Elina Coneva is an Extension specialist and professor in the College of Agriculture with a specialization in horticulture. Coneva’s work and research has been focused on developing disease-resistant European grapes in Alabama.
Tell us about your work with disease-resistant European grapes and their growth in Alabama.
Pierce’s Disease is the major factor that limits the production of European grapes in the Southeast. However, the University of California, Davis, recently developed resistant selections that offer a sustainable solution to overcome this key constraint. Three disease resistant advanced European grape selections were introduced for testing in Alabama in 2010. Even though the climatic conditions in the southeast are challenging in comparison to California, growing conditions in terms of European grape production has been successful. This is due to long warm and highly humid growing seasons, and the research results in my lab are very encouraging. We are pleased to observe a vigorous plant growth, excellent cropping potential and good fruit quality combined with a resistance to Pierce’s Disease.
Why is this discovery important to Alabama agriculture?
The Pierce’s Disease resistant European selections represent a new technology that can open up a window of opportunities for economic growth and sustainability not only in Alabama, but the entire southeastern region. Before, European grape production was practically impossible. Now, not only viticulture in the region can be diversified and enhanced by expanding the traditional muscadine and to some extend the hybrid bunch grape production, but also the increasing number of wineries in Alabama and the Southeast can produce highly acclaimed European wines. This can have a domino effect on agritourism growth and can spur various new local enterprises, thus boosting up rural communities.
How has your time at Auburn shaped your passion for horticulture?
I came to Auburn 10 years ago and was astonished by the warm, southern, welcoming spirit of the Alabamian people. Particularly my constituents and commercial fruit growers invigorated my desire to help them succeed by employing research and extension programs designed to provide solutions to challenging fruit crops production constraints. These include finding a solution to the Pierce’s Disease problem. Successful farm implementation of the outcomes of the fruit research program and adoption of innovative technologies developed in my lab ignites my passion for horticulture.
What has been your favorite memory at Auburn as an associate professor of horticulture?
My favorite experiences as a professor and fruit crops extension specialist at Auburn has been assisting with the establishment of the first two commercial European grape vineyards in Alabama and the Southeast based on Pierce’s Disease-resistant selections studied in my lab. Even more exciting, the first commercial Pierce’s Disease-resistant European grape crop, Vitis vinifera, was harvested and crushed in Alabama winery to produce high quality European wine in 2016. This achievement is a result of my efforts as an extension fruit crop specialist working in close collaboration with Alabama’s fruit industry.
What are your long-term goals at Auburn?
I hope to open up a new window of opportunities to the fruit producers by exploring more alternative or underutilized highly nutritious fruit crops and new technologies for sustainable commercial production in Alabama and the Southeast. This in turn will make a difference in local communities.