College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Orchard-Insect Ecology, Biofuels

Entomologists Open New Frontiers to Aid Sustainable Future for Fruit Growers

WSU entomologist Vince Jones
WSU entomologist Vince Jones

In response to a study that found seven years to be the average period from the finish of research to its implementation, WSU entomologist and behavioral ecologist Vince Jones shook his head. “We just don’t have that kind of time.”

Jones’ urgency is based on two pressing issues affecting the long-term sustainability of the Washington tree fruit industry. The first is a line in the sand drawn in 1996 by the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act. The FQP Act charged the Environmental Protection Agency with re-evaluating all pesticides. After its investigation of organophosphate pesticides, the EPA ordered that some be phased out as harmful to the health of humans — especially children — and the environment.

“These pesticides were known factors in orchard systems,” Jones said. “We know how they work. What we’ve got now are lots of alternative materials that need to be investigated for their pest-control efficacy and for their effects on the stability of the entire orchard system.”

The other looming issue is global competition putting pressure on Washington’s 100-million-box per year apple industry, the biggest contributor to the state’s $6 billion per year tree fruit industry. Costs must be minimized in order to sustain the state’s reputation for producing the world’s best apples. WSU researchers are working on the economic sustainability of the tree fruit industry from several directions at once. Some are working on automation, others on genetics and the breeding of tasty new varieties of apple and cherry. Still others, like Jones and the other entomologists at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, are working on insect problems.

Building on the decades of pioneering research in integrated pest management, or IPM, Jones is a lead scientist on a project striving to push the frontiers of our understanding of the complex ecology at play among insects in fruit tree orchards. Jones is an expert on biological control, a strategy that seeks to encourage the natural insect enemies of orchard pests to flourish and be nourished by the bugs that would otherwise damage the fruit. Coupled with IPM strategies, such as dispersing tiny amounts of insect pheromones in order to confuse male apple coddling moths — the bane of apple orchardists — and disrupting the moths’ reproductive cycle, the entomologists have developed a mighty arsenal of pest management strategies.

“What we’re finding is that some of these new, post-organophosphate pesticides play havoc with biocontrols and IPM,” he said. “But we’ve made enough advances in IPM and biocontrol strategies that we’re able to look at reducing application amounts and more precisely applying the pesticides we still need to use.”

Part engineering, part biochemistry, and part psychology, Jones and his colleagues have developed technologies to measure and channel bug behavior. Using lures and attractants, the researchers are able to capture a real-time picture of insect life in the orchard. These “smart” insect traps transmit their data to a computer where it is combined with gigabytes of other information pouring in from a statewide network of weather stations. The result is a decision-aid system, or DAS (, providing growers with that most powerful asset of all, knowledge.

WSU’s DAS is accessed via a web browser. Users establish profiles and customize information for particular locations. Insect phenology — the sequence and timing of events, such as molting and mating, in the life of an organism — is incredibly complex because it involves highly dynamic systems such as weather and insect-plant interactions. Decades of data collection, though, have resulted in a tool that allows growers to predict the future with a remarkably high degree of accuracy. With real-time weather data, pest outbreaks can be predicted based on such variables as temperature and precipitation. Thus armed, growers can move quickly with a measured and targeted response.

From zero users five years ago, Jones said that DAS is now used in the management of nearly all of the 225,000 acres of Washington orchards.But the DAS is still a work in progress, he pointed out. Jones and his colleagues are preparing for major “upgrades” in pest management strategies. In the middle of a five-year project funded by a multi-million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jones said he and his colleagues, some at WSU, others in Oregon and California, are tackling the job of getting their past two years’ worth of research into the hands of the those who need it to stay competitive: the growers.

“We’re going to compress years of outreach into just a couple,” Jones said. “That’s possible because we have an incredibly sophisticated industry that is eager to adopt strategies that will sustain their competitiveness and the environment.”


Learn more about Jones’ research by visiting

Check out the web-based decision-aid system by visiting

Learn more about the wide range of tree fruit research and outreach at WSU, including the campaign for tree fruit, by visiting

WSU, Port of Benton Research Project to Turn Organic Waste into Biofuels

Birgitte Ahring
Birgitte Ahring

An innovative idea for making advanced biofuels such as jet fuel, diesel and gasoline from regional resources is moving forward with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. “This process will demonstrate the use of local biomass from our community and our farmers and it will answer questions across the state,” said Diahann Howard, Port of Benton economic development director. “It will also give more options locally to use waste for energy and not stockpile ag waste, which can create hazardous and/or unappealing situations.”

The team of Washington State University Tri-Cities, the Port of Benton, Clean-Vantage LLC, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will conduct the $1.5 million “BioChemCat” pilot project in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-Cities under the leadership of Birgitte K. Ahring, director of the WSU Center for Bioproducts and Bioenergy and Battelle Distinguished Professor.

BioChemCat refers to the biorefinery process that uses both biochemical and thermochemical processes to make biofuels and biochemicals. “The concept is feedstock agnostic; it doesn’t really care what kind of biomass you use,” Ahring explained. “It can use all kinds of feedstock: municipal waste, vineyard waste, feedlot manure, woody material, and ag waste like corn stalks, straw, or corn cobs after the kernels have been removed. It could be implemented all over the world.”

The project involves the following other new twists on biofuels production:

  • The waste can be wet. Many biofuels processes first require that the waste be dried, which can be expensive and time consuming.
  • The process can be operated in a spoke-and-hub manner, where the initial part of the process (the creation of distillates) is done in small-scale local facilities, while the final upgrading into advanced fuels is done in a few specialized hubs.
  • Both parts of the process combine new breakthrough knowledge that allows for reducing the final fuel cost.
  • The process is expected to be high-yield. For example, it potentially could make more than 70 gallons of jet fuel per ton of dry materials. This is much higher than other processes.
  • The process can be operated to produce gasoline, diesel or jet fuel depending on the need. The technology thus represents an example of producing “drop-in replacement fuel” for oil-based products.

“We think we will be capable of demonstrating within two years that the BioChemCat process has major value,” Ahring said.

–Melissa O’Neil Purdue, WSU Tri-Cities

WSU Tri-Cities is located along the scenic Columbia River in Richland. Established in 1989 with upper division and graduate programs, WSU Tri-Cities expanded in 2007 to a four-year undergraduate campus offering 17 bachelors, 13 masters, and seven doctoral degrees. Learn more about the most diverse campus in the WSU system at

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CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.



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With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, CAHNRS is one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU.


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Inspiring Teamwork - Arron Carter pic

Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter

It started with a car, a ’69 Corvette Stingray to be exact.

When Arron Carter, the director of the Washington State University Winter Wheat Breeding Program, was in high school his agricultural teacher had a ’69 Corvette Stingray. Every year this teacher would let his favorite senior take the car to senior prom. Carter had never taken an agriculture class before, but he knew he wanted to drive that car.

“Well, if I’m going to be the favorite senior,” Carter said to himself, “I’d better start taking some ag classes.”…

Read More: Inspiring Teamwork – Arron Carter


CAHNRS Office of Research

Agricultural Research Center

Mission Statement

The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.

Featured Research

sliced pear

Research for specialty crops boosted by $1.7 million

More than $1.7 million was awarded to Washington State University for specialty crop research including berries, potatoes, grapes, tree fruit, onions, carrots and Christmas trees.
Western bluebird with cricket. Photo by flickr user Kevin Cole.

Weighing the benefits, risks of wild birds on organic farms

Washington State University researchers will help organic growers protect human health by assessing the risks and benefits of wild birds on organic farms. Researchers received nearly $2 million from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative to conduct the study.
Moyer Testimony 9.29.15

VIDEO: Jim Moyer testifies on specialty crop research before House Agriculture Committee

Jim Moyer, associate dean of research for CAHNRS and director of the Agricultural Research Center at WSU, presented specialty crop research innovations in Washington, D.C. this fall.
Winter Wheat May 2014 by McFarland

‘A quiet crisis’: The rise of acidic soil in Washington

Gary Wegner first noticed the problem in 1991, when a field on his family’s farm west of Spokane produced one-fourth the usual amount of wheat. Lab tests revealed a surprising result: the soil had become acidic.

Study: Small railroads important but costly to upgrade

More than half of Washington’s short-line rail miles aren’t up to modern standards, according to a recent study by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State University Freight Policy Transportation Institute.
A grizzly bear with her cubs at the WSU bear center.

Single hair shows researchers what a bear has been eating

By looking at a single hair, U.S. and Canadian researchers can get a good idea of a grizzly bear’s diet over several months.

CAHNRS Office of Research

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Alumni & Friends

Holiday Hours & End-Of-Year Giving

It’s that time of year again—time for sharing merry moments with family and friends. As you prepare for the holidays, consider these year-end giving tips below. We know how important the last few days of 2015 will be for meeting tax deadlines, and we are here to help make the process as easy as possible.

Please note the WSU Foundation’s hours of operation through the end of the year:

Dec. 2 – Dec. 23: Normal operation (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

Dec. 28 – 31: Although Washington State University and the WSU Foundation will be closed, WSU Foundation gift accounting and gift planning staff will be available by phone from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. throughout this week. If you would like to give a gift of appreciated stock or discuss your year-end giving plans to benefit WSU, please call 1-800-448-2978.

Making a gift online using the WSU Foundation’s secure site is an easy way to make your year-end gift using a credit or debit card any time, day or night. Note: Online gifts may be made as late as 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31 to receive tax credit for 2015.

Thank you for your generous support of Washington State University throughout the year. Have a wonderful holiday season!

Year-end Giving Tips:

Remember, only gifts made by Dec. 31 can help reduce your 2015 taxable income. Please keep the following in mind and consult your tax advisor for specific details.

To Receive 2015 Tax Credit:

  • Make sure your gift is dated and postmarked no later than Dec. 31, 2015.
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The date you deliver or mail your donation is generally recognized as the gift date for tax purposes. Please note, the date on the actual check or money order is not recognized by the IRS as proof of your intent to give on a particular date. Gifts by check or money order may be mailed to:

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PO Box 641927
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Note: Gifts may be hand-delivered to the WSU Foundation Town Centre Suite 201 during hours of operation.

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The date your account is debited is considered the date of the donation. In order to receive a 2015 charitable income tax deduction, credit card gifts must be processed against your account in 2015. Please make sure to make your gift online using your Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.

Have your stocks gone up in value this year? Consider making a simple and tax-wise gift of appreciated stock. Please note that mutual fund shares may take several weeks to transfer, and the gift is not considered complete until the shares are received in the WSU Foundation’s account. To give the University stock or discuss your year-end gift to WSU, please call 1-800-448-2978.

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