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Mary Lu Arpaia

Subtropical Horticulturist
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What’s the secret to the world’s tastiest avocado?
Seeking to be a leader in the global food arena, the University of California launched the Global Food Initiative to address the myriad of food issues confronting the world, including availability, security, sustainability and nutrition. Dedicated to the welfare, development and protection of California agriculture, UC Cooperative Extension (CE) specialists focus on enhancing crop productivity, fruit quality and good agricultural practices. How can we meet the needs of California growers while also satisfying the demands of discriminating consumers seeking fresh, healthful foods with exceptional taste?

At UCR, where researchers have played a major role in helping California become the agricultural powerhouse of the nation, CE subtropical horticulturalist Mary Lu Arpaia is passionate about improving the in-demand avocado. Led by her, UCR’s avocado breeding program has released four varieties, including GEM, which boasts the same excellent characteristics as the coveted Hass, while reducing harvesting and maintenance costs for growers thanks to its consistent production and more compact trees.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Subtropical crop productivity
  • Postharvest handling
  • Avocado and citrus expert
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Q&A

Q: What is Cooperative Extension?
Cooperative Extension is a branch of the University of California. It is part of the experiment station system and it was founded 100 years ago. The traditional role of the Cooperative Extension is to extend the information developed by the experiment station to the end user or grower. The goal is to improve agricultural productivity and to have problem solving research that people can use in short term rather than long term.

Q: What is the focus of your research?
The focus of my research for the last 32 years at UCR is to understand things that occur in the pre and post harvest environment and how it affects food quality. The overall goal is to improve the quality of the product. I’ve focused on many products, but the main emphasis has been on improving avocado quality and sustainability for avocado growers in California.

Q: What food-related problem are you helping solve?
There are two really big challenges to the avocado industry currently in California– the drought and the water quality. What we are seeing now in many areas where we grow avocados is a lack of water and a real breakdown of the water quality with increase in salinity. We have a really big challenge facing us in order to be a sustainable industry. I’ve done research of salt tolerance of avocados in collaboration with other researchers here at UCR.

Q: Why should the average buyer care about your research?
My research is focused on having a better eating experience. Avocados, in particular, are a very healthy product to eat and we want more people to eat more avocados. The research that I’ve done is crucial because we are trying to provide a higher quality fruit that is healthy for consumers.

Q: What’s next for your research team?
Our team is in transition because we have been focused on different avocado varieties and we are now doing more research of salinity. We are coming up with strategies to improve the tolerance of avocados to salinity in the water because that is a major challenge facing avocado growers. We will also continue variety improvement programs because I strongly believe that we should have alternatives in varieties.

NAME "The focus of my research is to build a better avocado to enhance avocado consumption in the United States and to sustain the California avocado industry."

—Mary Lu Arpaia
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