Extension News from the West

Southern Area Good Agricultural Practices training

Training teaches produce safety to reduce risk to consumers, prepares producers for certification

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the Nevada Department of Agriculture will offer an abbreviated Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) training, focusing on risk management in fruit and vegetable production 10 a.m. — noon on Dec. 4. The training will be held at the Cooperative Extension Research Center and Demonstration Orchard, 4600 Horse Drive in Las Vegas, Nev.

Participants will learn principles of good agricultural and handling practices related to reducing risk from microbial food hazards and fundamental components of food safety as part of a management plan.

“This training teaches how to ensure fresh horticultural products are safer for consumers and how to reduce risk to the farm business associated with legal action if a contaminated product were to enter the marketing channel,” White Pine County Extension Educator Seth Urbanowitz said. “It will allow fruit and vegetable producers to sell to a larger group of people, and it’s great for public health officials, schools, farmers market managers and agriculture professionals.”

After the training, participants are encouraged to attend one of two free mock audits: 1 p.m. — 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 following the abbreviated GAPs training at the Center (please bring a lunch), or Saturday Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. — noon at Blue Lizard Farms, 2122 Sunrise Drive in Caliente. Nev.

“Food safety is important in providing the consumer high-quality safe food, mitigating risk and gaining market access,” Urbanowitz said.

According to Urbanowitz, producers should have a food-safety plan for their farms so that they can think more comprehensively about food safety and ultimately prepare for a Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) /Good Handling Practices (GHPs) audit. After attending the training, participants may go through the audit process to be certified one year under the GAP/GHP certification, as well as apply for cost-share funding for the cost of the audit.

With more schools and restaurants trying to buy locally produced fruits and vegetables, producers need some type of safety certification to meet the terms of the contracts with these entities. Direct-market farmers have an opportunity to be certified and even have the cost of certification reduced through the cost-share program, which will cover 75 percent of all costs associated with a successful USDA GHP/GAP audit, up to a maximum of $750. To qualify for disbursement, applicants must have successfully completed an approved USDA audit between June 1, 2013 and July 30, 2015.

More than 80 producers have been trained since Urbanowitz began offering Good Agricultural Practices trainings in the fall of 2013. The GAPs training is sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Farm to School Grant Program.

Funding for the mock audits was provided by the Washington State University Western Extension Risk Management Education Center and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information or to register for the Good Agricultural Practices training, email Urbanowitz at or call 775-293-6598. Persons in need of special accommodations or assistance should call at least three days prior to the scheduled event.

MSU Extension agents, staff, supporters receive awards

Montana State University Extension News - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 12:00am
<p>BOZEMAN – Montana State University Extension agents, staff and supporters from across Montana recently received awards during Extension’s annual conference...

Breeding better wheat

Washington State University Extension News - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 8:51am

Earlier this year I went to a fundraiser where I bought a bag of Glee flour. Glee is a variety of hard red spring wheat that was developed at Washington State University. I used the flour in my favorite bread recipe, one I have modified a bit from a Mennonite cookbook I treasure.

There’s a bit of soy flour and powered milk in my bread, which ups the protein content. The recipe calls for 50 percent white flour, 40 percent whole wheat, and 10 percent rye. I used the Glee flour as the white flour. When I set the dough in a slightly warm oven, I was amazed at how fast it rose.

“That’s perfect,” said Professor Kim Kidwell of WSU who bred the wheat that went into the Glee flour. “Glee was specifically bred to bake bread, so I understand why the dough popped up quickly.”

Kidwell explained to me that “all-purpose flour” from the grocery store is a blend of wheat varieties, some of which are not ideal for baking bread.

“I often say that all-purpose flour is really no-purpose flour,” she said. “It is kind of good for making everything, but not great for making any one thing.”

I buy bread flour, not all-purpose flour, at the grocery store, just as my mother taught me. But Kidwell explained even bread flour is a blend of varieties. By using a lot of straight Glee flour in my bread, I benefitted from its special properties. The bread made great eating and now I know why.

Glee is currently grown by farmers in the Pacific Northwest. It has several attractive features: it has good yield potential, and it has good resistance to a disease called striped rust.

“I don’t want farmers to have to apply a lot of chemicals on their fields,” Kidwell said. “My favorite way to reduce input costs is through genetics.”

By genetics Kidwell means the traditional approach to breeding better plants: crossing varieties and looking for resultant strains that have desirable properties. If all goes well, it takes about 8 to 10 years from the time of the initial cross to when the researchers have a variety ready for release to farmers. Breeding better crop plants is part of the ongoing research work that takes place at land grant universities across the nation.

The name “Glee” deserves a bit of explanation. The variety was named in honor of Virginia Gale Lee, a graduate student in the WSU spring wheat breeding program. Lee was dedicated to research that could revolutionize crop production and help feed the world. Unfortunately she was struck down by an aggressive cancer at the age of 24. Money to help support current graduate students in her area has been donated to WSU, much of it raised from people who knew Lee and were inspired by her idealism and dedication.

I wish I had known Lee because the people who did were clearly touched by her life. But I’m glad I was able to learn about her — and wheat breeding more generally — through my use of Glee flour.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Cooperative Extension offers Good Agricultural Practices training

Training teaches produce safety to reduce risk to consumers, prepares producers for certification

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the Nevada Department of Agriculture will offer a Good Agricultural Practices training, focusing on risk management in fruit and vegetable production 9 a.m. — 4 p.m. Nov. 20. The training will be held at the Nevada Department of Agriculture, 405 S. 21st St. in Sparks. Participants will learn principles of good agricultural and handling practices related to reducing risk from microbial food hazards and fundamental components of food safety as part of a management plan.

"This training teaches how to ensure fresh horticultural products are safer for consumers and how to reduce risk to the farm business associated with legal action if a contaminated product were to enter the marketing channel," White Pine County Extension Educator Seth Urbanowitz said. "It will allow fruit and vegetable producers to sell to a larger group of people, and it’s great for public health officials, schools, farmers market managers and agriculture professionals."

After the training, participants are encouraged to attend one of two free mock audits: 8 a.m. — noon Friday, Nov. 21 at the High Desert Farming Initiative, 920 Valley Road in Reno, or 10 a.m. — noon Saturday, Nov. 22 at Lattin Farms, 1955 McLean Road in Fallon.

"Food safety is important in providing the consumer high-quality safe food, mitigating risk and gaining market access," Urbanowitz said.

According to Urbanowitz, producers should have a food-safety plan for their farms so that they can think more comprehensively about food safety and ultimately prepare for a Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) /Good Handling Practices (GHPs) audit. After attending the training, participants may go through the audit process to be certified one year under the GAP/GHP certification, as well as apply for cost-share funding for the cost of the audit.

With more schools and restaurants trying to buy locally produced fruits and vegetables, producers need some type of safety certification to meet the terms of the contracts with these entities. Direct-market farmers have an opportunity to be certified and even have the cost of certification reduced through the cost-share program, which will cover 75 percent of all costs associated with a successful USDA GHP/GAP audit, up to a maximum of $750. To qualify for disbursement, applicants must have successfully completed an approved USDA audit between June 1, 2013 and July 30, 2015.

More than 80 producers have been trained since Urbanowitz began offering Good Agricultural Practices trainings in the fall of 2013. The GAPs training is sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Farm to School Grant Program.

Funding for the mock audits was provided by the Washington State University Western Extension Risk Management Education Center and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information or to register for the Good Agricultural Practices training, contact Urbanowitz at urbanowitzs@unce.unr.edu or 775-293-6598. Persons in need of special accommodations or assistance should call at least three days prior to the scheduled event.

WSU’s On Solid Ground: An apple a day, Big Data, Potato Crops, Cereal Grain Defense, Poplar Products

Washington State University Extension News - Fri, 10/31/2014 - 8:09am

October 2014

An apple a day could keep obesity away

WSU scientists have concluded that non digestible compounds in Granny Smith apples may help prevent disorders associated with obesity. The study, thought to be the first to assess these compounds in apple cultivars grown in the Pacific Northwest, appears in this month’s Food Chemistry.

“We know that, in general, apples are a good source of these nondigestible compounds but there are differences in varieties,” said food scientist Giuliana Noratto, the study’s lead researcher. “Results from this study will help consumers to discriminate between apple varieties that can aid in the fight against obesity.”

The tart green Granny Smith apples benefit the growth of friendly bacteria in the colon due to their high content of nondigestible compounds, including dietary fiber and polyphenols, and low content of available carbohydrates.

Despite being subjected to chewing, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, these compounds remain intact when they reach the colon. Once there, they are fermented by bacteria in the colon, which benefits the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut.

Golden Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith and Red Delicious apples. (Photo courtesy of USDA ARS)

The study showed that Granny Smith apples surpass Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Red Delicious in the amount of nondigestible compounds they contain.

“The nondigestible compounds in the Granny Smith apples actually changed the proportions of fecal bacteria from obese mice to be similar to that of lean mice,” Noratto said.

The discovery could help prevent disorders such as low-grade, chronic inflammation from a disturbed balance of bacterial communities in the colon. This results in microbial byproducts that can lead to diabetes, Noratto said.

“What determines the balance of bacteria in our colon is the food we consume,” she said.

Reestablishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon with dietary choices such as Granny Smith apples stabilizes metabolic processes that influence inflammation and the sensation of feeling satisfied, or satiety, she said.

The study was funded with an Emerging Research Issues Internal Competitive Grant from the WSU Agricultural Research Center.


—Sylvia Kantor

$1.5 million grant to advance ‘big data’ for genomic research

The National Science Foundation has awarded scientists at WSU $1.5 million to help meet the growing needs of the data-driven genomic science community. The Tripal Gateway project will build on existing cyberinfrastructure to enhance the capacity of genomic databases to manage, exchange and process “big data.”

“In a single day, some modern DNA sequencers can output as much data as the human genome,” said WSU’s Stephen Ficklin. “We expect the deluge of data to continue to grow exponentially.”

Ficklin, the lead investigator and a research scientist in horticulture, said that just as computers have seen dramatic improvements that have lowered costs and allowed for mass production, DNA sequencing technologies are undergoing a similar transition. The challenge is no longer affordability of DNA sequencing, he said.

The WSU project is one of 17 grants totaling $31 million in the NSF Data Infrastructure Building Blocks (DIBBS) program.

Sharing information

Genomic research relies on community databases—websites that house genomic, genetic and breeding data—for use by scientists working in the same research area; for example, cotton, cacao (chocolate) or plants in the rosaceae family like apple, cherry and pear.

By creating ways to easily share data between community databases, on demand, researchers will no longer have to navigate between multiple websites to obtain the information they need.

“Genomics scientists who can access large data sets but have limited resources for storing, sharing and analyzing them will benefit from this work,” Ficklin said.

The three-year project will use software-defined networking technology to quickly transfer large data sets between computational resources and the database to support data sharing and analysis. Ultimately, it will link existing community databases for fruit and hardwood trees as well as legumes into a larger network of online research databases.

Tripal software

The project is based on open-source software known as Tripal, originally developed by Ficklin and Meg Staton at Clemson University and significantly enhanced by Dorrie Main at WSU and Kirsten Bett at the University of Saskatchewan.

Tripal is used by at least 24 different plant and animal databases, including the Genome Database for Rosaceae and community databases for 24 crops developed by the Main lab. Main is a co-investigator on the new project.

The project team also includes Sook Jung, WSU, and colleagues at Clemson University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Connecticut.

—Sylvia Kantor

An unlikely collaboration harms potato crops

A common potato virus and a fungus-like pathogen can work together to damage the crop, WSU researchers have discovered.

The study published this summer by the American Journal of Potato Research found that Potato virus S (PVS) breaks down late blight resistance in potato. The implications will impact potato breeding programs, as they must now take the virus into consideration during breeding for potato late blight resistance, said Hanu Pappu, the Sam Smith Distinguished Professor in plant pathology.

Late blight damage in a potato field.

Pappu teamed with WSU colleague Dennis Johnson, professor of plant pathology, and Ph.D. student Yu-Hsuan Lin, now a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, to conduct the groundbreaking research.

More than half of the nation’s potatoes are produced in the Pacific Northwest. The potato industry contributes over $3.5 billion annually to Washington state’s economy.

Although PVS is commonly found around the world and historically hasn’t been a concern for growers in the United States, “it’s now demanding attention because of its role in making late blight disease more severe,” Pappu said.

Lin developed an experimental system to test for three-way interactions among potato, the late blight pathogen and PVS. She validated the interactions under controlled conditions, which can be used to screen additional potato genotypes.

Pappu said further research is needed to see exactly how these pathogens collaborate at the molecular level, including how the host’s genetic mechanisms affect the pathogens.

This research is much more complicated than the typical study, he said. “Now we have to find how two very different pathogens interact with each other and their host.

“Lin’s findings underscore the need to keep in mind the dynamic nature of the pathogens,” he said.

The project was funded by the Washington State Potato Commission.

—Scott Weybright

Researchers explain mystery of cereal grain defense

Crop scientists at WSU have figured out how genes in the barley plant turn on defenses against aging and stressors like drought, heat and disease.

Professor Diter von Wettstein and assistant research professor Sachin Rustgi showed that specific genes act as a switch that enables barley to live longer and become more tolerant of stress, including attack by common diseases like mildew and spot blotch.

WSU researchers von Wettstein, left, and Rustgi. (Photo by Rebecca Phillips, WSU University Communications)

The finding, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, solves a long-standing mystery and offers hope for production of grain crops able to thrive during unpredictable weather and climate change.

Cereal grains such as wheat, barley, corn and rice need an essential amount of growing time to produce abundant yields. Environmental stressors such as heat and drought can trigger early aging of plants, which slows growth and decreases yield and grain quality.

Von Wettstein and Rustgi discovered that two barley genes, called JIP60 and JIP60-like, play a major role in the protective actions triggered by a key plant defense hormone called jasmonate, or JA.

Like a watchful sentry, JA responds at the first sign of plant distress, producing proteins that prepare the plant to combat excess heat, lack of water or attack by disease organisms. The proteins also slow aging.

Scientists have known since the 1990s that JA plays a role in plant resistance, but von Wettstein and Rustgi are the first to document how that resistance actually takes place.

Rustgi said it was a surprise to discover that JIP60 genes are connected to boron sensitivity and disease resistance in cereal grains. The genes lie in close proximity to these other plant traits, providing a unique target for future crop breeding programs.

“It is possible that we could tweak the JA pathway and increase yields by slowing the aging of plants and making them more resistant to diseases, drought and temperature stress,” he said.
The finding is important for grain farmers around the world.

“This year was a good example,” said Rustgi. “In Washington state, we had a cold spell in May and June just when winter wheat was flowering. It actually affected the long-term grain yield by causing injury to the plants.”

In India and Pakistan, he said, very hot temperatures—up to about 135 degrees Fahrenheit—cause heat injury to wheat, barley and rice.

“It is a problem for farmers who have small plots and are very poor. Any hit causes a significant loss of income,” he said.

—Rebecca Phillips

Popularizing poplar products

Keyboards, paints, and fleece jackets all have one thing in common. Each can be produced using a conversion process from renewable poplar trees. The WSU Extension Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest team explains how in this short, informative video.

-Betsy Fradd




Cooperative Extension offers &#8217;Agriculture in Times of Drought&#8217; workshops

University provides information to help Nevada farmers and ranchers during unpredictable weather

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is offering workshops Nov. 17 — 20 in Gardnerville, Yerington, Fallon and Lovelock for Nevada agricultural producers to help them plan for the possibilities of a fourth year of drought. "Agriculture in Times of Drought," will give farmers and ranchers information on how to be resilient to variable weather in Nevada.

"Farmers and ranchers in Nevada face great uncertainty about water availability for irrigation given weather patterns like recurring droughts," said Water Resource Specialist John Cobourn with Cooperative Extension. "These classes will address methods they can employ to stay in business in times of water shortages."

Presentations include Decision Making Given Weather Variability, taught by Cobourn; Weather Extremes and the Uncertainty of Future Growing Conditions, taught by Chris Smallcomb with the National Weather Service; Crop Management Under Drought Conditions, taught by Cooperative Extension Alternative Crops and Forage Specialist Jay Davison; Practical Considerations for Improving Irrigation, taught by Cooperative Extension Agronomist Seth Urbanowitz; and Grazing Management in Low- and High-Water Years, taught by Cooperative Extension Range/Riparian Specialist Sherm Swanson.

The workshop will be offered in four locations:

Cost is $15 and includes all materials and a light dinner at every location. For more information, contact Leah Miller at the Lyon County Cooperative Extension office at 775-436-6541, ext. 12, or Cobourn at the Washoe County Cooperative Extension office at 775-336-0244. Persons in need of special accommodations or assistance should call at least three days prior to the scheduled event.

For more information on responding to various drought-related challenges, go to Cooperative Extension’s Living With Drought website, www.unce.unr.edu/programs/sites/drought/, containing information for homeowners, gardeners, farmers, ranchers, natural resource managers and others.

The start of a better trend for diabetes

Washington State University Extension News - Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:49am

“Eat right and exercise.”

It’s good advice. But millions of us Americans struggle every day to live up to our hopes regarding diet and activity. Some of us are pretty good at one thing (for me, it’s exercise) but not good at the other (starch and sweets make up too much of my diet). It just ain’t easy to both eat right and exercise, and do so every day.

But maybe we have been making some progress on our personal goals regarding diet and activity. It looks like our collective efforts to address obesity — and associated diseases like diabetes — may be starting to have some results.

A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Although the devil is in the details, the publication argues that if you look at Americans as a group, obesity and diabetes are no longer increasing as they had been in recent decades.

As the Los Angeles Times reported recently, the rate at which Americans are being newly diagnosed with diabetes has now actually fallen. The statistic reflects how many new cases doctors found per thousand people. In 1990, for Americans between 20 to 79 years old, the number of new diabetes cases was 3.2. That figure shot up to 8.8 in 2008. The good news is that for 2012, the figure was 7.1, a downward trend worth celebrating.

But three groups are not participating in that improvement. They are Latinos, African Americans, and people with only a high school education or less. For a variety of reasons, people in those groups are still experiencing a rising rate of diabetes.

“It’s not good news for everybody,” Shakira Suglia told the Los Angeles Times. Suglia is an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

And that bad news really matters because diabetes is such a debilitating disease. People with diabetes are more likely than the general population to suffer heart attacks and strokes, to name only two maladies that crop up in the medical statistics. Beyond that there’s blindness and kidney failure to fear, and problems in feet and legs that, in the worst case, can lead to amputation.

The overall problem posed by diabetes in the U.S. remains enormous. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have the disease. There is the human dimension of the suffering that diabetes brings to people, and there is also the financial cost associated with treating the disease. Our national health care bill is significantly impacted by the cost of diabetes, which was estimated at $245 billion in 2012.

But even if it’s fragmentary, let’s be thankful for at least a bit of good news in the fight against obesity and diabetes. Let’s keep up the good work and encourage one another to eat right and exercise. Everyone needs to get on board this wagon, and that includes me.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.



Rose Society introduces 2015 new rose

Anna’s Promise (Grandiflora Variety), Tom Carruth-Hybridizer.
Photo courtesy of SW Greenhouse Website

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the South Valley Rose Society are collaborating and offering educational meetings throughout the fall. Free and open to the public, November 20 meeting topic is New Rose Introductions for 2015.

Larry Kaplan, South Valley Rose Society yearbook editor, will discuss the new rose varieties which are released into the market place each year. Which of the new varieties will do well in our desert climate? Where can I find the ones I want to add to my garden when not available locally? How do I choose the best one, what do I look for?

All educational meetings are held at 7 p.m. at the Lifelong Learning Center located at 8050 Paradise Road, Las Vegas (I-215 and Windmill Lane). For more information, please email or call the Master Gardener Help Desk at 702-257-5555.

WSU’s Voice of the Vine: Brains to Grapes, Wine in Provence, Inmates as Researchers, and Blackleaf in Grapes

Washington State University Extension News - Thu, 10/23/2014 - 9:27am
October 2014 From brains to grapes

Three months ago, Berenice Burdet was in Argentina, studying the intricacies of the human brain. Now, she is in central Washington, studying something slightly different: sugar transporter genes in wine grapes.

“Before this I was working with brains and rats. Now, I’m working with berries,” said Burdet, a postdoctoral research associate at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. “The physiology, the anatomy — everything is different.”

Berenice Burdet

The transition from neurobiology to viticulture was difficult, but it was something she really wanted to do, Burdet said. In Argentina she visited vineyards and, through her family, became familiar with the world of wine.

Burdet’s passion for viticulture was present throughout her neurobiology studies. After receiving a doctoral degree in neurobiology from the University of Buenos Aires, Burdet attended a few enology courses through the Argentina Wine School. After that, she was hooked.

“I was passionate about it,” she said. “I could really see myself working in viticulture and enology.”

For her doctorate, Burdet studied how exposure to stress affected the brains of rats. It isn’t direct, or easy, to apply results found in rats to humans, she said, and therefore it can take many years for findings to become applicable. When Burdet turned to viticulture, she found that real-world applications of research occurred more quickly.

“In this field, in just a few years of research you can see the result and find the ‘solution,’” she said. “You can help improve the harvest and fruit quality because you have constant contact with the growers and you know the problems they face.”

With no professional viticulture experience and two open offers to continue her work in neurobiology, Burdet went looking instead for a research opening in viticulture and enology. Last year she attended a microbiology seminar in Seattle, during which a speaker mentioned Markus Keller, a scientist and professor of viticulture at WSU. After reading Keller’s papers and book, she decided to approach him about a possible research position.

“When I contacted Keller, he gave me a few suggestions on where to begin my viticulture research,” Burdet said. “He knew what he wanted to see from me, based on my background in molecular biology.”

Keller thought Burdet would be a great match for the research team in Prosser.

“I look for diversity, not in just the traditional sense, but also in terms of educational background and expertise,” Keller said. “I look for people who can think outside the box and who may potentially challenge the status quo in our field of research.”

“I was very lucky to find Markus,” Burdet said. “I am very grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”

Dispelling myths

Burdet’s entry into viticulture involves investigating a common misconception in the wine industry: that more rain or irrigation close to grape harvest must increase the berry size, diluting the sugars and tannins and possibly “cracking” the berry, that is, breaking the berry skin.

But, fruit growth and ripening depend on supplies of both water and sugar, not just water. This myth, and the lack of evidence to support it, inspired Burdet to study how water flow affects sugar levels in grapes during ripening.

Sometimes water in plant tissue can flow backward when plant water levels are low or when temperatures and evaporation rates are high. This can cause grapes to lose their stored sugars, possibly affecting the ripening process, Burdet said.

“We think that the sugar that moves out of the grapes may be recaptured in the pedicels,” Burdet said. Pedicels are the small stems that connect the grapes to the cluster, she explained.

Scientists have already identified sugar transporter genes in the leaves, roots, stems, and leaf stems of grapevines, she said. Her goals, then, are to find out what role these transporter genes play during ripening and to see how grapes retrieve the sugars lost from water movement.

Looking forward

Burdet has only been working in Prosser a short time, but she is enjoying the challenges of her new direction.

“I am reading all the time because everything is so new for me,” Burdet said. “I want to learn and also take the opportunity to interact with the other researchers on my team.”

She also wants to learn more about enology and, perhaps even start making her own wine.

—Emily Smudde

Springtime and wine in Provence

Does wine education and Provence sound like an enticing combination? If so, then you might be interested in signing up for the Southern France Winery and Vineyard Tour offered by the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program next April 19-May 1, 2015.

Vineyards in Provence

Join Viticulture and Enology Program Director Thomas Henick-Kling on a 12-day tour that will be based in the beautiful and historic city of Aix-en-Provence. From there, you will travel to wineries and vineyards in some of the most celebrated wine regions of the Southern Rhone valley including Chåteauneuf du Pape, Bandol, and Hermitage, where you’ll go behind the scenes with the winemakers and grape growers. You will also spend time strolling through the medieval villages of Avignon and Arles, and visiting the exciting coastal towns of Monaco and Monte Carlo.

This tour is sure to be not only educational, but rich with culture, wonderful food and wine, and many memorable experiences.

Visit http://wine.wsu.edu/education/certificate/international-winery-tours/southern-france for the full itinerary and trip details. You can also contact Theresa Beaver for more information at tbeaver@wsu.edu.


Inmates as ad hoc research assistants

Most spider mite research projects involve the tedious work of counting spider mites—peering down a microscope to count tiny specks on leaves.

Some would even call it cruel and unusual punishment. But a Washington State University researcher has found a workforce that enjoys the monotonous work, and he’s even saving money for the state’s grape industry.

One of the biggest expenses in spider mite research is the cost of counting and recording mites in the laboratory from collected leaf samples. It’s a task usually assigned to research or lab technicians, and one that WSU’s David James did early in his career. “Technicians don’t want to do it,” he said of the boring work that involves sitting hunched over a microscope for hours. Read more of this story in Good Fruit Grower.


Blackleaf in Washington Concord grapes

The summer of 2014 was exceptionally hot and sunny. Given these conditions, it is no wonder that reports of Concord blackleaf have been rolling in faster than a lower valley dust storm. In some cases, blackleaf has not been limited to juice grapes, there have also been reports of it on some wine grapes in certain locations.

In order to understand how to potentially manage or prevent blackleaf, we have to understand what it is and what it is not. It is not a nutritional deficiency. All of those old recommendations for applying potassium fertilizer to alleviate symptoms? Throw them out. It is not a result of mite feeding. Mites will cause a more browning and bronzing of leaves; and they can be controlled with a miticide. Spraying a miticide will not alleviate blackleaf. It is not a disease; not powdery mildew, not Grapevine leafroll.

Image of blackleaf on Concord grape leaves

Blackleaf is a physiological disorder that results in the degradation of chloroplasts (cellular structures that conduct photosynthesis) and death of epidermal cells (the outer “skin” of a grape leaf). This degradation and death is caused by exposure to excessive UVB sunlight. Specifically, in blackleaf, the damage is a result of exposure to UVB when the leaves are not fully mature and therefore lack the waxy cuticle and build-up of sunscreen compounds that would naturally protect the tissue from damage.

In Washington, most of the damage that is seen in Concord vineyards as “black leaves” in September, was actually from damage that was initiated in late June and early July. This is why blackleaf tends to be a bigger problem during years with reduced cloud coverage during those months. The damage takes time to fully manifest itself and display the “black leaf” symptoms. It is akin to the delayed muscle pain felt when starting a new sport or exercise regime.

Why do some blocks of Concord grapevines display severe symptoms of blackleaf when adjacent blocks have very little? Drought stress has been implicated in exacerbating blackleaf in Concord. Drought stress reduces vine transpiration, which in turn, can result in superheating of leaf tissue exposed to the sun. This high heat exposure can further damage chloroplasts and cells, accelerating the damage to the leaf tissue. As such, vineyards that experienced water stress do risk having more severe blackleaf symptoms. Water stress only enhances symptom development in vineyards that have already suffered from blackleaf damage, it does not cause it.

There are no current commercially acceptable techniques for preventing blackleaf in Concord vineyards. However, in years with few cloudy days and warm temperatures, the severity of blackleaf may be reduced with appropriate management of vine water stress.

For more information on blackleaf and potential ways to reduce symptoms, please see WSU Extension Publication EB0745, Blackleaf in Grapes (Olmstead et al. 2005).

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of WSU’s Viticulture and Enology Extension News.

—Michelle Moyer

Cooperative Extension hosts Network of Fire Adapted Communities Conference

Connects communities to resources and partners to reduce risk and increase resilience to wildfires

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is holding the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities First Annual Conference at the Atlantis Casino, Resort and Spa on Friday, Oct. 24. Conference registration filled quickly, and the participants represent the many stakeholders in Nevada’s wildland-urban interface fire issue, including members of wildfire-prone communities; local fire service representatives; local, state and federal agencies; and landscape partners.

The Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities (The Network) is part of Cooperative Extension’s Living With Fire Program, founded in 1997 to teach homeowners how to live more safely in Nevada’s high wildfire-hazard environments. The goal of The Network is to connect interested community members with the resources and partners they need so they can reduce their wildfire threat, be better prepared when a wildfire occurs and ultimately work toward becoming fire adapted. The Network is coordinated by Elwood Miller, who served as executive director of the Nevada Fire Safe Council from 2002 to 2006 and is a University of Nevada, Reno professor emeritus of forestry.

"Member communities of The Network have taken specific steps to prepare their homes for wildfire and to work toward becoming fire adapted," Miller said. "A fire adapted community is one in which the property owners and local agencies have assumed responsibility and have become active participants in taking the steps necessary for survival, even when firefighting resources are on short supply. Member communities have access to the training and resources to assist them in their wildfire threat reduction projects."

The conference is made possible by funding from the Nevada Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service through a State Fire Assistance Grant, and by the Bureau of Land Management Nevada State Office through a Community Fire Assistance Agreement. For more information, visit www.LivingWithFire.info or call Miller at 775-336-0266.

WHO: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

WHAT: Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities First Annual Conference, part of the Living With Fire Program

WHEN: Friday, Oct. 24 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Some highlights include: Living With Fire Program Director Ed Smith presents "Action Ideas for Your Community" 11:30 a.m. - noon, and "The Virginia City Highlands Story" 1:15 — 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Atlantis Casino, Resort and Spa, Reno, Nev.

A better way to shine light in a dark world

Washington State University Extension News - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 9:26am

Years ago I purchased a headlamp — a small flashlight that straps around your head to light your way. It’s really useful because it leaves both your hands free as you work or walk. I used my headlamp during the dark half of the year to exercise my dog in dark pastures and an undeveloped No Man’s Land on a steep hill near my house.

My headlamp used an old fashioned light bulb and a fairly heavy battery to run it. I used it for years but it finally stopped working, so I recently purchased a new headlamp. Technology has changed, and for the better — the new light uses a light emitting diode, or LED, and much smaller batteries. I’ve tested it, and I think it puts out more light than my older, heavier model used to do. One thing is for sure, it’s easier on my head because it weighs a good deal less than my old model.

Recently the Nobel committee in Sweden announced that three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their role in creating the LED light, such as the one that powers my new headlamp. Two of the scientists, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, are in Japan, at Nagoya University. A third, Shuji Nakamura, is at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The three will receive a total of 8 million Swedish kronor, which is worth about $1.2 million according to a CNN report. They received the award for their work creating the blue LED in the 1990s.

For more than a generation, scientists labored to create a blue LED. Green and red LEDs had existed for years, but a blue LED remained elusive. When the trio of researchers created the blue LED, white light from LEDs became possible.

“They succeeded where everyone else had failed,” said the Nobel committee as quoted by the CNN report.

It’s rare that a Nobel Prize in physics directly touches our lives. But the new LED technology is important to all of us because LEDs are more efficient than old light bulbs and even compact fluorescents. In addition, fluorescent bulbs often contain mercury, something not found in LEDs. To top it all off, LEDs last a long time. People like my brother are putting LED lights into new buildings because of their advantages over old technology. And LEDs are found in more and more of our gadgets and devices.

It’s getting darker earlier each evening here in the Northern Tier state where I live. I will soon be relying on my LED headlamp as I walk the dog after work. I’ll remember the three scientists who made my new headlamp possible and celebrate their Nobel Prize in Physics.


Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.



November demonstration garden tour set

The Master Gardener herb garden at the Lifelong Learning Center is part of the tour. Photo courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Get your garden ready for fall planting

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners have scheduled the November garden tour—Alternative to the Tired Ten. The tour, scheduled for November 15, is free and open to the public. Master Gardeners will discuss which plants can be used in place of the hardy, but overused, landscape plants such as red yucca, oleander, Texas Ranger, etc. The tour lasts about 1 ½ hours.

To join the tour, meet in the Courtyard located at the Lifelong Learning Center, 8050 Paradise Road, Las Vegas, Nev. by 10 a.m. Walking shoes, water, hats, etc. are suggested. Groups (five or more people) are requested to call Ann Edmunds, program coordinator, at 702-257-5587 at least two weeks in advance.

The Demonstration Gardens contain over 500 species of desert appropriate landscape plants, including: trees, shrubs, perennials, palms, cacti and agaves. Plants are identified by botanical and common names. The grounds are open for self-guided walks on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information email or call the Master Gardener Help Desk at 702-257-5555 or visit the Facebook page.

WSU’s Green Times: Beetles, bees, beef & bread

Washington State University Extension News - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 2:41pm
October 2014 NEW! sustainable ag online graduate certificate

Washington State University will launch an online graduate certificate in sustainable agriculture in the spring.

The nine-credit certificate provides expertise in researching, assessing and improving sustainable agriculture, said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, the professor directing the program. It is designed for researchers already enrolled in graduate-level agriculture programs and for working professionals such as producers, organic certifying agents and corporate sustainability officers. Read more.


Nature’s pooper scoopers: Can dung beetles aid food safety?

For farmers, especially organic farmers, who are increasingly challenged by food safety guidelines, dung beetles could provide an elegant solution to a vexing problem. Entomologists at Washington State University are investigating whether dung beetles could suppress harmful foodborne pathogens in the soil before they can spread to humans.

Dung beetle on pig manure bait.
(Photo by Kyle E. Jones.)

The research will take place on 45 farms in Washington, Oregon and California, thanks to a $500,000 grant recently awarded by the USDA NIFA Organic Research and Extension Initiative.

“Every vegetable grower struggles with this issue regardless of management practices,” said Bill Snyder, WSU professor of entomology. “It’s a wide-open area where there is a hunger for more information and not a lot of good information out there.”

Attacking E. coli

Dung beetles play an important role in removing feces above ground and in killing pathogens in the feces that they feed on.

“We’re trying to pay attention to the ecology of the pathogen,” said Matt Jones, a doctoral student who will lead the three-year investigation of the feces-feeding insects. “You can think of dung beetles as an ecologically based cleanup crew.”

Droppings left by wildlife, domestic animals, and birds that carry harmful E. coli bacteria can contaminate farm produce, putting consumers and farmers at risk for illness and lawsuits.

Some farmers have pulled out windbreaks, drained ponds, and installed extensive fencing in order to decrease the risk of contamination from rodents, deer, and birds. These measures are expensive and not necessarily backed by scientific research to reduce risk, Snyder said. Simplifying the landscape in this way runs counter to the organic approach of increasing diversity on a farm in order to take advantage of natural ecosystem processes like pollination and pest control.

“We could be making the problem worse,” Snyder said. “By simplifying the environment, do you reduce the population of dung beetles?”

Different types of dung beetles have evolved diverse ways of eating, living in, and laying their eggs in animal feces. Together these approaches provide a “blanket attack” on animal feces.

Farm-based research Doctoral student Matt Jones checks a dung beetle trap.
(Photo by Kyle E. Jones.)

Jones wants to understand the relationships between the beetles’ activities, farm management practices, and the natural suppression of human-pathogenic E. coli.

He will collect data at organic, conventional and integrated livestock/produce farms about the number of dung beetle species, how they are spread across different types of farms, and how quickly they consume animal feces.

In the lab using soils collected from the farms, he’ll run experiments to see if the survival rate of the particularly harmful O157:H7 E. coli bacteria varies among different dung beetle species.

Food safety begins on the farm

Most food safety guidelines, known as Good Agricultural Practices or GAPs, focus on improving post-harvest handling practices.

The ultimate goal of this project is to provide new and long-time growers with tools to effectively improve the natural suppression of human pathogens on the farm, and to inform the debate on farm-based food safety practices with scientific research.

Jones said it’s too soon to know just what the potential management strategies might be, but the project includes extension components to make sure growers are informed. A series of farm-walk field days called “Dirty jobs: Nature’s pooper scoopers and how they can help save your farm” will be offered to teach growers how to monitor dung beetles on their farms.

Meanwhile, Jones has his work cut out for him.

“It’s a glamorous project,” Snyder jokes. “Matt drives around to all these farms with a freezer full of pig poop for baiting dung beetle monitoring traps.”

In addition to Snyder and Jones, the project team includes Thomas Besser, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine; John Reganold, WSU Crop and Soil Sciences; Daisy Fu, WSU Entomology; and David Headrick, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Learn more about the Snyder laboratory at http://entomology.wsu.edu/bill-snyder/

Share this story via http://bit.ly/1vPRS4q

- Sylvia Kantor

Leaning on native bees amid the honey bee decline

As the decline of honey bee populations garners international attention, David Crowder and Eli Bloom are turning to a different breed of bees for pollination services.

Bumble bee on sunflower.
(Photo by David Crowder, WSU).

Their three-year research project will help farmers and scientists understand native bee communities on small-scale farms in western Washington with support from a nearly half-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“Scientists really don’t know what an optimal native bee community on a farm in western Washington looks like, so that’s going to be exciting to find out,” said Crowder, an entomologist who studies insect ecology at Washington State University.

Bloom, a Ph.D. student who began studies with Crowder a year ago, has been working closely with farmers in rural and urban areas of King and Thurston counties. He has collected about 2,000 bee specimens from two dozen farms – a kind of “bug census” to look at the ecology of bee communities in diversified farming systems: farms and gardens producing a variety of crops year-round.

“Honey bees are an unusual species in that they form these huge colonies, whereas the majority of bees are solitary – building nests in twigs or in the ground, provisioning just enough food and care to support a few offspring,” Crowder said.

The more than 20,000 bee species in the world have a wide range of characteristics, just like other groups of animals. Although some native bees produce honey, the ones Crowder and Bloom work with don’t produce enough honey to collect.

The costs of rearing honey bees to pollinate crops, or even as a hobby, can add up for a small-scale farmer, so many farmers are interested in using native bees as an alternative. Although native bees are often less abundant, Crowder said it is possible for several species of native bees to come together and provide all the pollination services needed during a growing season.

Working directly with farmers, Crower and Bloom will use what they learn about the native bee populations to focus on practical techniques to promote native bee health and communities, including flowering strips with native Pacific Northwest plants, bare ground and other habitats.

“What excites me the most is in the very short term we are going to get a lot of really interesting information about these bee communities,” Crowder said. He’s also hopeful that in five to 10 years the research will have built a foundation that can drive changes in diversified farming systems for both organic growers and growers who are transitioning to organic systems.

For more information about the project, visit http://1.usa.gov/1qK26lX. Learn more about the Crowder laboratory at http://entomology.wsu.edu/david-crowder/.

Share this story via http://bit.ly/1sjvYYr.

 - Rachel Webber

Food labels can reduce environmental impacts of livestock production

With global food demand expected to outpace the availability of water by the year 2050, consumers can make a big difference in reducing the water used in livestock production.

© istock.com/fanch

“It’s important to know that small changes on the consumer side can help, and in fact may be necessary, to achieve big results in a production system,” said  Robin White, lead researcher of a Washington State University study appearing in the journal Food Policy.

White and WSU economist Mike Brady demonstrated that the willingness of consumers to pay a little more for meat products with labels that reflect a single, environmentally friendly production practice, such as water conservation, can add up to real change.

But such single-focus labels don’t yet exist and labels that are currently available can be confusing and misleading.

Saving billions of gallons of water

The study shows that meat packers and retailers can play a key role in creating incentives for water-saving livestock production with labels that appeal to consumer values, White said.

White and Brady found that by paying 10 percent more for environmentally labelled meat products, consumers could bring about huge water savings in livestock production. In 2013, the U.S. produced 26 billion pounds of beef.  Based on this number, White estimated that 76 to 129 billion gallons of water could be saved annually.

On the upper end, this adds up to the equivalent amount of water used annually by 3.5 million people, roughly the population of the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

White, now a postdoctoral scholar at the National Animal Nutrition Program, conducted the research as part of her doctoral studies in the Department of Animal Sciences at WSU.

Single vs multiple label claims

“It is difficult to tease out a product’s true environmental impact from currently available labels,” said White. “Consumers may believe a label represents an environmental, health, or animal welfare benefit but it’s difficult for them to really know.”

White and Brady were able to distinguish and compare consumers’ willingness to pay for meat products with labels that reflect a single attribute of reducing environmental impact with labels that represent a suite of attributes. Among the purely environmental labels, they evaluated different price premiums to find the sweet spot — where the lowest premium that consumers found palatable would also cover the costs to the producer of reducing water use.

The study also demonstrated that moderate price premiums for all cuts of meat that are acceptable to the average consumer will have a greater impact on water conservation than high premiums for a few niche products.

Growing greener grass

White explained that cow/calf operations represent an opportunity to significantly reduce water use in beef production. Feeding pregnant cows and suckling calves typically requires pasture or rangeland, and represents a substantial maintenance cost. Yet, in the U.S., intensive, more efficient pasture management is not yet what it could be, White said.

Growing grass more efficiently through strategic irrigation, fertilization and grazing strategies can significantly improve yield and save water, but adds to the costs for the producer. However, the price premiums associated with environmental labels can offset those costs.

The livestock industry wants to demonstrate improvements in sustainability, White said.  To do so, they need consumer cooperation and willingness to pay a little more for products produced with a reduced environmental impact.

“This study demonstrated that consumers are willing,” White said. “Now we just need to connect the dots to accurately represent a product’s environmental impact in a way that is meaningful, understandable and attractive to consumers.”

Share this story via http://bit.ly/1EAwrta

- Sylvia Kantor

Redefining bread Loaves ready for baking at the WSU Bread Lab.
(Photo by Sylvia Kantor, WSU).

The past few years of upheaval in how people grow, cook, think about, and eat food has left no corner of the supermarket untouched. Even bread, that most ancient, simple, beloved staple of diets around the world, has been the subject of both crisis and passionate revitalization. But behind every machine-sliced sandwich bread or carefully crafted artisan loaf is a simple question of language.

What do we actually mean when we say “bread”?

Read more of this Huffington Post blog entry by WSU researchers Bethany Econopouly and Stephen Jones.

Mulch and top soil available at Research Center

Residents loading mulch at the Research Center and Demonstration Orchard.

Back by popular demand, the community mulch pile

This is coarse, organic wood mulch chipped from trees removed in the Las Vegas community. Rather than send this valuable resource to the landfill the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Research Center and Demonstration Orchard is making it available to the community, free of charge.

This coarse mulch will not blow under high winds and allows good water and air penetration to the roots. It will decompose in a couple of years, adding organic matter to your soil, lowering the soil pH and encouraging soil microorganisms and worms. The Center uses four to six inches around the fruit trees.

Along with the mulch, soil is available as a result of the scar from the Carpenter One fire and rainstorms over the past year. As a result of the storms, over 26,000 cubic yards of soil coated the basin floor. The deposited soil was tested and it was determined to be highly enriched and was perfect for use as topsoil.

The mulch and the soil are available for pick-up from the Research Center on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon. The soil is free if loaded by the individual and only $2 per tractor scoop loaded. The Center is located at 4600 Horse Drive, North Las Vegas, Nev. For more information, contact the Research Center at 702-786-4361 or the Master Gardener Help Desk at 702-257-5555.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension&#8217;s Kim receives national recognition

YaeBin Kim, early care and education specialist at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, was selected to receive the First Place National Award in the human development/family relationships program category for her "Little Books and Little Cooks" nutrition and early literacy program from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Honored with First Place National Award for program addressing nutrition and early literacy in Nevada

A faculty member at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has received national recognition for her program addressing nutrition and early literacy in Nevada.

Early Care and Education Specialist YaeBin Kim received the First Place National Award in the human development/family relationships program category for her "Little Books and Little Cooks" nutrition and early literacy program from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences a few weeks ago at the Association’s annual meeting in Lexington, Ken.

The Little Books and Little Cooks Program was developed by Kim and is based on the premise that cooking offers children a way to learn pre-kindergarten skills and good nutrition, and to try nutritious foods. Parents also learn about good nutrition, positive feeding practices and positive parent-child interaction skills by reading, cooking and eating together with their children.

"I am extremely happy that YaeBin’s work was recognized by the Association," said Mark Walker, dean of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. "Her work exemplifies the importance of working with children from an early age to encourage good reading and eating habits. She identified the needs in her community and created this curriculum which encourages parents and children to learn and work together."

Kim is based in Cooperative Extension’s Clark County office, and her work has primarily focused on early child care, education and literacy. She works with community members to introduce nutrition and literacy to children early in life, before kindergarten.

"I love what I do and how that impacts our community," stated Kim after receiving the notification, "It is truly an honor to receive this recognition from the Association."

The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences educates and recognizes Extension professionals who improve the quality of life for individuals, families and communities.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offers training for use of pesticides

Free training available at 13 locations statewide Nov. 13

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, in partnership with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, is offering a free workshop Nov. 13 to train people throughout the state how to properly handle and use pesticides. The workshop is meant for certified applicators and people who regularly handle pesticides as part of their jobs, such as farmers, ranchers, park employees and groundskeepers.

"It’s important for applicators to receive up-to-date information about pesticide regulations and how to apply pesticides safely," Cooperative Extension Urban Integrated Pest Management and Pesticide Safety Program Assistant Melody Hefner said. "The workshop teaches applicators how to protect themselves, other people, pets, livestock, wildlife and the environment."

The training will be held in Reno at the Washoe County Cooperative Extension office, 4955 Energy Way, and will be made available via videoconference to 12 other Cooperative Extension locations throughout Nevada, including Battle Mountain, Carson City, Elko, Ely, Eureka, Fallon, Gardnerville, Hawthorne, Pahrump, Tonopah, Winnemucca and Yerington. The training runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Cooperative Extension, in partnership with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, has offered pesticide application workshops for the last 20 years, training thousands of Nevadans in safe pesticide use.

The Nov. 13 workshop will help those who have not yet been certified to prepare for the next Certified Pesticide Applicator exam. The exam costs $25 and will be offered Nov. 14 in Sparks at the Nevada Department of Agriculture office, 405 South 21st St., and in Elko at the department’s office at 4780 E. Idaho St. The exam will also be offered Nov. 17 in Winnemucca at the Cooperative Extension office, 1085 Fairgrounds Road. Exams are also given weekly at the Nevada Department of Agriculture office in Sparks by appointment only. For those who are already certified, the workshop will provide continuing education credits, which are required to maintain certification.

Hard copies of the study manual for the exam are available for purchase from Cooperative Extension for $15 or may be downloaded online for free at www.nevadapesticideeducation.com.

Limited seating is available for the Nov. 13 workshop. Preregister by Nov. 7 by contacting Hefner at 775-336-0247 or hefnerm@unce.unr.edu. Persons in need of special accommodations or assistance should call at least three days prior to the scheduled event.

Triggering the Ice Age

Washington State University Extension News - Mon, 10/13/2014 - 12:59pm

By Dr. E. Kirsten Peters

From time to time I give public talks on climate change — those large scale changes geologists have been studying since the 1830s. At those talks I’m often asked a basic question about climate that, until now, has stumped scientists. Here’s the background.

In the 1830s a Swiss naturalist named Louis Agassiz started promoting the idea that Europe had once been enveloped in a cold time in which large areas had been covered in glacial ice. He called that interval “the Ice Age.”

Working in this country in later decades, geologists studying glacial debris and soil layers came up with the idea that there had really been multiple episodes of extreme glacial advances. By 1900 most geologists agreed there had been at least four bitter intervals during which massive glaciers had covered Canada, with a sheet of ice extending down into the upper Midwest and New England.

Today, geologists believe there have been numerous cold times during the past 2.5 million years. Those long, bitter intervals have been separated by milder times like the present. The current warm interval has now lasted about 10,000 years. It’s really no different from the previous warm times except that human civilization has grown up within it.

But what triggered the start of the Ice Age? That’s the question I’m often asked by members of the public. After all, most of Earth’s history has been much warmer than the present and not marked by periodic advances of giant glaciers.

A team of researchers recently put forward a hypothesis that addresses the question of what may have started the Ice Age. They studied wind-blown dust in north central China, near the Tibetan plateau. That dust reflects changes in temperature and monsoons.

The idea coming out of the research is that the salinity of the Pacific Ocean was changed when North and South America were joined by the creation of the land bridge that now links them. The salinity change created more sea ice, which, in turn, led to changes in wind patterns, with intensified monsoons. Finally, the new wind and rain regime led to increased snowfall at high latitudes — and thus were born the massive glaciers geologists have longed believed in.

Thomas Stevens of the University of London was one of the researchers who recently put forth the new work.
“Until now, the cause of [the Ice Age] had been a hotly debated topic,” Stevens told ScienceDaily. “Our findings suggest a significant link between ice sheet growth, the monsoon, and the closing of the Panama Seaway, as North and South America drifted closer together.”

Once the Panama region took its present shape, a feedback cycle in climate was established. More sea ice promoted more precipitation of snow, creating the conditions for the growth of massive glaciers in the northern parts of our hemisphere.
If the new hypothesis holds up, it will address one question about geologically recent climate change on Earth. And it’s another example of how numerous factors influence climate. In this case, a dash of plate tectonics moving land masses closer together led to climate changes half a world away. Or so some now think.


Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Correcting errors in the language of life

Washington State University Extension News - Tue, 10/07/2014 - 7:20am

My word processor is set up to deal with the errors I make when writing. The programmers who wrote the computer program knew I’d screw things up, so they built in corrective functions like spellcheck and the ability to simply backspace to delete typos. Those of us old enough to remember manual typewriters still sometimes marvel at the ease with which corrections in documents can now be made.

Mother Nature also has a built-in corrective function, one at work in organisms as simple as yeast and as complex as people.

“Each human cell experiences 10,000 to 100,000 injuries or lesions in its DNA per day,” Professor Michael Smerdon of Washington State University told me. “And there are about 30 trillion cells in an adult human, which makes a lot of errors to correct in each of us.”

To cope with all that error in the language of life, complex repair processes are at work within us every microsecond. Our cells have repair proteins that can correct errors in the genetic code. In other words, DNA is a fragile molecule, prone to problems, but nature copes by having repair capabilities in every cell in your body.

Unfortunately, damaged DNA can block the activity of proteins, called RNA polymerases, that “read” the content of genes in DNA for making proteins.

“Even small problems in repair can lead to major diseases,” Smerdon said. “There are regions in DNA that, if they get damaged and are not repaired quickly, cause more problems than other regions.”

Diseases like leukemia, breast cancer, and colon cancer can result from faulty repairs. More rare maladies like Cockayne Syndrome and xeroderma pigmentosum are created by some of the same fundamental processes.

Smerdon is nearing retirement. In recent years he’s worked with a young man from China, Peng Mao, a post-doctoral researcher in Smerdon’s laboratory.

In a recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mao, Rithy Meas, Kathy Dorgan and Smerdon described how RNA polymerase can be helped to perform its corrective function. That is an important result in part because someday ill people may be given agents that will increase the effectiveness of repair proteins in the cell.

“Repair will never be perfect,” Smerdon said. “If it were, there would be no mutations and therefore no evolutionary change. We wouldn’t be here if all repairs were perfectly carried out. But it’s got to be pretty close to perfect to avoid disease.”

For Smerdon, the recent publication in PNAS has been an extension of work he began 40 years ago when he was a post-doc.

“I’ve been fortunate to live through major changes in molecular biology,” Smerdon said. “It’s been an exciting time in my field.”

Improvements in laboratory techniques have been one factor leading to the advancement of molecular biosciences. Mao, the young post-doc, expects that there will be many new techniques available to researchers when he is Smerdon’s age.

“By the time I retire, more techniques will have led to new theories and a deeper understanding of DNA repair systems,” Mao said. “And there will be applications to human medicine.”


Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

WSU’s On Solid Ground: Cattle and prairies, nematodes, soil quality, grape harvest

Washington State University Extension News - Mon, 10/06/2014 - 7:24am
Cattle could protect butterflies, conserve prairies

Butterflies, cattle and the military may seem like unlikely bedfellows, but for native prairies—some of the most threatened habitats in the world—the trio are closely connected.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. (Photo by Barna
Aaron, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the improbable pairing of cattle grazing and native prairie conservation is not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. Carefully managed grazing regimes can improve weed control and plant health, help re-establish native plants, and increase plant diversity compared with an unmanaged system. However, until now no systematic study has attempted to track the impacts of managed grazing on native prairie plant communities in western Washington.

Scientists at WSU, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), have established just such a study to see how “working landscapes” might support habitat conservation goals.

Military backing

In Washington State, much of the only remaining native prairie lands are found in southern Puget Sound, including on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Thurston County. These prairies support a diverse array of plant and animal species at risk for extinction. These include the rare, native golden paintbrush, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, and Mazama pocket gopher, which was recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Native camas lily on cow pile. (Photo
courtesy Peter Dunwidde, CNLM)

Southern Puget Sound prairies are the focus of the Sentinel Landscape pilot project, a federal, local and private collaboration intended to preserve agricultural lands, plus restore and protect more than 2,600 acres of public and private prairie lands that serve as wildlife habitat. At the same time, the $12.6 million project funded by the DoD, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reduce restrictions to military training activities on JBLM land.

“This is a unique partnership between agricultural and conservation professionals looking to improve productivity and conserve species,” said Lucas Patzek, director and agriculture faculty for WSU Thurston County Extension. “It’s part field research and part outreach to study how we might be able to integrate native plant species into working livestock operations on South Puget Sound prairies and also extend habitat for the recently listed checkerspot butterfly.”

Ranch-based research

The three-year study includes plots on Fred Colvin’s 550-acre black and red angus cattle ranch in south Thurston County. Fencing and research plots were set up on Colvin’s property last fall to measure differences between excluding cattle and allowing them to graze.

Fred Colvin, owner of Colvin Ranch in Tenino, Wash.
(Photo by Sylvia Kantor, WSU)

Certain fields are managed to improve native plant diversity and cover, while others are managed for a mixture of non-native species such as orchardgrass and tall fescue.

“They’re trying to figure out whether cattle can be part of a commercial cattle operation plus help as far as the prairies are concerned,” Colvin said. “Frankly, if you don’t have ag on these prairies, you might as well write the prairies off. Because what’s the other alternative use? Forestry? That won’t work. Pavement? I’ll tell you, the pocket gopher can’t live under pavement.”

As the Sentinel Landscapes project moves forward, Colvin wants to be sure the needs of the landowner—the ability to have a productive and profitable farming operation—are given priority.

Managing intensive grazing

To introduce producers to the concept of integrating livestock with prairie habitat conservation, Patzek developed a unique three-part managed intensive grazing course.

Colvin and over 60 other participants who took the course this summer learned about the importance of designating areas for livestock to graze when native plant pastures are either dormant or seasonally deferred during critical growth periods.

Future findings

It’s too early for results, but Patzek expects to find that, through prescribed management, the cattle will selectively graze the non-native perennial grasses that limit the establishment and growth of native species. He also expects the cattle hoof action will more readily return organic matter to the soil and promote seed contact with soil for improved germination of native plants like golden paintbrush.

It can take a couple of years for native plants to get established, so Patzek expects the research will continue as part of a long-term restoration and management project.

In the meantime, Patzek will continue to offer workshops for private landowners to better manage agricultural endeavors in western Washington prairie ecosystems. A series of fall workshops will teach agricultural producers how to conduct ecological site assessments.

—Sylvia Kantor

Nematode found in Washington; quarantines unlikely

A close relative of the cereal cyst nematode was discovered in Washington for the first time this summer. Local scientists don’t believe quarantines of Heterodera filipjevi will be required but are assessing the significance of the discovery.

“We’ve been dealing with a similar nematode for several years,” said Timothy Murray, a WSU plant pathologist. “This new species will have a comparable impact to the existing one and we’ll use the same treatments for its control.”

A stunted patch of winter wheat in a field infested
by Heterodera filipjevi near Colton, Wash.

Richard Smiley, an Oregon State University professor, was responsible for the find in Whitman County, Washington, and discovered the same species in Oregon in 2008.

H. filipjevi is listed as a quarantine pest by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service. The agency can potentially prohibit farmers from planting susceptible crops in infected fields. The pest affects wheat, barley, oats and other wheat-like grasses.

However, Murray doesn’t think quarantines will be required. He is in close communication with the inspection service to develop appropriate responses.

The recommended treatment for the pest is crop rotation and nematode-resistant wheat varieties. These practices keep nematode numbers low, thus reducing damage.

“These nematodes are significant pests around the world,” Murray said. “But there isn’t really a reason to quarantine fields in Washington since the nematode is already established and our farmers know how to manage them.”

Once nematodes are present, they are difficult to eliminate. Since they can’t grow on peas or lentils, significant numbers die during crop rotation.

Murray said quarantine is useful in areas where a pest is newly introduced and could be prevented from spreading. But since this nematode already is established in Washington fields, quarantine is unlikely to be effective.

“We estimate the new pest was introduced 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.

He also said Smiley’s research has shown that yield losses due to cereal cyst nematodes rarely exceed 10 percent, with a conservative estimate that nematodes do around $3.4 million in damage each year.

Murray said more surveys are needed to see how far the species has spread. The better the pest can be tracked, the more accurate the response for and from farmers. Smiley found the new species in three locations but did not look outside Whitman County.

Learn more about this discovery by visiting the WSU Extension small grains website.

—Scott Weybright

Questioning the value of soil quality

“The Nation’s Leading Potato Producing County,” states a sign on I-90 at the Grant County border. In 2010, Washington potato yields averaged 33 tons per acre compared to Nebraska at 20.7, Wisconsin at 19.8, and Maine at 14.5 tons. (Idaho’s main potato-producing counties average 27.2 tons per acre.)

Tall grass prairie under which high organic
matter soils (photo: Krazytea)

And it is not just potatoes; the Columbia Basin produces high yields of corn, dry beans, onions, and many other crops. However, the productive soils in the Columbia Basin often have soil organic matter levels less than 1%, much less than the level considered as adequate for proper functioning, and certainly not high enough to be considered high quality. How can such “low quality” soils produce yields higher than other regions with higher soil quality? This paradox highlights a problem with the concept of soil quality; that it does not take into account the soil management practices that farmers employ to overcome problems in so-called “low quality soils” and therefore does not reflect the real production capacity of soils, especially in the West.

Soil quality (or soil health) is currently receiving renewed appreciation among farmers, Extension, NRCS and conservation districts across the nation. While I commend this interest in soils, pursuing a vaguely defined soil quality or soil health can obscure the specific problems and their solutions.

For instance, across much of the arid West, low levels of organic matter can cause problems like crusting, low infiltration rates, low water holding capacity, poor horizontal water movement, low nutrient storage and cycling, restricted air movement, and compaction. Add to this the intensive tillage that often accompanies production of crops like potatoes, and the resulting bare soil is prone to wind erosion, increased evaporative losses of water and hot soil temperatures. Nevertheless, yields have been maintained, and even improved, on these “low quality” soils. If soil quality is a valuable concept, why doesn’t it reflect the high yields produced on these soils? The missing component is management. Read more.

—Andrew McGuire

Washington wine grape harvest to set new record


September 2 marked the official start of the 2014 Washington wine grape harvest.

Wine industry watchers are predicting a record harvest this year. The 2014 harvest is expected to be 230,000 tons, which continues a positive trend with 218,000 tons in 2013 and 210,000 tons in 2012.

See below to learn about the combination of factors that make Washington such a successful wine region.

Read more about Washington’s unique wines and the impacts of the Missoula Floods.
Infographic courtesy of friends and colleagues at the Washington Wine Commission and WineFolly.com.