It is a pleasure to once again summarize the successes
of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.
During 2006, our scientists worked on 110 projects and developed a variety of new initiatives to put research discoveries on the ground and in Kentucky’s communities.
A complete report of projects, publications, and grants is at
Our partnership with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Forage-Animal Production Unit produced 20 research projects in grazing animal research, mostly to develop new ways to use fescue. Thanks to the efforts of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the only federal laboratory in Kentucky continues to grow.
The College of Agriculture Equine Initiative involves new and expanded equine research and education appropriate for our signature industry. Six more faculty in equine economics, epidemiology, pathology, and toxicology as well as 4-H horse programs have joined the College.
The UK Alltech Nutrigenomics Initiative began in 2006 with a $900,000 grant from Alltech. It represents a unique industrial partnership in a new area, best described as fine-tuning how nutrition affects regulation of genes.
The Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station supports services that are vital for Kentucky’s farms, agribusinesses, and consumers. The Division of Regulatory Services conducted more than 15,000 inspections on Kentucky’s feed, seed, fertilizer, and milk products. Bill Thom now leads the unit and continues quality programs while exploring new ways to communicate and serve clients. In 2006, the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center served veterinarians in all phases of the agricultural animal and pet industries. The center will move forward under Craig Carter as the new director. We appreciate stakeholder support for the second phase of renovation, which is expected to allow full accreditation status for the center.
In 2006, College external funding was increased dramatically, by more than $8 million! This was the highest percentage increase at the University, with only the College of Medicine exceeding us in funding. The increase in gifts to $10 million (compared to $4 million last year) is mostly due to a gift for equine health programs from the Janet E. Koller Foundation. Note that the funding totals reflect contributions of College faculty with teaching and extension appointments as well as research positions.
The projects highlighted in this report illustrate the diverse ways that College researchers make a difference in Kentucky. They cover agricultural production, quality of life, and environmental sustainability.
Agricultural production is the subject of work in cattle by Jamie Matthews, whose team is conducting the equivalent of a “superfund” project (see story on Superfund program, page 14).
Saratha Kumudini is applying advanced knowledge of crop physiology to help farmers manage soybean rust.
Quality of life for an increasingly aging population is the subject of Hyungsoo Kim’s work.
Bill Witt’s work in controlling weeds affects aesthetics of the viewscape from Kentucky’s highways as well as developing applied knowledge of how to manage invasive species.
The word sustainability describes work in the field and work in retail stores for two new faculty members, Rebecca McCulley and Scarlett Wesley.
The work of these outstanding scientists illustrates the variety of disciplines that make up the research programs of the College and the variety of ways this research will benefit Kentucky.
Nancy M. Cox, Associate Dean for Research
Director, Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station
S-129 Agricultural Science Center
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40546-0091
Federal — $5,233,096
Gifts & Endowment Income — $10,322,528
Grants & Contracts*— $31,527,814
State — $27,536,538
* Includes funding secured by teaching and extension faculty
Grants & Contracts
Awarded to the UK College of Agriculture through the UK Research Foundation
$31,527,814 — 2006
$23,492,755 — 2005
$23,037,707 — 2004
$16,892,430 — 2003
$17,204,795 — 2002
$10,499,184 — 2001
Encouraging Green Shopping
Scarlett Wesley considers herself an average consumer. She’s part of a two-car family. She likes to buy clothes.
“I’m a big ‘stuff’ person,” said Wesley, a faculty member and researcher in the Department of Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles.
But she is worried.
Scarlett Wesley at Argo, a Lexington store that sells
goods made sustainably
“What we as consumers are doing to the environment is scary,” she said. “It has long-term impact. What are we going to do with all this stuff? Where will it go? How will we get rid of it?”
Wesley and a colleague at Kansas State have begun a joint research project to better understand how people who think green—who are conscious of what they can do to sustain our natural resources and nourish the planet—differ from the broad range of consumers.
To find out, they organized focus groups in Kentucky and Kansas of people who consider themselves early adopters of sustainable practices. Then, they asked them questions to understand what motivates them and what keeps them from doing more. In at least one respect, the researchers were surprised.
“We found that they were enthusiastic about the subject of sustainable food but had rarely had a single thought about clothing,” said Wesley, whose professional focus is on apparel merchandising. She believes that fewer clothes mean less waste in the environment.
“How do we get people to understand that maybe five T-shirts is enough, that they don’t need 10?” Wesley asked. “We’re a disposable society. We buy things, then we throw them away without a second thought. Not much of it is biodegradable.”
Now, Wesley and her colleague (Melody LeHew, an associate professor at Kansas State) have taken their research nationwide. They are randomly sampling 1,000 consumers online to ask about their buying habits, trying to understand how this group is different from the sustainable group.
When the results are in, Wesley and LeHew will have a better understanding of what brought the first group of consumers to thinking sustainably, and how other consumers could be educated to that point.
Her second goal is to encourage retailers to think more sustainably, a groundswell she thinks has already begun.
Wesley’s aim is to help average consumers do what they can do “realistically” in their lives to make a difference. “If people think they have to do it all, they’ll be overwhelmed or feel guilty. But it’s OK to do whatever you can,” she said.
Helping Drivers See Their Way Clear
If you’re traveling Kentucky’s highways, you just might see Bill Witt, a researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, or his assistant, Mitch Blair.
They could be near a ramp on I-64, on U.S. 127 near Frankfort, or at I-75 and Ironworks Pike in Fayette County.
Actually, they could be anywhere from Lake Barkley in Western Kentucky to Pikeville in the east, with cars and trucks whizzing by as they work.
“It’s a roadside experiment station,” Witt said. “You’ve got to go where the problem is."
Witt is dealing with a simple problem, on its face. Motorists need to be able to see, and they don’t need weeds like Johnsongrass, or trees, or invasive species like bush honeysuckle in the way.
Mitch Blair (left)
and Bill Witt
State regulations require that weeds be controlled, and state workers regularly mow more than 27,000 miles of roadway every growing season to make sure Mother Nature doesn’t impede drivers’ visibility. But what techniques and products to use? And when?
Witt began his research in 2003 with a grant from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to use science to answer those questions.
He systematically tests, on various weeds, trees, and other plants, different herbicides and growth regulators and different ways and schedules of applying them. Some products may work better for some weeds than others. Witt also tests other removal methods, such as mowing and hand cutting.
Some of the research is done at UK’s Spindletop Farm in Lexington, but much of it is carried out on the roadside.
The aim is to find the most effective, economical control method for particular vegetative growth. That helps the state control both herbicide and labor costs. It also can help the environment, when less herbicide is needed.
Witt then provides the state with a list of recommended control methods. Officials in local transportation districts can use that list to make the choices that best fit their situation.
You may see Bill Witt on your travels, but what matters to him is that you’ll be able to see your way clear on the road.
A Web Tool for Soybean Farmers
Asian soybean rust is a fungus, first found in the United States in 2004, that has the potential to reduce soybean yield by 80 percent. An international research team led by a crop physiologist in the College, Saratha Kumudini, is working to provide soybean producers a simple, interactive Web-based decision tool to determine the extent of yield loss if Asian soybean rust should damage a farmer’s crop.
The tool would allow a producer to weigh the potential yield loss against the cost of fungicide applications to make more informed management decisions. This tool could improve producers’ net economic return and guard against unnecessary fungicide applications that can impact the environment and increase the risk of developing fungicide resistance, Kumudini said.
Saratha Kumudini and
Joe Omielan, post-doctoral scholar
The project is funded by the Risk Management Agency of the USDA, with additional funding from the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Southern Soybean Research Program. It has generated much interest.
“Even though the tool has not been completed, our project Web site has been tagged by important rust tracking Web sites, including the national USDA rust tracker, as an important management resource,” Kumudini said.
The research has taken Kumudini and colleagues to Brazil to work closely with Embrapa, the Brazilian equivalent of the USDA, to understand exactly how soybean rust reduces yield.
“Brazil, which has had the disease since 2001, has led the way in implementing a national-level response to this disease. We have been lucky in attracting one of its leading pathologists to work with us,” Kumudini said. The research group is also leading collaborative studies in Quincy, Fla., where it will validate the calculations that will be used to build the Web-based tool. Studies are also ongoing in Louisiana and Virginia. The idea of having multiple locations is to see how different maturity groups and growing conditions alter the impact of the disease on crop yield.
“The tool we will be developing uses a more rigorous, precise model than is currently available,” Kumudini said. “Further, the multi-location data will increase the value and applicability of our research to areas across the United States that are at high risk for soybean rust.”
For project information and updates see: http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Agronomy/Department/sbr/
Improving Kentucky’s Cattle
Jamie Matthews, an associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, is searching for tools that could help cattle producers improve their cattle, and thus their bottom line.
“We need to develop novel diets, nutritional supplements, and therapeutic compounds that promote animal growth, health, and longevity,” said Matthews, who studies how nutrients and genes interact (a field of study known as nutrigenomics).
Matthews is looking at the capacity of cattle to absorb and metabolize nutrients at different stages of life. That work is leading to better understanding of how cattle alter their conversion of feed protein and energy into muscle or fat, depending on their stage of life.
Using the new sciences of genomics and proteomics, he simultaneously identifies previously unknown genes and proteins that turn on or off the genes and proteins critical for muscle and fat development. This comprehensive analysis is a revolutionary leap in understanding how genes and proteins work together.
Matthews is using this approach for three different projects, comparing tissue data from:
► calves at various growth stages to understand how nutrient metabolism changes as calves grow
► old versus young cows to understand why old cows are less efficient at metabolizing nutrients
► growing calves/cows that are able to tolerate consumption of endophyte-infected fescue versus those who can’t.
The second step in Matthews’ work will be to test ways to regulate critical genes so that they can be manipulated to improve the growth, health, carcass quality, and longevity of cattle.
Finally, in field trials, Matthews and his collaborators will study how well the re-engineered genes and proteins work to maximize the metabolic capacity of cattle.
From the left:
Roy Burris, Jim Boling,
and Jamie Matthews
Research is being done both at the Animal Research Center in Woodford County and the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton. Matthews’ co-principal investigators include Jim Boling, professor in beef cattle nutrition and metabolism, and Roy Burris, extension beef specialist.
Calan gates are being used in the Princeton work. The gates allow cattle to eat in a group setting but have their individual feed intakes measured. “A primary benefit of this approach is that we can match individual feed intake to individual gene expression, thus reducing the time from development of nutritional strategies to their application in the field,” said Matthews, who was recently appointed Alltech Professor of Applied Animal Nutrition.
Matthews said “If only a 0.9 kilogram gain (about 2 pounds) is realized from this nutrigenomics-based research, that’s an increase in direct farm receipts of $1.2 million from the sale of weanling calves in Kentucky alone. If the productive life of aged cows can be increased by only one calf, that’s a net savings of $4 million in heifer replacement costs.”
How Disease Affects Our “Wealth”
If you’re 65 or older, you have a 35 percent chance of suffering from heart disease and cancer, or diabetes and heart disease, or some other chronic combination. Once you hit 80, your chances double.
You’ll also have what’s called comorbidity—coexisting chronic diseases.
Hyungsoo Kim, in the Department of Family Studies in the College’s School of Human Environmental Sciences, is looking at what happens to the total assets of people 65 and older when comorbidity occurs.
Studies have been done on how much comorbidity affects income, but Kim and his co-researcher, Jinkook Lee at Ohio State University, wanted to look at the larger financial picture—“wealth,” as they call it, including property, investments, and savings.
Their research has shown that pensions, savings, Social Security, and health insurance may not stretch to cover the health care that people with comorbidity need.
And, in the United States, where the family structure is less cohesive than in, say, Japan, people may not get help from other family members when their finances are diminished and their health condition becomes more costly.
The researchers studied publicly available data from the National Institute on Aging on some 5,000 people 65 and older. These people had responded, from 1992-2004, to an institute survey, answering questions about their health, its cost, how much and what kind of health insurance coverage they had, and the effect all of that had on their financial situation.
“We were looking at assets. No one had done that before,” Kim said.
Here’s some of what they found:
► Single people 65 and older did deplete their wealth. How much depended on what diseases they had.
► Having three or more health problems lowered household wealth by nearly 20 percent.
► Widowhood depleted wealth by about 9 percent.
Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find significant impact of health problems on wealth among married couples, but that group, of course, diminishes with age.
“With health care costs going up, people may need to earmark personal funds for it,” Kim said. “If people were to save $50 a month over 20 or 30 years, it would compound to a huge amount.”
That statistically researched advice could herald a new approach to the American way of both health and wealth.
A Popular Forage May Have Another Plus
Rebecca McCulley grew up in suburban Houston, but it wasn’t buildings and well-kept lawns that captured her scientific curiosity. It was the prairie grasses of the Great Plains—those tall and undulating grasses that made the soil of the Midwest so fertile and eventually turned it into the nation’s breadbasket.
Now that McCulley is in Kentucky and a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, she is still very much interested in grasses, but with a Kentucky twist.
She is focusing on tall fescue, an important grass in Kentucky’s pastures and one of the most adaptable cool-season perennial grasses in the eastern United States. McCulley is looking specifically at the symbiotic relationship of a fungal endophyte and tall fescue. That relationship promotes grass hardiness and drought resistance but can also reduce the reproductive performance of grazing animals.
McCulley thinks that the endophyte could have some advantages in the face of global climate change.
Tall fescue, like other plants, pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and converts it to organic matter stored in the plant. It allocates a significant portion of this carbon to its underground roots. This process both removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and enriches the soil, making it potentially more fertile for farming and other uses.
A study in Georgia showed that endophyte-infected tall fescue can store significantly more carbon underground than uninfected stands. While the mechanisms responsible for driving this change in carbon storage are still unknown, McCulley wants to find out whether, in other southeastern states including Kentucky, endophyte infection creates the same increased ability to sequester carbon in tall fescue pastures.
She and other researchers in her lab will analyze soil samples from eight southeastern states, taken from sites where endophyte-infected tall fescue was grown adjacent to areas of endophyte-free fescue.
She also wants to discover if endophyte-infected tall fescue would be a better choice for farmers with climate change. To do this, she is using small experimental plots at UK’s Spindletop Farm in Lexington and data from forage variety trials at about a dozen land-grant universities.
McCulley’s research may show that, if climate change occurs, one of Kentucky’s most broadly used forages would have some advantages.