Seyed Mojtaba Mansouripour, postdoctoral research associate at the Cal Poly Strawberry Center at San Luis Obispo, presents the results of host resistance to Macrophomina crown rot in strawberries to attendees during the center’s third annual field day July 18. ( Photo courtesy Felipe Vallejo )

The Cal Poly Strawberry Center at San Luis Obispo continues to expand, both physically and in the research and programs it provides.

Now approaching its fifth year, the facility has had a new five-year contract finalized for financial support from the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission, said Gerald Holmes, the center’s director.

The commission will provide up to $1 million per year for five years.

The facility also has received $2.5 million in external grants.

In 2018, the Strawberry Center expanded to a 3,000-square-foot office and entomology lab at a technology park on campus and welcomed post-doctoral researcher Mojtaba Mansouripour, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Holmes filled two other positions — an entomologist, Peter Shearer, and a farm manager, Drew Summerfield.

In all, the center has six people on its scientific staff plus an administrative coordinator along with 15-20 students working at any given time.

Pathologist Shashika Hewavitharana is the newest member of the staff.

The center also offers work experience and internships that vary from year to year and offer “really good experience working in all aspects of strawberry production,” in keeping with Cal Poly’s core principle of learn-by-doing, Holmes said.

Researchers are in their third year evaluating strawberries for their resistance against macrophomina, crown rot and verticillium wilt, he said. Anthracnose has been added this year.

A highlight of 2018 was the Strawberry Center’s second annual industry field day in July and its automation summit in January. The second automation summit took place this year on April 3.

Anyone interested in strawberry research was invited to come out and get a firsthand look at the work the center is doing.

“All three events were extremely successful,” Holmes said, exceeding expectations in regard to attendance and sponsorships.

“We had 244 people show up (for the field day), making it the largest strawberry event in the state,” he said. Researchers from strawberry shippers, nurseries and processors turned out as well as suppliers of crop protection tools, fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, irrigation supplies and farm vehicles.

Thirty-two sponsors supported the field day financially, and Holmes expected to have more sponsors for this year’s event, which was July 18. Attendees received a hefty information packet and lot of handouts.

“They leave with some ideas about how they can do things better,” Holmes said.

The field day also provided a valuable opportunity for networking and interaction.

“It was a chance for people to meet each other and interact around the theme of applied research in strawberries,” he said.

Information about the center is available on its website and its Facebook page