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More Than $800,000 in Grants Awarded to UW-River Falls Plant and Earth Science Faculty

January 22, 2016--Faculty in the Plant and Earth Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls were recently awarded three separate grants from the USDA, totaling more than $800,000. The projects will not only enhance UW-River Falls student learning but will also engage and benefit growers, producers, area residents and youth.

Under the direction of Brian Smith, UWRF professor of horticulture/commercial small fruit extension specialist, the first project will support the development of new cold-hardy seedless table, juice, and raisin grape cultivars.

The Wisconsin winery and grape growing industries, while still in their infancy, contributed more than $119.8 million in economic impact to the state in 2011. Much of their success can be attributed to recent releases of cold-hardy wine grape cultivars from university breeding programs in the upper Midwest. The table or dessert grape segment of the industry is underserved. Currently, 46 percent of table grapes come from sources outside the U.S., but the past decade has seen a resurgence in diversified fresh market fruit production, driven by consumer demand for more locally produced foods. Wine grape growers, tree fruit, and small fruit producers have most of the equipment, knowledge and marketing strategies to incorporate table grapes into their production systems. With new cold-hardy, high yielding, superior quality cultivars for fresh grape production, and the existing wine grape industry, grapes would be a value-added fruit crop that could rival the cranberry industry for economic importance in Wisconsin.

The second project will fill a need in the Crops and Soils program for forage/soil quality and grazing management field instrumentation. Yoana Newman, UWRF assistant professor of crop science/forage extension specialist, and Natasha Macnack, UWRF assistant professor of soil science, collaborated on the proposal that will fund the purchase of two field instruments with sophisticated optical sensor technology.

One instrument will measure and quantify the variability of the crop in the field and create a targeted prescription for fertilizer applications to address the variability. The second instrument will use near infrared (NIR) technology to quantify the moisture, starch, protein, fiber, ash and fat in forages and grains, in a matter of seconds.

Students will use the new technology in the classroom, in laboratory and field exercises, and for undergraduate research. In her Extension work as a forage specialist, Newman will capitalize on the existing on-farm grazing workshops, and use the instrumentation in field demonstrations to increase awareness among producers of the importance of forage and soil testing for production and profitability.

The third project addresses 'A Multigenerational Approach to Increasing the Resilience of Agricultural, Natural and Social Landscapes.' It is a collaborative effort between Jill Coleman-Wasik, UWRF assistant professor of environmental science, Jarod Blades, UWRF assistant professor of conservation, and Veronica Justen, UWRF assistant professor of crop science.

The average citizen recognizes the need for agricultural production, but also the challenges such production can create to maintaining environmental quality. Increasing community awareness about these competing issues and improving communication among stakeholders and land managers would ideally result in effective, inclusive policy development and on-the-ground changes to land management. The overarching goal of this project is to create a regional model of community sustainability. By fostering a broad community land use discussion around meaningful incorporation of ecological services into agricultural landscapes within the Kinnickinnic River watershed, this project seeks to protect environmental quality while maintaining regional economic productivity and strengthening social institutions.

Information and expertise from regional stakeholders will be integrated into a new experiential-based, transdisciplinary course focused on holistic approaches to land management. Undergraduate research internships, developed with stakeholder input, will help inform the discussion and guide the land management decision-making process.

The knowledge gained through the stakeholder workshops and research internships will form the core content of summer camps and workforce development programs for middle school, high school and college youth under-represented in STEM and agriculture, that will be developed by partners at the Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota. This project builds upon a UW-System Undergraduate Research and Discovery Grant that Blades and Coleman-Wasik were awarded in 2014 to create the Kinni Watershed Consortium.

Financial support for the development of fresh grape cultivars is being provided through a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection with funds from the USDA. The other two projects are supported by grants from the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture through their Capacity Building Grants for Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture Program.

For more information, contact Laura Walsh in the UW-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science at 715-425-4714 or