Home » Greenhouse facility at WKU opens as part of national research lab

Greenhouse facility at WKU opens as part of national research lab

WKU President Gary Ransdell, right, toured the greenhouse with Dr. Karamat Sistani, research leader at the USDA-ARS Unit. Photo by WKU

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (April 25, 2012) – The opening of a new greenhouse/headhouse facility at the Western Kentucky University Farm will strengthen a research partnership between WKU and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

A 4,079-square-foot, $2.6 million facility is part of a national laboratory/office complex housing the USDA-ARS Animal Waste Management Unit. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Tuesday morning at the facility on Bennett Lane.

The Animal Waste Management Unit, part of the USDA-ARS Mid South Area, has grown from one ARS scientist in 2000 to six research scientists and 10 support personnel working in cooperation with eight WKU scientists on experiments for developing best management practices to utilize animal waste.

The WKU/ARS cooperative research is solution-oriented, not regulatory, and seeks to help farmers meet state and federal regulatory guidelines in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner.

“This unit works in partnership with WKU to conduct research on the disposal of animal waste as a fertilizer, to reduce noxious gaseous emissions, protect water quality and control pathogens at poultry, cattle and swine installations,” said Dr. Ed King, Mid South Area Director for USDA-ARS. “We are very pleased with the completion of this Headhouse/Greenhouse Complex which is going to further enhance our research partnership. None of this would have occurred without the aggressive support of President Ransdell and WKU. We look forward to a long and productive partnership.”

WKU President Gary Ransdell said the collaborative partnership sustains research, creates jobs and improves the quality of life.

Dr. Blaine Ferrell, associate vice president for research and WKU principal investigator on the cooperative agreement with the USDA-ARS unit, said the federal research lab helps address concerns from farmers about animal waste management, brings federal research funding into Kentucky, contributes to the economy of the Bowling Green area and builds relationships with farmers and the agriculture industry.

“The USDA-ARS unit helps farmers meet environmental guidelines to protect water and air quality through best management practices of animal waste management,” Dr. Ferrell said.

The greenhouse/headhouse facility will enhance the cutting-edge research under way at the USDA-ARS unit, said Dr. Karamat Sistani, research leader at the Bowling Green complex. (A headhouse is the work area for students and scientists to pot seeds and small plants to place in the greenhouse. It is equipped with walk-in freezers and amenities allowing storage for harvested plant materials for study and houses the controls and all mechanical facilities for the greenhouse.)

Examples of research accomplishments by USDA-ARS scientists and WKU faculty and students include:

• Development of best management practices (BMPs) for utilization of animal wastes for crop production. ARS scientists Dr. Karamat Sistani, Dr. John Loughrin, Dr. Nanh Lovanh and WKU scientists Dr. Becky Gilfillen, Dr. Wei-Ping Pan, Dr. Todd Willian, Dr. Rezaul Mahmood and Dr. Shivendra Sahi have accomplished many collaborative research studies to develop management practices needed to minimize negative environmental impacts and maximize utilization of animal waste nutrients for crop production and improving soil, air and water quality. These management practices – such as manure application techniques, timing and rate — are being practiced in Kentucky and other states.

• The hidden source of Johne’s disease. Dr. Kim Cook (ARS) and Dr. Jenks Britt (WKU) conducted collaborative studies to determine hidden source of Johne’s disease in the agricultural environment. Johne’s disease is a chronic intestinal infection that affects ruminants such as dairy cows and can cause losses of as much as $200,000 per year in a herd of 1,000 dairy cows. They found that the organism that causes Johne’s disease survived in trough water and in slimy layers on the surface of watering troughs. They introduced cost-conscience best management practices for reducing concentrations of the organism including adding three tablespoons of chlorine bleach per 100 gallons of trough water weekly and washing troughs out routinely. The recommendations have been announced on dairy trade websites, on the Johne’s information center website and distributed to Kentucky dairy producers through the National Johne’s Eradication Initiative newsletter.

• Sustainable management of swine compost. ARS is working in collaboration with swine producer Jerry O’Bryan in Daviess County and with University of Kentucky extension specialist Dr. Edwin Ritchey to determine on-farm management and land application practices for sustainable management of swine compost. The under slat barns yield swine compost, a stabilized product which reduces the volume of waste, kills pathogens, reduces odors and improves the cycling of nutrients. The compost can be used on the farm to improve soil quality and reduce the need to bring additional nutrients on to the farm or it can be sold as a value-added product. The farm in Daviess County is one of the first to employ under slat composting of swine manures.

• Contaminant transport through karst soil and cave. Dr. Carl Bolster (ARS) has worked closely with Dr. Chris Groves and others at WKU to investigate the factors controlling bacteria and nutrient transport through karst soils and cave passages. Multiple graduate students have been involved in this research as part of their master’s degree work. Results from this research have been presented at national and international conferences and published in several scientific proceedings. This collaboration also resulted in a field day for farmers and producers to show the effects of agricultural activities on water quality in karst terrains. The field day highlighted the collaborative research being conducted by WKU and USDA-ARS to the agricultural community and was attended by almost 60 people from the community, university and various state and federal agencies.