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Lavender, Onions, Composites

Posted by | May 30, 2007

Did You Know?

Curtis E. Beus, WSU Extension Director for Clallam County, is internationally recognized as one of the foremost experts on lavender cultivation. He and his widely read Growing and Marketing Lavender are keys to the ongoing success of the thriving lavender agritourism industry centered in Sequim, the “lavender capital of North America.”

Over 110,000 lavender plants are grown each year in Sequim, and more than 30,000 visitors from 55 countries attend the annual Lavender Festival there each July. Each winter, WSU Extension co-sponsors the North American Lavender Conference in Sequim.

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 Plant Pathologist Takes Layered Approach

Brenda Schroeder hit the ground running. Only a year and a half after being hired as a plant pathologist at WSU, Schroeder is performing research with strong industry support. A storage rot of onions during the 2004-2005 season stuck producers with losses as great as 50 percent. Enterobacter cloacae and other bacteria were associated with the rot losses. In response, individual producers, via the Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association, approached Schroeder and her collaborator Lindsey Du Toit, vegetable seed pathologist at the Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, to investigate. Onion production is worth over $110 million per year to Washington growers.

While it was clear that E. cloacae was involved, it wasn’t at all clear how the soil-borne pathogen was infecting onions. At this point, Schroeder has more questions than answers but, she said, “Research goes nowhere without the collaboration of stakeholders. Without their willingness to share their knowledge, you can’t go forward.”

In addition to funding from WSU and the PNVA, Schroeder has received onion bulbs and seed from producers. “Onion producers are good people to work with,” Schroeder said. “They may not have the time or training to do controlled experiments—that’s what we’re for—but they have tremendous experience.”

Using controlled experiments, Schroeder is working to zero in on the epidemiology of Enterobacter onion bulb infection. She and her research team are busy peeling back the layers of the problem, from environment and cultural practices to molecular fingerprints. “We have a mission,” she said. “We have to do microbiology at the lab bench, and plant assays in the greenhouse and in the field—all of it.”

Top: Enterobacter cloacae, an opportunistic human pathogen, is endemic in soil. E. cloacae also affects elm trees, causes rhizome rot in ginger, internal yellowing of papaya and may act as a biocontrol of certain fungi. Bottom: Graduate student Luke Canady consults with Brenda Schroeder.

Bridge to a Sustainable Future

A bridge designed by a consortium led by WSU’s Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory (WMEL) won a prestigious award from the American Council of Engineering Companies as a “model of sustainable engineering.”

Located at the entrance of the Rattlesnake Wilderness and National Recreation Area near Missoula, the 90-foot bridge makes innovative use of salvaged small-diameter timber and wood-plastic composites. The heavy-load bearing composites were originally developed at WMEL for the Navy as a replacement for creosote-treated piers. The composites are made from wood fiber and plastic that can be extruded in complex shapes facilitating advanced design and construction techniques. About 40 percent of all wood-plastic composites produced in North America use formulations developed at WMEL.

“This bridge is a great example of how our engineering research can play a role in solving challenges in sustainable engineering design,’’ Mike Wolcott, professor of civil and environmental engineering, told WSU Today. “Using re-used and recycled products to make a structurally sound and attractive bridge means putting fewer chemicals in our environment and using less of our limited resources.’’

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Award-winning pedestrian bridge spans Rattlesname Creek in Lolo National Forest. The decking material is a composite developed at WSU’s Wood Materials and Engineering Lab.