By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
Smart Bark Could Mitigate Environmental Bite
Washington Technology Center has awarded $99,778 in research and technology development funding based on a proposal from WSU’s Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory in collaboration with Plant Care Technologies Corporation.
Plant Care Technologies Corporation, a start-up nursery bioproducts company located in Pullman, is partnered with the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory to study the commercial feasibility of using heat-treated waste-wood products as an alternative to traditional plant-growing media.
Washington’s sawmill industry produces 1.3 million tons of bark residues annually. Some of this forest industry byproduct is converted to a lesser-value material or used as fuel to produce steam or heat. Most is discarded as waste, creating both disposal costs and potential environmental issues.
In this Phase I project, WSU’s assistant research professor and Extension specialist Vikram Yadama and associate professor of horticulture and landscape architecture Rita Hummel plan to help Plant Care Technologies Corporation determine the feasibility of turning this bark waste material into a nutrient-supplying horticultural growing medium. The team plans to conduct a thorough analysis of the effects of thermal treatment on bark’s absorption, retention and controlled release of nutrients, herbicides and pesticides. This project is a first step in turning wood waste into a valuable commercial product for the plant materials and horticultural industries.
“This award from the Washington Technology Center underscores the pride we have in WSU and its well-earned reputation for innovative research,” said state Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), whose legislative district includes WSU’s Pullman campus. “The concepts and discoveries emerging from the partnership between the Wood Materials and Engineering Lab and Plant Care Technologies have great potential for economic development and environmental benefit.”
More information about the Research and Technology Development grants program is available at http://www.watechcenter.org/re/rtd.
Straw Residue Too Valuable to Harvest for Biofuels Production
Palouse wheat growers should think twice before harvesting crop residue for cellulosic ethanol production, says Ann Kennedy, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service soil scientist based in Pullman.
“In the more than 100 years that we have been cultivating soils in the Palouse, we have lost about half of the original organic matter,” she said. “Organic matter provides nutrients crops need; it holds water and contributes to aggregation.”
Ideally, according to Kennedy, the soils in this part of the Palouse should have about 3.5 percent organic content. In most fields, she said, it is closer to 2 percent.
“A lot of people think residue is part of organic matter,” she said, “but that is not correct. Organic matter is well-decomposed plant material and microbes. It is black and rich and gives soil its dark color.”
Tillage may mix the soil and residue too well, in essence over-feeding the microbes. The microbes will consume the incorporated residue too quickly and release most of it into the air as carbon dioxide.
“It is like going to an all-you-can-eat restaurant every day and eating too much,” she said. “You cannot adequately metabolize all the food you ate. Cultivated soil is like a ‘pig out’ for microbes. We need to constantly replenish organic matter.”
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Snohomish County is rich with natural resources: diverse forests, wild rivers, tranquil streams, and abundant fish and wildlife. An upcoming Washington State University Snohomish County Extension field day offers kids and parents a chance to learn about the natural wonders all around and about exploring, enjoying, and protecting these treasures for future generations.
The Natural Resources Field Day will be held on Wednesday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at McCollum Park, 600 – 128th Street S.E. in south Everett. This free event is open to kids of all ages and their families and is being held in partnership with the Snohomish County Parks Department, Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, and the Stillaguamish Tribe.
Kids will have the opportunity to visit different stations to learn about forest ecology, watersheds, bugs, native plants (including ones you can eat), and how to become a Junior Stream-Keeper. Each resource station will allow kids to learn about specific natural resources in a fun, hands-on way. (Note to parents: This may involve getting dirty.)
“This is a rare opportunity for kids to experience real, hands-on, outdoor education,” said Snohomish County 4-H Natural Resources Program Coordinator Gabrielle Roesch. “If your kids like animals, exploring the outdoors, poking at creepy-crawlies, and learning how to be environmental stewards, they’ll have a great time. It is a perfect opportunity to get them outdoors to explore and learn in a safe and fun environment.”
For additional details and registration information, contact Gabrielle Roesch at (425) 357-6011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.