2014 Emerging Research Issues Awards

2014 Emerging Research Issues Awards

Return to Internal Competitive Grants

How will the Affordable Care Act Affect Health Coverage and Employment in the Agricultural Industry in the State of Washington?
PI: Bidisha Mandal, Economic Sciences
Co-PIs: Michael Brady, R. Karina Gallardo, Economic Sciences

There is considerable debate about the likely effect on agriculture of the individual and employer mandates included in the Affordable Care Act.  One of the main sources of ambiguity is the lack of knowledge about the effect of the employer mandate on wages and hours of employment.  We believe that the agricultural industry is particularly vulnerable because of the seasonal and transitory nature of its workforce.  Our proposed research will examine the impacts of the new law on the agricultural sector at the farm-level, in downstream food packing and processing operations, and in upstream agricultural support industries.  In the first year of the project we will track how employers in agriculture based industries plan to respond to the new law, and then assess the impact of their decisions on their own revenues, workforce, and employees’ health behaviors in the second year.


Protective Effects of Apples Against Obesity and Associated Complications through Modulation of Gut Microbiota
PI: Giuliana Noratto, Food Science
Co-PIs: Boon Chew, Food Science; Ivan Ivanov, Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, Texas A&M

Obesity is a national epidemic associated with dramatic increases in medical spending. One of the mechanisms by which increased fruit consumption can help is through modulation of bacterial populations in the host gut. We hypothesize that consumption of apples with enhanced content of non-digestible bioactive compounds can protect against the development of obesity and obesity related diseases due to apple-induced changes in gut microbe populations and host physiology.  We propose to identify apple cultivars produced in Washington with enhanced content of non-digestible bioactive compounds and test our hypothesis using a mouse in vivo model. We will investigate how the consumption of selected apple cultivars can change gut microbes andthe host physiology with respect to obesity and obesity related disorders. This study will provide scientific knowledge of the anti-obesity effects of apples, and will directly benefit apple stakeholders in the State of Washington.


Exploring the Next Generation of Manure Treatment Technologies for Sustainable Animal Agriculture and Enhanced Environmental Quality.
PI: Pius Ndegwa, Biological Systems Engineering
Co-PI: Hungsoo Joo, Biological Systems Engineering

Besides recovery of N from livestock manure for fertilizer, a nitrification-denitrification bioprocess offers the potential for the most environmentally-friendly approach of disposing of N via benign nitrogen gas (N2). Developing a commercially viable process faces many hurdles including: (i) an extremely slow nitrification step, (ii) vulnerability of nitrifiers to high N and organic matter loads (high-strength wastewaters), and (iii) requirement for separate aerobic and anaerobic regimes either in space or time. Consequently, this process: demands larger reactors and thus more capital and operation costs; is unsuitable for treatment of high-strength wastewaters (such as livestock wastewaters); and multiple reactors or complicated control systems are needed to provide aerobic and anaerobic regimes.  In this project, we explore a novel bioprocess that overcomes these challenges, using a recently identified microorganism with the unique ability to accomplish high N removal in high-strength wastewaters via N2 in an abbreviated aerobic process.


Commercialization Of New Crop Varieties
PI:  Jill McCluskey, Economic Sciences
Co-PIs:  Karina Gallardo, Economic Sciences; Kate Evans, Horticulture
Developing and marketing new varieties is essential to sales and profit growth of U.S. crops.  Traditional varieties of most crops can be improved from either the product quality standpoint or a cost-reducing standpoint. The primary objective of this research is to investigate mechanisms for the commercialization of new specialty crop varieties.  To achieve this objective, we will also pursue three operational objectives: 1. Design and conduct an economic experiment to collect primary data from growers on the relative profitability of different mechanisms; 2. Estimate an econometric model of the willingness to pay for trees, or willingness to assume costs for handling new varieties, under several pricing and information treatments and analyze whether these lead to differences across crops in terms of commercialization; 3. Recommend strategies and best practices to stakeholders, including university technology transfer office employees, university administrators and researchers.


Modeling the Recycle of Treated Wastewater as Dilution Water for a More Sustainable, Water-Balanced Anaerobic Digestion Process
PI: Craig Frear, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Biological Systems Engineering
Collaborators:Andgar Corporation, Ferndale WA; DVO Incorporated, Chilton WI; Cow Palace, Granger WA

Anaerobic digesters (AD) are a manure management technology capable of recovering biogas and therefore energy or fuel while also reducing the manure’s odor, pathogens, and greenhouse gas emissions. Adoption of AD in the US has been slow due to high costs in comparison to the low revenues from the energy, as well as difficulty in applying the technology to manures with higher solid content, such as poultry and feedlot manure. Application of AD to these manures would be possible if the treated manure wastewater could be returned as dilution water to process fresh manure, thereby decreasing the need for fresh water. Unfortunately, the digested manure often contains inhibitory chemicals like ammonia and salts that interfere with this recycling. In this study, digested manure will be subjected to various emerging wastewater treatment processes to remove these inhibitors. Experiments will inform models to determine optimal recycle rates to enable industrial users interested in such treatment and recycle options.


Deep Irrigation to Conserve Water and Advance Vineyard Management
PI: Pete W. Jacoby, Crop & Soil Sciences
Co-PI: Troy Peters, Biological Systems Engineering; Markus Keller, Horticulture

This project intends to demonstrate the potential to increase plant water use efficiency while overcoming a number of problems, such as weed growth, associated with surface irrigation. This research project will determine the potential to conserve water through deep sub-surface irrigation application (1-5 feet) via hard prototype emitters adaptable to existing irrigation system infrastructure. This type of irrigation has not been reported in the literature in recent decades, but a similar approach used over 30 years ago in Libya reported that table grapes could be grown on 20 percent of the water required with surface drip irrigation. We hypothesize that deep subsurface irrigation, can permit WA vineyard managers to employ water as a management tool to achieve precision viticulture, such as regulated deficit irrigation, while reducing management inputs currently employed to grow quality grapes in arid regions.


Developing high-throughput sensor technologies to screen water use efficiency in model crops
PI: Sindhuja Sankaran, Biological Systems Engineering
Co-PI: Asaph Cousins, Biological Sciences

Photosynthesis is an important process that defines several aspects of plant production such as growth, biomass, water use efficiency, nutrient uptake, and yield. The uptake of CO2 during photosynthesis comes at the expense of water loss through the stomata. Therefore, rates of photosynthesis are often restricted by CO2 availability when stomata close under drought conditions. Traditionally, it is difficult to screen for water use efficiency across a large plant population, making it challenging to select for increased water use efficiency while maintaining biomass within a breeding program.  Thus, it is important to develop and implement new high throughput sensing technologies that will rapidly assess water use efficiency across a large plant population.  The overall goal of this project is to use thermal imaging and visible-near infrared spectroscopy-based non-invasive sensing technologies to rapidly screen differences in photosynthetic and water use efficiency in plants to compliment contemporary breeding efforts.


In-field Sensing and Decision Support System to Prevent Cherry Fruit Cracking due to Rainwater
PI: Lav Khot, Biological Systems Engineering;
Co-PIs:  Qin Zhang and Troy R. Peters, Biological Systems Engineering; David M. Granatstein, Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center;
Cooperator: Matthew D. Whiting, Department of Horticulture.

Fruit cracking due to early summer rain remains the key concern for fresh market sweet cherry growers worldwide. Existing mechanical rainwater removal techniques (e.g. orchard sprayers or fans, aerial helicopters) are used by growers but there has been little systematic research on when and how much water needs to be removed from cherry canopies and the effectiveness of water removal. We plan to develop an intelligent in-field sensing and decision support system that can aid growers in managing canopy rainwater removal. In sweet cherry production, manned helicopter flights are commonly used to disperse canopy rainwater. These flights are costly and involve safety risks to the pilot(s) and field crew. Using mid-sized unmanned aerial helicopters is an emerging technology and may be a viable alternative to manned helicopters. Therefore, we plan to evaluate feasibility of using unmanned helicopters instead of manned helicopters and ground spray treatments for rainwater removal and estimate potential cost differences.


Modulation of Rhizosphere Ecology and its Impact on Crop Productivity
PI:  B.W. Poovaiah, Horticulture
Co-PIs:  Liqun Du, Horticulture; Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Crop and Soil Sciences
Cooperators:  N. Richard Knowles, Horticulture; Mark Mazzola, Tree Fruit Research Center – USDA, Wenatchee; David Granatstein, Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee; Frank Young, USDA-ARS, Crop and Soil Sciences

The plant rhizosphere is established within a complex system of bacteria, fungi and minerals in the soil. In the right balance, the system helps plants acquire valuable nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, protects plants from disease, increases water absorption and promotes plant growth and development.  It has been shown that a calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase (CCaMK) plays a critical role in decoding the calcium signal and it is required for both bacterial and fungal symbioses.  Furthermore, it is becoming clear that the root zones of wild-type and CCaMK-deficient mutant plants possess different microbial communities. These studies suggest the importance of CCaMK in fostering bacterial and fungal symbioses, as well as playing a role in altering the root biosphere, thereby promoting soil health and sustainability.  The overall goal of this project is to investigate the rhizosphere ecology and its impact on crop productivity.


Introducing Organic Quinoa Production Systems in the Palouse
PI: John P. Reganold, Crop and Soil Sciences;
Co-PIs: Chris Benedict, Extension Educator; Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Crop & Soil Sciences; David W. Crowder, Entomology; Kevin M. Murphy, Crop & Soil Sciences; Kathleen Painter, U Idaho Agricultural Economics & Rural Sociology; Steve M. Van Vleet, Regional Extension Specialist.
Over the past decade, the popularity of quinoa has quadrupled prices at U.S. retail outlets. Despite this demand, the vast majority of the quinoa consumed in the U.S. is imported from Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. This project hopes to increase organic quinoa production in the U.S. by providing growers in the Palouse region of Washington State, a large conventional grain-producing region, an opportunity to diversify their current cropping systems and marketing options. We will assess the sustainability of eight organic grain rotation trials with and without two proven varieties of quinoa on a 1.2-ha parcel in a commercial grain farm in the Palouse. We will measure crop yield and quality, weed and insect populations, soil quality and microbial communities, nitrogen and phosphorus budgets, and economic performance. We plan to reach farmers, producers, consumers, and Extension agencies through outreach activities, including a webpage, social media utilities, and a field day.


Using biochar to sequester antibiotic residues during food animal production
PI: Douglas R. Call, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health and Washington State Agricultural Research Center
Co-PIs: Craig Frear, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Biological Systems Engineering; Jeff Ullman, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, University of Florida
Antibiotic resistance has gained significant attention as an increasing number of infectious agents become immune to our current arsenal of antibiotics. The majority of antibiotics are eventually excreted as biologically active compounds in the environment, and recent studies suggest that antibiotic residues contaminating animal pen soils increase the load of resistant bacteria in livestock. These findings highlight the need to consider how antibiotic use and pen management practices can be modified to limit antibiotic resistance. One way this can be accomplished is by sequestering active antibiotics so they are not able to exert a selective pressure on the soil microbial population. Biochar is similar to activated carbon in that it has sorptive properties that can promote enhanced antibiotic adsorption/sequestration/de-activation. This project will survey antibiotic de-activation from a multitude of available biochars and test applications of these products to decrease the number of antibiotic resistant E. coli in calf pens.


Microbial Contribution to Organic Carbon Sequestration in Mineral Soil
PI: Zhenqing Shi, Crop and Soil Sciences
Co-PIs: Kent Keller, School of the Environment; Linda Thomashow, USDA-ARS; Tarah Sullivan-Guest, James Harsh, Crop and Soil Sciences

Soil productivity and sustainability depend on soil organic matter (SOM). Our understanding on how organic inputs to soil become converted to SOM by microbial processes is still limited. This project aims to understand how microbes affect carbon (C) sequestration and the formation of SOM in soil. Specifically, we will study the formation of biofilms on typical mineral surfaces and in Pacific Northwest soils and determine how the stability of biofilm-associated C is affected by properties of mineral surfaces, plant roots and microbes. We will conduct laboratory microbe growth experiments in replicated sand/mineral columns or soil columns with or without plant growth. At selected times, we will collect mineral, soil, and biomass samples to conduct a variety of analysis to evaluate the changes of C pools in columns. This study will advance our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms behind SOM production and retention in soil.


Understanding of Food and Microbiological Properties at Elevated Temperatures to Improve Low-moisture Food Safety
PI: Juming Tang, Biological Systems Engineering
Co-PIs: Meijun Zhu, Girish Ganjyal, School of Food Science; Shyam Sablani, Biological Systems Engineering; Devendra Shah, Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology
Safety of low-moisture foods is a major emerging issue faced by the food industry. It is now known that the heatinactivation tolerance of pathogens like Salmonella and Cronobacter depends on water activity (aw) in foods. There is little knowledge about how aw in low-moisture foods changes at elevated temperatures with different food matrices and components, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.  This project will generate scientific information regarding aw changes at elevated temperatures through the development of novel aw determination methods. The mechanisms behind the unpredictable thermal resistance of Salmonella at different water activities will be investigated. Knowledge obtained through this project will facilitate optimization of thermal processing and develop valuable strategies to reduce Salmonella contamination in low-moisture foods, specifically cereal, diary and meat products developed by food industries in Washington State and USA in general.