New Ways to Farm
agricultural economy has been hiccupping for the past few years,
in almost perfect synchrony with federal cuts in tobacco quota.
Bargain-basement grain prices caused by large world surpluses
have further ratcheted down agricultures contribution to
the states economy. Over time, those hiccups have become
seizures that have quaked their way through the states economy,
shaking rural economies dependent on the golden leaf practically
to their foundations.
throughout Kentucky looking for a commodity that will replace
lost tobacco income are unlikely to find any single, legal crop
that can mimic the qualities of tobacco: a crop with a high return
from small acreage with a ready market. Although several crops
together may replace lost income, farmers need help in finding
those crops and learning how to produce and market them.
The New Crop Opportunities Center, an initiative of the College
of Agriculture unveiled in July 2000, is helping farmers identify
those crops, find out how best to produce them, and locate markets
center isnt really a place at all its a virtual
or conceptual center comprised of College of Agriculture faculty
from a variety of disciplines. It was developed to provide a systematic
evaluation of both the production and marketing of crops that
havent been a major component of Kentuckys traditional
mix of farm commodities, said Dewayne Ingram, chair of the
department of horticulture and co-director of the New Crop Opportunities
Marketing is as fundamental to profits as producing the crop itself,
he said. Thus, the faculty, staff, and student teams are concentrating
on both at the same time.
farmer can grow bumper crops of Jerusalem artichokes, for example,
but if there isnt a market (as there wasnt in the
early 1980s when the Jerusalem artichoke was touted as a panacea
for rural Americas troubles), then it is useless to plant
them, Ingram said.
Line Questions and Research
the New Crop Opportunities Center
already has under way a spate of research and Extension projects
both in production and marketing of new and sometimes novel crops
its biggest contribution to date may well be its template for
farmers to use in evaluating whether a new or novel crop could
fit into a farms operation profitably.
Primer for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm, developed
by agricultural economics faculty members, asks the farmer for
answers to thorny questions before a farmer plunges headlong into
production of any new commodity. While using the Primer wont
necessarily make a farmer successful, it can help avoid investing
money and time into an enterprise that wont be profitable.
research under way under the auspices of the New Crop Opportunities
Center is helping farmers with both production information and
marketing information. Heres a taste of the current research
the disease resistance of bell pepper varieties to bacterial
feasibility for growing and marketing soft white winter wheat
(used for specialty bakery items such as flat breads, cakes,
pastries, crackers, and noodles),
for fresh and u-pick operations, and
and marketing novel soybeans, such as edamame and varieties
that produce better-tasting soybean products.
In addition, the Center is funding projects that investigate landscape
plants and native plants that have landscape potential and programs
for producing and marketing them. A controlled water table irrigation
system for greenhouse production of bedding plants, potted plants,
and vegetable transplants is being evaluated in commercial greenhouses.
we know of a crop that would be a real
money maker for Kentuckians, but theres just a small glitch
with it and our scientists will find a way to overcome that glitch,
bell peppers for example. Bell peppers were a profitable crop
in the 1980s for a few Kentucky farmers but their good fortune
with raising them was generally short-lived. It wasnt a
marketing issue that caused almost all bell pepper farmers to
abandon production. In fact, Kentucky had a pretty good marketing
system in placebuying stations where farmers could deliver
their peppers for grading and sales were located close to production
areas. What dissuaded farmers from growing them was bacterial
spot, a disease that could reduce a promising harvest to not
worth picking status in quick order.
thanks to research by horticulturists and plant pathologists associated
with the New Crop Opportunities Center, bacterial spot is a manageable
issue now. Many producers have once again begun producing bell
peppers, using varieties developed in the mid and late 1990s that
can return between $900 and $1,000 per acre for land and management.
(Farmers who provide their own labor can add the cost of labor
to their profits.)
research was unique. Not only did we assess different varieties
abilities to withstand disease pressure, we also evaluated their
desirability for marketing. Even if a variety showed great resistance
to bacterial spot, if it didnt produce peppers with excellent
market characteristics, we didnt recommend it to farmers,
said Bill Nesmith, plant pathologist.
New Crop Opportunities Center is also funding scientists to evaluate
blackberry varieties for Kentucky and to develop production and
can be quite profitable for producers who can wait a few years
for a patch to come into full production. In fact, a fully mature
patch of blackberries has the potential to return somewhere between
$1,500 and $1,800 per acre, said Tim Woods. Woods is an
agricultural economist who has conducted marketing feasibility
studies for a variety of crops new to Kentucky.
several small to mid-sized packing companies in Kentucky and in
neighboring states are interested in buying blackberries for freezing
if growers can provide a volume sufficient to change their production
lines, he said.
Many of Kentuckys small blackberry producers find
ready markets for their produce at farmers markets and in
u-pick operations, he said.
Waves of Grain
isnt just horticultural crops that may hold promise for
Kentuckys farmers. The New Crop Opportunities Center also
is supporting research for crops suited for larger acreage and
less intensive management. Scientists are investigating soft white
winter wheat as a specialty crop for some farmers, particularly
those who already have the know-how to grow wheat successfully.
(Kentucky wheat production is generally of the soft red winter
wheat variety which is often blended with hard red winter
wheat, produced in the Great Plains for all-purpose flours.)
Soft white winter wheat is nearly exclusively grown in the Pacific
Northwest and Michigan, where the climate is quite different from
Kentuckys. (Wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest is used
for Asian noodles; that grown in Michigan generally ends up in
cereal products.) But because wheat has been adapted to different
climates for centuries it was first grown in Mesopotamia
in ancient times it may be possible that a variety of soft
white winter wheat can be developed to fit Kentuckys growing
conditions better. Thats what wheat breeder David Van Sanford
is working on.
Millers prefer the soft white wheat over soft red winter wheat,
which is traditionally grown in Kentucky, because they can mill
a little closer to the bran without fear of introducing the bitter
taste of bran into the flour.
past year saw soft white winter wheat production double
to about 1,500 acres, all being grown by producers who contracted
to deliver it to a Hopkinsville miller at a premium above September
Sanford, who is also co-director of the New Crop Opportunities
Center, is working on developing a new wheat variety, especially
adapted for Kentucky, that will be resistant to vomitoxin and
sprouting in wet weather two problems with current varieties.
(Vomitoxin results when a fungus, Gibberella zeae, invades the
kernel of grain. It gives the grain an off-flavor, has an adverse
effect on dough products, and can cause sickness in high doses.)
we can develop a wheat cultivar that can be grown in Kentucky
that is resistant to both sprouting and to the fungus that causes
vomitoxin, we can help Kentucky farmers increase their profits
from growing this specialty wheat, he said.
Soybean by Any Other Name...
new and sometimes novel crops may hold a
place in the panoply of commodities that might help Kentucky farmers
replace lost tobacco quota income.
edamame (ed-ah-MAH-may), an edible green soybean that can be boiled,
shelled, or eaten as a snack, or tossed into salads and other
dishes, and whose nutritive virtues are legend. The market is
such that it may hold some potential for a few producers in Kentucky
right now and perhaps more later, should the market for the bean
Sara McNulty and Sally Ellis, two Daviess County farmers, are
experimenting with the crop with help from the faculty cooperating
in the New Crop Opportunities Center. In 1998 and 1999, McNulty
produced edamame in test plots. She harvested some of the beans
at the green stage and marketed them in specialty stores in Owensboro
and Louisville. At the green stage, the beans are slightly oval
to round, a bit greener than peas (but not as dark as green beans)
and taste just a bit richer and nuttier than butterbeans.
2000, McNulty teamed up with Sally Ellis, a neighboring commercial
vegetable producer, to increase the scale of production. That
harvest was marketed in Lexington, as well as Louisville and Owensboro.
McNulty coordinated sales for two other producers from Shelby
County whose beans sold through the Louisville Farmers Market,
where health-conscious consumers scarfed them up at $4 to $5 per
pound. The edamames sold out every weekend at that market.
Woods and Extension associate Matt Ernst, both agricultural economists,
worked with the two farmers to develop budgeting and marketing
information for their crop about an acre all totaled last
budget indicated that the potential for edamame for the frozen
market might be $300 return for each acre grown which compares
favorably with some other more traditional crops, but not with
tobacco. But after a years experience in growing edamame,
the two farmers believe that the return can be between $1,500
and $1,800 per acre, if certain post-harvest issues can be worked
out; namely, the beans have to be chilled quickly in the field
and then delivered to the plant post haste so they can be flash
frozen to keep them from turning sour.
if a large enough fresh market can be developed, McNulty believes
that growers can wholesale them for about $3 per pound. Harvest
can be up to 9,000 pounds per acre. (Fresh markets require that
growers mind their ps and qs at harvest. Just like
those for the frozen market, the beans have to be picked by hand,
quickly chilled either in the field or right after picking, and
rushed to market to be sold in a couple of days to avoid the beans
turning sour, McNulty said.)Larger
acreages might mean that machinery can pick and sort the beans.
other soybean work, UK agronomists are assessing comparative yield
and quality characteristics of several types of novel soybean
varieties, including some with high protein, tofu, natto (for
fermenting), and high sucrose qualities that will bring a premium
in niche markets.
projects are just the beginning. Our faculty will continue to
explore new opportunities for farmers and to provide research
and Extension support for these new initiatives, Ingram
is the Art of the Possible
two part-time farmers whose names are Cynthia and Cynthia compete
with the likes of Ernest and Julio Gallo, not to mention haute-cuisine
bet, provided you market the wine around tourism, said Cynthia
Bohn, an entrepreneur whos more than dabbling in wine production
at her Woodford County farm, Equus Run. Bohn, an IBM executive
by day and farmer by weekend and evenings, started her 35-acre
vineyard, or as she calls it, wine boutique, in 1998 near Midway,
Kentucky, whose major industry these days is the block-long strip
of boutiques and antique stores.
The idea of the winery business came to Bohn while she was at
a Harvard Business School management class, studying the Mondavi
and Gallo (wine producers) case studies.
a year of planning and fine tuning, I called my college best friend
(Cynthia Hall) in the banking business and asked for her input
and financial review of the business plan. She joined the company
as a business partner and financial retail manager, Bohn
on a tobacco farm near Elizabethtown, Bohn describes their enterprise
with a large dose of romantic language. Their web site refers
to the vineyard as set amidst picturesque stone fences,
thoroughbreds and the quaint charm of Midway and gently
wrapped by the banks of the Elkhorn Creek.
idea is working and the two Cynthias are indeed profiting from
it and they hope to profit even more in years to come as
Equus Run Vineyards becomes really popular. The operation produced
4,100 cases of wine last year with the goal of 10,000 cases in
the next few years.
Run has a tasting room, which is emerging as a tourist attraction
last year more than 15,000 people stopped and tasted wine and
bought at least one bottle of Equus Run wine. And special wine-tasting
events held throughout the year and which include such ambiance
boosters as soft music from a jazz combo set the stage for
success in marketing wine at $4.50 a glass. (The wine glass, with
the Equus Run logo, is a take-home item a memento of a glorious
day in the country that helps customers recall the pleasure of
the day they enjoyed.)
Run also markets wine through nine restaurants and retail shops.
We have a waiting list for our wine distribution as
soon as we make more. We look forward to using more Kentucky-grown
grapes as other vineyards across the state continue to mature,
and Hall worked closely with several College of Agriculture faculty,
including horticulturists John Strang, Jerry Brown, and Dewayne
Ingram, to get the vineyard up and running.
university has been gracious in responding to the recent growth
and changes in the Kentucky grape and wine industry. We are moving
forward in funding additional academic and Extension support because
of their valuable help in making our enterprise work, Bohn
Helping Hogs Smell Better
good reason that no entrepreneur has tried to market a cologne
called Eau d Sooey or Evening in the Hog House.
odors are the number one complaint people have about concentrated
hog production. But several UK researchers are trying to eliminate
One approach that is getting worldwide attention is to take the
smells of the hog house and send them sky high.
At least thats what biosystems engineer Richard Gates hopes
he can do. Gates is currently testing a system that takes the
malodorousness of the hog house and sends it into the ether.
His rationale is this: If he can send the odors high enough into
the sky, the smells will dissipate before they come back down.
And so far, his first efforts suggest that the idea is worth pursuing.
Using tall, skinny, stainless steel chimneys equipped with powerful
fans at their base, Gates has been able to send the unpleasant
smell from the hog house 80 feet into the air. And by the time
the smelly stuff drifts back down to terra firma, he hopes the
gases that create the unpleasant smells will have been so diluted
with fresh air that we humans wont smell them. Bloodhounds
might, but not humans. Then again, bloodhounds dont complain
much about their neighbors.
Up, and Away
That in a nutshell is Gates concept of dealing with unpleasant
odors from swine buildings a good-neighbor concept if there ever
was one. But like so many seemingly straightforward concepts,
the devil is in the details. Those include: How many hogs, how
much smell, how high the chimney or stack, and how much temperature
and wind? In terms of the practical, how close to human dwellings?
And not the least, how sensitive the nose?
gleaming stacks Gates designed are being tested under varying
conditions at the Woodford County Animal Research Center. The
hog barn, located within shouting distance of Versailles, is beyond
state-of-the-art. It is the state-of-the-art five years or more
from now. On the outside of the low barn, like pipes from a church
organ, the 48 smokestacks or smellstacks rise 39 feet
in the air. With high powered fans inside the stacks at their
base, the chimneys send the smells emanating from the hog house
up another 40 feet or so depending on the weather
so that the plume of gas gets well mixed with air before the molecules
drift back down to earth.
Gates has measured how far up the fans blow molecules he
tested the smellstacks by releasing purple smoke at various parts
of the building he still has to work out whether the fans
are large enough to keep things smelling rosy at ground level
under various weather conditions.
the wind is blowing hard which sometimes it does in early
spring we can expect that the plume of gases from the hog
house wont rise as high as when the weather is calm,
he said. We have to figure out the size of the fans to make
sure that we can eliminate hog house smells in nearly all weather
conditions. Some neighbors may have a low tolerance of hog house
Gates also said his research will investigate various building
materials from which to construct the smokestacks in an effort
to make the concept affordable for the average hog farmers. His
are of stainless steel, a relatively expensive building material.
designed these particular stacks out of stainless steel for a
couple of reasons. First, some of the gases coming from the hog
buildings are quite corrosive; second the smooth surface of stainless
steel will allow us to research other odor abatement technologies,
abatement technologies include wet scrubbing, which consists of
misting water at the top of the stacks, while the fans are blowing
upward creating a scrubbing effect that removes dust particles
from the exhaust air. Some of the odors associated with animal
agriculture become impregnated in the dust particles; thus, removing
them with the wet scrubber will eliminate them in the air.
is another technique that the unique facility will allow researchers
to investigate. In ozonation, ozone (O3, a byproduct of creating
electricity) is mixed with the gases coming through the stack
of the hog houses. As the ozone is mixed with the smelly gases,
it oxidizes them (breaks them into component parts), yielding
odorless, harmless gases. When ozone is mixed with ammonia, for
example, the outcome is gaseous nitrogen and water vapor.
The research into hog house environments will help us provide
precise, science-based data if government organizations seek to
more closely regulate the animal industry, Gates said.
idea and structure have created a great deal of enthusiasm worldwide,
with scientists from the Silsoe Institute, formerly associated
with Oxford University in England, sending scientists to the Versailles
(Kentucky) research farm to see the big chimneys.
Causes Hog Odors
odors are caused by some 150 gases that result from the bacterial
decomposition of manure. These gases tend to travel in a plume
and often are noticeable even at considerable distances unless
they are diluted with fresh air.
Odors come from hog barns where manure is coupled with the heat
of the hogs themselves, which amplifies the odor. (A freshly scrubbed
pig in a freshly washed room has almost no detectable odor.)
Odors also come from lagoons, which are man-made ponds that hold
the soup mixture of water, manure, and urine, a nasty broth that
is attractive only to bacteria and their ilk. The bacteria that
inhabit lagoons break down the mixture into component parts. It
is during this breakdown that smells intensify, as you could imagine.
Porcine Palace at Woodford County Farm
swine facility at the University of Kentuckys Animal Research
Center in Woodford County is setting the current standards for
swine production, and its appurtenances are not just for show.
The facility is built for traditional swine research, including
nutrition, reproduction and the like. It also is the venue for
research into environmental quality issues, including the environment
in the hog house, as well as on the entire farm.
is its waste management system that will return all nutrients
back to the farm. In essence, all feedstuffs will be grown on
the farm, fed to livestock including sheep, cattle, and
horses and then the nutrients excreted from the animals
will be returned to the land through a soil injection system and
manure spreading. Land, air, and water quality will be monitored
as part of the closed nutrient system to assure environmental
Animal scientist Gary Cromwell has joined forces with biosystems
engineers Larry Turner and Joe Taraba to investigate another way
to help alleviate the odor problem from hogs. His approach uses
precision feeding to cut down on the amount of nitrogen in hog
of the most odoriferous outcomes of swine production through
the decomposition of manure are hydrogen sulfide (which
smells like rotten eggs) and ammonia (which can bring tears to
your eyes if its concentration is strong). In addition, both of
these gases can cause major problems for workers and the animals
in the hog house if concentrations get too high.
who specializes in swine nutrition, knows that the amount of nitrogen
an element that combines with hydrogen to form ammonia (NH3)
increases when high protein rations are fed to hogs. (Remember
that protein is made up of mostly nitrogen along with carbon hydrogen,
oxygen and sometimes sulfur.) Excess protein isnt utilized
and is excreted with the manure and urine. When bacteria start
to break down the excreted protein into its component parts, the
nitrogen is released and recombines with hydrogen to form ammonia,
which can make the pigs in the hog house sick and the neighbors
key to Cromwells research is the knowledge that protein
is utilized according to its composition. Proteins are made up
of amino acids, ten of which are essential for animal life. Because
animal feeds differ in the relative amounts of amino acids they
contain, they sometimes are overfed so that the animal gets enough
of a particular amino acid that might be in short supply. Corn,
for example, is well-known to be short in the essential amino
acid lysine. Thus, to get the right balance a hog needs, he may
have to eat more of a high-protein supplement (like soybean meal)
than he needs for growth so he receives enough lysine. The hog
extracts the lysine he needs during digestion and the remainder
is excreted as manure and urine, both rich in nitrogen.
research has shown that supplementing standard feeds with amino
acids to balance them more fully allows producers
to feed less protein-containing feed, which leads to less nitrogen
excretion. Less nitrogen, less ammonia. And it appears that a
low crude protein diet, with amino acid supplementation, also
reduces hydrogen sulfide emissions from the manure.
Cromwell found that a 10.5 percent crude protein diet (comprised
of corn-soybean meal but fortified with the amino acids lysine,
threonine, and tryptophan) led to a 50 percent reduction in ammonia
generation in manure. At 16.5 percent crude protein the resulting
manure produced ammonia levels of 21.4 parts per million; at the
fortified 10.5 percent crude protein level ammonia production
was reduced to only 10.1 parts per million. And because the limiting
amino acid in the feed was added as a supplement, growth of the
hogs in the test was unaffected.
his research Cromwell also has evaluated other feed additives
purported to reduce odors from hogs. Indeed, in his experiment
with four of the products, the amount of ammonia generated from
the hogs decreased substantially.
Our research indicates that hog producers can reduce odors
from ammonia production by lowering the dietary protein or adding
certain feed supplements to the swine diet, Cromwell said.
Odors from hog production, however, dont just come from
the hog house. Modern swine production involves storing manure
until it can be recycled onto farm land. These storage units
sometimes pond-like lagoons or container-type storage tanks
can be a major source of odors if they arent operating correctly.
The science is this: as the manure starts to break down due to
bacteria in the lagoon or tank, various gases are formed
and some are unpleasant.
The swine facility at Woodford County Farm uses a storage tank
to contain the waste from the swine operation. That enclosed tank
is connected by duct work to a biofilter, which is a huge, thick
mat of moist organic matter in which bacteria thrive. Those bacteria
inhale, so to speak, the odorous gases and decompose them into
odorless gases and water.
container tank can be emptied and the sludge injected onto the
crop land of the 1,440-acre farm. Injecting the stuff, rather
than spraying it, keeps odors down to a minimum while returning
the nutrients back to the soil.
The system, designed by biosystems engineer Joe Taraba, had two
criteria. First, the nutrients returned to the soil had to be
no greater than the amount that crops use for growth. Second,
the waste material had to be kept from entering into the water
supply. (This is particularly important, because like many other
farms in the Central Blue Grass region, this farm sits atop a
karst or cave geology.)
make sure that both criteria are met, Taraba has installed monitoring
systems throughout the farm that record daily a variety of substances
in the ground water, including nitrate nitrogen, phosphorus, organic
compounds, and bacteria.
Although the purpose of the swine facilities is to allow
researchers to conduct nutrition research, the fact that we will
have such an aggregation of swine at this location means that
we need to control both odor and potential pollution to groundwater.
Thus, the research at the farm is multi-faceted, Taraba
from the Black Lagoon
And thats where the research of animal scientist Melissa
Newman comes in. She explores the creatures of the lagoon
anaerobic bacteria. (Anaerobic bacteria thrive in oxygen-deprived
majority of lagoons used in swine production today are anaerobic
lagoons, usually very deep with small surface areas. The bacteria
and the enzymes they produce are very efficient in decomposing
most kinds of organic matter. Unfortunately, they often give off
large quantities of unpleasant odors, Newman said.
research seeks to maintain the bacterias keen ability to
decompose the organic matter while minimizing the odors associated
with the process. Specifically, her research is two-pronged: investigate
the use of enzymes that can be added to the lagoon to enhance
fiber degradation; and alter the normal bacterial population in
lagoons to favor organisms odor eaters that degrade
odor-forming compounds such as volatile fatty acids and phenolic
If these researchers are successful, you may want to schedule
your next garden party or soiree at the swine facility in Woodford
the future of Plant Science
UK College of Agriculture has hired four plant scientists through
funds generated from the Kentucky General Assemblys Research
Challenge Trust Fund (RCTF). Popularly known as Bucks for
Brains, this program matches donations to the university
The scientists research illustrates both the breadth and
depth of studies that have the potential to improve farming and
the environment. The studies range from very basic research at
the molecular level to more applied research where the results
can be put to practical use almost immediately. Their research
is described here.
Wetlands, Cleaner Water
bogs, and swamps are sometimes called the kidneys of the
landscape, because they remove pesticides, nutrients, and
metals contained in water through a slew of physical and chemical
processes. In so doing, these wetlands cleanse the water entering
into lakes and streams. On top of that, wetlands support a wide
range of wildlife, from frogs to birds and other mammals.
In Kentucky, 80 percent of the states natural wetlands have
been lost due mostly to farming and coal mining. But Kentucky
is one of the few states that is actually increasing its amount
of wetland acreage, in large part because of federal rules that
require developers who disturb natural wetlands to replace them
with man-made wetlands on at least an acre-for-acre, and sometimes
But are these new, constructed wetlands the real deal? How well
do they purify water compared with the natural ones that are centuries
old? Those are some questions that soil biochemist Elisa DAngelo
is asking. Her research compares the nutrient storage and transforming
capacities of man-made wetlands (called mitigated wetlands) with
the real thing, natural wetland areas next to rivers that have
been around for eons of time.
Specifically, shes monitoring several key biochemical processes
in wetland soils responsible for water quality improvement at
more than a dozen man-made and natural wetlands in western Kentucky.
The man-made wetlands range in age from one year to more than
Wetland soils, compared with upland and aquatic soils, she explained,
are unique in that they harbor microorganisms that biochemically
purify water that flows through them. They are truly Mother Natures
water treatment plant.
The science of creating man-made wetlands is in still in
its infancy. And without accurate knowledge, we can only guess
at where and how man-made ones need to be built, she said.
That guesswork can lead to costly or inefficient use of constructed
If the constructed wetland works only half as well as a
natural one, we would need to use twice as much land to achieve
the same results; if it works as well as or better than naturally
occurring wetlands, then a two-for-one rule that is sometimes
applied is highly expensive, she said.
DAngelos approach is unique: its a biogeochemical
approach, which implies measuring physical, chemical, and biological
processes inside the wetland, rather than measuring only inputs
and outputs, which has been the standard technique so far.
We know the big-picture processes responsible for water
purification in wetlands such as deposition of nutrient-enriched
sediments and plant detritus, the decomposition of organic matter
by aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, nitrification and denitrification,
sorption and precipitation reactions. How efficient these processes
are depends on environmental conditions and microbial communities
in the wetlands, which are likely different in man-made sites
compared with pristine ones, she said.
and phosphorus are the main elements of concern in her research,
as they are largely responsible for the algal blooms and aquatic
plant-clogged waterways. Besides causing off-flavors in drinking
water and being a nuisance to boaters and fisherman, aerobic decomposition
of dead algal cells and plants in lakes and streams leads to lower
levels of dissolved oxygen and fish kills.
A well-known example is the Dead Zone a tract
in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey in which all
manner of aquatic life perishes for several months each year as
a result of low dissolved oxygen caused by algal decay and overabundance
of nutrients emanating from the Mississippi River. Losses of wetland
areas adjacent to the Mississippi have been linked to this phenomenon.
We expect that there will be significant changes in rates
at which water impurities are processed and also in microbial
communities that process them between the mitigated and pristine
wetlands. We hope our results will provide scientists and engineers
the necessary tools to assess whether an engineered ecosystem
is following the correct track, so that actions can be taken to
correct a failing system, she said.
Challenge Trust Fund
Plants from Viruses
Nagy speaks with a decided accent. And he should. The plant virologist
is from Hungary. He arrived at the UK College of Agriculture two
years ago via the University of Massachusetts, where he completed
Nagys work involves plant viruses and even with an accent,
he can mesmerize you with the details of their lives and their
In fact, viral mistakes are Nagys stock in trade as a plant
The idea goes something like this. Viruses invade their host
for Nagy this is a plant, but animals can be hosts, too, as we
all know. The virus sets up housekeeping and starts copying itself
at a frenetic pace.
think about when you have a virus, such as a cold. When the virus
has made enough copies of itself, you start to feel sick, and
as the number of copies gets larger and larger, you feel worse
and worse. But because the virus is making copies of itself so
fast, it makes mistakes not just little meaningless ones
but serious mistakes that can lead to its own self-destruction.
Those self-destructing mistakes and how they can be promoted
and used to protect plants from viral harm are the subject
of Nagys research.
the specifics. Viruses, which are much too small to be seen without
the use of special microscopes, come in a variety of sizes and
shapes and structures. (Several hundred thousand of them could
fit into the period at the end of this sentence.) Further compounding
their mystique is the fact that some copy themselves using DNA,
like animals, and some replicate using only RNA, because thats
all they contain.
viruses are the most abundant types; those that cause the human
cold, encephalitis, and flu are all examples of RNA viruses. RNA
viruses make many more mistakes in replicating than do the DNA
types. Thats why it seems that each year the world is warned
of a new flu or new cold, with names such as Spanish flu, Hong
Kong flu, Swine flu and the like they are mutations of earlier
research is focused on how to cause the RNA-viruses to make mistakes
more often. Without help they make mistakes in replication one
out of 10 times, which means a great number of mistakes considering
they can make millions of copies of themselves in a day.
specifically, it is during the copying that bits and pieces of
the genetic code are written backward or with letters left
out so to speak. These mistakes sometimes become parasites
that attack the virus (which also is a parasite) from which they
came. Now, thats gratitude for you.
is researching ways to understand this process and force the viruses
to make mistakes happen more quickly and more often so that molecular
parasites developed from the virus can out-compete (and minimize
or eliminate) the parent virus before it has killed or debilitated
his laboratory, Nagy has been able to cause mistakes in a virus
that is widely found and destructive in wild tobacco
and tomato. These mistakes compete with the original
virus and weaken its ability to destroy the plant, but it doesnt
live very well even with the virus having been weakened.
has genetically modified these mistake viruses, so
that they can out-compete the parent virus so well that they can
eliminate the parent virus from the plant. And because the modified
mistake virus causes no harm to the plant, the plant
does the new, molecular parasite work? Nagy rubs a bit of the
new, genetically modified mistakevirus on a leaf of
wild tobacco, previously infected with the parent
virus. The new parasite out-competes its parent virus and the
is enthusiastic that his technique can be refined and used to
help farmers protect their crops. Conceivably, farmers could
spray crops with genetically modified mistake viruses
to protect their crops. But more likely, skilled plant breeders
will be able to breed into seed the mistake virus
so that the plant will be protected from the time it germinates,
How does the scientist with so much enthusiasm stop thinking about
his research when he goes home? He doesnt.
I tell my 9-year-old about the value and power of science
and how we can protect plants, animals, and humans, Nagy
That Tell Genes What to Do
about what you ate yesterday. Try to name something you ate that
doesnt have any connection with seeds, either directly or
indirectly. You probably cant.
Thats why plant scientist Sharyn Perrys very basic
research has such importance. Her goal is to find out how plant
cells know how to develop into seed tissue that eventually
grows into a new plant or is eaten for food for humans or other
animals, some of which in turn are consumed by people.
Its really molecular biology with an agronomic purpose.
Shes investigating things that you cant see with a
naked eye that are both complex and simple at the same time. Theyre
complex because she cant see whats really happening
at the molecular level; theyre simple because the process
is likely straightforward enough once she understands it.
Her goal is to understand better something called AGL-15, which
is shorthand for Agamous-like 15, a protein that is involved in
gene expression. AGL-15 sets in motion what scientists call transcription
machinery enzymes that glide up or down the DNA and turn
genes on or off. If the gene is turned on, it is expressed and
the plant develops a certain way; if it is turned off, its
not expressed and the plant develops quite differently. As such,
then, AGL-15 is necessary for switching on or switching off genes
that eventually lead cells to develop into seed.
How can a researcher investigate things that she cant really
see? Thats complicated.
Perry first mechanically pulverizes plant embryos of Arabidopsis,
a weed of the mustard family. The resulting dust is treated with
an antibody developed from rabbits, which binds to AGL-15, which
is bound to the DNA. Tiny beads that are so small that youd
have to have many of them to be able to detect them are added
to the mixture, where they bind to the antibody. Then, after the
mixture is whirled a bit in the centrifuge, the beads now
with the antibody, DNA, and protein together clinging to them
are removed and heated. Heating separates the DNA pieces from
the protein. The cleaned DNA is replicated (so that
she has more of it to work with) and then compared with the known
Arabidopsis genome map to see exactly where the AGL-15 was positioned.
(Even though Arabidopsis is a weed, researchers have determined
its entire 5-chromosome genome map.) By comparing the DNA fragments
with the known genome map, she will be able to ascertain just
which genes are turned on or turned off by AGL-15.
her research has isolated genes that have passed many of the tests
to show that they are regulated by AGL-15, but many more tests
are needed to fully understand how the regulated genes function
in seed development.
Finding out what genes AGL-15 regulates will help us understand
how this particular protein functions during plant development.
Because this protein is a member of a protein family believed
to be involved in critical development decisions of fungi and
animals, as well as plants, I am hopeful this research can help
our understanding of the entire cell differentiation process in
many organisms, Perry said.
Maps, More Precise Farming
scientist Tom Mueller is refining techniques that Cro-Magnon hunters
developed about 35,000 years ago: making maps of productivity.
The early hunters used bits of charcoal to draw on cave walls
pictures of animals they hunted along with track lines and tallies
to show the animals migration routes, presumably to help
the hunters become more successful on their next hunt.
But instead of a lump of charcoal, Mueller uses high technology
equipment, some of it situated several miles in the sky, to make
productivity maps. And instead of noting the migration of wild
animals, Muellers focus is yield potential in fields. Mueller
is using cutting-edge technology to improve the precision of farming.
Somebody once said that precision farming allows farmers
to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. Mapping
where a fields fertility is good and where it could benefit
from fertilizer helps farmers improve yields while cutting costs,
And while farmers have been using the technologies of precision
agriculture for a few years now, it could be even more precise.
And thats exactly what Muellers research is doing.
He is using space-age machines and concepts, including global
positioning systems (that locate exactly where the tractor is
in the field), yield monitors (that record how much grain is harvested
within a few square feet of the field), and geographic information
systems (that record and map key field factors), as well as soil
sensors and remote sensing devices to improve the information
farmers have from which to make decisions.
Some of Muellers work has shown that the electrical conductivity
of soils is related to topsoil depth and depth of fragipan (a
hard layer in soils that reduces root growth). Measuring how well
a fields soil conducts electricity gives some indication
of yield potential. And registering a fields conductivity
with a global positioning system (GPS) allows farmers to make
precise decisions about particular parts of a field. However,
electric conductivity varies over time, depending on environmental
conditions such as soil moisture.
understand better whether this variability is important, Mueller
checked soil conductivity within fields several times over the
course of a year. Using a special device that sent an electrical
charge from one coulter (which looks a great deal like a circular
knife you use to cut pizza) to another coulter, both of which
were slicing through the soil, he measured soil conductivity at
the same points at different times during the summer. The amount
of electricity that the second coulter picked up was compared
with the amount sent to determine the soils conductivity.
Although the electrical conductivity values at every point changed
throughout the growing season, the pattern within the field remained
relatively constant, suggesting that farmers using electrical
conductivity as part of their precision agriculture strategy may
want to take into consideration that values at any point are contingent
upon soil moisture and other factors that vary throughout the
Towns, Big Hearts:
Professional Graduates Return to Rural Roots
more than a century, the UK College of Agricultures reputation
for excellence has been built on educating young people to become
farmers and agribusiness leaders. Recently, it has added to its
prestige a reputation for preparing students well for professional
school doctors, lawyers, and dentists, many of whom return
to rural Kentucky to practice their professions. We highlight
three of these former ag students who are making their marks in
professional practices in rural Kentucky.
a long way from Hartford, Kentucky to the nearest opera, but
Dr. Leticia Tiche Tucker, M.D., a back yard cricket
symphony accompanied by a
firefly light show is really more enjoyable than going to the
opera anyway. And she can savor the cricket songs every summer
night by just stepping outside her back door.
Tucker (College of Agriculture 1990-1994, ag biotech) is among
a growing number of College of Agriculture students who are using
their undergraduate educations and experience as springboards
to professional school before returning to rural Kentucky to ply
their trades. Dr. Tucker will begin her career in Hartford, a
small town in Ohio County, in August.
Dr. Tucker, the science aspects of the ag biotechnology program
helped her score high on the medical school entrance examinations.
(Dr. Tucker admits she still hasnt finished her B.S. degree
she entered medical school shy just a few undergraduate courses.)
She was accepted into Ross University Medical School and trained
in New York City where she completed her M.D. degree before starting
her residency in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But she learned more
than just science in the College of Agriculture. She learned life
skills that will allow her to become a successful small-town doc.
of my agriculture background, I was more well rounded and practical
about approaches to patients and colleagues than my classmates
who came from other backgrounds. And I was the only one in my
class who could talk about rural life comfortably without being
condescending, she said.
addition, she said, working with animals through Block and Bridle
paid off in a quirky sort of way. I find my animal husbandry
skills very helpful when Im trying to look into toddlers
ears, especially when they want no part of it.
a rural practice, when its well recognized that rural physicians
work more hours per week for less money? A rural practices
rewards in lifestyle are more important than the monetary rewards
for people like Dr. Tucker.
chose a rural practice because the values of the rural people
are my values. I love Kentuckians and no other place in the world
than Kentucky would do, the Shelby County native said.
our College of Agriculture is being recognized as a place to study
science. Weve always been known for preparing well our students
who go on to veterinary school, but now students are finding our
College is excellent for preparing students for medical and pharmacy
schools, said Joe Davis, the Colleges associate dean
increasing number of students entering medical school programs
directly from the undergraduate program is a compelling witness
to the colleges preparation in the sciences, because medical
schools have recently preferred slightly older students to fresh
graduates. The fact that the Colleges new grads can compete
for medical school seats attests to the strength of their academic
preparation, as well as the students maturity.
addition to preparing future rural doctors well and
many do return to rural areas the College also has a reputation
for preparing students to become attorneys. And the practice of
rural and small-town law requires special skills. Its not
like Perry Mason at all and College of Agriculture students seem
particularly adept at working in small towns.
lawyers often work alone, or in small firms. Because of this,
they must be general practitioners, which includes divorce, estates,
criminal defense representation, real estate, and litigation for
all manner of court cases. Brian N. Thomas has elected to practice
law in a small town. His office, like those of many small-town
and rural lawyers, is located on Main Street, across from the
Clark County Courthouse in Winchester, Kentucky (population 16,000),
about 25 minutes east of Lexington. Winchester is the kind of
place where every birth is celebrated and every death is mourned
because each event affects somebody you know.
Winchester native admits he had no intention of attending the
UK College of Agriculture; the thought had never crossed his mind
when he graduated from high school in 1987. However, the county
Extension agent at that time, Paul Deaton, advised him that some
scholarship money was offered for qualified students in the College
of Agriculture. That convinced Thomas to consider the College.
And hes glad he did.
an agricultural economics major with an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
scholarship, Thomas learned that the College was a hands-on, learn-as-you-go
place. By the second day, he was helping two College of Agriculture
faculty members in agricultural economics (Jerry Skees and David
Debertin) conduct a survey about farmers and the publics
perception of burley tobacco. Because of his involvement with
that project, he had the opportunity to present a paper to an
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco seminar, an experience that helped him hone
his presentation skills, a benefit to a lawyer who really does
argue cases in court.
After completing his B.S. degree in agriculture, Thomas attended
the University of Louisville Law School, graduating with a Juris
Doctor degree in 1994. Once he passed the Kentucky and Indiana
bars, Thomas practiced as an attorney in the risk management division
of an inland river transportation company in Indiana, a company
whose cargo was often agricultural commodities.
three years, Thomas moved back home to pursue his career in small-town
law with the firm of Grant, Rose and Pumphrey in Winchester.
A small-town practice lets you interact closely with your
clients including lots of people involved in agriculture
and agribusiness. You see clients and clients opponents
every day at the grocery store and the like. Small-town law lets
you work with a variety of cases from probate to contracts, corporations
to litigation. I know that Thomas Wolfe said you cant
go home again. Obviously, he never lived in Winchester,
Kentucky, he said.
said his undergraduate program in agricultural economics prepared
him well for life as a small-town attorney. I use knowledge
that I gained and information that I learned as an undergraduate
every day. Because many of my clients are farmers or have farm
backgrounds, I draw on my College of Agriculture experiences daily,
Wesley Porter arrived at the University of Kentucky in 1990
as a first-year student, his goal was to earn a degree in animal
sciences and perhaps even a doctorate in the field at some later
date. As with many people, times change and so do their minds.
After receiving his B.S. degree in 1994, Wes returned home to
tiny Gracey, Kentucky (population 92) and farmed for a short time
with his parents, Kenneth and Sally Porter, before taking a job
with Carl S. Akey, Inc. in Ohio. He worked as a nutrition technician
for the swine nutrition consulting company for 18 months before
deciding to make a career switch. He toyed with the idea of getting
a doctorate in animal sciences, but realized that that career
would not get him very close to home, which was one of his life
goals. However, a major career switch might allow him to move
back closer to Gracey.
uncle, Tommy Porter (whos also a UK ag college graduate)
is a dentist in Hopkinsville, so the idea of becoming a dentist
was something that I had been exposed to and considered from time
to time, Porter said. It was now time for Porter to make
that decision for good.
applied for a seat at University of Kentuckys dentistry
school in the spring of 1996 for entrance that fall. He was readily
accepted and unlike many other students in the class of 2000,
he was not required to complete any more classes before he started;
his B.S. in animal sciences had provided him with the scientific
background required for entrance into dentistry school.
When Porter now Dr. Porter finished his dentistry
degree, he was ready to go back home.
bought an existing practice from a dentist who had been practicing
general dentistry for more than 30 years. I see lots of familiar
faces as patients and have gained many new ones whove decided
to change dentists because they knew me and my family, Porter
said. He does admit that some of them chide him for being a dentist,
saying that would have expected him to work with cows and not
with peoples teeth.
agriculture education is invaluable; the people I met in undergraduate
school have become lifelong friends. I even met my wife, Lori
Thomas, there, said Porter, who became a father for the
first time last year.
And even though Dr. Porter maintains a promising practice in Hopkinsville,
he hasnt given up his ag school roots: hes still active
on the family farm in Gracey, helping with the crops and raising
sheep and cattle of his own. u