Campus: FRESNO -- October 17, 2006

Pistachio Lab at Fresno State may be first of its kind; harvest to begin Wednesday (Oct. 17)

Venture provides new opportunities for College of Ag's pomology curriculum

California State University, Fresno's newest farm partnership venture, a 22-acre pistachio field laboratory planted five years ago, begins its first harvest Wednesday, Oct. 17, with processed and packaged pistachio products expected to be ready for the holidays.

Gino Favagrossa, Fresno State orchard manager, believes the lab may be the only commercial pistachio planting on a university campus dedicated to teaching and research.

With support from the local pistachio industry, the new venture provides the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology "with a good-sized field for teaching students and conducting strategic and applied research," said Dr. Ganesan Srinivasan, director of the University Agricultural Laboratory (the campus farm).

The laboratory, at the corner of Cedar and Sierra avenues on the university's 1,000-acre farm, has approximately 3,000 trees of Kerman variety pistachios. There are 21 female trees for every male tree for proper pollination and to facilitate fruit set, he said.

"The orchard is expected to yield 8,000 pounds of pistachios in its first harvest. The nuts will be processed and packaged with industry support and will be available to consumers for purchase through Fresno State's Farm Market," Srinivasan said.

Packages of pistachios will carry the market's Farm Fresh logo, developed this year and introduced at the Summer Solstice event in June. Proceeds, as with all student-produced ag products, will benefit Fresno State's agriculture programs.

The pistachio lab and the partnership with industry is significant because it has created a unique opportunity for the university's pomology curriciculum, said Dr. Todd Einhorn, assistant professor of pomology in the college of agriculture's Department of Plant Science.

Pomology, from the Latin pomum, is a branch of botany that studies and cultivates fruits. Research focuses on new techniques to improve fruit quality, regulation of production periods and reduction of production cost.

"The pomology curriculum at Fresno State is unique in its mission to offer students the underpinning physiological principles of fruit production and provide students with opportunity to directly apply and further their knowledge through active hands-on fruit culture on our farm," Einhorn said.

"The pistachio industry has enriched Fresno State students with an incredible opportunity to directly learn about a fascinating, economically viable crop first-hand."

Fruit science lab sessions will directly incorporate the planting into its curriculum activities for students, explained Einhorn who joined the CAST faculty in January and teaches five classes that incorporate pomology into the Plant Science Department's horticulture program. He said more labs are being added as the college moves to strengthen its pomology curriculum.

Now that the pistachio planting is bearing fruit, students can conduct special crop projects in this orchard to get hands-on experience, Einhorn said. He noted that for many of the ag students, this will be their first opportunity to experience a pistachio harvest first-hand.

"They will take an active role in all aspects of the two-semester project, beginning with a budget, while trees are heading into dormancy, and ending with marketing the harvest, " Einhorn said. "If students are successful in their farming operations, they are paid a percentage of the profits."

Einhorn's research also is developing initiatives to investigate pistachio response to alternative deficit irrigation practices -- research that could increase production efficiency for pistachio growers, conserve water and cut costs.

"In addition, undergraduate/graduate student participation offers training and skill development in modern agricultural technologies and research," he said. "The results: future agricultural leaders who are competent and experienced in the culture of pistachios."

The pistachio harvesting also provides a rare opportunity for another College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology class, Mechanized Agriculture (tractors and equipments), said professor Kenneth Heupel, a lecturer in the Plant Science Department whose 24 students also will be in the pistachio grove today when the class meets from 1 to 4 p.m.

"The Ag Mechanics class examines various tractors and field equipment used in agriculture and provides hands-on training," Heupel said. "Today my class will get a rare opportunity to observe a pistachio harvester, which is a specialized piece of equipment, and possibly a chance to operate the equipment themselves."

Favagrossa noted that pistachios are about two to three weeks late this year, as are most crops, because of unusual weather conditions earlier in the year.

Contact: Tom Uribes 559.278.5366 or 246.1717

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