By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
PROSSER, Wash. — The first scientific expo at Washington State University’s Prosser research station hailed advances made in central Washington by scholars from around the globe.
“Science at IAREC,” hosted by the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center on July 1 to showcase its contributions to society, featured more than 30 graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and researchers working at the Prosser station. They shared their projects with visitors and competed for honors in a poster and presentation contest.
“This has really been an eye-opening experience for all of us,” said Gary Grove, IAREC director and plant pathologist. “It amazed me to see such a diversity of people, projects and research results in one place. We have people from all over the world helping to solve global and local agricultural problems.”
Research projects at the expo explored the breadth of irrigated agriculture, from climate and weather effects on crops, to fruit viruses, plant genetics, runoff and greenhouse gas emissions. Crops under study included apples, cherries, grapes, tomatoes, alfalfa, hops, switchgrass, poplar trees and quinoa.
WSU researchers and graduate students who presented at the expo hailed from more than a dozen counties, including the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Argentina, Lebanon, Colombia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Taiwan, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Nadia Valverdi, a graduate student in the Department of Horticulture, took first place in the research competition for her study of near-harvest irrigation’s impact on cherry quality. She won a $300 prize.
Her research found that halting irrigation 21 days before picking didn’t impact fruit quality negatively, and rain-cracking resistance may be improved. In one cherry variety, sugar content increased as a result.
“This research could answer one big concern among growers: whether to irrigate up until harvest or cut off irrigation a few weeks before,” Valverdi said. “It could also help with efficient use of water in orchards during droughts and hard summers.”
Two researchers tied for second place. Nic Loyd, a meteorologist with WSU’s AgWeatherNet, who looked at the state’s historic climate picture, and Bhanu Donda, a plant pathology doctoral student who explored the spread of grapevine leafroll disease, each won $150.
Loyd’s findings showed how Washington’s climate is, and will likely to continue to be, abnormally warm, affecting mountain snowpack and the water supply.
“Informed decisions can be made when we realize that last winter was a poor snow winter, and next winter is likely to be a poor snow winter as well,” he said. “We are in the midst of an historic, and, in many ways, unprecedented climate period.”
Donda, the other second place winner, monitored the spread of grapevine leafroll disease in new grapevine plantings. Leafroll is a serious problem threatening sustainability of wine grape farming in Washington.
She found that leafroll gets worse the closer clean grapevines are planted to infected vines, spreading along rows from vine to vine.
“These results provide a foundation for developing strategies to minimize the spread of leafroll disease,” Donda said.
Prosser deserves more attention for its research role, said Naidu Rayapati, a plant pathology professor who helped organize the expo.
“One of the strengths of our station is how we translate research-based knowledge to practical applications,” he said.
When Rayapati arrived at Prosser in 2004, the station housed fewer than 10 graduate students. Today, there are almost 50. Most researchers live here and are part of the local community.
“IAREC is a kind of mini-globe, where different cultures, different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds work together, share experiences, learn how to respect each other,” Rayapati said.
“We’re training the next generation of research scientists and professionals capable of dealing with complex challenges in global agriculture, and making impacts to agriculture not only in Washington, but across the country and throughout the world. It’s a mutual benefit, local and global.”
“The international community in Prosser is great,” said Valverdi, a Fulbright Scholar originally from Argentina. “Interacting with people from all over the world is a mind-opening experience that helps you grow.”
Judges for the poster and presentation competition included Dena Ybarra, a member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission; Rick Hamman, viticulture manager for Hogue Ranches; Kevin Lusk, principal at Prosser High School; Paul Warden, mayor of Prosser; and Jenny Sparks, board member with the Prosser Economic Development Association.
The planning committee, besides Naidu Rayapati, also included Roy Navarre, a USDA research geneticist, Matt Whiting, associate professor in horticulture, Manoj Karkee, assistant professor in biological systems engineering, and Amy Hill, principal assistant at IAREC.
Gary Grove, Director, WSU Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, 509-786-9283, firstname.lastname@example.org
Naidu Rayapati, WSU Associate Professor, (509)786-9215, email@example.com
Nadia Valverdi, graduate student, Department of Horticulture, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bhanu Donda, doctoral scholar, Department of Plant Pathology, email@example.com
Nic Loyd, AgWeatherNet Meteorologist, (509)786-9357, firstname.lastname@example.org