Friday, June 19, 2009

Lettuce gets a close look in Alaska and Washington

Haly Ingle, WSU graduate student, plants Cracoviensis leaf lettuce in research plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm

A parallel study of nitrate levels is simultaneously being conducted in Fairbanks and Pullman, Wash., this summer. Washington State University graduate student Haly Ingle is at UAF for seven weeks closely examining the effects of the midnight sun and other factors on lettuce and spinach.

Ingle is working with UAF Professor Meriam Karlsson, studying how light intensity and duration affect nitrate levels in leaf tissue of different lettuce varieties. The high latitude Fairbanks site complements a sister site in Pullman where the same varieties are being grown. During several twenty-four hour periods, Ingle will measure nitrate every two hours.

Ingle grew up in Waitsburg, Wash., and earned bachelor of science degrees in agricultural communications and organic agriculture from WSU in 2008. She is studying toward a master’s degree in soil science, and will use the research she is doing in Alaska for her thesis.

Ingle is particularly interested in the comparisons between Fairbanks’ twenty-four hour daylight growing days and Pullman’s diurnal rhythms. “The nitrate content of the plants should fluctuate more in Pullman,” she predicted. In Fairbanks, there should be no fluctuations. Most prior research in this arena has been conducted in greenhouses, and Ingle is intrigued by the “unique growing conditions in Alaska.”

During the times that she takes measurement every two hours she will take her samples to the lab and grind them, then send them to Pullman to be processed. Nitrate research is important because nitrogen is the more critical element for plant growth. And nitrates can play either good and bad roles in human health. The European Commission has limited nitrate content for growers, just as the EPA has limits on the amount of nitrates in drinking water. “It’s not like it’s going to kill you but it’s something to keep an eye on,” Ingle said.

She prepared the soil in her plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm by adding fish meal. Ingle has been impressed with her temporary home. “It’s beautiful here,” she said. “It’s a little more remote than I’m used to and the daylight takes some getting used to.”

Though she did not grow up on a farm, Ingle has long been attracted to growing things, perhaps because her father was raised on a farm and his stories got her interested. “I’ve always had a passion for agriculture,” she said. “It’s something that fits with me.” Camping, horseback riding, and boating are her hobbies. Her long-term goals are to pursue a PhD and work with the Cooperative Extension Service.

Dr. Karlsson is pleased to have Ingle here and looks forward to a SNRAS student doing research in Washington. This project is made possible by the Franklin Distinguished Graduate Fellow, an endowment established by Glen Franklin. Franklin grew up in Washington and worked for the Alaska Division of Agriculture. He donates funds to WSU for agronomic research that solves problems common to Washington and Alaska.

Ingle’s advisor, Rich Koenig, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences chair and SNRAS graduate, will visit Fairbanks in July. His research and extension program have focused on applied soil fertility issues in cereal-based cropping systems in eastern Washington. Koenig started the nitrate research with a previous graduate student who wrote four peer-reviewed research articles before completing her degree. Dr. Koenig said he is looking forward to a continued collaboration with Dr. Karlsson, examining agricultural issues common to both states.

1 comment:

Brian Charles Clark said...

Great story! We linked to it from our WSU site,