University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

August 6, 2004


Prof's Fruit Research Program Garners Grants, Recognition

Wisconsin Agriculture Secretary and UW-River Falls alumnus Rod Nilsestuen (B.S. '70) was the first to bite into the first fruits of the new Lydecker plum, a Wisconsin-hardy variety developed by fruit breeder and UW-RF Horticulture Professor Brian Smith. The plum was named in honor of UW-RF's chancellor Ann Lydecker, who died in a traffic accident in March.

Smith, who is also an Extension Commercial Fruit Specialist, is known nationally as a plum and raspberry geneticist. Smith runs the only fruit research facility in the 26-campus UW-System that is dedicated primarily toward fruit breeding. The campus has the only plum and raspberry breeding program in a 24-state surrounding area.

Secretary Nilsestuen was on campus Aug. 2 to present a $10,000 agricultural development grant to Smith to develop new varieties of raspberries for Wisconsin commercial fruit growers. The grant was one of 18 Agricultural Development and Diversification grants totaling $380,000 announced by Governor Jim Doyle and Smith's third from the agency. The Governor and 13 members of his cabinet toured western Wisconsin last week to talk about the Grow Wisconsin initiatives.

Nilsestuen said the raspberry research project strengthens the state's standing as a leader nationally in diversification of agricultural products, and the research is strongly supported by the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association as a way to extend the growing season.

"Wisconsin is not only America's Dairyland; we are also America's 'Berryland,'" he said, citing the state's ranking in cranberries, blueberries, and strawberries, as well as raspberries. Raspberries as a high-end product have the potential of putting more profits in the hands of Wisconsin farmers and more dollars into rural communities.

Other grants support the fruit breeding program
The ADD grant is one of several that have supported Smith's fruit breeding research program and its 30-acre plot adjacent to an old railroad track bed, now a paved trail, on the southeast end of campus behind Lab Farm 1. Most recently he was awarded an applied research grant of $22,000 from the UW System for his"Determining the Profitability of Potential New Raspberry Cultivars" project.

The program has survived since its inception in 1990 by piecing together multiple small, short-term grants or "soft money" totaling about $500,000, according to Dean Stephen Ridley, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. "The fruit research program and facilities are vital parts of the University’s missions of teaching, research and extension," says Ridley. "This program stands as a tribute to Professor Brian Smith, a truly dedicated researcher and contributor to agricultural economic development in Wisconsin."

About 120 students per year gain direct hands-on experience in the program, and four students are full-time employees of the facility this summer, says Smith. The College also hosts numerous field days and training sessions for growers and master gardeners. In 2002, the campus hosted the Wisconsin Berry Field Day, which drew a record number of participants from three states.

Smith's research program focuses on developing winter-hardy varieties of strawberries, raspberries and plums that result in high quality, good yield fruit with superior pest/disease resistance for Midwestern commercial growers. Such varieties help make growers more competitive, profitable and diverse in their fruit operations as well as respond to changing governmental regulations regarding pesticide use.

"We make vital recommendations to growers on which cultivars to grow based on results from our extensive trials," says Smith. "New fruit cultivars more adapted to the Wisconsin climate will allow growers to remain competitive and operate more profitable businesses."

Smith, who holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in horticulture with a minor in plant breeding from the University of Minnesota, has collaborated in the revision of several Extension publications on strawberries and raspberries and presented widely on the topic of commercial fruit production. Smith also represents Wisconsin at the NCR-22 meeting, national meetings for all small fruit researchers and extension agents from North America discuss their recent research in the field.

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