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Qingbin Wang, Junjie Sun and Robert Parsons

Although organic food has rapidly emerged as an important food industry in the United States and many other countries, farmers and fruit growers need more information on consumer preferences and willingness to pay for locally grown organic food products to make better production and marketing decisions. This article presents the findings from a conjoint study on consumer valuation of major attributes of fresh apples (production method, price, certification, and product origin) and the tradeoffs between price and other attributes. Analysis results based on data from 382 respondents, or 3056 observations, in the state of Vermont suggest that there is likely a significant niche market for locally grown organic apples, and many consumers, especially people who had purchased organic food, are willing to pay significantly more for organic apples produced locally and certified by the Northeast Organic Farming Association. This study also suggests that there are significant differences in preferences between respondents who had purchased organic food and respondents who had not purchased organic food, although both groups showed a strong preference and willingness to pay for locally grown apples as compared with apples from other regions.

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Qiansheng Li, Jianjun Chen, Robert H. Stamps and Lawrence R. Parsons

This study evaluated chilling sensitivity of eight popular Dieffenbachia cultivars. Tissue culture liners were potted in 15-cm diameter pots using Vergro Container Mix A and grown in a shaded greenhouse under maximum photosynthetically active radiation of 285 μmol·m−2·s−1 for 5 months. After determining growth indices, the plants were chilled in walk-in coolers at 2, 7, or 12 °C for 6, 12, or 24 h. Chilled plants were placed back in the shaded greenhouse for chilling injury and growth evaluation. Visible symptoms of injury included chlorosis, necrosis, water-soaked patches on leaves, or complete wilting. In addition to leaf injury, stems of some cultivars chilled at 2 °C for 24 h became water-soaked at the base, which resulted in the death of either entire shoots or entire plants depending on cultivars. Leaf injury occurred in all cultivars chilled at 2 °C, except for ‘Panther’; and the longer the exposure at this temperature, the greater the injury. No visual injury was observed among plants chilled at 7 and 12 °C except ‘Tropic Honey’ that had 26% of leaves injured at 7 °C. Based on the percentage of injured leaves 12 days after chilling at 2 °C for 24 h, the sensitivity of the eight cultivars ranked as follows: Tropic Honey > Sterling > Carina ≥ Octopus > Camille > Camouflage > Star Bright > Panther. In addition to visual injury, plant growth was also affected by chilling during the subsequent 3 months of growth. All ‘Tropic Honey’ chilled at 2 °C died regardless of the tested chilling duration. Growth indices of all other cultivars except for ‘Panther’ chilled at 2 °C for 24 h significantly decreased compared with those of controls. ‘Camille’, ‘Camouflage’, ‘Carina’, and ‘Sterling’ also exhibited significant growth reduction after chilling at 2 °C for 12 h. This study showed that genetic variation in chilling sensitivity exists among cultivated Dieffenbachia. The identified chilling-tolerant cultivars could be used for breeding of new chilling-tolerant cultivars. The use of chilling-tolerant cultivars in production may reduce the chance of injury during heating outages and shipment.

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Lawrence R. Parsons, Bahman Sheikh, Robert Holden and David W. York

Reclaimed water has been safely and successfully used for more than 40 years in Florida and California. Reclaimed water in these states is regulated with restrictions more stringent than World Health Organization guidelines. In the United States, Florida is currently the largest producer and California is the second largest producer of reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is more highly tested than other sources of irrigation water, and the safety of this water has been demonstrated in these and other states. Very high application rates of reclaimed water to citrus on well-drained Florida sands increased tree growth and fruit production. Although reclaimed water contains some nutrient elements, there is usually insufficient macronutrient content to meet plant nutritional requirements. Most reclaimed waters do not have high salinity levels although they are slightly more salty than the potable waters from which they originated. With an adequate leaching fraction, salts in reclaimed water can be handled with appropriate irrigation management. Use of reclaimed water has steadily increased in Florida since 1992, but other entities besides agricultural irrigation are now competing for its use. Public acceptance of reclaimed water has also increased, and crops grown with reclaimed water in Florida and California have been marketed without a negative public reaction. Recent issues of food safety have caused some to question reclaimed water, but there is no evidence of food safety problems with its use. Although reclaimed water in Florida was initially promoted as a way to improve surface water quality, it has now become an important alternate source of water to help meet water shortages and urban demand. In California, reclaimed water has become a necessary part of statewide water management.

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Robert H. Stamps, Seenivasan Natarajan, Lawrence R. Parsons and Jianjun Chen

Four water-based cold protection systems [under-benches mist (UBM), over-roadways mist (ORM), and two among-plants fog (APF1, APF2)] were evaluated for their water use and effectiveness in protecting ornamental foliage plants from chilling injury (CI) under protected shade structures at three commercial locations in Florida. UBM used a two-stage thermostat-controlled system with mist nozzles on 25-cm above-ground risers combined with an overhead retractable heat curtain. Both ORM and APF1 had seasonally applied polyethylene film cladding and manually controlled irrigation systems. The ORM system had the mist nozzles located 1.8 m high and APF1 and APF2 systems had the low-pressure fog nozzles mounted on 25-cm above-ground risers spaced among the plants. Temperature data loggers were placed outside and inside the northwest sections of the shadehouses. ORM and the two APF systems were evaluated during freeze events in 2006, 2007, and 2008 and UBM only in 2007 and 2008. UBM, ORM, and APF1 successfully kept the shadehouse temperatures above critical chilling temperatures for all of the foliage plants. APF2 protected all foliage crops except for jungle drum “palm” (Carludovica sp.) that sustained CI. At the UBM site, the air temperatures recorded inside the shadehouse were ≈17 °C warmer than outside. Both ORM and APF1 maintained adequately warm temperatures inside the shadehouses; however, the fog system maintained equal or higher temperatures than the mist system and used 86% less water. Inside temperatures were lower with APF2 than APF1 although the emitter type was the same and the water application rates were similar. These temperature differences were attributable to the greater APF2 shadehouse surface area (SA) and volume (V) compared with APF1 and indicate that the SA and V of structures being heated need to be considered when designing water-based low-pressure fog heating systems. The ORM and both fog systems conserved water compared with using the conventional sprinkler irrigation systems. These results show the potential of water-based approaches for maintaining shadehouses above chilling temperatures during freeze events.

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L. Brandenberger, M. Baker, D. Bender, F. Dainello, R. Earhart, J. Parsons, R. Roberts, N. Roe, L. Stein, M. Valdez, K. White and R. Wiedenfeld

During the past several years, watermelon trials have been performed in the state, but not as a coordinated effort. Extensive planning in 1997 led to the establishment of a statewide watermelon trial during the 1998 growing season. The trial was performed in five major production areas of the state including: The Winter Garden (Carrizo Springs); South Plains (Lubbock); East Texas (Overton); Cross Timbers (Stephenville); and the Lower Rio Grande Valley (Weslaco). Twenty seedless and 25 seeded hybrids were evaluated at each location. Drip irrigation with black plastic mulch on free-standing soil beds was used to grow entries in each area trial and yield data was recorded in a similar manner for each site. Results were reported in a statewide extension newsletter. Future plans include a continuation of the trial in the hope that multiple-year data will provide a basis for valid variety recommendations for watermelon producers in all areas of the state.