bug on a leaf

Identifying Alternative Practices for Controlling a Snap Bean Pest

Louis Nottingham in a field of beansLouis Nottingham

Virginia Tech

SARE grant: Management of Mexican Bean Beetle, Epilachna verivestis Mulsant, in Snap Beans Using Cultural Control Strategies (2013)

Where he is now: Graduate research assistant and Ph.D. candidate

After receiving an undergraduate education in biology and working in fish and wildlife management, Louis Nottingham developed an interest in sustainable agriculture, appreciating its “real-world” applications, especially in horticulture and field crops. While searching for a graduate program, he ran into entomology professor Thomas Kuhar at a Virginia Tech research field, where the two discussed the importance of sustainable pest management. A short two months later, Nottingham moved to Virginia to work with Kuhar.

In the course of his studies, Nottingham received a 2013 SARE Graduate Student grant to research cultural strategies for controlling Mexican bean beetles in snap beans, grown on over 5,500 acres in Virginia and considered an important crop in the state. He focused on strategies that could reduce the need for chemical foliar applications on snap beans.

Originally he was not looking at mulch as a possible strategy, but was able to add it as a research objective when he got the SARE grant. Mulch wound up being the best alternative he found. “The grant allowed me to expand my research and dive deeper into some of the questions I had,” Nottingham says.

The project found that reflective or metalized plastic mulches significantly reduce populations of Mexican bean beetles, a serious pest of snap beans, while increasing yields. The mulch produced significantly greater pod yields than all the other treatments—more than double that of bare soil plots.

Although metalized plastic mulch costs roughly $45 for 200 feet and black plastic costs about $30 for 200 feet, mulch is cost effective because growers can more than double their yield compared to bare soil, according to Kuhar.

True to the Graduate Student grant program’s purpose, Nottingham recognizes the real-world benefit of his research. “Because our plastic mulch study is very applied and produced clear results, I encourage growers to try planting beans on metalized mulch, especially if they encounter large populations of Mexican bean beetle,” he says.

In his Ph.D. program, Nottingham is pursuing some of the other strategies he evaluated, using the preliminary data he collected during his SARE project.

Virginia Tech entomology professor Thomas Kuhar has served as faculty advisor on four SARE Graduate Student grant projects, including Nottingham's, and is a fan of the program.

Kuhar appreciates the program because it teaches students grant writing and project management. The program encourages students, he says, to include additional research objectives to an ongoing project, especially ones that take a closer look at sustainability and help farmers with the challenges they face. It “clearly gets the students thinking about the research that they are doing and how it fits in the real world,” Kuhar says.

The other SARE Graduate Student grant projects Kuhar has advised include:

Extension Publications

Nottingham co-authored the following Extension publications with Kuhar, his faculty advisor:Pediobius Fact Sheet 2015a

Journal Articles

See scholarly publications at www.researchgate.net/profile/Louis_Nottingham.

Chef at a cooking demo

Navigating the Costs and Returns of Farm-to-Institution Markets

Jill Fitzsimmons head shotJill Ann Fitzsimmons

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

SARE grant: Costs and returns to New England farmers in the farm-to-institution supply chain (2013)

Where she is now: Ph.D. candidate in resource economics

Large institutions such as hospitals, universities, schools and government agencies are increasingly willing to buy from local and regional farmers, an opportunity that benefits the farm economy, public health and communities. To support this growing farm-to-institution market, farmers, institutions and supply-chain intermediaries need information about the costs and returns associated with different distribution models.

While exploring the issue as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Jill Ann Fitzsimmons gained valuable insights that go deeper than the straightforward economics of different supply chain models. She learned about, and was able to address, some of the top questions farmers have when they consider marketing to institutions.

Funded by a 2013 SARE Graduate Student grant, Fitzsimmons set out to identify the costs and returns associated with various supply
chain models, from direct sales to arrangements involving multiple intermediaries such as processors, aggregators and distributors. Partnering with a regional collaborative network, she conducted in-depth interviews with 11 farmers.

However, while talking with the farmers, Fitzsimmons also learned what was on their minds, and in the process identified three emerging topics that affect their profitability in the farm-to-institution market. Farmers wanted to know if online brokerage platforms could reduce transaction costs. They also wondered about the increased risk of violating federal labor and wage regulations as a result of adopting new activities when serving institutional markets. Finally, they asked, how might value-added processing affect the long-term profitability of farm-to-institution sales?

Fitzsimmons developed publications addressing these topics and farmers’ questions about them. The publications provide farmers with information and resources they need to make informed choices about whether and how to sell to institutional markets. Fitzsimmons believes that the information she gathered is also important for institutions, researchers and other practitioners who have struggled to clearly understand the role of farm-to-institution marketing in a sustainable farm business plan. Download them now:

Given the interest she has seen in online brokerage platforms and labor regulations, Fitzsimmons is seeking funding to continue studying these issues. Online brokerage platforms have emerged in the last few years across the country and have the potential to improve farmers’ ability to find buyers, negotiate prices and make sales. “Getting better information about these issues through future research would be huge,” Fitzsimmons says.

Drainage ditch

Achieving Cleaner Water Through Nitrate Loss Reduction

Laura with a pile of wood chipsLaura Christianson

Iowa State University

SARE grant: Producer Education of Nitrate Reduction Strategies and Evaluation of Acceptance (2009)

Where she is now: Assistant Professor of Water Quality, University of Illinois | Illinois SARE Co-Coordinator

The challenge is vast: The Corn Belt includes 38 million acres with tile drainage, and while tiling makes the land easier to farm, it also increases the amount of nitrate leaving fields and ultimately degrades the quality of Midwestern streams, rivers and lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico.

So, Laura Christianson turned her attention to strategies that can make tile drainage cleaner for Midwestern corn and soybean farmers. Using a 2009 SARE Graduate Student grant while at Iowa State University, she evaluated the costs, ecosystem services and farmer perceptions of seven nitrate reduction strategies: wetlands, controlled drainage, cover crops, crop rotation, fertilizer rate reduction, fertilizer timing modification and denitrification bioreactors.

Christianson also compiled cost-efficiency numbers, conducted surveys and held farmer discussion groups, collecting data that continues to inform her water quality work at the University of Illinois, where she is an assistant professor.

For example, the cost-efficiency numbers she compiled were used in the nutrient reduction strategies in Iowa and Illinois. These are research- and technology-based frameworks for coordinating state-level changes that reduce nutrient runoff. She views this as “a huge impact that I am really proud of,” Christianson says. “I did work as a graduate student that became part of state-level strategies impacting policy decisions.”


Cost Comparison

In her research, Christianson conducted a cost comparison of practices that reduce nitrate in drainage water, information that was incorporated into state-level nutrient reduction strategies for Iowa and Illinois. She found that although cover crops are more expensive per unit of nitrate treated than some of the other reduction strategies, farmers expressed more willingness to use them. Gaining in popularity nationwide, cover crops provide a wide range of ecosystem services and production benefits that go beyond nitrate loss reduction, such as soil retention, increased biodiversity and weed suppression. Learn about cover crops at www.SARE.org/cover-crops.

“I think a better understanding of the costs of conservation practices helps contribute to sustainable agriculture,” Christianson says. “But a better understanding of what farmers’ perceptions are of certain practices is important, too.”

Wood Chip Bioreactors

cover of woodchip bioreactor publicationChristianson researched denitrification bioreactors, trenches filled with wood chips through which drainage water is routed. She was drawn to this concept because of its simplicity; bacteria in the wood chips convert nitrates into nitrogen gas, and can remove 15-60 percent of the nitrate load from water that comes from fields. Bioreactors can be placed at field edges, requiring no land to be taken out of production. Although denitrification produces nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, research suggests it is a small amount of the nitrate entering the system, and through good design and management, emissions may be minimized.

Christianson produced the Iowa State University publication Woodchip Bioreactors for Nitrate in Agricultural Drainage.

Christianson produced the Iowa State University publication Woodchip Bioreactors for Nitrate in Agricultural Drainage.

Christianson's cost comparison of practices that reduce nitrate in drainage water was incorporated into state-level nutrient reduction strategies for Iowa and Illinois.

The Ag Water Management website features much of Christianson's work on wood chip bioreactors, at http://agwatermgmt.ae.iastate.edu/content/denitrifying-woodchip-bioreactors.

See scholarly publications at www.researchgate.net/profile/Laura_Christianson/publications.

Omondi speaking at a field day

Keeping an Open Mind

Emmanuel Omondi head shot Emmanuel Omondi

University of Wyoming

SARE grant: Potential of Managing Iron and Zinc Deficiency in Dry Beans with Interplantings of Annual Ryegrass and Increased Bean Density (2008)

Where he is now: Research Director, Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial

Dry beans, Wyoming’s fourth-largest crop by value, can suffer reduced yield and quality due to deficiencies of the micronutrients iron and zinc. This is a normal occurrence in soils with low organic matter and a high pH, which are common in Wyoming. The most conventional solution is to add micronutrients through repeated chemical sprays, but a potentially cheaper alternative explored by a SARE-funded graduate student and some inquisitive farmers lies in something much simpler: grass.

University of Wyoming graduate student Emmanuel Omondi first observed the positive effect of ryegrass on dry beans on the farm of Mike and Cindy Ridenour. Funded by a 2008 SARE Graduate Student grant, Omondi sought to explain the effect by focusing on pH, organic matter and other soil characteristics. Looking back, he notes that this specific premise “kept his mind in a box” and limited results. However, after he finished his master’s degree and started working on his Ph.D., he had a flash of insight that opened his mind to other possibilities.

This “flash” led Omondi to consider the contribution of other soil nutrients toward iron deficiency. Further research showed that surplus nitrogen, and manganese to a degree, were responsible for the deficiency. Ryegrass reduced the concentration of these nutrients in the soil and thus alleviated the iron deficiency that reduces yields. While more research is needed to make intercropping ryegrass viable commercially, it can potentially save farmers money by reducing the need to spray micronutrients such as iron sulfate. In 2008, Omondi noted that farmers forced to spray iron sulfate two to three times per season would spend $10 to $35 per acre, money that would be saved if ryegrass could do the job just as well.

Omondi's research originated through his involvement with Mike and Cindy Ridenour's 2006 Farmer/Rancher grant project to test the benefit of intercropping ryegrass on their farm. “The results of the experiment were encouraging and clearly indicated that there existed some form of symbiosis between the grass and the beans,” Mike Ridenour says.

As a University of Wyoming graduate student, Omondi was brought on to the Ridenour’s field experiment as a research assistant. When he saw the remarkable results of the Ridenour's project, he jumped on the opportunity to further the research by studying how intercropping annual ryegrass with dry beans alleviated micronutrient deficiency chlorosis and produced better yields compared to growing beans alone.

“Cindy and I are pleased to have been a part of Dr. Omondi’s master’s and doctoral work,” Mike Ridenour says. “Through the grants from Western SARE, Emmanuel was enabled to take his enthusiasm and curiosity to expand our scientific understanding of plant-soil interactions, and to become a learned professional within the global agricultural research community.”


See Omondi's scholarly publications at www.researchgate.net/profile/Emmanuel_Omondi2/publications.


Omondi reached more than 400 farmers and researchers by presenting his work at the University of Wyoming Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center's annual field day for four years.

Lambs in a pasture

Controlling Sheep Parasites with Alternative Dewormer Treatments

Javier GarzaJavier Garza

Louisiana State University

SARE grant: Effect of copper oxide wire particles compared to copper sulfate on Haemonchus contortus infection in lambs (2009)

Where he is now: Post-Doctoral Fellow, West Virginia University's Parasite Immunology Lab

Overuse of dewormers to control internal parasites in sheep has made certain parasites resistant and almost impossible to manage. This poses a serious threat to profitability for farmers, and has caused many researchers to focus on finding alternative treatments.

At Louisiana State University (LSU), Javier Garza used a 2009 SARE Graduate Student grant to research alternative treatments for the gastrointestinal nematode parasite Haemonchus contortus. This parasite is a blood feeder that impacts profitable small ruminant production in the Southeastern United States and worldwide. “The problem has become so severe that it is threatening viability of small-scale and limited-resource small ruminant farm operations despite continued high demand for sheep and goat products,” Garza says.

Garza’s project compared the efficacy of two cost-effective treatments of H. contortus infection: copper oxide wire particles and copper sulfate. He found that copper oxide wire particles was the more efficacious treatment. Some producers, knowing of copper sulfate’s low cost and possible effectiveness, were putting it in feed every day to keep copper levels up. This practice concerned Miller and Garza because it can cause toxicity through the accumulation of copper in the liver, which destroys blood cells. So, their project focused on administering these copper-based treatments as a drench, not through feed. They found that administering copper oxide wire particles two times at five-week intervals provided effective control and caused no liver toxicity.

As a result of their work, numerous sheep producers have inquired about using copper oxide wire particles for controlling H. contortus infections. Their feedback has been positive and encouraging, say both Miller and Garza.

Garza’s research teamed him up with LSU professor James Miller, who has made good use of the SARE Graduate Student grant program in his work to evaluate and promote alternative, non-chemical methods for controlling parasites in small ruminants.

Miller has served as advisor on four Graduate Student grant projects, a program he views as important for generating data to support hypotheses about alternative strategies. Plus, “we’ve found no bad results yet,” he claims.

Miller stresses the importance of the four graduate student projects in providing sheep producers with an integrated set of alternatives, rather than attempting to identify a single solution. “Producers want the best treatment, but there isn’t a best treatment,” Miller says.

The other SARE Graduate Student grant projects Miller has advised include:


See Garza's scholarly publications at www.researchgate.net/ profile/Javier_Garza2.

The Small Ruminant Toolbox

For an exhaustive collection of information for small ruminant producers and educators, check out the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)'s Small Ruminant Toolbox. The toolbox includes many publications, presentations and other resources that will be helpful to small ruminant producers.

Finding Better Ways to Battle Bugs

Lily CalderwoodLily Calderwood

University of Vermont

SARE grant: Evaluation of flowering cover crops as an IPM tool in Northeastern hop production (2012)

Where she is now: Commercial Horticulture Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension

When it comes to managing pests, many growers are working to find ecological strategies that reduce pesticide use and favor beneficial insects and pollinators. As desirable as this approach is, it also takes greater understanding of pests, crops and the local environment.

So, while a graduate student at the University of Vermont, Lily Calderwood sought to provide growers with the information they need to implement ecological pest control strategies, by studying how the state’s expanding hops industry could reduce pesticide use through beneficial insects and flowering cover crops. She received a 2012 SARE Graduate Student grant to evaluate how cover crop plant species diversity and flowering affect the number of pest and natural predators in hop yards.

Calderwood worked in an Alburgh, Vt., hop yard with established cover crop plots. She identified beneficial and pest arthropods, correlating them with cover crop development, hop yield and hop quality. After identifying three major pests—two-spotted spider mites, potato leafhoppers and hop aphids—she also identified their natural enemy groups. Calderwood discovered that a large, established stand of unmowed red clover could be used in hop yards as a trap crop for potato leafhoppers.

After finishing her graduate student project, Calderwood reported that her SARE award was integral to her doctoral research. “The hop cover crop project would not have continued into its second and third years without SARE’s support,” she says.

Now a senior commercial horticulture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Calderwood gives back to the program that was important to her by having served on the Northeast SARE technical committee that reviewed 2016 Graduate Student grant proposals. In this role, she provided the perspective of someone who has been through the process. “It is a great program, and I’m glad to be part of it,” she says.


Calderwood reached hundreds of current and potential hops growers with her findings, including a presentation at the state’s 2015 Hop Conference. Out of 31 farmers who responded to a survey, 20 indicated that their knowledge of insect pest identification and scouting had increased, and half are actively scouting for the three major pests. Six of the respondents are currently spraying insecticides and are very interested in learning more about clover as a trap cover crop.


Cover image of hops insect cheat sheetCalderwood published the following University of Vermont fact sheets and field guides during the course of her research:

She published the following journal article:

L. B. Calderwood, S. A. Lewins, H. M. Darby. Survey of Northeastern Hop Arthropod Pests and Their Natural Enemies. Journal of Integrated Pest Management, 2015; 6 (1): 18 DOI: 10.1093/jipm/pmv017

Shoshanah Inwood and farm family at a market

Helping Farm Families Thrive From One Generation to the Next

Shoshanah Inwood in a gardenShoshanah Inwood

The Ohio State University

SARE grant: Sustaining the Family Farm at the Rural-Urban Interface: Farm Succession Processes of Alternative Food and Agricultural Enterprises and Traditional Commodity Farmers (2006)

Where she is now: Assistant Professor, University of Vermont

The modest funding Shoshanah Inwood received through her SARE Graduate Student grant helped her uncover such important information about farm succession at the rural-urban interface (RUI), she later leveraged the results into more than $1 million in additional funding. First as a student at Ohio State University and now as an assistant professor at the University of Vermont, she is identifying strategies that help families pass their farm on to the next generation.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. For young and aging farmers, health insurance impacts their quality of life and health, as well as the financial viability of their farm business. If they have a large enough number of employees, farmers must provide them insurance, and requirements vary across states.

Inwood's SARE-funded project, conducted in 2007-2009, identified several different strategies farm families employ to create opportunities for the next generation of farmers. She learned how important accessibility and affordability of healthcare is to the future of the family farm, a thread that would become the focus of much of her later work. One of Inwood’s more recent projects has led to the creation of a website (www.hirednag.net) that shares tools and information with farm and ranch families about their unique health insurance needs and options.

The Health Insurance, Rural Economic Development and Agriculture website shares information about the health insurance needs of farm families, at www.hirednag.net.

See scholarly publications at https://blog.uvm.edu/sinwood-sinwood/publications.

“The social sciences are so important to the future of farming, but results can be intangible ... SARE’s investment in understanding these complex questions is incredibly important and critical to building a stronger, more resilient food and agriculture system.”

Improving Soil Health for Northwestern Growers

collins-head-shotDoug Collins

Washington State University

SARE grant: Soil Community Structure, Function and Spatial Variation in an Organic Agroecosystem (2006)

Where he is now: Small Farms Extension Specialist, Washington State University

Doug Collins focused his research efforts on a topic of great interest to the region’s specialty crop growers, and one that would shape his Extension career to come: improving our understanding of complex soil processes and their role in farm productivity. He studied the spatial variation of microorganisms and other soil properties on a local organic vegetable farm. Through the data he collected, he was able to recommend general biological sampling methods and interpretation guidelines to optimize farm productivity and profitability through improved management decisions.

"We find these kinds of projects to be instrumental for developing progressive organic soil practices,” says Jim Baird of Cloudview EcoFarms, who has collaborated with Collins. “This information is very much needed in our agricultural world.”

Now, as an Extension faculty member with WSU’s Small Farms Program, Collins has received more than $500,000 in subsequent SARE funding to conduct three additional projects aimed at improving soil management on organic farms:

Selecting management practices and cover crops for reducing tillage, enhancing soil quality, and managing weeds in Western Washington

Increasing adoption of reduced tillage strategies on organic vegetable farms in the maritime

Optimizing nitrogen management on organic and biologically intensive farms

cover image of a publication

See publications at http://csanr.wsu.edu/ people/doug-collins.

Collins created a WSU Extension publication during this project, Soil Testing: A Guide for Farms With Diverse Vegetable Crops.