Gao: Our research and extension efforts yielded many ‘fruits’ in 2020

Dr. Gary Gao
Professor and Small Fruit Extension Specialist

Ryan Slaughter
Research Assistant

Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant.”

Extension professionals have seen many changes over the years and have managed to adapt to meet these challenges. However, this pandemic has been quite a bit different. When the last global pandemic of this magnitude occurred, most all of us (if not all) were not alive. 

Thanks to the quick action of our administration at all levels at The Ohio State University, faculty and staff were able to respond quickly by learning new methods and technologies to meet the needs of Ohioans in research and Extension.

Indeed 2020 has been a very challenging year for everyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fruit research projects and Extension programs at OSU South Centers were no exception. The following is a look back at our small fruit program in 2020, as told by Dr. Gary Gao and Research Assistant Ryan Slaughter.

Research
We managed to complete all the proposed objectives of our three funded projects in 2020. Our bramble, hardy fig, and hardy kiwi specialty crop block grant project was quite rewarding. The block grant was funded by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. We were able to produce delicious Chicago Hardy and Brown Turkey variety figs in the field and high tunnel. It is even more fulfilling that some of the growers were able to grow hardy figs and market them to consumers in Ohio. Some of the new bramble cultivars trialed in our project also showed a lot of potential. With the help of our grant funds, we were able to create a learning lab of these fruit crops to help us conduct more dynamic Extension programs for growers and gardeners in the years to come.
Our multistate project on intelligent sprayer technology through the USDA was also highly successful. Dr. Heping Zhu (USDA, the overall Principle Investigator for the project) and Dr. Peter Lin (OSU Project Investigator, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering) provided excellent leadership to this project. We conducted the validation studies at the blueberry patch near Lexington, Ohio, and the Klingshirn Winery near Avon Lake. Many growers across the country have adopted the technology for their orchards (apple, citrus, peach, and pecan), vineyards, blueberry plantings, nurseries, and greenhouses. According to a report online by Sue Kendall, USDA ARS Office of Communications: 

“Field tests demonstrated that this new technology can provide pest and disease control that is equivalent to conventional spray systems while reducing spray drift by up to 87 percent, ground loss by up to 90 percent, and pesticide use between 30 percent and 85 percent, thereby resulting in annual chemical savings of $56 to $812 per acre, depending on crop types. This cost saving does not include labor and fuel. Smart Guided Systems, LLC, in Indianapolis, IN, commercialized the intelligent spray-control system in 2019 under the name “Smart-Apply.” Citrus, apple, grape, pecan, and nursery growers in the United States and other countries are now upgrading their sprayers with the commercial product. The pesticide-waste reduction made possible by the intelligent sprayer system is better for ecosystems and saves growers money, thus offering a sustainable and environmentally responsible approach to protecting crops.” 

Visit this URL for the full article: ars.usda.gov/oc/dof/precision-sprayer-benefits-growers-and-the-environment. Growers are also encouraged to check out smartapply.com for information on purchasing kits to retrofit their sprayer or purchasing a new fully fitted sprayer.  

Our third funded project was a Viticulture Extension project through the Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC). Our project members provided timely information to grape growers throughout Ohio (ohiograpeweb.cfaes.ohio-state.edu). We also offered workshops in various formats. One of our biggest accomplishments was the 2020 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference. This pre-pandemic, two-day conference drew several hundred attendees with many presentations, a large trade show, and tastings of Ohio wines. Dr. Gary Gao served on the planning committee for this conference while Ryan Slaughter served as a moderator for viticulture sessions. Dr. Gao also conducted quite a few virtual vineyard visits as a part of the 2020 Ohio Vineyard Expansion Program. It was good to see that the grape and wine industry is alive and well. For more information on the Ohio grape and wine industry, check out findohiowines.com. You will be amazed by how much our industry contributes to Ohio’s economy and how many jobs it generates.   

Extension Programs at South Centers and Beyond
We offered the 2020 Fruit Pruning Workshop on March 12, 2020. It was our last in-person workshop before COVID-19 restrictions kicked in. We were able to put our demonstration research plots to full use as a part of our hands-on pruning demonstration. We also brought in a few plants and tree branches as a part of our “show and tell.” Little did we know that would be our last in-person program for the year. 

Our annual Fruit Field Night was revamped and turned into “2020 Fall Fruit Research Updates with Q&A.” This program was offered on September 9, 2020. The program drew nearly 100 registrants, with a large percentage of them attended the program live on Zoom, while others watched the recorded program later at their leisure. The program featured pre-recorded videos, live presentations, and a question and answer segment. 

Dr. Gao gave two talks on brambles and grapes as a part of the virtual “Ag. Madness” through OSU Extension’s Ag. Natural Resources program area. He also gave talks to gardeners and master gardeners in several counties through Zoom. Dr. Gao and Slaughter also gave a presentation each for the 2020 Virtual Farm Science Review (FSR) presented by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. Over the years, FSR has drawn hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. The Virtual FSR was well attended as well. We are just very glad that we made our contributions to this program. 

Extension and Research Publications
We have put quite a bit of effort into developing our website, fact sheets, and videos. You can check out our fruit web pages at southcenters.osu.edu/horticulture/fruits. Bradford Sherman, Slaughter, and Gao have spent a lot of time over the years to make them look good. Quite a few growers and gardeners have found us online through our website. It is also interesting to note that our web pages on gooseberries and currants, and blackberries received the most hits among all web pages, excluding the home page, at South Centers.

Two new OSU Extension fact sheets on figs and kiwis were developed and published in 2020.

The “Growing Hardy Figs in Ohio” fact sheet can be found online at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1439 The “Kiwifruit and Hardy Kiwi (Kiwiberries)” fact sheet can be found online at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1426 We certainly hope these fact sheets are useful to you.   

Dr. Gao is very happy to report that he co-authored a paper titled “Accumulation of Anthocyanins and Other Phytochemicals in American Elderberry Cultivars during Fruit Ripening and its Impact on Color Expression” in Plants 2020, 9(12), 1721; (doi.org/10.3390/plants9121721). He was a co-correspondence author with Dr. Monica Giusti of the Department of Food Science and Technology, The Ohio State University. Ms. Yucheng Zhou is the lead author and a Ph.D. student of Food Science and Technology at OSU.  

We recorded a few videos before COVID-19 hit. You can Google Gary Gao and Ryan Slaughter to view our YouTube videos on fruit growing. With the help of our grant dollars, we were able to get a few more pieces of video recording equipment. Hopefully, we will get to record more in the field when the pandemic is over.

A lot of growers have also emailed us or talked to us over the phone or Zoom. We were able to provide timely advice to growers about the spring freezes and frosts, cultivar selection, fertilization, fruit harvest, grafting techniques, irrigation, nuisance wildlife management, trellising, and other fruit crop management techniques. It is also great to see that a few growers planted blackberries and blueberries. We are certainly grateful for the grants from Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Grape Industries Committee, and US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is very rewarding for us to see that the fruit industry in Ohio is diverse and resilient. We are glad to be able help it grow.