Integrated strategies to mitigate environmental stresses in vegetable crops
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Global trends indicate an increased interest in the production of vegetable crops in response to environmental and health concerns, population growth, as well as the potential for higher economic returns. It is estimated that the future economic growth and increased health awareness are likely to cause an upsurge in global demand for vegetables. This will cause major changes in the use of water, land, and environmental resources. How we can maximize water productivity, increase the adaptation to drought and heat stress (tolerance or resistance), maintain or improve the quality and nutrition for consumers, and ultimately enhance the economic returns for farmers and industry are challenging issues in the 'farm to the table' chain.Vegetable production, year-round produce availability, and consistent quality are heavily dependent on evolving integrated technologies in balance with the use of resources. It is the aim of this project to contribute to the increase of a fresh and healthy food supply, environmental sustainability, and agricultural competitiveness at both local and global markets.Field, greenhouse and laboratory experiments will emphasize the morphological and physiological characterization of root/shoot responses of diverse germplasm in order to better understand plant acclimation to stress. This understanding is a pre-requisite to develop improved production strategies in water limited and hot environments. Specifically this project will address: a) best environmental and management strategies to improve seedling establishment, crop development, and quality; b) develop genotypes to adapt to heat and drought stress through selection of critical plant/root traits playing a major role imparting stress tolerance, c) selection of crop varieties for high water use efficiency and heat tolerance in open irrigated fields as well as protected cultivation (high tunnel and hydroponic systems). We expect that higher yields and production efficiency resulting from the application of integrated strategies in combination with adapted germplasm will enhance farmers' profitability over the long term. At the larger scale, we expect that increasing stress tolerance/resistance will improve yield and quality to 'Feed Our World', while 'Protecting Our Environment' by better management of land and water resources.