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Dr. Edward Francis Durner

Associate Professor
Dr. Edward Francis Durner.

Dr. Edward Francis Durner
Department of Plant Biology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
59 Dudley Road, Foran Hall, Room 286
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520

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As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, I participated in an evaluation of the performance of thornless blackberries on a divided trellis which produced my first referred publication (co-author). My graduate research provided insight into strawberry flowering physiology. My masters work at Virginia Tech produced the first published evaluation of the day-neutral flowering characteristic in strawberry determining that 'day-neutrals' were not truly day neutral, but rather quantitative long-day plants at moderate temperatures (>22C and <30C). (Since my initial work, others have revealed that at least some of the newer day-neutral cultivars are qualitative long-day (>15 hrs) plants at high temperatures (>30C).) My doctoral research at NC State evaluated the most effective method for measuring stages of flowering in large numbers of strawberry plants. My work also provided the evidence that early season yield of strawberries in the Florida winter production system was enhanced by exposure to short days in the nursery and that chilling enhanced early season production, but only if given in low doses after the primary photoperiod stimulus. In addition, I evaluated the ribbon row production system for strawberries and determined that it was not suitable for the southeastern US. I was also co-author of the original publication that demonstrated the effectiveness of the annual strawberry hill cultural system outside of a Mediterranean climate.

I joined the Horticulture Department at Rutgers in 1986 and began conducting both applied and basic tree fruit physiology research, with an emphasis on peach flower bud cold hardiness. A secondary area of research focused on rootstock - scion interactions in peach and apple. My work with the growth regulator ethephon and its interaction with various orchard practices yielded significant new information on both applied and basic characteristics of bloom delay and cold hardiness of peach flower buds. Some of this work was done cooperatively with Dr. Thomas Gianfagna, a colleague at Rutgers. Our work established that the bloom delay in peach observed with a fall application of ethephon was due to delayed heat unit accumulation caused by decreased flower bud sensitivity to warm temperatures. In addition, ethephon increased flower bud cold hardiness by increasing the supercooling capability of buds through a mechanism driven by a reduction in pistil water content coupled with enhanced pistil sugar concentrations. In more applied studies, I established that dormant pruning after the chilling requirement had been fulfilled accelerated bud growth thereby reducing bud cold hardiness through a reduction of rehardening after a dehardening episode caused by warm late-winter temperatures. The effect of pruning could be reduced with a fall application of ethephon. Whitewashing entire trees with diluted latex paint could add an additional day or two to the bloom delay afforded by fall ethephon application. The whitewash apparently reduced absorption of solar radiation by tree tissues, thus slightly reducing heat unit accumulation. In some years, a one or two day delay in bloom could significantly reduce crop losses caused by freezing temperatures during bloom. While bloom was often delayed by ethephon and or whole tree whitewashing, harvest date was not affected by either factor. However, fruit size was often slightly reduced by fall ethephon treatment.

My rootstock-centered work evaluated rootstock-induced differences in flower bud phenology, flower bud cold hardiness and woody tissue hardiness in 'Redhaven', 'Loring' and 'Rio-Oso-Gem' peach. The general performance of 'Starkspur Supreme Delicious' apple on 16 rootstocks was evaluated as part of the NC-140 Cooperative Planting.

As co-principal investigator of a USDA Low Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) (now known as SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education)) project evaluating disease resistant apple cultivars, I evaluated consumer acceptance of disease resistant cultivars. Besides determining that consumers liked some of the disease resistant cultivars, another important lesson from this work was that untrained consumers are very good at detecting differences in apple fruit quality and they can be very effective participants in work where fruit quality and consumer acceptance are important.

From the late 1990's through 2005 my research focused on photoperiod and temperature conditioning of strawberry plug plants for out of season winter production. Some components of this work were in cooperation with Dr. E. Barclay Poling of North Carolina State University. An appropriate conditioning treatment to induce significant winter cropping of the cultivar 'Sweet Charlie' in a vertical greenhouse system was identified. The system utilized vaporized sulfur as the only pesticide but it could not labeled as 'sustainable' or 'organic' since the hydroponic fertilizer used was not compliant with the National Organic Standards. Sustainable hydroponic fertilization was too expensive.

Other cooperative projects in which I have participated have included the evaluation of plant growth regulators as a possible replacement for alar in apple production, controlling crop height and side shoot production in tomato with plant bioregulators, and rapid sex-typing of asparagus for male hybrid seed production using n-propyl N-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)carbamate (NPC). All three projects led to co-authorship on refereed publications. I also developed a computer program for estimating optimum plot size for field research which was published in HortScience.

My responsibilities at Rutgers evolved over time. In 2006 my research program was placed on hiatus so that I could reorganize and lead the Student Sustainable Farm at Rutgers (formerly The Cook Student Organic Farm), a student-run 5-acre CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm with 50 to 175 shareholders that provides experiential learning of organic vegetable, herb and flower production for students at Rutgers - The State University of New Jersey. After several years without faculty direction, the farm had become disorganized and inefficient and I was asked by Dean Bob Goodman to provide leadership and direction to the farm. I supervised 60 undergraduate student interns since 2006 emphasizing sustainable production based on sound horticultural science. In 2015, direction of the farm was transferred to Dean Laura Lawson, SEBS, and transfer of the farm site from Hort Farm III to Rutgers Gardens was inititated.

In addition to my work with the student farm, I have always been actively involved in our teaching program. My philosophy for teaching is to get students interested in what you are going to teach them by illustrating the topics importance and relevance. Once students understand why they should learn something, they are motivated and interested in the material. I have advised many students regarding appropriate class selection, career options, general college issues and statistical analysis of their research data. I served as Undergraduate Curriculum Coordinator (now known as Undergraduate Program Director) from 1995 - 1998. I now serve on the Scholastic Standing Committee of The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers.

I developed the course 'Applied Plant Science Statistics' (with approval from the statistics department) to fill a void in our graduate student training. It is now a required course for our students. I have taught a minimum of 2 courses per academic year and been guest lecturer in others since 1986. My teaching responsibilities presently include 1 graduate course, 'Applied Plant Science Statistics' taught every other year and 3 undergraduate courses: 'Applied Physiology of Hort Crops' and 'Agroecology Practicum' which are both taught every year, and 'Fruit Production' which is taught every other year. I have also taught 'Small Fruit Production', 'Seminar in Horticulture', 'Principles & Practices in Fruit Production' and 'Perspectives on Agriculture & the Environment'.

My research program was revitalized this past year to investigate alternative sustainable fruit crops, particularly annually fruiting species that would fit in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market. In preliminary work I evaluated fruit crops for easy inclusion into CSA farms. Primocane-fruiting raspberries and blackberries are relatively easy to grow, productive and fit well into a CSA. However, the initial establishment costs are high and the requirement for harvest labor is often excessive. In addition, land commitment to these crops is permanent as they have perennial roots even though they are managed like an annual. Similarly, strawberries fit well in CSA but require extended land commitment and require early share distributions in much of the country as they are a late spring crop. An annual fruit crop that fits into a standard crop rotation and that is easy to grow, tasty and nutritious would allow more CSAs to incorporate fruit into their shares without the added land commitment. Goldenberries (Physalis peruviana) and ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) are underutilized, highly nutritious fruit that are easily incorporated in CSA farm production and farm market sales. Cultivar recommendations for production are lacking due to the lack of a coordinated trial assessing productivity, fruit quality (organoleptic and nutritional) and consumer preference of readily available germplasm. In addition, cultivars are often misidentified. This project will provide the first systematic evaluation, characterization and comparison of phenological development of Physalis spp. in a standardized production system to identify those with horticultural production characteristics that make them well-suited for inclusion into CSA's and local farm markets. Nutritional profiles of germplasm with superior horticultural characteristics will be developed. Organoleptic profiles and consumer taste tests and preference will be conducted for germplasm with desired horticultural characteristics and superior nutritional profiles. Ultimately nutritious, horticulturally desirable germplasm that consumers like will be identified. Seed lots of selected germplasm will be increased and made available to growers through Seed Savers Exchange. I recently submitted a proposal to the NE SARE Research and Education Grant Program entitled 'Goldenberries (Physalis peruviana) and Ground Cherries (Physalis pruinosa): Nutritious Novel Fruits for CSA Farms and Farmers Markets'. The project was not funded, but we'll try again during the next round of proposals.

Title and Address:
Associate Professor
Department of Plant Biology
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Primary Focus Area: Sustainable Agricultural Systems