Together We Stand

Multistate grants bring institutions together to explore big questions in research

In agricultural research, scientists across disciplines often find themselves working to address the same issues as colleagues at other institutions. To help advance and streamline this important work, funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows land-grant university scientists to work collectively to answer questions with a broad scope.

“It allows us to bring together a critical mass of people to investigate a problem with broad impact or implications,” said Joe West, assistant dean of the University of Georgia Tifton campus. “Rarely does one institution have the resources or scientists to address a broad issue from multiple angles. The projects generally have multiple objectives and scientists from participating institutions contribute to the issues they can address, so each project has a varying degree of participation from member institutions. Thus, you are able to muster resources from all over the country.”

West is administrative adviser for a project titled “Genetic Improvement of Adaptation and Reproduction to Enhance Sustainability of Cow-Calf Production in the Southern United States,” which has brought together scientists from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands to research genetic aspects of beef production.

“A variety of breeds of cattle are used because of the effects of coloration. White-faced breeds are especially susceptible to pink eye because they reflect more intense sunlight into the eye. These qualities are related to the animal’s adaptation to the environment,” West said. “Diseases interact with the environment and scientists are working to identify genes that turn on and turn off an animal’s response to the environment. Since environments vary greatly across the country, we include scientists from multiple states.”

The project was recognized for regional excellence (Southern Region) by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU). West is one of three UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences faculty members who are involved in multistate projects that received APLU regional recognition.

Gary Hawkins, a CAES scientist who specializes in water resource management, is part of a project titled “Drainage Design and Management Practices to Improve Water Quality,” which focuses on improving drainage management on agricultural lands and was recognized for the North Central Region.

Hawkins is one of 22 land-grant researchers developing new strategies to improve agricultural drainage systems. In Georgia, he is monitoring nutrient levels in drainage water and trying to determine whether scientists can implement the same bioreactors in Southern fields as they do on Northern farms or if they should modify them to better utilize regional materials to remove nutrients. He is also looking at how practices such as conservation tillage, different fertilizer technologies or modified fertilizer applications help plants uptake nutrients better to prevent excess nutrients in drainage water.

“Involving multiple states allows the researchers to present ideas to each other and learn from each other … ways the same issue may be addressed in different regions of the country,” Hawkins said.

UGA Cooperative Extension vegetable disease specialist Bhabesh Dutta (PhD – Plant Pathology, ’11) is part of a team of scientists working on a project titled “Biology and Management of Iris Yellow Spot Virus, Other Diseases and Thrips in Onions” that was recognized by APLU for the North Central Region. The research focuses on disease and pest management of onions and production and marketing issues in different parts of the country.

Dutta contributes expertise in disease management of bacterial and fungal diseases of onions, specifically center rot. The bacterial species that causes center rot in Georgia, however, is different from that found in Western or Northern areas of the country.

“The symptoms are similar but they’re caused by different organisms and they survive in different ecosystems,” Dutta said. “Being able to collaborate with other scientists allows us to work together to find a holistic solution.”

USDA support for multistate projects covers five-year terms that are renewable based on progress.

By Clint Thompson

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