PULLMAN, Wash. – Keiko Tuttle believes the biggest challenge agriculture will face in the next five years centers around a food source that makes up 70 percent of the human diet: cereal grains.
“I always ask people, ‘Do you like cookies?’” the doctoral candidate at Washington State University explains lightheartedly, inviting people into a discussion about the influence of cereal grains on the food system and the need to feed a world population some project to near 11 billion by 2050.
Researching seed germination problems
Tuttle is researching seed dormancy in wheat – that is, seeds that don’t germinate when planted. Understanding more about the genes and proteins that influence the process of dormancy and how the mechanism is released may provide solutions to problems growers have in the field.
Some of these problems degrade the important starch found in cereals and ultimately decrease the end-use quality of the grain. Preventing these problems can potentially eliminate economic losses to growers, millers and bakers.
This is especially critical in the Pacific Northwest, which provides the nation with about 95 percent of its soft white winter wheat. That is worth a gross $1 billion to the state of Washington, Tuttle said.
Among 10 students selected nationwide
Tuttle is one of 10 graduate students in the United States whose essay on the greatest challenges facing agriculture in the next five years earned a trip to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum on the Changing Face of Agriculture, to be held Feb. 20-21 in Arlington, Va.
“I was fascinated with the opportunity to travel to D.C. to meet important members of the USDA, better understand their specific missions and speak to these leaders about agriculture today and agriculture for the future,” she said.
In her winning essay, Tuttle points out that “students may be some of the best liaisons to bridge the gap (between the public, scientists and) policy makers. As students we continue to grow in our understanding of basic research and apply our novel findings for agricultural improvement.”
A meaningful future
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak echoed Tuttle’s confidence in students pursuing higher education in agriculture in a recent USDA announcement.
“The future of agriculture and rural America depends on the upcoming generation of leaders in farming, ranching and conservation,” he said. “And the students selected to attend the Agricultural Outlook Forum are among the best young leaders our country has to offer.”
Tuttle plans to continue her research as part of the biotech industry or USDA, where she will pursue change through policy work.