Various stages of spoilage in a strawberry from the Botrytis fungus.
Assistant Professor Barbara Blanco-Ulate will develop non-destructive methods for the early detection of the Botrytis fungus – seen here in various stages of spoilage – in a project funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She is one of several faculty members in the Department of Plant Sciences who have received funding from the cabinet-level agency in support of their research.

Faculty members awarded over $3.5M in Specialty Crop Block, FREP and other grants by CDFA

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA, has awarded over $3.5 million dollars through various grants, including the Specialty Crop Block and Fertilizer Research and Education Program, or FREP, to faculty members in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis. 

Specialty Crop Block grants fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops. These projects may focus on training growers to equip them for current and future challenges, conducting research on conservation and environmental outcomes, and increasing the sales of specialty crops by leveraging their unique qualities in California, among other approaches.

FREP grants support projects that improve the efficiency of nitrogen fertilization in California agriculture, reduce the associated environmental impacts, and advance farmers’ understanding and implementation of best management practices for fertilizer in farmlands. 

In total, there are 12 faculty members who are serving as the principal investigator for or are part of research projects that received funding from the CDFA during 2020. 

FREP Grants

Nitrogen Response of Industrial Hemp Cultivars Grown for CBD, Essential Oils

Robert Hutmacher, Daniel Putnam –  $225,000

Now that industrial hemp is a crop choice for California farmers, there is much to be discovered about the best management practices for its efficient production. This project will evaluate the two biotypes of industrial hemp and assess the impacts of nitrogen management approaches on the tissue content of tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, or THC and CBD respectively.

University of California Nursery and Floriculture Alliance Fertilizers and Plant Nutrition Workshops for Greenhouse and Nursery Growers

Lorence R. Oki, Dave Fujino, Don Merhaut, Maria de la Fuente​ – $37,676

Empower greenhouse workers and nursery growers across California with knowledge that will help them improve crop plant nutrition and fertilizer management, this project will improve upon existing educational materials, in both English and Spanish, deliver additional training, and host events provided under a previous FREP-funded project. 

“Crop Nutrient Minute” Video Series

Parry Klassen, Patrick Brown​ –  $225,000 

This project will make information readily available through web-based videos to growers and crop advisors that are working to minimize nitrate movement for major irrigated crops in the Central Valley and Central Coast. The videos will cover seven major-acreage crops: almonds, citrus, pistachios, processing tomatoes, wine grapes, strawberries and romaine. A total of 28 videos will be produced: seven five-minute videos and seven 30-minute videos, all in English and Spanish.

Specialty Crop Block Grants

Advanced Breeding for Broad Genetic Resistance to Downy Mildew in Spinach for Organic Production 

Charlie Brummer$449,374 

In spinach, new genetic resistance-breaking races of downy mildew appear every two years, threatening crops, especially for organic production. This project extends the project team’s current program by, 1) developing race-specific DNA assays to survey DM diversity in spinach growing regions over two years, 2) genetically mapping genes and breeding broad genetic resistance to DM for organic production to reduce losses, and 3) training students in pathology, plant breeding, and extension, and extending knowledge to growers and industry personnel. Outreach will be achieved with workshops, field days, professional classes, meetings, internships, and media. 

Early Detection of Botrytis Species and Rapid Characterization of Fungicide-Resistant Isolates in Strawberry 

Barbara Blanco-Ulate$298,903 

During the production, distribution, and retail life of strawberries, there are significant losses due to fruit spoilage caused by the Botrytis fungus. The disease is not easily detectable until the compromised fruit demonstrates visible infection symptoms. The project proposes to develop non-destructive methods for early detection of Botrytis via multi/hyperspectral imaging and sensing of volatiles, allowing the timely application of disease management in the field, decision making at harvest, and control conditions during storage and distribution of fruit. Results will be made available to industry stakeholders at field days, through presentations and handouts, and via activities organized with the University of California Cooperative Extension and the University of California Postharvest Center. 

Other projects with faculty from the Department of Plant Sciences that have received funding through CDFA

  • CDFA Dairy Methane Reduction Programs Technical Review – $825,000

Stephen Kaffka 

  • Almond Bud Failure Genetic Disorder – $38,087

Thomas Gradziel

  • Hemp Residue as a Ruminant Feed – $75,000

E Depeters with Dan Putnam, Donald Land, and Katherine Swanson

  • Evaluating the food safety impacts of cover-crop grazing in fresh produce systems to improve cover crop adoption, crop-livestock integration, and soil health – $999,985

Alda de Andrade e Pires with Amelie Gaudin and Michele Jay-Russell

  • Management of the federal permits for multi-investigator field-testing of transgenic grapevine rootstocks in California – $114, 653

Abhaya Dandekar

  • Development of an Armillaria resistance screen for clonal walnut rootstocks – $29,806.30

Pat J. Brown with Charles Leslie and Wesley Hackett

  • High-throughput screening of walnut and pistachio rootstocks for resilience to water deficit – $206,994.80

Pat J. Brown


(Article is adapted from various CDFA press releases with edits and additions by Matt Marcure)