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Xin Zhao, C.B. Rajashekar, Edward E. Carey and Weiqun Wang

Demand for organically grown produce is increasing, largely due to concerns of consumers about health and nutrition. Previous studies have not shown a consistent difference of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, between organic food crops and the conventional counterparts. However, to date, little consideration has been given to phytochemicals, secondary plant metabolites with potential health-promoting properties. We first discuss factors that can infl uence the levels of phytochemicals in crops, and then we critically review the results of published studies that have compared the effects of organic and conventional production systems on phytochemical contents of fruit and vegetables. The evidence overall seems in favor of enhancement of phytochemical content in organically grown produce, but there has been little systematic study of the factors that may contribute to increased phytochemical content in organic crops. It remains to be seen whether consistent differences will be found, and the extent to which biotic and abiotic stresses, and other factors such as soil biology, contribute to those differences. Problems associated with most studies tend to weaken the validity of comparisons. Given the limitations of most published studies, needs for future research are discussed.

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Wenjing Guan, Xin Zhao, Richard Hassell and Judy Thies

Grafting with resistant rootstocks is an effective strategy to manage a variety of soilborne diseases and root-knot nematodes in solanaceous and cucurbitaceous vegetables. In addition, improved resistance to some foliar diseases and viruses has also been reported in grafted plants. Hence, grafting technology is considered an important and innovative practice of integrated pest management and a promising alternative for soil fumigants in vegetable production. Inherent resistance within rootstocks and improved plant nutrient uptake are generally suggested as the main reasons for improved disease control in grafted vegetables. However, increasing evidence indicated that systemic defense mechanisms may also play an important role in plant defense as a result of grafting. This review analyzes current literature on the use of grafting techniques for disease management in vegetable crops, discusses potential mechanisms associated with grafting-conferred plant defense, and identifies needs for future research to promote more effective and efficient use of grafting technology to support sustainable vegetable production.

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Xin Zhao, Edward Carey, James Nechols, Kim Williams and Weiqun Wang

Implications of dietary phenolic compounds for human health and disease prevention have been indicated by a body of literature. A greenhouse pot study was performed to investigate the impacts of fertilizer source and preventive insecticide application on phenolic compound levels in pac choi [Brassica rapa (L.) cv. Mei Qing]. A two-way randomized complete-block design with five replications was used in this experiment. Fertilizer source consisted of two levels: conventional fertilizer (pre-plant application of Osmocote slow-release fertilizer), and organic fertilizer (pre-plant application of vermicompost and fertigation with compost tea and fish emulsion). Insecticide application consisted of three levels: organic (pyrethrin) vs. conventional (permethrin), and a plain water control. At harvest, total phenolics and individual phenolic compounds in pac choi leaves (blades) were analyzed by Folin assay and HPLC, respectively. Head weight of pac choi was significantly higher under conventional fertilizer treatment, while it was not affected by insecticides. Total phenolic content of pac choi was significantly increased by organic fertilizer treatment. HPLC results indicated that organic fertilizer treatment resulted in significantly higher levels of individual phenolic compounds, including chlorogenic acid and ferulic acid. In contrast, preventive insecticide application showed little effect on the phenolics in pac choi. Correlation analysis excluded the influence of plant size (head weight) on phenolic content in pac choi. Differential N-forms, rates of nutrient release, and/or variable nutrient content in organic and conventional fertilizer treatments may contribute to elevated phenolic content in organically fertilized pac choi.

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Han Yulin, Ha Huiquan, Xin Huipu, Zhao Pengxiang and Shi Xinwei

Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni was hydroponically raised on the matrices of sand or slag and sprinkled periodically with three different nutrient solutions (BD, KO, Knop) respectively. The conventional raising method of Hailin state farm was used as the control. The results showed that the seedlings grown on the matrix of sand and sprinkled with Knop nutrient solution were stronger with well-developed root systems, obvious spindle-shaped root tubers, and less plant diseases, no insect pests, and weeds, which was significantly better than the control method in respect to the root length, root fresh weight, stem height, shoot fresh weight, and number of leaves, and significantly better than other treatments in respect to the root length, root fresh weight and stem height. This raising method is worth extending.

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Xin Zhao, Edward E. Carey and Fadi M. Aramouni

Consumers of organic food tend to believe that it tastes better than its conventional counterpart. However, there is a lack of scientific studies on sensory analysis of organic food. A consumer taste test was conducted to compare the acceptability of organically and conventionally grown spinach. Spinach samples were collected from organically and conventionally managed plots at the Kansas State University Research and Extension Center, Olathe. One hundred-twenty-two untrained panelists (80 female and 42 male) participated in this consumer study. Fresh and 1-week-old spinach leaves were evaluated by 60 and 62 consumers, respectively, using a 9-point hedonic scale (9 = like extremely, 5 = neither like nor dislike, 1 = dislike extremely). The ANOVA results showed that fresh organic spinach had a higher preference score than corresponding conventional spinach, although not at a significant level (P = 0.1790). For the 1-week-old spinach, the difference diminished, and instead, conventional spinach had a higher preference rating. Among 61 consumers who made comments regarding the sensory evaluation, 29 claimed that organic spinach was more tasty and flavorful; 19 consumers thought conventional spinach was better; 13 consumers could not tell the difference. Even though this consumer study did not reveal significant differences in consumer preference for organic vs. conventional spinach, further well-designed sensory tests are warranted given the trends indicated in our study. Assessment of sensory attributes of organic vegetables after storage also deserves further attention. Ideally, both consumer tests and descriptive analysis using trained panelists will be considered.

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Charles E. Barrett, Xin Zhao and Alan W. Hodges

Growers are looking for sustainable alternatives to methyl bromide as a soil fumigant that are effective and economical. Increased demand for organically produced fruits and vegetables has also contributed to the need for environmentally friendly soil-borne disease control methods. Grafting may be a valuable tool for vegetable growers to cope with pest management challenges in production of cucurbits and solanaceous crops; however, there are concerns regarding the higher costs associated with the use of grafted plants in the United States. The main objective of this 2-year study was to determine if grafting with a resistant rootstock could be cost-effective to overcome root-knot nematodes (RKN) (Meloidogyne sp.) and maintain fruit yield in organic heirloom tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production in Florida's sandy soils. The heirloom tomato cultivar Brandywine was grafted onto the rootstock ‘Multifort’. Nongrafted and grafted ‘Brandywine’ plants were grown organically in two fields that exhibited different levels of RKN infestations. Grafted and nongrafted transplants were estimated to cost $0.78 and $0.17 per plant, respectively. The cost of rootstock seeds accounted for 36% ($0.28/plant) of the total cost of the grafted transplants and 46% of the cost difference between grafted and nongrafted plants. Sensitivity analyses were conducted using these estimated transplant production costs and crop yield data from the field trials as well as price information for heirloom tomato. Results showed that under severe RKN pressure, grafting may be an economically feasible pest control measure to help maintain a profitable production given that the risk of economic crop losses due to RKN outweighed the higher cost of grafted transplants.

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Xin Zhao, Qianru Liu, M. Tatiana Sanchez and Nicholas S. Dufault

Fusarium wilt of watermelon can be effectively managed by grafting with resistant rootstocks. Excision and regeneration of grafted seedling roots is a common practice among cucurbit-grafting nurseries that has not been thoroughly examined. The objectives of this study were to compare the performance of grafted and nongrafted watermelon plants under both greenhouse and field conditions when inoculated with Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. niveum (FON) race 2, and assess the effect of root excision on growth of grafted plants with Cucurbita moschata and Cucurbita maxima × C. moschata rootstocks. Two greenhouse experiments (Fall 2015 and Spring 2016) and one field trial (Spring 2016) of seedless watermelon ‘Melody’ were conducted in this study. In both greenhouse experiments, inoculated, nongrafted watermelon plants showed a significantly higher percentage of recovered Fusarium spp. colonies (70% to 75%) compared with grafted treatments (0% to 7.5%). Some plant growth measurements, including the longest vine length and aboveground fresh and dry weight, indicated less vigorous growth for nongrafted plants compared with the grafted treatments. Significantly higher percent recovery of Fusarium spp. below the graft union was observed in the grafted plants with root excision and regeneration treatment (3.7%) in contrast to the intact root treatment (0.5%), suggesting that the root excision method may possibly create entry points for FON infections. Overall, the root excision treatment showed little influence on aboveground growth and root characteristics of grafted plants. Yield of grafted watermelon with FON inoculation in the fumigated field trial was significantly higher than that of noninoculated, nongrafted ‘Melody’ (NGM) control as reflected by the increase of fruit number and size. Averaged over all the grafted treatments, the increase in marketable fruit number and weight reached 108.3% and 240.9%, respectively, and the total fruit number and weight increase was at 80.0% and 237.2%, respectively. However, grafted plants also exhibited greater levels of root-knot nematode infestation as indicated by the significantly higher root galling ratings. Results from this study demonstrated that grafting with squash rootstocks can effectively limit FON colonization in seedless watermelon plants, although more research in rootstock selection and testing is needed to optimize the use of grafted plants for improving plant growth and fruit yield.

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Desire Djidonou, Xin Zhao, Karen E. Koch and Lincoln Zotarelli

Growth and yield typically increase when tomato plants are grafted to selected interspecific hybrid rootstocks from which distinctive root system morphologies are envisioned to aid nutrient uptake. We assessed these relationships using a range of exogenous nitrogen (N) supplies under field production conditions. This study analyzed the impact of N on growth, root distribution, N uptake, and N use of determinate ‘Florida 47’ tomato plants grafted onto vigorous, interspecific, hybrid tomato rootstocks ‘Multifort’ and ‘Beaufort’. Six N rates, 56, 112, 168, 224, 280, and 336 kg·ha−1, were applied to sandy soil in Live Oak, FL, during Spring 2010 and 2011. During both years, the leaf area index, aboveground biomass, and N accumulation (leaf blade, petiole, stem, and fruit) responded quadratically to the increase in N fertilizer rates. Averaged over the two seasons, the aboveground biomass, N accumulation, N use efficiency (NUE), and N uptake efficiency (NUpE) were ≈29%, 31%, 30%, and 33% greater in grafted plants than in nongrafted controls, respectively. More prominent increases occurred in the root length density (RLD) in the uppermost 15 cm of soil; for grafted plants, RLD values in this upper 15-cm layer were significantly greater than those of nongrafted plants during both years with an average increase of 69% over the two seasons. Across all the grafted and nongrafted plants, the RLD decreased along the soil profile, with ≈60% of the total RLD concentrated in the uppermost 0 to 15 cm of the soil layer. These results demonstrated a clear association between enhanced RLD, especially in the upper 15 cm of soil, and improvements in tomato plant growth, N uptake, and N accumulation with grafting onto vigorous rootstocks.

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Desire Djidonou, Amarat H. Simonne, Karen E. Koch, Jeffrey K. Brecht and Xin Zhao

In this study, the effects of grafting with interspecific hybrid rootstocks on field-grown tomato fruit quality were evaluated over a 2-year period. Fruit quality attributes from determinate ‘Florida 47’ tomato plants grafted onto either ‘Beaufort’ or ‘Multifort’ rootstocks were compared with those from non- and self-grafted controls. Grafted plants had higher fruit yields than non- and self-grafted plants, and increased production of marketable fruit by ≈41%. The increased yield was accompanied by few major differences in nutritional quality attributes measured for these fruit. Although grafting with the interspecific rootstocks led to consistently small, but significant increases of fruit moisture (≈0.6%), flavor attributes such as total titratable acidity (TTA) and the ratio of soluble solids content (SSC) to TTA were not significantly altered. Among the antioxidants evaluated, ascorbic acid concentration was reduced by 22% in fruit from grafted plants, but significant effects were not evident for either total phenolics or antioxidant capacity as assayed by oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC). Levels of carotenoids (lycopene, β-carotene, and lutein) were similar in fruit from grafted plants with hybrid rootstocks compared with non- and self-grafted controls. Overall, the seasonal differences outweighed the grafting effects on fruit quality attributes. This study showed that grafting with interspecific hybrid rootstocks could be an effective horticultural technique for enhancing fruit yield of tomato plants. Despite the modest reduction in ascorbic acid content associated with the use of these rootstocks, grafting did not cause major negative impacts on fruit composition or nutritional quality of fresh-market tomatoes.

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Wenjing Guan, Xin Zhao, Donald W. Dickson, Maria L. Mendes and Judy Thies

Interest in specialty melons (Cucumis melo) with distinctive fruit characteristics has grown in the United States in recent years. However, disease management remains a major challenge in specialty melon production. In this study, grafting experiments were conducted to determine the effectiveness of using Cucumis metulifer, a species known for its genetic resistance to root-knot nematodes (RKNs; Meloidogyne spp.), as a potential rootstock for managing RKNs in susceptible specialty melon cultivars. In the greenhouse experiment, honeydew melon ‘Honey Yellow’ was grafted onto C. metulifer and inoculated with M. incognita race 1. The grafted plants exhibited significantly lower gall and egg mass indices and fewer eggs compared with non- and self-grafted ‘Honey Yellow’. Cucumis metulifer was further tested as a rootstock in conventional and organic field trials using honeydew melon ‘Honey Yellow’ and galia melon ‘Arava’ as scions. ‘Honey Yellow’ and ‘Arava’ grafted onto C. metulifer exhibited significantly lower galling and reduced RKN population densities in the organic field; however, total and marketable fruit yields were not significantly different from non- and self-grafted plants. Although the improvement of RKN resistance did not translate into yield enhancements, incorporating grafted specialty melons with C. metulifer rootstock into double-cropping systems with RKN-susceptible vegetables may benefit the overall crop production by reducing RKN population densities in the soil. At the conventional field site, which was not infested with RKNs, ‘Honey Yellow’ grafted onto C. metulifer rootstock had a significantly lower total fruit yield than non-grafted ‘Honey Yellow’ plants; however, fruit yields were similar for ‘Arava’ grafted onto C. metulifer rootstock and non-grafted ‘Arava’ plants. Although no significant impacts on the fruit quality attributes of ‘Honey Yellow’ were observed, grafting onto C. metulifer decreased the flesh firmness of ‘Arava’ in both field trials and resulted in a reduction in total soluble solids content under conventional production. In summary, grafting RKN-susceptible melons onto C. metulifer rootstock offers promise for growing these specialty melons; however, more studies are needed to elucidate the scion–rootstock interaction effect on fruit yield and quality.