Jalapeños with more pop: Student ag projects blossom during SCOPE Field Day
Tastier tomatoes, zingier zinnias, beautiful bell peppers and better beans are among the new crop varieties that student scientists are developing for organic farmers through the SCOPE project, part of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and the UC Davis Student Farm.
Their latest research was on display during a recent field day at the Student Farm, when participants probed the progeny of traditional jalapeño peppers crossed with bell peppers: plump, crisp, green jalapenos with wider shoulders and larger cavities than their spicy parent, perfect for stuffing with cheese for jalapeño poppers.
The SCOPE project – it stands for Student Collaborative Organic Plant Breeding Education – began eight years ago as an opportunity for students to get involved in developing new varieties of crops, said founding faculty Charlie Brummer, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and director of the Center for Plant Breeding.
Students use the latest research on plant breeding techniques to develop varieties suitable for organic farmers and gardeners, especially in northern California.
Some of the day’s presentations:
- Laura Roser described the jalapeño breeding project, passing out samples of appetizing new varieties being tested.
- Antonia Palkovic highlighted a new bell pepper variety with greater resistance to sun scald, which would result in higher yield for farmers. The pepper breeding project has produced a deeply lobed, crunchy vegetable that has been tested in Yolo County.
- Troy Williams is trying to develop purple sweet potatoes that have better flavor and texture. He also is working on lima and pinto beans and cowpeas, including the E27 variety of limas developed by Kimberly Gibson in the Gepts lab. Researchers have received a grant to plant 70 varieties and test for yield in organic conditions, seeking mature, yellow pods that will snap open upon threshing.
- Will Hazzard has been developing zinnias for three years, seeking unusual shades of pink and orange, larger flowers, taller stems and novel petal forms, while adding resistance to powdery mildew – qualities of interest to the floral industry and to farmers who prize flowers for additional farm income. A special focus has been achieving darker “wine” colors and lighter pastel shades.
- Luis Salazar is working on tomatoes for the fresh market. He is combining the best qualities of heirloom and modern tomato varieties to develop lines that resist Fusarium wilt and other diseases, provide higher yield, are firmer than typical heirlooms, and have higher sugar content, balanced acidity and eye-catching shapes, colors and patterns. At the end of the field day, attendees participated in a taste test of the project’s advanced breeding lines.
- Ella Halberstadt demonstrated stone milling, highlighting the uses of whole wheat. The SCOPE wheat project focuses on improving yield, disease resistance, early vigor and baking quality of heritage, blue and charcoal wheats.
For more about SCOPE and the latest research, visit the project website.
Trina Kleist, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences communications, 530-601-6846