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 ($60,000). For information on the Grand Challenges grant program click here

raspberry spotted wing drosophila damage

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 (Full Award, $2,000,000).

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 ($9,385). You can read more about the project here.

Funded through the University of Minnesota Grant-in-Aid program ($26,027)

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) ($2,450,060) (UMN subcontract $165,202).

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 ($192,000).