Progress Edition: Ag research breaking traditions, breaking ground

SALEM, Ohio – Traditionally, Ohio State University has been known for its contributions to agriculture, but OSU’s efforts are no longer solo.

Professors and students at other colleges and universities across Ohio are also doing research and developing programs to aid the agriculture industry.

Youngstown State University in northeast Ohio has at least three professors currently working in agriculture-related fields.

Soybeans. Robert Bolla, dean of the YSU College of Arts and Sciences, has several patents on the results of his soybean research.

In particular, Bolla has studied the soybean cyst nematode, alternative uses for soybeans and soybean products, and ways to increase the value of soybeans as a livestock feed.

He has studied the genetics of the soybean cyst nematode in hopes of discovering an environmentally safe method of disrupting the nematode’s development.

Soybeans immunize. Bolla has also done extensive research to make the soybean a more valuable product. He has worked to increase the nutritional value of soybeans in animal feed.

He has genetically altered soybeans to provide an oral immunization of animals against intestinal pathogens.

Finally, Bolla has studied how soy oil can be used as a disinfectant against some bacteria, including anthrax.

“This work has significant potential for homeland security, use of soy oil as a wood preservative and development of a fully nutritious meal for developing nations based on soy,” Bolla said.

Bolla’s agricultural research began in 1979 at the University of Missouri-Columbia with studies on the pinewood nematode. This nematode has been the cause of problems in agroforestry, as it has been responsible for a significant number of pine tree deaths.

New to Ohio. Bolla just came to Ohio last year. Most of his work was done at St. Louis University in Missouri. However, he said that agricultural research can be done at any location as long as there is a team effort.

Bolla continues to work closely with scientists at branches of the University of Missouri. He said the distance sometimes gives him a different perspective on problems.

Searching for acceptance. Bolla admits that his research was not accepted among his peers in the biology department where he was chairman at St. Louis University. “They found it difficult to find the value in what I did and did not grasp the concept of patenting outcome of research,” he said.

Even though YSU might not be at the forefront of agricultural research, Bolla said, “I have always been comfortable working distant from the OSU-like flagship.”

Respected. Bolla has received many awards for his work, including the Soybean Researcher of the Year award from the Missouri Soybean Association.

YSU assistant professor of microbiology Chester Cooper is working with Bolla to develop the animal feed with oral immunizations.

“It opens up a new area of funding for the university,” Cooper said. He said this is an area that has not been explored before and things are looking up at YSU for research in this area.

Enology. John Usis, YSU professor of biological sciences, is studying grapes near Lake Erie and looking for ways to improve the grapes so that Ohio wines taste better. The study of wine is called enology.

Usis said this is his first real agricultural research. “I’m just fascinated with how nature rearranges itself after we do things,” he said.

Usis, who is also the director of the Lake Erie Enology Research Center, said that he received support in graduate school level funding for his research. “It’s difficult, but not impossible,” he said of getting support for his agricultural research.

The center is directly connected to YSU.

Wine tasting. Currently, research at the center is focusing on the spontaneous fermentation of grapes and the ways in which that might be used improve the taste of wine.

“We tried not to step on any real toes,” said Usis, referring to agricultural research being done at other schools, but added, “it’s like invading their turf.”

Remote sensing. Bowling Green State University is also home to a new field in agricultural research – remote sensing.

Robert Vincent, professor of geology at Bowling Green, has been doing research with satellite data to determine the rate that farmland in northwest Ohio was urbanized from 1984-1999.

Vincent uses remote sensing techniques and data from the LANDSAT 7 satellite to determine what land in nine Ohio counties is cropland and what land has been urbanized.

By using Lucas County records, Vincent could tell what land had been rural and the satellite data over the 15-year span allowed him to see what land had changed.

Urbanization. His results showed that over those 15 years, less than 3 percent of Lucas County was urbanized.

“Some claimed that was too high and other claimed it was too low,” said Vincent.

Vincent said that many people use urban growth numbers to determine the rate of urbanization, but the urban growth numbers are not the correct statistics needed to assess urbanization. These numbers are not reflective of one another.

Even though the number is lower than some might expect, Vincent said that urbanization must continue to be monitored because he thinks the rate has picked up since 1999.

LANDSAT can even be used to monitor Current Agricultural Use Value compliance. Through CAUV, farmers are eligible for lower property taxes as long as 60 percent or more of their land is being used for agricultural purposes. According to Vincent, some people who utilize CAUV advantages do not comply with CAUV stipulations.

Caught in the act. In one Ohio township, $1.5 million was generated in taxes when LANDSAT caught several non-compliance cases.

Vincent is the director of the OhioView Consortium, an organization designed to make this satellite information available to the public.

Higher education support. Eleven Ohio schools are members of OhioView: Bowling Green, Ohio State, Wright State University, Miami University, University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, Kent State University, University of Akron, Cleveland State University, University of Toledo and Central State University. Defiance College is an affiliate.

Ohio is the most advanced state in remote sensing technologies. “I want a Microsoft to come out of Ohio in remote sensing,” said Vincent.

The state is poised to take advantage of a new partnership announced in May between NASA and the USDA. The new initiative will use remote sensing technology to protect the environment and enhance agricultural competitiveness.

LANDSAT can also monitor water and soil conditions and provide quick feedback, which could help predict and prevent outbreaks of problems and infestations.

Tracking gypsy moths. A student at Wright State University is using LANDSAT to track gypsy moths, which have posed a significant problem in the state.

“I’m really eager to get farmers using this data,” said Vincent.

Vincent said he has received a good deal of help from Ohio State University extension services. He said LANDSAT experiments have been a team effort in some regards.

Available online. LANDSAT data are currently available online and have already been downloaded more than 7,000 times, according to Vincent.

For more information on LANDSAT data, contact Vincent at rvincen@bgnet.bgsu.edu. This information is available to any Ohio resident, however there are certain safety precautions since the data information is from a satellite.

(Janelle Baltputnis welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 21, or by e-mail at janelleb@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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