Multi-state research team wins $3.25M USDA grant to control pest and diseases of onion and garlic crops |

Multi-state research team wins $3.25M USDA grant to control pest and diseases of onion and garlic crops

A multi-disciplinary team of pest and disease management researchers has earned a highly competitive federal research grant of $3.25 million to carry out research and devise pest and disease management techniques in onion and garlic fields that could save the industry millions.

The research also could keep onions — America’s third-most consumed fresh vegetable — growing more economically and sustainably for growers and consumers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced the grant last week.

“It’s going to be a big boost to research on alliums in general and onions, in particular,” said Hanu Pappu, project director for the grant. Pappu is the President Samuel H. Smith Distinguished Professor, and Carl F. & James J. Chuey Endowed Chair in the Department of Plant Pathology at Washington State University in Pullman. Research into white rot, thrips and thrips-transmitted iris yellow spot virus, important threats to the U.S. allium industry, has been ongoing for several years, but more work is needed. “It’s going to allow us to take our research effort to the next level by providing the resources needed to solve these important issues,” Pappu said.

“The U.S. onion and garlic industry has moved the bar forward in controlling some of these common obstacles to farming, but their threats continue. This grant will improve production and potentially save growers and consumers millions with new practices well into the future,” said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president for the National Onion Association, which has lobbied for such research for the past decade.

The grant, under the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative, will fund four years of research and contain three separate research components through projects spearheaded by Washington State University, USDA-ARS, New Mexico State University, Oregon State University, Cornell University, College of Idaho, and University of California ANR. Together, the researchers and extension specialists, under Project Director Pappu, will work collaboratively to evaluate and implement practical, economical, environmentally sound and socially acceptable integrated pest management tactics to control pests and the diseases they carry that reduce yield and the health of onion and garlic crops.

“Our plan is to take a systems approach in addressing stakeholder-prioritized pest and disease threats in an integrated fashion with an ultimate goal to come up with a sustainable management approach,” Pappu said.

Researchers believe their tactics will reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, increase profitability and promote better environmental stewardship of America’s onion and garlic fields, both of which fall under the allium family and are subject to the same concerns.

Specifically, project researchers will work to reduce pesticide use, develop resistant varieties to the common onion pest, thrips, and iris yellow spot virus that thrips carry, and also work to reduce the problem of white rot, which can live in soils for as long as 20 years, and which has wiped out thousands of acres of viable onion and garlic fields in recent years.

The genesis for the project stems from involvement from the National Onion Association with its advocacy for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which addresses key challenges of national, regional and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture.

That initiative was funded as part of the 2008 farm bill, was renewed in 2014 and is included in the 2018 farm bill, which has passed the House and the Senate.

“SCRI has paid handsome dividends to the U.S. dry bulb onion and garlic industries,” Mininger said. “The industry has been awarded several grants in prior years. This grant will bring outstanding talent and dedicated research to bear upon several persistent and pesky industry production challenges.”

Founded in 1913, the National Onion Association is the official organization representing growers, shippers, brokers, and commercial representatives of the U.S. onion industry. The NOA is comprised of nearly 500 members from the United States and abroad. ❖

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