Washington State University researchers will be able to continue to help Yakima Valley hop farmers battle pests and disease to meet the rising demand for high quality hops created by craft brewing.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $5.9 million grant Thursday to WSU through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
About $3.2 million of the three-year grant will support hops research and allow about 10 researchers to expand on five previous years of study, said Doug Walsh, WSU entomologist. Researchers are examining how plant nutrition and irrigation levels affect the development of hops and how both affect the susceptibility of hops to pests.
The remaining $2.7 million will support the Genome Database for Rosaceae, which gives growers and researchers access to all the publicly available data on genomes, genes, associated traits and DNA markers for numerous crops including apples, cherries and pears, said Dorrie Main, WSU associate scientist and associate professor of bioinformatics.
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With hops, Walsh said, researchers will be able to expand on their work decoding the genetics of spider mites — the main pest for Washington hops — so growers can better use miticides to control the population.
They have made advances in determining which genes are associated with resisting miticides, Walsh said. Eventually, farmers will be able to use the research to prescribe what miticide needs to be used for the spider mites they are battling.
About 26 acres are dedicated to ongoing hops research at WSU’s Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center. In different blocks, WSU researchers are experimenting with various levels of water and fertilizer on hops. Other blocks are being grown with different levels of pests and disease.
The arrival of a second strain of powdery mildew in New York is spurring some of the research that will be covered by the grant. Washington has only one strain of powdery mildew, but when both are present, they breed and have a more rapid ability to become resistant to fungicides, he said.
Walsh said researchers and growers here want preliminary information about how American hops respond to the new strain. While they hope the strain won’t make it into Washington state, it’s possible it is something Yakima Valley farmers will have to deal with in the future.
Cornell University researchers will be assisting with the powdery mildew research, Walsh said.
Researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Idaho also are part of the hops research team.
The hop research also is funded and supported by the Washington Hop Commission and the Hop Research Council.
Washington farmers are adding acreage in response to the demand created by a booming craft beer industry that is in love with hop-heavy beers.
This year’s Washington hops harvest is estimated at just more than 29,000 acres of hops, according to the USDA. That is the most farmers have picked in the past four years. Washington farmers produce about 75 percent of the nation’s hops, with most grown within a 40-mile radius of Prosser. And the U.S. produces the second most in the world after Germany.
With the Genome Database for Rosaceae, the grant will help researchers continue to update the database and expand its usefulness for researchers. Already it has become a model of how to develop data-rich genome databases, Main said.
“The database is widely used by researchers from all 50 states, over 130 countries,” she said.
Main said they will be adding in updated and new data on genomes sequencing of many of the cultivars for the fruit tree crops and wild fruit trees, Main said. The database also includes data on plums, apricots, peaches, strawberries, almonds, raspberries, blackberries and roses.
And Main said they also hope to better help users of the database use the information available to understand gene function, how genes are affected by environments and what the best parents might be when trying to breed new fruit trees such as cherries and apples.
Researchers from South Carolina and the University of Florida are part of the database project.