Catching Up with CALS — Sept. 9, 2020
Dean's Message — It's the Water
Saying water is important to Idaho is understating the obvious.
Without Idaho’s carefully devised water management system, the state would be a much different place. Idaho agriculture would bear only a small resemblance to the diverse, productive economic powerhouse we now enjoy.
And let’s be clear: Idaho also values the pristine waters of the Salmon River and Priest Lake, and the hundreds of other miles and acres of similar waters statewide. As an avid fly fisher, I try to take advantage of what the state waters have to offer — a trip to Priest Lake this past August to try my hand with native cutthroats is an example of some of my recent activity. Of course, it is hard to beat the wonderful waters of Silver Creek in Picabo as a fly-fishing destination. But I digress.
CALS’ research focused on water is significant and reaches from extracting the most benefit from this limited resource to using satellites to track irrigation water use. Companies from Anheuser-Busch to Google follow the efforts of professors Howard Neibling and Rick Allen.
It’s been a good year for our Idaho Clean Water Machine team. Professors Greg Moller and Dan Strawn and CALS engineer Martin Baker are important collaborators on the new five-year, $10 million project to study the Idaho dairy industry-based bioeconomy announced in June. That project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That overall project led by Mark McGuire, CALS associate dean and university distinguished professor, emphasizes the importance of the Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE). Better understanding water allocation, water discharge, water use efficiency and reuse of water are central to the CAFE project.
CALS plays a leadership role in supporting water research because of its importance. The college also is a leader in U of I educational efforts. Our reorganization of academic departments emphasized the teaching and research missions with the creation of the Department of Soil and Water Systems.
We want our students to have opportunities to learn from some of the best researchers who study water and its management. When our students graduate they will be equipped to find new solutions to the issues ahead. In addition to training undergraduate students in the important area of water, CALS houses the multidisciplinary Water Resources Graduate Program. It includes faculty and students from the College of Natural Resources, College of Law and College of Engineering, among others.
CALS researchers try to anticipate those issues and prepare to address them. The U of I Office of Research and Economic Development recently funded two CALS-led projects to help researchers prepare for those future needs under President Scott Green’s Water Sustainability Initiative.
The first project led by agricultural economics professor Alexander Maas will help connect U of I to businesses, agencies and non-profits in southern Idaho. The project focuses on areas that face major water issues.
Agricultural engineer Erin Brooks leads the second project. He will install soil moisture and crop sensors to assess the effects of innovative irrigation and soil regenerative practices on crop performance. The work will focus on the Water Soil Health Demonstration Farm near Rupert where CALS is guiding construction of the new Idaho CAFE research dairy.
There are many, many more ways that CALS and U of I place water at the forefront of our mission to serve Idaho. It is fitting that President Green sometimes refers to us as the University of Water. This will be a critical area where U of I will use its resources to address water in the state to benefit agriculture and all of Idaho.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
18% of Idaho’s topsoil moisture is considered adequate, 48% is short and 34% is very short through Sept. 6, according the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Idaho’s subsoil moisture looks a little better with 21% adequate, 45% short and 34% very short.
Our Stories — U of I Leads Potato Virus Project
A U of I-led team will tackle a pair of viruses that cause major losses to the potato industry.
CALS Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Nematology potato virus expert Alex Karasev will lead the project funded by a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture.
The team of two dozen scientists will target potato virus Y (PVY) and potato mop top virus (PMTV) in seed potatoes, the first level of commercial potato production, and in potatoes grown for market.
The project involves seed improvement organizations nationally that certify seed potatoes are disease free.
Long known as a serious problem for growers, PVY damages plants and reduces yields and the size of the potatoes, making the crop less valuable. An earlier U of I study estimated losses from PVY cost Idaho’s potato industry $34 million a year and reduced potential yields by 10 to 50%.
PMVT presents the potato industry with a new problem. Six states have found the virus in their seed potato crops. An estimated 5% of Maine’s seed potatoes carry PMTV. The virus is transmitted by protists, microbes that have qualities of fungi and algae.
The project includes university researchers in 10 potato-growing states, including Idaho, Colorado, New York and Oregon, and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists based in Prosser, Washington, and Aberdeen, Idaho. U of I researchers in Idaho Falls, Kimberly and Moscow will work on the project.
The new four-year project continues work Karasev participated in that was originally led by a New York-based researcher who retired earlier this year.
“Because of its position as the nation’s top potato-producing state, it is fitting that Idaho is leading the project,” Karasev said.
The most immediate goal is to give potato growers tools to control the viruses with better ways to test plants and fields. A key medium-range goal focuses on strategies to control pests that spread the viruses and to educate growers. A long-range priority is identifying genes that can provide resistance to the viruses and their vectors. Those genes can help potato breeding programs to develop new varieties.
Developing better testing can help seed potato producers to limit the spread of the viruses and prevent losses in the field and storage.
Researchers will study the economic impacts of the viruses and develop ways to communicate with and educate growers about the best strategies to reduce the viruses’ impacts.
Karasev won a U of I mid-career award in 2013 partly for his work on PVY, which became an issue for Idaho growers in the early 2000s. He recently turned his attention to PMTV as its threat to the potato industry increased.
Faces and Places
Shelley McGuire, Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences director, will talk on Thursday, Sept. 10, about research to understand whether the virus responsible for Covid-19 can pass from mothers to infants. Her talk entitled "Assembling a jumbo jet while flying it: studying mother-to-infant SARS-CoV2 transmission during the pandemic" will be available via Zoom.
- Sept. 9 — Welcome Back Picnic, Guy Wicks Field, 4-7 p.m.
- Sept. 10 — Assembling a jumbo jet while flying it: studying mother-to-infant SARS-CoV-2 transmission during the pandemic, Shelley McGuire, via Zoom 3:30-4:45 p.m.
- Sept. 16 — Heritage apple identification using genetic fingerprinting methods, register Heritage Orchard Conference, 10-11:30 a.m. Pacific time
- Oct. 1-2 — Rangeland Center Fall Forum
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