A UMass Amherst research team including Jill Fitzsimmons, resource economics, is set to receive $1.19 million to study solutions for managing cranberry fruit rot, a long-standing problem in the cranberry industry. The award is part of a larger $4.1 million USDA-NIFA (U.S. Department of Agriculture–National Institute of Food and Agriculture) Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant.

Cranberry farming is woven into the history and economy of Massachusetts. Cultivation of the native crop began centuries ago and to this day, it supplies the income for many growers and is an important export, with Massachusetts being #2 in cranberry production nationwide. However, since the early 1900s, cranberry fruit rot (CFR) has threatened the cranberry industry and its detrimental impact on fruit quality.

Today, cranberry growers are confronted with new challenges: substantial shifts in climate patterns, longer growing seasons, warmer winters, and an increase in rainfall events. In the future, a changing climate will continue to influence the success of cranberry farming. Stricter regulations imposed by export markets has caused the industry to grapple with the loss of commonly used chemistries and fungicides. This has led to a surge in cranberry growing costs, increased CFR, and a decline in both yield and fruit quality.

UMass Amherst Cranberry Station researchers Leela S. Uppala, Giverson Mupambi, and Peter Jeranyama are working with Jill Fitzsimmons (Assistant Research Professor, Department of Resource Economics, UMass Amherst College of Social and Behavioral Sciences) on sustainable solutions to address fruit rot and reduce the threat to cranberry production in Massachusetts. 

The primary objective of their research is to assess the dynamics of fungal pathogens causing CFR while examining the influence of environmental stress on disease manifestation. They aim to pinpoint stress-tolerant traits and CFR resistance mechanisms for potential crop enhancement. Additionally, this project aims to gain insight into the decision-making process of growers, as they strive to strike a balance between business and environmental considerations. This understanding will pave the way for the widespread adoption of best management practices for effectively addressing CFR.

Fitzsimmons will work with the research team to evaluate potential trade-offs that growers face to best manage CFR and identify factors that influence their decisions to implement certain management practices. Different management practices entail different costs and changes in on-farm activities. Potential trade-offs could include long and short-term costs, labor-intensive interventions, marketing opportunities, and environmental impacts. Dr. Fitzsimmons will estimate the costs and activities associated with different CFR management practices addressed by research team members across the project, as well as farmer attitudes and perspectives on different CFR management options. Using this information, she will conduct field experiments with growers to identify what motivates grower adoption of different CFR practices and make recommendations for policy makers and other stake-holders to consider as they support the cranberry industry to manage CFR in the face of increased climate and market pressures.

This effort in Massachusetts is part of a larger endeavor that has brought together a diverse and multidisciplinary team of scientists, encompassing Plant Pathology, Plant Physiology, Molecular Biology, Plant Breeding and Genetics, and Behavioral Economics. The University of Wisconsin Madison is leading the initiative, in collaboration with Rutgers University, the University of Oregon, the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service researchers, and Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. 

You can read more about this project at the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.



Article posted in Research for Faculty and Current students