University of Georgia horticulturists Rachel Itle and Dario Chavez recently traveled to Australia to collect seeds from wild raspberries and peaches to bring back to the UGA Griffin campus. As scientists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Itle and Chavez research Georgia-grown fruit.
Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.
Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.
The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.
Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.
“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”
Like most college students, David Jespersen was unsure of what he wanted to study. At first, he was intrigued by psychology, but the required biology and science classes drew him to plant sciences. As a result, he's now the newest member of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' turfgrass research team.
"Something about the plant sciences grabbed my interest as being practical and underappreciated," said Jespersen, who now conducts research on the UGA campus in Griffin.
Jespersen earned a doctorate in plant biology with an emphasis in turfgrass physiology from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
A native of New Jersey, Jespersen is adjusting to life in the South and the relentlessly intense heat of Georgia summers.
"Summers (in New Jersey) are kind of hot. It hits the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) and there's an occasional heat wave hitting 100 (F)," he said, just a few days after sharing his research results in humid, near-100-degree weather at the outdoor UGA Turfgrass Field Day, a research event held biennially in August.
He is also adjusting to working on a smaller extended university campus.
"Everyone on the Griffin campus is very friendly, but it's not as lively as a large campus," he said. "It's definitely a lot easier not to get distracted and to focus on research."
Georgia farmers are never surprised to see fall armyworms munching on their precious corn, sorghum and forage hay crops. They just hope for a low number of armyworms. This year’s population of the tiny destroyers, described as an “Armageddon-type outbreak” by University of Georgia entomologist David Buntin, is far from low.
A small grains pest expert with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Buntin spends his days tracking insects that can destroy Georgia row crops and working to determine the best methods of controlling them and establishing pesticide thresholds, or the number of insects that need to be present before a farmer should apply a pesticide.
“This year, the fall armyworms are way, way above the treatment threshold. They are here in much, much higher numbers,” he said. “As of the end of August, almost every pasture in central and north Georgia has been sprayed at least once and, for many of them, twice.”
Each year, the worms migrate up from the Caribbean and Florida. This year, they showed up early in corn and sorghum fields. Now they are in pastures earlier than normal.
Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences broke records in fiscal year 2016 with $69 million in external funding to fuel college projects.
From research plots across Georgia to state-of-the-art laboratories in Athens, Tifton and Griffin, CAES faculty members use this funding for research to support Georgia’s $74.3 billion agricultural industry and improve the food security and health of people around the world.
“This (achievement) was only possible because of the extraordinary efforts of our dedicated faculty, staff and graduate students,” said Sam Pardue, dean and director of CAES. “We’re proud of their creativity, their hard work and their commitment to identifying solutions to the challenges that face Georgia, our nation and the world.”
CAES’s external research funding totals helped contribute to a record-breaking year for research funding across the university.
In fiscal year 2016, research expenditures at UGA increased by 14 percent to reach $175.3 million. UGA's dramatic increase in fiscal year 2016 comes on the heels of a 7 percent increase in fiscal year 2015 for a 21 percent rise over the past two years.
More than 800 people braved the hot August temperatures for a firsthand glimpse of the latest research by University of Georgia scientists at the Turfgrass Research Field Day held Thursday, Aug. 4, on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia.
“UGA serves as the research and education arm for the green industry in this state,” said Clint Waltz, UGA Cooperative Extension turfgrass specialist and one of the organizers of the field day event. “This field day keeps those in the green industry current and provides the continued education they need to remain profitable and able to provide the best quality products for golf courses, commercial lawns, homeowners’ lawns, parks, recreational sports fields and professional sports fields.”
In the morning, green industry professionals rotated through a series of 12-minute talks by scientists from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Topics included the latest research on turfgrass weed management, cultivar development and the application of pesticides while protecting pollinating insects.
Self-guided tours in the afternoon included a demonstration on proper pesticide storage and handling, advice on the best fungicides for turfgrass disease control and sessions led by CAES turfgrass graduate students.
For years, food scientist Francisco Diez studied and admired the work of University of Georgia Regents’ Professor Mike Doyle, but the two researchers’ paths never crossed. For the next year, they will work closely together as Diez transitions into Doyle’s role as director of the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Georgia. Doyle, a leading authority on foodborne pathogens, came to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 1991 to establish the center. As director, he developed a research program that promotes collaboration among the food industry, the university, and federal and state agencies.
A native of Mexico, Diez earned a bachelor’s degree in food technology from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and completed master’s and doctoral degrees in food science at Cornell University in New York. He comes to UGA from the University of Minnesota, where he was a faculty member and head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition. His research focuses on the family of pathogens known as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, an important cause of food contamination and foodborne illness.
An upcoming field day on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the University of Georgia Southwest Georgia Research and Education Center (SWERC) in Plains, Georgia, will showcase cutting-edge agriculture research to farmers, UGA Cooperative Extension county agents and industry personnel.
Scientists representing UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Tifton and Griffin campuses will be discussing projects on Georgia's high-value agricultural crops, such as cotton, peanuts, corn and sorghum.
“This field day is important because the local farmers, agricultural businessmen and county Extension agents get a chance to see, firsthand, the research conducted here and talk with the specialists who will be speaking about their research,” said Stan Jones, SWERC superintendent.
The field day will begin at 8:30 a.m. with opening remarks from Jones and Joe West, assistant dean of the UGA Tifton Campus, who also oversees the SWREC in Plains. The program, which will conclude at noon, will include remarks from UGA scientists regarding insect management, fungicide treatments and statewide variety testing in cotton, peanuts and soybeans.
Whether you're a homeowner, new landscape company owner or a veteran golf course superintendent, you'll find the latest research-based information on growing and maintaining turfgrass at the University of Georgia Turfgrass Research Field Day.
Registration starts at 8 a.m. on Aug. 4 and tours begin at 9:15 a.m. and conclude at 2:30 p.m. The daylong event will be held rain or shine on the turfgrass research plots at the UGA campus in Griffin, Ga.
Residential and commercial lawn topics
UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences researchers and Extension specialists will present the latest information on how to care for residential lawns, commercial golf courses, athletic fields and any other space covered with turfgrass. Field day topics will include how to control weeds, insects and diseases, managing seed heads, heat and drought tolerance and an update on the UGA turfgrass breeding programs.
Guided tours will be offered in Spanish for Spanish-speaking attendees.
The field day is certified for private and commercial pesticide recertification credits in Georgia and neighboring states. A license number is required to receive the field day credits.
A catered BBQ lunch will be followed by displays and demonstrations of the latest turfgrass industry equipment. The self-guided portion of the research tour begins at 1:15 p.m.
Two years into the job, University of Georgia peach specialist Dario Chavez is pleased with the development of his research program. The new research peach orchard in Griffin, Georgia, is filled with over 130 different peach tree varieties, several newly grafted potential varieties and a host of trees for irrigation and fertilization studies, all in an effort to help growers of the crop that gave Georgia its nickname — the “Peach State.”
In addition to the new orchard in Griffin, Chavez travels to Bryon, Georgia, to work with U.S. Department of Agriculture rootstock breeder Tom Beckman and to meet with Georgia peach growers. There are currently more than 10,000 acres of Georgia land devoted to growing peaches, and Georgia ranks third in U.S. production of the fruit.
“At the end of the day, the growers are comfortable with what they are doing,” Chavez said. “They are planting new orchards every year and it’s a stable production system. They are making money and supporting the economy.”
Chavez says Georgia peach growers offer a “really high quality” peach and are typically second- and third-generation farmers. “There’s a lot of tradition and a large knowledge base in growing Georgia peaches,” he said.