At the Root of the Issue
From Seed to Sale
Knowledge Goes a Long Way
A Career Path Starts Early
Quality turnout gear could mean the difference between life and death for a firefighter. Professor Elizabeth Easter and her students in Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles conduct post-use evaluation of turnout gear to analyze such things as the garments’ breathability, flammability, water penetration, seam strength, and its thermal protective performance after two to 10 years of use. The National Fire Protection Association uses the results to develop proposals for changes in safety standards.
Red, ripe tomatoes this early in the season? Kentucky farmers are growing savvy when it comes to stretching the tomato season by using either greenhouses or high tunnels (large, plastic covered hoop structures) to produce the fruit earlier in the season. The UK Department of Horticulture has helped install demonstration high tunnels in several counties to educate growers about the system’s benefits. According to the department’s 2010 Fruit and Vegetable Crops Research Report, successful growers can gross up to $2 or more per square foot when producing spring tomatoes.
A Honey of
As pollinators, honeybees contribute to about one third of the American diet, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates their economic value at $15-$20 billion a year. Local honey has caught on with consumers, so potential producers are swarming to beekeeping schools offered by UK Cooperative Extension in partnership with Kentucky State University. Beekeeping for profit may look like a honey of a deal, but keeping bees healthy takes a lot of time, says Greg Whitis, McCreary County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent, a beekeeper himself. “Your grandpa’s beekeeping is a thing of the past, where the bees took care of themselves, and you robbed them once a year. Colony collapse disorder and a variety of pests have changed all that.”
You bought the house because of its lovely creek, but with floods in the spring and algae in the summer, the stream isn’t always idyllic. There’s a solution. Create a riparian zone along its banks by planting native plants—grasses to filter sediment, fruit-bearing plants or shrubs to attract wildlife, and trees to regulate water temperature. It will cut back on water pollution and also create a buffer zone to absorb floodwaters, says Amanda Gumbert, UK extension specialist for water quality.
The Art of Recycling
Want original art for the house? Take some newspaper, a little string, used aluminum foil, and a bottle or two and mix them all together. The result? “Fine” art, plus a lesson in recycling. That’s what students in grades K-12 took away from the annual Regional Trash Sculpture Contest held in six Western Kentucky counties. “If we can teach kids to recycle at school, they’ll encourage their parents to recycle at home,” says Janeen Tramble, Trigg County 4-H youth development agent.
Low numbers of the microscopic worm don’t pose a problem to corn, but as their numbers grow, nematodes can interfere with water and nutrient uptake.
Nematodes are synonymous with agriculture, but recently the microscopic, root-attacking worms gained national attention, because the more selective, safer insecticides don’t control them like previous insecticides did.
With at least six nematode species that attack corn roots either externally or internally, controlling high populations is a more complex issue in corn than in crops like soybeans, which only have to contend with one species.
In a limited 2009 field survey, University of Kentucky extension plant pathologists Paul Vincelli and Don Hershman wanted to determine whether nematodes were numerous enough in Western Kentucky to warrant treatment.
“Kentucky corn fields have always had a low risk of nematode damage because we have heavier, silt loam soils that are not favorable for most nematodes. Plus, we have regular crop rotations, which help keep nematode numbers lower,” Vincelli said.
The study found most producers had nematode numbers below treatment thresholds, but a few fields had high enough numbers to cause some concern. For high levels, growers can rotate away from corn or use one of two new seed treatments.
For years, Art Williams’ horseradish sauce has been popular among family and friends. Now retired and looking for a new challenge, the Louisville-based grower hopes his sauce is just as popular among consumers. He has turned to the University of Kentucky to find resources to help him market his product.
Williams attended UK’s MarketReady training, which teaches producers how to market their products more effectively to grocers and restaurants. Through the program, he learned about different opportunities available through the UK College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
“UK and the KDA have been superb partners for new growers like us,” Williams said. “Both groups bring a lot of resources and expertise to the table.”
As consumer demand for local products has grown, many producers are becoming interested in getting involved. But they may not necessarily understand supplier requirements. The daylong MarketReady training helps producers become more business savvy, learn about buyers’ regulations, and design a successful business strategy so they can continue farming. UK began offering the trainings statewide in fall 2010.
“We asked buyers what they’re looking for from local suppliers and present that information in the training,” said Tim Woods, UK agricultural economics professor who oversees MarketReady.
Williams said the training emphasized the value of marketing.
“If you do some marketing on your own, retailers appreciate that because they’re not just out there by themselves promoting the product,” he said. “Plus, it shows you believe in your product and want it to succeed.”
A certified Kentucky Proud producer, Williams said the training also reinforced the importance of the Kentucky Proud certification to retail and wholesale buyers and consumers. He plans to seek out retail supporters of the program as potential buyers of his horseradish.
Mildred Osei-Kwarteng examines one of the three types of hand tools used on a five-acre farm near Wa, Ghana. The farmers are blind and their operation is highly successful.
Mark Williams and Osei-Kwarteng visit Elmina Castle, a former Dutch slave-trading post in what is now Ghana.
Ghana, like many African countries, faces serious challenges when it comes to feeding its people. Agriculture, in large part, drives its economy, yet Ghanaians struggle with poor soil and a dearth of water, among other things.
“It is a lack of money, lack of knowledge, lack of access to things, but certainly not a lack of creativity or hard work,” Professor Mark Williams said after returning from a recent trip to the country. “The people over there are incredibly hard working, and they just need some help.”
Help may come through Mildred Osei-Kwarteng, who currently teaches at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, Ghana. A little more than a year ago, she came to the University to study sustainable agriculture practices under Williams in the Horticulture Department. Her trip and Williams’ return trip to Ghana this year were sponsored by the Norman Borlaug Women in Science and Agriculture Fellowship Program, housed at Texas A&M University.
During her three-month stay, Osei-Kwarteng conducted research on post-harvest handling of sweet potatoes. She also worked with the College’s Community Supported Agriculture program and learned organic farming and sustainable agriculture techniques.
“Previously, I worked with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. We always had advised farmers on environmental issues of farming and also practicing farming as a business,” Osei-Kwarteng said. “All these theories were well demonstrated in Mark’s sustainable ag program. Incredible! Mark’s system emphasizes the diverse principles and practices that can be applied depending on a farm’s condition.”
“The soil in northern Ghana presents significant challenges, and the way it is being cropped makes the situation worse,” Williams said. “They’re typically not adding organic matter back into the soil, from what I could tell. This limits natural nutrient cycling and other biological aspects of the system and results in a dependence on fertilizers and pesticides.”
When Osei-Kwarteng returned to Ghana, she was committed to sustainable practices such as crop rotation, integrated pest management, and a soil-focused approach to agriculture.
“We can produce a long term solution to fertility problems in the depleted or unproductive soils in Africa by consciously incorporating sustainable farming principles such as cover cropping, green manuring, beneficial intercropping that will make soil nutrients available, and crop rotational plans that would improve the soil structure.”
Osei-Kwarteng’s enthusiasm is spreading. She and her university colleagues are planning to implement some of the sustainable programs she saw during her visit to UK.
The field of forestry caught Sarah Fraley’s attention when she was in high school. First a wildlife course piqued her interest, then a June week spent participating in the Kentucky Forestry Leadership Program solidified it. When the time came to think about a career and choose a college, the relationships she’d built with the program’s staff helped point her toward the UK Department of Forestry.
Fraley is not the only forestry student at UK who is a graduate of the forestry leadership program. The weeklong camp, which is sponsored by the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry and the Kentucky Division of Conservation, has been in existence in its present format since 1994. Over the years, many forestry students got their start from that week in the woods near Jabez. Currently there are four forestry undergraduates who traveled that path to their major.
“What we’ve done is create a residential program at Jabez where we intensify their understanding of the forestry career,” said Doug McLaren, camp instructor and UK forestry extension specialist.
For students like Sarah Fraley, that understanding is leading to a satisfying career in the forestry industry in Kentucky.
From left: Youling Xiong, Jamie Greene, and Gregg Rentfrow are part of the team researching ways to prevent food contamination through a grant from the National Institute of Hometown Security.
Could adding a simple and natural antimicrobial film to some food products protect them from harmful contaminants? That’s what UK researchers Melissa Newman, Youling Xiong, Gregg Rentfrow, and Joe O’Leary are trying to determine. The team is in the early stages of research, supported by a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Hometown Security.
“Our main goal is to determine what GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substances will work to thwart a food defense or food security situation,” Rentfrow said. “We also want to determine how GRAS substances affect other pathogens and spoilage bacteria.”
They are working with food science doctoral candidate Jamie Greene, who said the food industry has added edible films and coatings for decades to increase food quality and shelf life in products such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, cereals, and tablet drugs.
“Incorporating antimicrobial agents into a film or coating could also provide an extra barrier against harmful contaminating microorganisms, whether the inoculation was intentional or accidental,” she said.
Once the team identifies a GRAS substance that works in the lab, they try to incorporate it into food products to see if it will work outside the lab.
They’ve had some success with nisin, a widely used food preservative. They added nisin to a film made from whey protein which successfully inhibited the growth of L. monocytogenes, a bacteria that causes one of the world’s most virulent food borne diseases, listeriosis. Greene said the team found measurable protection zones around the film discs, indicating the substance was working.
“We want to determine the concentration of GRAS substance it takes to prevent intentional contamination,” Newman said. “But we also want to know what level of that substance we can add without altering the taste of the food.”
The team plans to continue incorporating other compounds such as basil, garlic, cardamom and eugenol, an essential oil found in cloves.