A four-year research project by researchers at Kansas State University and the University of Florida aims to help small fruit and vegetable growers reduce postharvest loss.

“The goal is to increase the availability of locally grown food by reducing the loss of fresh fruits and vegetables after they’ve been harvested,” Eleni Pliakoni, K-State assistant professor of horticulture and lead researcher on the project, said in a news release from K-State.

The project, which started March 1, is funded by a $1 million Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The study is one of only five funded out of 38 proposals submitted to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, according to the release.

Researchers are developing approaches that can be used before and after harvest to reduce crop losses from decay, according to the release.

After the team has developed tools that are most effective in the lab, it will ask growers to determine the most practical ones to implement on small farms, according to the release. Digital tools include a smartphone app that will help growers estimate produce losses on their farms.

The research will focus on tomatoes and spinach, planted in high tunnels and open fields in both states, according to the release. The high tunnels will help protect the crops from the abundant rain Florida typically receives and from the high winds in Kansas, according to the release. Postharvest treatments to be researched include hot water treatment, chemical washes and modified atmosphere packaging, according to the release.

Others on the research team include K-State assistant horticulture professor Cary Rivard and University of Florida horticulture professors Jeffrey Brecht and Xin Zhao, and plant pathologist Jerry Bartz, according to the release.

“The great thing about the partnership between the University of Florida and Kansas State University is that we both bring unique strengths to the team, whether it’s in postharvest technology and pathology, high tunnel production, or extension and outreach,” Pliakoni said in the release.