A Visit From Dr. Scott NeSmith, UGA Blueberry Breeder

Last week, Dr. Scott NeSmith, blueberry breeder from the University of Georgia, came to Poplarville for a visit.  We talked about the current state of the Mississippi blueberry industry (as well as what is happening in Georgia).  He stated that some early blooms may have got nipped some from cold events in the last few weeks there, but he was unsure how much loss to attribute to it.  He was really interested in the cultivars currently being grown in Mississippi, so we headed on over to visit Luis Monterde.  At his farm we saw most of the bushes in full bloom, with scads of pollinators buzzing from bush to bush.  Dr. NeSmith asked if he had any Georgia releases.  Luis said yes (Alapaha and Vernon) and showed them to us.  Luis was high on Alapaha but expressed some reservations on Vernon.  Dr. NeSmith said that in Georgia, high fertility was to the detriment of Vernon, which preferred low fertility management.  He also suggested that the new cultivars Titan and Krewer might be good options here in Mississippi.  As plants have been difficult to get, not much of it is planted here yet, so only time will tell on that.  He did say they would split in the rain (Titan more so than Krewer).  The issue of growing southern highbush blueberries also arose in our conversation.  Luis said he has mostly given up on them (although he had one row), as they were difficult to keep alive for very long.  One suggestion Dr. NeSmith had was to try Camellia and/or Suziblue.  He believes they are “tougher” plants and can stand up better than other cultivars that have been tried in the past.  Luis asked him what Georgia growers were doing with Premier, and Dr. NeSmith responded “pulling it out” due to the unreliable yields.  After about 1.5 hours, we bid Luis goodbye and I took Dr. NeSmith back to Wiggins where he was staying.  He doesn’t make it over here very often, so it was good to be able to spend some time with him and pick his brain about new potential cultivars for Mississippi.

Luis Monterde (left) and Dr. Scott NeSmith (right)

Luis Monterde (left) and Dr. Scott NeSmith (right)

GMO or GM-NO? A Plea for Civility

I know that even as I write this post it is a waste of my time and effort.  Minds deeply entrenched in one thought pattern don’t change easily — if ever.  However, I have observed over and over again the hostility that comes with the GMO discussion.  The point that led me to write this is the request for agricultural scientists to turn over emails via the FOIA.  This has the appearance of an attempt to make mountains out of molehills (if those even exist).  Several scientists are involved, although most of their names are unknown to me.  The one I do know is Dr. Kevin Folta.  I don’t know him well — we shared dinner with another colleague one night in Gainesville a few years ago (although he may or may not remember this).  He seemed to me like a decent fellow and appeared to genuinely like meeting me (and I can’t say that for everyone else on that particular visit).  At any rate, I am friends with one of his former students and know several of his colleagues.  None of them has had anything negative to say about him.  So, I find it difficult to believe he is hiding a massive pile of corporate money just to enrage those folks who don’t like GMOs.  Now, I don’t always agree with the way he approaches a topic or how he says something, but overall I believe he tries to be civil.  However, for others the same cannot be said.  I won’t mention any more names here, but the name-calling should stop on both sides of the argument.

Belittling others with childish affronts does none of us any good.  My plea is for civility in the discussion of GMOs.  It is very apparent that the education process will take some time.  Some minds will never be changed for one reason or another.  I see discussion on Twitter everyday that disturbs me greatly on this topic.  I should state that I am not for or against all GMO technologies.  I am a scientist, so I base my decisions on evidence — in this case, is there scientific evidence that GMO technology is harmful?  Right now, I see no evidence of that, but that could change in the future if more scientific evidence to the contrary becomes known.  I have no problem with those opposed to GMOs, if they have substantive reasoning behind it.  Don’t like GMOs because corporations have too much control?  OK, I can buy that.  Don’t like GMOs because it is against your religious, moral, or ethical beliefs?  OK, I’m good with that. Don’t like GMOs because they are harmful to the health of humans?  Hmm, I can’t back that one, not without more evidence.  But what about the increase in herbicides used?  Again, no.  And in fact, that is not a GMO issue, that is an herbicide application issue.  The GMO technology in an of itself does not increase use of herbicides.  Any GMO crop can be grown without any herbicide application if so desired, so that argument doesn’t hold water with me as the issues are being conflated.

I don’t work with GMOs and may never have that opportunity as most of the crops I work with have no such technology on the foreseeable horizon.  Yet, I am interested in the discussion and how it all plays out in the arenas of science and public opinion.  We all need to be more civil and try to appreciate where the thoughts about the technology derive from.  It could be religion, coercion, fear, politics, or many other bases.  Let’s all take a breath and move on toward a discussion that leads somewhere enlightened, because right now, we are all being dragged through the mud and it is unseemly on many levels.  No more “shill”, no more “eco-celebrities”, no more “ideologues”, no more endless comment streams that do nothing more than demean in aggressive and sometimes vulgar ways.  Please, just stop and think before doing these things.  We all are much better than that.

Extension, eXtension, and Peace Corps

What do Extension, eXtension (extension.org), and Peace Corps all have in common?  I have participated in all three.  Every year in March, Peace Corps holds a week where Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) share their service with others.  Last year I gave two presentations on my service in Senegal.  In case you are unfamiliar with that country, Senegal is in West Africa.


Senegal Map

Senegal Map

I was initially place in Matam, then moved south of Kaolack for the last few months of my 2-year stint.  If you are interested you can see my PPT presentation here in PDF format:

My Peace Corps Experience

Having been a part of these three organizations, I believe there is much more in the way of positive and constructive interaction that could be done.  Perhaps like this:

The Peace Corps could serve as a training ground for new Extension agents and specialists here in the U.S.  A program similar to those that already exist could be done with universities to engage graduating seniors who are leaving for the Peace Corps to further their education by doing a Masters degree (or partial fulfillment) while overseas.  Once they return, they could then be integrated into the Extension service system.  Another option is for Extension to actively recruit returning Peace Corps volunteers.  From experience I know these people are very suited for Extension work.  They have lived and breathed outreach for 2 plus years.  It is difficult to imagine a better training ground for the kind of work Extension performs here.  This is where eXtension could also play a role — they could provide the infrastructure to implement mentoring and education programs by pairing Peace Corps volunteers and active Extension personnel.  As an RPCV myself this is something I would be happy to participate in — and I’m sure others out there would feel the same.

There is often a perception that Peace Corps is not hard work, that it is 2 years of “finding oneself”.  The latter may be true for some, but the former is certainly not true.  It is 24-hour a day work.  There is never a break from being in another culture, trying to communicate in another language, eating sometimes strange food, feeling ill, and dealing with elements far outside the U.S. norm (diseases like malaria, oppressive heat with no air conditioning, water that is questionably potable, no toilet paper, no showers and no hot water, etc.).  If one takes on the opportunity of being a Peace Corps volunteer it will change that persons life.  It certainly did mine.  I reflect often on my service and use elements from it every day.  It is a life-altering experience that not many have the opportunity to pursue.  The funding for Peace Corps is small but leads to big results.

That is the reason I think a partnership between university Extension, eXtension, and the Peace Corps could work.  Every one of those organizations would benefit substantially.  Of course there are obstacles to it happening and strong leadership would need to put it together.  But why not?  We would all benefit from a partnership like this — Extension would get well-trained employees, eXtension would further their mission of extending knowledge and changing lives, and the Peace Corps would gain better prepared and more successful volunteers as well as gaining the perception of being involved in job training.  Win, win, win.

2015 Grape and Muscadine Short Course Update


The MSU Grape and Muscadine Short Course will be held Tuesday, March 10 in Pontotoc, MS.  The address is: 

MSU Pontotoc Extension Office at 402 C.J. Hardin Jr. Drive

Pontotoc, MS 38863


The MSU Grape and Muscadine Short Course originally scheduled for February 26 in Verona, MS is being rescheduled.  The new date has not been established yet, but should be by the end of the week or early next week.  Once that information is in hand, I will update this post and include the new date.

Last week the class was held in Hattiesburg and we had a good and excited crowd on hand to learn viticulture techniques.  We look forward to an even bigger crowd at the next one in Verona.  Keep an eye on this post for more information as it becomes available.

2015 Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop Presentations

Last week (February 12), MSU Extension, USDA-ARS, and the Gulf South Blueberry Growers’ Association co-hosted a blueberry education workshop for Mississippi blueberry growers.  The agenda was as listed below.  Click on the name of the presentation to see the PowerPoint as a PDF file.

Dr. Barakat Mahmoud (MSU-ES): Overview of the Revised FSMA Rule on Produce Safety Standards

Dr. Tim Rinehart (USDA-ARS, Poplarville): An Update on Rabbiteye Blueberry Genomics

Aaron Rodgers (Mississippi Dept. of Agriculture and Commerce): Mechanical Harvesters vs. Hand Labor: Examining the Economic Decision-making of Blueberry Harvests (PDF not available)

Dr. Eric Stafne (MSU-ES): Scale-neutral Harvest-aid System and Sensor Technologies to Improve Efficiency and Handling of Fresh-market Highbush Blueberries

Dr. Barbara Smith (USDA-ARS, Poplarville): Blueberry Disease Control Recommendations

Dr. John Adamczyk (USDA-ARS Poplarville): Pollinators and You in our Blueberries: Are We Taking It For Granted?

Dr. Blair Sampson (USDA-ARS, Poplarville): SWD in Mississippi Blueberries

Overall there were roughly 50 attendees.  Evaluation data indicated that the crowd was pleased with the topics.  Some even suggested topics for next time, which is always welcome.  Below are a couple photos of the event.

Dr. Mahmoud covering the upcoming FSMA regulations

Dr. Mahmoud covering the upcoming FSMA regulations

Dr. Rinehart covering an exciting new topic -- Rabbiteye genomics

Dr. Rinehart covering an exciting new topic — Rabbiteye genomics

If you were not able to attend this year’s event, please plan to make it next year.  It will likely be around the same time and place.  If you have any requests for topics or speaks please let me know and I will do all that I can to accommodate it.  Thanks for a great turnout!

I also “Live Tweeted” the workshop.  Those tweets generated 1015 impressions (how many people saw the tweet in their timeline) and 66 engagements (how many people clicked on the tweet).  That is a 6.5% engagement rate from those who did not even attend!

If you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @EStafne

I try to tweet other events as well and general information related to fruit crops.


Some Tidbits Learned from the Southern Blueberry and Fruit Workers Meeting

Recently I attended the Southern Blueberry and Fruit Workers meeting in Atlanta, GA.  It is held as part of the Southern Region of the American Society for Horticultural Science annual conference.  Below are some new things I learned about at the meeting:

Ring nematode is prevalent in Georgia blueberry plantings

The nematode problem is worse in re-plant situations and may require fumigation

Southern highbush blueberries have more problems than Rabbiteyes, especially in re-plant situations

Using pine bark mulch appears to reduce nematode populations

The addition of humic acid to the soil does not appear to benefit blueberry plants

Botrytis resistance to fungicides has happened in GA.  Use of Captan or Ziram is now recommended because of low resistance possibility

Mummy berry sprays should be applied starting at first sign of green tissue.  Indar, Orbit, Pristine, and Proline (a new material) showed efficacy.  Serenade, an organic product, also had some efficacy.  Regalia, another organic product, had no effective control of the disease.

Exobasidium is becoming resistant to Pristine in GA.  ‘Premier’ has high infection rates, as does Tifblue.  A full Captan spray schedule is effective (about 8 sprays in GA), but not using Captan as a delayed dormant spray.  Use Lime Sulfur or Sulforix for best control as a delayed dormant spray.

Xyllela (blueberry scorch) has been found in various states.  In Rabbiteye’s  it leads to chronic symptoms, but in Southern Highbush scorch symptoms are readily apparent.  There may be different strains of this disease and more work is being done.

Blueberry Necrotic Ring Blotch is a non-systemic viral disease that is only in leaves.  Mites spread it.  It can lead to defoliation of the plant.

Broad mites have been found in blueberries and blackberries in Arkansas.  Damage resembles Roundup injury.  Leaves have a “silvery” look, with rosetting and stunting of plants, and necrosis of the petiole.  It will kill shoot tips.

Blueberry rust is a problem in Gulf Coast areas of Alabama.

Foliar calcium spray trials in GA on rabbiteyes have shown no efficacy

Three new Southern Highbush blueberries are being released from UGA soon.

One new Rabbiteye cultivars is also being released from UGA – Krewer, an early, large fruited cultivar that should pair well with Titan

Reported Fruit Problems in Mississippi 2014

The list below illustrates the types of pathogens/problems found on fruit plants submitted to the Mississippi State University plant diagnostic lab in 2014. The general format of the list shows the common name for the disease, followed by the scientific name of the pathogen, followed by a number in parentheses that indicates the number of times this problem was diagnosed in the lab.

Apple (Malus x domestica)
• Apple Scab suspected (Venturia inaequalis) (1)
• Cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniper-virginianae) (1)
• Diplodia canker (Diplodia mutila) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (1)
• Flyspeck (Schizothyrium pomi) (1)
• Phoma Leaf spot (Phoma sp.) (1)
• Russetting (Abiotic) (1)
• Sooty Blotch (Gloeodes pomigena) (1)
• Undetermined (mummified fruit ) (1)

Blackberry (Rubus sp.) ‘Arapaho’
• Abiotic (Freeze damage) (4)
• Blackberry Rust (Phragmidium violaceum) (1)
• Cane blight (Coniothyrium fuckelii) (1)

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
• Abiotic (Cold injury) (1)
• Abiotic (Possibly Glyphosate) (1)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora rubi) (1)
• Leaf spot (Septoria sp.) (1)
• Fruit Spot (Exobasdium maculosum (1)
• Twig Blight ( Fusicoccum sp.) (1)

Cherry (Prunus sp.)
• Insufficient sample (Vascular disruption suspected) (1)

Fig, Common (Ficus carica)

• Diplodia canker (Diplodia sp.) (1)
• Rust (Cerotelium fici) (1)
• Undetermined fruit rot (1)

Fruit Trees (Prunus sp.)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Grape (Vitis vinifera)
• Abiotic (Magnesium deficiency suspected) (1)
• Abiotic (Freeze injury suspected) (2)
• Black Rot (Guignardia bidwellii / Phyllosticta ampelicida) (2)

Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
• Borers suspected (1)

Jujube (Ziziphus jujube)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora sp.) (1)
• Fruit injury undetermined (1)

Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
• Insect infestation (1)
• Sooty mold (1)

Peach (Prunus persica)
• Brown fruit rot (Moilinia fructicola) (2)
• Peach leaf curl (Taphrina deformans) (1)
• Root rot (Armillaria sp.) (1)
• San Jose Scale (Quadraspidiotus perniciosus) (1)

Pear (Pyrus sp.)
• Abiotic (Chemical root injury suspected) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (2)
• Phomopsis Twig Blight (Phomopsis sp.) (1)
• Quince rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes) (1)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

• Abiotic (Possible Nitrogen Burn or nutritional issue) (1)

• Animal injury suspected (1)

• No pathogens (1)
• Pecan phylloxera (Phylloxera devastratrix) (2)

Plum (Prunus sp.)

• Abiotic (Sunscald suspected) (1)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Plum (Prunus spp.) ‘Shiro’
• Bacterial spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. pruni) (2)
• Brown rot (Monilinia fructicola) (1)
• Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) (1)
• Scale insect (1)

Satsuma (Citrus reticulata)
• Root/Stem injury suspected (1)

See the entire list here: http://msucares.com/lab/2014list.pdf

2015 Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop

The 2015 Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop will take place February 12, 2015 from 1-5pm at the MSU Forrest County Extension office in Hattiesburg, MS.  Mississippi State University Extension Service, in conjunction with the USDA-ARS and the Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association, will once again host an educational workshop focused on blueberry production in Mississippi. This year the topics will include Spotted Wing Drosophila, Disease issues, Blueberry breeding, Pollination and pollinators, Mechanized harvest technology and economics, and the Food Safety Modernization Act. Please come learn about these important topics.
Cost: $10, at the door will be collected by the Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association to help in future workshops.

Get the full schedule of speakers and other information by downloading the pdf file below:

Blueberry Workshop 2015

College Football Rankings: A Methodology That Makes Sense

When the University has a break around the holidays I don’t spend all my time thinking about fruit production (shocking, I know). Like many males in this country, during the holiday season I spent a lot of time watching college football. Since I work for a major university, worked previously at another, attended two more, and all of the teams I have had a connection to were playing in a bowl game I spent plenty of time thinking about college football. I think the current playoff system worked out for this year. The committee, I believe, got the four teams right and we are on the cusp of seeing how the whole thing plays out. What I don’t like about the current system (and past systems) is that we have no idea how those final teams were decided upon. There is a lack of transparency. What are the factors being used to determine the final four? Performance statistics? Eye Test? Strength of Schedule? Margin of Victory? It is all so unclear. Being an academic, and as long as the football team is associated with the university name, I believe there should be an academic component to the final rankings as well. The most equitable (and competitive) would be Fall semester grade point average of the football team. Now, I don’t think it should count for a large portion of the final overall ranking system, but it should be a component – after all, aren’t these “student-athletes”?  ESPN has done its own type of work in this area, but they used graduate rate, which is a long term metric.  It includes players who did not even contribute during the current season.

So, over the course of the last couple weeks I developed an easy system that anyone could use to rank college football teams. When I implemented it, the four top teams were the same as those put forth by the committee (although in a different order). How does this work? The rules are as follow:

1. A winning team accumulates the number of wins from the team it defeated. For example, if Team A beats Team B (who has 6 wins on the season), then Team A accumulates 6 points.

2. In the same vein, losses also accumulate, but penalties may occur if: a) a loss on the road has no penalty, b) a loss at a neutral site has a penalty of -0.5 points, and c) a loss at home as a penalty of -1 point. The take-home message is that elite teams should not lose at home. For example if Team A losses to Team C (who has 3 losses on the season) at home, Team A will accumulate -4 points.

3. A team shall not accumulate any points when playing a lower division team, but it will accumulate the losses. I understand there is $$$ involved here and that these games will still get scheduled. But do these games prove anything? In a win, no (higher division schools should have no problem beating lower division schools), but in a loss, yes (in this case the team isn’t good anyway and will not need to worry about being ranked).

4. Points are totaled, and then divided by the number of games played.

5*. The Fall grade point average will be added in this manner: the football team with the top GPA during the fall semester will get 1 point. The lowest will get 0 points. All others will get a percentage of 1 point. For example, if Team A has a Fall GPA of 3.50, the highest of any college football team in its division, it would receive 1 point. If Team Z has a Fall GPA of 2.20 and is the lowest of all teams, it would receive 0 points. The difference between 3.50 and 2.20 is 1.30. The formula would then be [difference in team GPA from lowest school/difference between high and low GPA] = points to be added to ranking. So, if Team G has a GPA of 2.50 this would be 2.50-2.20/1.30 = 0.3/1.3 = 0.23.

*This is a “sticky wicket” in my ranking system. These numbers may be hard to obtain. Until they become widely available via a website or some other method, numbers 1-4 should be used as the criteria for ranking.

Okay, we have the rules established, so how did the teams from 2014 end up? My rankings, using the system above (exclusive of GPA) are listed below. The beauty of this is that anyone can see how teams rank using a little addition and subtraction. Using this system rewards teams for scheduling good teams and penalizes them for scheduling a lot of poor teams and lower division teams.

2014 Final College Football Team Rankings [updated to show final results]

1. The Ohio State University [6.93]

2. Boise State University [6.14]

3. Florida State University [5.89]

4. University of Oregon [5.50]

5. University of Alabama [5.25]

6. Texas Christian University [4.77]

7. Marshall University [4.50]

8. Michigan State University [4.31]

9. Baylor University [3.73]
I only ranked teams with 2 losses or fewer. The Ohio State University and Boise State University were helped by the fact that they did not have a lower division school on their out-of-conference schedule. TOSU had a devastating loss to Virginia Tech University at home, but they were able to compensate for that by playing other decent teams. Boise State had two road losses, both to good teams.  You might notice that if Oregon were to lose the NCG they would drop to #4, below Florida State whom they drilled in the Rose Bowl.  The rankings presented here look over the entire season and not just one game.  Besides, does it really matter who ended up #3 or #4? No, the only one that counts is #1.

Teams in this system would also have an off-field “classroom competition” that would act an in impetus for students to perform better academically. Having this as a component of the ranking would also perhaps subtly encourage coaches to recruit students with better academic backgrounds.

2015 Mississippi Grape and Muscadine Short Courses Announced

Thanks to a grant from the Specialty Crops Block grant program and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, MSU Extension Service will be hosting two short courses for grape and muscadine growers.  One will be held in Verona and the other in Hattiesburg.  Each short course will meet on two dates, one in February and one in July, so that attendees can see and experience the vineyard at different growing seasons.  Because the grant covers all the expenses, the short course will be free to attend; however, pre-registration is mandatory.  Below the schedules and registration form can be downloaded.

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Hattiesburg

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Verona

This course is intended for COMMERCIAL growers (and those interested in becoming commercial) only — those who currently grow or wish to grow for markets (farmer’s markets, local retail, wineries, etc.).  Please see the links above for further details and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.  We look forward to seeing you at these great events!

More info here: http://msucares.com/news/farmweek/pages-weekly/2015/2015-01-30msugrapecourses.html