Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Matanuska Experiment Farm director hired

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has hired Susanna Pearlstein as the new director for the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension center near Palmer.

Susanna Pearlstein
Pearlstein, a postdoctoral researcher based at the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon, will start her new job April 3. She will provide leadership and administrative oversight for the academic, research and Cooperative Extension Service outreach programs based at the farm, which is owned by UAF.

Pearlstein is excited about the new job. As an ecohydrologist for the EPA, she said she enjoyed working with community members. She served as the outreach coordinator and researcher looking at the effects of fertilizer management practices on groundwater quality. Pearlstein also wrote grants that funded agricultural research and she looks forward to finding new revenue and options for the farm.

“I’m inspired by the multiple opportunities at the Matanuska Experiment Farm,” she said.

Pearlstein has visited Alaska many times, including as a member of interagency hotshot crew that fought wildfires on the Kenai Peninsula in 2007. She enjoys cross-country skiing, beekeeping and hiking and is enthusiastic about coming to Alaska.

Milan Shipka, the director of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said Pearlstein impressed the hiring committee with her knowledge of the farm, her background and her enthusiasm.

“She’s got some really good ideas and brings new energy to the position,” he said.

Pearlstein grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended college in British Columbia and in Arizona. She earned her doctorate in soil, water and environmental science from the University of Arizona in 2015.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Registration open for sustainable ag conference

Registration is open for the Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Feb. 21-23 in Fairbanks.

The main meeting day will be Feb. 22, with presentations on crops, farm management, opportunities for youth in agriculture, birch sap and syrup making, and meat and fiber production. Full and half-day workshops are scheduled on Feb. 21 and Feb. 23 on birch sap processing, woodlot management, improving soil with combusted biomass, soil management, reindeer husbandry and gardening, risk management, and gardening and farming in rural Alaska.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will host the 13th-annual conference at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel. Agenda and registration information is available at http://bit.ly/sareconf.

For more information, contact Steven Seefeldt, at 907-474-1831 or ssseefeldt@alaska.edu, or Darcy Etcheverry, at ddetcheverry@alaska.edu.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Marketing expert promotes Alaska peony industry

Ko Klaver talks about the Alaska Grown labeling of Alaska peonies
 during the conference. Photo courtesy of Arctic Alaska Peonies

During his keynote presentation at the Alaska Peony Growers Association winter conference last Friday, Ko Klaver encouraged peony growers to keep planting.

Klaver, a floriculture marketing expert and the industry liaison for the association, told attendees, “The opportunities for peony growers in Alaska are phenomenal.”

He pointed to a map that shows the locations of peonies grown around the world. Many are grown in temperate areas, but Alaska stands alone as a peony producer at 60 degrees latitude.

“You’re still in a unique position,” he told those gathered. But that might not last. “There’s a lot of ambitious people out there,” he said, “Most of them have a Dutch last name.”

Alaska can supply peonies from July to August, at a time other locations do not.

“That is your niche,” he said. “That is your opportunity.”

He noted that it’s possible that other northern locations, such as Iceland or Scandinavian countries, could get in on the market so it’s wise for Alaska to take the lead and develop its market now.

Klaver said there were around 200,000 peony roots in the ground in Alaska in 2016 and that number is expected to grow to 250,000 this year. He urged growers to continue planting, with the idea that Alaska can easily provide more to the world market, which is currently dominated by Klaver’s place of birth, the Netherlands.

The Alaska harvest numbers aren’t complete for the 2016 season, but the 2015 season brought sales of around 70,000 stems, which sold for $3 to $7. Each plant takes several years to develop stems and produces an average of eight buds when mature. By comparison, the Netherlands sold about 120 million peony stems in 2016. Klaver believes that Alaska can produce and sell at least 3 million stems annually in the future. “The market is there,” he assured growers.

Klaver said only about 20 percent of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are produced domestically.

Klaver urged growers to work together to improve their storage and shipping methods and to seek economy. Buyers want a reliable supply of peonies in good condition. By getting things in place now, such as larger coolers, growers will be ready for a much greater supply of Alaska-grown peonies.

Growers attended the annual peony conference for information on the latest research on soils, pests and on growing peonies, and advice on varieties, marketing and shipping. They also networked with other growers. Around 30 growers attended a school for beginning growners on the first day of the conference.

A couple sitting at my table had attended the beginners school, and they have planted about 60 roots so far. “If they come up, we’re in,” said the grower, who is from Soldotna. If they do well, they may plant two acres.

SNRE Emeritus Professor Pat Holloway said that, as of 2015, 69 growers could be considered commercial peony growers, with 500 or more roots planted. There were 147 individuals who had fewer than 500 roots or were starting the planting process.

The School of Natural Resources and Extension has had a significant role in Alaska peony research. Holloway planted the first experimental field of peonies at the Georgeson Botanical Garden in 2001 and she spent more than 15 years experimenting with varieties and growing methods. Although she retired in 2015, she still conducts annual surveys for the association.

Other researchers from SNRE continue with peony research. During the conference, Mingchu Zhang presented information about his research involving micronutrients and plant nutrition, and retired agronomics researcher Bob Van Veldhuizen led a post-conference workshop on soils. Information by State Horticulture Specialist Steven Seefeldt was also presented.

Conference organizer Ron Illingworth said that more than 125 people attended, including beginning and experienced growers and others who are considering planting peonies. An additional 25 presenters also attended.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

SNRE professor honored for peony research

Mingchu Zhang poses with the Growers Cup Award he
received from the Alaska Peony Growers Association.
Pat Holloway photo

The Alaska Peony Growers Association has given University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Mingchu Zhang its Growers Cup Award for his research supporting the peony industry.

Members of the statewide association gave Zhang the annual award during its winter conference, which ended Sunday at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel.

Ron and Marji Illingworth, North Pole peony growers and conference chairs, said growers vote on the award, which is given to an individual who provides key support to the peony industry. Zhang has presented regularly at the conference on his research relating to plant nutrition, fertilizer and soils needed for optimum peony growth. He gave a presentation this year on peony micronutrient deficiencies and leaf color.

“He’s been very much connected with us for quite a few years,” said Ron Illingworth.

UAF Emeritus Horticulture Professor Pat Holloway, the first recipient of the award, said Zhang is a dedicated researcher who has written and participated in several grants that have helped “decipher the complexities of plant nutrition for peonies.”

“He’s worked one-on-one with growers from Fairbanks to Homer,” she said.

Dr. Zhang is a professor of agronomy and soil sciences with the School of Natural Resources and Extension. His research has focused on nutrient management, soils, and peony, forage and agronomic field crop production.

Illingworth said more than 125 people attended the conference, which focused on growing and marketing peonies. Most were Alaska growers or individuals considering growing peonies, but the three-day conference also drew growers from California, New York, Oregon, Washington and Arkansas.

Monday, January 30, 2017

SNRE student wins international rifle competition

Sagen Maddalena UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
Sagen Maddalena is a senior natural resources management student at UAF. She is studying forest management.

By Nona Letuligasenoa
On Friday, Alaska rifle's redshirt-junior Sagen Maddalena completed her final day of competition in Europe, being one of five members to represent Team USA in the women's air rifle discipline in both the Meyton Cup in Innsbruck, Austria, and the IWK Hochbrueck in Munich, Germany. Maddalena was named the champion in Monday's Meyton Cup before placing in the top 35 at the IWK on Friday.

On Monday, Maddalena shot a 417.3 in the qualifying round of the Meyton Cup to place fourth overall in a pool of 35 international shooters. Only eight shooters would advance to the final round out of the 35, with Team USA taking three of those eight slots.

In the single-elimination final round, Maddalena shot a 10.1 or higher in each of her 14 individual shots to tally a 249.0 total, taking first place over her teammate Emily Smith, who registered a 246.5. The Alaska rifle co-captain's score of 249.0 broke the Cup's previous record of 211.0 from Yi Siling from July 3, 2014 and also marks Maddalena's first individual senior international title.

After her big win, Maddalena and the rest of Team USA traveled to Munich to compete in the women's air rifle portion of the IWK Hochbrueck early Friday morning. In a field of 98 international shooters, Maddalena placed 34th overall with a score of 414.5, with each of her four shots being 102.5 or higher. Maddalena placed third among her Team USA teammates, with Nikola Mazurova from the Czech Republic taking first overall with an aggregate score of 419.9.

Maddalena will return to Fairbanks to continue the 2016-17 season with the Alaska Nanooks rifle team, with their next competition being held at the University of Nebraska on Thursday, Feb. 2.
Letuligasenoa is the sports information director for UAF.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Distance-delivered classes offered this spring

Students may take distance-delivered classes with the School of Natural Resources and Extension this spring on horticulture, GIS programming, nutrition and soil chemistry. The graduate natural resources management seminar will also be distance-delivered.

All are offered through UAF eLearning and Distance Education or from SNRE directly.

Classes through eLearning include horticulture, GIS and nutrition. Emeritus Horticulture Professor Pat Holloway will teach two one-credit horticulture classes, Plant Propagation I, Seeds and Seed Germination, and Plant Propagation II, Vegetative Propagation. Professor Dave Verbyla will teach GIS Programming and Professor Roxie Dinstel will teach Nutrition Across the Lifecycle, which are three-credit classes.

Plant Propagation I, NRM 150, will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 28 and will cover the botany of seeds from flowering to seed development, methods of seed germination, and the germination of wild and cultivated seeds. A course in basic biology, botany or plant science is recommended as background.

Plant Propagation II, NRM 151, will run March 21 to May 2. The course will cover the principles and practices of plant propagation useful in horticulture botany, forestry, agronomy, vegetation and land reclamation projects and plants research. The course will cover propagation methods and will emphasize Alaska native and economically useful plants. A high school course in biology is recommended as background.

Holloway will also teach the one-credit Plant Propagation Practicum from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 8-11, which will not be distance delivered.

GIS Programming, NRM 638, will include programming for ArcView, Arc/Info and ArcGIS. It will include programming techniques for customizing GIS, efficient batch processing, and development of custom tools for GIS display and analysis. An introductory GIS course such as NRM F338 or equivalent is a prerequisite.

Nutrition Across the Lifecycle, NRM 393, will explore nutritional information based on age groups of people. It uses current research to explain the nutritional foundations necessary for the growth, development and normal functioning of individuals in each stage of their lifespan.

See more information about the classes at https://elearning.uaf.edu/courses/. Anyone interested in the eLearning classes may register through eLearning or through UAOnline.

Other SNRE distance-delivered classes offered through UAF this spring include:
• NRM F692 Natural Resources Management Graduate Seminar
• NRM F466, Environmental Soil Chemistry

Friday, January 6, 2017

Entries due Jan. 20 for SNRE food security contest

Participants in the Refugee Farmers Market Project prepare to sell vegetables
 at the farmers market in Spenard.

The deadline for entries is Jan. 20 for undergraduate UAF students who wish to compete in writing, engineering and media contests that address food security issues in northern communities.

Organizers of the second annual Food Security in the Arctic competition will award $1,000, $500 and $250 prizes for first-, second- and third-place awards in three contests sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

Contest co-chair Professor Jenifer McBeath said students are invited to address some of the issues involved with developing environmentally responsible agricultural practices in the North. An estimated 95 percent of food consumed by residents is produced elsewhere and it travels over a tenuous transportation network, she said.

For the essay contest, students may submit up to an eight-page, double-spaced essay about the challenges or innovative solutions involved in growing and storing food in northern communities.

Participants in the engineering contest are asked to submit an engineering design that attempts to address energy-efficient and environmentally friendly large-scale food storage in the North. Designers should research and consider the ideal conditions that aid in cold climate food storage. Individuals or teams may compete. The designer of the winning entry will be awarded $5,000 to build a prototype.

Students who participate in the media contest are asked to submit a 30-second public service announcement that represents some of the current challenges in growing food in northern communities. Films or videos should be submitted as an uncompressed MOV or M4P file.

For more more details about the contests and the entry form at www.uaf.edu/snre/fsa. For more information, contact McBeath at 907-474-7431 or jhmcbeath@alaska.edu.