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UW-River Falls plant and earth sciences department receives over $800,000 in grant awards

February 3, 2016

A series of projects in the Plant and Earth Sciences department at UW-River Falls was awarded funding through the USDA the week of Jan. 18. In total, the three separate grants add up to over $800,000, which was split between three different projects.

The first project will be managed by UWRF professor of horticulture Brian Smith, and will involve the development of new grape varieties. The hope is to develop grapes that are cold-hardy, high-yielding, and of superior quality such that they can compete with cranberries in the Wisconsin fruit industry.

The second will be bringing in new equipment for the Crop and Soils program. The aim is to get items that can help to support teaching activities, such as an instrument that uses near infrared technology to measure the nutritional value of forage samples, and for those items to be small enough that they can be brought out for field demonstrations.

“They can see these things now through the reports,” said Yoana Newman, UWRF assistant professor and co-proposer of the project with assistant professor Natasha Macnack. “But with the machine you can have it there and just say, ‘okay, let’s compare.’”

The third and largest of the grants will be funding a project that is the result of the collaboration of assistant professors Jill Coleman-Wasik, Jarod Blades, and Veronica Justen. It is called ‘From Seed to Seed’, and aims to get communities thinking about the balance between land usage and land conservation.

The plan is to offer a new transdisciplinary course at UWRF through the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES), hire new student research interns, partner with the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Carpenter Nature Center, and bring together various stakeholders in the Kinnickinnic watershed in discussions on land management.

The project will be building on another, smaller project, called the Kinni Watershed Consortium, which was funded back in 2014 by a smaller grant. A “pilot” run, as Coleman-Wasik put it. Applying for this new grant was made easier for having built off a smaller grant, using the Kinni Watershed Consortium as a way to prove that the ideas involved have merit.

The grant program, according to Administrative Programs Manager Laura Walsh, “is designed to help campuses like ours build up their infrastructure and capacity to do more research and better educate the students who will be going directly into the workforce.”

The funding of these projects will be of benefit not only to the Plant and Earth Sciences department, to which the money is directly going, but also to CAFES as a whole.

“Lots of CAFES majors take crops or soils courses even if they are an animal science major or an agriculture business major,” said Walsh. “They need to learn about the crops necessary to feed animals, or in the case of agriculture business students, there are a lot of crop/grain companies in this region, so they would want to have the background technical info offered by an agronomy course to better prepare them for potential careers with those companies.”

CAFES has seen a three percent decrease in enrollment overall since fall of 2011, and UWRF as a whole has seen a roughly 12 percent decrease. The hope, with these grants, is to attract new students to the program. “The more active we are,” said Walsh. “The more word gets out and the more opportunities we can offer to prospective students and current students.”