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Agriculture

This proposal is about programmed cell death and sex determination in maize and the grass family. Programmed cell death is best defined as genetically encoded, actively controlled cellular suicide. Programmed cell death is of fundamental importance in plant development. For example, xylem cells undergo programmed cell death and create an interconnected network of hollow tubes essential for water transport.

Reduced and modified tillage (RT) systems (e.g. no-, zone-, strip) represent strategies to reduce soil degradation and erosion and protect water quality. Previous research has shown that these tillage systems can provide the environmental and economic benefits of a RT system for many vegetable crops without the harvest delays or losses observed in straight no-till. Reduced Tillage systems can improve both, soil quality and soil drainage, potentially reducing Phytophtora blight among other soil borne pathogens.

We will develop a mathematical model that predicts how farmers (or firms) will make decisions when choosing between two markets. The markets we will study include a wholesale market, where farmer's products are no different from all other farmers, and a farm-to-school market where the farmer's products are differentiated (the farmer is known and the products are known to be locally produced). We will then design economic experiments that could be used to test the model's theoretical results.

An estimated 437,000 incidences of produce-related foodborne illnesses occur each year in Massachusetts alone. In addition to morbidity and mortality, the estimated cost as a result of the illnesses is $903 million.

Vigorously growing plants require adequate, but not excessive, essential nutrients. Nutrients must be provided in the right form, at the right time, and at the right place. Management of all nutrients sources (i.e., soil, commercial fertilizer, compost, and animal and green manure) within the constraints of the production system is fundamental to both economic viability and environmental quality. Poor management of plant nutrients can lead to economic losses and environmental degradation of soil, air, and water quality.

There is uncertainty about the effects of future climate on agricultural crop plants. Alfalfa is a crop that is used to provide feed for animals leading to meat production. This research will include experiments under controlled conditions that will allow prediction of how alfalfa plants will respond to future elevated CO2 (800ppm) and elevated ozone (O3) (80ppb). How these elevations affect plant growth and the nutritional value of the plants will be determined.

Increased use of biomass fuels is a promising option for renewable fuels that could decrease our dependence on oil and reduce greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, we currently do not have clear knowledge about the plant traits that should be considered bioenergy traits and should be subjected to breeding and selection. We propose to use a grass energy model organism (Brachypodium distachyon), and treatment with two promising plant biomass transformation techniques (biological and thermochemical conversion) to examine the effect of natural diversity on biofuel production efficiency.

The cranberry industry in Massachusetts faces many challenges. In the past ten years, growers have gone from receiving record high prices for their fruit to record low prices. Although the industry has rebounded, the focus to remain economically competitive and environmentally sustainable has sharpened. It is anticipated that the industry may lose some acreage due to attrition and that smaller growers may sell their land. As with all farmers, energy costs are rising quickly, impacting the bottom line. Growers must develop and adopt innovative technology to remain competitive.

Fruit farms and vineyards provide open space and scenic vistas that add significantly to the quality of life in Massachusetts. The lands surrounding agricultural production provide buffer zones for native species of plants and animals and corridors for their movement or expansion. To remain a vital part of the Massachusetts economy, both new and established growers must learn to produce crops sustainably and to adapt production systems to market opportunities. New varieties provide fruit farmers with opportunities for enhancing production, quality, sales and consumption. 

During bloom, pesticide use pattern is changing rapidly in many crops owing to phase-outs of some chemistries and introduction of new ones. In cranberry, two new fungicides now dominate applications of choice during bloom; the recommendation is to use the two modes of action simultaneously to slow evolution of resistance by fungal pest species. In order to save time and money, growers frequently add an insecticide simultaneously to the fungicide mix in order to manage the key pest, cranberry fruitworm. Alone, all of the compounds are considered 'bee safe' and bloom sprays are allowed.

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