In 1985 under the leadership of research scientists Clauzell Stevens and Victor Khan, the Station was instrumental in developing research programs that solved pest management problems and improved the health of vegetable crops through programs using low chemical input and biologically-based strategies such as soil solarization and agriplastic application, UV-C technology to control postharvest diseases of fruits and vegetables especially sweetpotato and tomato. Plasticulture research activities centered on the transfer of new technologies such as plastic mulch systems, drip irrigation and soil solarization through field demonstrations, workshops and related outreach programs in partnership with the plastic industry and Auburn University.
Plasticulture scientists at Tuskegee were the first to use agriplastic mulch systems in Alabama to produce early spring watermelons, okra and tomato during the month of June so that Alabama farmers could be competitive with Florida growers. In recognition of the accomplishments of Stevens and Khan on a number of agriplastic research studies in plasticulture, the team was invited by the American Society of Plasticulture to lead a team of plasticulturists to write a chapter entitled: Plastic chemistry and technology as related to plasticulture in solar heating of the soil in Soil Solarization (1991) edited by J. Katan and J. DeVay for CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Stevens and Khan also demonstrated the use of agriplastic systems as a means to elicit induced foliage resistance to Alternaria leaf spot in vegetables. In a collaborative effort with scientists from Auburn University who pioneered the development of a biological control fungicide foliage spray, they demonstrated that, by integrating plasticulture techniques with the biofungicide foliage spray on tomatoes, there was another way to control early tomato blight with results comparable to a chemical fungicide. Scientists at Tuskegee were the first investigators in the U.S. and the third group of researchers to report that soil solarization induced resistance of several foliage diseases on crops. Furthermore, he and his colleagues used reflective agriplastic mulch to control mosaic viral diseases of squash in Alabama.
In 1984, Dr. Stevens and his colleagues were the first to introduce a new postharvest therapy on managing post-harvest diseases by inducing resistance in onions and sweetpotatoes to storage rots by UV-C elicitation. He proposed a hormesis model to explain this induced resistance phenomena. A collaborative link was established with scientists from the USDA/ARS, which further demonstrated UV-C elicited resistance to post-harvest decay in apples, peaches and tangerines. This in turn led to an international collaborative effort with scientists from the USDA/ARS and The ARO, the Volcani Center, Bet Dagan, Israel. This collaborative effort culminated with construction of pilot plants that will enable the future exploration of an "on-line" application of UVC technology on a semi-commercial scale with different fruits and vegetables