It's award season for the scientists who help growers produce crops in the West, as Extension specialists and others throughout the region have been raking in state, national and international honors.
Awards range from National Science Foundation grants to six early-career scientists at Oregon State University to an international soil and water group's recognition of the University of California's Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation program.
Here is a rundown of recent awards given to those affiliated with Western universities.
Conservation society honors CASI
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation has been named the 2022 recipient of the Conservation Innovation Award by the Soil and Water Conservation Society, an international organization based in Ankeny, Iowa.
“This is a very nice honor… and it has been achieved by, truly, the combined work and efforts of so many,” said Jeffrey P. Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, who helped found CASI and has been instrumental in its leadership.
CASI, part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, started in 1998. It was formed by farmers, scientists and representatives of public agencies, private industry and environmental groups who aimed to develop knowledge and exchange information about the benefits of reducing tillage in agricultural lands.
Traditional practices such as tilling and plowing the land in preparation for crops are ingrained in agriculture. However, research has revealed that these practices cause soil erosion, dust and water run-off, and release greenhouse gases. In contrast, farmers and ranchers who have adopted the alternatives to tillage that CASI has been developing and evaluating see improved soil, better water infiltration and storage, less dust and lower costs, Mitchell said.
In the last 25 years, the no-till and low-till systems being explored by CASI have been widely adopted in much of the United States and in South America. But, in California's Central Valley, less than 1% of production acreage is farmed using conservation tillage. That's “largely because producers lack information, and successful examples of CT systems are only now being developed here,” CASI reported.
Now with more than 1,500 active members and affiliates, CASI conducts annual conferences to share research and the results of demonstration projects. The center's next project is to expand research and demonstration projects, acquire equipment, expand training and develop greater incentives for farmers to adopt conservation tillage in California.
Early-career grants to OSU
Posy Busby of OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences is one of six early-career faculty at the university who have been awarded National Science Foundation grants for exploring a range of topics, from nanomaterials for labeling therapeutic stem cells to non-traditional means of storing energy.
Busby, who was awarded $532,000, will study how changes in leaf traits, such as protective waxes and surface structure, give rise to variation in the composition of the plant microbiome and its functional influence on plants.
Busby, assistant professor of plant pathology, was also awarded a $500,000 CAREER grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to look for answers to questions such as: Are beneficial interactions between microbiome and plant the exception or the rule? And how do environmental stressors like heat, drought and disease alter the relationship between a plant and its microbiome?
The other OSU honorees are Marilyn Rampersad Mackiewicz of the College of Science, and Barbara Simpson, Houssam Abbas, Yue Cao and Xiao Fu of the College of Engineering. They were selected for their “potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF, which considers the CAREER awards the most prestigious it bestows in support of early-career faculty.
In addition, Kelsey Stoerzinger of the College of Engineering, who won an NSF CAREER award in 2021, has received a Department of Energy Early Career Research Program grant this year to work toward a deeper understanding of the electrochemical processes used to convert nitrate into ammonia – an important chemical whose current production at industrial scales consumes vast amounts of energy and produces huge volumes of carbon dioxide.
Two Fulbrights, one family
Around 800 people in the United States received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award for 2022-23. Two of those are married Washington State University professors.
“We were expecting neither of us to get a Fulbright; we hoped one of us would get it,” said Carolyn Ross, professor in WSU’s School of Food Science. “We didn’t think there was a chance we would both receive one. But here we are and we’re excited.”
Ross and her husband, Travis Ridout, professor in WSU’s School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, will spend the first six months of 2023 in Australia working on separate projects primarily funded by the U.S. Department of State program. The couple have three children, ages 14, 11, and 9, who will relocate with Ross and Ridout from Pullman to Melbourne.
Ross visited Australia’s second largest city in 2019 to work with a fellow food scientist on a project involving children and food textures. She plans to use her time next year to do further work on that subject, including looking at food textures and children with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.
“We’ve developed a questionnaire that parents can use to see if their child is sensitive to food textures,” Ross said. “We’re also going to look at various foods that practitioners in Australia recommend for texture-sensitive children.”
Ridout will study digital political advertising, his area of expertise in the U.S. Australia has strict restrictions on political television ads but few limits on digital ads, he said. That situation means significantly more money is spent on digital political marketing, and has been the case for several years now. In the U.S., most political money has been spent on television, but that could be changing.
Started in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 400,000 participants from over 160 countries the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.
Nevada 4-H volunteer honored
Nevada’s Linda Zimmerman, 4-H volunteer for University of Nevada, Reno Extension for over 34 years and a University alumna, is one of only four 4-H volunteers nationally to have recently been named a 4-H Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer.
Zimmerman was named the 4-H Western Region Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer as part of the 4‑H Salute to Excellence Awards for her dedication and service to Extension’s Washoe County 4-H Horse Program and support of youth statewide.
Participating in the 4-H Youth Development Program as a youth herself, Zimmerman went from being a club member to being the parent of 4-H youth, and then a 4-H club leader and a 4-H Leaders’ Council member. Her positive impact on youth in her club has inspired many past participants to enroll their own children in the program, and to become 4-H leaders themselves.
Having earned her doctoral degree in social psychology from the University of Nevada, Reno, she is interested in trying new strategies for engagement and retention, while supporting youth and their families in figuring out how best to participate in clubs and activities.
“Linda understands some youth may struggle in different areas as they join 4-H or try to engage in activities or projects,” said Carrie Stark, Nevada’s 4-H state director. “She goes above and beyond to assist them, finding a way to help them with extra time, resources and meetings to overcome their struggles. She exemplifies positive youth-adult partnerships.”
For three decades, Zimmerman has served as the 4-H Horse Leader for the Silver Knolls Spurs in Washoe County, managing horse shows and serving as the secretary for others. She has served both on the Washoe County 4-H Horse Leaders’ Council and the General Washoe County Leaders’ Council for over 15 years.
UW Extension recognized
At its annual spring conference, the University of Wyoming Extension celebrated awardees who earned recognition from professional associations at the state and national level.
Among the recipients, Cole Ehmke, former community development specialist for the UW Extension, received the Epsilon Sigma Phi (ESP) Eta Chapter Mid-Career Service recognition for his 2021 Wyoming Specialty Crop Directory. With listings for more than 800 local food producers, farmers markets, and community gardens, the directory is a “great resource for anyone interested in connecting with the local foods ecosystem in Wyoming,” says ESP President David Keto. “His work highlights Extension’s strength in elevating local community resources to create statewide connections.” Vist bit.ly/wy-specialty-crop-directory to view the publication.
Two UW Extension educators received recognition from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents for their exemplary performance. Chance Marshall of Fremont County received the Achievement Award and Brian Sebade of Albany County earned the Distinguished Service Award.
Barton Stam, president of the Wyoming chapter of the NACAA, says both educators “work hard in their careers to further ag education and support the mission of UW Extension. They are appreciated by ag producers around the state.”
UW Extension educator Emily Swinyer of Sheridan County received the Rookie 4-H Educator Award from the Wyoming Association of Extension 4-H Agents (WAE4-HA). The Rookie Award recognizes outstanding 4-H leaders with less than three years of service in the state.
Extension educators Joddee Jacobson of Natrona County and Kim Fry of Campbell County earned national awards for their leadership and service.
Jacobson received the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) Achievement in Service Award, which celebrates exceptional performance in members who have served more than three and less than seven years in extension youth programs. Fry received the NAE4-HA Distinguished Service Award, recognizing more than seven years of exceptional performance in extension youth programs.
MSU fetes employees, partners
Montana State University Extension staff, faculty and partners were recently recognized at a spring conference in Billings.
Sharla Sackman, MSU Extension agent in Prairie County, received the 2021 Silver Buffalo Award in recognition of 20 years of exceptional service. The award, granted by Montana's Joint Council of Extension Professionals, is MSU Extension’s highest honor.
Sackman, who currently serves as the president of the Montana Joint Council of Extension Professionals chapter, has trained counselors for an 11-county camp and leads 4-H horse and livestock statewide programs and curriculum. She has led the Winter Ag Series in the Eastern Region and the Tri-County Weed Tour in southeast Montana.
Katie Weaver, MSU Extension community development associate specialist, received the Anne Wiprud Memorial Award. This award recognizes a staff member with fewer than 10 years of experience for their outstanding achievement and accomplishment in a special program or project involving "people development."
Northern Ag Network, which is a longtime supporter of MSU Extension, received the Arrowhead Award, which recognizes an individual, firm, corporation or organization outside of MSU Extension that has assisted with and contributed to MSU Extension programs.
The MSU Alumni Foundation's Homecoming Awards went to Extension educators Jennifer Saunders, Jamie Doggett, Verna Billedeaux, and Michelle Grocke; and the Montana Association of Community Development Extension Professionals; the Montana Association of Extension 4-H Agents; the Montana Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences; and the Montana Association of County Agricultural Agents also handed out awards.