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R. Karina Gallardo and David Zilberman

Mechanical harvesters engineered for fresh-market highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) have the potential to relieve the burden associated with relying on human labor for harvesting a crop. However, such devices must be effective and maintain fruit quality to be economically viable. Results from an empirical economic model and a series of sensitivity analyses signal that shortening the gap between prices for the fresh and processing market would increase the likelihood of adoption, especially if prices for the fresh market drop by 26% and prices for the processing market increase by 63%. If changes in prices would occur at the same time, then prices for fresh-market blueberries would have to drop by 23% and for processing blueberries would have to increase by 9%. Increases in labor wages of 61% would make mechanical harvesters more profitable than hand harvesting. A 63% reduction in yield losses due to mechanical harvest in the field must occur for mechanical harvesters to become a profitable alternative. If only quality losses (e.g., presence of bruises on the external surface of the fruit) are reduced and yield losses are kept constant, then a 43% reduction in quality losses must occur for mechanical harvesters to become a profitable alternative. If both yield and quality losses are reduced, then a 20% reduction in yield losses and 29% reduction in quality losses would be required for mechanical harvesters to become profitable. We found that a mechanical harvester in its current incarnation is not yet a proven profitable alternative for fresh-market blueberries, given all initial assumptions considered in this study. The industry urges technical improvements to decrease harvest-induced loss from mechanical harvesting in the field and loss due to presence of bruises on the fruit external surface to ensure the massive adoption of mechanical harvesters, especially for fresh-market blueberries.

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R. Karina Gallardo, Eugene Kupferman, and Ann Colonna

In light of increasing consumer demand for optimal fresh fruit quality, experience attributes are crucial to ensure repeated purchases and price premiums. Challenges in offering consistent quality throughout the marketing year make ‘Anjou’ pears an interesting case in which to analyze the effects of experience quality attributes on willingness to pay. We analyzed data from choice experiments conducted along with sensory tests at two different times during the marketing year. Results indicate that individuals are willing to discount between 15.43 cents/kg to 37.48 cents/kg for a one-unit increase in pear firmness and pay between 19.84 cents/kg to 24.25 cents/kg for a one-unit increase in soluble solid concentration. This information would help the industry assign priority to the factors likely enhancing the characteristics leading to repeated sales at price premiums. Also, this information is valuable to related sciences because it provides market information for focusing research portfolios on quality characteristics likely to increase pears’ commercial viability.

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R. Karina Gallardo, Diem Nguyen, Vicki McCracken, Chengyan Yue, James Luby, and James R. McFerson

Over 60 rosaceous crop breeding programs exist in North America, but no information has been available on which traits are targeted for selection or how breeders make such decisions. We surveyed all active rosaceous fruit breeding programs in the United States and Canada to determine: 1) the relative importance of over 50 plant traits that breeders select for 2) the likelihood of selection for the most important traits; and 3) the factors influencing breeders’ decisions. A double-bounded Tobit model was used to investigate the effect of supply chain parties, technical and socioeconomic challenges, and crop characteristics on the likelihood of selection for trait clusters. We found that consumer-driven forces positively impact the likelihood of selection for traits more than producer forces and a breeder’s own experience. Technical factors are as important as socioeconomic factors but less important than market-related factors. Our findings provide the first ever evidence that a socioeconomic approach in specialty crop breeding programs can contribute to an improved understanding of the effects of different supply chain factors on breeding programs’ trait priority setting.

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Shuoli Zhao, Chengyan Yue, James Luby, Karina Gallardo, Vicki McCracken, James McFerson, and Desmond R. Layne

This study investigates U.S. peach producers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for potential improvement of peach fruit attributes. Data were collected from 124 U.S. peach producers. The choice experiment and socioeconomic data were analyzed using mixed logit (ML) models to estimate the producer WTP and preferences for peach attributes. The results indicate that the WTP for attribute values vary across peach producers from different production regions (California and eastern United States), with different selling targets (fresh and processed) and different orchard sizes (smaller or larger than 15 acres). These results provide useful information for peach breeders in prioritizing traits in their breeding programs.

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R. Karina Gallardo, Ines Hanrahan, Yeon A Hong, and James J. Luby

This study assessed the potential impacts on grower profits when the crop load management is not optimal. We used a hedonic pricing model to estimate the relationship between ‘Honeycrisp’ apple (Malus ×domestica) quantities and prices by size category. This information was used to assess potential changes in grower returns as the grower shifts production toward certain size fruit. A grower would realize a loss of $5332/acre if production of size 48 to 88 count per 40-lb box decreased by 5% and size 100 to 163 count/box increased by 5% compared with current ‘Honeycrisp’ size distribution. In addition, we used experimental auctions to estimate consumers’ willingness-to-pay (WTP) for ‘Honeycrisp’ quality characteristics. Apple consumers, in this study, were willing to pay an average of $0.12/lb more for a one-unit increase in soluble solids concentration. A $0.12/lb discount for a decrease in soluble solids content (SSC) would represent a $1362/acre loss. Optimal sizes and SSC estimated in this study are linked with crop loads no larger than seven fruit/cm2 trunk cross-sectional area under Washington state growing conditions. Given the increasing popularity of ‘Honeycrisp’, growers and allied industries should be aware of the importance of preserving the quality of this cultivar to maintain price premiums and thus profit margins.

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Suzette P. Galinato, R. Karina Gallardo, David M. Granatstein, and Mike Willett

Apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella) is an insect pest of apple (Malus domestica) that is currently limited in extent in the commercial production areas of Washington State thanks to a quarantine program. We estimate the costs to the Washington economy if this pest were to spread more widely. Apple maggot control costs are related to the pressure of codling moth (Cydia pomonella), the most prevalent insect pest in commercial apple production in Washington State. It was found that the losses for the Washington apple industry’s range from $510 million to $557 million, depending on the codling moth pressure. Our findings underscore the importance of an efficient quarantine program that minimized the risk of spreading the pest along with additional costs associated with quarantined areas.

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Chengyan Yue, R. Karina Gallardo, Vicki A. McCracken, James Luby, James R. McFerson, Lan Liu, and Amy Iezzoni

Rosaceous crops (e.g., almond, apple, apricot, caneberry, cherry, pear, peach, plum, rose, and strawberry) contribute to human health and well-being and collectively constitute the economic backbone of numerous North American rural communities. We conducted a survey of U.S. and Canadian rosaceous fruit crop breeders to assess priority setting in their programs, sources of information for setting priorities, and challenges in making technical and management decisions. Input from producers and consumers was most important in establishing breeding program targets, although respondents’ direct interaction with consumers was not frequent. Breeding targets and management decisions were mostly associated with the breeder’s type of organization, scope and range of crops, and intended use of the crop (fresh, processed, or both).

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Ruchen Zhou, Chengyan Yue, Shuoli Zhao, R. Karina Gallardo, Vicki McCracken, James J. Luby, and James R. McFerson

Consumer preferences for attributes of fresh peach fruit in the United States are largely unknown on a national basis. We used a choice experiment to explore market segmentation based on consumer heterogeneous preference for fruit attributes including external color, blemish, firmness, sweetness, flavor, and price. We collected the data using an online survey with 800 U.S. consumers. Using a latent class logit model, we identified three segments of consumers differing by different sets of preferred quality attributes: experience attribute-oriented consumers, who valued fruit quality (48.8% of the sample); search attribute-oriented consumers, who valued fruit appearance (33.7% of the sample); and balanced consumers, who considered search attributes and experience attributes but who valued each in a balanced way (17.5% of the sample). Each group demonstrated differentiated demographics and purchasing habits. The results have important marketing implications for peach breeders and suppliers.

Open access

R. Karina Gallardo, Kara Grant, David J. Brown, James R. McFerson, Karen M. Lewis, Todd Einhorn, and Mario Miranda Sazo

Advances in precision agriculture technologies provide opportunities to improve the efficiency of agricultural production systems, especially for high-value specialty crops such as fresh apples (Malus domestica). We distributed an online survey to apple growers in Washington, New York, and Michigan to elicit stakeholder perceptions of precision agriculture technologies. Findings from this study demonstrated that growers are willing to adopt precision agriculture technologies when they receive results from applied research projects and are engaged with active extension programs. The availability of customized services and purchasing and rental options may minimize the effects of the economies of size that create barriers to adopting increasing access to technologies. Finally, respondents deemed collaborative efforts between industry and academic institutions crucial for adapting the innovation to better address the needs of growers.

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Seth D. Wannemuehler, James J. Luby, Chengyan Yue, David S. Bedford, R. Karina Gallardo, and Vicki A. McCracken

Incorporating DNA-informed breeding techniques can improve selection efficiency for desired traits as compared with conventional breeding methods that do not use DNA-informed techniques. Incorporation of DNA technologies requires additional costs associated with reagents, equipment, and labor. To elucidate the cost-effectiveness of DNA-informed breeding in perennial crops with multiple years per generation, we conducted a cost–benefit analysis examining incorporation of marker-assisted selection (MAS), a type of DNA-informed breeding, applied to an apple breeding program. Annual operational costs for a midwest apple breeding program were used to develop a simulation with inputs including itemized costs and per unit costs for procedures at each breeding program stage. Simulations compared costs of MAS breeding techniques to conventional breeding methods to identify the break-even point (BEP) where cost-savings associated with MAS equals the accrued additional costs. Additional sensitivity analyses were conducted to examine changes in laboratory costs, seedling maintenance costs, and seedling evaluation costs. We found the BEP for this program occurs when MAS results in a removal rate of 13.18%, and changes to other costs (i.e., maintenance costs) result in a smaller percent decrease to the overall program budget. Our findings are useful to perennial crop breeding programs in which managers are considering incorporating DNA-informed breeding techniques.