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Beef Nutrition, Stemless Cherries, Organic Ag

Posted by | January 12, 2011

WSU Scientist Working to Improve Nutrients in Beef

Animal scientist Mark Nelson. Photo by Victoria Marsh/WSU
Animal scientist Mark Nelson. Photo by Victoria Marsh/WSU

“You are what you eat” pretty well sums up research being conducted by WSU animal scientist Mark Nelson.

Nelson, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, is currently investigating new ways to reduce the saturated fat content in beef by changing what cattle eat. He is specifically working on increasing levels of conjugated linoleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin A and E concentrations, as well as promoting higher levels of antioxidants in beef products.

“What I do is manipulate the chemical composition of what goes into the rumen,” said Nelson. “However, I use only feedstuffs that are native to Washington State, so my research is applicable to the cattle industry here. I am interested in what we can do with the average animal in the industry to improve their products.”

The use of cattle standard feeds that farmers already use to meet their cattle’s nutritional needs, is a new idea in this field of research, according to Nelson. The way he is measuring success — using meat quality as opposed to animal weight — is also new.

Nelson carries out his research in collaboration with Jan Busboom, a meat specialist at WSU. Nelson handles the chemistry of the operation, and Busboom works on the analysis of the meat quality. “Our questions are big enough that we need each other to discover the answers,” Nelson said.

For example, the team has found that the meat quality we call “taste” is statistically the same for potato-fed cattle compared to corn-fed beef. These are substantial findings considering the large quantity of culled and discarded potato products in Washington State alone; feeding those products to cattle increases the profit to the cattle owners, creates a less expensive product for the consumer and is environmentally friendly, Nelson said.

“Although we are not the first scientists to conduct research of this kind,” he said, “every day, the cattle industry is using our results.”

— Victoria Marsh, CAHNRS MNEC news intern

For more information about animal science research at WSU, please visit

How Sweet It Is!

Life's a bowl of cherries -- stemless cherries, that is. Stemless cherries are just as sweet and neat to eat as the stemed varieties.
Life's a bowl of cherries -- stemless cherries, that is. Stemless cherries are just as sweet and neat to eat as the stemmed varieties.

Picture yourself on a hot summer day, putting your feet up to enjoy a bowl of freshly picked sweet cherries. What is your favorite thing about eating this delicious fruit? Is it the flavor, the juiciness, or the deep red color that appeals to you the most? Would it make your experience less enjoyable if those cherries did not have stems?

That was the question WSU assistant professor of food science Carolyn Ross was asked to investigate by her colleagues who are working to develop a stemless cherry.

With growers facing threats of reduced labor pools and increased operating costs, researchers have set out to discover new ways to mechanically harvest sweet cherries, thus reducing costs for the grower. A multi-disciplinary team of industry and academic experts is striving to find solutions that benefit the sweet cherry industry. The team is taking a molecules-to-markets approach to sweet cherries.

They are exploring the genetic landscape of cherries, breeding new varieties and keeping a sharp eye out for those that detach easily from the stem, investigating orchard architectures that are more conducive to mechanical harvesting, researching novel ways to mechanically harvest and package sweet cherries, and analyzing the economic benefits to growers as they adopt these new ideas.

Food science students get on-the-job sensory science training workin in Carolyn Ross's lab.
Food science students get on-the-job sensory science training working in Carolyn Ross's lab.

In Ross’s sensory lab in Pullman, volunteer consumers were asked a wide variety of questions as they tasted a series of stemmed and stem-free sweet cherries. Consumers were presented with cherry samples and asked to evaluate their overall acceptance of the cherries’ color, size, shape, juiciness, firmness, and flavor. Consumers were also asked about their willingness to purchase the cherries at different price points.

Results suggest that the presence of the stem does significantly impact consumer acceptance of the overall appearance and size of the cherry. However, the presence or absence of a stem did not significantly impact the acceptance of the other cherry sensory attributes such as color, shape, flavor, juiciness, and firmness.

Consumer acceptance will play an integral part in the adoption of a total-systems approach to developing a sustainable, stem-free sweet cherry production, processing, and marketing system. Ultimately, it’s the produce-buying consumer who makes this decision with their pocketbook.

–Tracie Arnold, WSU Prosser

For more information about food science research at WSU, please visit

Learn more about WSU interdisciplinary efforts to reduce labor costs with robotics in this short video:

A Snapshot of Organic Horticulture around the Globe

Organic horticulture is growing in countries around the world, according to an article co-authored by Washington State University Extension educator David Granatstein.

Elizabeth Kirby,Helga Willer and David Granatstein have produced a snapshot of organic agriculture around the world.
Elizabeth Kirby,Helga Willer and David Granatstein have produced a snapshot of organic agriculture around the world.

Granatstein, a sustainable agriculture specialist in WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, is one of three authors of “Organic Horticulture Expands Globally” published by the International Society of Horticultural Science in the December 2010 edition of Chronica Horticulturae. The other authors were Elizabeth Kirby, a research associate with WSU CSANR, and Helga Willer with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Frick, Switzerland.

One of the most detailed of its kind, the article characterizes the extent of organic horticulture production around the world. The findings reflect dramatic increases in the global industry and outline what countries are growing what horticultural crops organically.

Granatstein said the piece helps to paint a detailed picture of organic food production around the globe, but the picture isn’t complete yet. “The data availability and detail improves every year. But we still have major organic producers such as China and India that provide no details on their crops. If they did report, our numbers might change considerably in some cases,” he said.

For example, Mexico has the largest reported area of organic horticulture in the world, followed by Italy, Spain and the United States. According to the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, about 2.15 million hectares of land around the globe were devoted to the organic production of fruits, olives, nuts, vegetables and melons, root crops, cocoa beans, coffee tea and mate, flowers and ornamentals, medicinal and aromatic crops, coconuts, hops, nurseries and mushrooms.

Granatstein’s article notes that organic horticulture accounts for approximately 1 percent of all horticultural land worldwide and 6 percent of all organically managed agricultural land. The leading organic horticulture crops, in terms of reported area, are fruits plus coffee and olives, followed by vegetables, nuts and cocoa beans. The U.S. is the leading vegetable producer.

”Organic Horticulture Expands Globally” appears in Chronica Horticulturae, which may be download as a PDF via