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
Host Institution Award ID: G111-21-W7899
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.

Timeline:

The table below provides the list of activities necessary for the success of the project in a timely manner and within the three year timeframe. Activities are presented in order of first occurrence although they may repeat in subsequent years (black cells). Activities that include on-farm trials and field days include the State where they will be occurring (i.e., NV and AZ).

Timeline

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • 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. 

Measurements conducted in the field trials conducted in Nevada were: soil canopy cover using an agricultural digital camera, stomatal conductance using a porometer, plant water potential with a Scholander pressure chamber, and biomass evaluations for several weeks as fruit ripened and a final harvest of all shoot and fruit remaining. In addition, fruit quality (e.g., Brix and color) was evaluated for the experiment conducted in Reno at the UNR field station. 

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.

Results from the survey have been partially analyzed and are being prepared for a publication. Results will be presented in the ASHS 2022 annual conference to be conducted in Chicago, IL,  between July 30 and August 3, 2022.

<p>
Heinrich di Santo at Lattin Farms in Fallon, NV conducting yield evaluations

 

 

Research results and discussion:

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

In 2021, two field trials were conducted in Northern Nevada. Preliminary data evaluation shows that cantaloupe production was different in Reno and Fallon areas. There was a significant interaction between field and phenotype (grafted and ungrafted plant material) for several variables. For instance, yields tended to be higher in Reno, but fruit quality was qualitatively better and more consistent in Fallon, which also produced larger fruits. The ungrafted cultivar (Sarah's Choice) did better in Fallon than several grafted phenotypes but poorly in Reno.

In addition, greenhouse and field trials have been conducted to understand cantaloupe water relations under low water availability. This has been accomplished by conducting root hydraulic measurements of all plant material (10 phenotypes). Preliminary data did not show major differences among phenotypes. Preliminary field trials were conducted to understand the relationship between pre-dawn and midday water potential. The aim is to understand critical points related to soil water availability and evaporative demand when drought stress compromises plant performance. These trials could support irrigation management decision linked to plant physiological performance.

The results from the 2021 trials were used to select four rootstocks to be used in the 2022 experiments (five phenotypes; four grafted and one ungrafted plant material). Rootstocks were selected based on scion performance and differing characteristics (e.g., fruit number and harvest pattern), considering that their performance fluctuated in the two locations where they were grown (Reno and Fallon, NV). This plant material will be also evaluated under two irrigation regimes (i.e., Obj. 2).

<p>
Yield of nine rootstocks grafted with Sarah's Choice. The ungrafted cultivar was included as well (Sar). Data is from Lattin Farms in Fallon, and from the UNR Valley Rd. Research Station in Reno, NV. Rootstocks are abbreviated.

 

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.

Our preliminary analysis of the survey suggests that growers in Nevada are interested in trying rootstocks for warm-season vegetable production, but adoption of the technology will require a cost-benefit analysis of using rootstocks as an alternative to conventional production methods.

Objective 4. 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.

We conducted one field day at Lattin Farms, Fallon, NV, and a presentation at the ASHS is scheduled for August, 2022. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the local Nevada Farms Conference has not been conducted in the past two years. We have had students from the Principles of Horticulture class visit the field and listen to Heinrich di Santo (graduate student) about the objectives of the research.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

38 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

Year 2020:

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.

Year 2021:

  • Field day in Fallon, NV at Lattin Farms on 08/22/21 - An informational sheet was distributed among participants showing yield progress at both fields. Participation was low because of smoke conditions due to California wild fires.
  • Class presentation: Students from the Principles of Horticulture class visited the field in Valley Rd. Research Station at UNR. Heinrich di Santo, graduate student, shared the objectives and progress of the project.

Year 2022:

  • Graduate student presentation on 03/22/22: Three Minute Thesis Competition at UNR.
  • Upcoming presentation at the ASHA 2022 Annual Conference: "Enhancing Production of Warm-season Crops in Nevada Using Rootstocks: A Grower Survey".
  • Manuscript under preparation based on survey results. Tentative title "Enhancing Production of Warm-season Crops in Nevada Using Rootstocks: A Grower Survey".

Learning Outcomes

Key areas taught:

    Information Products

    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.