An Italian Excusion

June 26, 2013

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to be present some research data on the nitrogen work that we are doing in my program in Matera, Italy.  Matera, Italy is located in southern Italy, in the region of Basilicata.  It is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage site which means it has special cultural significance.  In fact, there is evidence that Paleolithic man lived in the limestone caverns of Matera.  It was definitely humbling to be around dwellings in which people have continuously lived for over 9,000 years.  We also toured a very large cistern, in which I was super claustrophobic!!

A View of the Sasso Caveoso (houses built out of caves in the limestone)
Matera, Italy

There were many wonderful talks on the peach genome, genetics and breeding, orchard management, and fruit quality, both pre- and post-harvest.  For a list of abstracts presented:  One thing I thought was interesting was a presentation by Dr. Ted DeJong, from UC Davis in which he stated that early ripening peaches will always struggle to get the fruit size that later ripening varieties do, and that one option might be to increase the carbon storage.  Given a finite volume of the tree structure, I wondered – how much carbon (starch) do we store now?  An interesting future research project as we work to optimize fruit size in our subtropical climate.Finally, the peach field excursion was the most interesting as we traveled southwest towards the “toe” of the boot in Southern Italy to Sibari.  In Matera, much of the agriculture is dryland-based, with many olive orchards and volunteer fig trees.  However, as you go further to the west, the rivers of the Apennine Mountains provide water through an irrigation system, for many hectares of citrus, stone fruit, and grapes.  We also saw rice production, cherries, and more olive orchards – which was a great diversity.

Our first stop was to CampoVerde, a large group that grows, harvests, and packs nectarines, peaches, table grapes, pears and apricots.  Their packing line, equipment and fruit was much as it is in the U.S. – although they had a large “farmstand” packing line, that packed fruit into plastic containers with handles.  Each contained about 7-8 pieces of fruit, and were stacked in plastic stackable lugs.




Nectarines being run over packing line, Sibari, Italy

Next, we went to Assofruit Italia, just outside of Policoro.  This cooperative just started in 2010, with an unusual twist – young people leading the company.  It was so refreshing to see young people (late 30s, early 40s) investing in the stone fruit industry and agriculture in general.  This group interestingly has about 300 hectares (~740 acres) of peach trees under plastic cover that they use to speed fruit development.  They can gain up to 4 weeks advanced ripening, placing them in the same timeframe as Morocco, which is the first to ship fruit to Europe.  Even with fruit on the market at the same time as other countries in the European Union, the area has a superior reputation for fruit quality and flavor, and so they can get a good price for their fruit compared to other areas in Europe/Africa.

Apricots under plastic covers, Policoro, Italy

We returned through Metaponto as we headed back to Matera, and visited the ruins of Metapontum, which was an ancient Greek colony.  It was founded between 700-690 BC and the most famous inhabitant was Pythagoras, who invented the Pythagorean Theorem (a2 + b2 = c2).  The theatre and the foundations of four of the temples dedicated to Apollo, Hera, Artemis, and Athena have remnants that exist, with some modern attempts at protecting what remains.       Metapontum2

Metapontum3After our visit to the ruins, we headed back to Matera for one last day of talks on fruit quality.  An interesting instrument that I am considering looking at for use to determine harvest date here in Florida is the Index of Absorbance Difference, which measures the amount of chlorophyll in the peach fruit.  This helps to determine when the fruit are physiologically ripe.  I can see this being a challenge with 100% blush varieties however, like ‘UFBeauty’ and ‘FlordaBest’.  It’s called a “DA Meter” and was developed in cooperation with Professor G. Costa at the University of Bologna (  A future research project that needs funding!

It was a wonderful trip, and I got another stamp in my passport!  But, it was wonderful to kiss my kids on their cheeks again after enduring U.S. Customs at JFK.