Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

Turning Down The Heat

Friday, July 11th, 2014


A new pepper variety has been developed with a high capsinoid content to make it less pungent while maintaining all the natural health benefits of the fruit, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine.

The researchers — Robert Jarret from the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in Griffin, Georgia, and Jason Bolton and L. Brian Perkins from the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture — developed the new small-fruited Capsicum annuum L. pepper through traditional breeding methods in an effort to make the health benefits of hot peppers available to more consumers.

In hot peppers, capsaicinoids are the compounds associated both with their signature heat and health benefits, which include being a source of antioxidants. But that pungency can limit their use in foods and pharmaceuticals.

Capsinoids, closely related compounds of capsaicinoids, provide the same benefits without the pungency.

Starting in 2006 with a USDA seed grant, Perkins, a UMaine assistant research professor and director of the Food Chemical Safety Laboratory, and Bolton, then a food science graduate student, screened about 500 subspecies of Capsicum annuum. They forwarded their data to Jarret, who selected those with the highest concentrations of capsinoids.

Jarret then began to classically breed the selected varieties at the USDA facility in Georgia. Perkins screened the results and they repeated the process, selecting the best capsinoid producers from each generation.

The culmination of their work is germplasm 509-45-1. The peppers are very small, with each plant producing up to 1,000 peppers. According to Perkins, there will likely be additional selection to prepare the plants for marketability, both as a food product and for medical experiments.

Currently, small quantities of seed are available from the USDA for research purposes.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

How Sweet It Is!

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

maple syrup survey

The Maine maple syrup that enhances the flavor of pancakes and ice cream also adds to the statewide economy.

University of Maine economist Todd Gabe says, including multiplier effects, Maine’s maple industry annually contributes about $49 million in revenue, 805 full- and part-time jobs and $25 million in wages to the state’s economy.

Multiplier effects occur when an increase in one economic activity initiates a chain reaction of additional spending. In this case, the additional spending is by maple farms, businesses that are part of the maple industry and their employees.

“The maple producers were really helpful in providing me with information about their operations, which allowed for a really detailed analysis of their economic impact,” says Gabe, whose study was released in February.

Each year, the industry directly contributes about $27.7 million in revenue, 567 full- and part-time jobs, and $17.3 million in wages to Maine’s economy, Gabe says.

Maple producers earn about 75 percent of the revenue through sales of syrup and other maple products, including maple candy, maple taffy, maple whoopie pies and maple-coated nuts, he says.

Retail sales at food stores and the estimated spending of Maine Maple Sunday visitors on items such as gasoline and meals accounts for the remainder of revenue. This year, Maine Maple Sunday will be celebrated Sunday, March 23 at 88 sugar shacks and farms across the Pine Tree state.

Maine has the third-largest maple industry in the United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, maple syrup is produced in 10 states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.

In 2013, Maine accounted for 450,000 gallons, or 14 percent, of the 3,253,000 million gallons produced in the U.S. Vermont (1,320,000 gallons) and New York (574,000) were the top two producers. Among the three top-producing states, Maine had the highest growth rate (25 percent) of production between 2011 and 2013, Gabe reports.

In Maine, the maple production industry appears to be dominated by a few large operations; the 10 percent of maple farms with 10,000 or more taps account for 86 percent of the total number of taps in the state, he says.

While the maple producers that participated in Gabe’s study had an average of 4,109 taps, almost 40 percent of Maine’s maple producers had fewer than 250 taps. The study participants have been tapping trees and boiling sap for an average of 24 years.

Depending on temperature and water availability, the length of the sap flow season varies; in 2013 it ran from March 4 to April 12 in Maine.

Close to 40 percent of the maple producers that are licensed in Maine returned surveys for the study, which received financial support from the Maine Agricultural Development Grant Fund and the Maine Maple Producers Association.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Making Sense of Maple Syrup

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

maple syrup

Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.

Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.

Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.

The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.

“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.

Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.

In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.

In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.

“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”

One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.

“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.

For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.

“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”

Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.

To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.

Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.

“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.

Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.

“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

New England Funding Program Combines Resources for Agricultural Research

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Assessing the potential for emergence of new cropland weeds in northern New England as a result of climate change is the focus of the first study to be supported by the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program.

The program is a partnership of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station at the University of Maine, the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire, and the Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Vermont. The goal of the program is to mobilize coordinated research on high-priority needs for the region.

The program awards a two-year seed grant to regional research teams through an annual competition, with priority given to teams that have the potential to serve northern New England beyond the proposed study.

The program’s initial priority area focuses on adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in relation to agriculture.

“One of the reasons we chose to encourage more research related to climate change is that is has the potential to impact almost every element of agriculture,” Frederick Servello, associate director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, says. “Whether it’s crops or livestock or pest problems or disease problems, all have a potential to be affected by changes in climate.”

Servello, who is also the associate dean for research in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture and a wildlife ecology professor at UMaine, clarifies that the program’s intent is less about studying climate and more about understanding the effects of climate change, such as changing temperature and precipitation, on current agricultural practices and determining how to take advantage of those changes to improve agriculture in the future.

The proposed research may address specific agricultural issues, needs or opportunities within the context of climate change and variability or address the topic more broadly. The research must address issues or needs important to all three participating states and must be more effective and efficient conducted as a regional project than it would be as independent state projects.

Eric Gallandt, an associate professor of weed ecology and management at the University of Maine, is one of five co-principal investigators of the cropland weeds study along with researchers from UNH and UVM.

The project, which runs from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2015, aims to assess the potential for and prediction of range expansion in a variety of common and rare weed species as a consequence of climate change and to develop strategies to reduce effects on growers.

The group predicts ongoing environmental changes will make new habitats suitable for both native and invasive weeds in northern New England, creating more problems for weed management and potentially added costs to growers.

“Knowledge of weed biology and ecology is increasingly important to guide management,” Gallandt says. “Predicting tomorrow’s weed communities, and knowledge of the genetic variability in existing weed species will allow us to begin working on management strategies and educational programs that will help northern New England farmers adapt to changing weed problems.”

The goal of the project is to establish a knowledge base for planning responses to a variety of possible changes in weed pressures and effects on agriculture in the region. Researchers will collect this data by defining the current distributions of cropland weed species in the area and the environmental characteristics of each species’ suitable habitat.

The project also aims to integrate the research of weed scientists at all three universities, setting the stage for follow-up projects among the institutions that would have a greater chance of attracting funding from other sources.

Seed bank germination studies conducted by Gallandt in 2010 determined the principal cropland weeds for Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. The results of his study helped lay the foundation of the cropland weeds project.

The group believes although their initial focus is on weeds, the idea of assessing agriculturally relevant species and genetic diversity in relation to habitat suitability and environmental change could also be applied to study insects and other pests, disease organisms and other biological factors related to agriculture.

“The NNE Collaborative Research Funding Program allowed us to initiate field, greenhouse and laboratory research that will characterize the existing weed flora across northern New England and develop essential proof-of-concept data sets that will allow our research team to compete for larger external grants to expand our efforts,” Gallandt says. “This year we sampled weed communities on 30 Maine farms and genetic analysis of selected species is underway at the sequencing lab at the University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genomic Studies.”

Servello said the cropland weed study was chosen as the first project to be funded by the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program because of the important results to come from the two-year study as well as its potential as a multiyear effort.

“What we saw was a dynamic team, a first-class proposal and an important question for all three states,” Servello says.

Over the past several years, the experiment station directors have been discussing ways to best work together to address common research needs, according to Servello.

The directors heard about a similar collaborative program at a meeting in another region of the country in 2012 and immediately began organizing to initiate the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program.

“We’re three universities in three neighboring states with a lot of similarities,” Servello says. “We’re in the same general region from an agricultural perspective, we have different skill sets at each university and different capabilities to address research problems. The thought was we could work together in a regionally coordinated way to be more effective.”

Servello says the program is the first of many discussions on ways the northern New England experiment stations can continue to work together.

“At first inclination you might think reducing duplicative effort between states is the big advantage here,” Servello says. “I think, what’s most important is bringing together the skill sets we have that can complement and reinforce each other into more effective teams to reach answers to these questions more quickly and effectively.”

Applications for the program’s 2014 seed grant are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is Feb. 6, 2014, and the winning research team will be announced Feb. 27, 2014.

The Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station is UMaine’s College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’s center for applied and basic research in agriculture and food sciences, forestry and wood products, fisheries and aquaculture, wildlife, outdoor recreation, and rural economic development.

The station’s programs strive to enhance the profitability and sustainability of Maine’s natural resource-based industries, protect Maine’s environment, and improve the health of its citizens.

Drummond Receives 2013 Presidential Research & Creative Achievement Award

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

University of Maine President Paul Ferguson announced that Professor of Insect Ecology Francis “Frank” Drummond is the 2013 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award recipient.

Entomologist Frank Drummond has been a member of the UMaine community for a quarter-century. He is a professor in the School of Biology and Ecology, and University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The breadth of his career is reflected in his research interests that range from pollination ecology to insect pest management, and scientific techniques that span statistical modeling and computer simulation to molecular genetics. His research venues range from Maine’s blueberry and potato fields to Australian sugarcane plantations. Drummond has always worked in cooperative research with other researchers at UMaine and beyond. Today, his productivity and project diversity involves 60 research colleagues. Drummond has been the principal or co-principal investigator on more than $15.7 million in research funding. That funding includes USDA grants investigating the genetics of blueberry production and pollinator conservation to address colony collapse disorder in honeybees. Since joining the UMaine community, Drummond has been leading bee research, focused on their health, conservation and role as crop pollinators. As an applied entomologist, Drummond finds solutions to important agricultural insect problems, especially in Maine. One of his many successful efforts to help farmers manage the blueberry maggot fly, an effort that saved growers money and reduced the environmental impact of insecticide applications. With several UMaine colleagues, Drummond has researched and developed organic methods for blueberry production — the only complete organic insect pest management plan for wild blueberry production in North America. Drummond also created a model to predict the impact of human activity on streams, which became the basis for Maine law and informed national Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Plate to Plant

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Composting large

UMaine opens new campus composting facility

A joint collaboration between the University of Maine Dining Services and University of Maine Cooperative Extension will establish the first facility for advanced composting of food waste in Maine.

The effort involves the purchase of a 10-foot by 40-foot enclosed, automated composting unit called the EarthFlow 40, manufactured by Green Mountain Technologies, based in Washington state. This unique facility, along with the expertise of  UMaine Extension Professor Mark Hutchinson, has the potential to convert more than 1 ton of organic waste per day from campus dining facilities — from potato peels and lettuce leaves to meat scraps — into a rich soil amendment that will be used in UMaine landscaping and on university crop fields.

The composting facility, located off Rangeley Road on campus, also promises to save money and will continue the institutional advancement toward sustainability, while serving as a demonstration site for students, individuals and potential commercial users.

During the academic year, nearly 1 ton of organic waste is generated daily in UMaine’s three dining commons and the Marketplace, the largest retail dining facility on campus. UMaine Auxiliary Services, which oversees on-campus dining and other student services-related departments, has been composting organic waste for nearly 14 years in an effort to be as environmentally responsible and cost effective as possible by keeping the weighty discards out of the waste stream. Most recently, UMaine has contracted with a private composting firm at a cost of $65,000 annually.

The UMaine compost facility is expected to cost $25,000 a year to staff and maintain using Facilities Management personnel. The resulting compost will be used campuswide as a soil amendment that benefits soil structure.

The compost is a soil enhancer, not a fertilizer. The biggest benefit of compost is its ability to hold plant nutrients in place in the soil, says Hutchinson, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension professor who directs the award-winning Maine Compost School, based at Highmoor Farm, a UMaine Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Monmouth, Maine.

Hutchinson, who has 10 years of research in composting, developed the “recipe” for the UMaine composting facility. Ingredients will include the pre- and postconsumer waste from the dining commons and the Marketplace, as well as used horse bedding — primarily wood shavings and sawdust — from UMaine’s J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center.

Compost directly from the facility can be used on farm fields. For use in landscaping, including ornamental gardens, the compost will be aged in an open-air shed for several months before it is used in ornamental gardens.

In addition, the compost will supply the new greenhouse located next to the compost facility, where students in the UMaine Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences are growing edible greens to supply the dining commons.

The student-run greenhouse and compost facility are expected to be an educational resource, not just for UMaine students, but also school and community groups.

“This will allow us to close the loop, not only composting on campus, but producing a product that is used on campus,” says Dan Sturrup, executive director of Auxiliary Services. “At UMaine, we’ll go from plate to plant. And, with the help of the greenhouse, back to the plate again.”

According to Misa Saros, UMaine’s conservation and energy compliance specialist, the composting system is in keeping with UMaine leadership and commitment to sustainability — from its sustainable agriculture minor to its campuswide green initiatives, all of which have earned the university a citation in Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges for four consecutive years.

“We are very excited to be implementing a system that makes productive use of a valuable resource that is too often discarded in landfills or incinerators,” says Saros.

UMaine Specialty Potatoes in Las Vegas Trade Show

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The Bangor Daily News carried a Las Vegas Sun article that noted a new potato variety developed at the University of Maine specifically for potato chips was among the new or novel exhibits at the Potato Expo at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

National Association Honors Plant Pathologist David Lambert

Friday, December 14th, 2012

The Potato Association of America (PAA) has honored University of Maine associate professor of plant, soil, and environmental sciences and of biological sciences David Lambert with an Honorary Life Membership for his commitment and work with potato disease. He was one of only three individuals so honored for 2012. Lambert received the Maine Potato Board’s President’s Public Service Award in 1995 for his work combating late blight and in 2005 the University of Maine Presidential Public Service Award. A research faculty member at UMaine since 1986, Lambert is credited with helping to develop successful control strategies for potato scab and late blight, according to a recent profile in the Maine Potato Board newsletter. Lambert also has been active with the PAA and was a key organizer of the association’s annual meeting in the 1990s when it was held in Maine.

Contact: George Manlove, 207.581.3756

Student-run greenhouse growing greens for campus dining halls

Monday, December 10th, 2012

UMaine Greens Small

Snowflakes floated toward the frozen ground while University of Maine students snipped salad greens inside a campus greenhouse where the temperature approached a balmy 50 degrees.

The greens were a hit with salad bar customers the next day at Maine Marketplace in Memorial Union.

Sonja Birthisel, a graduate student in the sustainable agriculture program, said the red, blue and green leafy mix was tasty and mild. Megan Berthiaune, a senior from Eddington, Maine, majoring in nutrition, described the Elegance Greens Mix as fresh and appealing.

It would have been difficult for the greens to be any fresher or local; they traveled a mere half-mile from the greenhouse to the salad bar.

The Elegance Greens Mix, which includes Pac Choi, red mustard, mizuna and leaf broccoli, was the first harvest of the UMaine Greens Project, supervised by Eric Gallandt, associate professor of weed ecology and chairman of the Department of Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences.

Gallandt says the inspiration to start a student greenhouse project came from visiting Michigan State University last year. UMaine’s project, which involves growing greens for the UMaine dining commons, builds on the university’s Sustainable Agriculture Program.

UMaine Greens, headquartered in a greenhouse off Rangeley Road, was funded with $11,500 from UMaine’s Unified Fee.

“I wanted to do something where sustainable agriculture students and students interested in local foods, and food enthusiasts could have a hands-on experience,” Gallandt says.

More than $7,700 was invested in a 26-foot by 96-foot greenhouse, purchased from a farmer in New Hampshire.

Gallandt also purchased a piece of equipment he initially didn’t dream he would need — a snowblower to prevent buildup around the double-layer plastic walls of the greenhouse. (He got it on sale in July.)

Daniel Blanton, a senior majoring in sustainable agriculture from Stow, Mass., one of the 25 students involved in the UMaine Greens Project, helped build the greenhouse.

“It was like a really big puzzle,” he says. “This has been one of my favorite experiences at UMaine. Hoop houses are the future in Maine for sustainable farmers. Winter production is exciting.”

In September, project participants had a “greenhouse raising”; they gathered at 7 a.m. one calm Friday to pull the two layers of plastic over the metal tubing frame.

Oct. 12, students planted rows of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Nov. 29, about 20 pounds of the tasty greens crop became lunchtime salad bar fare for students and staff.

The idea of growing and eating healthy, local food is logical and appealing to many in the college community, Gallandt says. Frequent themes in agriculture classes include reducing the number of food miles — the distance food travels to reach the table — and the ability to control and extend the growing environment. This project addresses both topics in a hands-on, positive manner, he says.

And there is room, literally, to grow.

“It might not be possible to feed the campus, but we can plant one bed of greens at a time, so to speak,” Gallandt says.

Glenn Taylor, director of Maine Culinary Services and a champion of the UMaine Greens Project, says 15 percent of all food served in campus dining halls is harvested at Maine farms from meat to beets. That equates to the university spending $700,000 annually with area businesses.

Taylor says in two years, the goal is to increase the proportion of locally grown food served at the university to 25 percent.

Purchasing vegetables from the UMaine Greens Project won’t displace any other local grower, Taylor says, and will help the project become financially self-sustaining.

“We focus on local foods and this is about as local as you can possibly get,” says Taylor, carrying a tote of just-clipped salad greens to his vehicle.

Gallandt says it’s also fitting the greenhouse is adjacent to the university’s new composting facility. Compost from the vegetables that feed the students will subsequently nourish the greenhouse soil where the greens are grown.

“It’s symbolic,” he says. “It’s a visual closed nutrient system. Each year, we can use compost to amend the soil.”

Interested students are invited to join the current motivated group of volunteers participating in the project.

“We’re always looking for more help,” said Rose Presby, a fifth-year biology major from Farmington, Maine. “If you’re looking for local food and you care where it comes from, you should definitely get involved,” she said.

Garth Douston, a junior from Arundel, Maine, says there are many benefits to digging in and taking part.

It’s a great opportunity to learn about winter production and extending the growing season and keeping plants alive and thriving,” says Douston, a sustainable agriculture major.

Lincoln, Maine native Bourcard Nesin had a hand in keeping the greens growing this fall. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture from UMaine last spring and says he’s pleased that students are contributing to the university’s reputation as a healthy campus.

In 2011 and 2012, UMaine was one of 16 colleges nationwide named to The Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll.

In addition to getting hands-on farming skills, growing healthy, local food, and helping the environment, Gallandt said a greenhouse is simply an inviting place to be.

“Last Sunday, it was 32 degrees and the wind was howling,” he said. “Inside the greenhouse, it was 54 degrees and there was 85 percent humidity. You can’t help but get happy in a place like that.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Channel 7 Features Moose Lungworm Research

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Channel 7 (WVII) interviewed University of Maine Cooperative Extension veterinarian Anne Lichtenwalner and recent UMaine veterinary sciences graduate and research assistant Darryl Ann Girardin for story broadcast in the 6 p.m. news on Nov. 9 about a two-year research project helping the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife determine how prevalent a possible new parasite, lungworm, is in moose in Maine. Girardin and Lichtenwalner began analyzing lungs from hunted moose in northern Maine last fall at the UMaine Animal Health Laboratory to genetically identify lungworms in moose. They are exploring the possibility that a lungworm normally found in deer and sometimes livestock can migrate to new host species, which in this case is moose.

Contact: George Manlove, 207.581.3756