News in Brief
If there’s anything Kentucky has in spades, it’s horse manure and streams -- a fact that started UK bioenvironmental engineer Carmen Agouridis and graduate student David Griffith thinking about whether there is a way to use horse manure to protect the environment, particularly water resources.
The two researchers have been mucking around with an idea that could possibly keep harmful bacteria from groundwater, improve the soil, and create a new industry for Kentucky. What is it? Biochar, a charcoal made from biomass–in this case, horse manure.
“Biochar is a pretty hot area of research right now. I think a lot of people are trying to know more about its potential and limitations,” said Agouridis, an assistant professor in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.
Made from plant biomass such as corn stover, it can be used as a fuel. Sue Nokes and Leigh Maynard, chairs of BAE and Agricultural Economics respectively, recently partnered with Community Development International on finding methods for creating and using alternative fuels in Haiti, where severe deforestation has resulted in soil erosion, degradation of water quality, and a lack of cooking fuel.
Biochar can also be used as a soil additive. A fine, powdery substance, it can decrease soil density and return nutrients to agricultural lands. But Griffith, who is working on his master’s degree, wondered if it could not only be used to increase crop yield, but if it also could act as a filter, capturing bacteria before they end up in the groundwater either through runoff or potentially dangerous openings in the state’s widespread karst topography. Karst is formed from water dissolving the limestone bedrock, resulting in caves, pits, and sinkholes that often lead directly to underground water systems.
Agouridis also wondered if it could lead to a new industry, since at the moment, horse owners have to pay people to remove the waste from their properties. Could this end up being another income stream for farmers if they could build their own ovens on their property?
Griffith and Agouridis partnered with Carl Bolster of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service lab in Bowling Green, who had already begun studying it.
Biochar is made in much the same way as charcoal. In an anaerobic process, the manure is contained within a vessel filled not with air, but with an inert gas. This prevents combustion when the heat is ramped up to between 600 and 1,400 degrees F.
“That way, you keep a lot of the nutrients, you keep a lot of the structure, and a lot of the mass stays in the product, so when it comes back out you can sell it,” Griffith said.
Griffith is nearing the end of his research. The first part of the project was to characterize the horse muck biochar by running carbon and nitrogen tests and measuring the surface area and the nutrient content. The second part was the soil runoff study, which was done by filling glass columns with soil and biochar, then running bacteria and manure through the top and measuring how much came out the bottom. He will be able to compare his results to studies on other types of biochar, which, of course, will open other avenues of research.
“Eventually we may get to the point where we say, if I'm a farmer, how do I make my own unit to make this?” Agouridis said. “And if you have 100 horses, how would you scale up and build something that might work for that size operation? I think there is great potential for industries springing up around this.”
— Carol Lea Spence
A lot goes into building customer allegiance toward one retailer over another: merchandise, atmosphere, affordability, hours of operation. At least that’s what 37 students in Kim Miller-Spillman’s Problem-Solving in Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles course found when they considered ways to attract a larger Hispanic customer base for Target.
That scenario was one of many in Target’s case study library. For several years, students on campuses around the country have been doing case studies for the retail chain, and in return, Target awards individual scholarships worth $1,000 to the student team with the best presentation.
Out of the many topics from which to choose, Miller-Spillman, who also teaches a course called Dress and Culture, gravitated toward the Hispanic topic.
“They can learn about culture while they’re learning about real world problems,” she said. “Here’s culture in merchandising in action.”
Nine teams participated during fall semester. Seniors Rachel Ricker and Lily Hansen and juniors Halie Starwalt and Jackie Basta were the winning teammates. All teams presented their findings to Rodney Branum, Eric Roby (’96 animal science), Alan Adams, and Joe Eckels, Target executives from Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati.
The winning team surveyed members of the Lexington Hispanic community about their shopping preferences and came to the conclusion that better signage, a welcoming greeter, and fresh food offered in a market atmosphere would attract more Hispanic guests. Jackie Basta, who presented for the team, reminded the executives that 58 percent of people who attend an event end up purchasing a product, so her group suggested that in-store cooking demonstrations, Cinco de Mayo sales promotions, and having a presence at local festivals could all help attract more Latino customers to their stores.
All case studies go to Target headquarters.
“How Target can capture Hispanic guests is one of our top focuses in the company, because the Hispanic population continues to grow in the United States,” Branum said. “As we continue to grow our stores, obviously their information is critical to us.”
Miller-Spillman’s spring semester MAT 547 class will explore similar cases.
“They take from this real world experience, increased problem-solving skills and confidence,” she said. “This is the perfect scenario for us.”
— Carol Lea Spence
A Vilsack Visit
UKAg students had a rare opportunity for a Q&A with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack when he visited the college in January to talk about revitalizing rural economies.
Their questions touched on a variety of topics:
How will the concern about GMOs affect the demand for more production? Vilsack responded that the answer lies in diversity. He said we need to expand production with methods that use less water and fewer chemicals, while always being aware of safety concerns. But larger farming operations will be needed to pay for that technology, which could preclude young people from getting into the business. Instead, raising high value-added products, such as organics, could be an entry point into farming.
Will the USDA commit to mine reclamation/reforestation efforts in Appalachia? Vilsack said the USDA is interested for a multitude of reasons. It is environmentally advisable to restore forests, because they act as carbon sinks and preserve water resources, and reclamation creates new economic opportunities in the form of tourism and recreation.
What role would you like to see agriculture students play to promote agriculture in Kentucky? Vilsack advised them to talk to the policymakers. “You need to understand the power you have. You’re the future of this state.”
In his presentation, the secretary emphasized the importance of creating a new rural economy that creates income opportunities through diversification.
“The real challenge is we have to get people living in rural America. We’ve got to create opportunities in rural America.”
Secretary Vilsack’s entire presentation is available on YouTube.
— Carol Lea Spence
Spotlight: Jennifer Hunter
Former Boyd County 4-H agent Ron Sanderson encouraged Ashland high-schooler Jennifer Hunter to visit the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment as a prospective student. With the exception of nine months spent working in industry, Hunter, ’00,’03,’10, now an assistant extension professor in family financial management, has been a part of the college ever since.
Q: How did you become interested in family finance?
A: I began my career in Extension working with farm record keeping in UK’s Department of Animal Sciences. It gave me insights into not only how people struggle with finances in their business and personal lives, but also the skills and decisions necessary to be financially successful. Most importantly, it showed me there was a need for basic financial management education.
Q: You’ve worked in animal sciences and agricultural economics, as a 4-H agent in Madison County and now in family sciences. What have you learned?
A: Working in the different areas has given me a very good perspective and insight into the culture of each group and how each can relate and work together.
Q: You have three degrees from UK and are employed by the college. What has kept you here?
A: I smile when I hear them say, “Welcome to the College of Ag family,” at freshman orientation each year. I remember getting the same welcome when I was a freshman. The people and the environment made UK a place I wanted to stay.
Q: What is exciting about your current job?
A: I decided to get my doctorate for the opportunity to work with people in family financial management and follow my passion. Through my career, I have had the opportunity to learn from several excellent extension specialists. I have seen the difference that they’ve made in people’s lives. Now, I’m excited I have the opportunity to do the same.
Q: You have two kids. That has to be challenging.
Our life at times is definitely a balancing act. I started my doctorate when my son was 6 months old. I can remember rocking him to sleep in my lap at 2 a.m., while I wrote my first class paper. I am very fortunate to have a great support system that includes my husband, kids, parents, friends, and co-workers who help make sure everything gets done.
She is probably best known as one of the top players on the UK women’s basketball squad, having transferred from powerhouse University of Connecticut her freshman year. But what you may not know about Samarie Walker is that she is a Merchandising, Apparels, and Textiles major in the School of Human Environmental Sciences.
“My ultimate goal is to be a wardrobe stylist for celebrities,” Walker said. “I would like to go on tour with celebs and dress them for their tours and photo shoots.
I just love fashion, so I would be happy with anything in that field.”
Talk about finding your niche. Walker was a psychology major at UConn and was going to continue on that path at UK until someone told her about fashion merchandising as a major.
“I absolutely love fashion, so I decided to switch majors, ASAP."
She said her favorite class is E-tailing, because she shops on-line a lot. If a career in styling doesn’t work out, she would like to get into visual merchandising, focusing on a store’s décor.
But if the professional ranks come calling after the 6-1 senior from West Carrollton, Ohio graduates in May, Walker said she will definitely have to pursue her dream of playing basketball at the next level.
“My goal after here is to go pro, either the WNBA or overseas. That is definitely my immediate goal."
Walker’s chances of reaching that goal could well be within her grasp. One of seven McDonald’s All-Americans on the UK squad, Walker helped lead UK to a 22-7 regular season record and runner-up in the Southeastern Conference tournament this year. She led the team in rebounding.
“She definitely has the size and the game to play professionally,” said the UK Hoops head coach, Matthew Mitchell.
Whatever happens, Walker has prepared herself to succeed in life, whether on the basketball court or in the world of fashion.
“Whatever Samarie pursues she will be successful,” Mitchell said. “She is a winner and a leader. I have no doubts about her future after basketball.”
— Jeff Franklin