Grant recipients to study produce, bee pollination

Roughly half of $4.6 million in funds went to WSU researchers



Researchers will look at how environmental factors like cool temperatures and sun exposure affect produce, and how bee pollination can change apple blossoms.

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen reporter

The USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program awarded a total of $4.6 million to research nurseries, fruits and vegetables, with approximately half of the funds going to WSU researchers.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture receives funds from the USDA, which then are distributed in a competitive process. Potential grant winners must go through two phases to receive the funding, according to the WSDA.

WSU research teams were awarded 14 out of the 25 grants disbursed.

Kirti Rajagopalan, an assistant research professor at WSU, accompanied by a multi-departmental research team, received $249,971 from the specialty crop grant.

During the three-year research project, the team will address three main issues, Rajagopalan said. The researchers will study how cooling damage affects wine grapes, how sunburn affects Washington apples and how the fluctuation of bee pollination changes apple blossoms.

“The goal is to build better capacity for fruit trees in the area,” Rajagopalan said.

The current system fruit producers use is vulnerable to many issues, but this research will look at how to better manage risk systems, she said.

“Farmers and producers everywhere are dealing with weather risks,” Rajagopalan said. “This research is widely applicable.”

The research will be conducted in multiple places. The team is based on the Pullman campus, but some of the research will be done in Prosser and Wenatchee. They will also be using the R.B. Tukey Horticulture Orchard in Pullman.

Another WSU employee receiving grant money is Lisa DeVetter, from the WSU Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon.

DeVetter will lead two research projects. The first project was awarded $178,328 from the USDA. It will be funded for two years to look into how machines can effectively harvest fresh market blueberries, she said.

For this project, WSU researchers are partnering with Oregon State University to study how to reduce the labor needs for producers harvesting blueberries.

“It’s a challenge to find pickers,” she said. “To get quality blueberries, they need to be handpicked.”

The second project was granted $249,569 to study how plastic and biodegradable mulches can improve raspberry development. DeVetter and six of her colleagues will be working on this three-year project, she said.

“We’re trying to help producers have sustainable resources,” she said. “In a competitive global environment, they need to ensure to produce quality and quantity.”

The team will be studying how to use different mulches to reduce the use of herbicides in Washington farms and beyond.

DeVetter said several graduate students from WSU are involved in this research.

“It’s exciting because we need more people in the agriculture industry,” she said.