Mali | CALS Researcher Offers Hands-On Training at Gamou Farms

Thierno Diallo at work at Gamou Organic Farms. Photos courtesy of Thierno Diallo

A native of Mali, Thierno Diallo takes great pride in his Fulani heritage. The West African ethnic group is well known for its tradition of raising livestock. Diallo’s family didn’t own cattle, but being immersed in the Fulani people’s pastoral ways made him long for a life in agriculture.

That’s precisely the life Diallo pursued. He studied agronomy for six years in Russia (an experience about which he wrote and published a book) and interned on three farms in Normandy, France, before working for 12 years at three dairies in Wisconsin. In 2007, he took on his current role as a corn researcher with professor Joe Lauer in the CALS Department of Agronomy and decided shortly after that he wanted to use his skills and knowledge to give back to the agricultural community in Mali. To that end, in 2012, just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako, he founded Gamou Organic Farms.

According to Diallo, you can learn about farming from books and lectures, but you can’t truly appreciate it until you’ve done the manual labor. Gamou Farms tries to bridge this gap between knowledge and experience for Malian students by immersing them in both the research and day-to-day operations associated with agriculture.

“When I worked on farms, you would get up and do just about the same thing every day,” Diallo says. “So even if you don’t want to learn, something is going to stick. And if you really want to, and you love what you’re doing, there’s no limit to how much you can learn.”

Abai Mounkoro (right), a cattle herder at Gamou Organic Farms, teaches trainee Seydou Doucoure how to use a wire stretcher to rebuild and repair fences. Photos courtesy of Thierno Diallo
Abai Mounkoro (right), a cattle herder at Gamou Organic Farms, teaches trainee Seydou Doucoure how to use a wire stretcher to rebuild and repair fences.

Diallo manages Gamou Farms largely from abroad and returns to Mali for a month every summer. At any given time, local students can be found on the farm driving tractors, feeding cows, repairing fences, and administering vaccines to livestock, among other tasks. Also, by serving as a platform for Diallo’s research with the agronomy department, the farm provides scientific training for students while advancing agriculture in Mali.

Today, Gamou Farms is pursuing two major projects. The first involves fonio (Digitaria exilis), a common West African grain crop that is adapted to dry areas and resistant to weeds. Fonio is drought tolerant, doesn’t require much fertilizer, and is one of the world’s fastest growing cereals, so it could play a vital role in enhancing food security and nutrition in Mali. However, at the end of the season, the seeds shatter, causing a 30–50 percent yield loss.

Sara Patterson PhD’98, a professor in the CALS Department of Horticulture, is working with researchers from the University of Bamako, the Institut d’Economie Rurale Cinzana, and the University of Georgia to find a solution to the seed shattering. Their aim is to develop better fonio varieties that won’t bend at the stem (lodge) and will retain seeds at maturity. The resulting bump in yield would mean an enhanced food source for West African people and more income for fonio producers.

Gamou Farms provides a place for crossbreeding and selection among the collected samples, followed by the multiplication and dissemination of the new and better varieties to the local population. Diallo has extracted DNA samples in Mali and brought them to a CALS lab for further study. Students assist with DNA extraction, sequencing, and field data collection.

The farms’ second project focuses on dairy. The goal is to create a new breed of cattle by crossbreeding local, disease-resistant N’Dama with “super milker” Holsteins. For that purpose, Diallo took 13 Holstein embryos with him on his July 2018 trip to the farm.

“When those embryos get transferred into my cattle back home, many vets, technicians, and students will be involved, so they can see and learn about this technology,” Diallo says. “Gamou Farms is like an incubator, a place where students will come to learn and transfer technologies I’ve learned throughout my career and all that I have available to me here in the U.S. today. These students are future leaders, farmers, researchers, and decision makers. If we consistently train many of them each and every year, we will raise the production level across the board.”

Original article appeared here.

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.

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: https://ecals.cals.wisc.edu/

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.

Plant breeders balance shared innovation, revenue

Have you thanked a crop breeder today? Public-sector plant breeders (for example, at public universities) have developed crops for better productivity. As a result, more food is available to feed a growing population.

A group of people prepare different varieties of sweet corn near a field for a taste test..

Sweet corn breeder William Tracy (second from left) and Julie Dawson (third from left), both faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, prepare a sweet corn taste test with summer field crew students. One of the goals of this particular breeding project is to develop ‘culinary corn’ with more intense corn flavor. Photo credit Joan Fischer / UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

This research and innovation requires funding. But funding—and revenue from the crops developed—is increasingly hard to obtain.

In response, a group of plant breeders met in 2016 to discuss best practices. Julie Dawson, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is lead author of a recent paper summarizing their recommendations.

Intellectual property rights can protect crop varieties. And licensing can provide revenue to support further developments. But certain types of intellectual property rights can restrict plant breeders from sharing plant materials. That can limit innovation across the board.

Finding a balance between these needs is tricky. It’s also important: “Crop breeding is critical for the future of agriculture,” says Dawson. “Plant breeding programs benefit farmers everywhere. They also benefit anyone who eats.”

The group has three recommendations. They suggest developing best practices for revenue sharing. They advocate for increased funding for public programs. They also suggest establishing professional standards for sharing plant breeding materials.

Historically, many crop varieties were released to the public with almost no restrictions. “But budgets are getting tighter,” says Dawson. “Grant funding is also becoming more competitive. Public sector plant breeders need to seek other sources of revenue.”

Royalties generated by licensing new crop varieties have been one revenue stream. These royalties are usually shared between universities and their plant breeding programs. But the group finds that the distribution isn’t always equitable.

“Cultivar development can be considered a type of university-sponsored start-up,” Dawson says. “In order to continue the breeding programs a reasonable amount of revenue needs to be returned to those programs. Unfortunately, the workgroup found this is not always the case.”

Two researchers hold carrots, including tops, in the field

Carrot Breeder Philipp Simon (USDA-ARS, Madison WI) and graduate student Charlene Grahn explain their selection for stronger and more vigorous tops to improve carrot competition with weeds and ease of mechanical harvest. This complex trait is important for both conventional and organic production. Photo credit Micaela Colley / Organic Seed Alliance.

Overall funding for public plant breeding programs also needs to increase, according to the group. Public breeding programs train the next generation of researchers and plant breeders. They can also focus on low-return, high-value crops that are less attractive to the private sector.

For example, cover crops may have relatively low monetary returns. That can reduce interest from the private sector. But they have high social or environmental value, such as improving soil quality or reducing erosion.

“Public programs don’t have to be immediately profitable, unlike in the private sector,” says Dawson. “The public sector is able to respond to regional and long-term needs of U.S. agriculture,” says Dawson. “It can do so in ways that are more difficult for private companies that need to turn a profit every year.”

The group also advocates for uniform standards for sharing breeding materials. They recommend using the Wheat Workers’ Code of Ethics as a template. Crop breeders could then work with their universities to better define intellectual property rights and sharable resources.

“Tech transfer offices are usually more familiar with medical or engineering innovations,” says Dawson. “Plant breeders need existing plant material to continue innovating. Restrictive intellectual property rights can shut off this source of research materials. That essentially turns each breeding program into a silo and hinders innovation.”

Read more about the group’s recommendations in Crop Science. Funding for the conference was provided by a conference grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA-AFRI 2017-67013-25922) and SeedMatters.

Article originally published at: https://www.agronomy.org/science-news/plant-breeders-balance-shared-innovation-revenue

 

Yandell awarded Round 4 Funding for Data Science Hub

This project will launch a campus-wide Data Science Hub (DSHub), paving the way for an eventual Data Science Institute. The​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​DSHub​ ​is​ ​to​ ​coordinate​ ​and​ ​execute​ ​a​ ​campus-wide​ ​data​ ​science​ ​strategy​ ​that​ ​fills​ ​critical​ ​gaps​ ​and supports​ ​data​ ​science​ ​growth​ ​and​ ​cross-fertilization.​

In the last decade, data science has gone from the “big data” fad to a mission-critical enterprise need. DSHub will increase visibility of UW–Madison as a major data science destination, provide unified leadership to advance campus expertise in data science, enable big funding opportunities, foster researcher training in data science, coordinate and strategize development of educational tools for data science degree programs, support domain scientists doing data science, foster cross-disciplinary methodological research in data science, and develop data science outreach to Wisconsin.

Seventeen  innovative projects ranging from personalizing diabetes prevention and treatment, to transforming wood into a renewable electronic material, to improving outcomes for incarcerated parents and their children, to fusion energy research that integrates optimized plasma confinement, and establishing a UWLandLab and a forecast-based flood and health disaster preparedness system, have been chosen to join the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative cohort.

The projects were reviewed by faculty from across the university, ultimately involving 102 reviewers. Funded projects include 125 faculty and academic staff investigators from 10 schools and colleges. The UW2020 Council, a group of faculty from all divisions of the university, evaluated the merits of each project based on the reviews and their potential for making significant contributions to their fields.

Project Description and Participants

 

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.

Atucha Receives Alfred Toepfer Faculty Fellow Award

Atucha’s research focuses on fruit crop physiology and production of deciduous fruit crops (cranberry, apple and grapes in particular). Her current research areas include cold hardiness of fruit crops, improving fruit quality of cold hardy wine grapes through cultural practices and differences in root growth rates of rootstocks as affected by soil borne pathogens. She is also a UW-Extension fruit crop specialist.

The one-year award is bestowed on pre-tenure faculty whose research benefits agricultural activities within the United States and whose areas of interest lie in the scientific fields of crop research, improvements in crop yield and quality, or animal sciences. The award can also go to faculty members whose agricultural research is considered biological or physical in nature.

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.

Campus Food Sheds Stocked With Research Excess

Hannah DePorter

UW-Madison student Hannah DePorter stocks a refrigerator in the university’s Student Activity Center with vegetables grown for campus research projects. DePorter founded an initiative called the Campus Food Shed that aims to find a better use for the surplus produce faculty and students grow as part of their agriculture research. Photo by John Hart, State Journal

When Hannah DePorter’s plant breeding and genetics lab at UW-Madison grows beets, only a fraction of what the students harvest winds up being used for research.

Some of the rest goes to local food pantries and to students such as DePorter, who takes beets home to cook and give to friends. But there’s always plenty left over.

“So many of the beets were left in the field to compost,” she said.

DePorter, who will be a senior this fall, wants to change that, so she has started a new program that aims to address twin problems: The food waste that occurs when researchers in agriculture programs throw out or compost the excess produce they grow and the food insecurity that leaves some low-income college students hungry.

Her solution is called the Campus Food Shed, and it will take the form of four refrigerators stationed around UW-Madison that will be stocked with left-over produce for anyone who needs or wants free, nutritious and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

The first location opened in the Student Activity Center on Friday.

In an interesting juxtaposition, the refrigerator sits right next to a bank of vending machines — giving students a choice, DePorter said, between “fresh vegetables for free” and “processed foods that cost money.”

There should be plenty of produce to supply the refrigerators. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alone has a dozen research stations around Wisconsin where faculty grow crops. F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, a campus group DePorter is a member of, also has a two-acre plot, and researchers grow produce on space they rent from private farms as well.

The needs of research projects vary, said Irwin Goldman, a professor in the Department of Horticulture, but in some cases they only require half of what fields produce, if not less.

Without a formal system for what’s left over, researchers often just leave piles of free produce on tables in the halls of the Horticulture Building, Goldman said.

He credited DePorter for saying, “Let’s do something with this.”

Goldman said six researchers have signed on to contribute their crops to the Campus Food Shed, and he and DePorter are looking for others who will join the effort.

‘Great, local food’

Along with the Student Activity Center, on the third floor of 333 East Campus Mall, refrigerators will be stationed in Science Hall, 550 N. Park St.; Moore Hall, 1575 Linden Drive; and the Allen Centennial Garden, 620 Babcock Drive.Campus Food Shed,

Labels will tell visitors what the food is and when it was picked, DePorter said, and volunteers will make the rounds to toss any produce that goes bad.

The refrigerators are open whenever the campus buildings are, and are available to students or anyone else who wants the free produce, she said. There’s no limit to what people can take, and the new initiative won’t reduce how much produce goes to local food pantries, DePorter said.

“We’re hoping that this reaches as many people as possible,” she said.

The fact that they are stocked with locally grown produce means the fridges won’t have much to offer when they first open, since it’s still early in Wisconsin’s growing season, and will probably be less full during the depths of winter.

But organizers say the produce will provide a source of free and healthy food on a campus in which students have directed more attention to the plight of less wealthy peers who sometimes struggle to find enough to eat. A campus food pantry, The Open Seat, opened last year on a floor above the first Campus Food Shed refrigerator.

“It’s relatively small,” Goldman said of the effort, “but it’s great, local food.”

 Story Source:  Wisconsin State Journal, June 17, 2017