WERA-77 (2009-2014): Managing Invasive Weeds in Wheat

With rolling hills and deep soils, the Palouse region in the northwestern US is a major agricultural area and a leading producer of wheat. USDA-ARS photo.

With rolling hills and deep soils, the Palouse region in the
northwestern US is a major agricultural area and a leading
producer of wheat. USDA-ARS photo.

Invasive Weeds Threaten Winter Wheat Yield & Quality

Invasive weeds infest more than 20 million acres of winter wheat in the western US, costing growers over $500 million in yield losses each year.  Dense infestations of weeds can result in complete crop failure. Smaller weed populations decrease wheat yields and increase the amount of weed  seeds and stems that must be cleaned from harvested wheat grain. Weeds can also interact with viruses and other pests and have complex, synergistic impacts on grain yields and quality. Furthermore, many weeds are developing resistance to herbicides, requiring higher and/or more frequent  applications, which can raise production costs, injure wheat plants, and pose threats to environmental and human health. Many weeds are difficult to  manage. Thorough, up-to-date information about weed biology, ecology, and genetics is required to develop best management practices that offer  integrated control.

Multistate Research Project Improves Weed Control & Wheat Production

Mayweed chamomile, a common weed in the western US, often grows in winter wheat fields. Photo by Andreas Krappweis. RGBStock.com License.

Mayweed chamomile, a common weed in the western US,
often grows in winter wheat fields. Photo by Andreas Krappweis.
RGBStock.com License.

Multistate Research and Extension Project WERA-77 formed to find sustainable, economical ways to manage invasive weeds in wheat. Coordinating  research and extension efforts across the region has facilitated rapid transmission of new knowledge and promising technologies to wheat growers. In  particular, the project has provided the tools and information for quicker, more accurate identification of weed species. Faster identification has led to timely, targeted herbicide applications that prevent serious, costly outbreaks. Data from research trials have also been used to support labeling of  herbicides for use in diverse wheat production systems. Continued education has encouraged more wheat growers to carefully manage herbicide use  so that the onset of herbicide resistance in weed species is delayed as long as possible. New herbicides and application guidelines have helped growers  control invasive weeds efficiently and avoid wheat injury and yield reductions. Additionally, because of WERA-77 trials and demonstrations, farmers   are aware of effective ecological approaches to managing weeds. For example, WERA-77 studies showed that the combination of taller wheat varieties and increased seeding rates can be a viable and simple way to reduce weed seed production. WERA-77 studies also improved and expanded the use of  winter canola as a crop rotation that improves weed control in wheat. For the 2011-2012 growing season, a record level of around 200,000 acres of  winter canola were planted. All in all, WERA-77’s efforts have helped maintain the competitiveness of wheat production in western states.

Research Activities

Researchers conducted long-term field experiments and analyzed genes to identify wheat varieties with higher tolerance to both weeds and the  herbicides used to control weeds. Based on their findings, a Colorado State University wheat breeder developed a two-gene hard red winter Clearfield   wheat, which is much more tolerant to Beyond herbicide. A more tolerant wheat variety has allowed for more aggressive and effective control of  stubborn weeds such as feral rye. Studies also examined wheat injury rates due to certain rates, timings, and combinations of herbicide applications.  In two trials in eastern Oregon, all of the tested winter wheat varieties exhibited injury if Osprey was applied in cold conditions. Although Aim and  Vida applications caused irregular necrotic flecks on the leaves of Goetze, Skiles, and cultivar 726 wheat varieties shortly after application, the wheat recovered, and no further injury was documented from the additional 16 herbicide treatments. Researchers also evaluated Tubbs 06 and 301 (an experimental variety near release) under western Oregon growing conditions and detected no major herbicide sensitivity problems.

Long-term field experiments and genetic analysis were also used to identify problematic herbicide-resistant weed varieties. For example, researchers surveyed wheat fields for herbicide-resistant hybrid weeds produced by crossing of jointed goatgrass and Clearfield wheat. A Montana project assessed the synergistic effects of stressors like soil moisture, pests, and viruses on both wheat yields and weed yields. Findings will help scientists evaluate whether the joint usage of pathogens, insects, and herbicides provides efficient, durable management of weeds like Canada thistle.
In several studies, researchers treated different weed samples with a wide range of existing and newly developed herbicides to determine weed sensitivity and proper herbicide application rate. Montana State University researchers screened herbicides under a range of environmental and crop conditions. Under cold conditions, herbicide uptake by weeds was limited, allowing weeds to survive a field application. In another study, fall  applications of three different herbicides provided greater than 90% control of downy brome, while spring applications provided only about 60% control.

WERA-77 also identified non-chemical methods for controlling invasive weeds in wheat. Researchers found that increasing wheat seeding rate and crop height reduced weed seed production by approximately 30% and 20%, respectively. Field and greenhouse studies showed that burning narrow windrows can reduce Italian ryegrass seed survival and can be an effective tactic for integrated control of Italian ryegrass in the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Italian ryegrass emergence was 63% in the non-burned control, 48% in the burned standing stubble, and 1% with burned windrow treatments. Researchers also found that higher elevation and steeper slope reduced mayweed chamomile and common lambsquarter weed presence. Looking at how conservation tillage and crop rotation practices affect weeds, researchers found that Italian ryegrass and mayweed chamomile weeds increased when crops rotated from winter wheat to spring wheat to spring alternative crop with a no-tillage system. Other studies showed that using canola as a winter rotation crop effectively controls winter grass weeds. Researchers also showed that grazing sheep on grain stubble could impact weed communities and population dynamics. To reduce movement and dispersal of invasive weed seed sources, researchers evaluated weed seed dormancy and longevity and developed methods to help manage weed seed banks.

Extension

To encourage adoption of new weed control strategies, WERA-77 developed outreach programs to provide up-to-date information on weed  management to wheat growers, crop consultants, grain merchandisers, grain processors, Extension personnel, and other scientists. Researchers at  Oregon State University and Washington State University hosted tours of research trials for interested industry partners. These tours have allowed about 150 individuals representing multiple companies to see demonstrations and have open discussions. Oregon State University Extension,  researchers, and faculty developed and taught a Wheat Production Short Course. The course was well-received and attended by western Oregon wheat rowers, agricultural chemical industry personnel, faculty, and students. Project members also delivered presentations at several  industry grower meetings and Extension meetings and produced hard copy and online Extension bulletins. Colorado State University and Montana State University  developed an electronic key to identify weed species, and in Idaho, project members created the Herbicide Resistance and Persistence computer  program, which is available for free download. WERA-77 members from Idaho, Washington, and Oregon also published—and continuously update —chapters in the Pacific Northwest Weed Management Handbook.

The Palouse region in the northwestern US is rapidly adopting canola as a winter rotation crop to control weeds in wheat fields. Photo by SeattleForge, Flickr.

The Palouse region in the northwestern US is rapidly adopting canola as a winter rotation
crop to control weeds in wheat fields. Photo by SeattleForge, Flickr.

Want to know more?

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information,  visit https://www.waaesd.org.

Download/Print PDF

Administrative Advisor: H. Michael Harrington

Participating Institutions:

  • Colorado State University
  • University of Idaho
  • Kansas State University
  • Montana State University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Oregon Cooperative Extension
  • Texas AgriLife Extension Service
  • Utah State University
  • Washington State University
  • University of Wyoming

Impact Statement compiled by Sara Delheimer.

W-2170 (2009-2014): Soil-Based Use of Residuals, Wastewater & Reclaimed Water

Biosolids can be applied to farmland as a substitute for fertilizer. City of Geneva photo.

Biosolids can be applied to farmland as a substitute for fertilizer. City of Geneva photo.

Reusing Waste Addresses Many Issues, but Major Obstacles Exist

Millions of tons of municipal, agricultural, and industrial solid waste are discarded each year in the U.S. Often, these solid wastes are disposed of in landfills or incinerated, which is  costly to the industries and the public. Reusing solid wastes as soil substitutes, soil additives, or fertilizers could cut disposal costs and reduce landfill volume as well as help restore  disturbed land and boost crop productivity. Wastewater (degraded water, stormwater, irrigation return flow, graywater, and effluents from livestock operations) can be reused in lieu of  freshwater extractions—a popular option as water shortages loom. Soil can help treat reclaimed water by absorbing some of the nutrients before they have a chance to runoff into nearby bodies of water. Still, in 2009, less than 10% of treated wastewaters were reused.

The lack of standardized regulations for reusing wastes has been a major obstacle, particularly with  concerns that wastes contain potential contaminants, including excess nitrogen, phosphorous, pesticides, industrial chemicals, and trace pharmaceuticals. More research is needed to  determine the persistence of these compounds after waste is applied to soil and the potential threats they pose to air, water, and soil quality, or exposed plants, livestock, wildlife, and  humans. The bioavailability of potential contaminants varies with different waste processing technologies, soil types, climates, and land management practices. In order to reuse wastes  safely, practical scientific knowledge is needed to determine if and how waste can be used in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly manner in certain areas.

Aerial view of Stickney Wastewater Treatment Plan. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Aerial view of Stickney Wastewater Treatment Plan. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Multistate Research and Extension Project Yields Safer Waster Reuse Policies and Practices

Multistate Research Project W-2170 has made considerable advancements in
understanding how to safely and economically reuse wastes. Over the last five years,
researchers conducted field experiments, greenhouse studies, and laboratory tests
with different wastes in varying conditions and developed new methods and tools to
help evaluate the short- and long-term effects of applying wastes to soils.

W-2170 researchers identified processes that reduce contaminants in wastes, so that they can be reused safely.

  • Pre-tilling soil prior to applying liquid wastes or manure reduces runoff of many contaminants into nearby surface and groundwater.
  • Adding compost and biosolids (treated sewage sludge) to soils reduces potential of transferring contaminants like lead and arsenic to humans via vegetable consumption and soil ingestion.
  • A new process for composting biosolids has resulted in an odor-free product that will have greater public acceptance for urban use.

W-2170’s research has made it possible to develop science-based regulations and policies for reusing wastes.

  • These regulations and policies have been used by a range of stakeholders, including municipal wastewater treatment plant operators, farmers, industries in charge of site remediation, and project managers from US EPA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, among others.
  • New rules for setting limits on contaminants now require bioavailability assessments, which allows safer, more accurate limits.
  • Regulations and standards have made it easier for industries to get the proper permitting and safely institute reuse processes that make them more competitive and sustainable.
  • A testing program for soil amendments made from industrial by-products resulted in eight new materials being recommended for labeling by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2012. Receiving an official state label has economic and public relations benefits for industries. The testing program has also rejected products that pose risks to soil and water quality.

Waste reuse policies and
practices can lower waste
disposal costs, reduce
freshwater extraction,
improve soil quality,
and scale back use of
agrochemicals. Reusing
waste allows existing
industries and agriculture to
be more sustainable and
opens the door for new
industries and jobs.

Increased adoption of waste reuse policies influenced by W-2170 has reduced landfill waste and saved on disposal costs.

  • Annually diverting one million tons of spent foundry sand from landfills would realize annual savings of $30,000,000 by the foundry industry.
  • Workshops and demonstrations promoted diversion of unusable food to animal feed or compost, thus reducing the disposal of such waste to landfills or incinerators.
  • The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality accepted a new screening system developed by Virginia Tech researchers to identify reusable dredge sediments. This system is unique to the US and should lead to a major expansion of beneficial reuse of dredge sediments, which will decrease the cost of sediment management for the public taxpayer and lead to substantial income streams and improved soil productivity for receiving landowners.

Increased adoption of waste reused as substitute fertilizers and soil amendments has improved soil quality and improved plant yields, especially in drought.

  • Farming communities have successfully adopted the use of biosolids and food waste compost to alleviate soil acidity. Adding these wastes to soils to solve soil acidity problems that plague many regions in the developing world.
  • Biosolids wastewater contains a lot of phosphorous—an essential nutrient for crops, and reusing it on farmland can help farmers improve phosphorous-poor soils and provide wastewater treatment plant operators with a viable option for recycling phosphorous.
  • Applying biosolids to fields can increase crop yields more than synthetic fertilizers because they promote microorganisms that help protect plants against drought stress.

Reusing waste as substitute fertilizers and soil amendments has also reduced phosphorous leaching and runoff.

  • Using drinking water treatment residuals (DWTR) to absorb excess phosphorous reduces leaching and runoff from agricultural land. DWTR with high iron and aluminum concentrations especially reduce the solubility of phosphorous—more than either commercial fertilizers or animal manures. Methods generated by W-2170 for applying DWTR make this promising water quality protection technology a practical option.

W-2170 developed management practices for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions when reusing wastes to amend soils.

  • Long-term application—or one high application—of compost or biosolids to soils in the Mid-Atlantic region can accelerate soil carbon accumulation and increase soil carbon concentrations while also improving soil physical properties that enhance plant productivity.
Research plots for the Maryland Port Adminstration Cox Creek dredge study will determine if dredge sediment is suitable for reuse.

Research plots for the Maryland Port Adminstration Cox Creek dredge study will determine if dredge sediment is suitable for reuse.

W-2170 has provided options for cost-effective land reclamation through reuse of wastes.

  • Use of biosolids to rehabilitate contaminated ecosystems has been included as an option for a number of EPA Superfund National Priority List sites.
  • W-2170 developed gardening initiatives for brownfields that involve amending soils with wastes to reduce contaminants in the soil. This work is allowing brownfields to be turned into community gardens that produce crops without potentially adverse health effects to the grower or the consumer.
  • Commonly used, inexpensive, and widely available agricultural soil tests can be used to screen lead-enriched urban soil. Rapid and affordable lead assessment will allow city planners, communities, and other groups to convert vacant land into urban farms, gardens, parks, playgrounds, and other common areas.
  • Virginia’s adoption of the W-2170’s proposed practices for using biosolids to restore mined land has resulted in changes in mine operations and closure procedures and lower cost options for disturbed land reclamation.
  • Using high amounts of biosolids and compost to reconstruct and restore prime farmland following mineral sands mining decreases the cost of mining, increases landowner royalty return, and provides optimal soil productivity for future crops with minimal risks of nitrogen leaching to groundwater.
  • Using W-2170 research, Virginia Tech and Iluka Resources, Inc. successfully petitioned their state regulatory agency for a waiver of requirements to save and return topsoil on their mineral sands mines in eastern Virginia. This permit amendment will add millions of dollars to the company, landowners via royalty return, local counties via severance tax, and the state via increased corporate tax base. Iluka Resources, Inc. was awarded the National Mined Land Reclamation Award by the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, and W-2170 was credited as the underpinning source of technology.
  • The first use of trading credits to pay for poultry manure transport from farm to mine reclamation site occurred in Pennsylvania as a result of W-2170’s research on mine land reclamation.

W-2170 advancements have led to emerging markets, industries, and jobs.

  • Spent foundry sand in Ohio can be used as a component of manufactured soils, allowing foundries to create start-up industries and jobs focused on production and marketing of spent foundry sand soil blend materials to the public.

Want to Know More?

W-2170 was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research,  Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a  national or regional priority. For more information, visit http://waaesd.org

Download or print full Impact Statement

Participating Institutions

University of California, Riverside
Colorado State University
Cornell University
University of Delaware
Delaware State University
University of Florida
University of Hawaii
Kansas State University
University of Massachusetts
Michigan State University
University of Minnesota
New Mexico State University
Ohio State University
Oklahoma State University
Pennsylvania State University
Purdue University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and
State University
University of Washington
Washington State University
Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
Metropolitan Water Reclamation
District of Greater Chicago
Texas AgriLife Research
U.S.Environmental Protection Agency

 

Motivating Calcium Intake in Children (W-2003, 2008-2013)

USDA Snap-Ed photo.

USDA Snap-Ed photo.

Poor Bone Health Linked to Low Calcium Intake Among Adolescents

Osteoporosis, or thinning bones, is responsible for over 1.5 million fractures each year. More than half of all Americans  over 50 years of age experience osteoporosis-related bone fractures, which can lead to long-term pain and impaired mobility. Health care costs associated with these fractures exceed $20 billion every year.

Consuming calcium during adolescence—when the body is most able to absorb and retain calcium—helps build up bone mass and  density, ensuring strong, healthy bones later in life. However, calcium consumption among adolescents nationwide is less than desirable. Girls and  boys ages 9 to 18 consume only 60% to 80% of the recommended 1,300 milligrams (roughly three servings from the milk, yogurt, and cheese food group) per day.

Among adolescents, milk is increasingly replaced with soda, juices, and sports drinks. Some adolescents, particularly girls, may limit—or eliminate—milk in their diets because of the perception that dairy products are fattening. Family factors in, too. Parents’ knowledge about nutrition, parents’ consumption of milk, and availability of calcium-rich foods in the home also play a large role in how much calcium youth consume. Because eating habits formed early in life often continue throughout adulthood, programs intended to boost calcium intake must engage parents.

Multistate Research Project Motivates Parents and Kids to Consume Calcium

For the past five years, scientists have worked together on Multistate Research Project W-2003, conducting studies about the specific factors that  influence calcium intake among children. With the data they have collected so far, researchers are designing messages, materials, and programs that motivate parents to boost the amount of calcium-rich foods and drinks their children consume. These materials and programs equip parents with the knowledge and inspiration to provide access to healthy, calcium-rich foods and to encourage and role model consuming them. Teaching children to
consume calcium-rich foods at an early age will reduce their risk of costly and painful bone diseases later in life. Indeed, many of the messages and materials developed by W-2003 are tailored for groups that are most at risk of osteoporosis—women and families with Asian or Hispanic heritage. W-2003 researchers are also developing new techniques and tools for sharing these messages, so that they reach more parents and promote healthy families across the U.S.

Calcium-rich foods and drinks include cheese, tofu (and other soybean products), dark leaft greens like spinach, milk, and fortified orange juice.

Calcium-rich foods and drinks include cheese, tofu (and other soybean products), dark leafy greens like spinach, milk, and fortified orange juice.

A Closer Look

These posters designed by W-2003 use specific phrase and images to motivate Asian and Hispanic parents to provide calcium-rich foods and drinks for their children and to encourage parenting practices like eating together and role-modeling good eating habits.

These posters designed by W-2003 use specific phrase and images to motivate Asian and Hispanic parents to provide calcium-rich foods and drinks for their children and to encourage parenting practices like eating together and role-modeling good eating habits.

To understand what keeps parents from encouraging children to consume calcium-rich foods and what would motivate them to encourage this  behavior, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 200 parents of Asian, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white adolescents in 12 states and  distributed questionnaires to 600 parents and children across eight states. Researchers also gathered data from focus group discussions.

After  analyzing the data, researchers found several factors that influenced calcium intake among adolescents and their parents. School, TV, and family  members strongly influenced children’s food choices. Parents who provided and drank milk regularly had greater knowledge of the health benefits of  calcium, and their children consumed more calcium. These parents also tended to show stronger traditional and cultural values and reported eating family dinners together every night.

Data also pinpointed barriers to calcium consumption, including children’s dislike of calcium-rich foods and preference for other beverages instead of milk. Parents who did not provide or drink milk regularly tended to have little time to be concerned about  their children’s diets or make balanced meals in addition to limited financial resources and little access to calcium-rich foods. Other barriers included traditional cultural food patterns that do not include many or any dairy products.

Using this data, researchers worked with a marketing group to  develop messages targeted at different parenting practices. They crafted two sets of messages—one fact-based and one emotion-based—intended to  motivate parents to promote calcium consumption in their families. Marketing and graphic design experts at Washington State University and The  Ohio State University created posters with these tag lines and accompanying graphics. After revising the posters based on initial feedback from  parents, researchers initiated a survey of a larger group of Asian and Hispanic parents to gauge the effectiveness of the motivational messages.

Want to know more?

Download the printable PDF!

Participating Institutions & Researchers:
University of Arizona, Scottie Misner, Nobuko Kay Hongu
*University of Arkansas, Latha Devareddy
Brigham Young University, Rickelle Richards, Paul Johnston
University of California, Davis, Christine Bruhn
University of Hawaii, Jinan Banna, Corilee Watters
University of Minnesota, Marla Reicks
*North Carolina State University, Suzie Goodell
Ohio State University, Carolyn Gunther
Oregon State University, Mary Cluskey, Deborah Maddy (Administrative Advisor)
*Purdue University, Carol J. Boushey
Utah Cooperative Extension, Siew Sun Wong (now at Oregon State University)
*Washington State University, Miriam Edlefsen
*No longer a member of the W-2003 team

 

The W-2003 project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance  multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and  grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

Volunteer Precipitation Monitoring (WERA-1012, 2008-2013)

Precipitation Data in Demand

With the right training and easy-to-use, reliable equipment, everyday citizens of all ages can become volunteer precipitation observers. Photo by Hentry Reges.

With the right training and easy-to-use, reliable equipment, everyday citizens of all ages can become volunteer precipitation observers. Photo by Hentry Reges.

Recent widespread droughts and severe floods in the U.S. are reminders that fluctuations—especially extremes—in precipitation seriously impact the environment and society. For almost 125 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has monitored precipitation types and amounts, making it possible to prepare for variability and extremes. Using real-time and historic precipitation data, city planners and civil engineers can design better sewers, roofs, and other infrastructure; farmers can adapt growing practices; and water providers can ensure steady supplies for agricultural, industrial, and municipal uses. Understanding precipitation allows everyday citizens to go about their daily lives comfortably and safely.

Over the years, satellites and ground RADAR have become popular because they can detect precipitation without physically being in an area. Though these systems can estimate the intensity and motion of precipitation, on-the-ground measurements are still needed to calibrate the equipment and confirm precipitation type and accumulation. Collecting on-the-ground data all across the country takes a lot of rain gauges and a lot of manpower. To cover more ground and gather more data, some programs have enlisted volunteers to record observations with simple, plastic rain gauges often used right in their backyards.

Simple rain gauges like the one below used by CoCoRaHS volunteers can be set up in diverse locations to measure precipitation amounts in different areas. Photo by Henry Reges.

Simple rain gauges like the one below used by CoCoRaHS volunteers can be set up in diverse locations to measure precipitation amounts in different areas. Photo by Henry Reges.

As federal budgets for climate monitoring flatline, there is a new push to make the most of these low-tech, low-cost volunteer networks. But counting on volunteers to collect precipitation data comes with concerns. Recruiting volunteers can be tricky, leaving some areas with no volunteers—and no precipitation data. Volunteers also need training and coordination to ensure they use sound methods and adhere to the same quality control standards.

Multistate Research Project Makes a Difference

Since 2008, members of the WERA-1012 multistate research and extension project have conducted research and outreach to support volunteer precipitation observation networks. The group’s efforts have raised awareness about the value of precipitation data collected by volunteer networks, boosting involvement and strengthening long-term support. The number of volunteer weather observers has jumped to over 20,000, producing a rich data source.  Greater involvement in these programs has enhanced science literacy in the U.S., especially among students who gain real-world experience collecting and analyzing data.

Emphasizing low-cost ways to mobilize volunteers and collect data, WERA- 1012’s work has turned volunteer networks into an economically sustainable resource for national weather monitoring. Researchers have also shed light on how to train and coordinate volunteers, making volunteer observations more reliable. Furthermore, the WERA-1012 committee has standardized the tools and protocols used by volunteers, making it easier to combine data from different volunteer networks. This has resulted in the most extensive national precipitation monitoring network in U.S. history.

Accurate, real-time data at the local scale has made it possible to:

  • issue warnings, giving the public time to reach safety in floods, winter storms, and other severe weather events;
  • supply enough water for municipal, agricultural, and industrial uses;
  • irrigate crops more efficiently so that water isn’t wasted and crops stay healthy;
  • administer federal crop insurance and reduce fraud, saving farmers and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars;
  • calibrate RADAR and satellites.

Collaborative Research & Extension

Provides Coordination, Training & Tools

As a multistate project, WERA-1012 has brought together scientists with diverse expertise from institutions across the U.S. Their efficiency and dedication have spurred many advances in volunteer precipition observation networks. Photo by Henry Reges.

As a multistate project, WERA-1012 has brought together scientists with diverse expertise from institutions across the U.S. Their efficiency and dedication have spurred many advances in volunteer precipition observation networks. Photo by Henry Reges.

Over the years, WERA-1012 coordination fostered open interaction between the National Weather Service, the National Climatic Data Center, universities, and other organizations that use climate data. Working together, these organizations addressed critical observational and funding issues and identified specific strategies that sustain effective volunteer networks. Based on this work, existing volunteer networks like the National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Program and the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) picked up new tactics to recruit volunteeers, such as partnerships with school science programs, media announcements, and recruitment blitzes. Over 1,200 new volunteers joined CoCoRaHS during the “March Madness” program in 2013. The WERA-1012 committee also focused on engaging minority populations and volunteers in specially targeted areas.

CoCoRaHS volunteers record their precipipation measurements in an online database. Once in the system, the data can be displayed as maps like the one above, which shows new snow accumulation over one day. Screenshot from http://www.cocorahs.org/Maps/.

CoCoRaHS volunteers record their precipipation measurements in an online database. Once in the system, the data can be displayed as maps like the one above, which shows new snow accumulation over one day. Screenshot from http://www.cocorahs.org/Maps/.

To help volunteers take accurate measurements, researchers compared rain gauges for ease-of-use, durability, and reliability and set guidelines for placing gauges where they will not be damaged. The committee also coordinated the distribution of “ETgages,” enabling the CoCoRaHS volunteers in 34 states to measure evapotranspiration.

To bring volunteer observations in line with regional, national, and international quality standards, the committee developed new protocols for volunteer networks. WERA-1012 working groups also helped regional and national agencies refine their observation guidelines. For example, project members enabled a special Snow Data workshop for FEMA that firmed up their policies on verifying snow disaster declarations across the country.

In addition, the committee developed better training materials, including a series of videos available for download from the CoCoRaHS website, some of which use animation to illustrate cumbersome procedures and potential observation scenarios. Project members also participated in monthly WxTalk Webinars. About 175 people joined each of the 25 talks to date, all of which are archived on the CoCoRaHS YouTube channel.

To combat data entry errors, project members teamed up with the Midwest Regional Climate Center and developed a system that allows volunteer network coordinators to flag suspicious values and track how they are resolved. Six states (Illinois, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Wyoming) already rolled out the system. The committee also began sending “Quality Control Tips of the Week” to the CoCoRaHS network. Other committee members suggested ways to eliminate some data entry errors by improving the user interface for the CoCoRaHS website.

Want to know more?

National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Program: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/coop/what-is-coop.html

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network: http://www.cocorahs.org/

The WERA-1012 project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

Participating Land-grant Institutions: University of Arizona, Colorado State University, University of Illinois, Kansas Cooperative Extension, Louisiana State University, University of Missouri, New Mexico State University, University of Nebraska, Rutgers, North Carolina State University, North Dakota State University, Oregon State University, Prairie View A&M University, South Dakota State University, Texas A&M University, Utah State University, University of Wyoming.

Other Participating Institutions: Florida State University, NOAA, BLM, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire, University of Oklahoma, Arkansas Natural Resource Commission, Arizona State University.

Download Printable PDF

Monitoring Rangelands

WERA-040 (2007-2012): This project has provided tools that help landowners and land managers assess the ecological status of rangelands and make management decisions that support the sustainability of healthy rangelands.

Rangelands include grasslands, shrub lands, deserts, alpine communities, marshes, and other ecosystems, including the juniper-dominated landscape above. WERA-040 researchers have standardized specific descriptions of the various ecological sites that occur on rangelands, making it is easier to evaluate rangeland health. Photo by Mike Borman, Oregon State University.

Rangelands include grasslands, shrub lands, deserts, alpine communities, marshes, and other ecosystems, including the juniper-dominated landscape above. WERA-040 researchers have standardized specific descriptions of the various ecological sites that occur on rangelands, making it is easier to evaluate rangeland health. Photo by Mike Borman, Oregon State University.

Who cares and why?

Rangelands in the western U.S. form a vast and varied landscape that provides important habitat for wildlife, grazing land for economically-important livestock, and recreational opportunities. Ecological processes that occur on rangelands generate clean water to drink and air to breathe. Periodically assessing the general ecological health of rangelands is key to supporting the long-term sustainability of rangelands. Since 1974, the USDA has been charged with conducting a “comprehensive assessment of present and anticipated uses, demand for, and supply of renewable resources from the nation’s public and private forests and rangelands.” The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conducts a similar inventory of private rangelands across the nation. However, interpreting rangeland conditions has always been controversial, especially when debates over public policy and resource allocation occur. Furthermore, collating assessments of private lands with those from various public land units into a cohesive national report has been difficult because different agencies have used different criteria. A single, unified method for assessing rangeland condition is clearly needed, but identifying a method that accurately measures rangeland health across a broad spectrum of climate, geology, soil types, and ownership patterns is complicated.

WERA-040 research and outreach has helped rangelands professionals sharpen their skills for identifying ecological sites on rangelands. Photo by Bobbie Davis, NRCS.

WERA-040 research and outreach has helped rangelands professionals sharpen their skills for identifying ecological sites on rangelands. Photo by Bobbie Davis, NRCS.

What has the project done so far?

During the past five years of the WERA-040 project, participating scientists have developed new science-based approaches and models for assessing, monitoring, and managing rangelands. In particular, researchers have formulated and standardized detailed descriptors for various ecological processes and features that are being assessed. They have also designed models that track and forecast rangeland conditions given different potential land use or management options. Another focus has been developing methods for determining whether or not ecological processes are working properly within various rangeland ecosystems. These tools have been designed to work for many different agencies, in all types of rangeland ecosystems, and for rangelands in all states of health. Data collected by WERA-040 researchers have been used to set thresholds for ecological processes and features and recommend specific management options. WERA-040 researchers and Extension professionals have hosted successful symposia and published many papers to share the latest information and technology among various conservation organizations, state and federal land managers, legislative authorities, the agriculture industry, and private landowners.

Knowing what types of ecological sites are present on rangelands helps guide management practices and helps land managers recognize threats and damage to these ecosystems. Photo by Mike Stirling, NRCS.

Knowing what types of ecological sites are present on rangelands helps guide management practices and helps land managers recognize threats and damage to these ecosystems. Photo by Mike Stirling, NRCS.

Impact Statements:

  • Helped private landowners and public land managers make informed decisions by improving means of assessing rangeland resources and making monitoring data more readily available.
  • Increased adoption of monitoring guidelines in western states, helping land managers spot degrading conditions before they become too serious.
  • Protected the sustainability of western rangelands by developing models that can be used across the western U.S. to design more adaptive management plans.
  • Raised awareness about possible restoration options for rangelands of all conditions.
  • Provided detailed information on the status and sustainability of natural resources that rural communities rely on for economic progress. For example, increased implementation of rotational grazing practices in North Dakota has generated about one million dollars per year for North Dakota producers.

What research is needed?

One focus for future research is understanding how vegetation treatments affect the movement, distribution, and quality of water resources on different ecological sites. Researchers also need to verify the models and ecological site descriptions used to predict transitions between vegetative states.

Want to know more?

Administrative Advisor: Bret Hess

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

Biological Control of Pests in Plant Systems

W-2185 (2007-2012): This project provided successful, cost-effective, and sustainable pest control in agricultural and natural settings by releasing, manipulating, and conserving the predators, parasites, and pathogens that attack harmful insect and weed pests.

The banana aphid (top right) is a costly pest of banana and other tropical/subtropical food and ornamental plants. By feeding on plant tissues, these aphids can kill the plant, suppress growth, and/or transmit devastating plant diseases. Scientists have discovered that Endaphis fugitiva parasitizes banana aphids. Field and laboratory observations have shown that adult flies lay eggs on plant leaves near aphid colonies (left). Hatched fly larvae pierce aphid bodies and continue to develop inside. Aphids die shortly after the parasite re-emerges. Scientists have also found an effective biological control agent for another insect pest, Erythrina Gall Wasp (bottom right), which defoliates and destroys coral trees in Hawaii and Florida. Photos by Russell Messing, University of Hawaii.

The banana aphid (top right) is a costly pest of banana and other tropical/subtropical food and ornamental plants. By feeding on plant tissues, these aphids can kill the plant, suppress growth, and/or transmit devastating plant diseases. Scientists have discovered that Endaphis fugitiva parasitizes banana aphids. Field and laboratory observations have shown that adult flies lay eggs on plant leaves near aphid colonies (left). Hatched fly larvae pierce aphid bodies and continue to develop inside. Aphids die shortly after the parasite re-emerges. Scientists have also found an effective biological control agent for another insect pest, Erythrina Gall Wasp (bottom right), which defoliates and destroys coral trees in Hawaii and Florida. Photos by Russell Messing, University of Hawaii.

Who cares and why?

Insect and weed pests cause serious damage to agricultural and natural areas, resulting in economic losses, environmental damage, and human health hazards. Pest populations are expanding and new pests continue to arrive in the western U.S. every year. Many of these pest populations have or will become permanently established. Growers often rely largely on chemical pesticides to control pests, but an integrated pest management (IPM) approach considers additional or alternative tactics to keep pest densities below levels that cause economic or environmental harm. One tactic is biological control, which uses native and foreign natural enemies (e.g., parasites, predators, and pathogens) to suppress pests. Biological control is a natural process, but can be enhanced by releasing natural enemies in a new area where a target pest  occurs, supplementing or manipulating natural enemies already present, and/or modifying  the environment to give existing natural enemies the upper hand. Biological control is a high-priority alternative because of the potential benefits to agriculture, rural communities, and consumers. Biological control allows farmers to reduce pesticide use and cut costs. Lower pesticide use also reduces risks of air, water, and soil contamination, thereby protecting the quality of life for farm workers, area residents, and native wildlife. This makes biological control a particularly useful option for organic farming, which continues to increase at roughly 20% per year in the U.S. Still, successful biological control has to overcome many challenges. To comply with federal regulations, scientists must carefully select the appropriate natural enemy species, so that they control the target pests but do not harm non-target species or the environment. In-depth studies and rigorous data are needed to support practical biological control recommendations. Furthermore, because target pests often occur in more than one state or area, research and biological control approaches must be highly coordinated.

What has the project done so far?

The W-2185 project has formed a network for exchanging information, collaborating on research projects, and coordinating biological control efforts. W-2185 scientists have studied pests and their natural enemies in both their native habitats and the areas where they have been newly introduced. Based on this information, researchers have released a variety of predators, parasites, and pathogens that biologically control vine mealybug, red imported fire ant, Diaprepes root weevil, spotted knapweed, purple loosestrife, and other insect and weed pests. Scientists have developed standard procedures for raising, storing, and releasing natural enemies, as well as ways to genetically or physically enhance them. Scientists have also protected naturally occurring pest enemies by making changes to habitats and agricultural practices. To understand which methods are sustainable, the group has evaluated non-target environmental and economic impacts and has consistently monitored which efforts succeed and which ones fail. W-2185 publications, presentations, websites, and policy recommendations have provided government agencies, agriculture industries, and farmers with the latest news, findings, and recommendations.

Leafy spurge (the yellowish weed above) is a creeping perennial that limits how many cattle rangelands or pastures can hold. This weed is toxic to cattle and decreases grass growth. Scientists have shown that releasing Aphthona flea beetles can control leafy spurge by feeding on roots and foliage. These photos show the same field before (top) and after (bottom) flea beetles were introduced. Photos by David C. Thompson, New Mexico State University.

Leafy spurge (the yellowish weed above) is a creeping perennial that limits how many cattle rangelands or pastures can hold. This weed is toxic to cattle and decreases grass growth. Scientists have shown that releasing Aphthona flea beetles can control leafy spurge by feeding on roots and foliage. These photos show the same field before (top) and after (bottom) flea beetles were introduced. Photos by David C. Thompson, New Mexico State University.

Impact Statements:

  • Formed a network of scientists, agencies, and industry members that worked directly with farmers and initiated informed, coordinated, and tailored biological control efforts.
  • Increased acceptance for biological control efforts among farmers and government agencies by sharing updated knowledge about the environmental and economic impacts.
  • Reduced risks of air, soil, and water contamination and human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals by decreasing chemical pesticide use in the western U.S.
  • Helped farmers cut costs. From 2007 through 2010, property owners/managers in the northwestern U.S. saved an estimated $500,000; in 2011 alone, they saved $250,000 by biologically controlling weeds. Over the last 16 years, an IPM program that incorporates natural enemy conservation saved Arizona cotton growers $388 million by reducing crop loss and chemical pesticide use. In turn, farmer savings can translate into lower prices for consumers.
  • Introduced natural enemies that limit plant reproduction, but are not fatal. This provides the option to plant certain species for ornamental or other uses (e.g., erosion control, hedgerows) without risking serious infestation and damage.
  • Protected food security, biodiversity, and cultural heritage on Samoan islands by introducing predatory beetles to control pests that damage breadfruit trees—a traditional food source and major component of the island landscape.

What research is needed?

Despite many advances in recent years, the understanding of success and failure in biological control efforts falls short of meeting certain current and future requirements. Ideally, scientists need to better predict the appropriate species or biotype(s) to release for control of a target pest in a given situation as well as potential environmental impacts resulting from the use of exotic species for biological control. Furthermore, conservation biological control requires detailed ecological understanding of the production system so that growers can be given very specific and practical advice on how to conserve existing beneficial species in that system.

Want to know more?

Administrative Advisor: David C. Thompson

This project was supported by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

 

Preventing Obesity in High Risk Families

W1005 (2007-2012): This project has identified factors that contribute to obesity in young children and have developed innovative strategies and initiatives to help prevent and decrease obesity, especially in low-income and minority families with children.

Group Of Children Running In Park

Children with low levels of physical activity face increased risk of childhood obesity.

The proportion of the U.S. population that is overweight and the proportion that is obese have reached epidemic levels. By 2002, 65% of U.S. adults were overweight and 31% were obese. Obesity has also become the most prevalent nutritional disease of children and adolescents. These rising rates are cause for concern because excessive body weight is connected to increased risk of chronic disease. Since obesity was first declared a public health concern in 1952, billions of dollars have been spent on prevention and intervention efforts; however, most campaigns and programs have had little discernible effect. A variety of genetic, environmental, and cultural factors (such as race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, eating habits, and physical activity) have been linked to body weight; however, data on many of these factors are limited or weak. Furthermore, there have been relatively few studies on how the family shapes behaviors that lead to obesity.

eatinggrapes

W-1005 studied key behaviors related to weight gain in children, including high intakes of sweetened beverages and high- calorie/low-nutrient foods, low intakes of fruits and vegetables, large portion sizes, few family meals, sedentary behaviors, and excessive TV/media viewing. Photo to the left courtesy of UA Cooperative Extension.

Appropriate tools and measures are needed in order to gather useful data on the factors that contribute to excessive weight gain in children. Otherwise, prevention and intervention programs may be misdirected, funds misused, and groups of people overlooked. By shedding light on the complex connections between physical, behavioral, social, and environmental variables, multidisciplinary research can help parents, educators, and governments understand how to address obesity risks.

What has the project done so far?

This project has brought together scientists from multiple disciplines and parts of the U.S. to study key behaviors associated with obesity in children ages three to 10. The team has also conducted almost 300 surveys of young children and their mothers that showed how parenting styles and feeding practices are related to perceived and actual weights. Several W-1005 researchers have helped federal agencies conduct 200 interviews that examined resilience to obesity among families exposed to factors that typically promote obesity. W-1005 researchers have also investigated what parents think about currently-used programs and messages. This research has stimulated new approaches for prevention programs and intervention strategies. For example, a W-1005 member now chairs a national expert panel convened to develop ways to integrate the “dynamic energy balance” approach into training programs for practitioners and into nutrition and physical activity educational programs for the public. Furthermore, surveys have pointed out what changes individuals and families are willing and able to make and which methods and tools will be needed for successful interventions. Over 75 interviews with low-income parents have demonstrated how obesity prevention programs can be more successful in limited-resource communities. W-1005 researchers have shared their findings and recommendations in numerous journal articles, conferences, and seminars.

Impact Statements:

  • Advanced the science of child obesity prevention, particularly about parenting, energy dynamics, and lifestyle factors. By focusing on these factors, child obesity prevention programs can be more effective in family and community settings.
  • Shed light on parenting styles, feeding practices, and other key behaviors that protect children from becoming obese. This information can help determine which aspects of nutrition education and assistance programs help individuals and families acquire the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and means to prevent obesity.
  • Advanced obesity research methods by identifying accurate ways to assess behaviors that contribute to obesity in children and by improving field methods for measuring body size and weight, fitness, physical activity, and metabolism. Improved methods allow more refined studies and help identify risk factors for obesity and chronic disease in children and families in school and community settings.
  • W-1005 members have been working with schools, communities, and state and federal agencies to design programs that encourage physical activity, curiosity about food, and healthy lifestyles. For example, All 4 Kids©, which features the work of several W-1005 members, is a nationally-acclaimed, award-winning preschool obesity prevention program.

    W-1005 members have been working with schools, communities, and state and federal agencies to design programs that encourage physical activity, curiosity about food, and healthy lifestyles. For example, All 4 Kids©, which features the work of several W-1005 members, is a nationally-acclaimed, award-winning preschool obesity prevention program.

    Determined how to appropriately and effectively measure differences in parent-child interactions among low-income families.

  • Improved understanding of these differences can lead to programs that are better tailored for families with limited resources.
  • Provided insights about how obesity prevention messages are interpreted by parents, suggesting ways to design more effective educational campaigns and enhance participation in prevention programs.
  • Helped schools, families, and communities increase physical activity, choose healthy foods, and meet their wellness goals through a wide variety of programs launched or supported by W-1005 members and their institutions.

What research is needed?

Additional research should focus on identifying potential training, programming, and policy needs that will help educators and parents follow established national guidelines. This research is needed in order to help parents provide the environment, support, and examples that will promote a healthier lifestyle for their children. Researchers need to continue evaluating the factors that influence excessive gains in body weight by young children, especially factors related to parenting practices and styles and energy balance, so that sustainable behavior changes can be made.

Want to know more?

Download the printable PDF!

Administrative Advisor: Linda Houtkooper

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

 

 

Rural Population Change

W2001 (2007-2012): This project has provided data and insights on demographic trends in rural areas that are essential  for plans, programs, and policies that support sustainable rural communities and promote residents’ quality of life.

Who cares and why?

As rural places and populations change, reformed policies and programs may be necessary to meet shifting needs,  overcome new challenges, and take advantage of opportunities. Many rural populations are aging. Younger people are  not flocking to rural areas, but many retirees are seeking out rural places. Furthermore, younger people who grew up  in rural areas are leaving for urban areas while older residents are staying put. Aging poses both opportunities and  challenges, affecting the workforce and economy and changing the kinds of amenities—like health care and  recreational activities—that are desired. Rapid population growth, which is happening on the outskirts of major cities  and in high amenity rural areas, also presents challenges and opportunities. New residents often revitalize small town  economies, but in-migration also creates demands for infrastructure, like houses and schools, and social services. The  pressure of these demands can lead to unplanned and environmentally destructive land use. Rapid development can  limit agricultural land and local food supplies, degrade air and water quality, and encroach on wildlife habitat.  Inmigration has also broadened the ethnic diversity of rural areas, impacting rural economies and social norms. For example, new Hispanic residents are raising the fertility of rural populations and increasing the percent of non- English speakers, creating challenges for service providers like schools as well as opportunities for new businesses. Though ethnic in-migrants are often attracted to rural areas by jobs and lower costs of living, they often suffer high  poverty rates due partly to limited access to educational opportunities, historic and contemporary racial  discrimination in housing and labor markets, and lack of social integration. New research and policies are needed to  ensure increased economic opportunities, social integration, and quality of life for all rural area residents.

What has the project done so far?

For the past 10 years, W-2001 participants have been at the forefront of research on rural population change, leading multidisciplinary studies at the national, regional, and local level. W-2001 members have served as consultants for, or made briefings to the: U.S. Census Bureau; USDA; Housing Access Center; National Rural Health Association; members of Congress; advisory councils; and county commissions. The group’s recent research has described how migration of older people to rural areas and aging-in-place impact individual and community well-being, political agendas, social values, land use patterns, tax revenues, housing, healthcare, and transportation. Researchers have also made efforts to demonstrate the effects of the recent economic recession and housing crisis on the wellbeing of the rural elderly. Other studies have analyzed conditions that affect social and economic integration of ethnically diverse immigrants and their impacts on the labor force and social values. A third focus of the project has been the effects of  rural population size and composition on land use and land use conflicts. For example, researchers have studied the  connection between economic prosperity and increased demand for rural land and recreation in the Intermountain West as well as the impacts of sprawl on agricultural land and wilderness areas. Making research results and insights  easily accessible to policy makers and other stakeholders, W-2001 researchers have generated peer-reviewed journal  articles, books, and outreach materials, given presentations, hosted conferences and town hall meetings, and created  online databases.

Impacts:

  • Taught rural residents, community leaders, congressional committees, rural program managers, and  non-governmental organizations how to access, analyze, and use population data.
  • Helped public policy makers and rural residents design or modify programs so that they address important issues and  are adapted to current and projected rural population trends.
  • Enabled federal, state, and local decision makers to compare situations and learn from each other’s experiences.
  • Helped government leaders and rural residents decide where and when intervention is needed.

 

What research is needed?

Further research is needed to investigate the effects of The Great Recession on rural demographics. Additional  research will also be needed to determine the impacts of the outreach material generated by W-2001, especially the  two books: Rural Aging in 21st Century America and the International Handbook on Rural Demography.

Want to know more?

Download the printable PDF!

Administrative Advisor: Lou Swanson

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate  Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an  amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

 

Mitigating Agrochemical Impacts

W-2045 (2010 – 2015): This project has advanced our understanding of the fate and effects of agrochemicals and led to mitigation technologies that reduce the risks to human and environmental health.

Agrochemicals include pesticides and other chemicals used in crop and livestock production. W-2045 researchers have  studied how chemical residues that runoff into ground and surface waters may harm aquatic organisms. Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA-NRCS.

Agrochemicals include pesticides and other chemicals used in crop and livestock production. W-2045 researchers have studied how chemical residues that runoff into ground and surface waters may harm aquatic organisms. Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA-NRCS.

Who cares and why?

Agrochemicals (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and disinfectants) are used to protect crops and livestock  from pests, diseases, and other stressors. As the human population continues to increase, these chemicals play  an important role in helping farmers meet demands for food production. Agrochemicals are also used on golf  courses, sports fields, parks, and residential lawns and may be used in homes as pest foggers and in pet flea  control products. In these ways, agrochemicals are public health tools, protecting people against diseases—like  West Nile virus—that are spread by pests. Despite many important uses, agrochemicals may pose significant  risks to environmental quality and human health if exposures are too high. Some agrochemicals or their  byproducts may linger in the air or soil and can pollute surface and ground water. Farm workers and their  families are most susceptible to chemical exposure on the farm. Neighboring rural and urban areas may be  exposed to chemicals that can travel long distances through the air, soil, or water. Agrochemical exposure may  lead to a variety of human health problems, and these chemicals can contaminate food, degrade habitat, and  negatively affect the health of many organisms. Therefore, mitigating unacceptable agrochemical exposure is a  high priority, especially in regions where sensitive human populations may be exposed and where species are  protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Dr. Sepulveda has worked closely with native communities in Hooper Bay, Alaska, teaching them how to examine fish health. Photo courtesy of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and School of Civil Engineering, Purdue  University.

Dr. Sepulveda has worked closely with native communities in Hooper Bay, Alaska, teaching them how to examine fish health. Photo courtesy of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University.

What has the project done so far?

Since 1956, the W-2045 project has provided leadership in identifying where agrochemicals end up in urban and  rural ecosystems, what effects they can have, and what can be done to mitigate adverse impacts. By supporting  the work of researchers and Extension specialists whose expertise crosses disciplinary and state boundaries, this  project has been able to provide key information to public and environmental health regulatory agencies, natural resource managers, agricultural commodity groups, and agrochemical users across the nation. W-2045 researchers have not only shed light on land management practices that contribute to, and possibly accelerate, the movement of agrochemical residues, but have also helped develop effective mitigation practices and  technologies now commonly used in large scale agriculture. Models developed by W-2045 scientists to test the  impact of agrochemical exposures on aquatic organisms and migratory birds have been successfully applied to  the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Scientists who tested fish, crab, shrimp, and oyster samples found that the  chemical profiles of these organisms were similar to profiles prior to the oil spill and were not cause for concern.  Other researchers have provided new insights into human health and ecological risks from pesticides used to manage mosquito populations and the spread of West Nile virus. W-2045 scientists have also assisted with the registration of safer agrochemicals for the more than 300 specialty crops produced in the U.S. These research findings and recommendations have been shared in numerous journals, workshops, and trainings and have been  ited in popular textbooks.

W-2045 research and models have been used to assess how birds are impacted by exposure to oil spill chemicals. This  research helps ensure that the ecosystem will recover successfully. Photo by Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield, U.S. Coast  Guard.

W-2045 research and models have been used to assess how birds are impacted by exposure to oil spill chemicals. This research helps ensure that the ecosystem will recover successfully. Photo by Petty Officer Caleb Critchfield, U.S. Coast Guard.

Impact Statements

  • Reduced adverse environmental and human impacts of agrochemicals with ways to mitigate unacceptable  exposure.
  • Made it possible to detect and mitigate problems before injury occurs by designing systems that  accurately measure agrochemical exposure and effects.
  • Helped growers maintain crop yields and profits while  meeting environmental protection standards. This ensures consumers have a steady supply of high-quality food.
  • Promoted better public health by determining effective ways to apply insecticides that control diseases like West Nile virus.
  • Ensured effective recovery responses to incidents like oil spills. Informed regulations, including many tests required to register agrochemicals throughout the world.
  • Advanced research, education, and outreach in  the field of environmental toxicology.
Some agrochemicals are neurotoxins and may impair the navigation abilities of exposed birds. In one study, W-2045  researchers attached transmitters to pigeons that were exposed to methylmercury and recorded how long it took the birds to return. To determine if delays were due to navigation difficulties, researchers attached GPS dataloggers to the birds and  traced their flight paths. Photo by Chris Pritsos, University of Nevada, Reno.

Some agrochemicals are neurotoxins and may impair the navigation abilities of exposed birds. In one study, W-2045 researchers attached transmitters to pigeons that were exposed to methylmercury and recorded how long it took the birds to return. To determine if delays were due to navigation difficulties, researchers attached GPS dataloggers to the birds and traced their flight paths. Photo by Chris Pritsos, University of Nevada, Reno.

What research is needed?

Multidisciplinary research on all scales—from organisms to landscapes—is needed to better understand the fate  of agrochemicals and their effects on human and environmental health. Researchers also need to develop ways to  ontrol the movement of agrochemicals through ecosystems. Better options for integrated pest management  are also needed.

Want to know more?

Download the printable PDF!

Administrative Advisor: Ron Pardini

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.

Rangeland Fragmentation

Rangelands provide important grazing land for cattle; however, encroaching housing development and fences marking private property boundaries and public land allotments are dividing the landscape, potentially limiting grazing area as well as wildlife habitat. (Top photo by Wink Crigler. Middle photo by Mark Brunsun, Utah State University. Bottom photo by Rob Lee, Flickr.)

Rangelands provide important grazing land for cattle; however, encroaching housing development and fences marking private property boundaries and public land allotments are dividing the landscape, potentially limiting grazing area as well as wildlife habitat. (Top photo by Wink Crigler. Middle photo by Mark Brunsun, Utah State University. Bottom photo by Rob Lee, Flickr.)

W1192 (2006-2012): This project has influenced the way public and private land management decisions are made by developing standardized tools for assessing the social, economic, and ecological aspects of rangeland fragmentation in the western U.S.

Who cares and why?

One of the most serious challenges facing the western U.S. is the loss of rangelands to development. Rangelands provide important habitat for wildlife, grazing land for the economically important livestock industry, recreational opportunities, and other ecosystem goods and services. Changes in tenure and ownership have promoted new attitudes towards land that are shifting the direction of land use and management. Grazing has been curtailed as working rangelands are subdivided for development, and private lands are experiencing increasing rates of subdivision. The intermixing of small, unmanaged parcels with extensive rangelands hampers wildland fire protection and invasive weed species control and impedes the capabilities of public land management agencies. Fragmentation can also result in the degradation or loss of important ecosystems. Failure to address issues of rangeland fragmentation could decrease the sustainability of agricultural operations and rural communities in the western U.S. and have serious implications for rural communities, local governments, agricultural operations, and natural resources in the region.

What has the project done so far?

W-1192 researchers have developed and tested surveys, models, and other tools that have been used to determine levels and trends of fragmentation across the western U.S. and to assess the social, economic, and ecological impacts of fragmentation. By standardizing these tools, researchers have accounted for differences across states and provided a blueprint for expanding study areas. Using these tools, researchers have looked at how fragmentation affects conservation practices for watersheds, encounters between wolves and cattle, the spread of invasive weeds and other shifts in vegetation, the incidence and impacts of wildfires, costs of grazing, and the amount of meat available from grazing livestock. Other studies have focused on how property size affects landowners’ values, goals, and practices. Researchers have also evaluated rangeland sales, categorized the reasons why buyers purchase rangelands, and identified factors that affect the market value of western ranches. Additionally, W-1192 researchers have provided economic analyses for revised forest plans for the Shoshone National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest. Overall, W-1192’s efforts have provided insight into the relationships between land fragmentation and wildlife habitat, livestock production, land conservation, and public perception of the meaning and value of rangelands.

Impact Statements:

  • Helped policymakers evaluate the social, economic, and ecological impacts of proposed rangeland management policies and make more informed decisions.

    W-1192 research has explored the impacts of rangeland fragmentation on the incidence and spread of wildfires, noting that it is often more difficult to manage wildfires when rangelands are divided into small , intermixed private and public parcels. (Photo by Jeff Clark, Oregon BLM.)

    W-1192 research has explored the impacts of rangeland fragmentation on the incidence and spread of wildfires, noting that it is often more difficult to manage wildfires when rangelands are divided into small , intermixed private and public parcels. (Photo by Jeff Clark, Oregon BLM.)

  • Helped appraisers, brokers, ranch buyers and sellers, and others make reasonable estimates of ranch value.
  • Kept land managers abreast of trends in land use changes affecting rangelands, helping them tackle issues before they get too serious.
  • Provided research that helped settle conflicts between public lands and gas and oil industry in Wyoming.
  • Reduced oak tree cutting and increased oak tree planting among California landowners, thus helping conserve an important ecosystem and natural resource.
  • Compiled databases, making up-to-date information easier to access.

What research is needed?

Additional collaborative efforts are needed to address the role of tourism in public lands and its impact on livestock grazing. Researchers also need to assess the impact of climate change and emerging carbon markets on rangeland fragmentation and how this interaction influences various western land management issues. Sharing experiences and resources among cooperating states is imperative to ensure that these broad, multifaceted issues are addressed in a comprehensive way.

Invasive weeds, like the gold-colored cheatgrass shown above, are often more difficult to control when rangelands are fragmented. If they are not managed effectively, these weeds can choke out native plants, like the sagebrush pictured above, which provide important food and habitat in the rangeland ecosystem. (Photo by Neil Rimbey, University of Idaho.)

Invasive weeds, like the gold-colored cheatgrass shown above, are often more difficult to control when rangelands are fragmented. If they are not managed effectively, these weeds can choke out native plants, like the sagebrush pictured above, which provide important food and habitat in the rangeland ecosystem. (Photo by Neil Rimbey, University of Idaho.)

Want to know more?

Administrative Advisor:  Donald Snyder

Download the printable PDF!

This project was supported, in part, through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. Additional funds were provided by contracts and grants to participating scientists. For more information, visit http://www.waaesd.org/.