UC Davis Wins Specialty-Crops Grants for Lettuce and Conservation Agriculture Projects

Developing lettuce varieties that can cope with climate change is one of the goals of a large, diverse research team including, from left, Professor Richard Michelmore, staff researcher Pauline Sanders, project scientist Maria Truco and doctoral candidate Miguel Macias Gonzalez. (Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)
Developing lettuce varieties that can cope with climate change is one of the goals of a large, diverse research team including, from left, Professor Richard Michelmore, staff researcher Pauline Sanders, project scientist Maria Truco and doctoral candidate Miguel Macias Gonzalez. (photo: Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis)

Improving lettuce crops is the aim of a new, $4.5 million grant, awarded to University of California, Davis, researchers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The five-year, renewable grant is part of USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding program, made available through the 2014 Farm Bill.

This award is particularly timely, coming just as UC Davis is preparing for a number of events to be held on and around the Oct. 16 celebration of World Food Day.

The grants will support a multidisciplinary research program aimed at leveraging new technologies to sustain the supply of lettuce in spite of changes in climate.

“We will be exploiting genomic technology to address the needs in all areas up and down the lettuce production chain,” said project leader Richard Michelmore, a plant geneticist and director of the UC Davis Genome Center, also a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.

Broad research expertise

Research will range from identifying genes that are key to developing important stress-resistance traits in lettuce to fine-tuning imaging technologies that will allow growers to remotely assess the status of their crops in the field.

The research team represents a broad spectrum of expertise including plant genetics and breeding, food technology, and agricultural economics. Team members are located at UC Davis; UC Cooperative Extension research stations; USDA research facilities in Salinas, California, and Beltsville, Maryland; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

One of the project’s strengths, Michelmore said, is its longstanding collaborative relationship with large and small plant-breeding companies as well as with the California Leafy Greens Research Board, which represents growers of lettuce, spinach and other related crops.

CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE GRANT

Farmer Dino Giacomazzi (left) and Jeff Mitchell (right), implementing conservation tillage practices. (photo: John Stumbos / UC Davis)
Farmer Dino Giacomazzi (left) and Jeff Mitchell (right),
implementing conservation tillage practices. (photo: John Stumbos / UC Davis)

A second USDA grant of $9,459 was awarded to Jeffrey Mitchell, a UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist. The grant will be used to convene researchers from throughout the southwest this winter to assess opportunities for applying established principles of conservation agriculture to high-value vegetable crops.

Mitchell, an authority on conservation agriculture and no-till practices, is a faculty member in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, and headquartered at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.

In all, USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative awarded $50 million in grants nationwide for projects ranging from plant genetics research to new product innovation and development of new methods for responding to food safety hazards.

World Food Day roundup

More information on UC Davis activities related to World Food Day.

Additional information:
Related: UC Davis developing faster, more accurate robotic cultivator
Related: Springtime for wheat starts with a gene that ‘sees’ light
Related: Gene discovery may halt a deep-rooted pepper disease

Media contacts:
• Richard Michelmore, Genome Center, 530-752-1729, rwmichelmore@ucdavis.edu
• Jeffrey Mitchell, Plant Sciences, 559-646-6565, jpmitchell@ucdavis.edu
• Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, 530-752-9843, pjbailey@ucdavis.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *