Graduate Student Program From the Field

Graduate Student Program From the Field

Graduate Student Program From the Field

Short profiles of Western SARE-funded graduate student projects in action.

Agriculture, Water, and Institutions: An Investigation of Water Management Policy and its Effects on Water Use by Agriculture in Arizona

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

In the face of regional water policy aiming to reduce groundwater overdraft, graduate student Haley Paul was curious about how growers in the central Arizona desert make water use decisions and if there were recommendations to be made to enhance agricultural water sustainability.

Assessing Direct and Indirect Interactions between Insect and Plant Pathogens and Their Impact on Insect Herbivores

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

The diversity found in irrigated vegetable crops in Arizona and Southern California, along with high temperatures and dry conditions, provides an ideal habitat for a number of insect pests, including lepidopterans. Management of these major pests primarily involves chemical pesticides. The use of these pesticides has created several problems, including insecticide resistance, outbreaks of secondary pests, decrease of biodiversity, and other effects of environmental concern. For this reason, the search for environmentally-friendly strategies for pest management is important.

Assessment of Riparian Management Practices in Northeastern Oregon

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

A serious impact of agriculture can be non-point source pollution, effecting water quality. Conservation easements have been perceived as an effective means of improving water quality. However, Melissa Scherr as a graduate student at Oregon State University, observed that their effectiveness is not well understood and maintains “if we are to promote good stewardship of agricultural lands, we must understand the utility of best management practices such as riparian conservation easements.”  To gain this understanding, Scherr considered that comparing the diversity and abundance of the endemic invertebrate fauna along the Umatilla could assist in determining the health of the system. The results of the project indicated that “the conservation easements in this area are having less success returning to a more ideal condition, and are still highly affected by the agricultural use on the adjacent landscape.”

Best Management Practices that Promote Sustainable Crop Pollination

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Katharina Ullmann, University of California Davis, designed her project “Best Management Practices that Promote Sustainable Crop Pollination: The Role of Crop Rotations and Tillage Depth" to explore how tilling and crop rotation practices impact an important pollinator of squash and pumpkin, the squash bee (P. pruinosa).

Characterization of Soils Properties Associated with Suppression of Fusarium Wilt in Spinach Seed Crops and Development of a Quantitative Molecular...

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Oregon and Washington are ideal for spinach seed production, with long summer days, dry summers, and mild summer temperatures. The area’s growers faced the challenge in spinach seed production of Fusarium wilt (caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Spinaciae) due to their acidic soils. According to Emily Gatch, graduate student at Washington State University, management tools were needed.

Climate-Sustaining Agriculture

Carbon Footprints of Organic and Conventional Onions and Wheat

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Often, farmers are willing to make changes in their growing practices to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their climate impact. Whether conventional or organic, agriculture can be a source of GHG emissions. Those farmers eager to modify their practices may lack the knowledge and tools to make effective choices. According to graduate student Cornelius Adewale, the use of carbon footprint calculators (CFC) based on farm practices, inputs, infrastructure, and processes can fill in these knowledge gaps. His Western SARE funded graduate student project focused on identifying opportunities to reduce farm GHG emissions in wheat and onion production and using that information to improve the organic carbon footprint calculator, OFoot. During the project, hundreds of Pacific Northwest farmers and scientists learned of OFoot or were trained in its use.

Conservation Biological Control of Alfalfa Weevil in Wyoming

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

When asked about the biggest pest management problem they faced, a focus group of Wyoming alfalfa hay producers answered “alfalfa weevil.” This pest reduces yield and quality, and infestation is unpredictable field-to-field and year-to-year. Currently used insecticides and early cutting practices used to control alfalfa weevil can be costly and/or ineffective. According to Makenzie Benander, graduate student at the University of Wyoming, conservation biological control is a promising avenue for improving control of alfalfa weevil. However, reduced habitat diversity in agricultural landscapes has led to fewer resources for the natural enemies of the alfalfa weevil. Benander was interested in supporting habitat management rather than releasing beneficial insects. She questioned why populations were higher in some producer’s fields than in others.

Contamination of non-Bt Cotton Fields by Transgenic Bt Cotton

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

This Western SARE-funded project aimed to create a model that predicted the rate of Bt contamination increase in cotton fields based on cross-pollination and seed mixing and to design recommendations that would assist growers in protecting their fields from Bt contamination. Growers, extension agents, and others in the seed production industry learned about the top factors for seed contamination through an extension publication, along with strategies to limit contamination.

Contributions to Pest Suppression through Predator Phenology and Functional Diversity

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Focusing on alfalfa in Utah, Erica Stephens’ goal in project was to understand how predator phenology and diversity can work to suppress pest populations. This understanding could lead to monitoring protocols using information obtained from the collection of beneficial insects to direct more informed decisions about pesticide application.

Determination of Gas Emissions from Manure Sources in Animal Feeding Operations

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Pakorn Sutitarnnontr successfully developed an automated multiplexing system for chamber-based monitoring of greenhouse and regulated gas emissions from manure sources which was used to examine spatial and temporal variability in emissions associated with manure management practices. After development of the system, Pakhorn measured gaseous emissions from AFOs in the Intermountain West to recommend site-specific BMPs.

Developing a Management Plan for Reducing Thrips-Induced Damage on Timothy Hay

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Dominic Reisig’s project was part of a team effort involving cooperative research and extension personnel in California, the University of Nevada, Reno, and Washington State University to study thrips in Timothy Hay. To assist timothy growers, Reisig researched sampling protocol, treatment thresholds, and some overwintering ecology of thrips in California. The goal of the project was improving the economic and environmental benefits of growing timothy hay in a sustainable system.

Ecosystem Services in Hedgerow Restorations: Pollination Function and Nesting Habitat

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Due to declines in honey bee populations, and drops in native bee numbers in some regions, there is increasing interest in on-farm practices that restore habitat-supporting pollination services. Hedgerows – field edge plantings of native shrubs and forbs – are commonly used to re-diversify agricultural areas as a means to strengthen ecosystem benefits.More knowledge about the efficacy of hedgerow restoration in providing availability of nesting resources, translating into more nesting bees, is essential.

Enhancing the Potential for Sustainability through Participatory Environmental Assessment

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

The Gila Watershed Partnership, a multi-stakeholder group including farmers, ranchers, as well as representatives from federal, state, and local government agencies, municipalities and other concerned associations, agreed to work with a University of Arizona research team to develop and test a participatory assessment approach to effectively mitigate land degradation.

Evaluating the Potential of Oyster Mushroom Compost Waste for Plant-Parasitic Nematode Management

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Farmers in Hawaii manage plant-parasitic nematodes, which can cause significant yield losses in a number of crops, through the use of nematicides. Many farmers are looking for alternative methods for managing nematodes in the soil. Shelby Ching had learned that edible mushrooms, such as the oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), have been known to create a toxin to incapacitate nematodes. She hypothesized that oyster mushroom substrate can be utilized in the management of nematodes in the soil. Ching developed this Western SARE Graduate Student project to develop an approach of nematode management using oyster mushroom compost waste that will be easily accessible to farmers, with an added benefit of the production of edible mushrooms.

Exploring the Importance of Locally Sourced Food in Remote Regions

Insights from Community Supported Agriculture in the Tanana Valley of Alaska

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Graduate student Anastasia Thayer, while noting the good number of CSAs in the Fairbanks Alaska region, recognized that with the exception of one CSA dating back to the 1990s, the CSA movement in the area was relatively new. There was a lack of information on the growing market. So Thayer developed her project to build a collaborative research effort which would work closely with CSA farmers and members in the Tanana Valley of Alaska for the purpose of enhancing understanding of the local food market. Questions at the center of this research included: what factors lead to people joining local CSAs and which attributes contribute to higher revenues or more members for a farm?

Facilitating Integrated Weed Management in California Rice: Predicting E. spp. and C. difformis Emergence Across Heterogeneous Growing Environments

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

California rice growers face increasing problems with herbicide-resistant weeds in their fields. Previous research projects focused on ecologically-based integrated weed management approaches in a variety of cropping systems, but none focused on rice systems. In addition, previous projects included spatial modeling components or the creation of decision support tools, but, again, none included specific information on rice.

Impacts of Age on Residual Feed Intake and Its Effect on Reproductive Parameters and Profitability in Ewes

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Graduate student Rebecca Cockrum's Western SARE-funded project was the first to use the GrowSafe feed intake system with sheep to measure residual feed intake (RFI). Her project attempted to address one unmet need of the sheep industry – the reluctance to adopt RFI as a measure of feed efficiency, due to limited research.

Improved Simple On-site Soil Quality Testing for Soils in the Intermountain West

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Thomsen designed her graduate student project, “Improved Simple On-site Soil Quality Testing for Soils in the Intermountain West” to identify a subset of user-friendly tests that are most indicative of soil quality on farms in the Intermountain West. Thomsen identified four effective simple tests: modified slake tests, NRCS slake test, Solvita soil respiration, and earthworm abundance/biodiversity test.

Improving Feed Efficiency in Sheep through Rumen Manipulation and Producer Adoption

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Melinda Ellison researched altering GI tract microbiota as a possibility to improve overall GI health and enhance nutrient uptake efficiency in sheep, as has been observed in humans and rodents. She states “Long-term application of rumen inoculation at birth has the potential to provide producers with a practical means of improving flock or herd feed efficiency, and ultimately, improving profit potential.”

Increasing the Marketability of Pacific Northwest Potatoes

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Potato growers’ profitability has been threatened by the decreasing consumer demand that began in the 1990s. While there are complex reasons for the decline, a 2010 survey conducted by the U.S. Potato Board revealed that 55% of respondents reported various health-related statements as the worst qualities of potatoes. To remedy the negative publicity, the industry has asked for the development of cultivar-specific nutrition profiles. These profiles could be used to advertise positive nutritional attributes and to focus breeding efforts toward enhancing the nutritional value of fresh potatoes. For his Western SARE graduate student funded project, “Increasing the Marketability of Pacific Northwest Potatoes,” Bruce Robinson, Oregon State University, chose to focus on breeding for enhanced nutritional value, with an emphasis on vitamin B9 (folate). 

Information Flows along the Beef Supply Chain: Information Exchange as a Strategy for Mitigating Increased Costs and Maximizing Producer Profits

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Due to information asymmetry in the beef supply chain, there is no communication system to identify the feed strategies that produce high quality beef with lower production costs. Sarah Lake, graduate student at the University of Colorado, considered that increasing the exchange of information throughout the beef supply chain could be a priority for the continued economic success of the beef industry. With better access to information, beef producers potentially could improve feed strategies and produce higher volumes of quality beef.

Investigating the Legume Green Fallow Alternative on North-Central Montana No-Till Operations

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Legume green fallowing (LGF) possibly can reduce dependence on inorganic N inputs and improve soil quality in systems with the high N demands and summer fallow practices. However, Northern Great Plains wheat producers have historically rejected LGF due to reduced yields in subsequent wheat crops from stored soil water depletion. Montana State University researchers and graduate student Justin O’Dea saw that more recent innovations of early LGF termination and no-till practices could possibly strengthen LGF viability in the region, especially given improved management of stored soil water.

Late Season and Overwintering Management of the Large Raspberry Aphid

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

In the Pacific Northwest, growers are facing damage by the raspberry leaf mottle virus (RLMV) which is transmitted by the large raspberry aphid. The virus causes symptoms of crumbly fruit, resulting in lowered fruit quality and reduced life of the field. Through this project, Pacific Northwest producers have been informed about aphid management during both fall and early spring.

Managing A Challenging Subterranean Clover Pest: Sustainable Control Using Insect Pathogens

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

When attacked by the clover root borer, red clover can only be raised for two years due to the reduction in yield, causing economic hardship. According to Oregon State University graduate student Anis Lestari, “Insect pathogens provide an effective means of suppressing pests but have received less attention compared with other biological control agents. For pests that develop below ground, insect pathogens may offer the best management option.” As a student, she developed this Western SARE project with the goal to investigate the virulence of insect pathogens against the clover root borer.

Multiple Forms of Uncertainty as a Barrier to the Adoption of Sustainable Farming Practices

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Conventional producers are frequently critiqued for using unsustainable farming practices, such as monoculture cropping systems and high levels of chemical inputs and for relying on an industrial distribution system. Pressure is placed on them to adopt more ecologically sustainable farming practices. According to Patrick Lawrence, graduate student at Montana State University, such critiques can overlook the environmental and economic barriers that may be preventing the adoption of alternative farming practices. What needs to be better understood is howthe uncertainty and risks associated with bio-economic factors may influence producers’ agricultural decision-making.

Old World Honey Bee Populations

A Genetic Resource for U.S. Honey Bee Breeding

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Graduate student Megan Taylor, Washington State University, noticed research that had shown that honey bee health is correlated to genetic diversity. Honey bees are native to Europe and Africa, and only a small fraction of this original genetic diversity was ever introduced to the U.S. via importation. Taylor designed her graduate student project with the goals of performing a comprehensive analysis of genetic diversity of Old and New World honey bee populations and educating beekeepers, queen producers, and growers about the benefits of genetic diversity in honey bee populations.

Pest Control Services from Natural Habitat

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

With recognition of the risks of pesticides and a desire to reduce agriculture’s dependency on chemicals, there is an increased interest in enhancing communities of natural enemies of agricultural pests to provide a more sustainable means of pest control. More attention needs to be paid to the arthropod relationships at the interface of agricultural and natural systems. Rebecca Chaplin, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, questioned whether natural habitat near agricultural areas could provide resources for the natural enemies of agricultural pests.

Potential of Managing Iron and Zinc Deficiency in Dry Beans with Interplanting of Annual Ryegrass

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Beans are the fourth most valuable crop in Wyoming, yet production has been limited by micronutrient deficiencies from high pH, low-organic-matter, and calcareous soils in the region. Specifically, iron deficiency causes interveinal chlorosis, which reduces the yield and quality of the beans. While a graduate student researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Wyoming, Emmanual Omondi jumped on the opportunity to conduct interesting research that had potential to overcome iron deficiency chlorosis.

Promoting Native Bee Health and Pollination Services on Diversified Organic Produce Farms

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Native bees are critical for the success of farms that produce many crops during a season. These diversified farms typically achieve significantly higher yields when healthy native bee communities are present. However, the practices that promote healthy native bee communities on diversified farms are not well understood. To address this knowledge gap, Elias Bloom designed his Western SARE funded project by establishing a network of 34 diversified produce farms, all of which were either certified organic or use organic practices, to evaluate factors that promote native bee community health and pollination services.

Promoting Native Bumblebees in Agricultural Systems for Conservation and Ecosystem Service

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Food production faces drastic impacts due to colony collapse disorder, which had resulted in the decline of the European honeybee. A decline in bees can threaten 75% of the world crop species. This has led to the search for alternate pollinators, such as native bees. Bumblebees (Bombus) can provide pollination services to native plant and crops; including some crops, such as tomatoes, which honeybees cannot. They can provide these services with relatively high efficiency.

Reducing Drosophila suzukii Management Challenges: An Alternative to Insecticide Cover Sprays

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Berry and stone fruit growers are facing a new invasive pest that can cause yield losses of up to 80%; the spotted wing drosophila (SWD), Drosophila suzukii. To minimize crop losses, growers use repeated cover sprays of broad spectrum insecticides, and the number of applications has greatly increased since the arrival of SWD. It may be possible to lessen these problems by the use of border sprays, as the tractor and spray equipment travel around the edge of the field, and, if effective, reduce chemical use and alleviate risks to the environment and humans.

Soil Community Structure, Function, and Spatial Variation in an Organic Agroecosystem

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Farmers are becoming increasingly interested in their soil’s biological status. Nitrogen mineralization, aggregate formation, and pathogen control, along with other soil biological processes, effect farm productivity and profitability. Graduate student Doug Collins believed that “a spatially-explicit research approach can strengthen our understanding of biological diversity and abundance and better connect those parameters to edaphic properties and biological functions.”

Sustainable Landscapes: Investigating the Landscape Scale Effects of Riparian Habitat on Natural Pest Control

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Agriculture can look to landscape diversity that includes riparian habitat to reduce run-off, improve water quality, and attract beneficial predators. However, there is little understanding of the effects of natural areas and landscape diversity on pests and pest predators. As species move between natural and agricultural areas, effects on the food webs in both habitats could occur. This could include changes in natural pests in agriculture. Therefore, how areas surrounding a farm affect the dynamics of natural biological control needs to be better understood.

Sustainable Livestock Production on the Frontier

Plant and Soil Responses to Simulated Managed Grazing in Sub-Arctic Alaska

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Producers in the interior of Alaska have repeatedly stated that developing sustainable grazing strategies appropriate for the region that make effective uses of livestock producers’ resources is a priority. To help meet this need, Starr created her graduate student project with the goal of evaluating the effects and interaction of simulated herbivory, manure/urine deposition, and trampling on subarctic pasture responses.  She followed the intensively managed rotational grazing (IMRG) methodology.

Sustainable Root Rot and Soil Management in Raspberry

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Ninety percent of processed raspberry acreage in the U.S. is found in the Pacific Northwest, with the majority in Skagit and Whatcom counties. By 2009, the length of harvestable plantings had declined as much as 50% due to Phytophthora root rot (PRR), plant pathogenic nematodes (PPN), and other factors. Growers were suspecting that current practices may have led to soil conditions that favored these pathogens. In her Western SARE-funded project, Sustainable Root Rot and Soil Management in Raspberry (GW09-021), Jessica Gigot aimed to develop a quantitative molecular assay for Pr in raspberry soil and roots and investigate alternatives to fumigation for pre-plant management of these pathogens.

Understanding N Fixation by Legume Cover Crops in Organic Vegetable Systems

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Many organic vegetable growers on the central coast of California rely on winter legume cover crops such as bell beans and woollypod vetch for fertility management. Growers possibly could manage N more efficiently and lose less N to environment if they had a better understanding of how fixation values affect N cycling, including how much N is available and when for the following crop.

Water Use Efficiency in Tomatoes

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

This research project demonstrated that higher water use efficiency is possible with irrigation reductions of at least 25% in on-farm trials, with no affect on yields and fruit quality. This reduction could help keep ag land in production, especially in drought years

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2016 Annual Report

For the first time, we are sharing a yearly snapshot of our work. The stories provided here typify the creative, participatory and integrated research Western SARE annually funds – led by land grant institution researchers and graduate students, Extension and other ag professionals, and nonprofit leaders in full partnership with producers.