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Animal Health, Cranberries

Posted by | May 4, 2011

Animal Scientists Help Lead Projects Promoting Cattle Health

WSU animal scientist Holly Neibergs is one of the leaders of a group of multi-institutional projects seeking to improve cattle health. Once completed, these projects will provide dramatic economic benefits to the $75 billion cattle and dairy industries throughout the United States.
WSU animal scientist Holly Neibergs is one of the leaders in two multi-institutional projects seeking to improve cattle health. The research is projected to provide dramatic economic benefits to the $75 billion cattle and dairy industries throughout the United States.

With an eye toward bolstering the bottom line for dairy owners and cattle producers by unlocking the genetics behind bovine respiratory disease and feed efficiency, WSU animal scientists will play key roles in two U.S. Department of Agriculture competitive grants totaling more than $14 million.

“The size and scope of these awards reflect the quality and expertise of scientists in our Department of Animal Sciences,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “Once completed, these projects will provide dramatic economic benefits to the $75 billion cattle and dairy industries throughout the United States.”

Approximately $2.9 million will come to WSU for the BRD project. Holly Neibergs, an assistant professor and animal scientist in the WSU Department of Animal Sciences, played a lead role in developing the project proposal, which focuses on identifying the genetic markers that indicate resistance or susceptibility to one of the most costly diseases in the cattle industry.

Neibergs and the project team will examine 6,000 cattle from commercial feedlots and dairies throughout the U.S., and use DNA analysis to determine their inheritance of resistance or susceptibility to BRD. That information could help guide selective breeding of cattle to eventually eliminate the disease’s threat. BRD kills more than 1 million animals a year and results in the loss of $692 million.

Other partners in the BRD project include lead institution Texas A&M University, the University of California – Davis, New Mexico State University, Colorado State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service unit in Beltsville, Maryland.

Another $450,000 will be awarded to WSU for participation in a  beef cattle feed efficiency project. Kris Johnson, WSU professor and animal scientist, and Holly Neibergs worked with Jeremy Taylor, professor and animal scientist at the University of Missouri, to develop the proposal. The methodology for the grant focused on feed efficiency is similar to that of the BRD project. The team will genotype 8,000 cattle to determine how genetic differences affect bovine feed intake and efficiency.

Other partners in the feed efficiency grant include lead institution University of Missouri, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, Texas A&M, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The two proposals were evaluated by separate review panels but, because of similarities in design and common participants, some of the data collection will be coordinated, leading to more powerful and efficient studies.

More information about animal science research at WSU is avaialble at

Cranberry Research Focused on Safe and Effective Controls for Threats

Kim Patten
Kim Patten

One of Kim Patten’s biggest objectives is to help cranberry growers find affordable and effective means of pest and weed control that also are safe for humans, wildlife, and the environment. Patten is a WSU Extension professor and director of WSU’s Research and Extension unit in Long Beach.

“We are working on these long-standing pest management problems in parts of southwest Washington, northwest Oregon, and Canada. Our goal is to supply growers with applied solutions, as producers in all these locations face the same problems,” Patten said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada are reassessing the health and environmental risks involved with widespread use of organophosphates on agriculture to protect crops from pests and weeds. “What it boils down to is that the use of traditional organophosphate insecticide in agriculture crops is becoming more and more problematic. Cranberries, in particular, are hard hit as we have few effective chemicals that can be used as replacements. For example, control of insect pests on cranberries grown in Canada has been limited to Diazinon. It is being phased out in 2012, with no alternatives yet available,” Patten said.

Patten is using chemigation application methods to test new pesticides under consideration as replacements for organophosphate-based chemicals aimed at fireworm, weevil, and tipworm. With chemigation applications, growers are able to apply pesticides through their sprinkler systems as opposed to using boom sprayers, the more traditional method of applying pesticides separate from irrigation. The challenge, Patten said, “is to obtain an acceptable level of efficacy with the new soft-impact reduced-risk insecticide when using a chemigation application method.”

Patten is also investigating management of major weeds such as buttercup, loosestrife, and sheep sorrel using three potential new herbicides. These herbicides are effective post-emergence weed killers but are not yet officially registered for use.

“Getting herbicides registered on a minor crop like cranberries is about a 10-year effort, with many roadblocks along the way,” Patten said. “We’re figuring out the best ways to use these new tools and, in the process, we’re learning whether they work well enough to justify additional research. Some will work and some won’t. We will try to get enough data to allow these products to be registered in both Canada and the U.S.”

“So far I have been at it for 20 years,” Patten said. “I’ve made inroads on most of the major pests. Three of the toughest weeds and two of the toughest insects are now controllable. We still have a few major challenges left, and I am confident that one or two will be there long after I’ve eaten my last cranberry. Nevertheless, it is very rewarding to be able to solve a problem that has plagued the industry for decades and caused millions of dollars in crop loss.”

By Chelsea Low, WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern

Learn more about research projects ongoing at the WSU research unit in Long Beach by visiting