Claire Luby named as inaugural Morgridge Fellow

Claire Luby

Congratulations to Claire Luby, Ph.D. for being selected into the first cohort of Morgridge Fellows. This year-long learning community is designed to further institutionalize and support community-engaged scholarship, defined as: teaching, research, and scholarly activities that are performed in equitable, mutually beneficial collaboration with communities to fulfill campus and community objectives.

Claire is a Faculty Associate in the Department of Horticulture. Her community-based research focuses on improving seed sovereignty for a variety of communities, including supporting the work of several Native American tribes in Wisconsin. She is also developing a service-learning component to Hort 120: Survey of Horticulture. In addition to her teaching and research, she has applied her community-engaged scholarship to the development of three organizations: The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI), The Student Organic Seed Symposium, and the Society of Organic Seed Professionals.

Read more here.

UW–Madison, apple growers bring data to the orchard

The robot weather station stands sentinel above the deer fence of an apple orchard in the hills near Hell Hollow Road in Richland County.

The device, a 21st-century enhancement of the ancient weathervane, is measuring wind, rain, humidity, temperature and sunlight duration and intensity.

Oakwood Fruit Farm installed this computerized weather station in the spring of 2018. Steve Louis says weather data helps with a number of tricky management decisions, including irrigation and thinning of young fruits. Photo: David Tenenbaum

Installed this spring, the weather station is part of a system aimed at advising owners of the 180-acre, family-owned Oakwood Fruit Farm about a number of critical procedures — think pruning, irrigation and pest control — needed to bring in a bountiful, healthy crop.

One crucial decision concerns timing a treatment that will eliminate more than three-quarters of the tiny fruits, says Amaya Atucha, a UW–Madison assistant professor of horticulture and Extension fruit crop specialist, who has been leading the effort to introduce the new technology.

Without thinning, the trees will be over-taxed and underproductive. Roughly speaking, about 80 percent of the flowers must be removed, a process that often involves multiple sprays of thinner followed by handwork to make final adjustments.

Thinning is necessary, but the timing and intensity are both tricky, says Steve Louis, one of the family’s fourth-generation of apple growers. “There are so many things that go into knowing when it should be done, and how much thinning we need.”

Please continue reading this story here.

Harvest of Ideas forum to explore how UW–Madison can support organic agriculture in Wisconsin and beyond

Agricultural researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural community are invited to attend the upcoming Harvest of Ideas forum to explore how UW–Madison can best leverage its strengths to contribute to the advance of organic agriculture locally, nationally and globally through the university’s education, research and outreach activities. The forum runs Oct. 30-31 at the university’s Discovery Building.

“We are at a critical juncture for organics as the industry matures and markets become increasingly global. It is time for people across the industry – from farmers to industry partners to consumers – to come together to envision what we want for the future of organic agriculture, and how we can further innovate to support the sustainable production of healthy, abundant and safe food,” says Erin Silva, UW–Madison assistant professor of plant pathology and UW-Extension organic production systems specialist, who helped organize the event.

The forum kicks off at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30 with a presentation by Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Salvador will present his vision for how organic agriculture can contribute to the transformation of the U.S. food and agriculture system. An interactive reception following his presentation will encourage the exchange of ideas among attendees and provide opportunities for sharing them with forum organizers.

The program starts up again at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31 and features a half-day of discussions with various leaders in organic agriculture. Speakers and attendees will be invited to share guiding principles for and examples of successful research, education and outreach programs that support organic farmers and identify next-generation innovations. Ideas and inspirations collected in the morning will be further processed to distill key themes.

Wisconsin has been a national leader in organic agriculture for almost two decades, with the second highest number of organic farms of any state in the nation. Over the years, UW–Madison personnel have supported this sector through research, teaching and outreach, helping to develop knowledge and spread information to support organic systems, participating in the UW–Madison tradition known as the Wisconsin Idea. The Harvest of Ideas forum seeks to build on that tradition by initiating an intensive sifting and winnowing of ideas on the topic of organic agriculture—and then moving forward with some of the best options.

“With these ideas in hand, the goal is to develop plans for strengthening the coordination and reach of UW-led initiatives on organic agriculture,” says Silva. “Faculty, staff, and students at UW-Madison are poised and well-positioned to expand their work with organic farmers and other collaborators to broaden the scope and strengthen the role of organic agriculture in Wisconsin and around the world.”

The forum is free and open to all interested.

For more information or to register for the event, visit or contact Jody Padgham at or (715) 667-3203.

This entry was posted in Economic and Community Development, Food Systems, Healthy Ecosystems and tagged by Nicole. Bookmark the permalink.

Jeff Endelman receives Early Career Scientist Award from National Association of Plant Breeders

Jeffrey EndelmanJeff Endelman, assistant professor of horticulture, was recently honored by the National Association of Plant Breeders with the association’s Early Career Scientist Award. This award recognizes scientists in the early stages of their plant breeding career who exhibit the ability to establish strong research foundations, to interact with multi-disciplinary teams, and to participate in relevant professional societies.

Endelman studied computational science for many years before discovering his calling as a plant breeder. As a graduate student in bioengineering at Caltech, he developed computational methods to optimize the in vitro evolution of enzymes and spent many weekends observing native plants in the wilderness areas of southern California.

Endelman left academia for two years to work on small vegetable farms, by which time he realized a career in plant breeding was the perfect way to combine his interests. He returned to graduate school to complete a PhD in Crop Science at Washington State University, where he conducted research on barley breeding and genetics. Toward the end of his PhD he created the software package rrBLUP for genome-wide prediction, which has been cited over 500 times. As a postdoc at Cornell University, he continued to research genomic selection by improving its theoretical foundation for inbred lines and investigating the optimal allocation of resources.

In 2013 Endelman joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to lead the potato breeding program. Over the past five years, he has overseen the release of 10 potato varieties, spanning all US market categories (chip; French fry; russet, red, and yellow fresh market).

One of the challenges with commercial potato is that it is autotetraploid, meaning the genome is organized in groups of four homologous chromosomes rather than homologous pairs. The Endelman group has developed several tools to facilitate molecular breeding in autotetraploids, including software to determine allele dosage for SNP array and GBS markers, software for genome-wide association analysis, and methods to partition genetic variance. In 2018 UW-Madison became the first potato breeding program in North America to implement genomic selection, based on a training set of 570 clones.

Endelman has been active in training students and postdocs at UW-Madison. He teaches an undergraduate course on “Genetically Modified Crops” and graduate courses on genetic mapping, polyploid genetics, and selection theory. One MS student, one PhD student, and three postdocs have been trained in his lab so far, and he has served on the thesis committee of 14 other graduate students.

This entry was posted in Awards and honors and tagged award, horticulture, Extension by Nicole. Bookmark the permalink.

The Corner Table podcast: Farm to Flavor

Sometimes, what farmers want and what chefs want lines up perfectly.

A sweet pepper with rounded shoulders, like a Carmen Italian frying pepper, is easier for a cook to chop up than a bell with a bowl shape at the top around the stem. Farmers like rounded shoulders too — when it rains, water will run off the sides instead of collecting in that bowl and encouraging rot.

Plant breeders can make these kinds of adjustments if they know which ones to look for, and that’s where the Seed to Kitchen project comes in. This week on the podcast, we’re talking to Solveig Hanson, a beet researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Julie Dawson, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture who founded the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative.

Listen to the podcast & read the rest of the story here.

Dutch elm disease claims “Elmer,” a campus tree more than a century old

The elm tree in 2012, with the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building. PHOTO BY STEVE HALL

The University of Wisconsin–Madison campus is saying goodbye to a beloved natural landmark. An elm tree that has stood for more than 100 years fell victim to Dutch elm disease and is in the process of being removed from the Hector F. DeLuca (HFD) Biochemical Sciences Complex by UW–Madison grounds staff.

The tree – often known informally as Elmer – has a rich past with the Department of Biochemistry and surrounding departments in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), such as the Department of Horticulture. Thousands of students who have taken biochemistry courses or frequented that area of campus have gazed up at the old elm or enjoyed breaks in the shade it provided.

Many staff members and scientists on the upper floors of labs or offices overlooking Elmer have spent decades watching the seasons through the tree – leaves falling in autumn, snow coating its sturdy branches, leaves returning in spring. They’ve watched birds come and go, including famed campus hawks, and some students say finches, perched among Elmer’s limbs, watched them work in lab.

When construction on buildings in the HFD Biochemical Sciences Complex took place in the late 1990s and again in 2012, crews took extreme care not to disturb the tree to which so many students, faculty, and staff had become attached.

“In our two major recent projects, I think that protection of the tree was the first item in the program, and it was discussed at the first construction meeting before the contractors got to work,” says Biochemistry Professor Mike Cox, who was faculty leader for much of the construction. “It is more than sad to see it go.”

Elmer dates back to a time well before the HFD Biochemistry Laboratories, when the area was covered with greenhouses, says Horticulture Chair Irwin Goldman. For decades, the tree was used as a teaching tool and was even a stop on a campus tree walk for students.

“Our department is 129 years old, one of the four original departments in CALS, and since it started we have used the tree to teach students about woody plants,” Goldman says. “I’d bet that tree was there from the beginning, although we aren’t sure exactly when it was planted.”

Please continue reading this story here.

Claudia Calderón receives Global Health Institute travel award

Claudia Calderón, assistant faculty associate in the Department of Horticulture, was selected to receive a Global Health Institute 2018 Faculty and Staff Travel Award. The award will cover travel costs associated with her project, “Assessing mycotoxin levels in maize in the highlands of Guatemala.”

Maize is a dietary staple in Guatemala and is often consumed to the exclusion of other food commodities. Previous studies have found that people relying on maize often consume high levels of toxic metabolites produced by fungi (mycotoxins). This has significant implications for food safety, food security and international trade. Calderón’s project will focus on 50 small-scale farmers in the western highlands of Guatemala and will support research on the quality of maize and provide recommendations on food safety. The overall goal is to devise effective and sustainable mechanisms to educate, monitor and reduce exposure to mycotoxin contamination.

The Global Health Institute Faculty and Staff Travel Awards are available for UW-Madison faculty and staff to undertake international travel related to educational and research activities. Several grants of up to $2,500.00 are awarded for a duration of one year.

Originally posted here:

UW field day to showcase organic vegetables at West Madison Ag Research Station

Vegetable farmers are invited to attend the Organic Vegetable Variety Research Showcase, a field day at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s West Madison Agricultural Research Station, set for 3-5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 20. This free, interactive event highlights the many organic vegetable variety trials being conducted on the station’s 30 acres of certified organic land.

“This is a great opportunity for vegetable growers to see new varieties out in the field,” says event organizer Julie Dawson, a UW–Madison assistant professor of horticulture and UW-Extension urban and regional food systems specialist. “They can talk with plant breeders and seed company staff to learn what’s in development and express their priorities and preferences for new varieties.”

The field day is also an opportunity to learn about the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, a UW–Madison-led collaboration of local chefs, farmers, and plant breeders that is working to develop full-flavored vegetable varieties with high culinary quality. Also featured will be trials for sweet corn, bell peppers, acorn and delicata squash, cabbage, and tomatoes grown as part of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) project, as well as potato variety trials for organic systems, and tomato trials under organic high tunnel, caterpillar tunnel and field management. Attendees will have to opportunity to help select beet varieties for high or low “earthy” flavor, and learn about breeding efforts to improve carrots for organic systems and culinary corn breeding.

West Madison Agricultural Research Station is located at 8502 Mineral Point Road in Verona, Wisconsin. For more information about the field day, visit Questions can be directed to Julie Dawson at

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will make a reasonable effort to provide accommodations for participants with disabilities when notified in advanced. To request a disability accommodation, please contact WMARS superintendent Janet Hedtcke at (608)-262-2257 or at least 10 days in advance of the event. Efforts will be made to meet same-day requests to the extent possible.

Original article created by Michael P. King at

Ancient Method Helps Feed Present-Day Communities

In remote villages and rural towns from Guatemala to Costa Rica, horticulture professor James Nienhuis and his former grad student Erick Gutiérrez MS’17 are improving countless lives, one tomato seedling at a time. Their goal is to combat the region’s agricultural afflictions (viruses and soil pathogens) to ease the hardships of growing food and earning a living. They’re doing this with a technique older than the ruins of Tikal.

The roots of the initiative go back about eight years when Nienhuis established Seeds of Hope with a USAID grant. His goal was to combat the whitefly-transmitted geminivirus in Central America by developing genetically resistant cultivars that are still beautiful and flavorful.

Erick Gutiérrez teaches grafting to farmers in the small Guatemalan village of San José Sigüila. Photos: Brenda Dawson, UC Davis

Erick Gutiérrez teaches grafting to farmers in the small Guatemalan village of San José Sigüila. Photos: Brenda Dawson, UC Davis

Nienhuis produced the cultivars he needed to withstand the virus, but other soil pathogens — fungal, bacterial, and parasitic — continued to spoil tomato crops, slashing yields and decreasing the income and nutrition levels among the rural poor.

“Ralstonia (a bacterial wilt) kills the plant once symptoms develop. It causes serious yield losses,” says Gutiérrez, a native of Honduras. “It is very hard to eradicate.”

Matthew Kleinhenz PhD ’96, Nienhuis’ former student, asked if he had tried grafting as a possible solution. Seeing merit in the idea, Nienhuis shifted focus and launched a new program called Seedlings of Hope. The idea was to unite the upper portions (scions) of his virus-resistant cultivars with soil pathogen-resistant rootstocks. Solanum habrochaites, a wild tomato plant that thrives in diseased soil, was a prime candidate to serve as the rootstock.

Please continue reading this story on the Grow magazine website.