Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sunshine barley ready to grow

Barley growing in an experimental plot in Fairbanks
A new variety of barley will soon be ready for public use, as it is being released by UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. This “naked” barley, dubbed Sunshine by researchers, is a hulless type featuring a tough inedible outer hull that loosely adheres to the kernel.

Hulless barley is not truly without a hull, but is so called because this type of barley requires little or no processing to remove the hull, as it is attached so loosely to the seed that it easily falls off during harvesting. Research that eventually led to the creation of the variety Sunshine began in 1993—barley has been studied at AFES since practically the beginning of work at the station. Research Assistant Bob VanVeldhuizen has been working on the new barley variety for many years, with other researchers on the quest to create a hulless variety for Alaska conditions along the way. Steve Dofing started the process fifteen years ago and then Charles Knight took up the work. Using Thual as the parent seed, Dofing crossed the barley with a Finnish variety (JO1632) to improve straw strength, as Thual tended to produce weak stalks which fall over in the field, scattering the grain on the ground.

Dofing spent many days peering through microscopes to learn everything he could about all aspects of the grain. Once the trials passed the greenhouse research phase, fields were planted at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer, and the Delta Junction Field Research Site.

This early-maturing, non-waxy barley is specifically adapted to northern environments. Sunshine possesses high grain yields of nearly 2,500 pounds per acre and good test weights of 57 pounds per bushel.

Kitchen tests followed the field trials, with Cooperative Extension Service testing twelve barley varieties. Nutrition expert Kristy Long determined that Sunshine was indeed a marketable product, easy to mill, with a nutty flavor, and containing an abundance of nutrients. Once farmers decide to grow the product, they should find that compared to the price of hulled barley varieties ($100 to $200 per ton), Sunshine should bring in $5 to $10 for a one-pound bag.

“We want to show growers the possibilities of uses for Sunshine barley,” VanVeldhuizen said. “In Alaska you almost have to create the product yourself as we don’t have industries to do it.” He foresees some demand for the grain from health food enthusiasts. “I doubt there will be 100,000 acres of it in Alaska but I see a niche,” he said. “There will be small acres, small plots. And the demand might increase once people see it’s great.” Another plus for barley is that the flour is low in gluten, a plus for people with certain allergies.

An official announcement of the new crop will appear in the Crop Science journal and a publication will be prepared by AFES.

Foundation seed will be available through the Plant Materials Center, Alaska Department of Natural Resources in Palmer. Breeders’ seed is maintained by AFES.

In the meantime, VanVeldhuizen is anything but bored; he has already developed a new and improved breed of sunflower (Midnight Sunflower) for Alaskans and is immersed in researching organic amendments to soil, fish meal and fish/peat composting, and testing for many new plant varieties.

Also read:
Agroborealis magazine, Vol. 38, No. 2, Winter 2006-2007, page 29 "Breeding a new variety of barley for Alaska" by Doreen Fitzgerald, page 32 "Using Alaska's hulless barley in a new food product" by Trateng Kamolluck (PDF)

"Performance of Agronomic Crop Varieties in Alaska 1978-2002," AFES Bulletin 111, October 2004, by Robert M. Van Veldhuizen and Charles W. Knight (PDF)

Addendum (July 14, 2009):
Sunshine barley is not gluten free. It contains much less gluten than wheat but it is not entirely free of gluten. We regret this error.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

USFWS hosts hiring fair

Students interested in job opportunities with the US Fish & Wildlife Service should plan to attend a hiring fair Feb. 2-4 on the UAF campus.

Those majoring in GIS, natural resource management, wildlife, biology, botany, fisheries, and related fields are encouraged to apply for the USFWS positions. Jobs are located around the state at various USFWS project sites. In addition to career opportunities, there are internships and volunteerism to consider.

In order to be selected, students must create a profile and upload a resume on UAF CareerConnect by Jan. 29. Interviews will not be scheduled until these two steps are completed. Career Services, 110 Eielson Building, will host the interviews Feb. 2, 3, or 4 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Call Career Services at 474-7596 for more information.

Botanical garden seeking student workers

The garden offers jobs with beautiful views and fresh air

The Georgeson Botanical Garden, a research facility of UAF’s School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences located on the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, has job openings for students this summer.

Student jobs at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm have a venerable history with the university. Working at the farm can be a memorable experience. Leigh Dennison, for example, described his work there in the early fifties in the 2006 article, “Master of the Farmall tractor” (p. 11, Agroborealis 38.1 [pdf]). Hal Livingston, a geology student, worked various jobs around campus, starting out with weed pulling at the farm in 1951 (“Weeds, bones, and bees”, p. 13). And Barbara Greene worked at the farm as a tour guide in the 1980s (“Down on the farm: the first and last days of a summer job,” p. 14).

With these summer 2009 student openings, several opportunities exist for people who like working outdoors and getting exercise. Tasks include preparing seed beds, planting, maintaining, and harvesting research plots, collecting samples, and recording experimental data.

The workers must be able to perform strenuous physical labor such as lifting fertilizer bags and soil containers, hauling irrigation pipe, mowing lawns, moving rocks, and building outdoor structures. Working with volunteers and leading field trips may also be part of the job.

One opening also exists in the gift shop, where a student is needed to help manage retail sales, maintain inventory, enter data into the computer, perform groundskeeping and custodial tasks, work with volunteers, assist in the garden when not in the shop, help develop and present tours, and help coordinate special events.

To apply, visit the UAF student job website and search for position number 924706. Interviews begin March 7 and will continue after spring break.

See also:
"Sustainable Agriculture in Alaska, part 1: background", Aug. 13, 2008 SNRAS blog
"Throw All Experiments to the Winds," senior thesis ST 2006-01 by Rochelle Lee Pigors, December 1996
Like a Tree to the Soil: a history of farming in Alaska's Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940 by Josephine E. Papp, Josie E. Phillips, 2007

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Alaska Forum on the Environment: we’ll be there

Several SNRAS faculty will participate in the Alaska Forum on the Environment Feb. 2-6 at the Anchorage Egan Convention Center and the new Dena'ina Center. The event offers over 130 technical breakout sessions and eight keynote speakers. A full week of sessions on climate change, energy, environmental regulations, cleanup and remediation, fish and wildlife, solid waste, and more is planned.
The conference will feature a series of technical sessions in recognition of the 20th year after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. The Denali Commission will be offering sessions focused on lessons learned, best practices and challenges to rural infrastructure investment related to their efforts to improve energy systems, public health, and other infrastructure support in Alaska.
Scott Rupp and Nancy Fresco of the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning will be attending, as will UA Geography Director Mike Sfraga. Fresco will be presenting on biomass research. Rupp and Sfraga will be representing SNAP at the varied climate change sessions to advise the Governor’s Subcabinet on Climate Change. Professor of Animal Science Milan Shipka will participate in a workshop on local food production and food security in Alaska. Associate Professor of Agronomy/Soil Sciences Mingchu Zhang and Jodie Anderson, instructor and director of the Alaska Community Horticulture Program, will present a seminar on their composting research.
The Alaska Forum works to promote a more productive and efficient relationship between government agencies, businesses, organizations, tribes, and the public by developing a common understanding and educational foundation, providing opportunity for the exchange of information and experiences, and understanding the diversity of opinions and concerns of others.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Giant map of Africa tours local schools

What better way to teach young people the power of maps and the limitless depth of geography than a gym-sized map on which they can explore, travel from place to place, hop around, compete, collaborate, and have lots of fun?

UA Geography Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy is visiting several schools in Alaska with the Giant Traveling Map of Africa. Among her destinations are Crawford Elementary School, North Pole Elementary School, Badger Elementary School, Joy Elementary School, Arctic Light Elementary School, and Tri-Valley School in Healy. Next on her agenda are trips to Nome and Anchorage.

National Geographic's Giant Traveling Maps tour the country's schools, bringing hands and feet-on geography education to tens of thousands of students each year. Designed to combat geographic illiteracy by igniting students' interest in geography, the maps and accompanying activities incorporate physical movement and games to teach students place name geography, physical geography, and cultural geography as well as map reading skills.

Giant Traveling Maps brings memorable learning experiences to children and a school and community-wide focus on geography. These enormous floor maps of Asia, Africa, and North America are accompanied by a set of ready-to-use activities as well as atlases, books, music, videos, and game materials. National Geographic Giant Traveling Maps are produced by National Geographic Live!, the live events division of the National Geographic Society, producing multimedia presentations, performances, and film screenings for the general public, school audiences, and sponsoring organizations throughout North America. This is the second map to travel in Alaska. In April 2008, Kennedy and others toured the state with the Giant Traveling Map of Asia.

Further reading:
"Giant map brings the world to Alaska students," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Jan. 15, 2009, by Christi Hang

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Science association honors UAF professor

Dr. Elena Sparrow (pictured at right), UAF professor of resources management, has been named the 2008 Emma Walton Distinguished Service Award winner by the Alaska Science Teachers Association. The award recognizes educators who make extraordinary contributions to the advancement of science education.

Sparrow, who established the GLOBE program in 1996, is the Alaska GLOBE Program director. The program promotes collaboration between students doing inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the earth system. She has trained teachers from over 60 Alaska schools. Sparrow is the grant writer and director for the National Science Foundation Seasons and Biomes Program. This program provides teacher training and student data collection about the seasons. It also provides an opportunity for students who live in similar biomes around the world to link up and share their observations and conduct research investigations. She directs the Schoolyard Long Term Ecological Program. SLTER provides an opportunity for rural students to spend six weeks working with a researcher at the University of Alaska. She also directs the Education Outreach program of the National Science Foundation-funded Alaska EPSCoR program, providing professional development workshops for teachers and giving rural high school students an opportunity to conduct genetics research on Alaska animals or conduct environmental science investigations.

Sparrow has been active in integrating the scientific knowledge of Alaska’s Native people into the K-12 curriculum. At the collegiate level, working with the Association for Polar Early Career Scientists, Sparrow has been involved in training scientists just starting their careers, teaching them how to write proposals for their research or education outreach projects. At UAF, she teaches science research and earth science education. She is co- principal investigator of the GK-12 Teaching Alaskans, Sharing Knowledge program which works to enhance learning in Title One schools by partnering University of Alaska science, mathematics, or engineering students with K-12 classrooms. Sparrow is director of the University of the Arctic International Polar Year Higher Education Outreach Office and education outreach director of the International Arctic Research Center and Center for Global Change. She is also the president and founding member of the Association for Women in Science-Alaska Chapter.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Red-hot research: student examines plants for biomass fuel

Robbin Garber-Slaght (pictuerd at left) won’t object at all if her research goes up in smoke. Garber-Slaght, a recent UAF graduate, spent the summer of 2008 working on an EPSCoR-funded project to study the potential of various quick-growing Alaska plants to serve as replenishable fuels for a planned biomass power plant. The work was done in partnership with Chena Hot Springs Resort, which has plans to follow up the construction of a geothermal power plant at the resort with a pilot biomass plant.

“To demonstrate the same (geothermal plant) technology using biomass, that’s the concept,” said Gwen Holdmann, who until recently worked as vice-president of new development for the Fairbanks-area thermal resort. “The idea is that it should be a demonstration for potential rural Alaskan applications.” Garber-Slaght, who majored in mechanical engineering, used a combination of library research and fieldwork in an attempt to gauge the growth rates of fast-growing Interior Alaskan trees and shrubs, such as alders and willows. Her labor was funded by a $5,000 EPSCoR undergraduate research grant and overseen by Holdmann – who now runs UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power – as well as UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Professor Steve Sparrow.

Though research took up the bulk of her time, Garber-Slaght said that useful material was often hard to come by. “Actually there was very little information on the growth rates of willows and alders,” she said. “There’s a limited amount of knowledge out there on how to grow willows.” She was still able to cull information out of a variety of sources, from experiments in Sweden and New York state to data used in reforestation projects after the building of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. The remainder of her work was spent surveying farmland, mostly in the Delta Junction area, which had been left fallow for a three-year period as conservation reserves and has since sprouted willows and alders. Garber-Slaght reached several noteworthy conclusions: first, the felt-leaf willow – “which everyone (in Alaska) uses to revegetate everything,” she noted – is a potential candidate for a biomass crop in Interior Alaska. Second, she conjectures that, based on natural growth rates measured in the field, it may require more than the hoped-for three-year crop cycle to feed a biomass plant. “I’m leaning towards the idea that a three-year cycle is too short,” she said, noting that fueling the plant with three-year-old willows would likely require an untenable amount of acreage. On the other hand, Garber-Slaght said the jury’s still out on the issue because of the uncontrolled conditions in the Delta fields. She noted that Sparrow has planted a crop at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm that should provide more specific information about the crops and their potential growth rates, which can be augmented considerably through the use of fertilizer and other techniques. Holdmann agreed that the results for growth in the wild were less than had been hoped for based on growth rates measured elsewhere, and chalked up the discrepancy tothe harsh local conditions. “It indicates we need to be careful in Interior Alaska about making assumptions about how much biomass can grow as a fuel crop.”

Garber-Slaght’s thesis will be published by the AFES publications department. One major beneficiary is likely to be the hot springs resort, which built a $2.2 million geothermal power plant in 2006 and continues to promote and support alternative energy. The resort’s biomass plant is expected to cost $5 million, funded through private and grant funds. Current plans call for the plant to be sited on the Richardson Highway outside of Fairbanks; pending state grant funding, Holdmann said the resort plans to break ground on the project next spring. The plant initially would be fueled by burning brush and paper from the Fairbanks North Star Borough landfill, then later by fast-growing wood crops, and is projected to produce about 400 kilowatts of power - enough for a medium-sized bush village.

(article and photograph by Tom Moran, Alaska EPSCoR)

See also:
"Researcher seeks energy answer in biofuels", SNRAS Science & News, Oct. 30, 2008
"Alaska woody biomass", SNRAS Science & News, July 23, 2008

Monday, January 5, 2009

Alaska conference spotlights peonies

Peonies are an up and coming crop for Alaska growers
Alaska’s peony growers will gather this month in Anchorage for the Peony Growers’ Conference. Featured speaker is Piet Wierstra of the Oregon Perennial Co. Topics at the conference include weed and pest management and cultural practices; harvesting, storage and packing; and selling and marketing. The event is planned for Jan. 26-27 at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown Hotel. Alaska Division of Agriculture is hosting. To register, call 907-761-3864.

The Alaska Greenhouse and Nursery Conference and Polar Grower Trade Show will convene immediately following the peony conference. John Peter Thompson of Behnke’s Nursery in Maryland will be the featured speaker. The conference will focus on the latest Alaska research, nursery operations, and industry approach to invasive species. The event, to be held Jan. 27-28 at the Anchorage Marriott, is hosted by UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Call 907-786-6300 for registration information.