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On Solid Ground – May 9, 2012 – Ag Technology, Mason Bees, Cherry Grafting

Posted by | May 9, 2012

WSU Scientist Pays It Forward with Agrotechnology Knowledge Sharing

Attendees at a decision-support system workshop in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 2011. Hoogenboom is standing back left.
Attendees at a decision-support system workshop in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 2011. Hoogenboom is standing back left.

Knowledge is power, and in data-poor regions of the world, techniques that make data collection more efficient are a boon for local researchers and the stakeholders they serve. That’s why WSU agro-meteorologist Gerrit Hoogenboom helped lead a series of workshops in Tanzania, Ghana, and Kenya to transfer decision-support system technologies to researchers in African nations.

“The trial-and-error method of scientific research may not be fast enough to meet the challenges faced by farmers in countries with complex agro-ecosystems,” Hoogenboom said. He pointed out that many African nations, in particular, have much more complex agro-ecological systems than does the U.S. The African farmers, he said, must reckon with systems that “are characterized by extremely variable weather conditions with distinct dry and wet seasons, variable soil conditions and, in many cases, very poor and eroded soils.”

Because of a lack of financial resources, farmers also have few inputs — fertilizers and pesticides — as well as often inadequate knowledge of how to manage the inputs they do have. Read more on the CAHNRS News web site »

Learn more about WSU’s AgWeatherNet system at http://weather.wsu.edu/. Learn more about WSU’s efforts to help create agricultural sustainability in African nations in this short video »

Flight of the Alkali Bee

Alkali bee on alfalfa flower.
Alkali bee on alfalfa flower.

A proposed new highway would cut through the Touchet-Lowden agricultural district in Walla Walla County. The 84-square-mile area supports 16 growers producing 12,000 acres of proprietary alfalfa seed varieties for six different seed companies, according to one of those growers, Mike Buckley. That acreage makes Walla Walla County the second largest alfalfa seed-producing area in the United States, he said, with retail sales exceeding $50 million in 2009.

This same area also has the world’s largest community of non-honeybee pollinators — the alkali bee, said WSU entomologist Douglas Walsh. A study from 1999 to 2006 published in Apidologie by USDA entomologist James Cane showed that nearly 17 million alkali bees called the Touchet Valley home. Slightly smaller than the honeybee, with black and green-yellow bands on its thorax, the alkali bee is considered the most effective alfalfa pollinator. Some local alfalfa growers have relied on the bees for more than 50 years to pollinate their crops.

So, the question is, can a bee learn to fly over, instead of across, a busy highway? Walsh is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation to find out. Walsh will study alkali bees and their flight to help WSDOT minimize the impact of a proposed highway improvement project on the native bees. Read more on the CAHNRS News web site »

Learn more about entomologist Doug Walsh’s research by watching this short video »

Micrografting May Provide Orchards a Faster, More Reliable Supply of Trees

Rainier cherry scion micrografted on to a sweet cherry rootstock. Photo: Tyson Koepke/Washington State University.
Rainier cherry scion micrografted on to a sweet cherry rootstock. Photo: Tyson Koepke/Washington State University.

Imagine ordering a piece of cherry pie at a restaurant, and being told that your pie would be delivered in two or three years. On your way out the door, you’d probably tell the waiter, “That’s no way to do business!” Orchard managers, however, have to place their orders for sweet cherry trees two to three years in advance of receiving and planting them. For Washington State University undergraduate Matthew Allan, this is not merely an abstract idea, but a family problem, as his father is a cherry producer near Yakima. His father has not only suffered long delivery cycles but, given the risks in the nursery business (including heavy losses due to frost in the past few years), he hasn’t always received of the number of trees he’s ordered.

Cherry trees are normally started in open-air nurseries. To create the rootstock, a whip — or young branch — is planted horizontally in the ground, allowing it to generate multiple shoots. Those young shoots may be assailed by frost, pests, and diseases. Costly pesticides are then applied. After a full year, the rootstock is old enough to support a grafted scion — a woody shoot with buds that will become the fruit-producing part of the tree. Then the nursery waits at least another year for the graft to heal. The bottleneck in this process is the supply of rootstock: Anything that slows the production of rootstock reduces the number of trees that can be grafted. Read more on the CAHNRS News web site »

Learn more about cherry research at WSU by watching this short video »