Strawberry Update From NC State Horticulture

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To the Strawberry Industry,

On behalf of the Department of Horticultural Science, I would like to update you all on the strawberry research and extension program at NC State University. NCSU has a long history of supporting the strawberry industry, which has been mutually beneficial for both the industry and NCSU. In 2011 Dr. Barclay Poling, Extension Specialist, retired, leaving quite a gap in extension support. At the time we had a robust strawberry breeding and research program being conducted by Dr. Jeremy Pattison through the Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis. After Barclay’s retirement, conversations were held with neighboring states for a multi-state position, but the support was not there at the time. In addition, Barclay was able to come back part-time for a year to provide support to the industry in 2012. We recognized that this situation was not viable for the long term and Jeremy agreed to add extension duties to his breeding and research program in summer 2013. Unfortunately, Jeremy left NC State earlier this year to pursue an excellent opportunity in industry.

So, where do we stand today? In previous conversations with the Board of Directors of the NC Strawberry Association, we understood that the highest priority was to continue the breeding program. Advanced cultivars have had a dramatic impact on other horticultural crops and the Association felt opportunities were ripe for the strawberry industry in North Carolina. Consequently, we asked Dr. Gina Fernandez to assume temporary control of the breeding program. We have two potential opportunities to fill the breeding needs. Currently, the Plants for Human Health Institute is advertising and recruiting to fill the vacant position. If the position is filled with a strawberry breeder, the program will continue as is in the past. We are also in the process of filling a blueberry breeding and genomics position based in Raleigh. Depending of the qualifications of the person hired, we hope they will be able to provide some support to the strawberry breeding program, although the person will not be able to lead the program. In either scenario, the new hires will enhance all berry breeding programs at NC State by incorporating molecular and genomic technologies.

In regard to the NC Strawberry Association initiated conversation to create a multi-state strawberry position (extension and/or research), we are supportive of the effort. We understand, however, that due to budget cuts at NCSU and limited funds in other states, it may be difficult to get approval to hire such a position. In the meantime, we are waiting to see what direction the new hires will take the strawberry breeding program and if we can incorporate strawberry extension at a later time. More immediately, we have been working with CALS Cooperative Extension on implementation of their new strategic plan, which includes two Regional Agents for vegetables/fruits. These agents will provide high level support of the vegetable and fruit industries, including the strawberry industry, in each region of the state.