Friday, April 21, 2017

Program review ends and NRM degrees will continue

A special academic review of many UAF degree programs has ended with recommendations to eliminate several programs, but all of the degree programs offered by the School of Natural Resources and Extension have been spared.

SNRE Academic Director Dave Valentine said that includes the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and professional master’s degree in natural resources management, and a doctorate in natural resources and sustainability.

“That’s good news,” he said.

For the past year, UAF has been conducting special reviews of academic programs identified by the UAF Planning and Budget Committee. The goal has been to find savings by considering deletion of programs with lower enrollment and graduation numbers. Among those programs were the degrees offered by SNRE.

Valentine said Provost Susan Henrichs told the SNRE faculty that the degrees would revert to the usual five-year review cycle. In a recent meeting, she encouraged faculty to seek more external grant funding, increase enrollment and put as many courses as possible online. She also discussed the possibility of the NRM degree programs moving into another school at UAF.

Valentine said he will ask each academic faculty member to develop at least one online class in the coming year. “We want to get our degrees out there and more available online,” he said.

He notes that the school continues to face serious challenges due to budget cuts and departing and retiring faculty who can’t be replaced. Because of reductions, the school may have to reconsider some of its offerings and fill in more with classes from other programs, possibly broadening its degrees, he said. “It’s clear that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing currently.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Feasibility study looks as farming muskoxen

The March issue of the Arctic journal included a new study by SNRE graduate student Laura Starr about the feasibility of farming muskoxen for qiviut and livestock sales.

A baby muskox rests at the Large Animal Research Station.
Starr, who will receive a master's degree in natural resources management in May, is the lead author of the study, and her co-authors are SNRE Professor Josh Greenberg and Research Assistant Professor Jan Rowell.

Starr studied the feasibility of raising muskoxen for her master's thesis. She also conducted grazing research at the Large Animal Research Station, which raises a small herd of muskoxen.

The feasibility study looked at two herd sizes, 36 and 72 muskoxen, to estimate the principal costs and to model different sales scenarios. Although several scenarios showed promise,  the study says the most profitable option for either herd size was selling all the qiviut as value-added yarn, coupled with livestock sales.

Laura Starr measures forage with a
Grass Master.
But in the absence of selling livestock, the enterprise was profitable at either scale assuming all the qiviut was sold as yarn, the study states.

Qiviut, the soft underwool from muskoxen, is combed from the animals in the spring and prized by knitters. Qiviut is known for its light weight and warmth.

The study notes that the principal competition for farmed qiviut is qiviut from wild sources. Most of the qiviut on the market is harvested from wild muskoxen, according to the study. It is naturally shed by the animals and collected on the tundra or combed from farmed muskoxen.

The price for raw wild qiviut is $220 to $290 per kilogram, depending on the condition, while the current price for raw farmed qiviut is $495 per kilogram.

An Internet search in 2015 showed that small finished goods made out of qiviut, such as hats, scarves and cowls range from $150 to $400. Large finished garments made into designer suits cost $700 to $25,000.

Qiviut yarn is luxuriously soft.
Muskoxen are indigenous to the Arctic and were reintroduced to Alaska in the 1930s. Wild populations can be found north of the Brooks Range, on the Seward Peninsula and on Nunivak Island. They also grow well as a domesticated species in the research herd at UAF and at a nonprofit farm in Palmer.

Suzanna Caldwell of the The Alaska Dispatch News wrote about the feasibility study and interviewed Starr for a story published in today's edition. Caldwell notes that hurdles to starting a muskox business include the challenge that none are for sale.

Starr was the recipient of a $25,000 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant in 2014 to study the grazing impacts of intensely managed soil and the feasibility of raising muskox in Alaska.

Friday, April 14, 2017

SNRE names two outstanding students

Two graduating seniors with SNRE have been named the school’s outstanding students for 2016-2017 — Kelly Schmitz and Jennifer Sybert.

Schmitz will be recognized in the agriculture and horticulture area and Sybert for natural resources management. Both will be honored at a breakfast awards ceremony at Wood Center on April 22.

Kelly Schmitz
Schmitz, who grew up in North Pole, learned in March that she has been accepted in the joint UAF/Colorado State University Collaborative Veterinary Program. She will start the program this fall and plans to specialize in large animal veterinary medicine.

As a longtime 4-H member, it is no surprise that Schmitz would choose veterinary medicine as a career path. Growing up on a farm, she raised a variety of livestock, including chickens, geese, sheep, goats, beef and one headstrong reindeer named Pumba. She received the reindeer from the UAF Reindeer Research Program in 2008 as part of a pilot program with 4-H. She also has raised a grand champion steer, lamb and chickens.

“As long as I could sell animals, I was in 4-H,” she said. It help pay for college.

Schmitz said she studied natural resources management because she was interested in agriculture, people and the outdoors. She has been happy with the program and her professors, she said.

Jennifer Sybert
She also has had a variety of special experiences while at UAF, including an internship in Guatemala last summer, in which she worked with a veterinarian at a clinic and on his rounds. That experience was eye-opening, she said, because she realized that people in the U.S. take access to good livestock feed for granted and Guatemalans can not.

“People there depend so much on their livestock for a living,” she said.

She also worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan through a refugee agency.  Opportunities this spring included a project award from the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) program to study how eating willow affects reindeer calf growth. She designed the research with Reindeer Research Program Manager Greg Finstad and it will be undertaken this summer.

Jennifer Sybert, who is from Morristown, Vermont, served as a medic in the National Guard and the Army. She attends UAF with support from the Army’s Green to Gold Program. Sybert was a staff sergeant at Fort Wainwright, but while she attends college she is an ROTC cadet. After she graduates in May, she will be commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Colorado as a quartermaster (logistics). She previously served in Vermont, Florida and Texas and was deployed to Iraq in 2009-2010.

Sybert is a hard worker, often carrying heavy credit loads and raising her two young children, William, 5, and Jason, 3. She is interested in plants, an interest that she may have inherited from her grandfather, who was a botany professor. She said his teaching and business ethos was, “Never underestimate the power of a plant.”

The Sybert family, including Michael, Jennifer, William and Jason.
Her husband, Michael Sybert, was a 2014 outstanding student for the school’s forest sciences department. Both Syberts are interested in greenhouse management and eventually hope to raise niche crops, such as squash flowers and specialty mushrooms.

Michael works for the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks as a natural resources specialist, and will have a job in Colorado managing forest lands for the military.

Jennifer said particularly enjoyed Meriam Karlsson’s section of the Principles of Sustainable Agriculture and the conflict resolution taught in Resource Management Planning. She wishes she would have had more time to take agricultural electives. She came to UAF with an associate’s degree in health sciences from Kaplan University and also attended college at the University of South Florida.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Georgeson Botanical Garden fundraiser set for April 15

The Georgeson Botanical Garden at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm
is gearing up for summer 2017.  Edwin Remberg photo
The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society will host a Spring Green Up fundraiser from 5-8 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at The Hub.

The community is invited to meet members of the society and fellow gardeners and discover what’s new at the garden for 2017, including summer events and a design competition. Attendees may also sign up as a volunteer or make a donation. There will be a silent auction and door prizes.

The event is free but donations are appreciated. Hors d’oeuvres, tea and coffee will be served. The Hub is located at 410 Second Ave.

The Georgeson Botanical Garden Society is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

First reindeer calf of 2017 born at the farm

Reindeer calf 1701 stuck close to her mother, Astrid, at the Fairbanks
 Experiment Station. UAF photo by Zayn Roohi

See a short video.

A sure sign of spring, the first reindeer calf of 2017 arrived Tuesday morning at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

Reindeer caretaker Erin Carr said the reindeer was born at 10:30 a.m., just 10 minutes after a co-worker noticed the cow was in labor.

Reindeer calf 1701 curled up in a ball near her mother, Astrid, on Wednesday morning. As visitors watched, the cow nudged her calf with a hoof to get her up to nurse. The calf wobbled to her feet for breakfast in a reindeer pen opposite the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Carr said the calf seems healthy and will be weighed this afternoon. The first calf usually arrives in early April. Altogether, about 20 calves are expected this spring. They will become part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program herd, which numbered 65 as of Tuesday morning.

Darrell Blodgett, the data manager for the program, monitors the herd by video camera from his office at the farm, to make sure deliveries are progressing well and the staff is aware of cows in labor.

As is tradition, schoolchildren are encouraged to submit names for the calves, which are named in July or August, after they are weaned. Many of the ideas seem to come from children’s movies, Carr said.

“When Harry Potter was popular, we had names like Hagrid and Hermione,” she said.

Children may submit names on the Reindeer Research Program website at Names selected last year include Hodor, Jorah, Podrick, Two Socks, Chicory, Diego and Taco Supreme.

The Reindeer Research Program is the only program devoted to reindeer research that is affiliated with a U.S. university. The program conducts research on nutrition, animal health, meat quality and range management in support of the reindeer industry.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Professor interested in effects of light and temperature

SNRE horticulture professor Meriam Karlsson poses
with some bell peppers she is growing for a
trellising experiment in the Arctic Health Research
Building greenhouse. Jeff Fay photo

Meriam Karlsson grew up on a small dairy farm in southern Sweden, where her family raised hay, barley and oats for a herd of 20 to 30 cows.

Agriculture seemed like a logical career path, but Karlsson found plants and crop production more compelling than animals, so she studied horticulture in Sweden and at Michigan State University. While earning her doctorate, she became interested in the effects of temperature and light on plants, particularly flowering plants produced in greenhouses.

The horticulture professor has continued work in this area for nearly 30 years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The extreme day lengths and short field seasons in Alaska intrigued her from the start, and they still do.

“It made sense to study lights and temperatures in Alaska,” she said.

Karlsson’s current research centers on greenhouse and controlled-environment crop production, controlled-environment technology and resource management in commercial greenhouses.

Not all light is the same, whether in nature or the greenhouse. Because Alaska greenhouses need a lot of supplemental lighting, she is studying LEDs, which use less energy but provide a different quality of light than traditional sodium lights. Karlsson is looking at how the different combinations of colors in LEDs affect plant growth and is developing guidelines for Alaska greenhouse operators to use.

She has found that LEDs work best for seedlings and plants that grow close to the ground and that different plants at different stages need different types of light.

Much of her work concerns greenhouse food production because of the interest in local foods, Karlsson said. Her office is a few steps down the hall from the research greenhouse on the south side of the Arctic Health Research Building.

One area in the greenhouse holds flats of 6-inch-high orange and red bell peppers that she is growing as part of a trellising experiment. Little research has been done in Alaska with peppers, which are a good potential greenhouse crop, she said. To optimize greenhouse space and productivity, the plants are trellised, with two lateral branches that grow from the main stem. The horticulturist is looking at how pruning the lateral branches affects production.

Poinsettias grown in the Arctic Health Research
Building thrive. UAF file photo by Todd Paris
 The greenhouse on West Ridge also holds red, cream-colored and speckled poinsettias, grown for the benefit of students in her applied plant science class. The flowers demonstrate the effects of different light and temperature treatments. Karlsson teaches a sustainable agriculture course with two other professors and a class in greenhouse management this spring. The greenhouse class is popular among students, some of whom want to operate their own greenhouses.

Eric Cook is among those who have learned from Karlsson. Before coming to work for her in 2014, Cook had studied horticulture and worked in greenhouses in Guam, Oregon and Wyoming and at Chena Hot Springs. But he had not worked in a research greenhouse with state-of-the-art climate and light controls until he worked with Karlsson for a year. Cook said he learned about scientific design and trials, the use of beneficial insects to control pests and more about greenhouse controls and lighting.

“I definitely picked up some skills from her,” said Cook, who is now the greenhouse coordinator at Red Butte Garden and Arboretum in Salt Lake City. He described Karlsson as quiet, kind and well-liked by students.

As part of a project funded by the Division of Agriculture, Karlsson will compare the nutritional value of locally produced vegetables and fruit this summer to that of imported produce in grocery stores. She will look at different varieties of tomatoes, lettuce and spinach, and possibly other vegetables. Some of the locally grown produce will be grown in the university greenhouse and some will be purchased from farmers markets. She will analyze the vegetables’ sugar and mineral content in university labs, and a lab in the Lower 48 may evaluate antioxidant levels.

“We hope that locally grown is more nutritious,” she said. “We want to get some good documentation to show that.”

Karlsson is also trying to develop greenhouse protocols for growing spinach, which is in demand but difficult to grow outside because it bolts and flowers under the long daylight hours. Growing spinach with LEDs seems to delay flowering, but more work needs to be done to see if it can be grown commercially throughout the year in greenhouses, she said.

Karlsson does not take much time away from her greenhouse or her research.

“My plants grow 24-7,” she explained. “It’s an exciting area. Growing is a good field to be in.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

OneTree plans birch sap cooperative meeting

Nicole Dunham collects birch sap from trees near the chancellor's
home on the UAF campus in 2016. UAF photo by Todd Paris

The OneTree Alaska program will host a meeting March 27 for individuals interested in tapping birch trees and forming a birch sap cooperative.

The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the OneTree STEM to STEAM Studio in the former Lola Tilly Commons kitchen on the UAF campus. The OneTree Alaska program processes birch sap with different types of evaporators as part of research assessing various methods and the quality of the product.

OneTree Alaska program coordinator Nicole Dunham said the structure of the cooperative will depend on what participants want. The OneTree program will lend buckets and taps to be used by members of the cooperative, who will bring their sap to the facility in exchange for birch syrup. The program wishes also to extend knowledge about syrup processing, and volunteers are needed for multiple tasks. Participants may tap anywhere from one to 100 trees.

Community volunteers and elementary and middle school students regularly participate in the annual sap collection process in April and May. Volunteers and staff collected more than 2,200 gallons of birch sap in 2016.

The birch sap season lasts anywhere from 10 days to three weeks in mid-April to early May. Equipment may be checked out from OneTree from noon to 5 p.m. April 5-7. To arrange another time or for more information, call 907-474-5517 or email OneTree Alaska is a research and educational outreach program affiliated with the School of Natural Resources and Extension.