College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
Resistance Management, Water
WSU Scientist Advocates Fungicide Stewardship
It’s every doctor’s worst nightmare. Whether a healthcare practitioner for people, animals or plants, discovering that a disease (pathogen) has evolved resistance to your front-line defense is bad news. We’ve heard about it with a form of Staphylococcus that is resistant to multiple antibiotics, making it tough for doctors to treat. The same sort of process can happen with fungal infections in plants. That’s why WSU plant pathologist Chang-Lin Xiao is urging tree fruit industry professionals to rotate their use of key fungicides.
“In order to maintain our market share for Washington-grown tree fruits,” Xiao said, “we must be able to control pathogens. That means being on the alert for the development of resistance in pathogens.”
Xiao pointed out that fungicide manufacturers naturally want their product to be used year after year – that’s how they make the most money. But there’s been a change in that attitude based on the advocacy of Xiao and others. For control of postharvest rots of tree fruits, manufacturers and other industry professionals now understand that in order to maintain a product’s efficacy it must be used in rotation with other products –- even if rotation means that another manufacturer’s fungicide gets a piece of the market. “We have effective tools, but must use them judiciously,” Xiao said.
But Xiao is not relying solely on a defensive posture to ensure the future efficacy of fungicides. He’s taking an aggressive stance toward detecting resistance in the fungi themselves. “We are using molecular biological techniques to look for resistance in pathogenic fungi,” he said. “We are monitoring both orchards and packing houses, looking for strains of resistant fungi. We study the biological and ecological characteristics of fungicide-resistant strains and use what we learn to make application recommendations to growers and packing houses.”
Xiao and his colleagues also host annual WSU Fruit School meetings. There, they pass on new information to industry professionals in a timely manner. The results have been positive, with manufacturers now recommending rotating fungicides. “This is a progressive agricultural industry,” Xiao said. “The various parts of the industry” — growers, packers, and chemical manufacturers — “work together to make it both profitable and sustainable. It’s gratifying to work with such a forward-looking group of people to provide science-based solutions to the issues they face.”
When I was a kid I was “born again,” a process that involved being fully and totally immersed in water. Much more recently I was on the home stretch of an 8-mile walk in the hot sun when the minister I was walking with kindly poured her drinking water on my hot little head.
Seldom does water feel so good as when splashed on an overheating noggin in the summertime. As soon as my hair was sopping wet, I felt born anew, able to complete the walk with at least a tiny smidgen of spring in my step. Just a cup or two of water, supplied at the crucial time and applied to best advantage, made all the difference in the world.
What would you imagine is the largest use of water in the U.S.? We all can guess it’s not drinking water itself, nor wetting the heads of aging geologists. Would it be what goes on everyday in kitchens for meal preparation? Or the weekly washing of laundry? Bathrooms and what we do in them? Perhaps commercial car washes use more water than your home?
Actually, irrigation makes up the most significant use of freshwater in the U.S. In a nutshell, some farmers use a lot of water to grow crops on semi-arid or marginal land.
Techniques range from flooding fields to using pressurized sprinklers to anoint crops with much needed artificial rain.
There are some significant drawbacks to irrigation. Freshwater is a precious resource, and using so much of it for farming can be criticized as profligate. Beyond that, irrigation can degrade soil, making it saltier over time as water evaporates repeatedly in hot and dry regions where irrigation is commonly practiced.
But there are two major ideas to keep in mind when it comes to irrigation. The first is that around the world irrigation truly helps us produce food for the seven billion mouths we now have to feed on the planet.
In various parts of the U.S. we irrigate to grow everything from vegetables to wheat and rice. Almost all states in the Union have some measure of irrigated agriculture within them. And, as most of us vaguely know but we don’t often articulate, American farmers feed us well and also produce enough for many millions of others around the world to whom our harvests are exported.
All those facts came to mind recently when I read of a University of Wisconsin study about irrigation on a global scale. The bottom line of the study was that global irrigation patterns increase farming output substantially. In fact, that increase is almost as great as all of U.S. farming output rolled into one sum –- and we grow a lot of food in this country, so that ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
Agricultural productivity and irrigation aren’t the same everywhere because a little bit of water in a dry field can increase yields much more than a lot of water in a wetter region. Interestingly, the Wisconsin researchers believe irrigation around the world is used close to maximum efficiency.
In some ways the efficiency of global irrigation is good news -– we humans are not being wasteful with respect to a very large chunk of our freshwater resources. But it also means that as the population continues to increase, we can’t feed more mouths just by upping our irrigation efficiency.
One reason scientists and engineers are studying matters like irrigation is that people have become interested in all forms of carbon uptake from the air. If you grow plants, they “mine” carbon dioxide out of the air to build their carbon-rich little selves. A tree locks up this carbon for years or even centuries to come. By comparison, a crop plant like wheat only temporarily stores carbon.
Freshwater is one resource that, like energy, goes into all sorts of our products and activities. It’s so much cheaper than gasoline, we normally don’t think of it as we go about our daily lives. But it’s a limited resource the use of which has significant environmental impact. What we want to do with it is something we could well afford to think about more clearly.
One thing is evident to me: I want us to always have enough water to pour over the heads of old ladies taking long walks on hot summer mornings.
by Dr. E. Kirsten Peters
If you aren’t already reading the Rock Doc in your local paper, ask for her — or check out Dr. Peter’s weekly column online at rockdoc.wsu.edu. Follow her on Twitter @RockDocWSU.
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.
Rotating cover crops in tulip fields shows promise for fighting disease in the economically important flower bulb, according to early research findings at the Washington State University research center in Mount Vernon.
You generally don’t find livestock among the hills in the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks. “We’ve lost about ...
Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Men ...
The Rock Doc is a nationally syndicated newspaper column written by Dr. Kirsten Peters, covering many scientific and research related topics in a upbeat and entertaining fashion. Dr. Peter’s humor and anecdotes help to bring these stories to a public audience by showing how they affect everyday life. The most recent articles are linked below.
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CAHNRS Office of Research
Agricultural Research Center
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.
Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE
The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks.
“We’ve lost about a third of our state’s watermelon production over the last 10 years because of Verticillium wilt,” said Carol Miles, a professor of vegetable horticulture at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. “Growers have switched to other crops that are less susceptible.” MORE
Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Men are less affected by a single-symptom illness than women, but are more affected when more than one symptom is present. The number of symptoms doesn’t change how women are affected, according to Robert Rosenman, WSU professor in the Department of Economic Sciences. MORE
PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers know that adding natural buffers to the farm landscape can stop soil from vanishing. Now a scientist at Washington State University has found that more buffers are better, both for pleasing the eye and slowing erosion.
Linda Klein, a recent doctoral graduate in WSU’s School of the Environment, worked with six other researchers at the university, plus one at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Moscow (Idaho) Forestry Sciences Laboratory, to explore the role that buffers – strips or clumps of shrubs, trees and natural vegetation – play in the landscape and in people’s visual preferences.
Klein surveyed Whitman County residents to see if conservation features made for more scenic fields and valleys. She found that Palouse residents prefer more nature with their wheat fields.MORE
By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
In the world’s driest rainfed wheat region, Washington State University researchers have identified summer fallow management practices that can make all the difference for farmers, water and soil conservation, and air quality.
Wheat growers in the Horse Heaven Hills of south-central Washington farm with an average of 6-8 inches of rain a year. Wind erosion has caused blowing dust that exceeded federal air quality standards 20 times in the past 10 years. MORE
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Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.
Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.
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The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.
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