Flight of the Alkali Bee, People at Work, Dirt!, Climate Change – WSU’s Green Times, June 7, 2012

Flight of the Alkali Bee

Alkali bee on alfalfa flower. Photo courtesy of Douglas Walsh/WSU.
Alkali bee on alfalfa flower. Photo courtesy of Douglas Walsh/WSU.

Can a bee learn to fly over, instead of across, a busy highway? WSU entomologist Douglas Walsh is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation to find out. Walsh will study alkali bees and their flight around a stretch of U.S. Highway 12 in central Washington to help WSDOT minimize the impact of a proposed highway improvement project on the native bees.

The transportation department has sponsored a four-year, $232,000 study by Walsh and his research team to survey alkali bee population density in nesting beds that would potentially be affected by the road project. He and his team will also determine bee flight paths from the beds to nearby alfalfa fields and back in relation to the project’s proposed route and assess whether bee barriers can be installed along the roadway to effectively alter the bees’ flight vertically and horizontally.

The proposed new highway would cut through the Touchet-Lowden agricultural district in Walla Walla County. The 84-square-mile area supports 16 growers producing 12,000 acres of proprietary alfalfa seed varieties for six different seed companies, according to one of those growers, Mike Buckley. That acreage makes Walla Walla County the second largest alfalfa seed-producing area in the United States, he said, with retail sales exceeding $50 million in 2009.

The same area also has the world’s largest community of non-honeybee pollinators in the alkali bee, Walsh said. A study from 1999 to 2006 published in Apidologie by USDA entomologist James Cane showed that nearly 17 million alkali bees called the Touchet Valley home. Slightly smaller than the honeybee, with black and green-yellow bands on its thorax, the alkali bee is considered the most effective alfalfa pollinator. Some local alfalfa growers have relied on the bees for more than 50 years to pollinate their crops.

Unlike honeybees, female alkali bees are solitary nest builders, but many females will build nest beds close to one another. Females will forage for miles to find nectar to establish their nests. They also spend six weeks of each year actively foraging — and flying — which puts them at risk to road traffic. Read the rest of this article by Nella Letizia on the WSU Ag Science News site »

WSU Students Working in Rwanda Documenting Experience Online

WSU students and their project leaders climbed 3.5 hours to see Mountain Gorillas.
WSU students and their project leaders climbed 3.5 hours to see Mountain Gorillas.

Five Washington State University students traveled to a small village in central Rwanda this week for a two-week practicum in international agricultural development. As part of the practicum, they are documenting every step in their journey on a Storify web site. Pictures, stories, and videos are being posted at http://bit.ly/L8Seu3as part of the students’ experience.

The trip is the first of its kind for the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, and is a pilot for what officials hope will become an annual offering as an internship program. Professor Kim Kidwell, executive associate dean of CAHNRS, and Colleen Taugher, project associate in the WSU Research and International Agricultural Development Office, are leading the project. The group is working in the village of Gashora with community members as well as three students from the Rwandan Higher Institute of Agricultural and Animal Husbandry.

The WSU students, who had to apply for the practicum opportunity, were personally interviewed and selected by Kidwell and Taugher, and a majority of their expenses for the trip will be covered by scholarships. In a preparatory class since February, the students researched the area where they will be working and developed practical, sustainable solutions for the local issues that Kidwell and Taugher identified with the help of Gashora community members during an exploratory trip in January. Follow the students’ journey on Storify »

WSU Scientist Pays It Forward with Agrotechnology Knowledge Sharing

Attendees at a decision-support system workshop in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 2011. Hoogenboom is standing back left.
Attendees at a decision-support system workshop in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 2011. Hoogenboom is standing back left.

Knowledge is power, and in data-poor regions of the world, techniques that make data collection more efficient are a boon for local researchers and the stakeholders they serve. That’s why WSU agrometeorologist Gerrit Hoogenboom helped lead a series of workshops in Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya to transfer decision-support system technologies to researchers in African nations.

“One of my interests is in helping to build the capacity of scientists in developing countries in order to help improve crop production for long-term economic and environmental sustainability,” said Hoogenboom, the director of WSU’s AgWeatherNet. Hoogenboom is an internationally recognized leader in decision-support systems.

Decision-support systems, such as those available through WSU’s AgWeatherNet system, help agricultural professionals decide when to use frost control, to apply pest control measures, and to make other decisions critical to the success of their particular crop.

The series of workshops in the African nations resulted in a textbook, Improving Soil Fertility Recommendations in Africa using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT), recently published by Springer. The book offers examples of the application of decision-support systems in the simulation of various agricultural management and conservation practices. Read the rest of this story by Brian Clark on the WSU Ag Science News site »

Faculty Knee-Deep in Exhibit Education

Ann Kennedy
Ann Kennedy

If ever an opera is written about dirt, look for USDA/ARS and WSU soil scientist Ann Kennedy’s name in the credits. If she’s not the lyricist, she’ll be the enthusiastic backer. “I love dirt,” she said with a laugh. “I’m always, constantly, taking up handfuls of soil and smelling it.”

So it makes sense that, when Kennedy learned the Spokane Conservation District was bringing “Dig It! The Secrets of Soil,” to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, she was all in. After months of planning and preparation, the exhibit opened in early February to great reviews. More than 400 people attended first-day festivities. The show is scheduled to close Sept. 22. Read this rest of this story by Hope Belli Tinney on the WSU News site »

Online Presentations Provide Primer on Climate Change

A series of nine online presentations available through WSU summarizes, in easy-to-understand words and images, the science of climate change and its implications for humans and ecosystems. Dr. Craig Cogger, a soil scientist at Washington State University Extension and creator of the peer-reviewed presentations, notes that much confusion exists among the public, media, and decision makers about the science of climate change and the future implications of a changing climate.

The presentations, each under ten minutes, are composed of narrated slide shows discussing issues such as what the science really tells us about climate change, evidence for current climate change, climate models, predictions for the coming decades, what to expect from climate change, and how to respond to climate disruption. In agriculture, Cogger states that the outlook for climate change is mixed. Many areas will see negative consequences, as droughts become more severe, extreme storm events become more likely to damage crops, and higher temperatures reduce crop productivity.  Shrinking snow packs will reduce irrigation resources in the western United States, South America, and parts of Asia. The final presentation reviews policy options for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to change. The presentations are available for free at http://bit.ly/JbtsIu.

Cogger has had a personal interest in weather and climate for many years, and has studied scientific papers on climate change, including reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “When you compare what you read in the newspaper with what the science says,” he noted, “you miss a lot of nuance, and even the thrust of what is going on.” Local WSU Master Gardeners and agriculture groups were interested in the implications of climate change for gardening, so he began to make presentations for them. Soon he was presenting to local church and civic groups, and based on the feedback he received, decided to put the series online.

Cogger’s professional research includes agricultural emissions of greenhouse gasses, including the role of soil amendments in carbon sequestration and whether organic soil amendments emit nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. –Bob Hoffmann

Upcoming Events

Climate Change Project Scientists Tour Palouse Research Sites June 19-20

Project scientists working on the Northwest’s most intensive climate change study focused on agriculture will gather June 19-20 to tour research sites in eastern Washington. The tour will gather members of the team of nearly 40 scientists from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service to visit private farms and research farms operated by Washington State.

The USDA-funded Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture. The $20 million project is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s effort to better predict the effects of climate change on agriculture.

The tour is also intended to offer members of the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association and other stakeholders with a chance to learn more about the project.

Tour stops June 19 will include farm research plots near St. John, Wash., and WSU’s Cook Agronomy Farm. High school science and agriculture teachers participating in the NASA-funded Innovations in Climate Education led by the University of Idaho will overlap with the scientists there. On June 20, the tour will take the scientists to WSU’s Wilke Farm near Davenport, Wash.; and to Ron Jirava’s farm near Ritzville, then to the Curtis Hennings farm south of Ralston.

Learn more about climate change via an online presentation, and about what Pacific Northwest scientists are learning about how climate change may affect agriculture in an upcoming tour.
Learn more about climate change via an online presentation, and about what Pacific Northwest scientists are learning about how climate change may affect agriculture in an upcoming tour.

The project will collect detailed information from 50 sites at public research and private farms throughout the interior Columbia River basin for the next four years. The goal will be to better predict the potential impacts of climate change on farming and explore ways farmers may adapt to them.

Farmers and members of the public are also invited to join the tour on a space-available basis, first-come, first-served. Those interested in further details may learn more or register online by visiting www.reacchpna.org. –Bill Loftus, University of Idaho

Greenhouse Gases in Organic Ag Field Day

June 18, WSU Puyallup research and Extension Center. Farmers, educators, regulators, and policy makers are invited to come learn how greenhouse gases are being quantified in agricultural production systems; about best management practices to reduce greenhouse gases from organic agriculture; and management practices that reduce tillage, including strip tilling.

Tillage and fertilizer applications release greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere. Washington State University researchers are determining how different management practices in organic vegetable production systems affect the release of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. At Greenhouse Gases in Organic Ag Field Day, WSU researchers and their colleagues will explain how they are evaluating greenhouse gas contributions from management practices in two long-term organic farming systems experiments.

To register, or for more information on the Field Day, please contact Doug Collins, dpcollins@wsu.edu or 253-445-4658. Advance registration is requested, but not required. The Puyallup R&E Center is located at 2606 W. Pioneer Rd., Puyallup, WA 98371.

Date set for 2012 Whatcom Harvest Dinner

The popular Whatcom Harvest Dinner is back this year and set for September 23, 2012 at BelleWood Acres. The event, in its 10th year, celebrates the abundance of our regional food-shed and bounty of Whatcom County farms, fisheries and this year, with a special highlight on school and community gardens as well.

A major focus of the Harvest Dinner this fall will be around Whatcom Farm-to-School efforts and programs that educate families and children about healthy and locally produced foods. Much of the food for the meal will be raised by students from school gardens, urban community gardens and beginning farmers throughout Whatcom County. The event will be a crowning opportunity for community education about what’s happening with healthy local food, by linking school gardens with chefs in the classroom, students doing streamside education, and with the greater agriculture and food community.

For more information, contact Sara Southerland, Sustainable Connections’ Food & Farming Outreach Coordinator at sara@sconnect.org or at 360-647-7093 x114.

About Green Times

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Green Times is edited by Brian Clark and the staff of Marketing, News, and Educational Communications in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Contact the editor with new tips, story ideas, and items for the events calendar at brian.clark@wsu.edu.

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