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Happy Birthday, On Solid Ground!

Posted by | August 29, 2007

WSU at Benaroya Hall

You are cordially invited to a special celebration of 50 of the finest research, outreach, and teaching programs of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences and WSU Extension. Join WSU President Elson S. Floyd, our faculty, and their community-based partners at “WSU at Benaroya Hall: In Concert with Communities.”

More than 15 of the Seattle area’s best-loved restaurants and chefs are preparing a mouth-watering menu for our enjoyment. They’re using foods supplied by the farmers, ranchers and fishers who work side-by-side with WSU faculty to sustain agriculture and natural resources.

We’re showcasing dozens of our faculty and their exceptional programs. Each faculty member is bringing a community-based partner—an agricultural producer, small business owner, school district or non-profit representative—who collaborates with WSU. You’ll hear with your own ears the impact that WSU has in communities across state.

If you’ve ever had trouble explaining “The WSU Difference” to your friends, family members, elected officials—to anyone—then be sure to invite them to this event. It will be a memorable evening of conversation and great food. And, this is a kid-friendly event, so bring your future Cougars, too!

Space is limited. Register now at

See you in Seattle!

We’ve Turned One!

When Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission director Jim McFerson stopped by our offices recently to say hello, he came in with home-grown garlic (delicious!) and left by saying, “Eat more tree fruit.” Always good advice—thanks, Jim! And considering the long and (ahem) fruitful relationship between WSU and the tree-fruit industry, it’s only reasonable that we recap the first year of On Solid Ground with a quick roundup of some of your (and our) favorite stories.

Wear Your Sunscreen: A research team led by Larry Schrader, a researcher based at WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, has done double duty on apple sunburn. First they developed RAYNOX, a spray-on protectant that reduces sunburn by about 50 percent. The double whammy against sunburn is the team’s fruit-skin temperature sensor, a device that replicates apple exposure and guides growers in water use. “The problem is,” Schrader said, “growers don’t know when to turn on the evaporative cooling or when to turn it off.” As a result, most growers use way more water than they need to and still may not prevent sunburn. Schrader and his team’s efforts have saved Washington apple growers at least $10 million a year since 2004. You can view a video interview with Schrader at (You may need to copy and paste the link.)

Land, Ho!: The big news this year was the new digs for WSU’s tree-fruit research efforts. Faced with urban encroachment, WSU purchased a 150-acre orchard 15 miles outside Wenatchee last October. The orchard was planted in May, with Washington nurseries, including VanWell, C&O and Columbia Basin Nursery, donating all of the trees. Similarly, local growers and businesses have donated equipment needed for the planting. Check out TFREC director Jay Brunner talking about the vision for the new orchard in a short video here: (You may need to copy and paste the link.)

Top: Larry Schrader with the fruit-surface temperature sensor he helped develop. Bottom: An organic orchard overlooking Lake Chelan near Wenatchee. Photos: Brian Clark.

The Wine’s Just Fine—and the Food’s Darn Good, Too!

Moving On Up: Just about a year ago, we reported that Kathryn House, a master’s student in horticulture, was creating an on-line teaching laboratory that allows enology and viticulture students to put what they learn in the classroom to work in a virtual vineyard. “The industry has been very receptive and responsive,” House said of the new tool. “They are really interested in making sure students are well prepared to go to work after they graduate. We’re focused on filling the needs of the wine industry in our state.” House is now working as assistant wine maker at the Betz Family Winery in Woodinville and a lecturer at South Seattle Community College.

Cheers!: One of the most gratifying events of the past year was “A Celebration of Washington Wines,” which raised over $200,000 in benefit of the viticulture and enology program. This is an annual event, so look for more news about the 2008 wine auction soon. Can we set another record?

Student Scientists: One of the things we’re proudest of is the involvement of our students, not only in the day-to-day life of the university (CAHNRS students are noted university-wide for their involvement) but in research as well. We recently reported that a group of young scientists, working under the supervision of food scientist Stephanie Clark, had developed a healthy new ice cream that took them to the finals in the Institute of Food Technologists Student Association Product Development Competition.

We’re happy to report the team placed fifth out of 23 entries. “They did very well at the finals (oral presentation, poster display and product tasting with judges),” said Clark. “A judge told me that the top five places were within just single points of one another — each of the top five teams was placed as first by one judge. They loved our ice creams. It was a close race, and WSU performed well.”

Top: WSU alum Kathryn House. Middle: A toast to you! Bidders at the annual “A Celebration of Washington Wines.” Bottom: student food scientist.

Biofuel Horizons

In the Grid: It’s an old joke: if you could recycle that gas, you could power your car. With about 65 percent of the methane in the atmosphere attributable to agriculture, and a significant portion arising from dairy cows, recycling methane is an idea whose time has come. At the anaerobic digester at the Vander Haak Dairy in Whatcom County, WSU researchers and industry partners are doing just that. The digester turns manure into methane used to generate electricity used on the farm, with surplus generation being sold to the Northwest power grid. The digester keeps the equivalent of about 9.5 tons of CO2 per cow per year out of the atmosphere.

Fueling Variety: Meanwhile, Bill Pan, chair of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and Bob Stevens, director of the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser, are studying the growth habits and oil characteristics of giant reed. Researchers Hal Collins, Rick Boydston, Ashok Alva, An Hang and Steven Fransen are evaluating a number of oilseed crops. They include rapeseed, mustard, sunflower, safflower and soybean. The group is also evaluating switchgrass for use in ethanol production. John Browse, in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, has doubled the yield of fats in plant oils by understanding the genes that control fatty acid characteristics. Jon Johnson, a researcher at WSU Puyallup, is working with private-industry partners to assess the feasibility of using fast-growing poplar as a feedstock.

As Norm Lewis, director of WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, says, “Our petrochemical resources are clearly finite. The question now is ‘What can we do with some of the 350,000 different plant species or so to address biofuel demand?’”

Plant Science Rocks: WSU is ideally situated to address that question. WSU’s plant science faculty was deemed one of the world’s most productive in a study published earlier this year in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “This honor truly recognizes the breadth and depth of our plant science programs,” said James Petersen, WSU vice president for research. “Ranging from basic research in plant molecular sciences through the field application of new discoveries, this team benefits science, Washington agriculture, energy and human health.”

All these stories and more stories are always available in the On Solid Ground archive. Just visit Longer version, some with video, are often available on our WSU Agriculture site at

Top: Hybrid poplars growing near WSU Puyallup. Middle: A field of rapeseed, another likely candidate for high-quality biofuel stock. Bottom: The Vogel Plant Biosciences Building, a nexus of WSU plant science excellence.