October 18, 2016

Three agriculture faculty members win grants

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Three Southern Illinois University Carbondale faculty members in the College of Agricultural Sciences are the recipients of more than $158,000 in Illinois Department of Agriculture grants through the federally funded Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. 

Alan Walters, professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, is one of the foremost experts on the specialty crop horseradish, which is a major crop in the metro-east area of Illinois. He will use a $59,777 grant to develop new horseradish varieties and to evaluate others for Internal Root Discoloration resistance. This is a two-year project that should result in at least four new varieties released to growers in Illinois. 

Ruplal Choudhary, associate professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, will use a $54,642 grant to continue work on nano-encapsulation of natural anti-microbial substances to create edible coating materials for food freshness. Choudhary has worked with curcumin, an active part of turmeric, as a coating for food production and storage surfaces. This grant allows him to continue studying the suitability of limonene as a coating for locally harvested, fresh berries for enhancing shelf life and food safety. 

Bradley Taylor, associate professor of plant, soil and agricultural sciences, is an expert in viticulture and fruits. He will use a $44,219 grant to develop fine pruning techniques for use in Illinois vineyards. He hopes his techniques will reduce the risk of crop lost to spring freezes and make for more efficient canopy management, which, he hopes, will increase both fruit yield and quality. 

“Our faculty members are dedicated researchers with a strong commitment to excellence in all they do for our students,” Mickey Latour, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, said. “These grants allow our faculty to continue researching, often side by side with graduate and undergraduate students, and to use their research experience as part of the classroom experience. In addition, this research contributes substantially to the local and statewide agricultural industry, which helps us fulfil our mission as a research university.”

The state Department of Agriculture defines specialty crops as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture. Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins and horseradish in the nation, and ranks among the top 10 states in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn. In addition, the grape and wine industry is growing, with nearly 2,000 acres of farmland and 421 farms dedicated to grape growing.