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.”

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Colquhoun named Friday Chair for Vegetable Production Research

Jed Colquhoun, professor of horticulture, was recently named the Friday Chair for Vegetable Production Research. Colquhoun’s research focuses on developing integrated pest management strategies and quantifying on-farm sustainability measures that can be communicated to those looking for more information about where their food comes from. He has served in a number of leadership positions in CALS including interim associate dean for extension and outreach and interim agriculture program director.

The Friday Chair for Vegetable Production Research was established by Mr. Fritz Friday, owner and CEO of the Friday Canning Corporation in New Richmond, Wisconsin. The chair is awarded to a faculty member in CALS who demonstrates outstanding research and service in the area of vegetable production. The chair provides the recipient with an annual research allocation of $30,000 that can be used in support of research activities, including supplies, equipment, research assistants, publications, and other activities that enhance the work of the faculty member and his or her interaction with the vegetable industry. The appointment is for a five-year term.

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Seed to Kitchen Collaborative – Farm to Flavor Dinner

Veggie lovers of all stripes will converge on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus to celebrate tasty, local vegetables at the fourth annual Farm to Flavor dinner on Sept. 26. During the event, which runs 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Discovery Building, participants will have the opportunity to sample chef-designed dishes showcasing top vegetable varieties identified through the university’s Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, as well as listen to a panel discussion featuring chefs, farmers and plant breeders involved in the project. See below for ticketing information.

The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative connects plant breeders with Wisconsin farmers and chefs interested in developing delicious organic vegetable varieties with high culinary quality that are well-adapted for the area, with the goal of supporting local food systems. More than 20 plant breeders from UW–Madison, other universities, seed companies, non-profits, and independent farms have contributed numerous varieties of 12 different crops to the project. Trials are conducted at the university’s West Madison and Spooner Agricultural Research Stations to compare crops for flavor, productivity, disease resistance and earliness.

“The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative is working with plant breeders to develop varieties that perform well for direct-market growers in the Upper Midwest, with a focus on flavor,” says project leader Julie Dawson, a UW–Madison assistant professor of horticulture.

Every month, a group of Madison-based chefs gather to taste the produce from the trials and provide information to breeders about flavor. Participating chefs include: Eric Benedict and Yusuf Bin-Rella of UW–Madison’s Four Lakes Market; Daniel Bonanno of A Pig in a Fur Coat; Sean Fogarty of Steenbock’s on Orchard; Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective and Forequarter; and Tory Miller of L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo and Estrellon.

“It is a great experience being part of this collaboration because not only do we get to have personal input in the taste of crops we are looking for, but we get to learn more about the growing and research processes, which really expands our knowledge base as chefs,” says Bonanno.

Early bird tickets for the Farm to Flavor dinner are available for $25. After Aug. 16, the price goes up to $30, and same-day tickets are $35. To purchase tickets, go to: https://go.wisc.edu/farmtoflavor.

For more information about Farm to Flavor, contact Julie Dawson at dawson@hort.wisc.edu.

Seed to Kitchen Collaborative partners include the Department of Horticulture and Department of Agronomy at the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the college’s Agricultural Research Stations, UW-Extension Cooperative Extension, local growers, and local chefs.

Original article created by Michael P. King at https://news.cals.wisc.edu

Wisconsin Fruit Production 2017

Cranberry prices have been below the cost of production, which has led many growers to upgrade their beds, Atucha said. “Some of the growers are taking out of production older varieties and that basically means that, by renewing, you have a couple of years where you don’t have any production,” Atucha said. (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture via Flickr)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin apple growers had a productive year in 2017, but cranberry and tart cherry producers faced more challenges.

Recent data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service found apple production increased almost 20 percent in the state between 2016 and 2017, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The 2017 spring weather helped apple growers recover, producing 49 million pounds (22 million kilograms) of apples, said Amaya Atucha, a fruit crop specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Production could continue to rise this year, she said.

“A lot of the orchards are going through the process of renovation and changing their production systems to a more high-density system, which are much more productive,” Atucha said.

But Wisconsin produced 12 percent fewer barrels of cranberries last year than in 2016. The state’s tart cherries also saw a 17 percent decline.

Production levels dropped due to a 2016 spring frost, Atucha said. Cherry producers in Wisconsin and across the U.S. are also battling an invasive pest called the spotted wing drosophila, she said.

Cranberry prices have been below the cost of production, which has led many growers to upgrade their beds, Atucha said.

“Some of the growers are taking out of production older varieties and that basically means that, by renewing, you have a couple of years where you don’t have any production,” Atucha said.

___

Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

— Wisconsin Public Radio via The Associated Press

What color is your carrot?

MADISON — Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, carrots are not just orange anymore, what colors are there?

Shelby Ellison: You can find carrots in red, yellow, you can have some purple varieties and actually carrots, before they were domesticated, were white.

Click here to listen to the podcast. 

Sevie Kenyon: What would the difference be between one color and another?

Shelby Ellison: So typically, the color of carrot that you’re eating, it directly corresponds with the nutritional value or the nutritional compound found in that carrot. For instance, an orange carrot would be high in alpha and beta-carotene. A yellow carrot would be high in lutein and xanthophyll. A red carrot would be high in lycopene. Purple carrots have high levels of anthocyanins which are antioxidants and white carrots, while they don’t really confer much nutritional benefit, they’re very high in fiber.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, where are people going to encounter carrots other than orange carrots?

Shelby Ellison: Right now, one of the best places you can go to find a diversity of carrot colors is your local farmer’s market. You can also get them through community-supported agriculture. They’re growing many different varieties of carrots and some of the co-ops and smaller seed companies will sell heirloom varieties of different carrot colors.

Sevie Kenyon: For the home grower, is there anything they need to know about the different carrot varieties?

Shelby Ellison: Just a lot of them, because they’re more of the heirloom varieties, they’re not going to have the same uniformity that you’d find in a lot of the orange cultivars.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re looking for in your work?

Shelby Ellison: Because the colors do correspond with the nutritional content, I’m interested in looking at the genetics controlling each of these compounds. So understanding what gene or genes control beta-carotene accumulation in an orange carrot, or what controls lycopene accumulation in a red carrot and then through understanding the genetics of those traits you can make new improved varieties with improved nutritional quality.

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, have we seen improved varieties on the market yet?

Shelby Ellison: There are improvements being constantly made through traditional breeding. There was a big change in the last twenty years or so where we started increasing the amount of beta carotene but now we are seeing if you’re adding the anthocyanins or the purple compounds into the orange varieties, you’re not only getting the benefit of the alpha and beta carotene in the orange carrot but you’re improving the antioxidants

Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, look into your crystal ball, what do you see carrots looking like 5, 10, 20 years from now?

Shelby Ellison: We’re probably going to be seeing a lot more colors in the grocery stores. Just how people really like the idea of having the baby carrots, I think we’ll see more of the different colors in the baby carrot packages.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Shelby Ellison, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin Madison and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

Harvesting Ideas and Fruit with Amaya Atucha

In a lab filled with test tubes and microscopes the last thing one may expect to see are grape seeds and cranberry vines. However, this is necessary as Amaya Atucha and her team are studying the cold hardiness of fruit crops to better understand fruit crop physiology and production. Atucha serves in three main roles: an assistant professor in the department of Horticulture, a Fruit Crop Specialist for UW-Extension, and the Gottschalk Chair for cranberry research. Needless to say Atucha is well-versed in the field of fruit crop production, helping to improve the production practices of fruit crops across the state of Wisconsin.

How does the Wisconsin Idea animate your work? As a state specialist with UW Extension my work is basically the implementation of the Wisconsin Idea, in that I conduct research and interpret research from other scholars to help fruit growers across the state. Being part of extension has given me the opportunity to experience how the university can influence peoples live beyond what we see happening on campus, and that is very inspiring and gratifying at the same time.

How has your research and teaching path changed the way you think about Wisconsin and the world? My interaction with colleagues and scientists around the world has given me a broader perspective of the challenges and advantages others face in their work. As an international scholar, moving to Wisconsin has allowed me to experience a completely different culture, and has definitely changed my vision on the role universities can play in their local communities.

One of Amaya's research assistants uses a microscope and camera attached to the microscope to observe the cranberry plantHow does your research tell a larger story about Wisconsin and the world? My research program focuses on fruit crop physiology and production of deciduous fruit crops; with cranberries being one of the main fruit crops I study. Wisconsin is the top producer of cranberries in the world, and UW-Madison is the place where most of the research on this fruit crop takes place. UW-Madison has an impressive group of researchers working on all aspects of cranberry production and we are definitely the main source of information on this crop worldwide.

Is there a fact about cranberries that tends to amuse or surprise people? Yes, that cranberries do not grow in water! Most people associate cranberry production with the images they see on the television, where the growers are harvesting the berries from a pool full of water, so people think that’s the way they grow. Cranberry beds, which are the production unit in a cranberry marsh, are flooded to harvest the fruit because it makes it easier to collect all the berries, but once the harvest is done the beds are drained.

What do you love about the University of Wisconsin-Madison? There are so many possibilities to connect and collaborate with great scientists and faculty from other disciplines around campus. To be part of a diverse community of scholars stimulate you to create innovative approaches to complex problems.

What or who inspires you? My amazing female colleagues who have successful careers and family lives.

Amaya opens small containers that contain frozen grape seeds

What has been one of your favorite courses to teach? I have a very limited teaching appointment; I teach Fruit Crop Production every other spring semester. I really enjoy teaching this class as it has an important field component where students can interact with fruit growers in the state and learn about the socioeconomic implication fruit production has in the state of Wisconsin.

What are three books that have influenced you? Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben; When Breath Becomes Airby Paul Kalanithi

Atucha earned her B.S. in horticulture from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile) and her Ph.D. in horticulture from Cornell University. She also participated in the 2015 Wisconsin Idea Seminar and served as a context expert and collaborator for the 2017 Wisconsin Idea Seminar.

This article first appeared in https://wiseminar.wisc.edu/harvesting-ideas-and-fruit-with-amaya-atucha/

Back to Farming Basics in Guatemala

When Claudia Calderón touched down in the fertile highlands of western Guatemala, she was stepping into a sociological experiment already afoot.

What brought her to the verdant country in Central America in 2016 was a collaborative study conducted alongside her peers from Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala. The group wanted to determine how two different types of small-holder farms (less than about 2.5 acres) perform in two key areas of sustainability — food security and climatic resilience.

The study compares semiconventional farms (those that use agrochemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers and grow a comparatively limited array of crops) and agroecology-adopting farms, which largely eschew modern pesticides for organic alternatives and are characterized by a sense of self-reliance, a concern for community well-being, a deeply rooted land ethic, and a tightly knit “solidarity economy” where food production and exchange occur for reasons beyond capital accumulation.

“They’re really focusing on the well-being of their families, of their communities,” says Calderón, an assistant faculty associate in the Department of Horticulture. “And not just the individual profit, but also the community profit.”

The first thrust of the study — food security — is a prominent issue in Guatemala. Large parts of the country lack the proper infrastructure to transport excess goods to market in time, and most rural households need to buy more food than they can produce. Combine this shortage with high levels of poverty, and malnutrition follows.

The group also investigated the agroecological method’s adoption and resilience to climate change. Agroecological farmers tend to grow a greater diversity of crops, including maize, bean, brassicas, leafy greens, potatoes, carrots, and fruits. This allows them to bounce back even if one crop is devastated by drought or rain. They also utilize terraces, contour planting, and live fences to mitigate the effects that washouts can have on their steep hillside plots.

“The whole world is talking about climate change, but particular regions of the world are especially vulnerable to the effects,” Calderón says.

Both agroecological and semiconventional agricultural methods are not without their challenges. Political will is fragmented. Property rights are murky or altogether absent. Extractive industries take advantage of this, hoping to ply the ground for valuable minerals in the soil.

But Calderón is intrigued by the symbiotic relationship between Guatemalan small-scale farmers and their land. She notes that women have become more involved in decisions about crop management. The takeaway? A set of farming practices aimed at optimizing yields, rather than maximizing them, may hold promise for the future of farming in Guatemala.

“What consequences are coming from particular ways of doing agriculture?” says Calderón. “We need to see the whole picture and recognize the role that small-holder farmers play for food security around the world.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Grow magazine.

Farm to Flavor Dinner Scheduled

Join the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and Allen Centennial Garden for Farm to Flavor 2017, a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, Aug. 24 from 5 – 9 p.m. in the Discovery Building.

This unconventional tasting event will celebrate biodiversity in food through small plate dishes from Madison’s talented chefs. Taste habaneros bred for almost undetectable spice, tomatoes with a dark indigo pigment or beets bred to be deliciously mild and sweet. Learn from keynote speaker Lane Selman about the important role plant breeders play in building a more just and resilient food system, and the ways local chefs, farmers and eaters are working together to further the cause. Sample vegetables straight from the plant on a tour of Allen Centennial Garden immediately preceding the dinner.

The eight chefs of the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative evaluate hundreds of vegetable varieties every season, providing valuable feedback to plant breeders around the country. Farm to Flavor is their chance to share what they’ve learned with you, by featuring each of their favorite varieties in a dish of their own design.

Participating chefs include:

  • Jonny Hunter, Underground Food Collective
  • Torry Miller, L’Etoile, Graze, Sujeo, Estrellon
  • Dan Bonnano, Pig in a Fur Coat
  • Eric Benedit, Cafe Hollander
  • Joe Cloute, Heritage Catering
  • Yusuf Bin-Rella, Dejope Dining
  • Kathy Griswold, Epic
  • Sean Fogarty, Steenbock’s on Orchard

Keynote speaker Lane Selman is the founding director of the Culinary Breeding Network in Portland, Ore., which brings together plant breeders, chefs, bakers and other stakeholders in the food community to create more relevant and desirable cultivars for organic farmers. Lane has earned national acclaim for her work furthering the concept of “culinary breeding” and is a tireless advocate for small-scale organic producers.

To learn more and purchase tickets, visit the Isthmus Tickets page.

Farm to Flavor 2017 dinner attendees may also be interested in attending the UW Organic Vegetable Variety Trials Field Day that will take place earlier that day.

Dr. Yi Wang Joins the Department

Yi Wang is an assistant professor with a research focus on potato and vegetable sustainable production. The goal of her research and extension program is to conduct science-based applied research and collaborate with the potato and vegetable growers and processors to improve the resource use efficiency and sustainability of vegetable cropping systems in Wisconsin. Her major research areas are:

  • Investigate new irrigation technologies to improve the water-use sustainability of vegetable cropping systems;
  • Develop production recommendations for new varieties with higher water and nitrogen use efficiency;
  • Develop useful growth modelling tools to predict crop yield, quality, water balance, and nitrogen balance.

Yi got her B.S. in Biological Science from Nanjing Agricultural University in China, her Ph.D. in Potato Physiology from UW-Madison. She worked as an assistant professor at the Kimberly Research and Extension Center, University of Idaho before rejoining the Department of Horticulture at UW-Madison.

Master Gardeners Extend Knowledge to Communities

MADISON — Lorre Kolb: Master Gardener Volunteers, learning about plants and making a difference in their communities. We’re visiting today with Mike Maddox, Director of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, University of Wisconsin-Extension, and I’m Lorre Kolb. Mike, what is the Master Gardener Volunteer Program?

Mike Maddox: The Master Gardener Program is a program in which we’re training community members, interested in gardening, some of the foundational topics that any horticulturist would need to know. But, in return for this learning, we’ve asked for them to go out into their communities and help us extend that knowledge to other community members.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Lorre Kolb: So, what is the connection between Master Gardeners and UW-Extension?

Mike Maddox: Well, the Master Gardener Program is a UW-Extension program. It has a 40-year history connected with Extension. It started with an Extension educator in Washington state, in which he trained individuals to help him answer questions, because the amount of new questions they had coming in from the developing suburbs at the time was more than what his role was able to do. It came into Wisconsin in the late 70s, early 80s, primarily to train individuals to help respond to the growing number of questions coming in from the public. But, it has evolved over that time to very active participation in the communities. They are using gardening to make some sort of difference in their communities.

Lorre Kolb: How do communities benefit from Master Gardener Volunteers?

Mike Maddox: To understand the role Master Gardeners are now playing in their communities, we also have to start with the role plants have in our communities. Research now shows there are economic, environmental, and health benefits of having plants in the places we live, work, and play. So, community gardens, urban forestry, downtown beautification projects – all this plays a role in making our communities healthy, happy places to live. Master Gardeners are now playing a lot of that role in providing that greening. They’re coming in and are the forces to do that school community garden or taking charge in making your city like a tree city USA and all the benefits that come with an urban forest. They also have that traditional role of helping respond to the questions that come in, helping people make informed, educated decisions – making the right plant for the right place kind of choices. So, hopefully reducing the number of invasive species we’re introducing to the environment. They’re having conversations with people on how many trees to put in, or where to plant them, or how to plant them correctly so you get the long term environmental benefits.

Lorre Kolb: If someone wants to become a Master Gardener Volunteer, what should they do?

Mike Maddox: You should start by visiting your local county UW-Extension office. Training consists of about 36 hours and as part of that you are expected to return a minimum of 24 hours of volunteer service in your community on select projects.

Lorre Kolb: We’ve been visiting today with Mike Maddox, Director of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, University of Wisconsin-Extension, and I’m Lorre Kolb.

— Mike Maddox, Director of Wisconsin, Master Gardener Program and Lorre Kolb, UW-Extensio

Source:  Morning Ag Clips, June 19, 2017