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Graduate Students

Current Students

Meet some of the graduate students who are currently involved in CEFS research:

Keena Mullen
Ph.D. candidate, Animal Science
NC State University
Advisor: Dr. Steve Washburn

Keena's focus is on milk quality and mastitis (udder inflammation). She is researching herbal remedies as alternatives to antibiotics for treatment of mastitis in dairy cattle. Organic dairy producers are not permitted to use antibiotics to prevent or treat infections in any of their livestock. Keena is currently evaluating two commercially available herbal remedies for mastitis at CEFS' Pasture-Based Dairy Unit and at certified organic dairies in North Carolina. She will evaluate the efficacy of specific herbal extracts versus bacteria, using the same methods by which antibiotics are currently tested, to create a prescribing standard for veterinarians.


Matthew Brown
M.S. candidate, Soil Science
NC State University
Advisor: Dr. Julie Grossman

Title: "Evaluating termination methods of leguminous cover crops for optimizing nitrogen synchrony"

Matthew is studying how various methods of terminating annual winter leguminous cover crops will effect the rate of decomposition and the subsequent mineralization of nitrogen from the biomass. Nitrogen presents one of the greatest challenges in maintaining soil fertility for all types of agriculture, specifically the timing of its application to maximize yields and minimize leaching and runoff. This work is being done to enhance our knowledge about synchronizing organic sources of nitrogen by identifying optimal management strategies through species selection and tillage methods.

 

John Beck
M.S. candidate, Crop Science
North Carolina State University

Advisor: Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

John is investigating sustainable alternatives to Methyl Bromide use in strawberry production systems in the Southeast. He is examining the use of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and vermicompost pre-inoculations as a preventative pest management approach for strawberry plug production, combined with the effects of cover crops on soil quality and nutrient cycling. Vermicomposts and AMF have separately been demonstrated to increase strawberry growth and decrease root pathogen damage, but their combined effects are not understood. Inserting cover crops between strawberry plantings and incorporating the residue can reduce weed pressure, build soil organic matter and provide an additional source of important nutrients. He will evaluate the combined effects on soil nutrient levels during plant demand, plant growth, and yield.

Nape Mothapo
Ph.D. candidate, Soil Science
NC State University
Advisor: Dr. Wei Shi

Tentative dissertation title: "Identification and Molecular Characterization of Fungal Denitrifiers in Agricultural Soil"

 

Arun Jani
M.S. candidate, Soil Science
NC State University
Advisor: Dr. Julie Grossman

Arun is investigating root system decomposition of winter annual leguminous cover crops under different termination methods.

Estimated defense date: May 2013

Suzanne O’Connell
Ph.D. candidate, Horticultural Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Nancy Creamer

Suzanne's research topic is "Soil Ecology and Nitrogen Fixation Related to Summer Cover Crops in Organic Production Systems." Her dissertation research will focus on the use of cover crops in farming systems with an emphasis on nutrient release patterns and biological soil indicators. Suzanne earned an M.S. in Horticultural Science at NC State (Dr. Mary Peet, advisor), in 2009. Her thesis work focused on the nutrient uptake and performance of grafted heirloom tomatoes in organic production systems. http://www4.ncsu.edu/~soconne/

Sarah Smith
M.S. candidate, Soil Science
NC State University
Advisor: Dr. Julie Grossman

Thesis title: “Improving soil science extension training through experiential garden-based service-learning initiatives.”

Sarah is designing and evaluating a training manual focused on cultural competence and teaching to prepare agricultural students to teach sustainable soil management to diverse audiences. Additionally, she is measuring the professional skill set that students develop as a result of community engagement activities , particularly those skills relevant to future work in community food security and agricultural extension.

 

Stephen Ratasky
M.S. candidate, Crop Science
North Carolina State University

Advisor: Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

Stephen is working on the development of an Agroecology Education Farm at
NCSU's Lake Wheeler Research Unit. His two-part research project includes a
DELPHI study investigating successful components of various college and
university student farms, and the formal design of an intensive, one-acre,
organic educational cropping area. The farm will be specifically designed towards providing educational opportunities for NCSU students and Raleigh's community members who are interested in agroecology and sustainable agriculture.

Amanda McWhirt
Ph.D. candidate, Crop Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

Amanda's research is focused on how different combinations of soil management and fumigation practices influence strawberry production in the Southeast. She is examining the individual and combined uses of compost, cover crops, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and vermicompost inoculations as a means to improve soil organic matter, microbial activity, and balance fertility. In doing so she hopes to evaluate which sustainable soil management practices provide the most benefit to both conventional and organic growers. Additionally, she will evaluate the tri-trophic level interactions of these soil amendments for their influence on above-ground pest populations.

Erika Larsen
M.S. candidate, Soil Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Julie Grossman

Erika's research is focused on soil biological properties in long-term organic and conventional plots with different tillage regimes. She is identifying correlations between soil properties and total runoff as well as total organic matter lost through surface runoff. Her field site is located in Mills River, NC at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center.

 

Sarah Seehaver
M.S. candidate, Soil Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Julie Grossman

Sarah researches the effect of commercial rhizobia inoculation on
winter legume cover crops. Additionally she is cataloging the diversity of native rhizobia populations on 3 organic farms in North Carolina.

At CEFS Sarah investigates the amount of Particulate Organic Matter (POM) contributed by various legume cover crops after a variety of termination methods.

Joseph Owle
M.C.S., Crop Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

Joseph will be working in collaboration with the NC Cooperative Extension and Cherokee Center for Plants in Cherokee, NC to develop a small-scale vermicomposting system designed to handle beef cattle manure. This project is to enhance the stability of the manure as an organic soil fertility amendment. This system will serve the dual purpose of vermicomposting the manure and as an educational tool for extension agents to utilize.


Angel Cruz
M.S. candidate, Crop Science
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno


Angel is looking at how the different long term farming systems units at CEFS impact arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) and Rhizobia diversity. To follow up on this, I am using greenhouse studies to examine why AMF diversity is important and how diversity affects crops responses to drought conditions.

Drew Marticorena
Ph.D. candidate, Horticulture
North Carolina State University
Advisor: Dr. Nancy Creamer

Drew is studying the holistic value of different agricultural production and marketing practices to the North Carolina community, over both the short and long terms. Through collaborations with stakeholders throughout the state representing a range of practices (conventional/organic/sustainable, commodity/vegetable/animal/bio-dynamic, sold locally/abroad) Drew is developing a methodology to commensurately measure these practices' unique economic, social, and environmental impacts. This work is motivated by the acknowledged need by those involved in long term regional planning to have rigorous quantitative metrics by which to evaluate different policy choices over the long run. This work is funded through the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program within the USDA.

 

 


Student Work

Organic Heirloom Tomato Production in High Tunnel and Open Field Systems, by Suzanne O'Connell

Cover Crop Mulches for No-Till Organic Onion Production, by Emily Vollmer

Grafting and High Tunnels Heirloom Tomato Production, by Cary Rivard and Suzanne O'Connell

Grafted Tomato Performance in Organic Production Systems: Nutrient Uptake, Plant Growth and Yield, by Suzanne O'Connell

Dung Beetles of Central and Eastern North Carolina Cattle Pastures, by Matt Bertone

The Contribution of Tunneling Dung Beetles to Pasture Soil Nutrition, by Matt Bertone

More graduate students and student research

Student Grants

Evaluation of herbal remedies as alternatives to antibiotic therapy in dairy cattle. 2010-2012. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. Keena Mullen, Kevin Anderson, and Steven Washburn. $9,990.

Predictors of short-term nitrogen availability in organic farming systems that utilize warm season cover crops. 2010-2012. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. Suzanne O'Connell and Nancy Creamer. $10,000.

Managing Field Borders for Weed Seed Predators. 2010. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. Aaron Fox and Chris Reberg-Horton. $9,856.

Evaluating vermicompost mediated host plant resistance as a sustainable alternative to manage agricultural insect plants. 2009. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. Amos Little and Yasmin Cardoza. $9,810.

Traits of interest for improving weed suppressive ability of soybean during the critical period for weed competition. 2008-2009. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. George Place and Chris Reberg-Horton. $9,972.

Potential of grafting to improve nutrient management of heirloom tomatoes on organic farms. 2007-2009. Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Graduate Student Grant. Suzanne O'Connell, Ken Dawson, Stefan Hartmann, Alex Hitt, Frank Louws, Mary Peet, and Cary Rivard. $10,000.

Student Awards

Susceptibility of the vinegar fly (Drosophila repleta) to two strains of Beauveria bassiana isolated from house flies (Musca domestica). 1st place, MS student oral presentations, Medical Urban Veterinary Entomology section, National Entomological Society of America Conference. 2011. Lena Guisewite.

This study looked at the efficacy of two house fly-derived strains of the entomopathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana against Drosophila repleta, a common nuisance fly in swine production. Approximately 87% of the house flies exposed to the fungus died of infection with a mean time to mortality of 6.7 days. In contrast vinegar flies were slightly more tolerant of infection with 81% mortality, and a mean time to death of 8.9 days. These data suggest that selection of entomopathogenic fungal strains for greater activity against vinegar flies may produce a promising biological control agent of this swine pest.

The performance of grafted heirloom tomatoes in two organic production systems: High tunnels and the open field. 1st place, American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) National Graduate Student Poster Competition. 2008. Suzanne O'Connell, Mary M. Peet, Frank J. Louws, Cary L. Rivard, and Chris D. Harlow.

Nutrient uptake efficiency and plant growth indicators of grafted tomatoes. 1st place, American Society of Horticultural Science, Southern Region (S-ASHS) Graduate Student Poster Competition. 2008. Suzanne O'Connell and Mary M. Peet.

 

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