Research

urban agInnovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water: reclaiming wastewater from local food industries to produce energy and high-value urban crops

By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live under water stress. The global impact of the water crisis has been identified as the top global risk. Simultaneously, the world’s population is growing and it is estimated that by 2050, 66% of people will reside in urban areas. Urban agriculture (UA) can provide food close to home, improve water use efficiency and utilize locally available sources of nutrients. Local food-based industries (e.g., dairies, breweries) pay high costs to discharge wastewater containing organic matter and surplus nutrients. This wastewater has the potential to be “reclaimed” for use in UA. The energy-dense compounds in wastewater could be biologically treated for electricity production and nutrient recovery via plant uptake, allowing us to close a water usage loop. Our research will reimagine waste treatment and link it to urban food production using hydroponics and new technologies to generate clean energy from the waste itself.

Funded by Grand Challenges Exploratory Research Grant. For information on the Grand Challenges grant program click here

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Development and implementation of systems-based organic management strategies for spotted wing drosophila (2015-2018)

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is a devastating pest of small and stone fruits throughout the United States causing very high losses (up to 100%) in crop yield and quality, which have been estimated at $718 million annually. Management of SWD is achieved largely by insecticide applications and is particularly challenging for organic growers due to the few effective OMRI approved materials. The goal of this project is to apply information on biology, ecology, behavior and control of SWD to develop organically appropriate management programs.

Funded through the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative in collaboration with Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad at the University of Georgia.

For more information about the project, click here.

broccoli researchEcological-based pest management strategies for insect pests in organic broccoli production systems (2014-2016)

Understanding the roles that naturally-occurring defensive compounds, called glucosinolates, found in brassicas, play in mediating plant-insect and plant-insect-parasitoid interactions can provide alternative pest management strategies in organic brassica production. Six broccoli varieties will be evaluated to determine differences between variety and glucosinolate content, insect populations, parasitism, and yield, and a controlled herbivory experiment will evaluate the effects of insect damage on subsequent feeding, parasitism, and plant response. 

Aimee Talbot's graduate thesis funded through an NCR-SARE graduate student grant. You can read more about the project hereFunded through the University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid program.

strawberry research Rogers labOptimizing Protected Culture Environments for Berry Crops (2015-2017)

Farmers in the upper Midwest and Northeast are keenly interested in supplying more berries to satisfy local demand, but cold winters and short, humid growing seasons limit yields and quality. Protective structures or tunnels appear to mitigate many climatic limitations, but our SCRI Planning Grant showed that producers want information on many topics including which type of structure and plastic to choose and the benefits they can provide. This Standard Research and Extension Project will fill these information gaps. An enormous array of protective structures and covering plastics are available, including specialty “smart” plastics that can diffuse light and alter the spectrum. Modifying light quality and intensity – basic conditions to which all organisms have adapted – can directly impact the yield and quality of berry crops while presenting unique opportunities for non-chemical pest management methods. Our goal is to provide growers with the knowledge base needed to select structures and plastics that optimize productivity and pest management, while increasing profits and minimizing the generation of plastic waste. We are currently seeking a graduate student for this project to begin fall, 2015.

Funded through the USDA NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative in collaboration with Eric Hanson (MSU), AJ Both (Rutgers), David Conner (UVT), Dennis Decoteau (Penn State), Kathleen Demchak (Penn State), Emily Hoover (UMN), Rufus Isaacs (MSU), Kathleen Kelley (Penn State), William Lamont (Penn State), Lois Levitan (Cornell), Richard Marini (Penn State), Marvin Pritts (Cornell), Annemiek Schiler (MSU) and Becky Sideman (UNH).

You can read more about the project here.

high tunnel optimizing soil research Rogers LabOptimizing soil health in season extension environments through innovative cover crop management (2014-2017)

High tunnels in cold climates, such as Minnesota, are in great demand, in part spurred by a national NRCS cost share program promoting their use, yet most sit empty in the winter, providing an opportunity to add soil-enhancing cover crops to the rotation. Most high tunnel producers that utilize carbon-based inputs do so using composts made from animal manures and anecdotal information combined with recent studies indicate that high tunnels regularly using composted manures suffer from over-application of phosphorus (P) in the manure and are at risk of P runoff into sensitive waterways. This project seeks to increase adoption of winter annual legume cover crop use in high tunnels by identifying species of interest to producers and transferring evidence-based information to growers, including improvements in both soil quality and cash crop productivity. Our aim is to determine ‘best bets’ species or mixtures of cover crops that meet the unique needs of growers utilizing high tunnels in cold environments. Upon completion this study will offer growers options for enhancing soil health and crop productivity through cover crop inclusion in their high tunnel rotations. We are currently seeking a graduate student for this project to begin summer of 2015.

This project is a federal NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) led by Dr. Julie Grossman at the University of Minnesota.

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Improving sustainable management practices for spotted wing drosophila, an emerging pest of small fruit in MN

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is an emerging invasive pest of soft skinned fruit and berries, responsible for significant economic losses nationwide. Adults lay eggs in ripening fruit, rendering it unmarketable as larvae develop within the flesh. Consequently, there is a zero tolerance threshold for larvae in fresh fruit. Current management strategies are limited to regular application of broad-spectrum insecticides. Based on preliminary research, we are optimistic that exclusion and microclimate modification may be a viable management strategy for SWD. However, we need to better understand how enclosed tunnels affect fruit yield and quality, how different types of plastics may affect microclimate characteristics, and how beneficial insects and pollination services are impacted in these production systems. Our research objectives are to 1) investigate exclusion and microclimate tactics to reduce infestation of SWD in raspberries and blueberries in MN; and 2) determine effects of exclusion tactics on secondary pest outbreaks, beneficial insects and pollination services. Our desired outcomes are to develop practical, easy to adopt management strategies for growers that will help preserve profitable small fruit acreage in MN.

This research is funded by a grant from the MN Department of Agriculture.

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Overwintering, Migration and Development of Cost Effective Practical Management Strategies for the Invasive Spotted Wing Drosophila in MN

Due to rapid reproduction and multiple overlapping generations, SWD populations can become devastatingly high in a short amount of time. This problem is compounded by the commercial standard of a ‘zero tolerance threshold’ for SWD in fresh fruit. Therefore, management techniques for SWD (even for organic fruit growers) involve repeat applications of broad-spectrum insecticides, primarily organophosphates, carbamates and pyrethroids. In addition to this management problem, critical gaps in understanding the basic ecology of SWD exist, compromising our ability to make sustainable pest management recommendations. For example, we know little about SWD’s possible migration patterns or overwintering locations in northern climates.

In this project we have three goals to minimize the threat of SWD to natural resources and the economy of our state: 1) Improve SWD forecasting by understanding the relative impacts of local movement, long-distance migration, and potential overwintering sources; 2) investigate the efficacy of innovative and alternative management techniques; and 3) evaluate the cost effectiveness and aggregate economic impact of SWD management alternatives and develop decision-making tools for Minnesota berry growers.

This project is funded by a grant provided by the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center.