Class Act: Energizing the Classroom

When biochemistry senior Hong-En Chen first got involved with a student organization called Energy Hub, she knew she could bring something special to the table.

As the daughter of a preschool teacher, she’d interacted a lot with young children throughout her own childhood and adolescence. While in high school she worked as a teacher and tutor in music, math and reading in both English and Mandarin at the Einstein School in Madison, a private preschool and after-school enrichment center for elementary school students.

Based on her experience, she saw an important niche for Energy Hub: The group could go out to local elementary schools and hold after-school classes about energy.

“When kids are young, they’re like sponges. They absorb a lot of information and are enthusiastic learners,” notes Chen. “When we introduced concepts about energy use, conservation and sustainability, the kids impressed us not only by handling complex material, but also by applying ideas to their everyday lives.”

As outreach director of Energy Hub, Chen got other club members on board to pilot their project, working with second- to fifth-grade students at four Madison elementary schools. Based on that experience, they applied for and received a Wisconsin Idea Fellowship grant to further develop their curriculum during the 2012–2013 school year. They created a 10-week program that is going strong this year.

Hands-on activities are key, says Chen, whether using an educational science toy like Snap Circuits to teach the concepts behind powering lights and fans, or having students divide into the fantasy cities of Greenville and Coaltown to talk about how they, as residents, would use energy from various sources to get through a day. “It was a fun way to get them thinking about the costs and benefits of renewable versus nonrenewable energy sources,” Chen says.

Chen’s thinking a lot about that topic herself. She is researching compounds for solar energy conversion in chemistry professor Song Jin’s lab. And she is considering graduate programs in materials chemistry with an eye toward working in renewable energy research.

Learn more about Energy Hub at www.uwehub.org.

12 in 125

1. The Genomics Revolution

When CALS geneticist Fred Blattner sequenced the genome of a harmless strain of E. coli back in the mid-1990s, it was a big deal. The bacterium was among the earliest organisms to be sequenced, and the effort, which landed a high-profile article in Science in 1997, took years to complete and involved the participation of more than 269 people.

How times have changed.

“Now you can just send something like that to a sequencing center and one person can do the work overnight,” says genetics professor Audrey Gasch, who joined UW–Madison in 2003 as part of a strategic hiring initiative to bolster research in genomics, the field of science that looks at the full set of DNA within organisms.
Over the years, UW researchers have also helped sequence the genomes of potatoes, corn (maize), multiple strains of mice, the leaf-cutter ant, the plant pathogen that caused the Irish Potato Famine and 99 strains of cold virus, among others.

Beyond sequencing itself, CALS researchers are using genomic information to:

• study molecular evolution,

• better understand virulence genes in pathogens,

• find genes involved in human health and disease,

• develop an optical map of the bovine genome,

• locate genes associated with infertility in dairy cows, and much more.

Gasch, in one bioenergy-related project, compares the genomes of traditional laboratory yeasts to those of their wild relatives in order to pinpoint the genes that make the wild strains more stress tolerant.

“Down the line, this information will help us make customized yeast strains that are optimized to produce different types of biofuels,” she says.

2. Bigger, Better Dairy

The last 25 years of dairy research, education and outreach at CALS have driven progress and productivity gains in the Wisconsin dairy business. Since 1989, average milk production per cow per year has climbed 57 percent, from 14,000 pounds to nearly 22,000 pounds per cow today. The state’s dairy farmers reversed a 16-year decline in milk production in 2005. In the last nine years they have boosted annual output by 25 percent, producing a record 27.7 billion pounds in 2013.

These gains, the result of a combination of advancements in cow genetics, reproductive management, nutrition and facilities; adoption of professional management techniques; and a well-educated, receptive group of dairy producers, have revitalized dairying in the Dairy State.

CALS scientists developed mechanisms to mine the bovine genome and then put the results in the hands of dairy producers. Researchers refined and produced the tools needed to take advantage of genetic knowledge with novel methods for breeding and selecting cattle. Dairy nutritionists at UW–Madison probed feedstuffs and the rumen to create total mixed rations that enable cows to produce to their full genetic potential.

Biological systems engineers, veterinarians and dairy scientists collaborated to develop new bedding and stall types to keep cows comfortable and productive. A complementary mix of educational resources—statewide UW–Extension programs, CALS Farm and Industry Short Courses, and campus teaching facilities and faculty—helped dairy farmers learn and adapt the new technologies to their needs. That extensive research and outreach network gives dairy producers access to the latest and most sophisticated management practices—a partnership that promises to keep Wisconsin dairy strong.

3. Coping with the Climate

CALS scientists had our changing climate on their radar screens 25 years ago, but it wasn’t on their research agendas. Today the issue influences work being done in every corner of the college. CALS scientists are studying climate impacts at the ends of the earth, in the Lake Mendota basin and everywhere in between. They’re looking at the big picture (using satellites) and small (using genomic sequencing). They’re looking under tree bark and inside the guts of dairy cows, and they’re looking at impacts on the human animal—on farmers’ management practices, for example, and the migration patterns of residents of low-lying coastal areas.

To name some examples: soil scientist Jim Bockheim is looking at whether warming will turn permafrost in Antarctica from a carbon sink to a carbon source, while wildlife ecologist Christine Ribic investigates what melting sea ice means for Adelie penguins. Forest ecologist Phil Townsend and entomologist Ken Raffa are studying the climate-fueled spread of tree-killing bark beetles into new habitats in the Rocky Mountains, while entomologist Rick Lindroth studies how rising levels of carbon dioxide affect forest tree susceptibility to a variety of insects. Soil scientist Matt Ruark leads a multistate project to help dairy farmers reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to weather extremes.

And Chris Kucharik, a climate scientist on the agronomy faculty, helps lead a campus-wide effort to model the impact of climate change on water quality, water quantity and crop yields right where he lives—in the Yahara River watershed—over the next 60 years. Kucharik also serves as co-chair of the agricultural working group with the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), a partnership between UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and an array of other public and private institutions.

These are but a few highlights. It is safe to say that researchers in every CALS department are working in some way on mitigating or adapting to the impacts of our changing climate.

Catch up with … Carl T. Wahl

Carl Wahl’s interest in farming was sparked during a stint with the Peace Corps in Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa. His work on maternal and child health and nutrition led him into agriculture as he sought to integrate edible legumes into local farms and diets. Wahl returned to the U.S. to study agroecology at CALS and then went back to Africa, first with the Peace Corps and now with the Ireland-based charity Concern Worldwide, which he serves as the conservation agriculture coordinator in Zambia and neighboring Malawi.

What’s your understanding of “conservation agriculture”? Conservation agriculture (or CA) is a practice to retain moisture and nutrients in the soil to boost short-term crop productivity and long-term sustainability of farmland. CA is essentially a combination of three principles: minimum tillage, retaining soil residues and crop rotation with legumes.

It is similar to what is increasingly a practice in the Midwest. However, in Zambia, Concern Worldwide is working with the poorest (i.e., resource-limited) farmers, who essentially have a hoe and possibly an axe as their entire repertoire of farming tools and farm in an incredibly less forgiving environment. Therefore we include such sustainable agriculture aspects as agroforestry, supplemental mulching and microdosing of inputs (fertilizer, manure, compost, indigenous tree leaves, wood ash, etc.) in order to better translate limited funds and labor into greater yields.

How does conservation agriculture work in Zambia and Malawi? In either country, the word “food” means maize (corn), specifically maize meal for a dish called nshima. Both countries consider nshima a staple food to the extent that they rank in the world’s top three per capita direct consumers of maize. However, a heavy feeder like maize in an environment with limited nutrient (fertilizer) supply and undependable rainfall is an unreliable crop. In Malawi and Zambia, CA practices help mitigate much of the risk associated with growing maize. Additionally, CA’s capacity to include legume crops provides more protein to the household’s diet.

How have you seen conservation agriculture help people? The Western Province of Zambia, where I work, is situated on a drift of eolian sand that is roughly the size of Wisconsin. In the 2012–2013 season, our cumulative rainfall was above normal; however, instead of being distributed over four to five months as usual, we received two-thirds of it over 4.5 weeks and the other third in three days. All the conventional maize failed. Though the CA farmers were also affected, nearly everyone reported that without CA, they would have had no maize whatsoever. That is a pretty powerful incentive to adopt the technology.

What projects are you most excited about?  The first is our effort to engage and develop certified seed grower groups on a larger scale to provide a variety of quality seed to farmers at lower cost. We are over 300 miles from most of the seed producers in Zambia, so bringing that resource closer can really relieve the chronic pressure of getting an adequate and high-quality seed supply.

The second is use of the burgeoning mobile phone network to send text messages that can pass on Extension messages as well as market information to farmers, enabling them to both produce more and sell more at a better price. The potential ability to transmit information quickly and cheaply could be a real game-changer in our agriculture picture in both Zambia and Malawi.

Ag Science for Kids

A PEER-REVIEWED SCIENCE BOOK might not sound like much fun—but perhaps you haven’t met Coolbean the Soybean, the hero of a new book for kids by CALS/UW-Extension agronomy professor Shawn Conley. It follows the adventures of a friendly, mohawked soybean named Coolbean as he learns about agriculture. Colorful, playful illustrations make the science come alive, and explanations are accurate but simple. To explain photosynthesis, for example—the process by which plants convert light into energy—Conley has two plants chatting about how good the sun feels and how it makes them strong. “The sun gives us our energy,” says Coolbean. “Without it we couldn’t make food ourselves.’”

There’s a serious intent behind the fun: to better educate children about agriculture and the science behind it as well as encourage interest in agriculture-related professions. Coolbean the Soybean was published by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America, with support from the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. It is aimed at grades 3–5 and is being marketed to schools as well as to the general public. More information at http://go.wisc.edu/2cx0d7.

Creating a Healthier World

YOU CAN’T SPOT THEM RIGHT AWAY—they’re hidden in plain sight, often disguised as majors in the life sciences—but there are thousands of undergraduates on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus who, in terms of their future careers, consider themselves “pre-health.”

What are their reasons? For some students, the motivation is acutely personal. As a child, Kevin Cleary BS’13 (biology) felt an urgent need to help as he watched his father deal with recurrent brain tumors. “By age 11, I knew I had a future in health care,” says Cleary. Many others aren’t yet sure what role they will play, but they are eager for guidance on how to use their majors to address an array of global problems including hunger, disease, poverty and environmental degradation. Says senior biochemistry major Yuli Chen, “I want to make an impact on people, and I believe that every person has the right to be provided basic necessities such as clean water, education and food.”

For much of the past century, young people seeking to address health-related suffering may have felt relatively limited in their options. Most considered medical school (still the gold standard to many), nursing school or other familiar allied health occupations that are largely oriented toward addressing disease after it occurs.

In recent years, however, health experts worldwide have placed an increasing emphasis on the importance of prevention in achieving health for the largest possible number of people. This was illustrated at UW–Madison in 2005, when the University of Wisconsin Medical School changed its name to the School of Medicine and Public Health, offering the following reason: “Public health focuses on health promotion and disease prevention at the level of populations, while medicine focuses on individual care, with an emphasis on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Ideally these approaches should be seamlessly integrated in practice, education and research.”

The founding in 2011 of the interdisciplinary Global Health Institute (GHI), a partnership of schools, colleges and other units across campus, broadened the university’s approach to health still further:

“We view the health of individuals and populations through a holistic context of healthy places upon which public health depends—from neighborhoods and national policies to the state of the global environment. This approach requires collaboration from across the entire campus to address health care, food security and sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, environmental sustainability, and ‘one health’ perspectives that integrate the health of humans, animals and the environment.”

Demand by UW students for educational options built around this broad concept of health had been growing for some time. Before the creation of the GHI, an Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health was introduced to offer students an understanding of public health in a global context. The certificate explores global health issues and possible solutions—and shows students how their own majors and intended professions might make those solutions reality. Although administered from CALS and directed by CALS nutritional sciences professor Sherry Tanumihardjo, the certificate accepts students from across campus and highlights ways in which teachers, engineers, farmers, social workers, journalists, nutritionists, policy makers, and most other professions can play a role in global health. Funding is provided through the Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, grants and private donations.

Earning the certificate requires completion of core courses focusing heavily on agriculture and nutrition, the importance of prevention and population-level approaches in public health, and the role of the environment in health. Students also complete relevant electives (examples: women’s health and human rights, environmental health, international development), and—most transformative for students—a field course, usually a one- to three-week trip either abroad or to a location in the United States where a particular global health issue is being addressed by one or more local partner organizations in ways specific to the place and the people who live there.

Field Notes: Central America

Jim Nienhuis, a CALS professor of horticulture, spends a lot of time conducting research in Central America, a place he has cared about deeply since serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1970s. He’s never stopped thinking about how to address the region’s most pressing problems. Among them: the striking number of single mothers among the rural poor.

“The men had used them and then left for the cities,” says Nienhuis. “They were cast off, but they are young, they are smart, they are willing to work, and they love and care for their children. They can’t abandon their young families and go to work in the city, but they can and usually do live with their parents, and together they survive.”

Often, too, they have small parcels of land—and thus a means of support by intensively growing vegetables both to sell at local markets and to feed their families. Women’s agricultural cooperatives—groups that allow these farmers to share resources and experience, ranging from shared tools to increased bargaining power at the market—were formed to help them in those efforts.

The problem: quality seeds are often beyond their means. Multinational seed companies looking to make a profit prefer to sell to large-scale producers—and at up to 15 cents per seed, women hoping to grow crops for market simply cannot afford them. And inexpensive local seeds are highly susceptible to plant diseases that substantially decrease yields.

That’s where Nienhuis could help. With funding from USAID, three years ago he began a program called “Seeds of Hope” to teach women in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua to raise their own seeds. As a plant breeder, Nienhuis helped develop open-pollinated varieties of disease-resistant tomatoes and peppers that women could save from their own crops and replant the following year.

The program is making a difference. “The women have really liked the new seed varieties for their rapid growth and high demand in the market,” says Doris Hernandez of CARE El Salvador, who works with the women. Each year Nienhuis conducts at least one training program in Central America that brings all the women together. And each year the program brings the women to the CALS campus. Workshops have covered everything from small business management and greenhouse production to business technology and seed storage.

Last summer, for example, they learned how to better save seeds with clay “drying beads” that are mixed with seeds to absorb moisture. In humid Central America, their use means much higher rates of unspoiled seed for the next planting season. Seeds of Hope supplied beads to each cooperative.

Having access to seeds and training has boosted the women’s confidence. Not only do they raise and sell vegetables, they have taken their businesses in new directions. Many of them, for example, now raise seedlings on an increasingly large scale to sell to other local farmers’ cooperatives.

“They continue to surprise me with their ingenuity,” says Nienhuis. With the new skills and international networks they have developed from Seeds of Hope, women’s cooperatives scattered across Central America are positioned for growing success.

Five things everyone should know about … Sinkholes

1. They exist in Wisconsin. Parts of the Badger State have bedrock consisting of dolomite, an easily fractured rock that can be dissolved by water seeping down beneath the surface soil. That erosion can create an underground cavity that becomes a sinkhole if the surface soil above it collapses.

2. But they are relatively small. The past year has been full of hellacious reports involving sinkholes: the man who survived an 18-foot fall into a sinkhole on an Illinois golf course, the Florida man who died after falling into a 60-foot-deep sinkhole that had formed beneath his home. In Wisconsin sinkholes tend to be much more tame—smaller than 10 feet across. (And, while their depth varies, most sinkholes are about as deep as they are wide.) Wisconsin sinkholes are smaller due to the bedrock found here. Dolomite is less easily dissolved than limestone and other types of rock that allow for bigger sinkholes in other parts of the world.

3. Some parts of Wisconsin are more prone to sinkholes than others. And to find them, follow the dolomite. It appears in a large V-shaped formation from Green Bay (including Door County) down to Dane County and then back up to St. Croix Falls. The map (right) shows Wisconsin’s karst, a landscape created when water dissolves rock—thus making it susceptible to such things as fissures, caverns and sinkholes.

4. Some sinkholes are not due to natural causes. A water main break can create a large underground cavity with sinkhole potential. Another cause: a ruptured tile drain, a system of perforated pipes installed beneath cropland to remove excess water from the soil. If a section of pipe ruptures (in what is called a “tile blowout”) it may draw in large amounts of soil, thus creating an underground cavity above it.

5. There’s a sinkhole on my property! First decide if the sinkhole is hazardous—and if it is, prevent access to it. Sinkholes should be filled to prevent falls and stop potentially contaminated water from flowing into the groundwater. The best way to fill a sinkhole is to use what is called reverse grading. Use large rocks at the bottom, switch to cobbles and gravel, and end with sand. Then place a seal over it using either a plastic liner or clay, followed by eight to 12 inches of top soil. Ideally the sinkhole should be slightly mounded to keep water away. The larger rocks will support the material above them and the smaller material and mounding will prevent water infiltration.

John Panuska is a distinguished faculty associate in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering and a UW-Extension natural resources specialist. David Hart is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and a hydrogeologist with UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.

Give: Never Too Early to Start Giving

You can’t be too young or too busy to make a difference as a CALS graduate. Sara Schoenborn BS’10 (dairy science/life sciences communication) is proof of that.

Last year Schoenborn, 27, stepped into a new job as executive director of the Wisconsin FFA Foundation, where her duties include spearheading ambitious fundraising efforts. She’s also served on committees for Cows on the Concourse and Dane County Farm Technology Days.

Yet she still finds time for CALS. Schoenborn is vice president of the board of directors with the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA), a nonprofit membership organization offering a range of activities for CALS alumni and scholarships and awards for current students and faculty.

And she helped charter a Sigma Alpha Alumni Chapter at UW–Madison, with the goal of helping current members of the sorority for ag professionals through networking, scholarships and loans.

What motivates her, as an alumna, to give so much of her time and energy?

“CALS did more than simply provide me with an excellent education,” she says. “It gave me the chance to meet some of my best friends through student orgs, prepared me for both internships and my postcollegiate career by connecting me to influential members of the industry, and taught me the importance of being involved and continuing to grow as a person and member of the community.”

Schoenborn wants to make sure students continue to have the same opportunities.

“When I ask current students what they hope to acquire from alumni, they almost always say ‘networking,’” she says. “Staying connected to CALS students can be as simple as attending events such as WALSAA Football Fire-Up, offering to give a presentation to a class or even inviting a student org to tour your business.”

Even as a young alumna, Schoenborn contributes regularly to the CALS annual fund.

“It’s often difficult for a new grad to justify a contribution, particularly when repaying student loans—but even small gifts make a difference,” she says. “And it’s important to remember that there are additional ways to give back—through time, energy and support.”

Goodbye, Bug Guy

FOR 35 YEARS PHIL PELLITTERI BS’75 MS’77, an entomologist with CALS and UW-Extension, has provided patient counsel to a bug-plagued populace on everything from bedbugs to lice and bird mites to fleas.

Now 62 and set to retire in March, Pellitteri has this sage bit of advice gleaned from a long and accomplished career as an insect diagnostician: The bugs are going to win.

“The insects are in control and we’re not,” says Pellitteri. “They’ve been here since before the dinosaurs. They’ll be here after we go.”

Indeed, the task faced by the affable Pellitteri each day for all these years takes on Sisyphean qualities when the challenge he has faced is fully understood.

This is what Pellitteri is up against: According to the Entomological Society of America, there are nearly 10 quintillion insects in the world. That’s a 10 followed by 18 zeros. Experts say more than one million different species of insects have been identified. And it is estimated that as many as 30 million insect species in the world have yet to be discovered and named.

No less an expert than Edward O. Wilson, the world’s foremost source on ants and curator of Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, points out that the world’s other creatures exist in paltry numbers compared to insects. Of the 42,580 vertebrate species that have been scientifically described, Wilson says, 6,300 are reptiles, 9,040 are birds, and 4,000 are mammals. Of the million different species of insects that have been described, 290,000 alone are beetles, Wilson marvels in his book In Search of Nature.

“If humans were not so impressed by size alone,” Wilson writes, “they would consider an ant more wonderful than a rhinoceros.”

Count Pellitteri among those who would side with the ant—that is, when he is not conspiring with a caller on how to get rid of a nest of the pesky insects.

Since May 1978, Pellitteri has built a statewide reputation as the go-to expert on everything insect. In the summer months he fields an average of more than 30 calls a day that run the gamut from somebody being bitten by a mysterious insect to someone accidentally swallowing one.

Pellitteri’s fiefdom is a suite of bug-filled (most of them mounted) rooms in the CALS Department of Entomology on the first floor of Russell Labs. He has worked for years with one foot in academia and the other, through his work with UW-Extension, in the world of gardens, termite-infested homes and insect-riddled farm fields. In the entomology department he is a faculty associate, and he has played an important role over the years as a teacher and an adviser to generations of students. Department chair David Hogg calls Pellitteri “the face of the department.”

But it is Pellitteri’s self-made role with UW-Extension that has allowed him to bring his and the department’s expertise to bear on the challenges of keeping the insect horde at bay. Technically he is called a diagnostician. To the gardeners of the state, he is more fondly known as the “bug guy.”

Whatever he is called, he is beloved by those who run panicked from their gardens to the telephone or computer with news of the latest insect disaster. Lisa Johnson BS’88 MS’99, a Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator, works with Pellitteri on the Master Gardener program and knows how much people have grown to rely on him. He is, she says, the embodiment of both Extension’s outreach mission and the Wisconsin Idea.

Looking for “Hotspots”

In their quest to make cellulosic biofuel a viable energy option, many researchers are looking to marginal lands—those unsuitable for growing food—as potential real estate for bioenergy crops.

But what do farmers think of that? Brad Barham, a CALS/UW-Extension professor of agricultural and applied economics and a researcher with the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), took the logical next step and asked them.

Fewer than 30 percent were willing to grow nonedible cellulosic biofuel feedstocks—such as perennial grasses and short-rotation trees—on their marginal lands for a range of prices, Barham and his team found after analyzing responses from 300 farmers in southwestern Wisconsin.

“Previous work in the area of marginal lands for bioenergy has been based primarily on the landscape’s suitability, without much research on its economic viability,” says Barham, who sent out the survey in 2011. “What’s in play is how much farmers are willing to change their land-use behavior.”

Barham’s results are a testament to the complex reality of implementing commercial cellulosic biofuel systems. Despite the minority of positive responses, researchers found that there were some clusters—or “hotspots”—of farmers who showed favorable attitudes toward use of marginal land for bioenergy.

These hotspots could be a window of opportunity for bioenergy researchers since they indicate areas where feedstocks could be grown more continuously.

“People envision bioenergy crops being blanketed across the landscape,” says Barham, “but if it’s five percent of the crops being harvested from this farm here, and 10 percent from that farm there, it’s going to be too costly to collect and aggregate the biomass relative to the value of the energy you get from it.

“If we want concentrated bioenergy production, that means looking for hotspots where people have favorable attitudes toward crops that can improve the environmental effects associated with energy decisions,” Barham notes.

CALS agronomy professor Randy Jackson is also interested in the idea of bioenergy hotspots. Jackson, who co-leads the GLBRC’s area of research focusing on sustainability, says that just because lands are too wet, too rocky or too eroded to farm traditionally doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable.

“The first thing we can say about marginal lands is that ‘marginal’ is a relative term,” says Jackson. Such lands have a social as well as a biophysical definition. “This land is where the owners like to hunt, for example.”

The goal of GLBRC researchers like Barham and Jackson is to integrate the environmental impacts of different cropping systems with economic forces and social drivers.

The environmental benefits of cellulosic biofuel feedstocks such as perennial grasses are significant. In addition to providing a versatile starting material for ethanol and other advanced biofuels, grasses do not compete with food crops and require little or no fertilizer or pesticides. Unlike annual crops like corn, which must be replanted each year, perennials can remain in the soil for more than a decade, conferring important ecosystem services like erosion protection and wildlife habitat.

The ecosystem services, bioenergy potential and social values that influence how we utilize and define marginal land make it difficult to predict the outcomes of planting one type of crop versus another. To tackle that problem, Jackson is working with other UW–Madison experts who are developing computer-based simulation tools in projects funded by the GLBRC and a Sun Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Jackson hopes that these modeling tools will help researchers pinpoint where farmer willingness hotspots overlap with regions that could benefit disproportionately from the ecosystem services that perennial bioenergy feedstocks have to offer.

“These models will include data layers for geography, crop yield, land use, carbon sequestration and farmer willingness to participate,” says Jackson. “There could be as many as 40 data layers feeding into these models so that you can see what would happen to each variable if, say, you were to plant the entire landscape with switchgrass.”