2014 Mississippi Strawberry Short Course

It is time to announce the 2014 Mississippi Strawberry Short Course!  This 2-day course will be held in Choctaw, MS (just outside of Philadelphia).  The focus will be to educate those who want to grow strawberries to sell on a commercial scale, whether that be at a local market or to grocery stores, etc.  Speakers will include strawberry expert, Dr. Barclay Poling, MSU faculty, strawberry grower Mel Ellis, and more.  Please see the full details below.  Seating is limited to 50 for this course.  There is no charge to attend, but you must reserve a spot (see details within the brochure on just how to do that).   This project is funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation and administered by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability.

Strawberry Short Course Page 1

Strawberry Short Course Page 1

Strawberry Short Course Page 2

Strawberry Short Course Page 2

To download a PDF version click here: Strawberry Short Course Registration and Agenda. Hope to see you there!

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal April – June 2014

The latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal is now available.  It is below as a pdf.  Remember, you can always access past issues here:
In this issue we discuss chilling hours, recap the 2014 blueberry workshop, Kudzu bug and more.
If you have any questions or comments please let me know.

Are “Sustainable” and “Organic” Synonymous?

I was recently at a meeting where the terms “sustainable” and “organic” were used interchangeably.  I found this interesting.  Are they really synonymous?  First we should define these terms.  According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, sustainable means:

1. capable of being sustained
2 a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged 
b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

As for organic, we need to target the definition to deal with food only (as there are other definitions not pertinent to our discussion here):

1. Of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides

So, could an organic food system be sustainable?  Yes.  Could it not be sustainable?  Yes.  Organic food systems are oriented toward non-depletion of resources and keeping the environment healthy.  However, poor management could diminish resources.  But, those are not the only resources in play.  There is economic sustainability as well.  If an Organic farm is not profitable then it is not sustainable.

Can a non-organic food system be sustainable?  Yes.  Could it not be sustainable?  Again, yes.  Conventional farming systems can also use methods that conserve resources.  Thus using the terms “sustainable” and “organic” interchangeably is technically incorrect.

This is not a debate on whether or not organic is better than conventional.  My thought today was to take a look at these two terms and make a distinction between them.  Any type of farming system can be sustainable or unsustainable.

Botrytis on Blueberries

With the last frost/freeze event followed by cool, wet weather, blueberries in Mississippi are prime for botrytis infection.  To stave off infection, steps should be (and probably should have already been) taken to arrest the pathogen.  Refer to my post from 2012 below that gives more information on botrytis blight and some recommended fungicides to apply.


Critical Temperatures for Blueberry Blooms

There is some cold weather forecast for tonight and so a lot of uncertainty about frost control.  What are the critical temperatures?  What are the stages of development?  How long will it stay cold?  These are all factors that influence the amount of potential damage.  Michigan State University has a very good visual of bud/flower stages and critical temperatures that can be found here:


To quickly summarize — if your plants are at early pink bud then 23-25 F are the critical temperatures of tolerance.  If they are at late pink bud (corolla still closed) then the temps are 24-27 F.  Once the flower is open then the temperature of concern is 28 F.  After the fruit is set, then anything below 32 F could potentially cause damage.  Rabbiteye blueberries may be even less tolerant of the cold, so they could possibly be hurt at temperatures of 30F or below.

The University of Florida has a thorough publication on how to protect blueberries from freezes.  You can access it here:


If you are interested in the tolerance of other fruit then check out this link to an Auburn University publication:



Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture: Fruit Crops

On Friday, March 21, 2014 I was a presenter at the Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production Field Day at their Demonstration Farm near Goodman, MS.   Topics for the event were high tunnel construction, mulching, irrigation, and fruit crops (site and variety selection).  It was a beautiful day and Keith Benson, Farm Director, did a great job of putting the program together.  I don’t know the final tally on number of attendees but I would guess between 50 and 60.  Dr. Bill Evans, Associate Research Professor at the MSU Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station (@npkveg), was there as was Dr. Jairo Diaz, Assistant Professor from Alcorn State University, Jim Ewing, Outreach Coordinator, NCAT/ATTRA Gulf States, National Center for Appropriate Technology (@OrganicWriter), and folks from the University of Mississippi Transactional Law Clinic.  Jim was live-tweeting during the morning sending out photos like the one below:

Preparing for High Tunnel Construction, photo credit Jim Ewing

Preparing for High Tunnel Construction, photo credit Jim Ewing

I was there to discuss two very important aspect of fruit production: site selection and variety selection.  Of course site selection is important because the location and plant are married once put in the ground (for perennial fruit crops anyway).  Variety selection is also important because of environmental adaptation.  For us in Mississippi, understanding chilling hour requirements plays a big role in variety choice.  In the photo below I am discussing slope and aspect to the group.

Dr. Stafne discussing the importance of slope and aspect in fruit production. Photo by Jim Ewing

Dr. Stafne discussing the importance of slope and aspect in fruit production. Photo by Jim Ewing

I put together short notes for each of these presentations, and they can be downloaded at the links below.

Alliance Field Day 2014 Fruit Site Selection

Alliance Field Day 2014 Fruit Variety Selection

Overall it was a great experience.  The Alliance for Sustainable Agricultural Production is doing some great work.  If you get the chance to attend one of their workshops I would recommend it — the lunch was great too!


Gettin’ Figgy With It

The LSU AgCenter has recently released 3 varieties of figs.  ‘O’Rourke’, ‘Champagne’, and ‘Tiger’ are new additions to the LSU fig program that includes ‘LSU Purple’ and ‘LSU Gold’.  Dr. Allen Owings of the LSU Hammond Research Station was kind enough to send a description of all the new varieties.  It can be downloaded at the link below:

New LSU AgCenter Figs

The plants may be a little difficult to find initially.  Almost Eden plant nursery has some of them listed, but are currently out of stock.    However, some searching around on the internet and interacting with fig growers in Louisiana may yield some good results.  Figs in Mississippi are grown widely, but not on a commercial scale.  These new varieties should be good for backyard growers.

Figs are popular with homeowners in Mississippi and new varieties could expand options

Figs are popular with homeowners in Mississippi and new varieties could expand options

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Earns Award

At the 2014 American Society for Horticultural Science, Southern Region meeting held in Dallas, TX the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal was given a Blue Ribbon Extension Communication Award (see below).  This is a great honor as the chosen communications must show a high degree of quality.  While I have received this award in the past, this is the first time I have gotten one for work I’ve done at Mississippi State University.  The MSVJ is a newsletter written for blueberry growers.  It is published quarterly and it goes out as a pdf file via email to:  all MSU extension personnel, direct subscribers, and all Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association members.  If you are interested in receiving the MSVJ there are a few ways to do that: one is to email me and ask to have me send it to you directly, two is to be a member of the GSBGA or work for MSU Extension, three is to access current and past issues from MSUcares at this link (http://msucares.com/newsletters/vaccinium/index.html), and four is to get it from this blog at this link where all new issues are uploaded.  I am pleased to have received the award and I look forward to editing and writing it for as long as it continues to be read.  Special thanks goes to all the readers of the MSVJ, the USDA-ARS researchers in Poplarville who contribute content, and to Mike Neff, ASHS, for sending the image of me accepting the award.  See images below about the award.

Dr. Eric Stafne accepting the blue ribbon award from ASHS-SR President Dr. Curt Rom (photo courtesy of Mike Neff)

Dr. Eric Stafne accepting the blue ribbon award from ASHS-SR President Dr. Curt Rom (photo courtesy of Mike Neff)

The photo below shows the actual award (which was kind of a pain to lug through the airport in Dallas as I was stuck there all night, but I digress…)

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Blue Ribbon Communication Award

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Blue Ribbon Communication Award

Why the Fear of Unknown Wines?

Later this year I will be headed to Oklahoma to do some consulting for the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council.  The idea is to help growers improve production and quality in the vineyard.  Since I spent 6 years there I have knowledge of the diverse eco-regions within the state and some of the challenges that growers face.  Something that I heard while there and after is that consumers don’t want/won’t try wines they aren’t familiar with.  This means that the winery believes they need a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, etc. to be successful.  While I don’t dispute that wine consumers are narrowly focused, I also don’t buy into the idea that they won’t try or buy anything else.  I look to Minnesota and Missouri, which have thriving wine industries, without any or very little Vitis vinifera grapes being grown.  There are some states that cannot grow these grapes for one reason or another (too cold, disease, etc.).  Many states can grow them, but sometimes I question why.  Does the world need another mediocre/decent/good Cabernet Sauvignon?  I don’t pretend to know the answer to that and can only speak for myself — almost without fail I can find a superior bottle of wine at the store for far cheaper than the winery.  Now, I don’t want to diminish the wineries doing it — they produce a local product that helps the agricultural and tourist economies of the state.  Good for them and good for us.  But some places just shouldn’t be growing certain kinds of grapes when others produce a better product.  Since I work with the grape and wine industry I like to taste different wines to get a perspective on them.  I know I am in the minority, but I would choose a hybrid wine over almost any vinifera wine any day of the week.  Why?  To me vinifera wine is about nuance, the parameters of what the wine can offer is limited in scope.  If one buys 5 bottles of Cab from 5 different wineries in 5 different countries, do they taste the same?  No, but they are all familiar.  I like to seek out unfamiliar wines that challenge me.  Hybrid wines do that for me.  I have had some outstanding hybrid wines.  There are hybrid varieties that can produce excellent wines — Traminette, Chardonel, Frontenac gris, Norton, Chambourcin, Noiret, etc.  I like these wines.  Even a mediocre bottle of these wines has something to offer.  As Americans we like familiarity — every McDonald’s in the U.S. has the same food.  We expect that, we are comforted by that fact.  But, that doesn’t make it good.  I believe hybrid and vinifera wines can co-exist.  The problem is not in the vineyard or the winemaking — it is in the marketing and consumer education.  Until wineries and consumers branch out into the unknown, hybrid wines will be looked upon as inferior.  Unfortunately, that is a fallacy.

Red Raspberries in the South

I often get the question, “What is the best variety of red raspberry to grow here in Mississippi”?  My answer is usually a long silence before sputtering out, “I don’t recommend them”.  Why not?  Well, for one reason they are not tolerant of our heat during the summer.  Red raspberries (Rubus ideaus) are not native to North America.  In fact they come from northern Europe originally.  Now, I’ve never been to northern Europe, but I am willing to bet it isn’t quite like Mississippi in the summertime.  These raspberries also have problems in areas with up-and-down temperatures during the winter.  Since they are generally have very good cold hardiness, they deacclimate quickly and can be damaged by late winter and early spring frosts and freezes.  Years ago some work was done at Mississippi State University to breed a heat tolerant raspberry.  The outcome of that was a release named ‘Dormanred’.  ‘Dormanred’ is not pure Rubus idaeus, in fact it is part Rubus parvifolius.  As for how it does in the heat, the answer to that is that it does well.  It has a trailing growth habit and can produce a good amount of fruit.  The downside?  The fruit is dark-colored, sometimes crumbly, and not very delicious.  Dump enough sugar on them and you won’t mind, but eating them fresh isn’t the same experience as a true red raspberry.

When I was a graduate student at the University of Arkansas I studied the photosynthetic capacity of red raspberries as an indicator of heat tolerance.  The results were not encouraging among available varieties at the time (it was 15 years ago, but the varieties are still available).  Red raspberries really prefer moderate temperatures (15-20 C) to high temperatures (30+C).  I also included a blackberry in the study and it performed much better.  You can download my paper on this here:   Stafne et al. 2001. HortScience 36:880-883   Another part of the study looked at raspberry growth at two different locations in Arkansas.  That is available here:  http://arkansasagnews.uark.edu/483.pdf (starts on page 44).

In another paper I looked at several different genotypes, including ‘Mandarin‘.  If you click the link you can read about ‘Mandarin’.  It is difficult (if not impossible) to find at nurseries, but I did hear recently that a nursery in North Carolina is now propagating it.  Not sure if or when it will be available to the general public, but Dr. Gina Fernandez (NCSU) is trying to get it reintroduced.  It is one of the more promising raspberries out there for southern production — but it does have its problems too.  You can download my paper that included ‘Mandarin’ here: Stafne et al. 2000. HortScience 35:278-280

Mandarin raspberry. Courtesy Dr. Gina Fernandez

Mandarin raspberry. Courtesy Dr. Gina Fernandez

I wish I could in good conscious recommend a raspberry for Mississippi.  Some growers may have luck in situations where afternoon shade can be provided on a small scale.  If ‘Mandarin’ becomes available I would recommend it on a trial basis for backyard and very small scale commercial growers, but until then we are stuck with ‘Dormanred’.