The Blue Sky Science video series was a collaboration of the Wisconsin State Journal and the Morgridge Institute for Research. They took questions posed by visitors to the Discovery Building and then found an expert to answer the questions.
In this episode, Nico Conti asks, “How do seedless plants start?” Amaya Atucha, assistant professor of horticulture, answers his question.
The Department of Horticulture lost one of its most accomplished alumni last month. Chris Blanchard, a graduate of our department from the mid 1990s, passed away following a long battle with cancer. Many of you will recall that Chris was a strong proponent of organic agriculture and a tireless advocate for local farms. He worked at Seed Saver’s Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, ran a large vegetable farm for fifteen years, managed his own consulting business, and most recently was the founder and host of the brilliant Farmer to Farmer podcast, available online at http://www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/.
Chris was a philosopher and a farmer. He was a positive force in everything he did. In his vision of organic agriculture, he was far ahead of his time. He was a friend and will be dearly missed. Our thoughts go out to his family and to his wife Angie Sullivan of Madison, Wisconsin.
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.”
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.”
Last week, UW–Madison State Relations staff were in the State Capitol distributing samples of a CALS-developed cranberry variety to legislative offices. The “Sundance” cranberry was developed at UW–Madison by researchers working with the cranberry industry. “Sundance” produces larger berries, which are critical for the processing of sweet and dried cranberries (“Craisins”). The samples included information on the partnership between UW–Madison and the cranberry industry, including industry-supported faculty positions and programs. Amaya Atucha, assistant professor of horticulture and extension specialist, assisted the Office of State Relations with this project. Photos from the outreach can be viewed on theState Relations Twitter page.
Managing an apple orchard — whether table apples or cider apples — isn’t the romantic endeavor some might imagine. There’s a lot to do: selecting, planting, growing, pruning, and irrigating trees; combating insect pests while supporting pollinators; and warding off assorted tree-killing and apple-destroying plant diseases. There are also weeds, nuisance animals, and soil health to contend with.
They can be found giving presentations and answering questions at field days, conferences, workshops, and other events around the state, including the CIAS-run Midwest School for Beginning Apple Growers. During the growing season, they publish Wisconsin Fruit News, a twice-monthly e-newsletter with time-sensitive information, updates, and tips for state fruit growers.
“Patty McManus has been such a go-to person for us, with all of the disease issues we face [due to being an organic orchard],” says Deirdre Birmingham of The Cider Farm. “She has always been highly responsive, and we also have great relationships with Amaya and Christelle.”
UW Fruit Team members currently have a couple of apple-focused projects in the works. One involves preparing for the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). The invasive insect has made its way into Wisconsin from nearby states and is poised to become a major agricultural pest. Guédot’s lab has been monitoring the stink bug’s spread and is looking for natural enemies in the area that can help keep the new pest in check.
“We are assessing if there are any parasitic wasps or other parasitoids of BMSB in Wisconsin that could work as biocontrol agents,” explains Guédot.
Atucha is involved in an effort to connect Wisconsin orchardists with the national Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA), a system of weather stations that comes with a suite of powerful, data-based decision-making tools for growers. Twenty NEWA weather stations were installed around the state last year, with financial support from a Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Specialty Crop Block Grant to the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association (WAGA). This season, Atucha, who is the campus liaison to WAGA and the state’s NEWA coordinator, helped lead education and training efforts.
“NEWA allows growers to plug into models and apps that have been developed over the years by multiple universities,” Atucha says. “It’s a big step up in terms of technology and is going to have a huge impact on the apple industry in Wisconsin.”
Original article appeared here: https://grow.cals.wisc.edu/priority-themes/food-systems-priority-theme/fruitful-outreach
Photo credit: Juan Astroza. Apprenticeship collaborators, including Julie Dawson and Claire Strader, at the Spring Green Kick-Off event on Aug. 29, 2018.
The principles and practices of farming are best learned as one would learn any other skilled profession: through experience and training by experts in the field. But recent demographic trends tell a different story. Nearly 75% of aspiring farmers under the age of 40 did not grow up on a farm, antiquating the traditional tale of knowledge transfer from experienced farmers to beginning farmers – an echoing theme amongst undergraduates in today’s classrooms.
“Students wanted to know where they could find positive internships and training opportunities for hands-on learning,” said Julie Dawson, University of Wisconsin-Extension horticulture educator and UW-Madison assistant professor of horticulture. “This really brought out the need for a more comprehensive training program. We don’t expect other skilled trades to learn their profession on their own, so it doesn’t make sense for farmers to have to do so.”
The new Organic Vegetable Farm Manager Registered Apprenticeship program responds to these needs by providing accessible, hands-on training for beginning farmers who wish to pursue a career in organic agriculture. Inspired by the success of the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship – the first registered agricultural apprenticeship in the country – the program was developed through a collaborative effort involving organic farmers, the Department of Workforce Development, FairShare CSA Coalition farmers, UW-Madison and UW-Extension.
“Apprenticeship is an excellent fit for vegetable farming because so much of how we learn to grow food – is by growing food,” said Claire Strader, UW-Extension Dane County organic and small scale produce educator.
Informal internships and apprenticeships in organic vegetable farming have been around the United States for decades, yet established farmers struggle to find reliable, skilled farm workers to meet the fast-growing demands of the organic food market. Currently, many farms train employees through a variety of informal, non-standardized training methods.
This new apprenticeship fills an educational gap that is often a barrier to farmworkers who wish to pursue a career in organic agriculture. The program is the first of its kind in the nation, combining formal, on-farm experience with coursework delivered through the Wisconsin Technical College System.
“The classroom is the place where apprentices will be able to dig into concepts that are harder to learn in the field, concepts that will support and expand their on-the-job training,” said Strader. The two-growing season training follows a competency-based curriculum, carefully crafted with extensive input from farmers and other agricultural educators from across the state.
Dawson and WTCS instructor Valerie Dantoin worked closely with two farmers to develop the course curriculum, which makes up about 10% of the program. Apprentices spend the remaining 90% in the field learning how to do every task an organic vegetable farm manager will need to do. Participants who complete the program are then ready to step into managerial roles, often on the farms where they apprenticed, or potentially start a farm of their own.
The program was reviewed and approved by the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards on June 1, 2018. Dawson believes the formal recognition of the training as the first state-accredited apprenticeship for organic vegetable farming in the United States is extremely valuable.
“Right now, it can be difficult for beginning farmers to articulate what they have learned in various internships and jobs,” explained Dawson. “A formally recognized program tells employers, loan officers, etc. what graduates know how to do,” she continues. “This will facilitate better job opportunities and better access to capital, land and other valuable resources.”
The program is leading the way to position future farmers for long-term academic and economic success. Since its early-June approval, several other states have shown interest in developing a similar apprenticeship program. The group is currently seeking federal recognition of the apprenticeship materials with the Department of Workforce Development, which would make them available to other states.
About fifty people gathered in Spring Green to attend the kick-off event held on August 29 to learn more about the program, celebrate the first farmer-apprentice pair, and take a tour of the organic farm site, Fazenda Boa Terra.
Down the line, Dawson, Strader and their teams will be involved in assessing – and improving – the program, including checking-in with apprentices and farmers on a regular basis, collecting formal evaluations of the program, and compiling feedback that can help guide program improvements.
To find out how you can be involved as a farmer-educator or an apprentice, visit here.
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.
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.”
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.”
Jeff 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.