Meet the Researchers: Peter Oudemans

Welcome to the next installment of our latest occasional feature: Meet the Researchers! We’ve spent so much time talking about the excellent work being done at the Rutgers Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research that we thought it was time to learn a little more about the people behind the projects. This week: Dr. Peter Oudemans.

1. What drew you to your field/research focus?

It turns out my great-great-grandfather was a plant pathologist. Although I did not know that when I chose the field, I can’t help thinking it was, in part, genetics. When I first discovered this field I knew it was for me.

2. What do you consider your best accomplishment?

Developing meaningful recommendations that can be used in the field and that I have confidence in is very satisfying to me. It encompasses everything I know about the disease so that we can slow it down and achieve a marketable crop. These are also evolving all the time and as we learn more they change.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

In my bubble it is just the pathogen and host. Somehow we need to interrupt that interaction. Things become challenging when there are new things to consider. For example, MRLs, pollinator health, climate change, or export-qualified fruit are all factors that can influence plant disease that are outside the current recommendations. A simple policy change on one hand can translate into significant crop loss on the other. Navigating these factors can be very challenging.

4. What are your long-term research goals?

Long-term is tricky but I would like to develop tools that will make problem-solving easier. For example, effective bioassays will help identify new chemistries for fruit rot control with a higher throughput than regular field trials. Ultimately, we will start controlling fruit rot in a more specific way and those tools will help tailor the programs.

5. What do you enjoy most about working with the cranberry community?

The place, the people, the crops. It is a beautiful mosaic and I am lucky and grateful to call it home!

Previously: Dr. Thierry Besançon

IPM – Drones

Last month we spoke with Dr. Peter Oudemans of Rutgers University about how our fairy ring treatment is progressing. This week, he had a team out mapping the selected treatment site with drones.

Using aerial technology to pinpoint treatment is a crucial component in integrated pest management, or IPM. What is IPM? The UC Cooperative Extension says:

“IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. . . . [T]reatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism.”

Drones can be a tremendous help with this. Per an earlier article from Robohub, “agriculture is a big data problem without the big data.” The article goes on to explain:

“Rather than taking pictures and videos of people, [drones will] be surveying fields, using their high-resolution sensors to improve crop yield and decrease agricultural water and [treatment] use. . . About half of the “inputs” in farming. . . are typically wasted because they’re applied in greater amount than needed or in the wrong place, such as the ground between plants rather than the plants themselves.”

At the Pine Island experimental site “we use two different types, a fixed-wing and a quad copter,” Peter says. “The fixed-wing is good for surveying because it can cover a large area in a short amount of time, while the quad is for more precise work.” The quad is also easier to fly. This week, however, they only flew the fixed-wing. “It took three sets of images, which will hopefully tell us more about how the fairy ring treatments are progressing.”

“They’re going to change the whole way we do things,” says CEO Bill Haines. “It’s moving us toward site specific agriculture, not just treating the whole bog.”

Fairy ring treatments – 2016

This week, our team finished our yearly treatment for fairy ring. Fairy ring is a persistent issue for growers, and we work very closely with researchers to find solutions.

“We start treatment at the roughneck stage,” says Matt Giberson, “and stop once we start seeing a lot of flower out there. It can be a little tricky; we don’t put on an application after a long frost night, or heavy rain, because too much water can stress the soil.” Treatments are planned very carefully. “Mike [Haines] and I go over the top producing bogs that aren’t marked for renovation, and set priorities. We start with Ben Lears first, because they bloom the fastest, and then go into the Stevens bogs. Once we’ve made the plan, we give Blondie, Alejandro, Tito, and Albert the maps and send them out. It takes two crews to get everything done, but they’re really hustling.”

A great deal of our knowledge comes from research being conducted by the Rutgers Marucci Center. Dr. Peter Oudemans has ongoing fairy ring experiments on some of Pine Island’s established beds. “What we’re doing with the experiment is looking at different treatments, especially different rates, to see which ones will control the disease best,” Peter says. “So on the one bog, we’re looking at one specific treatment, and we’re looking at different rates for the treatment and different rates of water. Because the fungus is in the organic layers beneath the sand, we need to figure out how much it takes to move the applications to the right position. We did some studies to look at how much water will it take to get to the correct depth, and what we found out is that .2 gallons per square foot is probably the minimum that we can use. Which is kind of what we found from our soil moisture probes as well. We’re starting to see some control at those levels.” The other bog, he says, is being used to test other treatments. However, he says, “we’re looking at two problems. First: how do you measure success? Because those plots are big and hard to evaluate. So we’re using drones to evaluate the progress. We measure once a month, to see if there’s any change in amount. It’s been pretty useful to measure it that way; we can capture data in fifteen minutes, evaluate progress over time, and capture it through the summer.”

“The other problem is, what can we expect from fairy ring control?” he says. “Fairy ring already messes up the canopy. It kills the edge, but then it leaves the center as a scar on the bed and also reduces yield. But talking with Dan [Schiffhauer ]and Joan [Davenport], we came up with some possible treatments for the centers of those rings to help them recover and help with the scarring, such as slow release fertilizers.”

Fairy ring has been a persistent problem in the local cranberry industry for a long time, and it’s been tricky to address, even with all the hard work from researchers. Manager Mike Haines remembers tracking in in 2008 during his summers home from college. “The best thing is not having to deal with it in the first place,” he says. “That’s a huge focus when we assign a bog for renovation. A lot of the time, the beds you’re renovating are the old ones being torn up by fairy ring, so you don’t want that problem to recur. You want to do it all right from the beginning. Attention to detail in renovation and thinking about it thoroughly and critically are important so you can avoid having to do all this stuff later.”

Rutgers extension

Last week, one of Pine Island’s closest collaborators, Dr. Peter Oudemans, was promoted by Rutgers University to the rank of full Professor. His research with the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research has been tremendously beneficial to the cranberry industry.

A great deal of his work with Pine Island and other growers includes the persistent problem of fairy ring. “We’re starting to get more answers,” Peter says, “and we also have better technology to get the answers. We also have Tim’s, and now Josh’s, research on the floral component and how to better control disease.”

PIICM manager Cristina Tassone has high praise for all of the researchers who work with the industry. “Working with the scientists and researchers at the Rutgers Research Extension is invaluable to us,” she says. “We have a unique opportunity, due to our proximity and our size, to work closely with them and provide areas on our farm for larger experiments. Being able to collaborate in this way, and share resources, helps not only us, but the cranberry industry as well. Peter’s experiment with Fairy Ring treatment is making progress, and he has started using a drone to monitor the experiment area. He also has a graduate student working on one of our bogs gathering data on footprinting (which is another issue for all growers, specifically in the Stevens variety). Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and Dan Schiffhauer are also helpful with any and all pest questions we may have, and Dan comes to the farm every Friday to walk the bogs with us to help with fertilizer decisions and to check up on the findings of our scouting program.”

The relationship goes both ways: “I’ve learned a large number of life lessons from growers,” says Peter. “Working with the people in this area has been phenomenal.”

Cranberry research

On Wednesday, our Integrated Crop Management (ICM) team had a chance to sit down with Dr. Peter Oudemans and graduate student Tim Waller of Rutgers University to hear about Tim’s research on the window for fruit rot control. Tim, who earned his undergrad degree in Biological Sciences from Rutgers, got his first research experience with blueberries, studying black shadow disease, and began working with cranberries in his graduate program. He previously presented his work at the ACGA Winter Meeting in January where it was well-received.

Peter introduced the presentation with a little bit of background on the study, which was designed to answer some longer term questions such as “Why there is a window for fruit rot pathogens?” and “Why the bloom period is so important and what don’t we know about it?” Tim’s research is also concerned with the factors in the plant that contribute to this window of opportunity, and how growers can use what they find out. (It’s also a cooperative effort: an endowment for this study was provided by the William S. Haines, Sr. Cranberry Research Fund, which was created in his memory to provide research funding that can help growers in the long term.)

Tim split his talk into segments, starting with a short but thorough biology lesson, moving into the experiment structure, and then went on to discuss possible targets for application. He explained the “ideal” environment for fungi, the anatomy of the cranberry blossom, and how fungi use the blossom to cause infection as well as multiplying to cause additional infections. The cup-like structure of the cranberry blossom is perfect for holding water and is therefore a perfect environment for fungal development. The crucial part for us as growers comes down to the timing of application: the time frame on the infection process might be as little as twelve hours during bloom, but there is a latency period, meaning we won’t see rot until September. That twelve hour window becomes our goal: how do growers improve their timing and help eliminate rot?

Tim’s research is just the beginning, of course, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for growers to work with researchers to obtain hard data. PIICM manager Cristina Tassone says, “What Tim is doing is what we’ve been doing ourselves for years; our fungicide program is there and it works, but so much of farming is based on observing what works and continuing to do it. Now we can build a foundation to figure out why. If we can change the climate in the bog…know the variables, the perfect conditions, what needs to happen to keep rot from occurring…we can be proactive instead of reactive and in the process become better growers.”


“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

It may be a cliché, but it’s sadly all too true: thanks to New Jersey’s high humidity, the most serious disease problem faced by area cranberry growers is fruit rot. Though the fungi known to cause fruit rot appear wherever cranberries are grown, the degree of infection is greatly affected by weather conditions. Most field rot symptoms occur with high summer temperatures and moisture, per Dr. Peter Oudemans of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

We talked last week about how the weather has not been greatly beneficial for pollination; the same also applies to rot conditions. June 2013 has been the wettest June in recorded history in New Jersey, with an average rainfall for the month at 9.2 inches. According to PIICM manager Cristina Tassone, Pine Island received an average rainfall of eight inches both on the home farm and Sim Place. “In New Jersey, you have to have a fruit rot fungicide program,” she says. “And with weather conditions like this, we have to make sure our timing of the applications is right.” Fortunately, the newly installed underdrain is working very well to keep our bogs drained and as dry as possible, but we still need to use a treatment program. Our target percentage for rot is less than 3%; for anything higher than that, we are penalized by Ocean Spray. High rot numbers during the harvest hurts our efficiency. It slows down our packing house team, which in turn slows down the Ocean Spray receiving station.

Cristina checking vines at Otter

Pine Island is constantly evaluating the fungicide program in order to make the best decisions from season to season. We don’t have hard numbers on rot percentage until after a bog is harvested, but every year at the end of harvest we always revisit and see if we need to adjust our program. We have two basic programs: standard and intensive. The standard is three to four applications. “The first two are the most important,” Cristina says. “We have to cover as many of the flowers as we can. Our team is constantly scouting until we get to about twenty percent scattered bloom, when the first application will go on, and then the next is done when we’re at full bloom. The first two are where you’re going to live or die.”

“Sad to say, this year we have ‘perfect’ rot conditions,” she says. “In a normal year, we can switch to the standard program from the more intensive program, but one year or one season can’t determine that. It’s all about timing; we do what we have to do when it’s time to do it. If it’s not done? You can’t turn that back.”