SBC Update: Summer 2018

Update from the Co-Director: The SBC and UMCAP Hire CFANS Phenomics Lead

Jim Bradeen, SBC Co-Director

The Stakman-Borlaug Center for Sustainable Plant Health (SBC) strives to create new opportunities for interdisciplinary research that solve plant health, environmental, and food security challenges. Towards this goal, the SBC maintains a carefully curated portfolio of areas of emphasis that align with research trends, faculty interests, and funding opportunities. In recent years, we’ve been working towards investments that will support research in the area of high throughput plant phenotyping (“phenomics”). Several UMN faculty already work in this area, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station has made key infrastructure investments to support this research, and the University of Minnesota Center for Applied Phenomics (UMCAP) was recently launched to provide a cohesive platform for researcher interactions. Recognizing the potential for future investments in phenomics infrastructure and the need for making phenomics resources available to a broad research community, CFANS and PepsiCo have partnered to fund a two-year staff position to conduct a master planning process. The Phenomics Lead will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the needs of plant scientists, emerging engineering technologies, and relevant informatics capacity at UMN; survey peer institutions worldwide; develop a model for delivery of phenomics resources through a core facility; create opportunities for public-private partnerships in the phenomics space; and generate a funding model for sustainable operation of a core phenomics facility.

CFANS Phenonmics Lead Atena Haghighattalab

CFANS Phenomics Lead Atena Haghighattalab

After a comprehensive search and interview process, the SBC and UMCAP are pleased to welcome Dr. Atena Haghighattalab as the CFANS Phenomics Lead. Atena holds a B.S. in Survey Engineering, an M.S. in Photogrammertry and Remote Sensing Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Geography. Her Ph.D. research focused on the use of high throughput phenotyping of wheat breeding nurseries using unmanned aerial systems, remote sensing, and GIS techniques. Since 2016, Atena has been a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Jesse Poland, Kansas State University, where her research has focused on development of yield prediction models in wheat based on data generated from aerial imagery. She has formal classroom training experience and has led training workshops at CIMMYT and other institutions. A native of Iran, Atena is an active yogi and an avid theatergoer. Administratively, Atena is a member of the SBC team and will work very closely with UMCAP scientists, CFANS and University leaders, and industry partners. Atena begins her career at the University of Minnesota on September 3, 2018.

The Stakman-Borlaug Center Announces Projects for Food for Progress Post-Project Sustainability Assessment

Working in collaboration with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and The Improve Group, the Stakman-Borlaug Center (SBC) has identified the three closed Food for Progress agriculture assistance projects for sustainability assessment. The SBC along with our evaluation partners at The Improve Group will explore the following questions related to these three projects.

  • Food for ProgressWhat existing conditions are needed for sustainability?
  • What factors of the project’s design lead to sustainability?
  • What factors about the implementation lead to sustainability?
  • To what extent have project activities or (knowledge, attitude, behavior) continued?
  • To what extent have project impacts (positive or negative) continued? 

This project focused on increasing agricultural knowledge and improving livelihoods of agricultural producers in rural communities in Guatemala. Counterpart International sought to achieve this by improving the capacity Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture's formal extension agents and certified non-governmental agricultural advisers, expanding the financial services available to agricultural producers, and increasing the organizational capacity of local cooperatives representing smallholder producers.

Sri Lanka
This project led by World Vision International focused on training farmers and farmer leaders in “Integrated Farming and Sustainable Agriculture” technology. This included improving soil fertility, integrated pest management, and improving animal husbandry and aquaculture practices. Objectives of this project included improving production and marketing capacity, and business development skills for farmers.

The Growing Resources for the Enhanced Agricultural Enterprises and Nutrition (GREEN) project, led by Partners for Development worked with Beninese farmers’ associations to train vegetable growers in improved production techniques and postharvest management, and provided access to financial services while improving understanding of market-driven production.

The SBC and The Improve Group will be working with the above implementing partners and USDA/FAS to refine our evaluation plans and questions. The SBC will also work closely with our affiliated faculty to identify faculty, staff, and student experts in these areas who can provide technical insights and guidance to the evaluators, as well as participate in field visits and data collection.

Plant Health for Pollinator Health Initiative Update

By: Mohamed Yakub, Outreach and Education Coordinator

PlantEd Stakman-Borlaug CenterOur work on the Plant Health for Pollinator Health initiative continues successfully at the Horst Rechelbacher Site in Osceola, WI, about an hour away from the St. Paul campus. In our strategic planning, we finalized the group name as the University of Minnesota Plant Education Group (UMN PlantEd). As UMN PlantEd, we are establishing projects at the site in Osceola this summer, and are working to identify the next set of projects for next summer as well. The following is a snapshot of what we have been working on:

  • To continue evaluating pollinator preferences for annual plants, working with Julie Weisenhorn (UMN Extension) we have set up two test plots where we can collect data on which varieties of annuals pollinators visit throughout the growing season.
  • Last summer, in partnership with Julie Grossman (UMN Department of Horticultural Science) we planted four cover crops (crimson clover, red clover, hairy vetch, and Austrian winter pea) in the greenhouse to test how these crops affect soil quality. These crops were harvested in spring 2017, and we identified that each of the four species had nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their nodules; using these as basal levels of bacteria in the soil, we are working to identify which of these cover crops is most beneficial to soil quality. Compared to the previous year, we found a significant increase in nitrogen in the soil due to all four of these crops.
  • We are working with Matt Clark (UMN Department of Horticultural Science) to set up an organic hexi-vineyard this summer using grape varieties developed by Elmer Swenson, a pioneering grape breeder who grew up in Osceola, WI. In addition to growing grapes organically to identify varieties that may be used for breeding, we will quantify bee and other pollinator visits to grape plants.
  • Cory Hirsch (UMN Department of Plant Pathology) has set up four demonstration gardens showcasing evolution of domestication in Zea mays (corn), Thymus vulgaris (thyme), and the Solanaceae or nightshade family that consists of tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and other economically important crops.
  • This summer we will be planting deep-rooted high protein alfalfa developed by Deb Samac (USDA-ARS, UMN Department of Plant Pathology) to characterize how this variety would grow in different mixes. Ideally, these would be planted near water sources so the roots can act as filters in the buffer zones. Flowers would also provide pollinator food, and protein extracted from leaves would be used in various processes such as making fish feed.

Moving forward, we will be hosting small classes at the site on plant identification as well as integrating research in teaching. If you are interested in partnering or checking out this fantastic space, we would love to show you our work there!