college of agricultural sciences

Georgia turf expert heads to OSU for greener grass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Alec Kowalewski, Oregon State University's new turf specialist, jokes that two requirements for the job were to have a Polish-sounding last name and to be a graduate of Michigan State University.

That's because he replaces fellow MSU alumnus Rob Golembiewski, who left in March to work for Bayer Environmental Science after coming to OSU in 2008.

Kowalewski, formerly an assistant professor of turf management at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia, began work at OSU on Dec. 31.

He'll divide his time between teaching, researching and working as a specialist with OSU's Extension Service to help the turf grass industry. As the N.B. and Jacqueline Giustina Professor in Turf Management, he is funded in part by an endowment created by the family of OSU alumnus Nat Giustina.

He'll carry out his research on the plots and putting greens at OSU's Lewis-Brown Farm and the Trysting Tree Golf Club near campus. He'll be aided by OSU's Brian McDonald, a research assistant who maintained the turf program after Golembiewski's departure. With golf courses, schools and city park departments tightening their belts, Kowalewski plans to conduct experiments that aim to help them maintain acceptable turf conditions on a budget.

At the same time, he intends for his research to also help them reduce their impact on the environment. For example, he's thinking of testing different varieties of grass that require less irrigation and fertilizer to see which performs the best. Or he might take a look at how naturally derived products like corn gluten meal or soybean meal work as alternatives to pesticides, he said.

"Turf management is really entering what I'd call an environmentally conscious era," he said. "There are a lot of concerns about available resources and the effect management is having on the environment."

Kowalewski (pronounced cove-a-less-key) will also oversee graduate students' research, including a project to control Microdochium patch without chemicals. Caused by a fungus, the disease is associated with rainy, cool conditions and forms spots of discolored, damaged grass.

"Microdochium is a very big problem throughout the Pacific Northwest about eight months out of the year," he said. "Golf course superintendents often lose their jobs over problems like this. It's like being a doctor that can't take care of a patient properly."

The disease is costly to golf courses because they have to buy fungicides and replant the grass. But pesticide regulations are expected to become increasingly restrictive, Kowalewski said, so other options are necessary. As a result, graduate student Clint Mattox will explore a variety of treatment methods, which Kowalewski said could include acidifying the soil, drying the turf with a blower, flattening it with a roller, or applying bicarbonates, sodium borate or mineral oil.

Over the next few months, Kowalewski plans to meet with superintendents, athletic turf managers, landscapers and Extension's Master Gardeners to identify other turf problems in the Pacific Northwest they'd like OSU to address.

Kowalewski brings to the position experience as a professor and researcher. In Georgia, he taught during the school year and conducted field trials in the summer. He tested new cultivars of bermudagrass to see how they grew with limited water, infrequent mowing and minimal fertilizer. He also studied how grasses stood up to heavy foot traffic on athletic fields.

In 2007 and 2008, his job took him to Beijing, China, where he literally watched the grass grow for almost five months. He was serving as an adviser to the company that built the portable athletic field used in the Bird's Nest stadium for the track and field events and the men's soccer final during the Olympics. In a parking lot a few miles from the stadium, a crew grew grass on 4-foot by 4-foot trays filled with 8 inches of soil. Every morning at 6 a.m., he inspected the grass for disease and made sure it had the right amounts of fertilizer and water. Then in August after the opening ceremony, his work paid off when the panels were trucked to the stadium and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.

As for his own grassy yard at his former home in Georgia, Kowalewski wasn't as attentive.

"It's the worst one on the block. I mowed it probably three to four times a year," he said, assuring that it's no reflection on his professional life. "I think of it as trying to leave work at work."

That, and the fact he's also a busy guy. He hasn't even hit the links in about two years, an irony for someone dedicated to helping the golf industry.

"Two years ago I was at 10 courses visiting interns in the Hilton Head area of South Carolina and didn't get a chance to golf because I was so busy," he said. "People ask me what my hobby is. I say, 'I have a 2 ½-year-old daughter. That's my hobby.' It's hard to go golfing when you spend so much time at work and then to convince the wife that you want to go golfing on Saturday. That's usually not an argument you win."

Actually, turf sports aren't Kowalewski's forte. The Michigan native spent his college years locking opponents in half nelsons on a wrestling mat at MSU. Initially pursuing and later earning an undergraduate degree in studio art, it wasn't until he got a summer job at MSU's turfgrass research center that he decided there were greener pastures outside the studio. He went on to earn a doctorate at MSU in crop and soil sciences with an emphasis on turf management.

"Turf management is a great career," he said. "Young people think of college degrees as business and psychology, but you can make a great living taking care of golf courses, athletic fields, city parks or the grounds on a campus. One of my objectives is to get to high school students and tell them this is a great career to go into."

Information on OSU's turf management program is at BeaverTurf.com.


Alec Kowalewski, 541-737-5449

Multimedia Downloads


Alec Kowalewski, Oregon State University's new turf specialist, reaches for a pot of creeping bentgrass at a greenhouse on campus. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Eight 4-H clubs qualify for state robotics championship

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When 117 teams gather in Hillsboro for the Jan. 19-20 Intel Oregon FIRST® LEGO® League state robotics championship, eight of them will have ties to the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program.

They'll be competing at the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships at Liberty High School. The tournament is free and open to the public.

In December, more than 400 teams and about 3,000 students participated in qualifying rounds in Oregon and southwest Washington. The students, ranging from ages 9-14, had to build a small robot out of LEGO Mindstorm NXT kits and program it to carry out as many missions as possible on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field. Separate from the robot, students also had to present a concept for a device that solves a problem faced by a senior citizen.

The Bend-area 4-H team, Girls on Fire!, developed a prototype for a device called a "Med Minder," an electronic wall calendar that beeps to remind people to take medication. The team is made up of six girls and formed for the first time this year. One of its members, Katie Slough, 12, said only two people on her team had experience with LEGO robotics. She was one of them.

"Last year I was on a team that was me and three other fourth-grade guys and it was a lot harder to make decisions," she said. "This year with all girls we could make decisions easier."

Over in Wasco County, a 4-H team there talked with neurologists and developed a concept for headbands and gloves to help alleviate hand tremors. To help with their project, they also interviewed two senior citizens from The Dalles, including a Vietnam veteran who is paraplegic and uses an electric wheelchair.

"A lot of the kids didn't think about senior citizens and the trials they go through," said Holly Morris, a Wasco County 4-H program assistant. "This project opened their eyes to a whole new world they never looked at before. It also gave them the chance to think about what life would be like when they are a senior citizen one day."

Team member Sarah Treichel, 14, said, "I like doing robotics because you can understand how different technology works and apply that to real life."

Her robotics team is part of a 4-H after-school technology program that is held at Dufur School and The Dalles Middle School. About 20 children from The Dalles area meet after school two hours per week to design computer games, build soapbox derby cars and construct submersible robots.

Another state-qualifying team affiliated with 4-H is from McMinnville and is made up of seven home-schooled students. It also has ties to a McMinnville cooperative, Enjoy Learning Together, that is geared toward families who teach children at home.

"Though people say home-schooled kids need more social skills, these kids had better social skills than many of my students," the team's volunteer leader, Ann Clabaugh, said. "They had strong abilities in teamwork, problem-solving and making compromises." 

The LEGO robotics program aims to inspire kids to consider a technical career while teaching them teamwork in a creative, hands-on environment and building up their self-confidence.

4-H is a program of the OSU Extension Service. Students can belong to various 4-H clubs centered on areas of interest that include not just robotics but also photography, website design, livestock and sewing.

The following Oregon teams affiliated with 4-H earned spots at the state tournament:

  • Sue Buel Elementary 4-H of McMinnville
  • Wasco County 4-H of The Dalles
  • 4-H and the ELT Homeschool Co-Op of McMinnville
  • Marion County 4-H of Salem
  • Brickstorms 4-H Tualatin Neighborhood of Tualatin
  • Yellow Rubber Duckie Engineers 4-H of McMinnville
  • Blue Dudes Yamhill County 4-H of McMinnville
  • Girls on Fire! 4-H of Bend

For information about the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships, go to http://www.ortop.org/fll

For information on participating in 4-H, contact the OSU Extension Service office in your county. Links to the offices are at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/find-us


Molly Slough, 541-419-6288

OSU aims to increase blueberry yields with bumblebees

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University aims to see if creating more foraging habitat for bumblebees will increase the pollination and yield of blueberries bushes, which mostly depend on bees to turn their blossoms into berries.

OSU researchers will determine if bordering fields with vegetation that blooms from early spring to late fall will attract bumblebees and other native bees searching for pollen for food. The scientists hope that while the bees are at it, they'll pollinate the nearby blueberry flowers, which only blossom for a short time in the spring.

"It's very important to give native pollinators a reason to hang around blueberries," said Sujaya Rao, an OSU entomologist working on the project. "Just one fruit crop with three or four weeks of bloom is not enough to sustain a bumblebee colony. If more native pollinators, like bumblebees, can be attracted, the pocketbooks of blueberry growers would benefit."

Rao is seeking blueberry growers in the Willamette Valley who are willing to participate in the study. She'll ask them to plant native or exotic flora that is attractive to bees, such as rosemary, germander, California lilac, sage and red clover. The plants would serve as food – not housing – for the bees, which live in holes in trees or in abandoned rodent borrows in the ground.

Researchers will then estimate the numbers of native bees in fields with and without the hedgerows and they'll measure the blueberry yield.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the research is part by a five-year project led by Michigan State University addressing challenges faced by specialty crop industries, including vegetable, berry, fruit tree, and nut growers across the country.

Because bees are essential to the pollination of blueberries, Oregon growers typically place rented honeybee hives near their fields, but that can cost more than $100 per acre. And honeybees have their limitations as pollinators of blueberries. Unlike bumblebees, they can't "buzz pollinate," which occurs when the bees' vibration releases pollen from deep inside the anthers of certain flowers. Blueberry bushes produce larger, more plentiful fruit when buzz-pollinated.

Also, unlike bumblebees, honeybees aren't active in cold, wet weather, which is abundant in the Willamette Valley spring.

Blueberries were Oregon's 19th most important agricultural commodity in 2011 in terms of gross sales, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. Farmers sold $74 million of the fruit, up from $57 million in 2010, the report said. Growers harvested more than 60 million pounds on 8,137 acres in 2011.

In 2012, Oregon became the only U.S. state allowed to export blueberries to South Korea. The South Asian country imported nearly 500,000 pounds from Oregon in the first year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.


Sujaya Rao, 541-737-9038

Multimedia Downloads

Sujaya Rao, OSU entomologist

Sujaya Rao, an entomologist at Oregon State University, conducts a field test with bees. She's seeking blueberry growers willing to plant vegetation along their fields to attract bumblebees and other native bees as pollinators. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)


Bumblebees are crucial pollinators for crops that include clover and blueberries. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Study finds prey density more important to predators than biomass

Note: The journal article this release is based on can be found at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0053348

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Marine resource managers often gauge the health of species based on overall biomass, but a new study of predator-prey relationships in the Bering Sea found that it isn’t the total number of individuals that predators care about – it’s how densely they are aggregated.

It’s more than searching for an easy meal, the researchers say. Predators need to balance how much energy they expend in searching for food with the caloric and nutrient value of that which they consume. When prey doesn’t aggregate, however, the search for food becomes much more difficult – affecting the health of the predators’ offspring and the vitality of their overall population.

Results of the study were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was part of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project, which was funded by the North Pacific Research Board and the National Science Foundation.

“We had to think very differently about these interactions, trying to see the world from the predators’ point of view,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and lead author on the study. “When we first tried to identify good foraging locations for predator species we looked at areas of high prey numbers because it makes sense that they’d be where the food is. But the results didn’t match what we might have expected.

“Predator populations that should have been doing well, based on prey numbers or biomass, were in fact not doing well,” added Benoit-Bird, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “What we discovered is that smaller aggregations of prey are more attractive to predators if they are sufficiently dense.”

The findings are particularly important, scientists say, because almost all fisheries management is based on biomass – tons of fish – and not how those fish may be distributed in the sea.

In their study, the researchers looked at the feeding behaviors of three co-occurring species in the Bering Sea, all of which consume juvenile pollock or krill – black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murres and northern fur seals. When they attempted to find a spatial relationship between these predators and the pollock using areal biomass and numerical abundance, they found little correlation.

However, when they began finding small patches of prey at certain depths and of sufficient density, the predators were there. And though the scientists know why – feeding efficiency – they aren’t sure how.

“To be honest, we aren’t really sure how these predators – which may travel many miles – locate the densest aggregations at depths well below the surface – and often at night,” said Scott Heppell, a fisheries ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the PLOS ONE paper. “You wouldn’t think murres and fur seals would have that much in common, but in this case they do.”

“In a way, they’re looking for the same thing that commercial fishing fleets look for – high-quality prey in aggregations dense enough to be economical,” added Heppell, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

Benoit-Bird likened the predator-prey link to locating a box of popcorn in a darkened movie theater. You may have to search for it, she noted, but if you find the popcorn box, the payoff will be much more significant than what you might get by stumbling upon individual kernels in the dark that are spread throughout the theater – even though the number of kernels is the same.

That payoff is particularly meaningful for nurturing young, the researchers point out. During their two-year study, the research group tagged and observed female fur seals from St. Paul Island and Bogoslof Island as they swam hundreds of kilometers over a period of 1-2 weeks to gorge on nutrient-rich pollock then return to their homes to nurse pups.

They also tagged and observed adult murres and kittiwakes at St. Paul, St. George and Bogoslof Islands. The birds would capture local prey to feed their chicks during the day, but make numerous long flights at night to gorge on energy-rich, deep-water prey before returning to their nests to feed their chicks.

“It is a trade-off strategy,” said Benoit-Bird, a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. “They feed themselves in one place and nourish their offspring from another.”

This concept of prey “patchiness” can change rapidly, the researchers noted. Pollock aggregated only when the number of individuals in an area reached a certain threshold; below that threshold, they swam as individuals.

“If the population is sufficiently diffuse, the pollock don’t aggregate and that could spell trouble for species that prey upon them,” Heppell said. “A 10 percent shift in the number of fish could change how the entire stock behaves – and have a major impact on the birds, seals and other predators.”

Other authors on the PLOS ONE paper include Brian Battaile, Chad Nordstrom and Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia; Brian Hoover and Nathan Jones, University of California’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories; David Irons and Kathy Kuletz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage; and Rosana Paredes, Robert Suryan and Chad Waluk of Oregon State University.

Story By: 

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063

Multimedia Downloads

fur seal
Northern fur seal juv pollock
Juvenile pollock murre
Thick-billed murre

Cows that eat juniper risk losing calves, study says

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Cows that eat bark, berries or branches from western juniper trees late in pregnancy are more likely to abort their calves or give birth early, Oregon State University researchers have discovered.

The tree's harmful effect on pregnant cattle was unknown until an eastern Oregon veterinarian noticed a pattern of lost calves and asked the OSU Extension Service about it.

"People had always wondered what happened to the five to 10 percent of cows with lost pregnancies," said Tim Deboodt, a range management specialist with Extension in Crook County. "So we started our research from scratch on a tip."

OSU researchers pinpointed that western juniper contains toxins known as labdane acids. These chemical compounds constrict the flow of oxygen to a fetus. In the early 1970s, labdane acids, specifically isocupressic acid, were identified in ponderosa pine needles, which trigger premature birth in cows in a condition called pine needle abortion.

Two of the six heifers OSU researchers monitored lost calves after eating western juniper during the last 30 days of pregnancy. Only a small percentage of calves born early because of juniper or pine needles are likely to survive without intensive care, said Cory Parsons, a livestock specialist with Extension in Baker County.

OSU researchers are now conducting a larger study to examine juniper's effect on more than 20 cows in late pregnancy. Results are expected by summer 2013.

Oregon State researchers will also analyze if juniper consumption inhibits conception or bears any consequences early in pregnancy. Based on prior knowledge about pine needles, OSU researchers suspect that juniper is most likely to cause cows to abort during the last trimester of gestation – when fetuses need the most oxygen.

OSU's juniper research has been supported through a number of grants from the Oregon Beef Council and published in a handful of academic journals, including Rangelands and the International Journal of Poisonous Plant Research.

Western juniper abortions have not registered a large economic impact so far, Parsons said. Although some grazing cattle are in contact with juniper on a daily basis, cattle do not naturally seek it as food.

In recent decades, juniper trees have been piled up as riprap to stabilize the banks of creeks and streams being restored in western states. Cows may come in contact with these trees when they use these watering holes.

"If cattle have plenty to eat, they have no desire to chew on juniper," Parsons said, but then cautioned, "When cows are hungry and bored, they’re going to eat to fill their bellies up, especially during times of drought and heavy snow."

To reduce the risk of exposure to juniper during the last trimester of pregnancy, Parsons recommended slowly introducing cattle to areas where juniper exists if they have not already been acclimated to the site. He also suggested cutting lower branches off trees if possible and providing adequate feed daily to reduce the animals' desire to graze juniper.


Cory Parsons, 541-523-6418

Multimedia Downloads

Pregnant cattle

Pregnant cattle that consume parts of western juniper trees late in pregnancy risk losing calves. (Photo by Aimee Brown.)

Western juniper

A young juniper tree grows on an eastern Oregon ranch. Cattle can come in contact with juniper trees while grazing but have no desire to eat them if they have plenty of food. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

New OSU crops expert in Malheur County aims to reduce pesticide use

ONTARIO, Ore. – An entomologist formerly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture aims to help growers in Malheur County control key pests while reducing their use of pesticides in his new job with Oregon State University.

Stuart Reitz, who was with the USDA in Tallahassee, Fla., since 1999, started work in August as a field crops expert in Ontario.

In his new position, he will help farmers increase the number of "good" insects that kill crop-damaging pests like thrips, an insect that transmits a virus and can seriously reduce the yield and size of onions. In potatoes, he'll identify and study insects that attack aphids and psyllids, also known as jumping plant lice.

Reitz will also help growers determine the optimal amounts of fertilizer to apply. Too much fertilizer can attract unwanted pests.

"It's a holistic way of figuring out the most effective way to control pests," Reitz said. "We like to think of it as a win-win situation. Growers can produce a better crop with fewer pests and fewer inputs."

Reitz is also helping growers determine how best to use chemicals to reduce their environmental impact and to keep pests from becoming resistant to them.

Reitz will also email or send text messages to farmers with updates on pests, and he'll post the information on the website of the Pacific Northwest and Treasure Valley Pest Alert Network at http://www.tvpestalert.net.

Another of his duties is helping farmers comply with new, more restrictive federal rules for fumigating fields that took effect Dec. 1, 2012. Among other requirements, farmers must now have a large buffer area around fields and ensure field workers have appropriate training to handle chemicals. 

"There's no beating around the bush - these are hazardous chemicals and at the end of the sprayer is dangerous stuff," Reitz said. "So people need to be careful with it."

Reitz brings to the table his knowledge gained as a former co-director for the Center for Biological Control at Florida A&M University. The center aims to reduce the use of agricultural pesticides by using beneficial insects and pathogens to control crop-damaging pests.

In his new job, Reitz will spend a quarter of his time conducting research and the rest of the time helping growers in his role as a field crops expert with the OSU Extension Service.

"It's been a lot of learning and trying to get out and meet growers and other people in industry," Reitz said. "I got here at the end of the growing season but I've had some projects I've been able to get going."

The public-facing aspect of the Extension Service was a new role that appealed to Reitz, who earned a doctorate in entomology and a master's in zoology from Clemson University in South Carolina.

"You want to know that what you're doing has direct impact," Reitz said. "Anybody can come into the office and have a question or a problem, and we can provide an answer."

Although state and federal sources fund Reitz’s position, taxpayers in Malheur County pay for his office and operational support. Malheur County voters approved a property tax levy in May 2012 to hire a second crops agent and a 4-H assistant and to support Extension-related research at OSU's Malheur Experiment Station. A search for the second field crops faculty member, whose salary will be funded by this tax levy is under way. That person will focus on crops other than onions and potatoes and on water quality management in agriculture.


Stuart Reitz, 541-881-1417

Multimedia Downloads


Stuart Reitz is a new field crops agent working for Oregon State University Extension Service in Ontario. (Photo by Bobbi Howell)

Don't let disease foul your bird feeder

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As you're welcoming wild birds into your yard this winter, be sure to keep your bird feeder clean and keep an eye on the health of your feathered diners.

"Sick birds will either be found dead or perched, often with feathers in disarray, eyes squinted or wings held out," said Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. "Healthy birds are alert and mobile, whereas sick birds stand out because they are neither of those."  

Birds can get salmonella from bird feeders. Other diseases can spread when birds congregate or land on infected perches, Sanchez said.

"If the sick bird is associated with your feeders, take down the feeders and clean them," she said. "It is probably a good idea to keep the feeders down for two to three weeks, until the disease has had a chance to run its course in the local population. Allow the bird to recover on its own. Make sure children, pets and free-ranging cats cannot get to the bird."

Sanchez offered these tips to make sure your feeders are clean and free of mold for backyard visitors.  

  • Clean your feeders once a month during low-use times and up to once a week during high-use periods.
  • Scrape off bird droppings and rinse or wipe clean the perches with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 20 parts water.
  • Hang your feeders where the feed won’t get wet. If seed in a feeder has gotten wet and compacted, remove the feed and discard it. Then clean the feeder with warm water and a brush.
  • Dry the feeder before refilling with the fresh seed.
  • If your feeder’s location is likely to get wet often, only fill it with a one- to two-day supply of seed at a time.
  • Clean up under feeders regularly and prevent accumulation of feed beneath the feeders by moving them occasionally. Seed on the ground can attract other animals, such as rodents, that you would prefer to not have near your home.

For more information about feeds and feeder placement, check out the following publication from the OSU Extension Service: http://bit.ly/WxaJgU


Dana Sanchez, (541) 737-6003

Multimedia Downloads


Bushtits are frequent visitors to this suet feeder. Photo by OSU's EESC


As you're attracting birds to your yard this winter, make sure your feeders are clean. (Photo by Betsy Hartley.)

OSU aims to spice up rice with thiamine

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University aims to create rice with higher levels of vitamin B1 to make it more nutritious and at the same time, resistant to two crop-damaging diseases.

If the efforts are successful, it could mean higher yields for rice producers and a reduced use of pesticides.

Research shows vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, can boost the immune system of plants, including rice, cucumbers and tobacco. OSU's researchers are hoping that sustained accumulation of thiamine can make rice immune to bacterial leaf blight and rice blast, which cause significant yield losses in Southeast Asia, the world’s top rice-growing region.

"Literature suggests that if we boost vitamin B1 we may be able to enhance resistance to diseases most harmful to rice," said Aymeric Goyer, a plant biologist with the OSU Extension Service.

At OSU's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Goyer will grow rice that overexpresses genes that synthesize vitamin B1. Within 10 to 12 months, he'll see if the leaves contain higher-than-normal amounts of vitamin B1 and if the plants resist diseases.

Goyer will also see if the rice grain itself contains more thiamine, which is present only in low amounts in white rice. In areas of the world where white rice is the cornerstone of most diets, thiamine deficiencies are common. Thiamine helps create acids for digestion, supports carbohydrate metabolism and is essential for the overall health of the nervous system.

"We have the potential to make more nutritious rice while helping improve yields and find an alternative to pesticides," said Goyer.

The research is funded by Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Pamela Ronald from the University of California, Davis is a collaborator with Goyer on the grant.


Aymeric Goyer, 541-567-8321 ext. 112

Multimedia Downloads

Aymeric Goyer

Oregon State University molecular biologist Aymeric Goyer holds a tissue cultured potato plant. This spring, Goyer will attempt to increase thiamine levels in rice. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU has new potato breeding head after two-year vacancy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University once again has a plant breeder leading its potato development efforts after filling a position that was vacant for nearly two years.

Sagar Sathuvalli, who started this month, is leading OSU's work to create new varieties of potatoes that are more nutritious and resist pests and diseases, including late blight. He is based at its Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

A native of India, Sathuvalli spent most of the last decade in Corvallis, earning doctoral and master’s degrees in horticulture from OSU. In 2011, he began working as a post-doctoral research associate in hazelnut breeding and genetics at OSU.

In his new post, Sathuvalli and his colleagues will search for favorable traits in wild species, then cross those potatoes with domesticated ones. Creating new breeds of potatoes can take at least 12 years, but OSU hopes to speed up the process by using genetic markers, which are sequences of DNA that are found near genes researchers are analyzing.

Sathuvalli assumes the responsibilities of departed OSU potato researchers Dan Hane, who retired, and Isabel Vales, who accepted a job elsewhere.

The position had remained vacant because of funding shortages, said Russ Karow, the head of OSU’s department of crop and soil science. A portion of Sathuvalli’s salary will be funded through an endowment created by a recent $500,000 commitment to OSU by the Oregon Potato Commission.

“There is an expectation to find new varieties for the Pacific Northwest,” Karow said. “We are in a strong cooperative relationship with the Oregon Potato Commission, regularly discussing issues and research. We work hand-in-hand with the commission to look at their research priorities.”

Sathuvalli is also working closely with OSU's potato researchers around the state, including Solomon Yilma in Corvallis, Brian Charlton in Klamath Falls and Clint Shock in Ontario. The group is collaborating on breeding and marketing efforts with peers in Washington and Idaho as part of the Pacific Northwest Tri-State Breeding Program.

“We will try to find solutions as a team,” said Sathuvalli. “My main philosophy is to listen to growers, to see what they’re interested in and any issues in variety development. I look forward to finding out what the industry needs.”

When not conducting research, Sathuvalli will perform duties for the OSU Extension Service by disseminating new information to farmers and processors. Among his top priorities is to spearhead the development of a new website.

“We will use the website to create awareness about our breeding program. It will house information useful for researchers across the globe,” said Sathuvalli. “Hopefully it will bring new collaborations, too.”

Real-time alerts about disease and pest outbreaks, such as zebra chip and tuber moth, will also be featured prominently on the website.

Potatoes were Oregon's sixth most-important agricultural commodity in terms of gross sales in 2011, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. The state's sold $165 million of them in 2011 after harvesting nearly 40,000 acres, the report said.


Russ Karow, 541-737-2821

Multimedia Downloads

Sagar Sathuvalli

Sagar Sathuvalli will serve as head of Oregon State University's potato breeding program.


Learn about the secret life of bees with OSU beekeeping course

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Move over backyard chickens. Here come honeybees. They're an emerging homesteading trend, according to a honeybee expert at Oregon State University.

"People are starting to see their importance as pollinators," said Ramesh Sagili, who added that interest in beekeeping has picked up in the wake of news about a national decline in honeybees.

As a result, he helped create the three-part Oregon Master Beekeeper Program, which teaches people how to raise the honey producers, which are crucial pollinators for blueberries, pears, cherries, apples and other crops. 

"There's a lot of interest in bees, and we want to satisfy the needs of citizens," said Sagili, a honeybee research specialist with the OSU Extension Service and one of the instructors for the training.

Classes in the basic "apprentice" level of the program, which debuted in 2012, will start in January or February depending on the applicant's location.

Participants do not need to own any hives or equipment in the beginning level. They'll be matched with mentors in cities that include Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Portland and Salem. In 2012, more than 50 experienced beekeepers around the state were paired with 140 apprentices, most of whom are still working toward their certification, said Carolyn Breece, a research assistant in OSU's honeybee lab who coordinates the program.

"Students work with a mentor through each season so they experience firsthand how to manage bees in the springtime, harvest honey in the summer, treat for pests and disease in the fall and successfully overwinter colonies," Breece said.

The apprentice course costs $100 and includes supplies and books. Applications are accepted in the order they are received. There's no deadline for applying; the number of mentors available determines acceptance. Slots are already full in Portland but other regions still have openings. About 85 people statewide have signed up so far for 2013, Breece said.

After becoming certified as an apprentice, students are eligible for the $150 yearlong, intermediate "journey" level. Registration for that will open Jan. 1. Thirty apprentice-level graduates are eligible to enroll so far and have expressed interest in applying, Breece said.

At the intermediate level, participants don't have a mentor and they must have their own hive. Students must attend educational events like webinars and workshops and volunteer to share their knowledge with the community, such as with beekeeping clubs and local schools.

Once students complete the journey level, they can advance to the master level, the third and final stage. The curriculum for it is still being developed.

Paul Andersen, president of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association, said the buzz about backyard beekeeping is related to a growing enthusiasm for local food and environmental stewardship.

"There are small-scale backyard beekeepers who have a few hives around [their] town and that's definitely growing because every year different organizations and local beekeeping clubs hold bee schools for people new to beekeeping. More and more people are going to those classes," Andersen said.

Andersen's association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture provided initial funding for the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program. The association also provides mentors and instructors. Sagili developed the program with support from Breece and a committee made up of honeybee academics, commercial beekeepers and experienced backyard beekeepers.

Oregon was home to 56,200 commercial honeybee hives in 2011, according to a report from the OSU Extension Service. About two dozen beekeepers owned 90 percent of them, Sagili said. Because backyard beekeepers who maintain five to 10 hives do not often register with the state, numbers of the state's small-scale beekeepers are not tracked, he said.

For more information about the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program, go to http://bit.ly/Vc7QXp.


Ramesh Sagili, 541-737-5460

Multimedia Downloads


 Honeybees not only make honey but are crucial pollinators for some of Oregon's crops. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.


Ramesh Sagili, a honeybee research specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, examines a hive. He helped develop the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.