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Green Benefactor The Green Grass Grows Keeping CO2 Down Rebuilding A Country Trailblazers

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AgriSearch

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S o uthern I l l in o is U ni v ersit y C ar b o n da l e C o l l e g e o f A g ricu ltura l S ciences


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Foreword

2011

Students Up In The Air Over Seeing Green The Cycle of Food SIUC Embraces “Green” Projects On Campus No-Till Pumpkins Saving The Swamper Green Benefactor The Green Grass Grows Keeping CO2 Down Rebuilding A Country Trailblazers Storytellers Growing The Future Ozark Paradise


College of Agricultural Sciences Todd A. Winters, Interim Dean Karen Jones, Acting Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Programs Jeff Beaulieu, Interim Chair, Agribusiness Economics Gary Apgar, Interim Chair, Animal Science, Food and Nutrition James J. Zaczek, Chair, Forestry Brian P. Klubek, Chair, Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems Brian G. Young, Assisant to the Associate Dean Susan Graham, Business Manager and Contributor University Communications Mike Ruiz, Director K.C. Jaehnig, Andrea Hann, Tim Crosby, Editor, Writer Jay Bruce, Amy Dion, Nathan Krummel, Designers, Alex Hines Undergraduate Designer Russell Bailey, Steve Buhman, K.C. Jaehnig, Photography Shutterstock.com Send Comments and Letters to: College of Agricultural Sciences AgriSearch Magazine Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1205 Lincoln Drive Mail Code 4416 Carbondale, IL 62901

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couldn’t help but notice that many people are wearing green today. Can it be true that the world is inspiring me to write this foreword? Maybe not since it’s March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, but the result is that I am inspired. It is my privilege to introduce the latest issue of AgriSearch, an annual publication dedicated to showcasing the scholarly activities of the faculty and students in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Our mission is to focus on critical issues in agriculture, food, and forestry in the region and State of Illinois, especially those issues that are applicable worldwide. Through these activities, we train our future leaders as well as create and disseminate knowledge that enhances the economic vitality and quality of life of the people and stakeholders we serve. The focus of this issue is “green” and the connection to apparel color today. You won’t find any green beer or leprechauns in this issue but you will find examples of how green projects impact how we live and view the world around us. Environmental stewardship is increasingly viewed as a critical step in attaining sustainability. We can see in the article “Rebuilding a Country” the disparity in production practices in subsistence-based cultures from our own. In addition you will read efforts to evaluate long-term row crop production practices in “Green Benefactor,” see clean pumpkin production and find out why Ag students are spending time on the roof. Of course, you can’t think about a great outdoor day without grass and fresh air—a cute rabbit and personal health doesn’t hurt either! Wind it all up with a great story to tell and you have the College of Agricultural Sciences 2011. On a personal note, I would like to dedicate this issue of AgriSearch to the College’s friend, Kathryn Jaehnig, the author of many of the stories you will read about. We lost Kathryn unexpectedly in fall 2010. I thank Tim Crosby and the folks at University Communications for filling in the blanks and creating a professional publication. Also thank you to Susan Graham for her hard work and dedication in making this magazine a reality and to Interim Dean Winters for the opportunity to serve the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Printed by the authority of the State of Illinois, 2/10, 1M. Produced by University Communications, Southern Illinois University Carbondale 618 | 453.2276, www.siuc.edu/uc

Karen L. Jones, Acting Associate Dean

Pictured above, Associate Dean Karen L. Jones. 2011 College of Agricultural Sciences

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Students up in the air

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale


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here’s more growing on the roof of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s agricultural sciences building then just grass, groundcover and native plants. A cool-season vegetable patch is sprouting in the roof’s southwest quadrant, giving graduate student Nickolis A. Wangelin his first taste of research. “It’s been a learning process,” said Wangelin, who sowed ‘Easter Egg’ radishes and mixed lettuce varieties on the new sod on October 13, 2010. “There’s not much research (on greenroof vegetable gardens), which means you don’t have any kind of guide to follow. It’s not like when you plant something in a field.” As a newbie researcher, Wangelin is drawing on what he calls his “tag team:” Karen S. Midden, the landscape design professor who pushed for the green roof and supervised its installation, and horticulturist S. Alan Walters, the University’s resident veggie expert. But up on the roof, they are newbies, too. “In America, green roofs are fairly new, “ Midden said. “We’re using a German model, but our climate and growing conditions are so much different there’s a need to establish what works here. That’s one of the reasons we have a graduate research plot.” Wangelin’s project compares the effects of three fertilizers: Miracle-Gro, Miracle-Gro Organic and compost tea brewed from coffee grounds obtained from the University Farms Vermicompost Center. “I’m hoping to see if there are any differences in the crops, but because we don’t know much about the growing media (a 3-inch-deep mix of lightweight clay particles, compost and vermiculite covering

the research plot) we also want to know how fertilizers themselves behave,” Wangelin said. “For example, how much leaching will there be?” To get his project off the ground, Wangelin soon realized he had to plan ahead. “If you don’t have everything you need up on the roof when you start out, then you have to go back down and get it,” he said with a grin that suggested several trips up and down stairs. Projects have parameters, rules that must be followed to make results credible. “Everything has to be randomized — I’m still kind of learning how to do that — and you have to have a lot of repetitions,” Wangelin said. “I didn’t realize how confusing that could be.” His “teeny” seeds proved tricky to plant. “I’d think I had one seed and three or four would fall out — and then it got dark,” he said. “I definitely misjudged the time it would take. I was still planting at 11 p.m.” Wangelin had to also discover the right watering schedule. “To get the seeds to germinate, we knew they had to be moist, but the growing media dries out really quickly,” he said. “At first, I was watering just once a day, and some were germinating and some weren’t. Eventually, I was watering three to four times a day. If I had it to do over again, I would have done all that watering early so the plants would have been a more equal size.” Much of the learning occurs on the fly — for both student and instructors. “We troubleshoot as problems come up,” Midden said. “To me, that’s how teaching should be — I learn as well as teach.” Roof gardening has its ups — lots of sun

and no rabbits or deer — but Wangelin has come to grips with at least one downer. “Right off the bat, we had caterpillars,” he reported. “We had squash bugs and cucumber beetles, and they’re eating my stuff! I have damage on the leaves!” Wangelin harvested his crop and his data in December. He’ll catalog weight and size and send samples to a lab for nutrient analysis. In the spring, working closely with Walters, he’ll put in another crop — maybe tomatoes, given the interest in local produce. But whatever he plants, he knows he’s growing his future at the same time. “The whole green industry is going off the charts — the possibilities are endless,” he said. “As an undergraduate in landscape design, I never saw myself doing anything with green roofs, but I happened to be coming into the graduate program at just the right time. I started looking at urban agriculture and sustainability, and vegetable production, and I’m loving the experience and the insight of the possibilities that come with growing veggies on the roof. That’s where the green roof took me.”

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Cycle of Food SIUC strives for a sustainable dining experience on campus

SIU Farms

Organic Food

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Student Meals

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iners at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s residence halls are eating “greener” all the time. A student researcher and his faculty mentor are giving the food service a letter grade of “A” for cutting the carbon footprint of food it puts on the plate and for reducing food waste and are also helping find ways to improve its composting efforts. “The University had made changes to some of its food service policies, but little research had been conducted to identify what was working,” said researcher Ryan R. Babich, who graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition and dietetics. “Through a limited ‘cradle-to-grave’ analysis, we were able to provide data to support these environmental initiatives and make suggestions on how to improve the sustainable dining experience.”

An article written by Babich and Sylvia Smith, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism administration, outlining the findings is under review by the quarterly Journal of Culinary Sciences and Technology. Babich also presented the results at the annual Graduate Student Research Conference in Hospitality and Tourism in January of this year. Conventional dining halls are environmental “pigs,” sucking up five times as much water and energy and generating five times more waste than other campus buildings. SIUC head chef and longtime local food advocate William Connors decided that in his shop, the buck stopped with Bill. In addition to buying produce from local farmers, Chef Bill (as he’s known around campus) set up an organic garden. He also began getting pork and beef from the University’s farms. He ditched the dining halls’

cafeteria trays, which cut food waste by limiting the amount of food students could carry when they went through the line. And he arranged with the campus vermicompost center to have worms transform the remaining garbage into high-quality fertilizer. “They didn’t have a good picture of what was working and what could be improved on,” Smith said. “A ‘cradle-to-grave analysis’ (also called a life-cycle assessment) assesses all stages of a process. In this case, it offered a general, surface look at where the food came from, how much was eaten and where the waste went.” To figure out how far food served in the dining halls traveled before reaching the kitchens, Babich and Smith matched vendor lists with an online mileage calculator. To get a handle on how much food students were leaving uneaten, Babich collected and weighed food that was scraped and rinsed from the 2011 College of Agricultural Sciences

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Vermicomposting

plates after meals, then divided those amounts by the number of students served. The pair also took a look at what happened when this waste reached the composting center. Foods that traveled less than 250 miles (a fairly widely-used definition of “local”) made up nearly 16 percent of the dining hall food purchases. “One of the mandates of the Illinois Food and Farm Jobs Act, passed in 2009, requires that public universities purchase 20 percent of their food locally by 2020, and SIUC is now only slightly short of this goal,” Smith noted. Since the time of Smith’s study, SIUC’s local food use rate has risen to well more than 30 percent, said William “Chef Bill” Connors, food service chef at SIUC. Frozen and canned produce rack up a lot of miles on their way to SIUC kitchens, but they can’t be eliminated entirely. A seasonal growing period means local farmers can’t produce fresh eats year round. Babich and Smith suggest that an increasing demand outside the University for local products could present an opportunity for new processing plants that would help remedy this, but Smith stresses this is merely an “opportunity.” “Right now, the infrastructure just isn’t there — it still needs to be developed,” she said. “It will need not just willingness but some support and funding to make it happen, and it won’t happen overnight.” 8

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The researchers also found that students are wasting an average of 1.04 ounces of food per student per day. Because trayless dining had already begun before Babich and Smith began their study, they can’t say if this figure is less than it was when students used trays. They can, however, compare it to “before” figures at other schools that went trayless. “At the University of Vermont, for example, ‘pre’ data shows the average student produced 3.21 ounces of food waste at each meal,” Smith said. Although SIUC students are eating most of the food they take, Babich thinks requiring them to put their uneaten food in garbage cans rather than leaving it on the plate for kitchen staff to dispose of might make them more aware of the garbage they create when they don’t clean their plates. And Smith says the kitchen probably should try to “forecast” food use, anticipating, for example, how many students might be eating at the dining halls on a given day and how much food they’re likely to take. “Ryan observed a lot of food coming out of the warmers and going into the garbage at the end of a shift — over 50 pounds each night,” she said. “Reducing food waste will reduce not just food costs but energy costs.” Getting the worms to turn garbage into fertilizer proved trickier than they expected. Workers at the SIUC vermicompost center first add manure to the food waste to trigger

decomposition. When the heat generated by that process dies down, the worms go into the mix, turning what they can’t digest into an organic fertilizer that plants just love. But it took five weeks, not the three they were counting on, for that “pre-compost” mix to cool enough that it wouldn’t cook the worms. “That’s just not very practical for a food service,” Smith said. “You really need a third party to do the pre-composting.” While they don’t think vermicompost would be feasible for most dining halls (especially those without access to a vermicomposting center used by other campus departments for scientific research, as is the case at SIUC), they don’t rule it out entirely. “This type of composting could prove beneficial on a smaller scale, such as restaurants, small businesses and individual households,” Babich said. Babich, who is now working as an intern at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, a 563-bed facility in Harvey, said Smith had proved invaluable in his first foray into research. “She was the backbone,” he said. “She helped me organize the idea, taught me proper writing techniques, found places for me to present and coached me through the entire process. She made me a better researcher. Currently, I am conducting research on nutrigenomics and using biomarkers to identify disease states. The SIUC experience showed me the intricacies of the research process and how it is necessary to further our understanding of the world around us.”


SIUC Embraces “Green” Projects On Campus

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hen interim Dean Todd A. Winters dreams, he sees a “green” block on University Farms property southwest of campus. “We’re designating it our ‘sustainability’ area, with a focus on environmental practices that would meet not just research and teaching needs but public education and outreach as well,” he said. “It would be more of a demonstration area. People could come and see how green practices are set up and how they work. When it’s all in place, we’d like to have our landscaping students design a plan that would incorporate all the elements and then use green practices for the installation.” The first part of that dream is already up and running. Set up in 2006 with a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Farms’ Vermicomposting Center on Pleasant Hill Road has been staffed by the university’s Plant & Service Operations. The center’s three million earthworms chow down on food waste from

three campus dining halls (see related story Cycle of Food page 6,) producing organic fertilizer used both in College research and to grow fresh produce for the cafeterias. “The public is definitely interested in eating foods produced in a sustainable way, so this really fits into that local food movement,” Winters said, noting that the College also furnishes the dining halls with meat from animals raised on the Farms. In 2009, the College allotted SIUC students nearly one-third acre in front of the composting center, where they installed four raised vegetable beds. A hothouse, donated by a local True-Value store, went up nearby in 2010. “The intent is to extend the growing season, though we can also use it for some research,” Winters said. “There’s room out there, so over time we hope to put up a few more hothouses.” The students who garden there belong to a registered student organization called LOGIC: Local Organic Garden Initiative of Carbondale. Majoring in ag is not a membership requirement. “They come from all over campus,”

Winters said. “Sustainability is something that’s good for everybody.” Winters also has his eye on the construction of a small biodiesel plant that could turn the dining halls’ used cooking oil into both fuel and livestock feed. “We did a small pilot study a few years back where we processed that oil into biodiesel, which is what a lot of the grounds equipment and machinery out at the Farms run on,” Winters said. “A co-product of that process is glycerol, which can be used in dairy cow rations, so you’re getting two economically important products by recycling a waste product that’s now being thrown away.” College staff received funding for start-up grants that will provide some initial funding for the plant. Winters hopes to see this project begin within the year. “It’s a vision, so it will take a few years to accomplish, but it’s important to agriculture, it’s important to the environment, and there’s a strong public interest,” he said.

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Clean’ Cash No-till pumpkin growers send a no-dirt crop to market

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Vegetable scientist S. Alan shows off dirt-free pumpkins he grew in a no-till patch at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale

hances are the extra-clean jack-olantern you just carved up is more than a pretty face. A lack of dirt at the market signals you’ve probably bought an eco-friendly pumpkin. That pumpkin would have grown to its rib-tickling size on a thick bed of straw, never resting directly on the ground. The straw, which keeps down weeds while conserving moisture, plays a key role in a production practice called no-till. Long used in growing corn and soybeans, no-till builds soil, cuts down on erosion and helps crops weather a drought. A side benefit — the relatively spotless pumpkins that result — is making the practice increasingly popular with pumpkin growers. “Not having to take the soil off is a big deal for the growers — they can get a premium price for their crop,” explained vegetable expert S. Alan Walters of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Walters, who has conducted research on no-till in vegetable production for more than a decade, thinks it offers huge environmental advantages over conventional tillage.


Crop “When you till, you increase the breakdown of organic matter in the soil so you have to continually add organic material back in, especially in the clay soils we have around here,” he said. “No-till actually builds organic matter in the soil, which enhances microbial populations, and increases the soil’s nutrientholding capacity, which is good for growth. “Tilling also allows for more moisture loss as you break up the soil. No-till increases the moisture-holding capacity — you can dig down into the soil with your finger and feel it — so plants can withstand drought better.” For pumpkin growers, no-till can improve the bottom line as well. In a three-year study at research plots in the college’s Belleville station, Walters found no-till patches produced 50 percent more pumpkins than conventionally tilled fields, and those pumpkins were bigger (by about 26 percent) and heavier (nearly double the weight). But no-till has a flaw that until recently kept pumpkin growers from buying in on a large scale.   “Weeds are a major problem in no-till pumpkins,“ Walters said. “There

are only a few herbicides that growers can use, and most do not provide season-long control.” “In small fields, you could go through and hoe or hand pull weeds until the pumpkin vines grow out and shade the soil, but that’s not really practical for most commercial growers,” Walters said. A thick layer of mulch helps, but Walters’ recent research suggests growers would do even better by “growing” their own mulch right in the pumpkin patch. “We’ve been using winter wheat or rye as a cover crop, then planting the pumpkins into the stubble, getting soil coverage of between 50 and 70 percent,” Walters said. “The stubble also helps in building the organic matter content in the soil.” In addition, Walters has found that using winter rye as a cover crop led to greater control of common cocklebur, redroot pigweed and common waterhemp during the first 60 days after planting. But while stubble keeps weeds down early in the season, the effect doesn’t last. Walters gets the best full-season weed control — plus more pumpkins — in fields where he adds a little weed killer.

“A pre-emergence herbicide mix of clomazone, ethalfluralin and halosulfruron provided the best overall control of broadleaf and grass species, and the greatest yields came when we used this mixture with a winter rye cover crop,” he said. Walters’ current pumpkin research focuses on fertility management in no-till. “When you leave mulch on the soil, it ties up a lot of nitrogen,” he noted. “We’re evaluating the effects of different rates of fertilizer application on small, medium, large and gigantic pumpkins hoping to find the optimal system in all categories.”

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Saving the F

Researchers study federal programs aimed at saving swamp rabbits

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ederal programs that pay farmers to give cropland back to Mother Nature are helping a declining species hold its own in the bottomlands of Southern Illinois. “In retiring fields from agricultural production, the Conservation Reserve Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program have allowed wetlands and brushy, young forests to reclaim the landscape, and that’s what swamp rabbits need,” said Clayton K. Nielsen, an associate professor with dual appointments in the Department of Forestry and the university’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory. “These recently re-forested lands provide forage and cover not available in the mature forests. We found swamp rabbits were more abundant in shrubby, irregular patches with brushy edges and frequent stumps. The closer the site was to a wetland, the higher the abundance.” Along with zoology colleague Eric M. Schauber, Nielsen has just wrapped up a fouryear assessment of the programs’ effectiveness in reclaiming swamp rabbit habitat along the Cache River and Cypress Creek in Southern Illinois. Articles on their research, funded by a federal grant administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, have been published in “Journal of Wildlife Management” and “Wetlands” and will


‘swamper’ appear soon in “Endangered Species Update” and “Journal of Mammology.” Concern about shrinking numbers led Nielsen to begin studying both swamp rabbits and Eastern cottontails about five years ago. But while both are losing ground, you’ll find far more cottontails than swampers, Nielsen said. The researchers found the federal programs, such as those that pay farmers to leave parts of their lands fallow or return them to wetland status, actually help swamp rabbit numbers recover in Illinois. The swamp rabbit is a larger, darkercolored and meaner cousin of the more common cottontail rabbit. The swamp rabbit prefers bottomland hardwood forests as habitat and hunters know it as a challenging game animal with meaty haunches. The animals weigh in at 3 to 6 pounds — about twice as big as cottontails — are famously scrappy and don’t hesitate to plunge into the water as a means of escape. It’s also an important prey species for foxes, bobcats and coyotes. “Cottontails are primarily an upland species and are able to exploit more habitat types, where swamp rabbits are specialists,” he explained. “They’re found in bottomland hardwood forests with a mix of mature forest, brushy areas and a watery component. Ninety percent of these are gone, not just in Illinois but in North America.” The researchers also analyzed rabbit tissue and droppings to track

genetic relationships between the animals they studied. The answers would tell them how much the rabbits get around. “There is some isolation, indicating that habitat fragmentation is adversely affecting the flow of genetic material,” Nielsen said. “It’s not the same kind of huge problem it is with a species like cheetahs, where inbreeding is threatening their survival, but over a long time frame, this could lead to more susceptibility to disease and eventually to a population collapse. If one population is wiped out, its habitat may not be re-colonized because the other populations are just too far away.” In Illinois, much of the remaining swamp rabbit habitat lies on public land, but keeping it in tip-top rabbit condition would require logging and burning to create the brushy areas these critters depend on. Opposition to such practices on public lands underscores the importance of private ones. “Logging and burning can be done much more easily on private land if the landowner is willing,” Nielsen said. And a survey done as part of the study showed many are. Some 150 landowners, most of whom enjoyed hunting and trapping on their land, responded to the survey. These folks generally practiced some form of wildlife habitat management, and nearly half of them were already enrolled in one of the federal conservation programs. Those who’d seen

swamp rabbits on their property tended to look favorably on efforts to improve habitat. “That tells us that the best way to conserve these animals is to work with private landowners,” said graduate student Joanne C. Crawford, who has worked on the project for the last year. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to get them into those federal programs that are restoring the land. These programs have been instrumental in swamp rabbit conservation.” While the first phase of the research is finished, that work raised new questions. Crawford is taking it to the next level, attaching radio collars to individual rabbits and then following them around. “I want to know where they live, how long they survive and what kills them,” she said. “How does available habitat influence home-range size and their survival? In highly fragmented sites, do they get picked off by predators more often than they do in areas of larger forests? “One of my main questions is how they are using these young forests: only in the winter, year round or just for certain behaviors? And what happens when swamp rabbits and Eastern cottontails use the same land? What are the impacts on both species? “We have the rabbits collared and anticipate the work will continue for four to five years,” she said with visible enthusiasm. “Stay tuned — there’s more to come!”

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G r Benefactor e n

Buffett providing millions for sustainable farming that also let farmers harvest cash

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ork has begun on a multi-million dollar, multi-year grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation aimed at pinpointing cropping practices that are both profitable and “green.” The project, which involves College researchers from forestry and plant, soil and agricultural systems as well as an aquatic toxicologist from the university’s Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center, focuses initially on the environmental impacts of fertilizers, pesticides and transgenic corn. The scientists are taking data from three watersheds located on 500 acres of Foundationowned land in Christian and Macon counties.

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The project has received at least six years of funding and Buffet anticipates additional funding through 2029. The extensive timeline, coupled with the large area involved, make the project one of a kind. “Our goal is to provide larger tracts of land to achieve scale in this research, so a farmer who operates 3,000 acres can see the results from 240 acres; not quarter acre plots,” Buffett said. “It is also important to provide time periods that reflect real farm circumstances. Anything less than 10 years is not adequate.” Soil sampling began last spring. “We’re trying to identify critical source areas — the ‘hot spots’ — of nutrient

transport, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, within the three watersheds,” said forestry professor Karl W. J. Williard. “We have 12 soil moisture sensors in each watershed that will give us data on a pretty fine scale regarding how these areas ‘wet up’ and which are producing surface run-off. We can combine that data with GIS (geographical information system) frameworks to identify portions of the watershed that are generating the most run-off.” This will feed into research involving variable-rate technology that Buffett himself is conducting on the site. “Typically, that technology uses just soil sampling, but this


will allow us to factor in the watersheds’ hydrologically active zones,” Williard said. “The end result would be that in critical source areas, he could apply less nutrients.” In addition to the soil sensors, Williard and colleague Jon E. Schoonover installed four Parshall flumes, which measure stream flow rates and can be used in getting a handle

wet year, the normal year, so we will have a better handle on how everything will behave during the treatment period (in which the study will analyze the effects of changes in fertilizing, crop rotation and tillage practices),” Williard said. Meanwhile, over at the aquaculture center, Michael J. Lydy has been studying the sites’

power in such corn insecticides as Force 3.0G, and thiamethoxam, a synthetic nicotine used to protect seeds from insects. “With tefluthrin, for example, we don’t know how long it hangs around in the environment, and no one has looked at the potential effects of thiamethoxam coming off the seed and going into the soil,” Lydy said.

on the amount of sediment a stream carries, along with automated gauging stations, which measure and store information on water levels every 10 to 15 minutes. “They’re basically strainers, tripped by stage (water level) increases, that pull water samples up in one-liter collection bottles, so we can get samples during all stages, “Schoonover said. “They also will let us look at nitrogen after storm events and tell whether it came early, in the middle or at the end of the storm.” Abnormally dry weather throughout much of the summer and fall would have skewed results, had this not been a long-term study. “We’ll be able to balance out the dry year, the

field run-off, soil water (which lies one meter below the surface) and groundwater. He’s looking for remnants of two transgenes and the seed coating of triple-stack corn planted there. He’s also tracking the active ingredient in a popular soil-applied insecticide. “We’re interested in the mixture of these four components, “ Lydy said. “No one has looked at the possible effects of the combination on the environment. That’s what makes our project unique.” Scientists know about the corn transgenes that confer resistance to borers and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. They know less about tefluthrin, the knockout

Over the 2010 growing season, Lydy took and continues to process hundreds of water samples from surface collectors, subsurface lysimeters and groundwater wells. Over the long term, the project as a whole should yield an accurate picture of how an entire agricultural ecosystem, not just some of its component parts, functions. “For our part, this will yield practical information farmers and the agricultural community can use concerning the waterquality impacts of popular and emerging management practices, such as continuous corn (as opposed to a corn/soybean rotation) and the use of slow-release fertilizers,” Williard said.

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The Green Grass Grows Zoysia grass offers many benefits as ground cover

Above: turf expert Kenneth L. Diesburg show s off what he says is the “best zoysia grass in the world,” the result of 12 year s of plant crosses he’s made.

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale


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n the search for an environmentally friendly “supergrass,” Kenneth L. Diesburg thinks he has unmasked a winner. “Zoysia grass,” says Diesburg, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s turfgrass expert. “It grows short and thick without any fertilizer, resists drought, can take trampling and over the long run out-competes weeds so you don’t need any herbicide. The only maintenance you have to provide is mowing, and because it’s a warm-season grass, you dramatically reduce mowing in spring and fall, so you’re cutting back on gas consumption, which reduces its carbon footprint.” Zoysia grass is slowly becoming known in the transition zone— a temperature-based hardiness region that stretches in a 100- to 200-mile-wide band from the Rocky Mountains to the east coast. Diesburg’s mission is to convince anyone within that zone as well as 200 miles north and south of it to give this “green” variety of green a try. Zoysia has it all over tall fescue, the zone’s more common grass of choice, Diesburg believes. “Fescue is not a spreading grass — it’s a bunch grass,” he says. “That’s its great weakness because it allows openings in the turf for weed invasion. You have to maintain it to keep it thick enough to keep out weeds, and that means a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring and sometimes another herbicide application in the fall. You also need water to keep your stand during drought and fertilizer to minimize stand loss due to poor soil. “Zoysia grass, on the other hand, once it is established, spreads. If a gap develops somewhere, it will reclaim that gap. Its shoot density is so high that weeds just can’t invade, and it can do this all by itself — no fertilizer or herbicide required. Zoysia grass is as drought tolerant as tall fescue — it will start going

brown after about a month with no rain — but it’s in the recovery from drought where zoysia grass has the advantage. Because it has all those growing points spread out uniformly, it comes back quickly.” Zoysia isn’t perfect, Diesburg admits. Being a warm-season grass, it turns a golden tan when it goes dormant in cold weather. The three most common cultivars are clones — they don’t set seed — so getting the grass started generally requires the use of expensive plugs or squares of sod. And while there are seeded varieties, they don’t initially perform in the same way the cool-season grasses do. “When you put seed down, people expect it to come up in a week or two, to cover the space and look good from the get-go,” Diesburg says. “Zoysia grass can’t do that. It will germinate in the same amount of time as the others, but the seedlings are very short and slow growing, so it gets a lot of weed competition at first because of that, and crabgrass will dominate. You just have to keep cutting the weeds down low to allow more light to get down to the zoysia and be willing to live with the crabgrass all summer long. By the second season, the zoysia grass will thicken and out-compete the crabgrass.” After some two decades of working with this grass species, Diesburg has concluded that when it comes to sowing seed, timing is everything. “The general rule for establishing a warm-season grass has been to plant it at the beginning of the warm season, right at the front of its best growth period,” Diesburg says. “With zoysia grass, that has meant May through June. While it does germinate then, the weakness is that heat dries moisture out of the soil, and keeping soil moist is tough to do

when it’s hot. It’s that dryness that causes the seedlings to fail.” Beginning in 2005, Diesburg conducted timing experiments, sowing seeds from November through August with no irrigation. He found that seeds sown up through April did just fine. Germination began to taper off in May, got worse and June and utterly failed in July and August. In 2010 Diesburg started another experiment to determine more precisely which spring seeding period produced best results. He sowed seed each week from the first of April through the third week in June, again with no irrigation. He got successful stands until the last week of May, but the seeds sown in June produced poorly. Again, rising soil and air temperatures drove moisture out of the soil too soon, and the seedlings germinating in June died. “This confirms for me that winter-dormant and spring seeding is the best way to seed zoysia grass,”Diesburg says. “With winter-dormant seeding — and early April is essentially winterdormant seeding since the temperatures are still too cool for germination — you’re taking advantage of that spring moisture coming out of the winter.” “The seed is there and ready to go as soon as the warmth comes up, and it gets as much moisture as it can before it starts to get dry. June is just too late.” The grasses Diesburg works with come from his own breeding of zoysia germplasm collected by another turf scientist years ago in China and the Pacific Rim. “My lifetime goal is to develop the first seeded variety of zoysia grass that is comparable to the Meyer clone (today’s standard of zoysia excellence),” Diesburg said. “I think I made enough crosses this last summer that future variety will be among them.”

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Keeping C W

hen it comes to biofuel production, “green” comes in shades of gray. “If farmers begin growing corn year after year for the ethanol market, they won’t use no-till (a production system that, in addition to reducing erosion, making soil more fertile and cutting herbicide use, also keeps carbon from escaping into the air), because no-till residue doesn’t allow corn to grow the following year,” said Silvia Secchi, an economist from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “Every time they plow that residue under, they will release carbon. We often see this kind of conflict in pursuing environmental goals. In this case, for example, if you grow continuous corn to satisfy demand for biofuel, you don’t meet the climate goal of carbon sequestration.” Secchi and her research partner Luba Kurkalova, a North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University colleague formerly at SIUC, are interested in such trade-offs between energy and climate goals. As part of a team of economists, environmental scientists and a statistician focusing on the links between agriculture, energy and the environment, they have investigated both the environmental consequences of biofuel production and its economic implications. Their latest project, funded by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, began in July and looks at the factors that determine whether farmers in Illinois and Iowa — the corn belt’s heart — choose conventional or conservation tillage. It also aims to estimate how much it would cost to get farmers to enroll in a five to ten year conservation tillage program that, unlike no-till, would allow for removal of up to 70 percent of crop residues. “USDA is very interested in this as those figures would determine whether the program is viable,” Secchi said. “If we found, for example, that farmers would need $15 per acre to enroll but USDA could pay only $5, no one would participate.”

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CO2 Down Federal programs are moving away from conservation programs that take land out of production, Secchi noted. “The emphasis is shifting toward conservation on working lands, helping farmers grow things in a more environmentally friendly way,” she said. “Our focus is on helping the USDA design policies that work and using scientific knowledge to achieve the best results when implementing them.” Secchi and Kurkalova believe that farmers choose between conventional and conservation tillage based on a complicated balance of crop prices, energy and fertilizer costs, land productivity and federal payments. That balance is always shifting. “If energy prices rise, for example, that will increase the cost of conventional tillage because it requires the use of fuel,” Secci said. “If the price of corn goes down, that could make conservation tillage more attractive.” Both researchers are relying on computerized simulation models for the project. Using these models, they first are combining geographic information system-based data on individual fields that relate to cropping patterns, soil properties, climate and the expected profits under different tillage practices. They then will use that information in constructing scenarios in which factors such as crop prices and energy costs vary to get a picture of how such changes would affect tillage choices. “To devise a long-term program you need to be able to adapt to changes because if prices change, farmers will change what they grow and how they grow it,” Secchi said. “If you want to achieve a minimum level of conservation tillage, you may have to pay farmers more depending on conditions. Policy makers need a range of numbers for how much those policies will cost, and those are what we are trying to determine.”

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Rebuilding A Country

Faculty train National Guard to restore and improve agriculture in Afghanistan

SIUC forestry experts work with Afghan nationals to assess nurseries, orchards, and forests for rehabilitation on behalf of military groups engaged in agricultural development. Credit J Groninger

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wo College of Agricultural Sciences forestry professors are playing leader ship roles in a U.S. Agency for International Development program meant to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their lives and their agriculture amidst the continuing conflict and crisis in that country. John W. Groninger and Charles M. Ruffner are part of AWATT – Afghanistan Water, Agriculture and Technology Transfer, an ongoing project that began in 2008 and also involves members of agriculture departments at Colorado State University, New Mexico State University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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“In Afghanistan, we will operate somewhat like an extension service, offering information and support for basic agronomic practices. It will be up to them whether they take it and run with it.” Ruffner inspecting gabion walls built by the Tennessee ADT to reduce streambank erosion and enhance watershed function in a mountain village of northern Paktika. Credit J Groninger

Groninger and Ruffner led recent summer and fall training sessions conducted at University Farms for members of the 1st-14th Agribusiness Development Team of the Illinois Army National Guard, which deploys to Afghanistan in the spring of 2011. Hands-on training included agriculture basics such as erosion control and restoration of watersheds, agricultural mechanics, animal handling and foraging practices. Other sessions focused on cultural and technological differences between Afghan and American farmers, with a session explaining agricultural education and the specific needs of Afghan farmers. The training sessions at SIUC help prepare the National Guardsmen to deal not only with the agricultural challenges but also with life in survival mode. “The National Guard has been sending agriculture teams around the world since the 1970s, but it’s new for Illinois -- we’re still recruiting people,” 1st Lieutenant William D. “Dan” Clark, an SIUC graduate in plant, soil and agricultural systems and the team’s planning and operations officer. “In Afghanistan, we will operate somewhat like an extension service, offering information and support for basic agronomic practices. It will be up to them whether they take it and run with it.” In January 2010, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the administration had decided to make agriculture its top priority for Afghanistan. “Typically, agriculture will employ 80 percent of the people while taking care of one of the essentials of life,” Col. Fred W. Allen, Illinois team commander, said. Allen is a native of Delavan, and a grain and livestock farmer in his civilian life. While most members of the new unit have expertise in some area of agriculture and previously have served overseas, the coordination

Inspecting a recently improved spring site built by the Oklahoma ADT to provide clean drinking water for a local village outside Gardez. Credit C. Ruffner

of agriculture in Afghanistan is new to them. That’s where SIUC’s College of Agricultural Sciences comes in to play. College faculty members have been involved in a series of projects aimed at rebuilding Afghanistan’s agricultural sector since 2003. “Some of these Guardsmen have farming backgrounds,” Ruffner said. “But what they know about farming here won’t necessarily apply in Afghanistan. The technology there is primitive compared to what we have available here. The conditions have been for a subsistence based economy and some of the practices for land conservation that we take for granted here are new knowledge there. These workshop sessions help prepare the soldiers for that.” “One of the things I have learned in Afghanistan is that it’s hard to anticipate what people will need and what you will have to do -- you really are operating without a playbook,” Groninger said. “We hope these workshops will give the Guardsmen some degree of comfort about their ability to provide the resources that will help the Afghans rebuild.”

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TRAILBLAZERS Nutrition scientist looks to uncover links among inflammation, obesity and diabetes

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nflammation, the body’s way of fighting off injury and illness, may in its low level guise, actually contribute to disease, particularly when the inflammation is minor but chronic. Jeremy Davis, a nutrition scientist in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is part of a multiuniversity research team, headquartered at SIUC, that is trying to uncover the complex interplay between low-grade inflammation, obesity, the development of diabetes, and fiber consumption. “You see high levels of inflammation in the fat tissues of obese people,” Davis said. “Inflammation likely contributes to insulin resistance, which leads to (adult-onset) diabetes. We believe that if you can block that inflammation in the fat tissue, you can prevent the development of diabetes.” Davis went on to say that his research examines the role of diet modification. “The question for us is whether there are things you can do through diet modification that would stop, or at least slow the inflammation,” he said. “The modifications would not reverse or prevent obesity, but by dealing with the inflammation would improve health.” The team’s early work with mice on high-fat diets showed an increase in inflammation throughout their bodies, including their fat tissue. They also found that stopping the inflammation decreased their subjects’ insulin resistance. Davis and his team have since focused on the effects of red wheat bran and certain soy

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Southern Illinois University Carbondale

compounds on inflammation. In work with rats genetically prone to obesity, they found that adding wheat bran to the rats’ diets improved their blood sugar levels, making them more responsive to insulin. The diets also lowered their cholesterol levels and reduced their liver weights, meaning they were less likely to develop “fatty liver” disease, which can lead to that organ’s failure. The rats did gain weight, but Davis said even that fact carried an upside. “Despite the greater fat mass, they had a better distribution of it,” he said. “If the fat stays in the tissues and out of the liver and muscle, that can improve the health of an obese individual.” The team is looking for more answers now, focusing on what, specifically, causes these effects.

“The bran has fiber, but it also has other compounds, just like soy. It could be one, the other, or some combination,” he said, noting that the team is also studying disease and obesity fighting properties of fiber. The team is also trying to determine why the fat of the rats in the study distributed itself as it did, an effect they’ve also found in obese rats on a soy-based diet. “It may be there are compounds that affect how fat cells expand,” Davis said. “If you expand the number of cells where fat can be stored, it may be that more sensitive organs will be protected.” Food-based treatments for obesity-related inflammation and the diseases that accompany it -- the work’s ultimate goal -- could lower or even eliminate the use for drugs, which, in addition to costing money often cause unpleasant side effects. Wheat bran -- safe, readily available, relatively cheap and fairly palatable -- make it an ideal candidate for such use. “I’d like to see researchers and companies work together to develop products that are healthier, and make sure they get to consumers at a young age – maybe even in the school lunch programs –so they become widely acceptable,” Davis said. “If we have foods that consumers not only can afford but can also enjoy, then over the long term we’ll see a decrease in the risk of developing diseases associated with obesity,” he said. “Some of us have good genetics for lifetime health, but most of us just aren’t that lucky.”


Storytellers New student group interprets nature’s story to reconnect people

Children vie for the attention of Jason E. Kunkel, a member of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Saluki Heritage Interpreters Club during his presentation at a conservation fair in Du Quoin.

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verything everywhere speaks to us, but we often don’t understand what is said. Interpreters help us make sense of the stories the natural world, historical objects and cultural remnants have to tell us. At Southern Illinois University Carbondale, a group of students is learning to give those stories a voice. “They’re dedicated to increasing environmental literacy,” said Erin L. Seekamp, faculty adviser for the Saluki Heritage Interpreters. “They want to be able to reconnect people — especially young people — to the natural world so that they will be inspired to become engaged citizens, actively supporting and protecting the world’s natural, cultural and historical treasures.” The club, some 12 members strong, develops and presents interpretive park and school programs, leads tree identification hikes and nature walks, builds trails, participates in educational fairs and clean-up days, and assists with environmental certification programs aimed at teachers and other educators. “The club is not large, but those who are in it are extremely active,” Seekamp said. While interpretation always involves information, alone does not equal interpretation.

“It’s an art form,” Seekamp said. “You are creating something, not just giving a lecture. Anyone can read a book and identify a tree, but to tell a story that engages people so they want to know more — that’s something different. You have to have a hook, some mystery that keeps them wondering what’s next so they don’t walk away.” Housed as it is in the forestry department, the club draws a lot of students interested in the out-of-doors, but interpretation focuses on more than just the natural environment. “That’s why the club has the word ‘heritage’ in it,” Seekamp said. “Artifacts tell the story of the past that has created the conditions we have now. They teach us how humans have interacted with the environment for centuries and more.” Club President Jodie C. Delaney, a senior from Herrin, said her experience with the group led to a change in career plans. “Originally, I wanted to be a conservation officer, but by the second semester, I knew that working in interpretation was much more rewarding than doing law enforcement would ever be,” she said. Delaney now works as an intern in interpretive service at Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge. (For a look at Delaney in action, visit http://news.siuc.edu/news/November10/110210kcj10078.html) “My experience as an interpreter got me the job,” she said. Sherri L. Wurtzel, a senior from Pecatonica who has held just about every office the club has, thinks it serves as great career preparation. “The club has given me leadership qualities,” she said. “I have had to contact people, organize schedules and events. It also has given me the ability to learn how to be an interpreter and communicate my message to the public.” While Seekamp believes the club makes a huge contribution to environmental literacy in the region, she sees the downstate connection as just the first step. “The experience club members are gaining at this local level will enable them to move on to the next — in the state, in some other region, even overseas,” she said. “Cumulatively, they can influence a lot of people, including the decision-makers of tomorrow, to connect with the natural world and take an active role in protecting it.”

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PASSING THE RESEARCH BATON Growing The Future Doctoral student’s ‘cookie’ could greatly increase plant propagation

Graduate student Laurie J. George notes that the hibiscus nodes in a “cookie” she concocted of processed kelp, tissue culture media and calcium chloride have sprouted.

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lant propagators have been using manmade “seeds” to produce new shrubs for several decades. Now, a researcher from Southern Illinois University Carbondale has developed a “cookie” that can yield five times as many plants as the artificial seeds do. Made from a mixture of processed kelp, tissue culture media and calcium chloride, the cookie is chemically similar to natural seed coverings. By varying the concentrations in the mix and adjusting the amount of time spent sterilizing it, Laurie J. George, a doctoral student in the College of Agricultural Sciences, can increase the number of nodes, or plant starts, the mix can protect from a single start to five. After four weeks of refrigeration and three weeks under some lights, they’re ready to grow. Why cookies? Think dough. “The artificial seeds encapsulate individual nodes, which takes a lot of time and labor,” George said. “While there are machines that do encapsulation, they’re costly, and they have a lot of moving parts which require maintenance. “What I am trying to do is reduce these costs by focusing on mass encapsulation. It’s a technique smaller operations could use without a high cash outlay, and it can increase the numbers of plants that might not produce viable seeds on their own, plants that are rare and plants where we need to preserve their germplasm.” George has been working with a cultivar of Hibiscus moscheutos called ‘Lord Baltimore.’ This hardy perennial, sometimes called a swamp

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mallow because it likes bogs and marshes, can grow 5 to 6 feet tall each season and bears dramatic red flowers the size of a dinner plate. Despite some early challenges — everything from what George refers to as a “high learning curve” in tissue culture (the process by which she gets the stock plants that supply the nodes she needs) to power and refrigerator failures to trips in the lab — George has mastered the art of the cookie, at least as far as ‘Lord Baltimore’ is concerned. “We have it pretty much down pat in getting plants started, and I am having really good luck in getting them established and growing them out,” she said. “I’m focusing now on improving the survival rate after cold storage. Currently, between 70 and 75 percent survive, so the majority are re-growing and being reproduced as plants we can sell. But you want to have 100 percent survival rates.” George also is attempting mass encapsulation with ‘Snow Queen,’ a cultivar of the native Hydrangea quercifolia, a shrub prized for its showy look and exfoliating bark. This is proving trickier. “It’s been a learning process for the hydrangea because it’s a totally different process from the hibiscus,” George said. “The cookie matrix had to be different, the sterilization process had to be different. “Hydrangeas also are slow growers in tissue culture. Instead of a month or month and a half to get plant material, I’m having to wait two to three months. “I’m going to have to step back and readjust the tissue culture medium. I’m also going to have to resolve an exudation problem (where secondary compounds in the plant tissue emerge, and contaminate the growing media, killing the sprouting nodes).” Because the cookie has a greater mass than a “seed,” contamination presents more of problem. “I’m trying to get down to less than 10 percent,” George said. In addition, she is trying to answer questions of a larger nature. Will mass encapsulation protect the nodes better than individual encapsulation does? Will it allow them to remain in cold storage for longer time periods — say, a year or longer? And will they regrow as well or better than individual nodes once cold storage ends? “I am hoping that because I have more material around the roots, I will have a better survival rate, but you never know,” she said.


Ozark Paradise Forestry majors study National Park Service policy amid Missouri wonders

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ew researchers get to wear swim trunks on the job, but for Sean M. Patrick, now a sophomore at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, it was one of the perks. “You could jump in the water if it got too hot, and because it’s all spring fed, that could cool you off pretty quick,” said Patrick, one of three forestry majors who spent three months last summer in the Missouri Ozarks working on a National Park Service research project. The ultimate goal: Collect information aimed at improving the experiences people have when they visit the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. “We were doing visitor use research, counting how many canoes, tubes, rafts, kayaks, johnboats, motorboats, whatever passed us on the river where we were at,” Patrick said. “We also did surveys of anyone who took their craft out of the water where we were that day.” Their work was part of a larger, two-pronged effort directed by Logan Park, an assistant professor in forestry who specializes in recreation ecology. “We’re working on two fronts: the scenic riverways themselves and the visitor-created horse trails adjacent to them,” Park said. “With the rivers, different user types — canoeists and tubers, for instance, or motorboaters and fishermen — don’t always get along. We’re trying to determine how well the efforts of the National Park Service to fit everyone in while encouraging folks to behave are working. “With the horse trails, we’re trying to identify where they are and whether they’re having a negative effect on archaeological sites

or critical habit.” With grant funds earmarked for undergraduate field staff, Logan recruited Patrick, Jacob J. Nordmann and Ross L. Smith, all enrolled in his introductory forest recreation class last spring, to work 10 different “reaches,” or river bend segments, of the Current River and its tributary, the Jacks Forks River. Deep in the remote Ozark Highlands, these were the country’s first “wild” streams to receive federal protection as a national park. “You have these big hills, and the water is crystal clear — you can see four to five feet down to the bottom,” said Patrick. “I saw river otters, bald eagles, osprey. You can see deer swimming in the river or on the banks, even wild horses. It was very cool.” Smith also found his previous experience came in handy when asking strangers to take the survey. “I worked retail for three years in high school, so approaching random people is no big deal for me,” he said. After a bit, Patrick devised some strategies to deal with this. He befriended the canoe rental guys, who then urged their customers on his behalf to take part in the survey. He also started listening for local accents. “If they were local, I’d say I worked for SIU; if they weren’t, I’d say I was working for the National Park Service,” he said with a grin. Patrick said he had a better understanding about the role of surveys in forest recreation. “I was working for both, but I did change the way I approached them.”


College of Agricultural Sciences Agriculture Building - Mail Code 4416 Southern Illinois University Carbondale 1205 Lincoln Drive Carbondale, Illinois 62901

Kathryn C. Jaehnig 1949-2010

The vast majority of this current issue of “AgriSearch” was written by Kathryn C. Jaehnig, a writer for the Public Relations staff in University Communications. Kathryn, who worked at SIUC for more than two decades, died suddenly in November, leaving a hole in the hearts of the many colleagues she left behind.

NON-PROFIT ORG. U. S. Postage PAID Permit No. 15 Carbondale, IL

She had been the primary writer for this magazine since its inception in 2008, producing almost all of the stories, coordinating photos and assisting with its editing and organization. At the time of her passing, Kathryn, who was 61, was responsible for coverage of the College of Agricultural Sciences as well as the College of Education and Human Services. Todd Winters, interim dean in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said Kathryn was a top professional and a valuable resource in spreading the word about the college, its faculty and students. “In my 16-plus years at SIUC, I don’t know of any one individual who helped promote the College more,” Winters said. “Kathryn will definitely be missed by the College of Agricultural Sciences.” A story on page 24 of this publication was the last the one written by Kathryn, who joined SIUC in 1988 and wrote thousands of news releases and other items during her tenure. Tom Woolf, who oversees of the Public Relations group in University Communications, described Kathryn as a caring individual and dedicated professional. “We miss her -- along with her many talents and her contributions to the University,” he said.


AgriSearch 2011