Research Annual Report
Agricultural Experiment Station
In 1885, the
Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station began as a place where
scientists showed farmers the best way to grow crops and animals.
It was a big step forward from advice picked up at the local feed
mill or over a neighbors fence.
But today, the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station is not
so much a physical place as gathering place for scientists and
their ideas. These scientists work at the Lexington campus, the
Research and Education Center in Princeton, and at Robinson Forest
and Robinson station in southeastern Kentucky.
Some of our scientists come up with answers to Kentuckys
immediate needs. Others are making discoveries that may have impact
only well into the 21st century including those that will
lead to future start-up businesses and become a boon to the commonwealths
This report will show you the breadth of our work, including the
human dimension that is most evident through the social sciences.
It makes clear that our scientists, whether they work in a lab,
in a farm field, or in a community meeting room, are committed
to serving Kentucky and its people.
Emphasis in 2001 include:
new enterprises to support a transition from a tobacco-based
new life science businesses that grow out of scientific discoveries
about how plant and animal genes function
an in-house research program that determined that the eastern
tent caterpillar is the probable source of Mare Reproductive
Loss Syndrome, which caused mares to lose pregnancies during
2001 and 2002
the ability of livestock producers to create value-added products
partnerships with state agencies that promote Kentucky agriculture
Station Highlights for 2001:
of outside funding was more than $14 million more than $10.5
million in College-wide research grants and contracts and more
than $3.8 million in gifts and endowments (which is a 5.8 percent
increase over gifts and endowments in 2000). That means that the
College generated almost one dollar for each dollar the state
contributed. This is significant not only as income, but because
all these sources of outside funding enable us to leverage the
states investment for maximum impact in Kentucky. Other
$5.3 million in federal funds
- A 22.5
percent increase in doctoral and masters degrees awarded
over the previous year
publication of 209 original refereed research papers, 38 books
and book chapters, and 166 other articles
of a forage animal production unit in partnership with the USDA-Agricultural
of two patents by Experiment Station scientists that will result
in new business start-ups in Kentucky
of a partnership of the Kentucky Horticulture Council, UKs
New Crop Opportunities Center, and the Kentucky Agricultural
Development Board to discover new opportunities to diversify
the small-to-midsize farm enterprise
of federal, state, and private funding to develop new linkages
between local beef producers and their markets
of new opportunities in high-technology agriculture, including
biotechnology, for agribusiness operations of small and midsize
Nancy M. Cox,
Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station
S-107 Agricultural Science Center
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky 40546-0091
2001 federal fiscal year
(October 1, 2000 through September 30, 2001)
& contracts$10.5 million
endowment income $3.8 million
In Perry County,
not so long ago, you could look out on what is now a green and
productive cattle enterpriseD & D Ranchand see
the land being mined for coal. The ranch is now home to the East
Kentucky Heifer Development Center, which has become a magnet
for beef cattle producers who want to improve cattle quality and
increase their profits.
This was the site for the largest beef cattle research project
on reclaimed mine land in the country, said UKs David
Ditsch, the projects agronomy advisor.
The center, along with its benefits for beef cattle producers,
is the result of a five-year study to determine what level of
cattle production is sustainable on mined landthe maximum
number of cattle that can be grazed with the land still able to
replenish itself. The answer may have implications for the nearly
1 million acres of reclaimed mine land potentially available in
the eastern part of the state. If all that land were put to pasture
and hay land, it could return nearly $50 million annually to Eastern
Kentucky beef cattle producers.
The heifer development project began in 1994, when members of
two beef cattle associations decided they wanted to improve forage
quality and herd genetics and find innovative ways to market their
cattle. They formed the East Kentucky Beef Cattle Council and
looked to UK agronomists and animal scientists to help them in
The need was clear. Typically weve not had good marketing
opportunities in Eastern Kentucky, Ditsch says. He says
cattle from this part of the state didnt have a good reputation
for quality. When that happens, he says, its difficult
to get good local prices, and it doesnt attract outside
buyers to come in.
A windfall came in the form of 360 acres of reclaimed land from
the Pine Branch Coal Company, leased for an extended period of
project, which was funded in its first five years by the E.O.
Robinson Trust, initially focused on research, training, and marketing.
Mike Collins, UK livestock forage researcher, regularly collected
soil and plant tissue samples and used geographic positioning
and information systems to create what Ditsch calls revealing
maps. These maps told researchers that if they stocked at
the rate of one cow and her calf for every six acres, the lands
forage quality and animal performance could be sustained.
were held for producers on how to increase herd quality. Topics
included herd management and artificial insemination techniques.
As a result of the project, the number of producers coming together
to learn how to manage their heifers and sell their cattle began
project leaders, producers began to use new marketing methods,
including a satellite sale that allowed buyers to see videos of
Eastern Kentucky cattle before placing their long-distance orders.
The heifer development project began in 1998. Producers began
bringing their heifers to the ranch for an 11-month period, where
the animals are developed to sufficient quality and then bred
to high-quality sires. Heifers have to meet certain guidelines
to enter and stay in the program, but when they graduate,
they go with a guarantee of quality, whether they are being sold
or going back to the farm.
In 2000, the
East Kentucky Beef Cattle Council, by then four associations strong,
applied for and received nearly $135,000 in tobacco settlement
money from Kentuckys Agricultural Development Board to expand
Ditsch says the return on investment has so far been greater than
most producers had previously.
Raising the Curtain on Convenience
In Kentucky and elsewhere, tobacco was traditionally seeded using
a simple, time-honored method: placing seeds in a seed bed, waiting
for germination, and then transplanting to the field. More recently,
seeds have been placed in plastic foam trays, with the trays floating
on water to provide moisture, then waiting for nature to add sun
and fresh air. Originally the trays were floated in the seedbed
with simple covers such as tarps or plastic, but soon the tobacco
greenhouse was invented to streamline the process and reduce the
vagaries of nature. These greenhouses have roll-up plastic curtains
on greenhouse sidewalls that are cranked up or down to regulate
moisture and temperature inside.
This method has been used for the past decade or so. It requires
the farmer to keep a steady eye on the sky and a constant ear
to the weather report so the curtain can be opened or closed when
necessary. Otherwise, the plants can get too hot or cold and fail
to thrive. And, if too much moisture condenses on the greenhouse
roof, it can cause a drip that washes away the seedsand
and George Duncan in UKs Department of Biosystems and Agricultural
Engineering have developed a system that controls the curtains
in the greenhouse automatically. The technology, developed in
part with funds from the Council on Burley Tobacco, uses a computerized
motor that closes the curtain when it gets too cold, opens it
when it gets too hot, and lowers the greenhouse temperature even
more at night during certain growth periods to save energy.
at UK and the University of New Hampshire are cooperating to take
the automated sidewall curtain technology beyond growing tobacco
to potted nursery plants during winter storage. Because this technique
uses natural ventilation, it has the potential for big savings
in energy costs, and it could have implications for Kentuckys
own thriving nursery industry.
not only make people well, they keep animals healthy. They have
been a boon to the U.S. animal meat industry since the 1950s,
resulting in healthier animals, shorter time to market, and less
expensive meat for the consumer.
But the use
of antibiotics in livestock production has a downsidethe
bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of the animals can become
resistant to the antibiotics. There is concern by some people
that bacterial resistance in animals can be transferred to humans,
just as we can build up resistance from taking too many antibiotic
medicines. Any resistanceno matter what the sourcecould
mean drugs wouldnt work as well for us in the future.
Melissa Newman and Gary Cromwell in UKs Department of Animal
Sciences are exploring ways to eliminate or reduce antibiotic-resistant
bacteria in swine.
firsthand evidence of how difficult it is to reverse antibiotic
resistance once it is established in a livestock population. For
research purposes, UKs swine herd at Princeton has not been
fed antibiotics for almost 30 years. Several generations later,
bacterial resistance to the antibiotics used in the distant past
still exist in the herd.
Newman began exploring natural compounds and discovered that certain
plant phytochemicals were able to reverse the resistance found
in some bacteria, sort of a salad mix for swine that could reduce
the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some
of them are very promising, Newman says. If these compounds
work, we could reduce the presence of the resistant bacteria in
swine, and it would help to calm fears about antibiotic resistance
the Future on Paper
counties believe the time has come to manage change instead have
it manage them. They have been spurred on by Lori Garkovich in
UKs Department of Sociology with a process called community
It began in 1996, when people in Johnson County decided they needed
a better sense of where the county was going. They also wanted
to expand the number of people involved in community life.
Seven years later, about 15 other communities have also undertaken
a process to explore their future, put their dreams on paper,
and figure out how to make those dreams happen.
Its about civic engagement, democracy in action,
First, a local
coordinating group identifies every organization imaginable in
the community, from 4-H clubs to book groups to service groups
like Rotary. Every one of those groups is then contacted and asked
if its members want to take part in creating the community vision.
If they say yes, theyre asked to send someone to training
on how to lead the group through the visioning effort.
boils down to responding to questions on heritage, change, vision,
and action. There are only four questions, but the impact of the
answers can be enormous.
The questions help local visionaries carry what should be cherished
from the past while moving steadilyand with a game planinto
To get as
many people as possible to take part in the visioning, communities
have outdone themselves. One group set up a tent at the county
fair, offering lemonade and shade. All fair-goers had to do was
sit down and answer a few questions.
set up posters at a soccer match and encouraged people to scribble
their comments while waiting in line at the concession stand.
One countys local radio station had a regular call-in show.
The shows host posed a question a day to listeners over
several days, who responded by calling in their opinions.
The point is to get as many people as possible talking about
the same four questions at the same time, Garkovich says.
hundreds of people taking part in the process in any community,
common themes do emerge, Garkovich says. A major portion of the
report is the recording of every single response by every community
member who participates in the process. Theres power
in that, Garkovich says. Theres magic about
seeing your own words written down.
are not being tucked away in a drawer somewhere: several communities
have reshaped their land use policies as a result of the visioning.
Garkovich isnt overly concerned about how many Kentucky
counties decide to envision their future. Youre either
ready or youre not, she says. But once the decision
is made, a process to assist communities is available.
the Bug from Siberia
In 2000, the
soybean aphid was discovered in Kentucky at only three sites,
and in small numbers. This aphid, naturally found from Siberia
to Iran, had made its way across the Pacific and North America
and onto some of Kentuckys farms. There, if unchecked, it
could injure a good portion of the states soybean crop.
UK entomologist Grayson Brown already knew the soybean aphid can
be a killer. It stunts plant growth by sucking plant sap or, as
a carrier of viruses, kills off the beans. Asian farmers at times
have lost half their soybean crop to this tiny insect. The soybean
aphid can double its population in about three days, creating
swarms so large they have shut down a major league baseball game.
to work. By January of 2001, he and his colleagues had obtained
a USDA grant to devise a regional plan to manage the insect. (At
that time, Kentucky was the only state in the Southeast that had
spotted the aphid.) The objective was to come up with an environmentally
and economically sound approach.
The project has been a joint one with the University of Arkansas,
where research on the only disease affecting this aphid is being
the soybean aphid kept up its migration. By the 2001 growing season,
a survey of Kentucky soybean fields indicated that, while the
aphid was not yet rampant in the state, it was spreading.
This year, the entomologists are ready. The plan is in place,
and they are already training crop advisors, ag agents, and farmers
in how to use it. This integrated management plan enables farmers
to give environmentally friendly biological controls (including
a type of ladybug, an aphid-killing disease, and stinging wasps)
as much time as possible to work. It also has guidelines for counting
aphid numbers and noting other field conditions that help to signal
if and when costly insecticides are necessary.
knows that its a good idea to use sunscreen if youre
at the beach, out on the farm, or on the ski slope. But sunscreen
So much so that in Jackson at the Department of Forestrys
Wood Utilization Center, researchers are giving various woods
a yearlong suntan, testing about 20 different protective wood
coatings. The project is being carried out in cooperation with
the Forest Products Laboratory at Mississippi State to find out
which formulations work best.
coatings, which are for wood used on building exteriors, were
developed by various U.S. manufacturers. They are being compared
to products available on the market today.
Kentucky is one of only three sites on the continent where the
testing is being done, says Carroll Fackler, superintendent of
the Wood Utilization Center. Its ideal because the state
has extreme weather conditions, including humidity and heat. Its
also a good site for the fungicide testing of the wood samples
thats also going on. Moisture causes mildew and mold damage
to wood, and, because of its location next to the North Fork of
the Kentucky River, the center gets plenty of both.
project, the center continues to monitor emissions from dry kilns
in Kentucky, which are used to draw moisture out of newly cut
wood before it is treated, processed, and manufactured.
About 500 kilns are at work in Kentucky, making it a substantial
industry in the state.
Recently, as a result of evidence from the kiln study, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency chose to exempt those kilns from
standards put in place for air quality. Evidence from the study
had shown that emissions from the kilns were not harmful.
agriculture offers the prospect of detailed field data for cutting
costs and increasing yield and profits. Whats not to like?
Maybe the price tag on the equipment.
its not an inexpensive technology to purchase, says
Carl Dillon of UKs Department of Agricultural Economics.
Dillon and collaborators Jean-Marc Gandonou in Agricultural Economics
and Scott Shearer and Tim Stombaugh in Biosystems and Agricultural
Engineering have come up with a way to help producers know if
they should buy or custom hire precision agriculture
equipment. (Custom hiring includes not only equipment rental but
the skill to operate the equipments hardware and software.)
as its called in ag economics lingo, gives producers a way
to decide, based on their farm acreage, whether they should buy
or custom hire the equipment needed for precision agriculture.
Using the break-even acreage value, they can know which way to
go. Based on whether a farm is larger or smaller than that acreage
level, the tool will help determine whether to purchase
or custom hire in order to operate in the least expensive way.
To come up
with this tool, the researchers did a partial budget to estimate
the effect of precision agriculture on profits and incorporated
data on equipment ownership, operating expenses, and current custom
hire rates. Then they came up with a mathematical formula that
resulted in a break-even point.
A farmer who
wanted to do field mapping, grid soil sampling, and apply one
fertilizer, for example, would have a break-even point of about
1,000 acres. Farmers with considerably less acreage would likely
want to custom hire since they have less acreage from which to
recoup the fixed cost. Those with more acreage would likely want
to buy the equipment since they have more acreage over which to
spread the fixed cost. Those close to the mark would probably
need to do more analysis.
point was figured for other sets of precision ag components as
well as for the package of field mapping, grid soil
sampling, and application of one fertilizer.
Dillon thinks more farmers should consider custom hiring as an
option. Precision agriculture wont make a good manager
out of an average manager, he says, but it has the
potential for increased profits.
Becomes a Friend
Fungal pathogens are a scourge for plants, causing many devastating
diseases. Currently, chemical fungicides provide the most effective
means of control, so the need for biological control, which would
be less costly and more environmentally friendly, would be a breakthrough.
and his research group in UKs Department of Plant Pathology
have discovered an unlikely ally in the battle against these deadly
pathogensviruses. Focusing on the plant disease Victoria
blight of oats as a model system, the researchers have shown that
the fungal causal agent of the disease can be weakened to the
point that it no longer damages the plant.
These UK plant
pathologists have discovered that a virus follows a particular
path to infection: it creates multiple copies of a particular
protein. When the expression of this protein is activated, it
reduces the strength of the fungal pathogens so they lose their
power to destroy plantsif the fungal pathogens were Superman,
the protein would be Kryptonite.
predict that if the expression of this protein can be activated
in the Victoria blight fungus and similar proteins can be activated
in other plant pathogenic fungi, this novel approach can be used
to fight fungal infections even when a virus is not present.
have discovered that virus-infected isolates of the Victoria blight
fungus secrete an antifungal protein, which has been shown to
be effective against a wide range of fungal pathogens. The researchers
have been able to isolate the gene that codes for the antifungal
protein and believe that plants modified to include this gene
will have resistance to a broad range of fungal pathogens.