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Specialty Crops, Climate Friendly Farming, Organic Seed, NSPIRE

Posted by | October 7, 2009

WSU Researchers Win $15 Million in USDA Specialty Crop Research Grants

WSU research teams have been awarded approximately $15 million in USDA grants aimed at specialty crops such as tree fruit, wine grapes and potatoes. They will receive nearly a third of the $47.3 million awarded nationally, which places WSU scientists among the top recipients in the country.

USDA started its Specialty Crop Research Initiative in 2008 to target research funding to “specialty crops,” which include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops. Designated research funds have not previously been available for these crops, unlike the long-established programs for commodity crops such as wheat, corn and soybeans.

Last year, WSU received $3.3 million, or about 12 percent of the total awarded. This year, WSU scientists — working in interdisciplinary teams — will receive about $15.3 million, either through direct grants or as subcontractors on projects led by other institutions. The research teams will study a wide variety of topics, from the most basic science at the cellular level to applied best practices which solve problems growers face in the orchard and field.

Learn more about the specific research and planning projects funded by the USDA grants at

Read CAHNRS dean Dan Bernardo’s blog for more information about how WSU researchers have laid the foundations for success over the past several years:

Known the world over for its apples, other speciality crops grown in Washington include berries, potatoes and grapes.

Known the world over for its apples, Washington also grows other speciality crops, including berries, potatoes and grapes.

WSU Climate Friendly Farming Team Wins National Innovation Award

WSU’s Climate Friendly Farming Team has won a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Partnership Award for Innovative Program Models.

Climate Friendly Farming is a project of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources designed to explore how agriculture can move from a source of greenhouse gases to a sink for carbon with the goal of mitigating global warming. The project combines field studies, computer modeling, technology development and deployment, and educational outreach.

“The Climate Friendly Farming team integrates researchers and Extension educators from several disciplines to tackle the complex issue of greenhouse gas emissions on many fronts,” said David Granatstein, a WSU sustainable agriculture specialist and one of the founders of the project.

One of the project’s most exciting innovations is an anaerobic digester that takes dairy cow manure from “rot to watts,” collecting methane gas that can be used to generate electricity or used as a vehicle fuel. Another is a crop-soil simulation model that can potentially be used to validate agricultural credits in a carbon market or cap-and-trade system.

“WSU has long been committed to agricultural innovation,” said Chad Kruger, director of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Agriculture is Washington’s largest industry and employer, and we strive to serve that industry in ways that minimize environmental impact while maximizing economic value.

Members of the Washington State University Climate Friendly Farming Team

Members of the Washington State University Climate Friendly Farming Team

L-R, Front – Shulin Chen, Claudio Stockle, Shawel Hail-Mariam, Chris Feise, David Granatstein; Middle – Dave Huggins, Hal Collins, Phil Wandschneider, Craig MacConnell; Back – Chad Kruger, Stewart Higgins, Dave Sjoding

For more information on Climate Friendly Farming, please visit For a more detailed version of this story, please visit

Organic Growers to Benefit from Innovative Partnership

Everyone talks about innovative ways for public-private partnerships to work together to grow local food economies.

In Jefferson County, WSU Extension has a new faculty member specializing in organic seed and plant breeding and outreach. So does the Organic Seed Alliance, a national nonprofit research organization also based in Jefferson County, with offices in Maine and Colorado.

The innovation is that it’s the same person. WSU and OSA have come together to fund a joint faculty position that brings organic seed expertise to networks of growers locally and nationally. John Navazio, a nationally recognized expert in organic seed production, serves the joint mission of the two organizations by working directly with growers, providing sustainable agriculture research and education.

Navazio is well known for his work in educating farmers in practical on-farm plant breeding, variety trials and organic seed production. Early successes of the partnership include a USDA grant to fund Navazio’s work on a national organic breeding and a variety trial project in partnership with Cornell University, Oregon State University and the University of Wisconsin. Another initiative attracting USDA funding is development of new farmer-owned organic seed cooperatives. The cooperatives will encourage and support growers to expand production of high-demand organic seeds both locally and nationally.

The new affiliation with WSU Extension will enable Navazio and OSA program director Micaela Colley to bring their expertise to broader agricultural audiences. Colley is working with Navazio to develop and teach a new online WSU course in plant breeding for organic agriculture, which should be available in spring 2010.

Dr. John Navasio, joint WSU/OSA faculty, with L. Katherine Baril, director of WSU Jefferson County Extension, and OSA program director Micaela Colley.

Dr. John Navazio, joint WSU/OSA faculty, with L. Katherine Baril, director of WSU Jefferson County Extension, and OSA program director Micaela Colley.

For a longer, more detailed version of this article, please visit

For more information on the Organic Seed Alliance, visit

To learn more about WSU Jefferson County Extension go to

Prestigious NSF Grant Challenges Grad Students to Research Nitrogen Cycle

In order to conduct cutting-edge scientific and policy research into one of the grand challenges of the 21st century, the National Science Foundation awarded Washington State University a prestigious Integrated Graduate Education Research Training grant for research on the nitrogen cycle.

The grant is being used to fund the NPSIRE program — Nitrogen Systems: Policy-oriented Integrated Research and Education — which investigates the science of global nitrogen cycling and links the research with government policy. NSPIRE is funded through and administered by CEREO, the Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

“The NSPIRE program will hopefully attract the best students available for this research,” said William Pan, one of the core faculties for the NSPIRE program and a faculty member in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. “It’s a unique program in that it brings together agricultural scientists, engineers and policy experts in an effort to train a new generation of policy-savvy graduates.” Pan said the long-term goal of the program will be to establish a substantial body of research appropriate to making informed nitrogen-management policy recommendations.

Understanding the complex interactions and the impacts of environmental nitrogen is one of the greatest science and engineering challenges of the 21st century. Nitrogen levels in the environment have risen 120 percent in the past 40 years, mainly due to the use of synthetic fertilizers. An essential plant nutrient, nitrogen fertilizers are crucial for food production, but the element also has significant though as yet poorly understood impacts on the environment.

Nitrogen is also thought to have a role in global climate change. Nitrous oxide, one of the greenhouse gases, is formed by nitrogen combining with oxygen. Studies have suggested that that N2O emission is currently the single most important ozone depleting substance emission.

“Many of our policy decision makers are aware of nitrogen, but may not fully appreciate the complexities of the nitrogen cycle and the impact it has on many environmental processes,” said Brian Lamb, one of the primary investigators on the grant and Regents Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But many of these same decision makers have to devise policy strategies that are affected by and impact the whole cycle.”

–Whitney Parsons, CAHNRS Marketing and News Intern

Nitrogen cycle

Schematic of the nitrogen cycle

More information about the NSPIRE program is available on the CEREO Web site at