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Cattle, Steaks, Straw, and WSU

It’s a Fact

There are 13,000 ranchers and cattlemen in Washington, and receipts from Washington cattle sales exceeded $540,000,000 in 2004. That figure does not take into account the multiplier effect to the state’s economy from businesses supporting the beef industry.

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Genetic Link to Juicy Steaks

Breeding beef cattle to get the flavorful, juicy steaks consumers crave may have just gotten easier. Scientists in Washington State University’s Animal Sciences Department have identified genetic links to marbling and subcutaneous fat depth in beef cattle. These findings potentially will enable producers to tailor production so that they can earn premium prices for products that people will pay for.

The research is beginning to look at genetic components of fatty acid composition, which may be related to the health attributes of beef. This includes increasing the presence of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. Monounsaturated fatty acids tend to decrease LDL cholesterol, the form of cholesterol in the blood which can cause formation of plaques on the inners walls of arteries that serve the heart and brain. Fatty acids can also have an impact on palatability, the lean-to-fat ratio in animals and processing characteristics of beef.

For more information about lead scientist Zhihua Jiang, visit

Turning Wheat Straw Residue into Revenue

A byproduct of growing wheat is straw. Each year the Pacific Northwest produces more than four million tons of wheat straw. With stringent regulations limiting field burning, it just makes sense to find a way of turning this residue into revenue. One of the obstacles to making straw-based composites competitive is the cost of bonding agents. To date, the only adhesive that effectively bonds straw is three times more expensive than the aminoplastic resins that are typically used in the wood-based composite industry.

As a result, economical production of straw composites is a challenge. Scientists in Environmental Engineering are investigating various treatments to activate the straw surface for bonding with the more economical aminoplastic resins. Looking at different refining strategies, the scientists have made strawboards with good mechanical properties. They continue to work on improving the composite’s swelling properties.

For more information, visit

World Class Rankings for WSU

Washington State University ranked 24th in the world over the last decade in terms of how the agricultural science generated by WSU researchers is used by other scientists, according to the latest issue of Science Watch newsletter, which tracks trends and performance in basic research. During the same period, Barry Swanson, a WSU food scientist, was the world’s 22nd most cited author in agricultural sciences, according to the newsletter.

“This data illustrates the world-class research conducted by WSU faculty such as Barry Swanson and its impact around the globe,” said James Petersen, vice provost of research at Washington State University. “Seminal research conducted at WSU changes the direction of science and improves lives of individuals around the world. This information illustrates that WSU truly is one of the world’s great land-grant research universities.”

WSU was the 13th highest ranked U.S. university on the Science Watch top 25 list, which includes universities and national research agencies in Finland, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Spain, France, Australia and the United States.

Swanson is best known for his work in the control of microbial contaminants in food, fat substitutes and vegetable processing. He joined the WSU faculty in 1973, and during his career, he has received numerous awards and honors, including twice being named Nally’s Fine Foods outstanding researcher of the year.

In 2002, Swanson was elected a fellow in the Society for Food Science and Technology, Institute of Food Technologists. He currently serves as editor of the Journal of Food Procession and Preservation.

For further information, see

Barley, New Degree, Perennial Wheat, and Bugs!

It’s a Fact

Barley is grown in every county in Washington state; however, the principal production areas are in the central and eastern portions of the state. The top five barley producing counties in Washington are Whitman, Lincoln, Spokane, Garfield, and Columbia.

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

New Systems Degree Responds to Marketplace Demand

Washington State University received approval from the state Higher Education Coordinating Board in June to offer a bachelor’s of science degree in Agriculture and Food Systems starting in the fall of 2006. The new degree will provide students with a broader perspective of agriculture and equip them with the critical thinking, leadership, communication and problem-solving skills that employers are seeking. Five majors are offered, including the nation’s first Organic Agriculture Systems major. The others are: agricultural business and technology systems, agricultural education, pest management systems and plants and soil systems.

For more information, visit

The Perennial Question

A team of WSU researchers is making natural crosses between wheat and its perennial relatives, such as perennial grasses, to convert wheat from an annual to a perennial growth cycle. Perennial wheat should only need to be replanted every three to seven years, resulting in a more environmentally friendly farming system that aids in the reduction of water and wind erosion and ultimately cleaner air and water, improved wildlife habitat and an economically viable alternative to the Federal Conservation Reserve Program. Perennial wheat has been growing for three years at the Spillman Agronomy Farm and is being tested in fields in Franklin and Adams counties.

For more information, visit

Good Bug/Bad Bug

While reliance on conventional broad-spectrum insecticides is still the dominant insect pest control tactic used on apples in Washington, development of resistance in pests, especially codling moth and leafrollers, has brought new urgency in the quest for alternative tactics. This, coupled with regulatory action, most notably the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, and concerns from environmental, consumer and farm worker advocacy groups over pesticides, will hasten the loss of the “traditional” chemical controls. Entomologists Jay Brunner, director of WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, and Elizabeth Beers are looking at alternative pest control tactics that include new highly selective insecticides, biological control, cultural control and behavioral control to determine the potential for producing apples without the use of broad-spectrum insecticides.

For more information, visit

Onions, Cattle, Trucks, and Party!

It’s a Fact

Washington ranks third in the nation for acreage of storage onions, with 16,000 to 18,000 acres at an annual farm gate value of greater than $60 million. In addition, onion seed crops in the state provide as much as 20 percent of the world’s supply.

On Solid Ground is a weekly, electronic newsletter for the friends and stakeholders of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), WSU Extension and the WSU Agricultural Research Center.

Stopping the Spread of Mastitis in Cows

WSU researchers Larry Fox, Mary Kate Biddle, Clive Gay and Dot Newkirk have discovered that the simple bacteria that develop into mastitis in dairy cattle colonize in multiple body sites without causing disease. Preliminary findings show that the bacteria mycoplasma spp can be found by non-invasive sampling techniques that will decrease the risk of mastitis and at an earlier stage. Mastitis is an affliction of the udder in cows estimated to be the most costly agricultural disease in dairy cattle in the United States, affecting milk quality and at times posing a food safety concern.

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New Transportation Center: Let’s Keep It Moving

Economists and engineers at WSU, the University of Washington and North Dakota State University are forming a regional freight transportation center to study issues that transcend state borders, thanks to $500,000 from the Federal Highway Administration. “Many of the states do a good job of tracing and evaluating the freight movements within their borders,” said Ken Casavant, transportation economist in the WSU School of Economic Sciences, “but problems do not magically stop at the state line. Capacity problems in North Dakota can affect our movements through the port of Seattle. If we can’t modify the surges that occur in different parts of the supply chain and understand how they affect the overall supply chain, we won’t get the efficient movement that we need to compete in the international market.” The Northern Plains-Pacific Northwest Center for Freight Mobility will focus on improving rail, truck and barge traffic in a region stretching from Chicago to Seattle across the northern tier of western states.

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In the Market For…

On Sept. 14, the science behind foods and other Washington products will be showcased at a public reception at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, sponsored by WSU Extension and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

The festivities run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 14. The $25 event includes an abundant variety of Washington’s finest farm products, prepared by Seattle chefs, including hearty appetizers with beef, specialty cheeses and fresh vegetables; fine wines, beers and ciders; and desserts featuring Washington berries. WSU faculty and staff whose research and outreach have contributed to the products and the businesses will be on hand to highlight their connections. Some of the producers and WSU scientists also will be available from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Market in the organic produce area along Pike Place to talk with the public about the farm/science connection. The events are part of Cougar Week in Seattle that will culminate with the Sept. 16 football game between WSU and Baylor University at Qwest Field. Reservations for the Thursday evening reception can be made by calling 509-335-2243 with credit card information and should be made by Sept. 6.

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Premier Edition

It’s a Fact

Washington is the second largest premium wine producer in the United States with more than 400 wineries and approximately 350 wine grape growers. It has nine major American Viticultural Areas and produces more than 20 different varietals.

First Step to Fertilizer-Free Future

B.W. (Joe) PoovaiahResearchers at Washington State University and in the United Kingdom have announced a discovery that may someday allow farmers to decrease their dependence on nitrogen fertilizers, resulting in billions in savings to farmers and a reduction in the amount of nitrogen pollution in waterways around the globe. Legumes, such as beans, peas, and alfalfa, host billions of bacteria in tiny nodules along their roots. The bacteria convert, or “fix,” atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can use. Non-leguminous crops such as wheat and corn don’t. They must be treated with nitrogen-rich fertilizers in order to grow and produce at peak levels. But WSU lead investigator B.W. (Joe) Poovaiah, a professor in the Department of Horticulture and the Center for Integrated Biotechnology, said their work raises the possibility of someday producing non-leguminous plants that can form symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria just as legumes do. “If major field crops such as wheat and corn can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, it will help with two problems,” Poovaiah said. “You’re going to help the farmers, and help Mother Nature.” In addition, most nitrogen fertilizers are petroleum based; alternatives reduce reliance on foreign oil. While more work is needed before farm-ready applications of his work are available, Poovaiah is optimistic that it could happen within the next decade.

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Got Omega-3 Enhanced Milk?

WSU researcher Shulin Chen is developing a process to convert cull potatoes and potato waste into omega-3 enhanced milk, potentially establishing milk as an alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids for consumers. Using potato starch from the culls, Chen’s process produces algae that producers can use as a feed additive for dairy cows. Through natural processes, cows can extract the omega-3 fatty acids and excrete it in their milk, resulting in milk fortified with omega-3 fatty acids and increased nutritional characteristics. The project would help the environment by taking thousands of tons of cull potatoes from the waste stream, increase profits to both potato farmers and the dairy producers, and provide the public with enhanced milk products. Finding alternative uses for cull potatoes will increase the potential profits of growers while reducing waste. And, while omega-3 enhanced milk may not significantly increase milk sales overall, for a mid-sized dairy farm, the potential economic implications could be significant. The opportunity would exist for farms to label their milk as Omega-3 Enhanced, giving them a value added product that could significantly increase profits.

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