Catching Up with CALS — Sept. 23, 2020
Dean's Message — First Month
Tomorrow marks the first full month since we began classes for fall semester.
This year will be remembered for decades to come as a year of uncertainty. I hope we also remember 2020 as a year when the University of Idaho and the Vandals rose to the occasion.
The U of I community can take pride that its members recognized the seriousness of COVID-19 and how they put the safety of others and themselves at the forefront of policy decisions.
CALS faced the challenges with its characteristic determination and perseverance.
Those qualities helped reassure our students who are continuing their education online, in classrooms or in combination, while also reassuring the families of our students.
Our welcome back picnic earlier this month attracted more than 250 students, faculty, staff and friends. I met and talked with many. Their presence was a welcome bit of normalcy and reminder of our purpose. Of course, masks and social distancing were mandated but this did not appear to diminish the effectiveness of the event.
Our dinner with the dean event with students who live on the CALS floor of the Wallace Complex brought another opportunity to feel that sense of connectivity we hope to cultivate and expand as students begin their four-year stay with us.
Even better was hearing that there is considerable interest in more students joining the CALS dorm experience. Though there is no more capacity on the existing floor — CALS students may have to occupy two floors next year.
Students who are on campus this fall have an advantage. During the post-dinner with the Dean program, CALS department heads talked about the wide range of activities available to students through clubs and jobs.
With more than 20 clubs associated with CALS as well as job opportunities in departments, there is considerable opportunity for students to get engaged while pursuing their degrees. It is worth mentioning that many jobs in departments are associated with faculty research programs, so students interested in research as undergraduates can gain experience and be paid for it at the same time.
Both club activities and jobs offer experiences beyond the classrooms (or Zoom) for students to learn more about their professors and their fields of study.
In two weeks, CALS will launch Ag Days using a markedly different approach from this traditional event of past years. This year, it will take place entirely on the college’s Instagram channel — follow @uicals to join in the fun. We hope that the new approach opens new opportunities for inclusion of high school students (and others) who could not travel to Moscow in past years.
Our Celebrating Idaho Agriculture event will be virtual, too. Our keynote speaker this year is worthy of your attention. Scott Hutchins is the deputy under secretary of USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission.
As a political appointee just under Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Hutchins oversees the Agricultural Research Service, Economic Research Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
I have known Scott for many years and encourage you to tune in to one of the USDA’s most influential leaders to hear his thoughts on the future of agriculture. Register for the free virtual keynote address uidaho.edu/cals/celebrating-ag.
Michael P. Parrella
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
By the Numbers
98% of Idaho’s spring wheat was harvested by Monday on target with the 5-year average and ahead of last year’s 93%, a report by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service showed. 22% of Idaho’s winter wheat is planted, a slight lag from the 5-year average of 27%. 33% of potatoes were harvested by Sept. 20, ahead of the 5-year average of 29% and last year’s 23%.
Our Stories — Clean Water Project Expands
A $1 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant will allow U of I researchers Greg Moller, Dan Strawn and Martin Baker to test their Clean Water Machine from Florida to Oregon.
The team will trial new water treatment methods including one that employs biochar, or microscopic charcoal, to capture phosphorus. The month-long tests focus on Florida’s St. Johns River and Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
Common products from detergents to fertilizer contain phosphorus, which is common in wastewater and runoff from farms and cities. A critical plant nutrient, phosphorus causes harmful algae blooms that plague Lake Erie, Florida’s coasts and waters worldwide.
Idaho water bodies that have had problems include: Brownlee, Hells Canyon, Cedar Creek, Thorn Creek, Mormon and C.J. Strike reservoirs, Fernan Lake, Silver Lake, Lake Lowell and Lake Cocolalla.
Moller’s original invention is now used in about 140 wastewater treatment plants, mostly across North America. It takes a high-tech approach but uses simple materials including rust, sand, air and electricity to remove and capture phosphorus for use as fertilizer.
The idea is to mimic how nature cleans water, Moller said. “Baleen whales strain massive amounts of water through filters in their mouths to capture their food. We think our approach will act similarly on phosphorus at the molecular level.”
The three-year project will also allow up-close field work to assess the impact of a phosphorus-removal technology now used in municipal water reclamation plants in Alabama, Massachusetts and Minnesota invented by Moller.
The original process leads the marketplace for ultra-low phosphorus and mercury removal across North America. Wastewater plants in the United Kingdom and South Korea also draw on his discoveries. Two new billion-dollar, next generation power plants in Michigan and Ohio use this clean water technology to help provide electricity to 2 million homes.
The process can remove phosphorus from cities’ wastewater directly and streams and lakes affected by agricultural or municipal discharges.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to visit and assess how our technology is working in actual municipal water reclamation plants across the nation,” Moller said. “We will be able to better understand the equipment’s lifecycle and ways we can improve its efficiency.”
Moller’s Blue PRO system was developed at and patented by the University of Idaho. The technology is licensed to Nexom, which has installed the water treatment equipment the U of I team will explore in Citronelle, Alabama; Marlborough, Massachusetts; and International Falls, Minnesota.
Moller, Strawn and Baker conducted tests at an agricultural drain and at food processing plants in southern Idaho in 2019.
Baker and Moller tested the equipment at a marsh near Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, as part of a $10 million prize competition overseen by The Everglades Foundation in 2018. The U of I team advanced to the final four, but the competition was suspended.
“Our innovations show we can make substantial progress in controlling these toxic algae blooms,” Moller said. “We are excited to accelerate new discoveries that may help solve a global water challenge.”
This project, titled “Phosphorus Removal to Oligotrophic Levels: Innovating Three High-Flow Water Technologies using Reactive Filtration, Biochar Adsorption and Nanobubble-Enhanced Biomimetic Separations,” is funded under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant No. R84008701. The total project funding is $999,996, of which 100% is the federal share.
Study Focuses on Genome to Phenome Link
A new federal grant will support University of Idaho efforts to spur development of a “genome-to-phenome” infrastructure for scientific collaboration involving crops and livestock.
The three-year, $960,000 project will provide guidance for organizing a larger anticipated federal Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative (AG2PI) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Researchers working from “genomics to phenomics” explore how genomes, organisms’ complete set of DNA, influence phenotypic traits, organisms’ physical attributes. Understanding those relationships make it possible to predict plant or animals’ physical characteristics based on their genes.
The USDA’s goal is to foster a broad community of researchers to use genome-to-phenome approaches as a foundation for improving agricultural efficiency and resilience.
“This grant and project will allow Idaho, agricultural scientists and allied industries to work together and pave the way toward predicting economically important traits from genomic information,” said Brenda M. Murdoch, a CALS associate professor in the Department of Animal, Veterinary and Food Sciences.
Other leaders on the grant include Iowa State University’s Patrick S. Schnable, Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics; and project director Carolyn Lawrence-Dill, a professor in the departments of agronomy and genetics, development and cell biology; and Christopher K. Tuggle, professor of animal science, and Jack C.M. Dekkers, distinguished professor of animal science. The team also includes University of Arizona’s Eric Lyons, associate professor from the School of Plant Sciences; and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jennifer L. Clarke, director of the Quantitative Life Science Initiative.
The University of Idaho is part of a project, titled “NIFA AG2PI Collaborative: Creating a Shared Vision Across Crop and Livestock Communities,” is funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant No. 2020-70412-32615. The total project funding is $960,000 of which 100% is the federal share.
Faces and Places
Work began in recent days on the new Seed Potato Germplasm Laboratory along Perimeter Drive. A web cam offers a real time look at progress on the site.
- Oct. 1-2 — Rangeland Center Fall Forum
- Oct. 5-9 — Ag Days
- Oct. 9 — Celebrating Idaho Agriculture, 4-5:30 p.m. PDT
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