MSU scientists earn $1.4 million-plus for plant-based research

Project GREEEN reinstates funding for 2020 projects after delay due to COVID-19.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University researchers have earned more than $1.4 million for research and outreach projects to continue strengthening Michigan’s agri-food industries.

Thanks to Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), 26 plant agriculture research projects will receive grant funding. Project GREEEN is Michigan’s plant agriculture initiative, based at MSU, and a cooperative effort between plant-based commodities and businesses together with the MSU AgBioResearch, MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Jim Kells, MSU professor and Project GREEEN coordinator, said the proposals put before the project selection committee were previously delayed due to the uncertainty amidst the pandemic.

"As we confronted COVID-19, we decided to modify and postpone funding of these projects. However, as research continues to ramp back up, investments in appropriate research are more important than ever," he said. "The selection committee looked for innovative projects that respond to challenges within the industry and to help move Michigan agriculture forward during these unprecedented times. We are mindful to ensure that every dollar is invested wisely."

A few examples of projects funded this round, include:

Integrating crop production systems with lamb grazing for Michigan
Lead researcher: Kim Cassida

In a sustainable agricultural system, crops and livestock are integrated into a functional network where components can enhance each other. In 2019, the team received funding from the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture to evaluate performance of sheep grazing cover crops grown after wheat. This Project GREEEN proposal will expand that work by evaluating how the grazing affects soil health and productivity of a subsequent corn silage rotation, including weed pressure, insect populations, disease incidence, and silage yield and quality.

Managing tar spot through improved irrigation timing
Lead researcher: Martin Chilvers

Tar spot was first reported in the U.S. states of Illinois and Indiana in 2015. In 2018, tar spot exploded across the west side of the state with 26 counties confirmed and multiple reports of losses in specific fields of up to or exceeding 50 bushels per acre.  One of the more striking aspects of tar spot disease development has been the role of leaf moisture, particularly that driven by irrigation. Multiple confirmed reports have emerged of irrigated producers actually incurring yield loss through irrigation, as compared to non-irrigated fields or dry corners not covered by the pivot. The goal of this MSU Extension project is to educate and demonstrate to growers and industry best irrigation practices, which will aid in reducing the impact of this challenging disease.

Advancing monitoring and early detection of downy mildew in cucumbers using spore traps and molecular tools
Lead researcher: Mary Hausbeck

Michigan is the second largest producer of fresh market and processing cucumbers in the country. The production of cucumbers in Michigan is threatened annually by the highly destructive cucurbit downy mildew (CDM) pathogen, costing growers $6 million annually for fungicides. Researchers will provide in-season disease forecasting by detecting airborne CDM spores with spore traps and molecular markers. They will improve CDM management by testing new spore trap models and new molecular markers. This project will help to deliver more accurate disease management recommendations and improve fungicides application timing.

Improving biological control of spotted wing Drosophila in Michigan farms
Lead researcher: Rufus Isaacs

To meet the market demands for insect-free fruit, spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii (SWD), is currently managed through repeated application of insecticides. Although effective, this strategy is expensive, and not economically or environmentally sustainable. The team has surveyed natural enemies in Michigan farms and found that a few native parasitoid species attack SWD, but only at low levels. Since biological control is a fundamental component of IPM programs, this project aims to increase the levels of biological control for SWD using a native species (Trichopria drosophilae) that has shown promise in other regions of the world. Researchers will also test how individual plant species and larger wildflower plantings affect parasitism rates, as installation of wildflower plantings on farms may help support local parasitoid populations.

Use of Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage to improve quality retention and market value in asparagus spears
Lead researcher: Benjamin Werling

Michigan’s nationally leading asparagus industry faces an increasingly competitive marketplace. Seasonal spikes in Michigan production exacerbate downward pressure on price. Production spikes in the marketplace during periods of lower demand results in “fire sales” and general low pricing, which lingers after supplies taper off. If beneficial for shelf-life, it could be possible for growers to selectively cut asparagus during production spikes and place it into CA, thereby reducing the downward pressure on price. The research will assess the potential for CA storage to benefit the Michigan asparagus industry by determining the impacts of storage atmosphere, harvest method (knife versus snapping) and the harvest date on the value proposition of CA.

Integrated white mold management for specialty cropping systems in Michigan
Lead researcher: Jaime Wilbur

Michigan is nationally and international recognized for dry bean and potato production, and is the nation’s leading producer of black beans, cranberry beans, small red beans, and potatoes for chip processing. White mold, however, is a significant threat to dry bean and potato crops in this region. Integrated management strategies have proven effective in soybeans and other crops, however, have not been well-studied in dry bean or potato. Sporecaster, a weather-based model developed in soybeans, helps users to time fungicide applications effectively during susceptible crop growth stages and periods of elevated white mold risk. These studies will investigate the use and performance of Sporecaster, alongside other strategies including varietal resistance, nutrient management, and alternative herbicide treatments.

A complete listing of 2020 newly funded and continuing Project GREEEN research and Extension projects is available at

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