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Finding best grains if Idaho’s climate changes

by Bill Loftus

Aberdeen Research and Extension Center-based wheat breeder Jianli Chen will have a lot of wheat to analyze as part of a five-year project to assess the water- and fertilizer-use efficiency of 3,000 wheat and barley lines.

The lines are part of the National Small Grains Collection maintained by the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Aberdeen as a genebank to represent the global diversity of small grains.

Chen’s $750,000 research is part of a $25 million project led by University of California at Davis to help farmers nationwide prepare for climate change. “It will be a big job because we will be growing three plots of each line, so we will be monitoring 1,800 plots for each of the next five years,” Chen said.

Aberdeen Research and Extension Center

Chen’s preliminary research into drought stress supported by the Idaho Wheat Commission helped her to become a key part of the grant by conducting the       phenotypic screening for water- and nitrogen-use efficiency.

Aberdeen provides a perfect location for the project, she said. Because the region's rainfall averages 10 inches a year, grain production relies on irrigation. Simulating drought conditions simply means turning off or reducing the  water supply.

Support from the USDA-ARS Special Collaborative Agreement Grant allowed Chen to prepare for the new project by starting to grow the wheat and barley lines in 2009 to increase the amount of seed needed for her research.

The project will be the first effort in the genebank's history to measure the water and nitrogen efficiency of various wheat and barley lines in the collection.

Contact Jianli Chen at
Learn more about the National Small Grains Collection at Aberdeen.
Learn about the University of Idaho Aberdeen Research & Extension Center


Minimum size increase could help Idaho potato producers boost profits

by Mary Ann Reese

Idaho fresh-potato revenues could increase by $130 million annually, and Idaho dehydrated potato revenue could increase by $20 million, if the minimum size for fresh market potatoes were increased from 4 to 5 ounces.

That’s the finding University of Idaho Extension Economist Joe Guenthner and CALS graduate student Whitney Plant Goodwin, both of Moscow, shared with the Idaho Grower Shippers Association  at a summer conference in Sun Valley.

“That size shift would divert an average of 5 million cwt from Idaho’s fresh to its dehydrated potato market each year,” said Guenthner, also a professor in CALS Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. “Our studies show that decision could make sense because the dehydrated potato market is more elastic than is the fresh potato market.”

The Idaho Potato Commission hired the university economists to conduct this study, “because of the recent downward trend of the demand for fresh potatoes in the marketplace,” said Guenthner, a trend troublesome to both the Idaho potato industry and Idaho’s economy.

The UI study and consumer research will be presented to shippers, growers, and processors “during our November Whistlestop Tour to seek further feedback,” said Frank Muir, head of the Idaho Potato Commission, “Both study and tour feedback need to be considered together as the Idaho potato industry decides on this important issue.”

Contact Joe Guenthner at


E. coli vaccine advances, puzzle remains

by Bill Loftus

What’s bad for beef eaters may be good for the beef cattle, says Carolyn Hovde Bohach, a CALS microbiologist and School of Food Science faculty member.

That is no consolation to those who have suffered devastating losses to E. coli O157:H7, but it reflects the difficult puzzle the bacterium presents. Bohach talked about her work with E. coli as part of the Science on Tap series in Moscow sponsored by the Idaho IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, which she directs.

As part of long-term research on a potential vaccine for cattle against E. coli O157:H7, Bohach has discovered how the bacteria colonize in the gut of cattle. The bacterial serotype is feared for its lethal threat to people, particularly the young and old.

Cattle and a host of other animals can carry with no ill effects the E. coli strain so threatening to people. It appears that O157:H7 may even benefit cattle, providing immunity from bovine leukemia virus.

Questioned about cattle producers’ exposure to O157:H7, Bohach noted studies show healthy rural residents from both beef and dairy areas carry antibodies for higher exposures to the bacteria than do city folk. That suggests people candevelop immunity.

Conditions in meat processing plants have improved to lessen the risk of O157:H7 contamination, but she advised against eating sprouts because growing conditions multiply even a tiny risk. Bohach championed food irradiation as an ideal solution, adding that all foods aboard U.S. Navy submarines are irradiated to combat disease threats and protect shelf life and nutritional benefits.

Contact Carolyn Hovde Bohach at


Young students focus on Idaho-grown foods
Bannock County students from seven elementary schools who attend EFNEP afterschool programs from October through April will learn to cook Idaho-grown foods as part of The Year of Idaho Foods (YIF), a celebration of some 90 food crops grown in Idaho.

“We’ll teach the children to make healthy, tasty dishes using potatoes, beans, fruits, hamburger, cheese, and other foods grown in Idaho,” says Char Byington, University of Idaho Extension educator in Bannock County.

EFNEPIdaho’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program—afterschool programs serve students from grades 1 to 6 who are eligible for free school lunches. Nutrition fundamentals and healthy, economical dishes are the focus of 1-hour afterschool sessions at least once a month where youth actually help prepare foods they then eat. “Helping students be aware of foods grown nearby and the nutrition they bring is a good tool for us,” says Byington. EFNEP is   funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Founded by the Treasure Valley Food Coalition and Meadowlark Farm, Nampa, the Year of Idaho Food includes University of Idaho Extension as a partner. It piggybacks on the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s September-long celebrations of Idaho Preferred, a label alerting grocery store customers to foods grown in Idaho.

See  The Year of Idaho Food and Idaho Preferred
Contact Char Byington at

Also see Bannock County’s Stretching Your Food


UI Extension scientists help Idaho counties fight noxious weeds

by Mary Ann Reese

INVASIVE NOXIOUS WEEDS COST IDAHO AN ESTIMATED $300 million a year in damages to livestock and wildlife and their habitats, agricultural crops, and degradation   of recreation areas. University of Idaho weed scientists are developing and teaching methods to better detect and predict the spread of this weed menace.

“You can’t eradicate a weed until you know where it is,” a big issue in Idaho’s vast wild areas, says Tim Prather, Moscow, UI Extension weed specialist for the Department of Plant, Soils, and Entomological Sciences. “If you can determine how weeds will spread, then you can better target eradication efforts.”

Prather believes his team leads the nation in creating on-the-ground adaptive surveys that combine emphasis on human activity and understanding of plant dispersal patterns to predict weed locations. His team has also created a process to show which plant communities are susceptible to invasion by a weed species to further focus survey efforts.

Prather also is lead author of UI Extension’s popular 140-page Idaho’s Noxious Weeds, 5th Edition pocket guide and the 72-page Idaho’s Noxious Weeds 2011 Control Guidelines. (Find them at

How Lemhi County uses weed models
In Salmon, Lemhi County Weed Superintendent Daniel Bertram uses Prather’s models to detect Rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea), tricky because of its high germination rate and dandelion-like papas enabling seed to travel miles in wind currents.

“Tim has taken our known Rush infestations and run them through our wind patterns. This allows us to focus on areas of high probability for seed dispersal,” says Bertram. He also uses Prather’s model to determine in which areas the seeds are likely to germinate.

He praises Prather’s help, “especially when, due to budget cuts from every avenue, weed control crews are forced to do more with less. The problem with invasive species is they don’t take a break.”

Good news. Bertram’s good news is, of 21 noxious weeds infesting 100,000 Lemhi County acres, “We have eradicated Dyers woad, Saltcedar, yellow starthistle, and we currently are trying to eradicate Japanese knotweed, puncturevine, and perennial pepperweed.”

Working with Prather from UI CALS are Larry Lass, Bahman Shafii, Steve Cook, Bill Price, and Sandya Kesoju; from University of Montana are Woodam Chung and Tyron Venn.

The team also collaborates with Montana State University to prevent invasive species from crossing the Continental Divide, a program coordinated by MSU’s Kim Goodwin.

Contact Tim Prather at
Also see Lemhi Cooperative Weed Management Area


Indicators Northwest website now includes 2010 census figures

Populations for Idaho, Washington, and Montana each grew by 1 percent between 2009 and 2010. Only Oregon’s population remained unchanged, according to the Indicators Northwest website.

Overviews for the four states show Oregon with the highest unemployment rate of the four  (9.4%) and Montana with the lowest (7.2%). As for salaries, the average Washington job paid $13,161 more a year than did the average Idaho job—$48,868 for Washington compared to $35,707 in Idaho. Oregon wages averaged $41,851, and Montana’s trailed at $34,474.

Maintained by the University of Idaho’s Office of Community Partnerships, the site, popular with anyone who needs the latest state and county census data, now reflects the 2010 U.S. Census at both state and county levels. The latest figures for the region’s American Indian reservations are a mix of 2000 and 2010 census data.

Contact Christy Dearien at, or go to Indicators Northwest website