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Integrating Specialty Crops in Organic Culture on Delmarva


<OL> <LI> To survey stakeholders to determine their preferences, uses and opinions about the safety, quality and costs of specialty crops and organically grown vegetables. <LI> To establish an organic transition research site on the UMES Agriculture Experiment Station and test the effects of beneficial microbial organisms on the production of tomatoes, spinach and tatsoi. <LI> To assess food quality and safety from foodborne microorganisms and heavy metals on plants cultured in organic poultry compost. Under this objective the following sub-objectives will be examined: a. Determine the prevalence, occurrence, and persistence of Salmonella and E. coli (0157:H7) in fields amended with poultry compost and cultivated with tomatoes, spinach, and tatsoi. b. Determine the quantity of E. coli (commensal and toxigenic) and salmonellae in minimally-managed poultry litter compost and commercially available composts using rapid, sensitive microbial methods. <LI> To compare the development of tissue cultured and non-tissue cultured ginger plants when grown in organic and traditional culture. </OL> <P> Expected outputs/activities are : developing, conducting and analyzing a survey on Delmarva perceptions of organic agriculture and related food safety, a certified organic demonstration site on UMES experiment station, conducting and analyzing experiments on the safety of spinach, tomato and tatsoi grown in poultry amended composts, conducting and analyzing experiments on the value of beneficial organisms in organic production of spinach, tomato and tatsoi, and new applied knowledge on the production of ginger in the field in a temperate location.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Excessive amounts of poultry waste on the Delmarva Peninsula have prompted the need for its effective conversion and use. Composted poultry waste is often used as an organic fertilizer in the production of several crops because it has high nitrogen content, is inexpensive and can suppress soil borne pathogens. Current demands for specialty crops such as vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices have been increasing due to consumer preferences, public outcry for healthy eating habits to help abate the national obesity crisis, desires for alternative sources of industrial products such as medicine and oil, and pressures to diversify crop production. Consequently, this creates the need to determine optimum and safe practices for some of these crops under conditions such as organic culture, for which consumer demand is growing. Nationally, organic food sales have increased by about 20% per year since 1990 . The population on the Delmarva Peninsula and neighboring metropolitan areas has been increasing rapidly due to the influx of many immigrant groups and the booming recreational areas such as Ocean City and surrounding communities. These groups include people of Hispanic and Caribbean descent, as well as various others from Africa, Asia and Europe, each having a preference for crops from their native countries. Several alternative crops are imported, and along with limited quantities of organic produce can be found in the produce section of grocery stores. Limited amounts of organic specialty crops are grown in the Delmarva region because few producers have organically certified farms, a process which takes at least three years. The concomitant availability of vast amounts of poultry compost and the need for organic specialty crops present an opportunity for testing the production of these crops in compost and other organic media such as green manure vegetation and yard waste. However, because of the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in some of these media, the potential for heavy metal content, and the possibility of carrying microorganisms that are pathogenic to humans, it is highly desirable that the persistence of these environmental and biological constraints be determined. Therefore, this proposal seeks to study various organic practices for safe production of selected specialty crops on the Delmarva Peninsula. Expected outcomes/impacts are : new knowledge for stakeholders on Delmarva public perception of organic agriculture and related food safety, use of new certified organic site on UMES experiment station, new knowledge for stakeholders on the safety of spinach, tomato and tatsoi grown in poultry amended composts, new knowledge for producers on the value of beneficial organisms in organic production of spinach, tomato and tatsoi, new knowledge for producers on the production of ginger in the field in a temperate location.

APPROACH: Procedure For objective 1, a survey will be developed to collect quantitative data from agricultural producers (organic and non organic producers) and consumers. This will include opinions on organic food costs, food quality and safety, preferences and practices related to organic agriculture. A Likert rating scale of 1-4 will be used to gauge the responses to each of the items rated. The survey will be distributed to one hundred fifty farmers and two hundred consumers in the fourteen counties on the Delmarva Peninsula, the target area for this proposal. For objective 2, over a three year period, we will implement the required cultural practices on two one-acre plots and in one high tunnel to transition to a fully organic site on campus. This will include such items as certification, record keeping, compost production and manure, certified organic seed and planting stock procurement and material selection guidelines. Mychorrhizae strains and nitrogen-fixing bacteria will be tested on tatsoi, spinach and tomato planted at the site. Data will be collected on available P and N, soil aggregation, mychorrhizae colonization of the roots and yield. Objective 3 will be carried out through a combination of field and supporting lab studies. Field practice assessments using the FDA and Western Growers Association (WGA) parameters will be conducted simultaneously with the collected samples from the Delmarva area. Total coliforms, E. coli, and salmonellae will be enumerated from soil/poultry compost and produce samples for tomatoes, spinach and tatsoi. Analytic tests will include procedures for Specific pathogen assessments, DNA and RNA extraction from soil amended with poultry compost, Amplification and detection of target genes by real-time PCR (RT-PCR) and real-time reverse transcriptase-PCR (rRT-PCR, and Enrichment plus real-time PCR . In objective 4 pathogen free plants will be produced from axillary buds in vivo. The organic growth of tissue culture plants will then be assessed with the growth of transplants derived ex vivo from nodal segments of 3-5 cm length and compared with growth in conventional culture. The experimental design will be split plot with main plot as type of culture and the sub plot as the type of propagation used for transplant. Data will be analyzed using SAS. Evaluation and Efforts Annual project evaluation will be conducted to assess project progress during that period. The evaluation team will include stakeholders and various individuals knowledgeable about specialty crops, food safety and organic culture. Evaluation criteria will include progress to attaining the objectives, extent of dissemination of project work, and relevance and importance of project to current local and national issues. Information will be disseminated through scientific meetings, reports, publications, field days and other applicable media sources such as CDs and the UMES Departmental website.

Marsh, Lurline
University of Maryland - Eastern Shore
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