Ag Illustrated is a quarterly publication of the Auburn University College of Agriculture.

Editors/Writers
Katie Jackson
Leigh Hinton
Jamie Creamer

Designer/Illustrator

Teresa Rodriguez

3 Comer Hall
Auburn University
Auburn, AL
36849-5405

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Research Results

The following are just a few examples of how CoAg researchers and others working in the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES) are conducting studies that get results for everyone, from farmers to consumers. To learn more about the AAES or the CoAg research initiative, visit the Web site at www.ag.auburn.edu/aaes or contact Kira Bowen at 334-844-1953 or at bowenkl@auburn.edu.

CoAg Scientist Develops Alternative to Methyl Bromide

An AAES/CoAg researcher has developed a highly effective, environmentally friendly agricultural pesticide that will give farmers a viable alternative to methyl bromide, a widely used but soon-to-be-banned farm chemical.

Plant pathologist and AU Distinguished University Professor Rodrigo Rodriguez-Kabana says the liquid formulation of sodium azide he has developed significantly outperforms ozone-depleting methyl bromide in controlling weeds, diseases and harmful, root-eating nematodes. And as an unexpected bonus, the liquid sodium azide, which is applied to soil before planting through drip irrigation systems under plastic tarps, actually enhances the environment.

"As sodium azide decomposes in the soil, it breaks down into fertilizer and leaves the soil healthier than it was before the sodium azide was applied," Rodriguez-Kabana says. Furthermore, he says, while methyl bromide kills all nematodes and insects, "good " and "bad," in the soil, sodium azide does not harm beneficial nematodes and insects.

Methyl bromide, which is injected as a gas into the soil before planting, is a broad-spectrum soil fumigant that fruit and vegetable growers, ornamental plant and tree nurseries, forest seedling nurseries and sod producers worldwide have relied on exclusively for decades. The chemical will be banned in the U.S. and other developed countries effective Jan. 1, 2005, because it destroys the earth's protective ozone layer.

Before phase-out of methyl bromide began in 1998, U.S. farmers were using an estimated 21,000 tons annually to fumigate soil before planting crops. Experts have warned that unless cost-effective replacements for methyl bromide are found, the ban will cost U.S. growers almost $500 million a year in lost production.

Rodriguez-Kabana, whom the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally recognized in 1997 for his leadership in coordinating the global effort to find methyl bromide replacements, said Auburn University has applied for two patents on sodium azide: one for the new liquid formulation of the chemical, which previously was marketed only in granular form, and the other for the chemical's soil-enhancement properties. Approval of the patent applications will ensure that AU will earn royalties on sales once sodium azide is available commercially.

AmPac, the nation's sole manufacturer of sodium azide, is pursuing EPA registration for the product. The methyl bromide replacement could be on the market as early as the 2004 growing season for a limited number of crops.

For more information on this, contact Rodriguez-Kabana at 334-844-1976.

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CoAg Catfish Geneticist, Dean Pen Chapter for DNA Book

A CoAg fisheries professor internationally recognized for his groundbreaking catfish genome research has collaborated with the CoAg interim dean to author a chapter in a new British publication, "Celebrating 50 Years of DNA."

The chapter by John Liu, AU alumni professor in the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures (FISH), and John Jensen, interim CoAg dean and AAES director and former FISH head, focuses on the phenomenal genetic advances that have occurred in aquaculture in the past decade and outlines how the genome revolution is leading scientists toward developing the "perfect catfish" and other improved species of fish.

"Celebrating 50 Years of DNA," a slick 96-page softcover published by the UK-based newspaper Business Weekly, chronicles the 1953 discovery of DNA's structure and that discovery's impact on genetics, biology, immunology, medicine, criminology and society as a whole. The publication features a foreword by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Liu and Jensen's chapter on the genome revolution in aquaculture is one of 14 chapters contributed to the book by select world-leading scientists from key international research centers and top universities. Liu, head of AU's Fish Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology Laboratory, says Business Weekly sought Auburn's participation in the project because of AU fisheries' reputation as one of the world's leading university fisheries program.

"Celebrating 50 Years of DNA," which is targeted toward the life sciences/biotechnology community and senior business executives, is available in paperback at www.amazon.co.uk.


Research Projects Awarded AAES Foundation Grants

Twenty-two AU research projects have been awarded a total of $803,232 in funding through a new AAES competitive grants initiative. The projects approved for funding were selected from among 78 research proposals that AAES researchers in five AU colleges and schools submitted to the AAES Foundation Grant Program, established this year in an effort to help the AAES contend with the most serious funding crisis it has faced in its 120-year history.

Kira Bowen, CoAg research coordinator and professor of plant pathology, says these are primarily seed grants that will allow researchers to conduct pilot studies and generate preliminary data they can use to seek additional funding from sources outside of Auburn. The proposals funded showed the strongest potential for leading to extramural funding from government agencies, private companies, foundations or individuals, Bowen says.

The AAES's financial problems began in the mid-1980s, when federal support for agricultural research programs began to decline even as the AAES faced rising salaries and increasing operation and maintenance costs. The AAES Foundation Grant Program is a move to begin rebuilding the foundation, the funding base, of the Experiment Station before the trend becomes irreversible, AU interim Provost John Pritchett says.

Pritchett credited State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, for his legislative leadership in securing continuing funds to make the program a permanent part of AU's annual appropriation.

The AAES Foundation Grant awards are capped at $40,000 annually for projects involving more than one researcher and $20,000 for single-investigator projects. The grants are awarded for up to three years, but second- and third-year funding will be contingent on productivity. The funded projects involve AAES researchers in the colleges of Agriculture, Science and Mathematics, Human Sciences and Veterinary Medicine and the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

For information on the 22 projects awarded AAES Foundation Grants, go to http://www.ag.auburn.edu/exmurfund/aaes_fg_report.html.

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Research Fueling Horticulture, Turfgrass Industries

A four-year, $1.2 million federal appropriation that has been funding horticultural and turfgrass research in central and north-central Alabama since 2001 will enhance the state's landscape and boost its economy, AAES researchers say.

"In the studies these federal dollars are supporting, our researchers are working to find new selections of trees, plants and sod that perform well in the South, so that growers will have a wider range of choices to offer their residential and commercial customers," says Dave Williams, CoAg horticulture professor. "Alabama's greenhouse, nursery and turf industries have experienced tremendous growth in recent years. This type of research is crucial if we are going to sustain and strengthen that growth."

The Nursery, Greenhouse and Turf Plant Evaluation Program–funding for which U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama's 4th Congressional District played the key role in securing–includes more than two dozen AAES research projects aimed at further stimulating the fastest-growing segment of Alabama agriculture. Crapemyrtles and maples, groundcovers and gardenias, hostas and hydrangeas, and peonies, pansies and palms are among the landscape and bedding plants researchers are targeting.

The nursery and greenhouse studies, based at AAES's North Alabama Horticulture Research Center in Cullman, include one that is the world's largest sugar maple evaluation trial. Jeff Sibley, CoAg alumni professor of horticulture, says the goal of that project is to identify sugar maple cultivars that will grow well and produce dazzling fall colors in Alabama's climate.

The turfgrass studies funded by the initiative are in full swing a couple of counties east of Cullman, at the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in Crossville. David Han, assistant professor of turfgrass management, says research projects there are evaluating new bermudagrass cultivars that could give high schools affordable options for improving the turf on their sports fields and identifying and refining management techniques that will increase the resistance of bentgrass putting greens to disease, leading to better playing surfaces on north Alabama golf courses.

Over the course of the four-year Nursery, Greenhouse and Turf Plant Evaluation Program, about $800,000 of the $1.2 million in federal funds will be invested in the horticulture research at the Cullman facility with the remaining $400,000 used to fund the turfgrass research in Crossville.

For more information on these projects, contact Sibley at 334-844-3132 or Williams at 334-844-3032.


New Pest Control Approach Slashes Pesticide Use in Schools

A highly effective integrated pest management (IPM) program that Auburn University entomologist Fudd Graham introduced into the Auburn City School System in 2000 has slashed the system's use of pesticides by 90 percent from what it was three years ago, and that success story is prompting school administrators around the state to sit up and take notice.

Graham, an AAES researcher, launched a pilot IPM program in three Auburn schools in May 2000. By December of that year, the administration had given the go-ahead to implement IPM system-wide, to all nine schools.

"School IPM programs work, plain and simple," Graham says.

In a school IPM program, the traditional pest control strategy of regularly scheduled pesticide spray applications is replaced with commonsense prevention strategies that track down and block pests' entry routes into buildings and find and eliminate pest-attracting conditions. Pesticides are used only when baited traps in the school confirm a pest problem, and even then, only minimal amounts of the least hazardous products available are applied using precise, targeted treatments.

After inventories revealed problem areas in Auburn schools, maintenance crews went to work installing weather-stripping, placing screens over vents, sealing cracks around pipes, repairing leaks, replacing rotted wood and trimming shrubbery, while custodial workers cracked down on cleanliness and sanitation and even began preaching pest-prevention strategies to students and teachers.

This past spring, Graham helped Mobile County's public school system implement IPM in three schools in Pritchard, but the 2003-04 school year will see the program expanded into all 118 public schools in Mobile County.

Any school administrators interested in learning more about IPM are urged to contact either Graham, at 334-844-2563, or Xing Ping Hu, a fellow CoAg entomologist and AAES researcher, at 334-844-6392.

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