Infrared-based peeling of tomatoes may improve precision, save water In Brief: Peeled tomatoes make a tasty, versatile, and timesaving ingredient for hearty winter stews, homemade soups, or classic casseroles. In experiments with more than 6,000 field-ripened Roma-style (sometimes called “plum”) tomatoes, USDA scientist and ASABE member Zhongli Pan and his industry and university colleagues have shown that using infrared heating to simplify removal of the tomatoes’ tight-fitting peels may offer advantages over other peeling technologies. Pan and his co-researchers have demonstrated that infrared based peeling is mostly waterless. That’s a benefit for canneries in sometimes drought-stricken California, the state that produces the majority of the nation’s processing tomatoes. Not only could the technique cut the cost of bringing water to canneries, but it might also reduce the expense of recycling the water or properly disposing of it. Disposal is of particular concern to processors who use sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide to peel tomatoes. These substances can increase the cost of treating factory wastewater, according to Pan. What’s more, the infrared process may help reduce wasteful “over peeling” of tomatoes that can occur when too many layers of the tomato are inadvertently removed along with the peel. In a study published in the journal Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies in 2014, Pan and his co-researchers showed that peel-related loss was about 8% to 13% with infrared heating, compared to about 13% to 16% with sodium hydroxide based peeling. The infrared studies are the most extensive to date of their kind for environmentally sound peeling of tomatoes. Pan, who is based at the USDAARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., and coworkers Tara McHugh, research leader and research food technologist at the Albany center, Carlos Masareje of Precision Canning Equipment, and James Valenti-Jordan of Del Monte Foods recently received a patent for the peeling process. Pan hopes to have the system ramped up to match cannery operating speeds by 2016. For more information, contact Sandra Avant, USDA-ARS Public Affairs Specialist, Sandra.Avant@ars.usda.gov. Harmon plays key role in new state-of-the-art department home In Brief: Extension specialists are trained to communicate technical information to a wide range of audiences. They act as bridges between research and application, so it was no surprise that ASABE member Jay Harmon, agricultural and biosystems engineering (ABE) professor, brought those skills to the construction of the Biorenewables Complex at Iowa State University. Harmon’s expertise, communication skills, and humor ensured a smooth transition for the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in its move from Davidson Hall to a new home in Elings Hall and Sukup Hall. The buildings were dedicated in the fall of 2014 and have been humming with activity in classrooms and labs ever since. Before coming to Iowa State University in 1993 as a swine production specialist, Harmon held an extension appointment at Clemson University. His experience with farm structures, technical details, and people helped prepare him for the Biorenewables Complex construction effort. “When Hurricane Hugo hit the South, I went out and evaluated the damage caused to farm structures. I published a paper on hurricane damage, the first of its kind published by ASABE. But it was hard to see the damage. People lost a lot. I often felt like I needed a counseling degree while I was driving around, talking with people,” says Harmon. Harmon wears many hats. Apart from his duties as a faculty member and extension specialist in ABE, Harmon also oversees Midwest Plan Service and serves as interim director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center. In 2005, ABE was part of a feasibility study evaluating what might be needed if the department was granted a new building. The department chair at the time, ASABE member Ramesh Kanwar, asked Harmon to be involved because of his expertise in building planning. Although never given an official title, Harmon’s involvement in the project evolved into a faculty liaison position. “When I stepped into this facilitator role, the department was asked about what we wanted in a new building. What, in our wildest dreams, would we ask for? So I went around and talked to everyone in the department to figure out their needs. Teaching, extension, research—I collected everyone’s wishes. We weren’t just recreating Davidson Hall, we wanted to create something cutting edge. We wanted a building that was flexible and would still be relevant to our field many years down the road,” he says. Harmon describes the process of assigning lab and office space like solving a puzzle. Previously, the department had been scattered between four different buildings. “We had to make sure there was a fair balance of lab space, and that the right labs were positioned next to one another. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to house the manure lab right next to the odor lab,” he jokes. Harmon’s brand of humor and appreciation brought an added dimension to the construction success. “I wanted the construction workers to know we appreciated their efforts, so I encouraged student groups to host grill outs for the workers. We also had a dessert reception for the construction managers and architects. Gestures of appreciation go a long way on a complicated project like this.” He also helped select the bright blue punch served at the dessert reception. “The blue was the exact same color as the reclaimed water in our new toilets. Serving that punch was my idea,” he says with a grin. Harmon admits that the job wasn’t always stress-free, but that the end result was worth it. “I feel a great deal of ownership and pride in our new buildings. I talk to faculty, and they all say the same thing. Somehow, it’s given us a new lease on our positions, and reinvigorated us to achieve in our field. I’m also really proud of the art in our atrium. Every time I see people in the atrium who have come simply to check out the art, I feel proud.” No surprise, Harmon and ASABE member Steve Mickelson, ABE department chair, have offered their expertise and perspective to the faculty preparing for the construction of the new Biosciences Building. For more information, contact Dana Woolley, Communications Specialist II, Departments of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Aerospace Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, USA, email@example.com. Probing phosphorus losses in the Lake Erie basin In Brief: When runoff flows from farm fields into the Lake Erie basin, phosphorus in that runoff contributes to algal blooms that can contaminate drinking water supplies. Surface runoff is generally considered to be the most significant source of that phosphorus. But studies by two USDA scientists show that underground tile drains— commonly used by Midwestern farmers to drain excess water from crop fields—are also major contributors of phosphorus. Since 2008, Doug Smith, a soil scientist at the USDAARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple, Texas, has been monitoring phosphorus in surface runoff and tile drainage from farm fields in the St. Joseph River watershed in northeast Indiana, which is part of the larger Lake Erie watershed. Between 2008 and 2013, he found that 49% of dissolved phosphorus and 48% of total phosphorus in the watershed was discharged via tile drains. From 2005 to 2012, ASABE member Kevin King, an agricultural engineer at the USDA-ARS Soil Drainage Research Unit in Columbus, Ohio, monitored phosphorus levels in the discharge from six tile drains and the outlet of a headwater watershed in central Ohio. He found that tile drains contributed 47% of the phosphorus discharge. Farmers in the region are generally careful to apply only as much fertilizer as needed, and King’s measurements indicated that only around 2% of that phosphorus was lost through runoff. But phosphorus concentrations in the tile drainage and the watershed discharge often exceed concentrations recommended for preventing algal blooms, the researchers say. King’s team concluded that reducing phosphorus losses will require practices that mitigate losses via tile drainage in the late fall, winter, and early spring, when most of the phosphorus loading occurs. The findings support efforts to reduce phosphorus levels in the Lake Erie watershed by highlighting the importance of managing nutrient losses in surface runoff as well as the amounts transported to tile drains. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a goal of reducing phosphorus fertilizer runoff into the Great Lakes by more than 1,400 tons by 2019. For more information, contact Dennis O’Brien, USDA-ARS Public Affairs Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org. Modeling nitrate losses from Midwestern crop fields In Brief: Using cover crops between corn and soybean crop production in the Midwest could significantly reduce nitrate losses via subsurface drains, according to USDA scientists. This reduction could support national efforts to reduce nitrate loads and protect water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. Excess water laden with nitrates in many Midwestern crop fields drains into subsurface pipes and then flows into surface streams and rivers. In the Mississippi River watershed, this nutrient-rich field drainage eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico and supports algal blooms that lower water oxygen levels and contribute to the development of a devastating “dead zone.” USDA-ARS scientists and ASABE members Rob Malone and Dan Jaynes with Tom Kaspar are using the Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) to assess how winter rye cover crops in corn-soybean rotations could mitigate nitrate loads in field drainage water. The researchers are with the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. The field-scale model was developed to simulate plant growth and the movement of water, nutrients, and chemicals within and around the root zones of agricultural crops. The researchers ran the model simulation for several different planting scenarios at 41 sites across the Midwest from 1961 to 2005. Their results indicated that winter rye crops seeded in no-till corn-soybean systems when the cash crops were mature have the potential to reduce annual nitrate losses in field drainage by about 43%, or by 18 pounds per acre. Malone and his colleagues used their findings in a larger regional simulation of nitrate losses from drained fields within the Mississippi River watershed. Results indicated that producers could introduce winter rye cover cropping on around 30% to 80% of the land used for corn and soybean production, and that the cover crop systems could potentially reduce nitrate loadings in the Mississippi River by approximately 20%. For more information, contact Rosalie Marion Bliss, USDA-ARS Public Affairs Specialist, Rosalie.Bliss@ars.usda.gov. News from ASABE headquarters In Brief: On February 1, 2015, ASABE member Joseph Walker was named ASABE’s new Director of Publications. In this position, Walker oversees the publishing of technical papers, peerreviewed journal articles, Resource magazine, and text and reference books. Walker, once a student member of ASABE, received his BS and MS degrees from Mississippi State University (MSU) and a PhD in agricultural engineering from North Carolina State University (NCSU). His work included teaching and, at MSU, research on instrumentation for aquaculture and, at NCSU, irrigation scheduling optimization using a plant growth simulation model. He has also worked as an extension engineer. Originally from West Tennessee, Walker migrated north to Michigan after completing his PhD and worked for ASABE as the information systems manager in the mid- 1990s. He moved on to work as a senior IT analyst at the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert, Michigan, and as a systems analyst with DeWitt Computer Technologies in St. Joseph, Michigan. However, Walker has been involved with the office computer system at ASABE headquarters for many years, and he will continue to lend his expertise in that area. The ASABE staff knows Joe as someone interested in a wide variety of topics—particularly all things agricultural. Married for 31 years to Suzanne and father of ten, Walker enjoys visiting museums, camping, gardening, fishing, and family time. He looks forward to meeting members and reconnecting with ASABE acquaintances at the upcoming Annual International Meeting in New Orleans, and he welcomes member feedback. “Promoting agricultural and biological engineering is key to my position as director,” says Walker, “and to the future of the profession as well.” Contact Joseph Walker, ASABE Director of Publications, St. Joseph, Mich., USA, email@example.com. CAST calls for agricultural innovation to sustainably feed the world by 2050 In Brief: A twelve-part Ag Innovation Series of issue papers, compiled and edited by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), was recently announced. The series focuses on the huge and increasing demands on agriculture. The introduction to the series states that innovative, integrated solutions are required to sustainably meet the demands of feeding a growing world population. Innovations are needed in all segments of agriculture—livestock production, food science, and crops and soils. Anyone listening to agricultural experts knows the situation: we face a food security crisis now, and this problem will only grow with population increases and the rise in per capita income. But there is a risk that agriculturalists and the public alike will grow complacent if the discussion is general and abstract. The steady refrain—How will we feed the world in 2050?— can make us numb when action is needed. According to CAST, the public and decision makers need to have science-based information to guide them regarding programs, policies, and techniques that will advance global food security in the coming decades. The Ag Innovation Series will use CAST’s method of convening task forces composed of scientific experts from a wide variety of specialties to write and peer-review each paper. The series will provide a transdisciplinary, integrated approach to this broad topic. CAST’s Ag Innovation Series will be led by teams of experts with backgrounds across the spectrum of agriculture and technology. CAST will then present the work to national and global policymakers, NGOs, producer and commodity groups, regulators, the media, and the public. The goals are the following: • Look at why more innovation is needed. • Review megatrends that define the pending agriculture productivity gap. • Spur interest in research funding and highlight societal benefits of technologies that can increase agriculture productivity and reduce negative environmental impacts. • Encourage implementation and use of science-based regulation to support innovation and the advancement of agriculture technology. Of the twelve papers in the Ag Innovation Series, three papers each are focused on animals, food, and crops. An introductory paper provides an overview, a keynote paper highlights technologies that exist but are not being used to their potential, and a summary paper addresses possible barriers to adoption of innovation across the disciplines. The papers have the following working titles: 1. The need for agricultural innovation to sustainably feed the world by 2050: An introduction. 2. Technologies on the shelf: A series keynote paper. 3. Protecting food animal gene pools for future generations. 4. Evolution of genetic intervention in food production. 5. Precision production technologies in animal agriculture. 6. Plant breeding and genetics. 7. Crop protection contributions toward agricultural productivity. 8. Irrigation and precision crop management technologies. 9. Innovative approaches toward zero waste in the food chain. 10. Food biofortification. 11. Gene editing in food production, regulatory review, and public acceptance. 12. Barriers to innovation implementation: A summary. CAST assembles, interprets, and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public. ASABE member Bernie Engel serves as the ASABE representative on the CAST Board. For more information on the Ag Innovation Series, visit www.cast-science.org/media//cms/CAST_ Ag_Innovations_Series_ Jan_F82A1398647EE.pdf. For more information, contact Linda Chimenti, CAST Executive Vice-President, firstname.lastname@example.org. Growing UP in Wyoming In Brief: Vertical Harvest (VH), a three-story 13,500 ft2 hydroponic greenhouse in the heart of downtown Jackson, Wyo., is under construction. A vertical farm, VH will grow and sell vegetables year round to area restaurants, grocery stores, and consumers via on-site sales. A tiny vacant lot will soon produce 100,000 pounds of produce per year for the Jackson Hole community. The goal? A for-profit company with a social mission: employ adults with developmental disabilities. The open-for-business sign will be hung early in 2016. Vertical Harvest is the brainchild of Penny McBride and Nona Yehia of E/Ye Design, who have spent the last five years getting the project off the ground—literally. The civic-minded duo raised close to $4 million via private equity, grants (the largest from the Wyoming Business Council), local “seed funders,” and the town of Jackson prior to groundbreaking in December 2014. In addition, 95% of their production is already under pre-purchase agreement. Using hydroponics, Vertical Harvest will be capable of producing greens, herbs, and tomatoes. VH will grow plants using nutrient solutions that are delivered to the plants in irrigation water, eliminating the need for soil. Water is recirculated in the system, thereby using 90% less water than traditional farming. Hydroponic systems allow control over plant nutrition for optimal flavor and quality. In addition, some hydroponic crops can grow twice as fast as traditionally farmed crops because they receive exactly the correct amounts of nutrients, water, and oxygen. Specially designed recirculating hydroponic methods save land, save water, eliminate agricultural runoff and chemical pesticides, and offer the benefits of efficient, high-yield, local, year-round food production. The efficient building design and growing carousels will turn a 4500 ft2 footprint into 18,000 ft2, or four times the growing area. VH has a climate-specific and site-specific design that will withstand the extreme temperatures of Jackson Hole. To maintain an internal temperature of 67°F, VH will use supplemental lighting and maximize natural sunlight for greenhouse lighting. High-pressure sodium bulbs will be used for the tomatoes, with LED lighting for the lettuce varietals, microgreen, and propagation areas. For more information, contact Inanna Reistad, Vertical Harvest, email@example.com.
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