Ag Matters

Aug 14, 2018

A conversation around the value of agriculture, and how it applies to Utahns. Supported by the USU College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences

Community Supported Agriculture

When farmers begin planting crops for the season, they must pay for necessary supplies such as seeds, fertilizer, equipment and labor. Community Supported Agriculture, or a CSA, is a partnership between a farm and people in the community. CSA members buy shares the beginning of the growing season to help cover farmer’s costs, and then regularly receive fresh produce once harvesting begins. Researchers in USU’s Department of Applied Economics examined behavioral changes among people who participated in CSAs. They discovered that more than 92% of participants reported that their overall nutrition improved during the program, demonstrating that CSAs can improve people’s diets while boosting local economies. 

Bioactives

The rainbow hues of produce at the grocery store and farmers market aren’t just beautiful, they are good for your long-term health. Many brightly colored fruits and vegetables are rich in bioactives, which are chemicals naturally found in certain foods that can promote health, prevent inflammation and block some pathways that may lead to cancer. Foods that are rich in bioactives include broccoli, green tea, tart cherries, and even purple corn. Researchers in USU’s Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences is involved in several studies aimed at understanding how bioactive chemicals affect the environment in your gut and overall health. 

Epigenetics

It’s often said that “you are what you eat,’’ but it might also be true that you are what your parents and grandparents ate. Epigenetic inheritance is a field of research that examines the genetic code and how it can be inherited across generations. Researchers in animal science and human nutrition at USU are examining how behavior and lifestyle choices, such as smoking or a poor diet, leave marks on our DNA that can potentially be passed down to our offspring. Using mouse models for their research, the scientists carefully track the diet and health of each mouse and compare it to the generations of mice that came before it. 

Water Conservation

Most of Utah’s precipitation falls as snow, and while all that beautiful Utah powder is great for skiing and snowboarding, it does not hold a lot of water. Living in the second driest state in the U.S., and that also has among the fastest-growing populations, means all Utahns need to make water conservation a habit. Researchers in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate examine the water needs of all kinds of crops and landscape plants and share recommendations through USU Extension and the Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping that is helping Utahns use water more wisely. Combined, even small changes in water use can make a big difference. 

One Health

It’s said that prevention is the best cure. But predicting which diseases to prepare for and prevent is not an easy task, and often requires attention to emerging diseases in domestic animals and wildlife. In the past 30 years, approximately 75 percent of new and emerging human diseases have been transmitted from animals. Scientists at Utah State University’s Institute for Antiviral Research are working to understanding how a number of viruses cause disease, an important step in finding ways to prevent their spread or develop cures. Ebola, West Nile and Zika viruses, and some influenza viruses are among the disease-causing agents they study that originated in animals because boundaries between countries and species don’t stop a virus.

Drones In Agriculture

Often, the best vantage point for evaluating what’s going on with crops on the ground is from the sky. Plant and soils scientists and farmers fly camera-equipped drones over large areas to see where to adjust irrigation schedules, and where to focus fertilizer applications or weed and pest control efforts. The images give researchers valuable information about field experiments. They allow growers to diagnose many plant and soil problems before they spread and save the money and labor that would have been spent treating an entire field instead of correcting a localized problem. 

Preparing For Emergency Situations With Pets

Most people have made some emergency preparations for themselves and their family members, but what about their pets? Veterinarians encourage pet owners to be sure pets have tags or microchips that can identify their owners if they are separated and to create a pet evacuation kit before an emergency strikes. The kit should include 3-7 days’ worth of food, bottled water, and a 2-week supply of any needed medications. It’s also advisable to include non-adhesive bandages that can be used on pets in your first aid kit, and keep your pet’s medical records with important documents that are ready to go in case of an emergency. 

Small-grains Breeding

Diseases and pests that threaten wheat and barley are continually evolving, so it’s vitally important to breed and test new varieties that are resistant to emerging threats. It’s not a simple process though, as plants must also produce enough grain to make them economically sustainable and have characteristics the malting and milling industries require. When fungal diseases took a huge toll on Utah wheat production just a few decades ago, plant scientists bred cultivars that withstood the challenge. Scientists continually work to stay ahead of the next disease threats and to develop cultivars that can adapt to environmental changes. 

Immunotherapy Goats

Gene editing has been described as the biological version of a word processor’s “find and replace” tool because once a new DNA sequence is inserted it continues to replicate. That technology has allowed scientists to develop cattle and goats that produce fully human antibodies when exposed to a disease-causing agent, such as a virus. Those antibodies can be purified from an engineered animal’s plasma and used to enhance a human patient’s own ability to fight disease. Animal scientists have made important advances in genetic engineering and immunotherapy is promising for treating many infectious diseases, cancers, autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation in humans. 

Equine Therapy

For thousands of years, people and horses have worked together. Now equine-assisted therapy helps horses and people interact to improve mental and physical health. Groups of military veterans around the state go on trail rides with professionals who help them recognize and address some of the emotional impacts of war and the transition back to civilian life. Others with mental and physical health challenges develop greater self-confidence, problem-solving skills, and self-control while working with horses and therapists, in part because the animals are non-judgmental, have no preconceived expectations, and are effective at mirroring a person’s attitudes and behaviors. 

Robotic Dairy

As the population grows, farmers are turning to technology to produce more food with fewer resources. Robotic dairy systems are a sizable investment, but they allow operators to track details of milk production and animal health, and eliminate employee turnover and the demands of a daily milking schedule. Milk components such as fat and protein content are recorded for each cow as she is milked, along with any abnormalities. Cows have access to year-round controlled temperature, soft bedding, a specialized diet, massages, and are milked whenever they choose. Research shows the more comfortable a cow is, the higher the milk production.