Sampson Independent

The Sweetness of Research

In a field, Dr. Alyssa Koehler held a small stevia plant as a crowd gathered around at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.

The leaves of the green plant are very sweet and includes several health benefits. But the one in her hand was not perfect and was damaged by brown spots known as septoria — a fungus. As a plant pathologist from the North Carolina State University, it’s something she working to prevent. Koehler was one of many presenters during the 2018 Stevia Field Day held Thursday at the research station in Clinton. During the tour, visitors viewed equipment, breeding plots, and weed control techniques. The event was part of a multi-state consortium working with stevia.

“It’s on everyone’s radar,” Koehler said about the leaf spots that starts with small specs which could expand depending on the season and environment. “A lot of our work has been on trying to time fungicides and other control management strategies.”

Stevia is becoming popular in the United States as companies look for sugar substitutes and extracted from the leaves of the plant. According to research, stevia is healthier no-calorie alternative.

Koehler is working with David Shew, a NCSU professor of plant pathology, on diseases effecting the plant and management practices such as finding fungicides and the right time to use them

Roger Batts, the Interregional Research Project No. 4 Research (IR-4) Director for NCSU’s Department of Horticulture Science, conducts research about the crop. Batts said stevia is gaining traction in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast.

“One of the things that helps us to get things moving as far as registrations in stevia is the fact that it’s also grown on the West Coast,” Batts said. “So when it comes time to talk to registrants and getting something through the IR-4 program, we have regional cooperation and a lot of interest (so that helps us here).”

Funding and support was provided several organizations including the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Golden Leaf Foundation, US Stevia, LLC, the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Research Initiative, NCDA, and NC Agriculture Research Service. PepsiCo, which is providing support for research for better tasting products, is also gives support.

During the introductions, Dr. Steve Lommel, director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, said it was his first Stevia Field Day.

“As we all know North Carolina is a state that really specializes in specialty crops,” Lommel said. “We’re the third largest diverse state in the union. We’re very excited and we really think the future of North Carolina agriculture is the development of a number of new high value specialty crops and stevia is certainly on the top of the list as one of these new emerging, developing, high value crops.”

Lommel also acknowledged many individuals working on stevia research.

“So I’m excited about being here for that,” Lommel said. “We basically went from zero to having a great team of NCDA (North Carolin Department of Agriculture) and NC State researchers working on aspects of stevia to make it a commercial and viable crop here in North Carolina.”

While talking to the crowd, he believes North Carolina has an advantage for stevia becuase it works well into peanut and tobacco production system.

Research led by Dr. Todd Wehner of NSCU’s department of horticulture science also includes looking at varieties that go well with North Carolina’s climate.

Roger Batts, the Interregional Research Project No. 4 Research (IR-4) Director for NCSU’s Department of Horticulture Science, conducts research about the crop. Batts said stevia is gaining traction in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast.

“One of the things that helps us to get things moving as far as registrations in stevia is the fact that it’s also grown on the West Coast,” Batts said. “So when it comes time to talk to registrants and getting something through the IR-4 program, we have regional cooperation and a lot of interest (so that helps us here).”

Funding and support was provided several organizations including the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Golden Leaf Foundation, US Stevia, LLC, the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Research Initiative, NCDA, and NC Agriculture Research Service. PepsiCo is also providing support for research for better tasting products.

Dr. Bipul Biswas of Fort Valley State University, an assistant professor of graduate biotechnology and specialty plants research, traveled from Georgia to attend the event. He’s been researching stevia since 2012 and provided assistance with farmers. Biswas added that it’s a promising crop in Georgia, a state with three harvesting seasons.

“We’re doing this research to see the problems before we invite our farmers to grow,” he said about having production in the United States and not relying on growers from overseas. “We’re advising them how to grow and what are the problems, so farmers can grow thousands of acres.”

Alfred Greenlee, farmer, also traveled from Albany, Ga. for the field day and is thinking about becoming more involved in the future.

“It’s exposing us to a lot of the different challenges of stevia,” Greenlee said. “I believe that the trials they have out here are preparing the market for stevia in the U.S to greater heights real fast.”

Carla Peterson, owner of Twiddle Dee Farms, attended to gain more knowledge about stevia. She currently uses Truvia, a stevia-based sugar substitute.

“I like the idea that it’s a plant-based alternative and it would presumably help people who have diabetes,” Peterson said. “There’s potential to have a good market.”

Dr. Alyssa Koehler shows visitors a stevia plant during field day at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_1.jpgDr. Alyssa Koehler shows visitors a stevia plant during field day at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
Dr. Todd Wehner of North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture Science, makes a presentation about equipment used for stevia production.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_2.jpgDr. Todd Wehner of North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture Science, makes a presentation about equipment used for stevia production.
A researcher takes a picture of stevia during a field day hosted at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_3.jpgA researcher takes a picture of stevia during a field day hosted at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
A piece of stevia grows for research purposes.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_4.jpgA piece of stevia grows for research purposes.
A field of stevia is grown at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_7.jpgA field of stevia is grown at the Horticulture Crops Research Station.
Geoff Bock, project manager of the NC Plant Sciences Initiative at North Carolina State University, takes pictures during the field day.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_6.jpgGeoff Bock, project manager of the NC Plant Sciences Initiative at North Carolina State University, takes pictures during the field day.
Dr. Steve Lommel, director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, gives introductions during the Stevia Field Day event.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_8.jpgDr. Steve Lommel, director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, gives introductions during the Stevia Field Day event.
Dr. Todd Wehner of North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture Science speaks to participants about equipment and greenhouses used to grow stevia.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_9.jpgDr. Todd Wehner of North Carolina State University’s Department of Horticulture Science speaks to participants about equipment and greenhouses used to grow stevia.
Dr. Alyssa Koehler speaks about stevia.
https://www.clintonnc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_Stevia_10.jpgDr. Alyssa Koehler speaks about stevia.
Stevia Day held in Sampson County

By Chase Jordan

cjordan@clintonnc.com

Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.