University of Florida Powell Center for Construction & Environment

UF/IFAS-created strawberry monitoring system set to expand

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A strawberry monitoring web system that will soon expand to South Carolina is one of many reasons a University of Florida faculty member has won the Lee M. Hutchins Award from the American Phytopathological Society (APS).

The Hutchins award goes to the author or authors of significant published research on basic or applied aspects of diseases of perennial fruit plants, according to the society’s website.

“APS is probably the most prestigious society worldwide in our field of plant pathology, so I am very honored with the nomination and the award,” said Natalia Peres, an associate professor of plant pathology at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm.

With the help of Clyde Fraisse, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences colleague, Peres released the Strawberry Advisory System in 2012 to help Florida growers. The tool uses data such as temperature and leaf wetness to tell growers when to spray fungicide to ward off diseases.

Before the system was developed, strawberry farmers traditionally sprayed weekly during the November-to-March growing season. Spraying more often than needed wastes money and can lead to fungicide resistance, she said.

Pete Timmer, a retired plant pathology professor at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, nominated Peres, citing the web system, among her many accomplishments.

“Peres has excelled in virtually everything she has chosen to do,” Timmer wrote in his nomination letter. “One of her challenges upon arrival in Florida was to improve the control of strawberry diseases. Many models for plant diseases exist in the literature, but few have found acceptance by growers and been effective in controlling diseases and reducing fungicide applications.”

Timmer said once Peres’ model had proven effective, she worked with Fraisse, a UF/IFAS associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, to establish the web tool. Growers can use the system by logging onto www.agroclimate.org/tools/strawberry, or use the website to sign up for email or text alerts.

Peres, who won the award in August, said she expects the strawberry web tool to be used in South Carolina this spring. She’s also tested it in Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio. The system has proved successful in the latter three states, but scientists still must work on how to automatically access the weather data, she said.

She also has won a $114,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to develop a similar spray monitoring system for blueberries. That project will start in January, and Peres expects to have the system in place for growers in two years.

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