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    October 28, 2015 Meeting    

Kim Lewers:

Development of improved fruit cultivars and a low tunnel system for strawberries.

The Beltsville Garden Club will hold its October general meeting on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in the Multipurpose room of the James E. Duckworth School at 11201 Evans Trail in Beltsville, Maryland.

We look forward to our Wednesday October 28, 2015 program in which Dr. Kim Lewers of the USDA will speak about development of improved fruit cultivars and a low tunnel system for strawberries. Dr. Lewers has been with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Beltsville, Maryland since 2001, conducting research on strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry. She serves as a Research Geneticist (Plants) developing improved cultivars of these valuable fruit crops while studying inheritance of important traits and developing molecular markers and genetic maps to help track these traits in breeding populations. She works toward the vision of year-round, locally grown, great tasting, disease-resistant strawberries. Dr. Lewers especially enjoys networking with consumers, grower groups, nurseries, and collaborator scientists, by chairing the Small Fruits Crop Germplasm Committee and the North American Strawberry Growers’ Research Committee in addition to writing the strawberry section of the “Register of Fruits and Nuts,” an historic record of new strawberry varieties.

The USDA-ARS strawberry breeding program in Beltsville, MD, begun in 1910, pre-dates traffic lights and is the foundation of the world’s strawberry industry. The program has been credited with creating the strawberry industry by developing strawberries that stayed firm and red after harvest, so they could be shipped by rail to city markets. It also has saved the strawberry industry from several devastating diseases and is known around the world for disease-resistance genetics and ideal flavor. The breeding population is a priceless national treasure.

Newly released ‘Flavorfest’ strawberry is resistant to a very destructive disease spreading northward due to climate changes. ‘Flavorfest’ is quickly replacing older standard varieties grown from the Mid-Atlantic north and west due to its disease resistance and superb berry flavor. The next varieties for release will have very long shelf life to serve growers far from markets, and in preparation for a potential need to supplement the California strawberry supply. Recently, the program has made new inroads in repeat-fruiting strawberry breeding. We have developed and continue to develop a selection environment that allows us to identify repeat-fruiting strawberry breeding material. In the process, we have developed a production method that may allow Mid-Atlantic growers to significantly extend their strawberry production season. The production system uses low tunnels as rain and light shields in the summer and as mini-greenhouses in the cooler months. The low tunnels also protect the fruit from the two most prevalent strawberry diseases worldwide, so there is no need to apply and then remove fungicides before sale. Late-winter planting allows the use of dormant bare-root plants, partial mechanization, and many cultivar choices.

Refreshments from members and donations for the door prize table are always appreciated.

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