Nevada-Grown Melons: Enhancing production and adoption through novel management techniques

Progress report for SW20-918

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $349,825.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Board of Regents, NSHE, obo University of Nevada, Reno; Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona
Region: Western
State: Nevada
Principal Investigator:
Felipe Barrios Masias
Board of Regents, NSHE, obo University of Nevada, Reno
Co-Investigators:
Heidi Kratsch
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Bindu Poudel-Ward
University of Arizona
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Project Information

Abstract:

Nevada farmers are challenged by a short growing season and slow crop establishment of warm-season vegetables. Yet, increased demand for local produce in nearby urban areas presents an opportunity to diversify farms while adapting to climate uncertainty. Although melons perform well in arid climates, producers express that slow root growth and diseases affect production. Growers could rely on grafted melons, but information on which and how rootstocks can improve management does not exist for local growers. This project integrates farmers’ interests in a series of greenhouse research and on-farm trials in Northern Nevada and Yuma, Arizona, which is also an arid region, but it has a well-established melon industry that could benefit from adoption of grafting to reduce disease incidence and increase productivity.

Objectives:

  1. Evaluate and select melon rootstocks that enhance early crop establishment and performance of grafted cultivars under desert climates.
  2. Determine how selected rootstocks can affect melon cultivar yields and fruit quality under different management and on-farm conditions (e.g., mulching and irrigation).
  3. Conduct a survey of specialty crop farms (organic and conventional) to evaluate the needs and concerns of growers from the perspective of crop diversification and sustainability.
  4. Conduct annual educational outreach activities to communicate with stakeholders on research progress and acquire feedback for future research activities.

Outcome indicators:

  1. Identify at least two rootstocks and the mechanisms by which they confer better crop establishment and higher yields than own-rooted cultivars.
  2. Produce three annual fact sheets and two scientific articles with results regarding melon rootstocks, mulching, water management alternatives, and survey outcomes to increase awareness of producers and other stakeholders on crop diversification and adoption of practices to overcome biotic and abiotic stresses.
  3. Adoption from 30% of local producers of rootstock technology directed to improve crop establishment and yields. In the short term, local growers in Nevada and Arizona will likely adopt this technology, but we expect to stimulate nationwide interest.
  4. One graduate student and at least five undergraduates will acquire theory and hands-on training in areas necessary for success in their careers.
Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate and select melon rootstocks that enhance early crop establishment and performance of grafted cultivars under desert climates.

Task 1: Screen multiple rootstocks and determine the root morphological and physiological traits that improve cultivar performance.

Task 2: Assess how shoot physiological performance of a grafted cultivar is affected by rootstocks (e.g., leaf gas exchange and yield).

 

  1. Determine how selected rootstocks can affect melon cultivar yields and fruit quality under different management and on-farm conditions (e.g., mulching and irrigation).

Task 1: Evaluate crop physiological performance, disease tolerance and yields of the producer’s choice cultivars (i.e., scions) grafted on rootstocks selected from Obj. 1.

Task 2: Evaluate alternative management practices (e.g., mulching and irrigation) to enhance crop establishment and performance.

 

  1. Conduct a survey of specialty crop farms (organic and conventional) to evaluate the needs and concerns of growers from the perspective of crop diversification and sustainability.

Task 1: Develop a survey tool in year one to administer to all specialty crop growers in Nevada.

Task 2: Administer the survey in year 2 and use the results to fine-tune the nature of our education and outreach activities.

 

  1. Conduct annual educational outreach activities to communicate with stakeholders on research progress and acquire feedback for future research activities using the WSARE survey and evaluation tool.

Task 1: Produce one extension fact sheet per year.

Task 2: Conduct one field day per year at university and producers’ fields (years 2 and 3).

Task 3: Disseminate results through local, regional and national conferences and workshops.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Rob Holley - Producer
  • Rick Lattin - Producer
  • Mike Pasquinelli - Producer
  • Charles Schembre - Technical Advisor
  • Jim Snyder - Producer

Research

Hypothesis:

Objective 1. Evaluate and select melon rootstocks that enhance early crop establishment and performance of grafted cultivars under desert climates.

Hypothesis 1.1. From the nine rootstocks to be evaluated in 2021, at least one rootstock will enhance early canopy development and establishment, which should result in improved yields in regions with short growing seasons as in Northern Nevada.

Objective 2. Determine how selected rootstocks can affect melon cultivar yields and fruit quality under different management and on-farm conditions (e.g., mulching and irrigation).

Hypothesis 2.1. Plastic mulch may positively affect how some rootstocks influence cultivar (scion) development, growth rate, disease resistance and yields.

Hypothesis 2.2. At least one rootstock should improve cultivar (scion) performance under lower irrigation volumes and result in higher water use efficiency without a decrease in yield.

Materials and methods:

Objective 1. Evaluate and select melon rootstocks that enhance early crop establishment and performance of grafted cultivars under desert climates.

This objective is currently in progress as we establish our first field trials. We did not conduct trials in 2020 due to the pandemic. Two locations have been identified in Nevada: Lattin Farms in Fallon, and the UNR Valley Road Research Station in Reno. In addition, a field trial has been established at the Yuma Ag Research Center, AZ in early April, 2021. The Barrios Lab in collaboration with our collaborators from Plug Connection selected a total of nine rootstocks to screen (Task 1).  All rootstocks are grafted with the same cultivar (scion). The varieties selected were Sarah’s Choice and Caribbean Gold for Nevada and Arizona, respectively. Varieties were selected based on performance and preference in each location. 

Objective 3. Conduct a survey of specialty crop farms (organic and conventional) to evaluate the needs and concerns of growers from the perspective of crop diversification and sustainability.

Task 1: Develop a survey tool in year one to administer to all specialty crop growers in Nevada.

Task 2: Administer the survey in year 2 and use the results to fine-tune the nature of our education and outreach activities.

In this past year, efforts were directed to this objective. Task 1 has been completed as a survey was developed among the project team and tested online. Currently, the survey is in its last round of reminders to potential participants, and it has reached a 35% response rate in Nevada based on the number of vegetable farmers as reported in the USDA-NASS census data. The survey was also distributed in Yuma County, AZ, but the response rate has been extremely low. Distribution of the survey was done electronically with three round of emails sent to listserv managed by the Desert Farming Initiative at UNR and the nonprofit corporation Nevada Grown.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary

38 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

A newsletter article including this project was published on June 17, 2020 (https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2020/fruit-and-vegetable-research).

The total number of participants for the survey (Obj. 3) as of 4/12/21 is 38 people.

Learning Outcomes

Key areas taught:
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.