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National Award Recognizes Excellence of Rootstock Research

Wes Autio leads NC-140 Rootstock study
September 24, 2015

Dr. Wesley Autio of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst leads tree fruit research trials at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center in Belchertown, Mass.  Professor Autio’s efforts are an important component of an ongoing large multi-state tree fruit research program supported by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that began in 1976. The project was recently awarded the 2015 Excellence in Multistate Research Award from U.S.D.A.’s Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy at a Washington D.C. ceremony. The award recognizes the importance of this collaborative effort to improve sustainability of fruit tree production through changes in rootstock use.

Rootstocks (a plant’s root system or other part of a plant where new growth stems from) are integral components of a high-density orchard because they control final canopy size, and a smaller tree canopy means more trees per acre. However, rootstocks that are currently available have many weaknesses that make them susceptible to pests and diseases and unsuitable for certain soils and climates.  That’s why researchers from the federally-designated “Multistate Research Project NC-140 – Improving Sustainability in Fruit Tree Production through Changes in Rootstock Use” are researching and sharing information about sustainable, higher-yielding, easier to manage rootstocks.

This project involves researchers from multiple states and is multidisciplinary in nature. Researchers involved in this project have leveraged federal and state dollars to add significant resources to address this research area. Outreach is integral to the project and includes electronic information transfer through web sites, written material for growers and other stakeholder groups, and numerous educational programs in individual states and at national and international grower and scientific meetings.

Dr. Autio, a noted pomologist and director of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, says “based on NC-140 results, 200 acres of trees in Massachusetts were planted with dwarfing rootstock in 2014. On this acreage, pruning and harvest labor declined by 50%, fruit quality and size increased by 20%, and profit increased by 50%. In addition, chemical and pesticide cost and application is down by nearly 40% among apple orchards using dwarf rootstocks, and on 200 acres planted with dwarfing rootstock in Massachusetts, reduced tree canopy volume has led to a 70% decline in pesticide use in those orchards.”

For more information visit the NC-140 website

CONTACT: Dr, Wesley Autio, Professor, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, UMass Amherst 413-545-2963