MSU Workshop to Teach Grape Pruning Basics

The Mississippi State University Extension Service invites grape growers in the state to a pruning workshop to be held Feb. 3 in Beaumont.

The event will cover the basics of vine anatomy and pruning techniques for bunch grapes and muscadines. After the presentations, in-field demonstrations will show participants correct pruning techniques. Novice and seasoned growers are invited to attend.

The event will be held at the MSU Beaumont Horticultural Unit in Perry County from 10 a.m. to noon. There is no cost to attend, and no preregistration is required. Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m. Participants are encouraged to dress for the weather expected, as part of the workshop will be spent outdoors.

The Beaumont Horticultural Unit is located at 478 Highway 15 in Beaumont. Contact Eric Stafne at 601-403-8939 or for more information.


First 2016 Issue of Mississippi Vaccinium Journal

Dear Faithful Readers:

Below is the link to the latest issue of the Mississippi Vaccinium Journal.  In this issue we cover new cultivars, diseases, presentations from the Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop, and more.

Mississippi Vaccinium Journal Volume 5 Issue 1

As always, you can see past issues at this link:

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.

Presentations from the 2016 Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop

The 2016 Mississippi Blueberry Education Workshop was held on January 14 in Hattiesburg. There were 55 attendees that heard the following speakers.  To access a PDF copy of each talk (if available), click the linked title.

Speaker Line-Up and Schedule:

1:10-1:40 pm Dr. James Barnes (MSU-ES):

The Economics of Marketing Blueberries Using Facebook: Some Lessons Learned from the Mississippi Bricks to Clicks Extension Program

1:40-2:10 pm Chaille Clements (Mississippi Dept. of Agriculture and Commerce):

Farm to School Presentation (Market Ready)

2:10-2:40 pm Dr. Eric Stafne (MSU-ES):

Update on Harvest-aid Technologies to Improve Harvest Efficiency


2:40-3:00 pm Mechanical Harvest Survey and Break


3:00-3:30 pm Dr. Rebecca Melanson (MSU-ES):

Recognizing and Managing Blueberry Diseases

3:30-4:00 pm Dr. Donna Marshall-Shaw (USDA-ARS, Poplarville):

Blueberry Cultivars for Small and Local Markets


4:00-5:00 pm Questions/Discussion/Evaluation


What is Your Marketing Plan?

You might be surprised to find out that this is usually my first question when someone says they wish to put in a planting of fruiting crops.  Not soil types, not cultivars, not cultural management, and not diseases.  All of those things are critically important, and believe me, I would I could stick only to those things (because that is my knowledge arena).  However, the world of growing and selling fruit is not an easy one to navigate. Overproduction and excess supply of some fruit make selling it difficult.  Sure, you can be a great grower, but if you are not a good marketer then you might as well forget it.

I don’t know how many times I have talked about marketing to the many, many growers I have dealt with. It is so crucial to understand that growing the fruit is not enough. The thought is, “If you build it, they will come.”


It should be, “If you build it, you better hustle and work to make sure they can find you.” Upfront education and the willingness to develop a marketing plan that is adaptive to change is key, because doing the same thing year after year (also called stagnation) is also a losing proposition.

I’m not a marketer. It is not my area of expertise. But, if you are planning to get into fruit production you need to become an expert or have the help of one in order to survive.

Blackberry Flowers in January

Up until very recently, we have not had much cold weather in south Mississippi. In fact, as of last week we had accumulated fewer than 200 chill hours (that will be much higher this week after the recent cold snap).  A couple of days before the cold came sweeping through, I wandered among the ‘Chickasaw’ and ‘Kiowa’ blackberries here on the station in Poplarville.  At first I thought what I saw was an anomaly — a single instance; however, as I walked the field I saw several buds popping open like those in the photos below.

Fully open flower on 'Chickasaw' blackberry in early January 2016 in south Mississippi

Fully open flower on ‘Chickasaw’ blackberry in early January 2016 in south Mississippi

More buds just starting to pop open. They will wish they hadn't when the cold weather sets in.

More buds just starting to pop open. They will wish they hadn’t when the cold weather sets in.

So what is the overall outlook here? The exposed flowers will certainly be damaged in the cold.  We reached about 25 degrees here in Poplarville on Monday morning. That should be cold enough to damage open flowers. What else? Any tissue that was actively growing will get zapped.  Is it enough to worry about in terms of crop reduction? I would say no. Even though there were numerous plants exhibiting these symptoms of budbreak, there were still plenty of dormant buds to pick up the slack later on.

Since this study is used for disease expression, we won’t spray anything to control any fungi that may come about on dying tissue. However, it would be a good idea to keep a close eye on plants and see if evidence of botrytis comes it. Anthracnose, another problem disease, is something else to consider controlling when the bushes are dormant.

Curious Galls on Muscadine Vine

Recently, a muscadine vine cane was brought into the lab after pruning. It had galls along the cane at nearly every node. Grape cane gallmaker ( may be the culprit, but there are other types of gall making insects around as well that could cause similar injury.  We were not able to find any evidence of larvae, frass, or any other trace of the insect. The injury to the cane is quite extensive, but luckily only a very few canes were harmed.  Thus, it is not worth trying to control this insect, as it would not create economic-scale damage to the vine or to yields. See the photos below.

Galls on cane of a muscadine vine

Galls on cane of a muscadine vine

Closer image of the galls. No evidence of the pest was found (aside from the swelling).

Closer image of the galls. No evidence of the pest was found (aside from the swelling).

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

2016 Mississippi Blueberry Workshop

The 2016 Mississippi Blueberry Educational Workshop will be held in Hattiesburg on January 14, 2016 from 1-5pm.  Several topics will be covered including mechanized harvest, Farm-to-School, Social Media marketing, blueberry cultivars, and disease control basics. Everyone with an interest in blueberries is invited to attend.  See the information below for details on the program.



Discovering the Value of Social Media in Horticulture Research and Extension

Many of us are challenged to find ways to better disseminate our research and Extension findings. Administrators, legislators, and the public are demanding to know our “impact”.  Thus, using all available tools to our advantage only makes sense. Social media has been around for more than a decade now. Facebook is the most popular, with others like Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Periscope, and Instagram following in its wake. From the outside looking in it may be difficult to see the value in using these digital tools. Unfortunately, a lot of what we see on them is photos of babies, lunch plates, and celebrities. Ugh, who needs that?  Well, we do – not the pointless junk, but the social interaction with the public. There is a lack of public understanding of science and these social tools allow us to reach people who could learn from us.

But you don’t have time and you don’t get credit for doing it, right? We are all busy with the demands of our jobs and granted, most promotion and tenure committees have not figured where these activities fit into job parameters; however, the reason for using social media to disseminate our work is not for fortune and glory. Having used these social tools for more than five years now, I believe the best way to state the case for using social media is by providing some examples from my experiences.

To be clear, I am not a super star social media user. I choose which platforms best fit my interest and what I want to get out of them. I use Twitter and have a WordPress blog, but I also have LinkedIn and ResearchGate accounts. For now, I want to focus just on Twitter and the blog. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have zillions of followers. My reach and engagement are fairly small; yet, in context, what does small mean in social media?  As I write this I have 799 followers on Twitter. This included folks from all over the world who are interested in fruit crops. I have fewer followers on my blog, about 120, but each blog post is linked to Twitter and LinkedIn. Currently, I more than 60,000 views on my blog. Posts have been shared 2,696 times (via blog, does not include other outlets). Places that refer back to my blog: Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.), online forums (graduate student, commodity specific, etc.), popular press websites/blogs (New York Times, Scientific American, Growing Produce, etc.), online newspapers (Clarion-Ledger, etc.), and many, many more. To put this in perspective, there are people I never would have reached had I done nothing. These folks are not reading my journal articles – even those that are open access – but they are reading my blog, and better yet, sharing it with others.

Another interesting thing happened recently – a peer-reviewed journal article cited a post from my blog. This was the first time for my blog, but I have cited blog posts in some of my writings and I know others have as well. Does this mean anything in the larger scope of digital scholarship? As an isolated incident, no, but as a piece of an ever-growing mountain of social media validation, yes. ASHS recently launched a blog as part of their website. Blogs are a great way to communicate research in ways that traditional journals cannot. An enticing aspect of online blogs is that the author is not limited to only text. Color photos, video, and audio are all now in play. Someday more academic journals will catch up with these “advancements” but even so, blogs allow the communication to be more intimate between researcher and interested public. Many good horticulture blogs are online. The folks contributing to these are in the vanguard of new science communicators.

Social media allows one to condense information, make it more digestible, and more relatable. I recently saw a quote that went something like this, “At no point in the history of mankind have we had so much access to bad information”.  There is an enormous need to combat the torrents of misinformation that foment inside the social media world (which is essentially the entire world). Ultimately our job is to educate the public and advance science – with social media we can do both. It can be frustrating and rewarding at the same time. Some obvious benefits are that you will reach a larger audience, provide a service to your university/department/program, and also further educate yourself. The benefits to you will become apparent with time and engagement. What doesn’t seem so obvious now may allow your career to grow into another direction.

My use of social media got me invited to serve on the Guiding Committee for an eXtension Learning Network. And, among other things, it also got me invited to write this newsletter article. You see, by using social media you will be going down a rabbit hole with all of its twists and turns, dead ends and collapsed tunnels, and you can follow it as far as you have the desire and interest to do so, but just remember, at some point someone will end up following you.

This is a slightly modified version of the article first published as:

Stafne, E.T. 2015. Finding the Value of Social Media in Horticulture Research and Extension. ASHS Newsletter 31 (11):1,7.

Winter is a Great Time for Education

Most of us are quite content to ignore our fruit plantings during the winter. At least I know I am guilty of that. Winter brings about other challenges for me — end of year reporting, conferences to attend, data to analyze, papers to write, etc. I know that everyone has their own stuff to deal with too making it difficult to keep your mind on something that isn’t growing (or at least appears that way). Of course there are a myriad of things that could be done to improve the planting, of which pruning and sanitation are some of the most important. However, I believe the most important thing to do during the time when it is too cold to get outside and you would rather bundle up in a blanket next to a warm fire is to learn. Education is a never-ending process. New things are discovered every year about fruiting crops. New pests, new varieties, new methods of management, etc. The great thing is that you no longer need to drive somewhere during sleet, snow, or icy drizzle to get to a meeting. Extension is starting to embrace online education techniques like webinars and blogs to keep clientele apprised of new discoveries. I would also encourage social media interaction. There are lots of Extension specialists and agents on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.  These are all platforms to interact with us. If you don’t know how, just ask and any of us would be happy to help you learn these new things.  The world is digital and not going back. If we can find common ground with our learning environments we can all be so much better informed. So, what to do during this winter? Try something new and learn, learn, learn.