Catching Up with CALS — June 17, 2020
Dean's Message — Big Picture
Idaho’s top crops are important to the state and to the nation.
The Idaho Potato Commission has elevated our most iconic crop to the number one position in terms of economic impact and public perception. Idaho ranks No. 1 in production among all states with 32% of U.S. production.
It may surprise some that Idaho’s barley crop accounts for 35% of the nation’s production and we are the largest producer of malt barley in the U.S. The largest brewers in the nation owe much of their product to Idaho as we are also the second largest hops producing state.
Rounding out the four commodities that rank Idaho nationally are peppermint oil with 33% and alfalfa hay at 8% of the nation’s production. These data (and much more) can be found in the 2018 statistics compiled by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
In all, Idaho farmers grow 19 crops that rank among the top 10 nationally. Wheat, for example, ranks No. 5 with 6% of U.S. production.
Considering livestock, Idaho puts six sectors in the top 10. Milk ranks first in the state in economic impact and third nationally by volume, accounting for 8% of U.S. production.
Beef ranks second highest in statewide economic impact and 11th nationally with 3% of production.
These statistics are critical and underscore the importance of Idaho's agriculture within the state and nation. Together, agriculture and food processing generate 28% of Idaho’s total economic output in sales and 13% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
As agriculture goes, so does the economy of the state. The size and importance of agriculture help guide the college’s investment in faculty and the research and Extension they conduct. Idaho's commodity commissions help guide priorities, too, and provide critical funding to CALS.
The Idaho Dairymen’s Association is a major financial contributor to the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) and was the first to step up and invest in this project. CAFE will ultimately serve all of Idaho's agriculture by providing the most comprehensive look at dairying and its associated industries from feed crops to food processing.
The Idaho Potato Commission is helping to build a new seed potato germplasm facility on campus and is supporting an endowed professorship in post-harvest potato storage physiology, the Wayne Thiessen Potato Research Professorship.
The Idaho Barley Commission endowed a professorship to support agronomy research focused on quality and quantity.
The Idaho Wheat Commission invests in research and people. Wheat funding finances two endowed professorships and an endowed chair in commodity risk management.
The effort to build a new Center for Plant and Soil Health at the Parma Research and Extension Center is advancing with financial commitments from seven of Idaho’s commodity groups along with support from agribusiness and private individuals.
Many of our agriculture commodities receive funding through a growers’ assessment that is generally based on yield from the current year. These monies are critical to funding much of what CALS does.
However, we must keep a broader view of our mission. As a land-grant university and holder of the keys to Extension and the agricultural experiment station, we have a responsibility to provide relevant information to the producers of all 180 agricultural commodities grown in the state.
We face the constant challenge of how to prioritize research and Extension efforts in CALS to those commodities, especially as we look to an uncertain budget future given the state of the current pandemic. That is why we take this moment to express our deep appreciation for the support and investments we receive from Idaho’s agriculture industry.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
60 million bushels of winter wheat, up 1% from 2019, is Idaho’s 2020 production estimate issued by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service based on June 1 data. Harvested area, at 690,000 acres, is up 10,000 acres from last year, and yield is expected to average 87 bushels per acre, up 2 bushels from the May 1 forecast but unchanged from last year.
Our Stories — Brown Closes Out Colorful Career
Some of CALS plant breeder Jack Brown’s best-known cultivars include IdaGold yellow mustard, Pacific Gold Indian mustard, Amanda winter canola and Durola winter rapeseed cultivars.
Brown joined the CALS faculty in 1992 and retired at the end of May this year. Along the way, he has advised 27 graduate students, has taught the introductory plant science class along with other popular undergraduate and graduate classes in plant breeding, biometrics, field crop production, cereal science, potato production, forage and grassland management, crop physiology and plant genetics. He also oversaw a research program that brought in some $9 million in grants.
Brown’s new oilseed and mustard cultivars found favor with farmers because of their suitability as rotation crops with small-grain cereals for dryland farming that helps reduce crop diseases and increase following wheat yields.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a plant variety protection (PVP) certificate to Brown and the university for IdaGold in 2002. Favored by condiment mustard makers for its qualities, IdaGold generated widespread attention.
It was a moneymaker for the university, too. IdaGold royalties returned to the U of I since 2009 total more than $127,000. Similarly, Pacific Gold received a PVP certificate in 2011 and has generated $150,000 in royalties. More recently release of WhiteGold, IndiGold and Bruin will likely replace the original mustard favorites.
Much of Brown’s work has focused on developing improved canola and rapeseed varieties to yield edible and industrial oils, while also providing high protein livestock seed meals. This year, Brown and his team have submitted PVP applications for a new winter canola Chinook and a new winter rapeseed Impress.
He believes they may grow into popular varieties with farmers, and they are better adapted than Amanda and Durola. The new cultivars combine high yield and quality with tolerance to a wide range of Group 2 herbicide residuals in the soil such as from use of Pursuit herbicide on legumes or Beyond herbicide on Clearfield or IMI wheat.
He focused his research on Brassica oilseed crops, mustard, canola and rapeseed. His oilseed research added brilliant fields of gold to spring landscapes across the Inland Northwest.
As a plant breeder, Brown sought to develop rapeseed, canola and mustard varieties with qualities tailored to specific niches. For example, his Durola rapeseed variety excelled as a vegetable oil source for superior biofuels.
The U.S. Defense Department funded a multimillion-dollar project led by Brown to improve the efficiency of oilseed breeding for biofuels and to test the practicality of transforming Durola and similar oils for use as bio-jet fuel suitable for powering the Navy’s Blue Angels. That project also put Brown and his team to work conducting one of the most comprehensive genomic analysis of Brassica oilseed varieties. The analysis identified genetic traits that promised to speed future plant breeding.
Brown, a plant breeder for over 43 years and who worked on developing barley, potatoes, wheat and oilseeds cultivars, said new developing biotechnology techniques will provide powerful new tools but cannot replace traditional plant breeding. Nor, he argued, should it.
Plant breeders must employ a range of skills that begin with genetics, but progress through recording and understand how the plant grows and responds to environmental conditions. The quality of the cultivars, potential yield and acceptability by farmers, the industry and end users also matter.
Although many universities have opted to let commercial companies take over plant breeding, Brown said he hopes CALS will continue to find a place for plant breeding on the faculty. His graduate students lead other programs at universities or companies to breed new wheat, canola, carrots, potato, field beans and watermelon varieties. Other former students lead branches of plant science they developed an interest in because they became competent in those roles at CALS.
The Brassica program will continue, led by Principal Research Specialist Jim Davis, and Brown said he plans to remain involved to some degree as an emeritus professor. “If I can continue to contribute to the college and the Plant Sciences Department, I will,” he said.
IGEM Grant Helps Inventor Enlist CALS Experts
A Meridian scientist and entrepreneur will work with U of I researchers to perfect a simple home test to help breastfeeding mothers avoid allergic reactions by their infants.
Trillitye Paullin, a molecular biologist, is developing a simple test for nursing mothers to detect whether their breast milk carries allergens that threaten their infants’ health. Idaho Department of Commerce officials announced recently her project will receive $212,000 to validate it for market use through the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) program.
She will work with CALS nutrition researcher and human milk expert Shelley McGuire and Mark McGuire, who is also a U of I lactation expert. They will oversee independent testing of Paullin’s method. Shelley McGuire is director of the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences and Mark McGuire is director of the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station.
A U.S. Army veteran, Paullin served in Iraq, then earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology at Minot State University in North Dakota. She later earned a doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the University of South Florida.
A mother of two young daughters, Paullin encountered trouble while breastfeeding each of them. Both developed severe allergic reactions, which forced her to switch to an allergen-free diet.
Her doctor was unable to determine what allergen caused her daughters’ distress, so Paullin eliminated the eight most common allergy-causing foods from her diet.
Paullin now leads the Boise Darigold cooperative’s Quality Department. That role and her research experience in protein analysis for cancer therapeutics led her to develop test strips women could use to test their milk for common allergens. She hopes to market the first product of its kind, which will identify the presence of dairy allergens, after the IGEM project.
Her goal is to help mothers determine what is eliciting a response in their babies and give them more dietary freedom while continuing to breastfeed. “For example, Mom could enjoy her favorite food, like ice cream, during date night and then use a test strip to determine if the allergen entered her milk and for how long,” Paullin said.
She sought out the McGuires because of their expertise in studying human milk and for the credibility of researchers at U.S. land-grant universities.
Her test would not require FDA approval to market, but Paullin wanted to work with U of I to add additional scientific credibility to her claims. “Third-party validation is an important piece of our market strategy,” she said.
The first study will focus on cow’s milk protein and soy testing, an important step because these products can supply breastfeeding mothers with high-quality nutrition, she said.
Later, products may allow mothers to test for other common infant food intolerances such as wheat, eggs, fish or nuts.
Valley Wide Co-op, CHS Join to Support 4-H
The Nampa-based business Valley Wide Cooperative announced it will donate $10,000 to the University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development program to help young people participate.
In partnership with CHS Inc., Valley Wide Cooperative donated $5,000 and applied and received a matching grant from the CHS Seeds for Stewardship program to support 4-H. The money will help offset enrollment fees for youth to become 4-H members.
“We are a member-owned cooperative dedicated to giving back to the communities that we serve; it’s our company mission,” said Valley Wide Cooperative Communications Specialist Carly Weaver, a past 4-H’er. “We know how important it is to reinvest in the next generation of ag and industry leaders, especially those involved in organizations like 4-H, and we need them to succeed.”
4-H reaches some 73,000 Idaho youth and draws on the talents of 4,500 volunteers each year. Nearly two-thirds of 4-H members go on to college, and they are five times more likely to graduate, 4-H studies show. Youth who participate in 4-H are also four times more likely to give back to our communities as volunteers and leaders.
“These gifts will go a long way in providing Idaho youth access to 4-H programs so they can grow to be Idaho’s future leaders,” said Jim Lindstrom, UI Extension 4-H youth development director.
Lindstrom said he expects the funding to cover enrollment fees for eligible youths for two years, although the pandemic and related recession may lead to a surge in requests for help from hard-pressed families.
To learn more about 4-H, visit uidaho.edu/extension/4h.
Faces and Places
CALS plant sciences graduate student Madigan Jean Hawkins of Olympia, Washington, won a $1,000 Syngenta Accelerating a Generation Scholarship award. She also won a $2,000 American Society of Agronomy J. Fielding Reed Undergraduate Soil and Plant Sciences Scholarship and the Golden Opportunity Scholars award from the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America to fund travel costs to the annual meeting and a visit to Washington, D.C.
- June 22-25 — Idaho 4-H State Teen Association Convention (STAC) online.
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