Researchers are using funds from Virginia Agricultural Council grants for diverse projects that range from helping find new uses for agricultural products, developing markets and promoting efficient agricultural production.
“The grants are important funding for researchers to explore ways on how to use technology in agriculture or how to respond to changes in the marketplace,” says Kendra Brown Shifflett, director of administrative and financial services for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).
Awards are made to more than three-dozen scientists from around the state over two-year terms. Grants are often used as seed money for researchers starting out and needing a boost to then apply for federal grants.
Topics include everything from a demonstration of a mobile solar-powered livestock watering system that keeps cows out of streams preventing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, to a hops research project to find the best varieties for Virginia’s growing craft-brewing industry, to ways to improve turf for athletic fields.
A Real-World Problem
Dr. Song Li, assistant professor at the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech, won a $16,000 award to address the problem of boxwood blight.
“Boxwood blight is a major problem for the nursery industry,” Li says. “To the untrained eye it could look like winter damage and boxwood decline. To analyze boxwood blight, you have to culture the twigs or a leaf at a plant disease clinic at Virginia Tech. It takes over a week. Applying fungicide will not kill the problem. You have to destroy or burn the plant.”
Together with his colleague, Dr. Boris Vinatzer, Li is utilizing his background in DNA sequencing to develop early-detection methods to fight against the scourge for the ornamental bushes. Li’s project presents an affordable, rapid way to address a real-world problem.
Dr. Richard Snyder, director of the Eastern Shore Laboratory at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will utilize his $15,000 grant to address roadblocks to commercial production of bay scallops.
“The nursery techniques for oysters and clams do not work well for scallops,” Snyder says. “In their natural habitat, they like to stick to sea grass with threads, and they also swim. So we have them on water tables and need to provide a surface for them to attach to. Our hope is to improve the efficiency and production in the nursery and develop genetic techniques for tracking breeding to help it become a viable commercial product.” Snyder is also concerned about inbreeding, so the grant will cover a procurement project in Florida, New York and North Carolina to bring back scallops to add genetically diverse brood stocks.
Frost Mitigation for Peaches
Dr. Sherif M. Sherif, a Virginia Tech-based molecular geneticist, is using his $10,000 grant to research a plant-growth regulator to induce bloom delay and avoid spring frost injury in peaches.
“With these funds, we can have an employee spray a product of abscisic acid, a hormone that interferes with bud dormancy, on the peach trees, so we can delay the development five to 10 days, and we will track and record the data,” Sherif says. “In 2016, we lost 25 percent of peaches grown here in Virginia because of frost. We are trying to deliver information to growers about frost mitigation.”
Production issues and post-harvest challenges for hops growers is the project Virginia Tech horticulturist Dr. Holly Scoggins is researching, driven by the desire of craft breweries to utilize local ingredients. Dr. Scoggins’ grant addresses the challenges for hops growers by developing small-scale, food-safe drying equipment to better serve small-acreage producers in Virginia.
“Hops are a complex crop that is a challenge for the Mid-Atlantic region,” Scoggins says.