College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

On Solid Ground – Dec. 12, 2012 – Christmas Trees, Flight Mills, 1-800-DNA

Christmas Tree Research Grant Aims to Solve Major Problems for Industry

New research will address Christmas tree issues--and possibly expand the market for live trees.
New research will address Christmas tree issues–and possibly expand the market for live trees.

One of the biggest problems for Christmas tree growers is Phytophthora root rot, a fungus disease that can shrink plantation yields up to 75 percent. A related issue (though a little less consequential) for consumers of live Christmas trees is the mess in their homes from fallen needles. Researchers at Washington State University and other universities hope to battle both of these problems with the support of a five-year, $1.3 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“The Christmas tree industry has some big challenges,” said WSU Christmas tree researcher Gary Chastagner, “and we hope that this national project will bring together scientific expertise and techniques to address these two issues.” Focusing on true firs, the researchers will leverage the genomics groups at North Carolina State University and the University of California, Davis, to find genetic markers for Phytophthora resistance and needle retention.

“Phytophthora root rot plagues all regions where firs are grown as Christmas trees,” said John Frampton, Christmas tree geneticist at NCSU and a collaborator on the project. There is no effective control for Phytophthora, so the best way to tackle the problem is to find resistant tree species. Chastagner’s graduate student, Katie McKeever, is collecting isolates of Phytophthora in various growing areas. By sequencing these samples and conducting pathogenicity trials, McKeever will contribute critical information to the team’s search for mechanisms of resistance in trees. Once the researchers find the relevant genetic markers, they can screen adult trees and select the most promising as seed sources for viable Christmas tree plantations.

The team will use similar techniques to resolve the matter of needle shedding. Chastagner’s multi-decade cataloging of Christmas trees with varying degrees of postharvest needle retention will give this part of the project a jump-start. By using these and other trees, scientists will be able to quickly identify needle-retentive gene sources so that growers can produce desirable Christmas trees.

Translating the Research to the Market

But even if growers have trees that don’t suffer root rot or needle loss, how can they be sure that consumers will flock to buy their new and improved products? After all, the number of live Christmas trees sold in the United States has remained relatively static for decades. Any increase in the Christmas tree market is absorbed by the number of artificial trees sold each year.

To address the stalled market growth for live Christmas trees, Jeff Joireman, WSU associate professor of marketing, will research specific consumer preferences with a nationally-representative survey followed by focus groups. Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association expects the data to expand the types of trees offered at commercial lots and U-cut farms across the country.

“Some people want an old-fashioned tree like grandma had,” Dungey said, referring to a live tree with a more open structure, in contrast to the closely-sheared, densely branched trees crafted by today’s Christmas tree industry. Dungey also noted the availability of live tree rentals in some areas, as well as narrow “condo” or “loft” trees in New York City, favored by those with insufficient space for the traditionally broad Christmas tree. “Consumers want more types and styles of trees,” Dungey said. “The marketing part of this project will examine the Christmas tree industry from the end user’s perspective, and allow the industry to respond to those desires.”

Learn more about WSU research on Christmas trees and other ornamental plants by visiting http://bit.ly/16Bs1r.

-Bob Hoffmann

Insect Flight Mills Video Now Available

You may remember the article about entomology graduate student Teah Smith’s insect flight mills research project in the October 10 issue of On Solid Ground (at http://bit.ly/flightmills). Now you can watch a video at http://bit.ly/VvisLq featuring Smith explaining her work and how it applies to growing tree fruit.

1-800-DNA

Michael Neff, WSU associate professor of crop biotechnology, teaches the graduate-level Plant Molecular Genetics–and also writes catchy songs. Check out the short video at http://bit.ly/X13lKK in which he combines his talents in the song “1-800-DNA,” performed for his class on the last day of lectures. Enjoy!

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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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Agricultural Research Center

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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

Thomas Bass, left, livestock environment specialist at Montana State University and chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win. (Courtesy photo)
Thomas Bass, left, livestock environment specialist at Montana State University and chair of the judging panel, and Mark Risse, right, congratulate George Neerackal on his poster win.

Cutting manure emissions earns student kudos

BSE student’s work to cut greenhouse impact of manure took honors in poster contest

By Seth Truscott

Pullman, Wash. — Dairy cows produce lots of manure. A WSU student’s research on cutting the environmental impact of all that waste won him second place in a poster competition at Seattle’s annual Waste to Worth conference.

George Neerackal, who graduates later this year with a doctorate in Biological Systems Engineering, took second in the Ron Sheffield Memorial Student poster contest, held March 31 to April 3.

His poster, “Mitigating ammonia emissions from dairy barns through manure-pH management,” was among three winners chosen by a national panel of judges. MORE

 

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Covercrop-byKantorStudy puts a price on help nature provides agriculture

By Sylvia Kantor

PULLMAN, Wash. – Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States describe the research they conducted on organic and conventional farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming and that can substitute for costly fossil fuel-based inputs. The study appears in the journal PeerJ.

“By accounting for ecosystem services in agricultural systems and getting people to support the products from these systems around the world, we move stewardship of lands in a more sustainable direction, protecting future generations,” said Washington State University soil scientist John Reganold, one of the study’s authors. MORE

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Prickly-lettuce-plant_Flickr-user-Jim-Kennedy2Study points the way toward producing rubber from lettuce

By Sylvia Kantor

PULLMAN, Wash. – Prickly lettuce, a common weed that has long vexed farmers, has potential as a new cash crop providing raw material for rubber production, according to Washington State University scientists.

Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they describe regions in the plant’s genetic code linked to rubber production. The findings open the way for breeding for desired traits and developing a new crop source for rubber in the Pacific Northwest. MORE

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By Rebecca Phillips

Bad news in the media got you down? News consumers have only themselves to blame, says new research showing that it’s actually buying habits that drive negative press.

The research looks at the negative news phenomenon through the prism of economic science. And while previous studies have focused on the supply side by examining media output, this analysis is among the first to investigate a negative news bias from the consumer or demand side. MORE

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By Sylvia Kantor

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

 

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MudflatImpact: Burrowing Shrimp and Invasive Eelgrass

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.

PoultryFarmImpact: The National Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Center

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.

BiosolidsImpact: Biosolids and Compost

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.

CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.

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Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going  initiatives and development of world-class students.

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