Food Systems News
Farmers will need to change their management strategies over the next few decades to adapt to impending climate extremes, according to a study recently published by researchers at Auburn University and Pennsylvania State University.
The study, featured in the June 11 issue of the open access journal PLOS ONE, is the first climate change study on corn that focuses on aspects of growth and development from an agronomic viewpoint. The majority of such studies have used either simulation or statistical models to evaluate yield losses.
And while the research itself focuses on three northeastern U.S. states, the general conclusions are applicable for all regions, including the Southeast, says Rishi Prasad, assistant professor and extension specialist with the College of Agriculture’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences.
“We need to investigate the Southern region as well,” said Prasad, who began the initial study during his time as a post-doctoral scholar at Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Penn State.
“We are going through similar phases as those in the Northeast, where we have a very wet period followed by a very dry period. We need to understand how future climate change is going to affect our current scenario and what kind of best management practices we need to be prepared for the next 50 years.”
The warming trends occurring are specific to location, he says.
“The globe is warming, but we are seeing different heating effects from one location to another,” Prasad said. “It will be difficult to make a general recommendation for an entire region. Instead, recommendations will need to be location-specific, depending on how fast a location is warming.”
Prasad and his colleagues chose corn as the subject of their study because of its importance to U.S. agriculture, offering many possibilities for feeding and fueling a growing world population.
“However, future corn production will potentially face vagaries of extreme weather in a warming climate that is being affected by greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “These emissions currently are the highest in human history and are expected to continue (rising?)in coming decades.”
While mean annual temperatures already have increased throughout the world, the global temperature is expected to increase further by 36 degrees F. by 2050, Prasad said, and the local effects on heat, cold and precipitation extremes will vary widely, with regional differences in geography and landscape features.
Corn production in the Northeast U.S. will suffer from the impacts of climate extremes like other corn-growing regions, but it draws special attention from researchers because it is a major dairy region, and corn is a major feed for the industry. Also, the Northeast is cited as the fastest-warming region in the contiguous U.S.
“Most climate-change studies on corn have been carried out in the Midwest and Great Plains, with little attention to the Northeast, so we saw a need to evaluate the local risks of extreme climate on corn production in the region,” Prasad said.
Although several global and regional studies have evaluated heat and water stress effects on corn yield using historical weather data, there is less information on growth-stage-specific anomalies in corn production at local levels, he said.
“Warming trends in the U.S. are not spatially and temporally uniform, so local evaluations of climate-change effects on corn production are important,” Prasad said. “Examining temperature anomalies, water deficit periods and frost occurrences during the growing season are of great importance as these factors are strongly associated with yields.”
The study views data from nine different climate models that simulate the climate of the entire world.
“Because they’re simulated on a larger scale, we fine-tuned the data down to a smaller scale,” Prasad said. “We downscaled it so we could study the impact of climate change from one place to another place in one particular region.”
Researchers used the climate models looking 100 years into the future, all the way to the end of the 21stcentury. They considered current farming practices, such as the time when farmers are planting and harvesting their corn. The study focused on locations in New York and Pennsylvania, where corn production provides feed for the dairy industry.
“We looked at how corn production is going to change in the future,” Prasad said. “One of the most important stages of the corn lifecycle is the reproductive stage, where the corn produces pollens. If, during that period, the temperature exceeds the upper threshold of 95 degrees F., the pollen viability decreases, or the pollens will not be fertilized and will not form corn grains. We’re looking at what’s happening in the future in terms of these high temperatures episodes, especially during the corn reproductive phases.”
The study concludes that if farmers continue with current management practices, there will be a dramatic decrease in yield, and the reason for that is two-fold, he said.
“High-temperature frequencies will increase, and 2050 is when we can expect to see a very clear demarcation of this effect,” Prasad said. “We also looked at the moisture deficit trends during corn growth stages, and it is widening. The corn will experience more drought during its main reproductive phase. These two situations will make the scenario worse in the future.”
The study goes on to recommend possible remedies for corn producers, including a shift in planting dates and irrigation.
“The months of January, February and March are getting relatively warmer than they used to be, and the warming trends will continue in the future,” Prasad said. “This means growers can shift their planting dates backward from the typical April planting dates for corn to avoid high heat intensities during the reproductive stage of corn.”
Also, with the widening gap between evapotranspiration and precipitation, especially during corn’s prime reproductive phase irrigation is recommended.
Prasad’s research at Auburn continues to focus on the development of next-generation best management practices for crop-livestock systems
“We need to approach in an integrative way how these weather changes will affect environmental nitrogen and phosphorus losses and affect water, air and soil quality.” Prasad said. “We need to develop the next generation of best management practices in terms of managing water and in terms of managing nutrients so that we have an adaptive response to a changing weather pattern.”
Also involved in the research were Heather Karsten, associate professor of crop production ecology, and Greg Roth, professor of agronomy, Pennsylvania State University; Alan Rotz, Stephan Kpoti Gunn and Anthony Buda, all with the Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service; and Anne Stoner, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University. This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.
BY PAUL HOLLIS
Dr. Rishi Prasad, assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences
Cost and efficiency are high on the list of concerns for Alabama farmers and equally high on the list of priorities for Auburn University researchers.
The Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station’s Production Agriculture Research, or PAR, grants program, now in its second year, is committed to finding timely solutions to problems that prevent the state’s farmers from being profitable.
Administered through the AAES with USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch funding and matching state appropriations, the PAR program is funding nine research projects this year, with a total commitment of $446,138.
“These projects address needs identified by farmers, commodity groups and other agricultural stakeholders in Alabama, and cost and efficiency are at the top of everyone’s list,” said Henry Fadamiro, associate dean for research for the College of Agriculture and associate director of the AAES.
Among those stakeholders is the Alabama Farmers Federation, the state’s largest farm organization.
“I am excited that Auburn University is continuing this effort to address real-world production challenges and opportunities for Alabama farmers and timber owners,” said Brian Hardin, director of governmental and agricultural programs for the federation and a member of the PAR proposal review panel.
The projects selected for funding show the diversity of the state’s agriculture and the issues that need to be addressed across all areas, Hardin said.
“Alabama farmers are fortunate to have the expertise of these researchers at Auburn University and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station,” he said. “Even more though, we are fortunate that the administration and faculty are paying attention to how they can help people be profitable on their farms and land. That is the ultimate mission of the land-grant university.”
The grants program is a first of its kind for the AAES, in that it focuses specifically on production agriculture, Fadamiro said. Last year, the program supported 15 projects, with a total commitment of $622,000.
Many of the two-year, $50,000 PAR grants support combined research and extension projects that address current farming problems in a timely manner through applied research..
“This is an opportunity for College of Agriculture and AAES faculty to work on solving or providing immediate solutions to production challenges,” Fadamiro said.
For central Alabama’s fledgling new kiwifruit industry, a serious concern is winter freeze damage in young orchards.
“Winter freeze injury is not a significant problem on mature vines, but vines have proven to be susceptible in the establishment phase,” said Jay Spiers, Department of Horticulture associate professor and lead kiwifruit researcher. “This issue has deterred us from establishing cultivar trials and small commercial plantings throughout the region.”
Currently, producers use overhead sprinklers and/or microsprinklers for freeze protection, and, while that works for spring frosts, it is not a good control option during hard winter freezes. In his PAR project, Spiers will test the efficacy of several different trunk protection strategies for winter freeze protection.
He will present his results at grower and scientific meetings, where it will be applicable for kiwifruit and citrus producers and other stakeholders faced with management decisions on winter freeze protection.
In another new PAR initiative, the Alabama Animal Waste and Nutrient Management team at Auburn, the Alabama Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Soil and Water Conservation Committee will work together to find ways to improve on-farm phosphorus management and minimize phosphorus runoff.
While applying manure to agricultural lands can improve soil health and promote nutrient cycling, phosphorus mismanagement can lead to eutrophication of waterbodies and jeopardize their designated use.
“We will evaluate phosphorus retention and release rates of Alabama soils under different management practices and determine the ability of soil to act as source or sink of phosphorus to the environment,” said project leader Rishi Prasad, extension animal-systems environmental specialist, and Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences assistant professor.
The project also aims to develop a soil test–based decision support tool for assessing the risk of environmental phosphorus loss from agricultural lands.
Another PAR grant project, looks to stem economic losses from reduced animal gain and reproductive performance in endophyte-infected tall fescue forage systems. The fungus costs the U.S. beef industry more than $1 billion per year.
Study leader Kim Mullenix, Department of Animal Sciences extension assistant professor, said endophyte-infected tall fescue is the predominant perennial forage ecotype in north Alabama and the Black Belt region, where more than 60 percent of Alabama beef operations are located.
“As tall fescue matures during the early summer months, the endophyte produces high levels of ergovaline, a plant chemical compound that has negative impacts on animal performance,” she said. “Alternative forage systems are needed to improve animal production potential and extend the grazing season in regions otherwise dominated by cool-season species.”
In her two-year grazing project at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction, Mullenix will determine the forage production, nutritive value and animal performance characteristics of alternative warm-season grasses in replacement-heifer production systems.
Meanwhile, School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences professor Terry Hanson will be leading a project to solve the Alabama catfish industry’s big-fish problem.
“For some time now, there has been a surplus of big catfish, or fish greater than 4 pounds in pond inventories for which catfish processors have been unable to identify a viable market,” Hanson said.
Subsequently, processors are paying half price for fish between 4 to 6 pounds and nothing for fish larger than 6 pounds, resulting in lost revenue for commercial catfish farms.
“Our research seeks to determine the cost of different management strategies toward long-term management of the big-fish problem in the Alabama aquaculture industry,” he said. “Catfish aging techniques will be employed to determine the age of different size classes of fish in commercial ponds to provide much needed information on harvest efficiency.”
Data from the study will provide management solutions towards solving the big-fish problem, he said.
The titles of and lead investigators on the five remaining projects that received 2018 PAR grants follow.
- Derive “double cash” from trash: Co-production of single-cell protein as aquafeed along with the lactic acid production from paper mill sludge: Yi Wang, assistant professor, Department of Biosystems Engineering, $50,000.
- Assessment of profitability of irrigation in crop production and acreage expansion in Alabama: Denis Nadolnyak, associate professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, $50,000.
- Evaluation of summer annual forage mixtures for grazing and baleage production in Alabama: Leanne Dillard, assistant professor, Department of Animal Sciences and Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, $49,983.
- Agrometeorological monitoring and forecasting for sustainable water and agronomic management: Di Tian, Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, $49,975.
- Value-added building blocks from locally abandoned biomass for advanced food packaging materials, Maria Soledad-Peresin, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, $49,762.The 2018 PAR grant call for proposals included several improvements that were based on feedback from stakeholders.
“In their grant proposals for this year, we specifically asked faculty members to consider project outcomes and impacts,” Fadamiro said. “We also asked for stakeholder involvement in developing the projects. We didn’t want faculty thinking about projects in a vacuum, so we asked them to work with stakeholders from the conception of the project, and we requested letters of support from stakeholders.”
In addition, projects that will be based at one of the 15 AAES outlying research units required letters of support from the unit director.
These changes, Fadamiro said, raised the quality of all proposals received.
“Almost all the proposals submitted this year could have been funded had the dollars been available, because they all were specific and relevant to the goals of the program.”
BY PAUL HOLLIS
Jay Spiers, Department of Horticulture associate professor, is leading a research project that will test the efficacy of several different trunk protection strategies for winter freeze protection of kiwifruit and citrus crops.
Categories: Food Systems
Auburn research teams are tackling local and global challenges ranging from housing affordability to advanced manufacturing of medical implants, thanks to a new $5 million investment in 11 groundbreaking projects designed to deliver practical, life-changing solutions.
“Auburn research is on the move,” said Auburn President Steven Leath. “Our world-renowned faculty are leading Auburn in our drive to solve problems, provide real-world benefits and serve the social good.”
Today’s announcement is part of an initiative funded through the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, that Leath created last year to propel Auburn to new levels of research and development distinction. The PAIR funding will span three years. Additional research topics include rural health disparities in poverty-stricken areas, treating the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, neuroscience research and graduate education, reducing carbon dioxide emissions or using them for other means, and other critical areas of human and environmental health.
Project teams were selected from three award tiers: Tier 1 for new teams, with funding up to $100,000 per year; Tier 2 for established teams, with funding up to $250,000 per year; and Tier 3 for high-impact teams, with funding up to $500,000 per year. All proposals received an in-depth evaluation from Auburn’s associate deans for research, and Tier 3 proposals were also externally evaluated. Top-evaluated proposals were those that most closely aligned with the goals of PAIR as stated in the program guidelines. From 101 proposals received, 11 project teams will receive funding (the two top-evaluated proposals per tier for up to three years of funding, as well as five additional, top-evaluated Tier 1 proposals for two years of funding with a third-year no-cost extension available).
Project teams to receive funding are:
Project: Creating better bio-medical implants for patients in need using additive manufacturing, or “3D Printing” (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers plan to develop improved implants/orthotics for those with neuromuscular and skeletal system needs through the process of additive manufacturing. This process, also known as “3D printing,” allows for more customizable implants for small animals and humans and the possibility of embedded drugs in implants to ward off infections that can sometimes follow implant surgeries.
The Auburn solution: Research will take place to ensure “3-D printed” biomedical implants will remain durable during use and conform well to a patient’s needs while serving as a reliable drug-delivery source that can offer injury-triggered pain relief. The additive manufacturing process also helps reduce implant production costs.
Project: Unlocking Home Affordability and Prosperity in Rural America (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are focusing on helping those in poor, rural areas gain greater access to resources that will ultimately lead them to finding affordable housing options.
The Auburn solution: Auburn researchers will work toward the creation of a National Institute of Rural Prosperity that will foster partnerships to help rural residents more easily overcome barriers to home ownership, including mortgage lending, home insurance and local ordinances and policies.
Project: Reducing the burden of neurological disease by increasing fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system (Tier 2; $637,500 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will work to mitigate against mental, neurological and substance use disorders, which make up a substantial proportion of the world’s disease burden.
The Auburn solution: A team of experts in chemistry, physiology, development, degeneration, and imaging of the brain will collaborate to develop a neuroscience center to increase fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.
Project: A Mobile Mitochondria Laboratory (AU MitoMobile) to Lead the World in Measuring Bioenergetics in Natural Settings (Tier 2; $636,941 total funding over three years)
The issue: Because the successful study of genetic and environmental impacts on mitochondria (the energy-providing part of the cellular makeup of plants and animals) can be severely limited in a laboratory setting, Auburn researchers will collaborate to build a mobile laboratory to bring this research to field sites.
The Auburn solution: A team of evolutionary biologists, environmental biologists, exercise physiologists and engineers will develop a mobile laboratory for measuring mitochondrial energy production of vertebrates at remote locations, such as oil spill sites and other places where environmental disturbances have damaged the health of local wildlife.
Project: Rural African American Aging Research (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will assess the psychosocial stressors that can contribute to the problem of rural African Americans having a lower life expectancy and a faster progression of age-related diseases. Research in this area has the potential to inform health-promoting interventions and polices and lead to health and social equity.
The Auburn solution: PAIR funding will be used to establish a sustainable research structure in east-central Alabama focused on improving health in that community and beyond by partnering with surrounding communities. The ultimate goal is to grow the scientific knowledge of how psychosocial risk factors can accelerate aging among African Americans.
Project: Reducing and reusing carbon dioxide emissions for useful means (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers seek to combat the dire environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions through a plan to reduce such emissions and store or utilize them for other useful means.
The Auburn solution: Researchers will work toward the development of an Alabama CO2 Utilization and Storage Center at Auburn University, with a goal of establishing Auburn as a leader in carbon dioxide utilization and storage research focused on best ways to capture CO2 emissions and convert them into helpful forms such as green fuels.
Project: Extra-virgin olive oil examined for uses in treating hallmarks of Alzheimer’s (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are examining the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil for its potential to have a positive effect on the disease hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease. The research team is seeking to conduct more research into this area to determine the viability of findings for humans.
The Auburn solution: A multidisciplinary team will be assembled to conduct a pilot study on the positive effects of extra-virgin olive oil and to produce data for a strong human clinical trial to be submitted to funding agencies.
Project: Drugs from Dirt: Development and Characterization of Novel Antimicrobial Compounds (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Because many disease-causing organisms are resistant to current drug therapies, Auburn scientists are pursuing new approaches to the development of antibiotics.
The Auburn solution: Researchers will test and develop new therapeutic strategies for treating infectious diseases, through the study of antiobiotic-producing bacterial cultures they have discovered in soil. These are potentially life-saving antibiotics that could have application in human medicine, agriculture, and veterinary practice.
Project: Creating a Climate Information System to aid in planning for climate-related disasters (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will create a climate service model that will help guide decision making in planning for climate-related disasters that can cause great economic and social damage.
The Auburn solution: A cross-disciplinary team of investigators will develop a science-based, Unified Climate Information System to better inform planning, policy and practices at regional, national and global scales. In addition to exploring emerging climate data, the research will seek to improve and integrate impact models for water quantity, water quality, crop growth and disease transmission simulations. The project also will include the creation of an interactive website platform, with all work being focused on the southeastern U.S. and being easily adaptable to other locations worldwide.
Project: Emerging Contaminants Research Team (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn experts are conducting research into newly recognized environmental contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have not been studied sufficiently to determine their impact on the environment and their possible health risks to humans and wildlife.
The Auburn solution: This Auburn research team will use its expertise in civil engineering, pharmacology, aquatic sciences, and other key areas to collaborate on focused research into the effects of these and other previously understudied contaminants, to increase knowledge and public awareness of risk factors.
Project: Development of the AU-NASH Research Program (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are seeking solutions to the problem of nonalcoholic steatotic hepatitis, or NASH, the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and perhaps the most significant form of chronic liver disease in the world today, which has no current approved therapies available.
The Auburn solution: The research team will work to address this urgent, unmet medical need by developing a disease therapy program to increase positive outcomes for those suffering from liver disease.
For more details on each PAIR project and how Auburn is inspiring as a leading provider of life-changing research, creative scholarship and community engagement, visit auburn.edu/auburninspires.
BY JONATHAN CULLUM AND PRESTON SPARKS
Auburn Professor Charles Chen was part of the Peanut Genome Consortium—an international team of scientists—that unveiled the map of the cultivated peanut’s entire genome, marking the completion of a rigorous five-year research project.
New and improved peanut varieties could be coming growers' and consumers' way more frequently in the future with the successful mapping of the crop's genetic code.
The Peanut Genome Consortium—an international team of scientists that includes Auburn University's Charles Chen—unveiled the map of the cultivated peanut's entire genome in January, marking the completion of a rigorous five-year research project.
The genetic breakthrough will allow scientists to pinpoint beneficial genes in cultivated and wild peanuts and use those in breeding new varieties. These traits can lead to greater yields, lower production costs, lower losses to disease, improved processing traits, improved nutrition, improved safety, better flavor and virtually anything that is genetically determined by the peanut plant.
"This project gives us the tools to accomplish a lot of different things," said Chen, a plant breeder and geneticist in the College of Agriculture's Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and head of Auburn's peanut breeding and genetics program.
"Genetic improvement will now occur more quickly and more efficiently, and farmers will benefit greatly from the gains this research allows," Chen said. "This advancement gives scientists around the world a map that can be used to unlock the genetic potential of the peanut plant."
The discovery is a significant boost for Auburn's peanut breeding program, the youngest of its kind in the Southeast. The program's first runner peanut variety—AU-NPL 17—was officially released in 2017 and is already winning accolades for its high yields, resistance to disease, longer shelf life and healthy traits.
Limited supplies of AU-NPL 17 seed should be available to U.S. farmers in 2019. Alabama is the second largest peanut-producing state in the U.S., with 225,000 acres planted in 2017.
"We're working on new varieties that will incorporate improved disease resistance and drought tolerance, and the mapping of the genome helps tremendously with the basic science," Chen said.
An added advantage of the project is that it increases Auburn's capability to train graduate students, providing more resources and advanced technology, he said.
In 2012, The Peanut Foundation, with industrywide support, launched the International Peanut Genome Initiative, the largest research project ever funded by the industry. Peanut growers, shellers and manufacturers footed the $6 million bill.
Peanuts are a staple in diets across the globe, from the Americas to Africa and Asia. They are also a key ingredient in ready-to-use therapeutic foods that treat severe acute malnutrition and a crop that farmers in developing countries rely on for personal and community economic well-being.
"Mapping the genetic code of the peanut proved to be an especially difficult task, but the final product is one of the best [genome maps] ever generated," Steve L. Brown, executive director of The Peanut Foundation, said. "We now have a map that will help breeders incorporate desirable traits that benefit growers, processors and, most importantly, the consumers that enjoy delicious and nutritious peanut products all over the world."
Bob Parker, National Peanut Board president and CEO, agreed.
"Peanuts are already more sustainable and affordable than any nut available today, and consumers choose them for their flavor and familiarity," he said. "I don't know that any of us can fully articulate what this advance means to our ability to grow more peanuts with fewer resources to feed the world. But I'm excited just thinking about the promises ahead of us."
The Peanut Genome Consortium was comprised of scientists from the U.S., China, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, India, Israel and several countries in Africa. In addition to Auburn's Chen, the U.S. research team included University of California-Davis, University of Georgia, Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University and University of Florida researchers, along with scientists at USDA–Agricultural Research Service labs in Tifton and Griffin, Georgia; Stillwater, Oklahoma; Ames, Iowa; and Stoneville, Mississippi and from the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Researchers with the Huntsville-based HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology coordinated the assembly of the final peanut genome.
The entire report is available on the Peanut Foundation website at www.peanutfoundation.org.
BY PAUL HOLLIS
Categories: Food Systems
Imagine pointing your smart phone at a head of lettuce in the grocery store and having the phone tell you what farm the lettuce came from and that the produce arrived in the grocery store three days ago. What if your phone could even tell you what temperatures the lettuce was exposed to in transit?
Would you pay extra for that lettuce? You bet I would.
This scenario might sound like science fiction, but the technology already exists. It’s called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), the technology already used by some retailers for inventory control.
To learn more, visit: http://www.auburnspeaks.org/2015/02/20/tracing-food-history/
Categories: Food Systems
Auburn’s Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center and the Underwood Family: Putting Good Ideas To Work in the Pecan Industry
One measure of a land-grant university’s success is the impact it has on people throughout its state. The Underwoods, from Baldwin County, Alabama, are leaders in the pecan industry and credit Auburn for significant contributions to their success.
Gary Underwood grew up in a pecan orchard near Foley, helping his parents, Vaughn and Marcline, take care of the family pecan orchard, a task he continues today. Later he gained experience in the pecan nursery business while working with his uncle, Bill Underwood.
Today, Gary and his wife, Billie Jo, are a farm family living in Summerdale and are extensively involved with the pecan industry. They have their own pecan orchard and a pecan and fruit nursery business. They assist with the family retail marketing of pecans. Billie Jo, a certified public accountant, helps with the business management. Sister-in-law Amanda Underwood runs the retail side of the business. Gary Underwood is a national leader in the industry.
Gary is quick to recognize Auburn University as instrumental in his success. The proximity of his orchard and nursery to Auburn’s Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center at Fairhope has led to his being a frequent visitor to the center. A keen observer, he has kept up with the center’s ongoing research and has gained valuable information about the farming and nursery business.
Underwood says now-retired station superintendent Ronnie McDaniel was a good source in the beginning, and former Auburn research associate Monte Nesbitt, a pecan and citrus authority, worked hand-in-hand with Gary on both the orchard and nursery projects. Nesbitt and Gary shared a love for budding and grafting, and they worked together on perfecting this intricate process. Current research associate Brian Wilkins brings a strong background in fruit research that is also valuable to Gary—he grows Satsuma oranges, blackberries, pears, plums, and persimmons, as well as pecans, in his nursery business.
Auburn Extension horticulturist Bill Goff developed a technique for improving the success of whip-grafting nursery stock using small trees and placing the graft on controlled- temperature heating cables. Gary further refined the technique, which enables him to produce a marketable grafted container pecan tree in one season. The process formerly took three seasons, so this was a huge advantage, especially considering the high demand for pecan nursery stock following the exponential increase in Chinese imports of pecans.
Not only was the technique of how to propagate the nursery trees developed at Auburn, but most of the cultivars Gary grows were discovered and/or evaluated and recommended by Auburn. Since south Alabama is among the rainiest locations in the country where pecans are grown, resistance to disease is a major consideration in cultivar choices. Auburn’s nearby low- input cultivar trial at Fairhope served as a model for selecting the proper cultivars for Gary to grow. Gafford, McMillan, Syrup Mill, and Amling seedling selections were identified by Auburn scientists, evaluated thoroughly, and ultimately recommended, and these cultivars are the mainstays of Gary’s nursery sales. Once these were identified, members of the Auburn team, notably Cathy Browne, provided graftwood to Gary to allow him to propagate the selections and get them into the industry trade. Further, Auburn arranged—in cooperation with the Louisiana State Forest Nursery—to procure a source of seedling trees for Gary to use.
“I could never have achieved what I have achieved in the pecan or nursery business without the assistance I have received from Auburn,” Gary says. Adds Billie Jo, “He and I will be forever grateful.”
As Gary developed his pecan orchard and nursery business, he also became involved in leadership roles in the pecan industry. He was selected Alabama Pecan Grower of the Year by the Alabama Pecan Growers Association in 1999, serving as president of the association from 1999-2001 and continuing in an active role on their board of directors today. His leadership expanded from state to regional to national offices, and he was elected president of the Southeastern Pecan Growers Association in 2010. Finally, in 2012, Gary became president of the National Pecan Growers Council.
The latest national pecan association with which he is involved is the National Pecan Council, an organization representing the interests of the entire U.S. pecan industry—growers, shellers, and processors. The National Pecan Council named Gary as its Southeastern grower representative in 2012.
This article was written by Karen Hunley of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute (AUFSI) to accompany Auburn Speaks: On Food Systems. To learn more about AUFSI, visit: www.aufsi.auburn.edu. To read more great articles like this one, visit: www.auburn.edu/auburnspeaks.
Categories: Food Systems
On July 30, 2015, Auburn University will be hosting a by invitation only forum on industrialized additive manufacturing.
Experts will discuss the application of this advanced technology for industries ranging from aerospace to biotechnology. Industry leaders from GE Aviation, GKN, NASA, Carpenter Technology, Alabama Laser, U.S. Army Aviation and faculty from Auburn University, University of Alabama, UAH and University of Memphis will describe the role their organizations are playing in developing, implementing and utilizing new processes and computer-aided hardware and software to produce components from material and composites once considered exotic.
A keynote address will be given by Greg Morris, the General Manager of Additive Technologies for GE Aviation.
To learn more about this day-long forum and networking reception to follow, or if you are interested in attending, please email forum organizers at email@example.com.
Auburn University might be relatively new to the peanut breeding business, but its just-released runner peanut variety is already winning accolades for its high yields, resistance to disease and healthy traits.
The new release—AU-NPL 17—is the product of a peanut breeding program operated jointly by the College of Agriculture’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and USDA’s National Peanut Research Lab in Dawson, Georgia. It’s the first runner-type cultivar released by the program and is well-adapted for growing conditions throughout the Southeast.
Runner peanuts are most commonly used for making peanut butter and are typically grown in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas. They account for 80 percent of the estimated 1.5 million acres of peanuts grown in the United States, with Alabama growers planting approximately 175,000 acres this past year.
While the Auburn peanut breeding program is the youngest of its kind in the Southeast, it is rapidly making a name for itself, says Charles Chen, a former USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist who joined the College of Agriculture in 2012 and is a professor of peanut breeding and genetics.
“With the release of this first runner-type variety, we’re establishing a research pipeline,” Chen says. “Now we’ll be able to make new crosses or selections and other varieties can be released through the program. There’s always something to improve upon; you never reach perfection. That is why we are here.”
Future releases will build on AU-NPL 17’s high yield, disease resistance and other factors, he says.
“You can never totally suppress pests if you continue to grow a cultivar in the field,” Chen says. “By nature, pests will mutate and fight resistance and tolerance, so resistance eventually will be conquered by pest mutations.”
AU-NPL 17 has been tested throughout Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina, where runner-type peanuts of a medium maturity group are adapted.
“It has shown good adaptability, with its primary advantage being high yields and good adaptation from irrigated fields to nonirrigated, from single to twin-row patterns, and when grown with or without fungicide treatments,” Chen says.
In terms of yield per acre, AU-NPL 17 compares favorably with Georgia-06G, the University of Georgia release that has been the gold standard of Southeastern growers for several years now. In yield tests conducted in 2014 and 2015 in Headland, Fairhope, Dawson and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. AU-NPL 17 averaged 6,499 pounds per acre in eight tests as compared to Georgia-06G’s average of 6,175 pounds per acre.
In USDA Uniform Peanut Performance Tests 2016, AU-NPL 17 yielded higher than Georgia-06G in Alabama and North Carolina. In terms of ranking, the Auburn variety was ranked No. 1 in Alabama tests and No. 2 in North Carolina tests, with GA-06G ranking No. 5 in both tests.
AU-NPL 17 also is resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus and tolerant to leaf spot disease, both primary pest concerns for Southeastern growers. In addition, it has some resistance to white mold.
“In tests without fungicide treatments, AU-NPL 17 is generally more resistant or tolerant to tomato spotted wilt virus, early and late leaf spot and white mold than other cultivars in the test,” Chen says.
A healthier peanut
Auburn’s new peanut release also contains a higher amount of oleic acid compared to standard peanuts. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, also known as a “good fat,” that reduces the amount of LDL, known as “bad” cholesterol, while boosting the levels of “good” HDL. Monounsaturated fats are commonly found in foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, canola oil and avocados. This trait also substantially improves the shelf life of peanuts and peanut products.
“The industry is demanding a high-oleic peanut,” says Chen. In fact, Mars Chocolate, one of the top five peanut buyers globally, has committed to using 100 percent high-oleic peanuts in their products by the end of this year.
“We don’t produce as many high-oleic peanuts in the U.S. as countries such as Argentina and Australia, and that hurts our competitiveness internationally,” Chen says. “I believe high oleic will become the standard for U.S. peanut production.”
Yet another value of high-oleic peanuts is that peanut buyers normally pay farmers a premium for growing them.
Six-thousand pounds of breeder seeds of AU-NPL 17 will be planted this year by the Alabama Crop Improvement Association, Chen says.
“Hopefully, next year, we will have 120 tons of foundation seed,” he says. “We should have a few farmers growing the cultivar on a test basis in the spring of 2018, and most farmers will have the seed available to them in 2019.”
While the peanut cultivar breeding process typically takes about 10 years to complete, Chen was able to shorten it by a couple of years by growing peanuts in Puerto Rico during the winter months.
“Peanut breeders can send seed to Puerto Rico in November and then get increased seed back at the end of March to speed up the process,” he says. “We did that for two seasons, so it gave us a shorter interval with this cultivar.”
The first of many
John Beasley, professor and head of Auburn’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, says AU-NPL 17 should prove to be of tremendous benefit to growers in Alabama and throughout the Southeast. Beasley should know; he was a peanut agronomist at the University of Georgia for 30 years before coming to Auburn.
“We’re very excited for Dr. Chen and his program,” Beasley says. “In addition to outstanding yields, this new cultivar also has resistance to some of the more common peanut diseases and, even more important, it has high oleic acid, which is now being required by the industry and demanded by consumers. AU-NPL 17 should be an especially good fit for Alabama producers, since it was developed and tested in the state, and it should help growers lower their seed and overall production costs.”
Beasley says AU-NPL 17 is the first of what will be many runner-type releases from the program at Auburn.
“We’re looking at sources from other programs, and our program will help to expand the genetic resources available in the Southeast,” he says. “This release certainly puts us on the map as far as breeding programs go, and we’re expecting many new releases in the coming years with different genetic traits.”
One area the breeding program will focus on in the future will be traits that enable more efficient plant water use, Beasley says. This would prove beneficial for producers in Alabama, where a majority of the cropland is not irrigated.
BY PAUL HOLLIS
Charles Chen, professor of peanut breeding and genetics, says the new peanut variety AU-NPL 17 establishes a research pipeline for future releases.
Categories: Food Systems
At the beginning of July, the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Program, part of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, created an IEP Case Study Library that allows interested parties to learn about and from designee economic development projects provided in awards submissions. As both a designee and an award winner in the "Place" category, Auburn University's case studies are currently featured there. Case studies include information on the Rural Studio, the National Poultry Technology Center, and the Off-Bottom Oyster Farming efforts at the Auburn University Shellfish Lab. To learn more, visit the IEP Case Study Library.
By: Jacque Kochak
Every fall, tens of thousands of football fans descend on the Auburn University campus to participate in a tradition almost as important as the game itself: tailgating. It's a way of life here on the Plains and at college campuses all over the country. Auburn University's new Tailgate Times website is a central source for information on safe tailgating.
Tailgate Times is a project of the Auburn University Food Systems Institute, or AUFSI. The website, at www.aufsi.auburn.edu/tailgate, offers ideas for both popular and unconventional tailgating food and provides tips on how to have a safe tailgate party. Food safety is one of AUFSI's main concerns, and tailgaters should understand the risks associated with outdoor cooking, preparation and storage.
"We also thought tailgaters might like to know a little about the story behind classic tailgating food such as barbecue, tailgating history, safety from fires and bad weather and much more," said Pat Curtis, AUFSI director.
With an estimated 50 million Americans spending about $20 billion each year on tailgating setup, food and drinks, AUFSI offers guidance to both tailgate beginners and aficionados – specifically when it comes to food, since tailgate parties are synonymous with lots of food. Barbecue chicken, ribs and pork; hamburgers and hotdogs; sausages; stews; sides like coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans; chips and dip – you name it, it's probably been served up at an Auburn Tiger tailgate.
Visit the Tailgate Times website at www.aufsi.auburn.edu/tailgate, where you can also download a print version of the magazine. Plans to develop a Tailgate Times ebook are also in the works. AUFSI is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AUtailgatetimes.
The Auburn University Food Systems Institute was created to bring together the many disciplines at Auburn that deal with a complex, integrated food system, from producing food through processing food to consuming food. For more information, visit us at www.aufsi.auburn.edu.
For more information about the Auburn University Food Systems Institute, contact Karen Hunley, (334) 844-9172 (Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Categories: Food Systems
While avian influenza has been confirmed in 20 states, Alabama remains free of the disease and Alabama poultry producers are doing all that they can to keep the disease at bay.
A poultry scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said poultry producers are more vigilant than ever when it comes to sanitation and other biosecurity measures.
"All our Alabama poultry growers have biosecurity measures in place," said Ken Macklin. "Biosecurity measures are the first line of defense against avian influenza and other poultry diseases."
Macklin said that more than 43 million chickens and turkeys have either died from the disease or had to be euthanized because the flock tested positive for a highly contagious form of avian influenza in the first five months of 2015. The most severely impacted states are in the upper Midwest, including Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
"These cases in commercial poultry operations in the upper Midwest have mostly been linked to a failure of biosecurity," said Macklin. "Growers may have thought they were following biosecurity guidelines fully, but it seems that there were lapses."
Macklin, who is also an associate professor of poultry science at Auburn University, said strong biosecurity measures take many forms.
- Isolating the birds from other animals
- Minimizing access to people and unsanitized equipment
- Keeping the area around the poultry buildings clean and uninviting to wild birds
- Sanitizing the facility between flocks
- Cleaning equipment entering and leaving the farm
- Having an all in, all out policy regarding the placement and removal of the birds
- Disposing properly of bedding material and any mortalities
Joseph Giambrone, an Auburn University professor of poultry science, called the losses to the national poultry industry staggering.
"The losses are in the hundreds of millions of dollars," said Giambrone. "We can expect a reduction of at least 10 percent in egg laying production and a similar drop in turkey production nationally."
Macklin said the potential production loss is why Alabama producers are working hard to keep their flocks free of the disease. According to Auburn University research done in 2012, poultry and egg production and processing contributed more than $15 billion to the state's economy and employed more than 86,000 people.
Giambrone, whose research focuses on viral diseases of poultry, said the disease is spread by migrating water fowl such as ducks and geese.
"This outbreak began in Canada, and water fowl spread it south along the migratory bird flyways," he said. "It was brought into the Midwest by birds using the Mississippi flyway. It has persisted so long there because of the heavy concentration of poultry producers in that region of the country."
Giambrone said ducks and geese shed the virus in fecal material.
"Infected water fowl shed the virus into ponds and lakes as well as onto the land they are grazing."
Macklin said that warmer weather may slow the disease's spread.
"The virus can survive for days, especially if it is in water. In water, the virus can survive up to 100 days with a water temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit. But when water temperatures reach the 80s, the virus can survive for less than a month."
He said the virus has a reduced ability to survive on land.
"On land, the virus can survive for 30 days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 7 days at 68 degrees Fahrenheit," said Macklin. "Once the outside temperature hits the 80s the virus breaks down in hours."
While warmer weather may halt the disease's progress in the United States, Giambrone emphasized that the disease can return next year.
"Even if we get control of the disease this year, wild water fowl in Alaska and Canada remain carriers of the disease and are a threat to bring it back to the United States when they migrate again next year."
By Maggie Lawrence