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Forest Products, IPM, Biopolymers, Potatoes

Posted by | January 24, 2007

It’s a Fact

According to figures provided by a Washington State Business and Project Development publication, the forest products and pulp and paper industries currently employ 32,000 Washingtonians. Exports of forest products, including raw lumber, building materials, doors and windows, and pulp and paper, exceeded $2 billion in 2005.

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.

Integrated Pest Management to the Rescue!

When hybrid poplar stands in eastern Washington and Oregon were threatened by a new pest in 2002, WSU entomologists John Brown and Doug Walsh responded quickly. At stake were 36,000 acres of mature, mill-ready trees. Loss of the trees to the western poplar clearwing moth would have resulted in considerable economic harm to mills and timber retailers. Traditional pesticides were tried but to no effect. An effective alternative was needed, and quickly.

The WSU team recruited UC Riverside entomologist Joceyln Millar, who had isolated the moth’s sex pheromone. The pheromone attracts and confuses male moths, disrupting their mating cycle. Due to a limited supply of the pheromone and regulatory restrictions, only one-third of the poplar plantings were treated in 2003.

“We saw some tangible results, and we were able to refine the formulation and application for future years,” Brown said. In 2006 the regulatory restrictions were lifted. The result was the elimination of both pesticide use and the associated re-entry delay time for workers. The timely, ingenious response earned both the regional and national Dow AgroScience Integrated Pest Management Team Awards from the Entomological Society of America.

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Bacteria Waste Not So that Humans Want Not

The same type of bacteria that help break down paper mill waste could also become an increasingly valuable source of biopolymers that can be used to make coated paper, composite building materials, and molded goods.

WSU professors Mike Wolcott and Jinwen Zhang are working with a group of scientists and engineers to focus research on bacteria that produce and store particular types of chain-like molecules called PHA polymers. “Polymers are what bind the fibers together in wood or plants or plastics,” Wolcott explained. “Until now, the plastics we’ve been using have been petroleum based. We could reduce our dependence on international oil if we could make the way we produce PHAs more cost effective and find new uses for a less-pure version of them.”

That’s exactly what the group has done by exploiting the fact that bacteria used to make PHAs are already in use as waste disposal units in commercial paper mills. The result is natural plastics made from renewable resources that add value to waste materials.

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New Sprout Inhibitor to Protect Potato Exports

A new class of potato-sprout inhibitors should help ensure continued exports of Washington-grown potatoes to Japan and Europe. About half of the 9.4 billion pounds of potatoes grown in Washington each year are stored to provide a continuing supply to fresh markets and processing plants. Most varieties begin to sprout three to four months after harvest. Sprouting hastens deterioration and reduces overall quality. For the past 40 years, growers have been using chloropropham (CIPC) to inhibit sprouting, but Japan has recently enacted zero-tolerance, and the European Union low-tolerance, CIPC laws, thus threatening the potato export market.

Rick Knowles, a scientist in the department of horticulture and landscape architecture, has developed a new sprout inhibitor based on compounds that occur naturally in plants and are of low toxicity. Some are registered as food additives and are used in the food and fragrance industries. “This research has the potential to have major impact on the way that the potato growers in Washington and the world control sprouting,” said Keith Jones, WSU director of Intellectual Property. The new inhibitors have been licensed for commercial development by American Vangaurd Corp.

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