PhD student researches unconventional water sources for nursery crop irrigation

Shital Poudyal's work aims to lower the environmental footprint and increase overall sustainability of nursery-grown trees.

MSU horticulture Ph.D. student Shital Poudyal's beginnings in plant sciences started at a young age during trips to his grandparent’s tea gardens. These visits helped to inspire an interest in the plant sciences and led to his enrollment at Nepal’s Institute of Agriculture & Animal Science.

When choosing electives, Poudyal veered towards research-oriented classes. These courses stimulated his interests in research. After graduation, he taught a "Crop Production" course at a local technical school in India, which ignited his drive to continue his education. He decided to apply for graduate school.

At the University of Wyoming, Poudyal earned a master's degree in agronomy for his research concerning the use of wastewater generated by mining and its suitability for crop irrigation. He investigated the effects of wastewater effects on morphology and secondary metabolite production in oil and medicinal crops grown in greenhouse and field environments. Poudyal found that while field crops were mostly unaffected by the wastewater, greenhouse-grown plants suffered via qualitative losses, such as a reduction of essential oil in dill.

After achieving his master’s degree, Poudyal was still interested in performing research while furthering his education. When looking for potential advisors and schools, he found a perfect match with Dr. Bert Cregg, professor in the Department of Horticulture with joint appointments to the Department of Forestry and MSU Extension.

Poudyal's work with Cregg has primarily been using unconventional water sources for crop irrigation to lower the environmental footprint and increase overall sustainability. The source of water was runoff from a large nursery bed (40’x80’) that Poudyal and horticulture Ph.D. student Damon Abdi managed together. Their work included intentionally contaminating regular water with agrochemicals. Poudyal and Abdi were able to efficiently and effectively test a spectrum of herbicides and fertilizers on their experimental systems.

Results of the work are promising. Most chemical additives in nursery runoff were suitable for plant growth and did not alter plant growth and physiology. However, knowledge of the plant species being grown and residual pesticides present in runoff water is important as the sensitivity to certain pesticides varies.

Looking to the future Poudyal is planning on defending his dissertation during early spring. Afterward, he hopes to continue performing high-quality research that will help to meet the demand for specialty crops more sustainably.

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