries are part of her research repertoire.

“Not a lot of Delaware acreage is devoted to blueberries at present,” Ernest explains, “but there is a lot of interest from growers.” Ernest’s research will provide valuable information on what varieties produce the best yield and taste for success in Delaware.

Since 2011, rows of blueberries-in waiting occupy approximately a third of an acre at the Thurman G. Adams Agricultural Research Farm part of  Carvel’s 344 acre complex. In all,  each of 23 blueberry varieties, with names like Aurora, Sweetheart, Star, Reka, and Chandler, to name only a few, are part of the large, multi-year study. In addition to the Carvel site, Ernest is conducting variety trials and other studies in collaboration with Hail Bennett, of  Bennett Orchards in Frankford.

In the first two years, Ernest and her “veggie team” have been pinching off the flower blossoms, preventing fruit production.

Stopping blossoms from progressing into blueberries allows the plant to become fully and firmly established. This summer, the third year of research has been the charm, or at least a change for the senses. This summer they will see and taste the fruit of their labors.

Ernest refers to her crop as “my blueberries” but she is willing to share their various shapes, sizes and flavors, as well as give  credit to her team of interns and UD colleagues for the hard work. This summer, the study will benefit from volunteer Master Gardeners who will help harvest the 275-plus bushes as they ripen. Size, weight, color, taste and overall health will be logged in and evaluated. While she is curious to receive feedback from others about their taste and texture, Ernest’s trials currently concentrate on the results of soil amendments, mulching techniques and specific variety’s response to Delaware’s seasons and weather conditions.  The varieties reach their peak at different times in the summer, important knowledge that will help growers to expand their production over several months.

Blueberries are relatively disease free Ernest explains, and while her research plot has yet to be picked off by birds, she anticipates they will be a major issue for the crop. Currently, uncovered, Ernest says there are plans to enclose the entire trial area with a trellis covered by one large net.

Also working closely with Ernest is Extension IPM Specialist Joanne Whalen, who monitors the plots for the presence of  spotted-wing drosophila, a potential, pesky fruit fly for the crop. The best bird netting won’t stop visits from fruit flies, however. If the presence of the spotted-wing becomes more of an issue, Extension experts will seek to find a solution to the pests the berries turn from green to blue and violet, they are picked and weighed from each bush. Taste tests at this stage are informal, with Carvel’s staff serving as willing taste critics.

Three different experiments are being conducted at the trial site. In addition to the variety trial, the team is evaluating blueberries’ response to various soil and mulches that she and her team apply.

Blueberries are traditionally planted with peat moss under the root, Ernest explains. They are evaluating less-costly alternatives. Materials being tested include pine bark fines, waste silage, composted saw dust horse bedding, chipped-up construction waste wood, and for control, no amendments at all. Mulching materials include the same list of ingredients, and also chopped corn stalks. The ongoing results are published in a vegetable and small fruit blog she and Gordon Johnson maintain,  and articles also appear in the Weekly Crop Update.

“Blueberries like wet conditions,” Ernest said, acknowledging that a very wet June has been good for the blueberry’s first year of production.”They’ve been very happy this summer,” Ernest said. “They do well in bog-like conditions, but they aren’t an aquatic plant.”

Ernest plans to collect data for several more years before being comfortable making recommendations to area growers.  Conducting successful variety trials, soil amendment studies and mulching recommendations can only be executed across an array of conditions and time. It is exacting work where patience is a virtue.

Ernest, ever the scientist, is nonetheless excited about the prospects of bigger and better blueberry crops in Delaware. “I think people will get more excited about them than lima beans,” Ernest admits. “I have no shortage of people offering to eat them.”

Article and photos by Michele Walfred

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UD awarded $1.5 million USDA grant to study lima beans

January 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Researchers from UD study lima beansDelaware is currently the number two producer of lima beans in the United States, second only to California and with the possibility of becoming number one in the future.

Because of this, it is imperative to study the many aspects of various diseases affecting the crop in Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Such work requires a collaborative effort and a team has been assembled thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The grant awarded to the University of Delaware includes researchers from UD, Delaware State University, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) who will begin studying the various effects of plant disease on lima beans in the First State.

The many aspects of this grant will include studies that are being conducted for the first time in history.

There are six components to the grant, each with various researchers studying different parts of the problem. They are conducting research on downy mildew, pod blight, white mold, root knot nematodes and germplasm resources and developing an economic analysis.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal-like disease of the lima bean caused by Phytophthora phaseoliand the goal of the research team is to improve disease forecasting and look at genetic diversity of the population of the pathogen. In this way, researchers will be able to inform farmers of their risk of occurrence of the disease and have a better understanding of the genetics of the pathogen.

Tom Evans and Nicole Donofrio, professors of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Nancy Gregory, plant diagnostician for UD, will work together on this part of the project.

Pod blight

Pod blight is caused by the pathogen known as P. capsici and Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, will work on this part of the study with Evans and Gregory.

Unlike downy mildew, which is a disease that generally affects only lima beans, P. capsicihas a very wide host range. Once it strikes a particular crop, it is very difficult to get rid of, with pathogen’s spores lasting up to 10 years in the soil. Because of this, pod blight is an increasing problem for growers. The disease occurs in low-lying areas of fields and is more frequent in wet years. Therefore, this part of the project has three goals: to look for a fungicide to deal with the disease, to monitor the disease, and to look for alternative or organic non-pesticide driven strategies for control.

The study is also looking at risk management strategies, including information for growers in the state about the best time to spray for disease control and consideration of alternate control strategies.

Gregory, who diagnoses field samples collected by the research team and growers, maintains cultures of the pathogens and produces  the inoculum for the studies, said that the researchers are eager to “learn more about the epidemiology and the spread of pod blight and downy mildew, that will enable us to do a little bit better job on forecasting.”

She also noted how great is to have so many expert researchers involved, noting that she is looking forward to making significant progress on problems that have plagued the region for years. “To pull together a strong team of researchers like this and many new graduate students is really going to pull a lot of this research together and we’ll really come up with some great results.”

White mold

Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD and a Cooperative Extension specialist with both UD and the University of Maryland, is leading research on alternative ways to control white mold, another disease that is very difficult to eliminate.

With an even broader host range than P. capsici, and an even longer life — persisting in soils for 20-30 years — finding out as much about the disease as possible, as well as possible ways to control it, is imperative.

Everts will look not just at lima beans but other crops, as well, as she tests biological control strategies and alternative control strategies for dealing with the white mold.

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UD Extension Vegetable and Small Fruit Program Open House

August 8, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

The University of Delaware Extension Vegetable and Small Fruit Program invites growers and all those interested in the vegetable and small fruit industry in Delaware to an open house on Tuesday, August 21 from 4-8 p.m. at the Carvel Research and Education Center.

This open house will feature field research projects from the 2012 season in watermelons, processing and fresh market sweet corn, lima beans, pickles, strawberries, blackberries, lettuce, onions, greens, and other crops. Hear information about breeding programs, reduced tillage systems, overwintering production, season extension, and much more. Preliminary results will be presented and there will be a wagon tour. Dinner will also be served at the event, featuring local produce.

Gordon Johnson, vegetable and fruit specialist, and Emmalea Ernest, lima breeder and extension associate, will be leading discussions.

Please pre-register by contacting Karen Adams at 302-856-2585 ext. 540 or adams@udel.edu.

It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.

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For the love of limas

May 5, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Pole lima beans are a Delaware staple.

April 20 was National Lima Bean Respect Day but in Ronald Dodd’s eyes, limas deserve kudos every day of the year.

The Georgetown septuagenarian has been growing pole limas since he was a boy and says that his father and grandfather grew them before he did. Dodd’s 55- by 147-foot garden, on land he owns one block off Georgetown’s Circle, features 42 to 45 hills of pole limas each season.

Come harvest time, he’ll enjoy pole limas in succotash accompanied by baking powder biscuits, just like scores of other native Delawareans.

But head a couple hundred miles from the First State, or talk to new state residents, and you may get puzzled looks at the mention of pole limas. “At conferences, I’ve met people in the agricultural industry who have never heard of pole limas,” says Emmalea Ernest, aUniversity of Delaware Cooperative Extension associate who specializes in lima bean research. “But there is a long tradition of growing pole limas here; there is a real lima bean culture in Delaware.

“As a plant breeder, the most interesting thing to me about pole lima beans is that it is still possible to find people in Delaware who are growing local landrace varieties that they have selected themselves or that have been passed down in their families.  For other vegetables, even though there are lots of people out there growing heirloom varieties, they got the seed from Burpee, not their grandmother.”

Lima beans are a big business in Delaware. Limas are grown on more acres in the state than any other vegetable crop. However, the commercial market is made up almost entirely of baby limas and Fordhooks, not pole limas. These baby limas and Fordhooks are grown for processing, which, nowadays, means flash-frozen, not canned.

If you want to eat fresh lima beans this summer, you’ll need to be on the look-out for pole limas at farmers’ markets, particularly markets in Sussex or Kent counties. Or, better yet, you can grow them yourself, suggests Ernest.

She knows, though, that some folks may need convincing that it’s worth the effort to grow limas, pole or otherwise. Maybe they weren’t paying attention on National Lima Bean Respect Day. Or, more likely, they still have vivid memories from childhood of mushy, over-cooked canned limas heaped high on dinner plates or school lunch trays.

There’s nothing worse than a soggy canned lima but these days, flash-frozen baby and Fordhook limas are tasty and have a nice, firm texture, says Ernest.

And there’s absolutely nothing better than a fresh-picked pole lima, she says. “The taste of a pole lima is delicious and the pole lima isn’t starchy, unless you leave it on the vine too long. My four-year-old daughter, Irene, just gobbles them up.”

As an added bonus, pole limas – and limas in general – are nutritional powerhouses. They’re rich in fiber, potassium, iron, copper and manganese.

In her own Ellendale garden, Ernest doesn’t bother growing baby limas or Fordhooks – “I am able to get enough of them at work,” she says. But she has devoted 400 feet of trellis to pole limas.

If you want to grow pole limas this summer, now’s the time to prepare. Pole limas have a long growing season and should be planted between mid-May and early June. Pole limas can be grown on teepees but Ernest prefers trellises because teepees can blow over in windy conditions. Pole limas can tolerate New Castle County’s heavy, clay soils as well as Sussex’s sandy conditions.

Ernest starts her pole lima plants from seed. You can buy seeds online; pole lima plants are available at some independent nurseries and farmers markets. One of the most popular varieties is Dr. Martin, an heirloom that features 16- to 20-foot-long vines bearing large, flat pods. Big Mama and King of the Garden are other local favorites. For something different, try the Christmas Lima, sporting a red and white speckled bean that has a butter-like texture and a subtle chestnut-like flavor.

Pole limas need a lot of room and should be planted four to six feet apart. To keep your pole limas happy, Ernest says to go heavy on the watering and light on the fertilizing. Keep an eye out for spider mites and stink bugs; the two most common lima pests. Pod development should start occurring in mid- to late-August, with mature beans ready to pick about three weeks later. Pods will continue to develop into September.

If you have a bumper crop of pole limas you can freeze them or, like Ronald Dodd, you can give the excess to friends and neighbors. “I have plenty of ‘customers’ who like to get some of my pole limas,” says Dodd. “But last year was not a great season; I didn’t have any extra to give away.”

Plenty of native Delawareans – and Delawareans in the know – will be hoping for better pole lima yields this growing season.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily by clicking here.

 

 

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CANR researchers team up to combat lima bean disease

February 3, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

When battling downy mildew, a potentially devastating disease that strikes lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), one of Delaware’s most important vegetable crops, assembling a team of experts to attack the problem from all angles is a must. That’s why a diverse group of plant scientists in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has joined together to battle this important plant disease.

Tom Evans, professor of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and many graduate students have studied downy mildew over the past 15 years.

Evans said lima beans are vital to agriculture in Delaware and are “the cornerstone of the state’s processing vegetable industry.” Approximately 6,000 hectares of baby lima beans are grown annually, with a farm value of over $6 million. If lima bean cannot be grown profitably in the state, then many other processing vegetables would not be grown due to the economics of processing.

Downy mildew, caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora phaseoli, is prevalent in Delaware because it thrives in humid conditions, and lima beans are grown on small, dense acreage. Evans said that most lima bean growers are concentrated in close proximity from Dover to Georgetown and from the Delaware Bay west into Maryland, so wind-driven rain makes it easier for the pathogen’s sporangia to move from one lima bean field to another.

That was the case in 2000, when downy mildew caused $3 million damage in what Evans called “the largest downy mildew of lima bean epidemic ever recorded.” Two factors contributing to this epidemic were the emergence of a new race of the pathogen, Race F, which overcame the genetic resistance of lima cultivars being grown, and frequent wind-driven rain that spread the pathogen’s sporangia.

With the emergence of Race F, growers could no longer rely on downy mildew resistant lima bean cultivars to prevent the disease, as they had in the past. New cultivars with resistance to Race F need to be developed and in the meantime growers have relied upon fungicides to manage the disease.

Bob Mulrooney, extension specialist in plant pathology, has tested fungicides for effectiveness against downy mildew for a number of years and has identified new more environmentally-friendly chemicals which offer good control. Mulrooney’s research results are the basis for growers’ current downy mildew management practices.

Evans and his group have been responsible for studying the biology of the pathogen, monitoring the evolution of new races of the pathogen and the epidemiology of the disease.

Extension associate Nancy Gregory diagnoses the disease on samples sent in by growers, maintains the pathogen in culture for field and greenhouse experiments, and determines their races.

Emmalea Ernest, an extension associate at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, Del., breeds lima bean for desirable traits, such as disease and drought resistance, and is developing cultivars for Delaware farmers. Ernest and Evans work together screening lima bean germplasm from around the world for resistance to races E and F of P. phaseoli. Ernest has conducted experiments to determine how the resistance genes are inherited. After making crosses between resistant parents followed by several years of field screening, Evans and Ernest are testing lima bean lines with resistance to both races this summer.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, is responsible for the pathogen side of the study, trying to understand the pathogen’s virulence mechanisms, and how it evolves to attack certain aspects of the plant. Donofrio said, “In order to fight the disease, you have to know your enemy, and the more you know your enemy, the more equipped you are to tackle it when things like a new race emerge.”

Knowing exactly how to fight against the disease from a pathogen standpoint is difficult. Donofrio points out that P. phaseoli has over 500 effector genes, molecules that bind to a protein altering its activity and enabling infection. To study effectors, Donofrio and doctoral student Sridhara Kunjeti took a two-pronged approach. First, they took what they knew about P. infestans, the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine and a close relative of P. phaseoli, and searched for similar genes in P. phaseoli to determine if it used similar mechanisms in its attack on lima bean.

Next, they looked at lima beans that had been infected for three and six days to see which effectors were active during those time-points of infection. Donofrio said this could lead to a breakthrough because if they are able to characterize the effector genes, they can look for traits that could be a countermeasure to pathogen attack and thereby block pathogenesis.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, works on aspects of quantitative genetics and plant breeding and Blake Meyers, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, works on genomics of lima bean-downy mildew interactions.

In various combinations, the research team has received over $200,000 from various CANR seed grants and Delaware state grants to more fully explore P. phaseoli and downy mildew.

Article by Adam Thomas

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