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From the Dean – November 2016

Alan Grant, dean

Alan Grant, dean

Dear Colleagues,

It was an honor to host the college’s annual Scholarship Banquet on Nov. 3 at the Inn at Virginia Tech. More than 80 scholarship donors attended and had the opportunity to meet their scholarship recipients. Family members and special guests, along with some college faculty and staff members, were also there to congratulate the students and thank the donors who so generously support our students and programs. Zachary Horton (class of ’16, agricultural and applied economics) and Bette Brand (class of ’82 and ’90), the chief sales officer/external affairs at Farm Credit of Virginias spoke and inspired the audience of more than 295 guests. Students and donors participated in our social media event by writing on placards what giving and receiving scholarships meant to them. Log on to see the posts on our Facebook page. We are especially thankful for the investment from our alumni and friends to provide students with meaningful educational opportunities and valuable learning experiences. The theme of the evening was giving thanks and as such the meal was a traditional thanksgiving dinner and the table decorations were floral cornucopias from the Department of Horticulture’s floral design class.

Our annual new faculty orientation was held on Sept. 28. It was an opportunity for new faculty members to learn about the college and the resources available as they establish their programs. This day-long program was planned and coordinated by Susan Sumner, associate dean and director of academic programs, in collaboration with the CALS Faculty Association. Many thanks to those who participated and made presentations in this year’s program.     More information about our talented new faculty can be found here.

Congratulations to Megan Seibel, director of the VALOR program, who was recently named Virginia’s assistant secretary of agriculture and forestry. For the past six years, Megan has worked with numerous individuals in the industry and in government agencies in her role as the director of the VALOR program.  We look forward to working with Megan in her new role and wish her the best.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the new Agency 229 Annual Report, it is now available online or can be downloaded as a PDF. Read how Agency 229 is making a positive impact in across the commonwealth and beyond.

The annual Commonwealth of Virginia campaign is in progress and your donation can work to help local families in many different ways. Last year’s donations reached an all-time high; 1,581 employees raised $319,664. CALS and the Virginia Tech community can make a difference.

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful Thanksgiving season. Thanks for all you do to make CALS great!


Alan Grant

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Inside the ARECs: Precision agriculture takes off at Kentland Farm    

arecUsually the sound of buzzing on a farm is from the flapping of bees’ wings against one another or the continuous hum of a tractor’s engine.

But these days the advent of precision agriculture and all its high tech accouterments mean that buzzing sound is more likely to be from the propellers of a reconnaissance-gathering drone flying a couple hundred feet above a cornfield and gathering information about crops.

Soon drones and other precision farm equipment could become commonplace and  a boon to the bottomline of producers throughout the commonwealth.

One reason the mechanization of precision agriculture makes producers more profitable is that they can distribute feed, fertilizer, and various inputs with much more accuracy when using precision equipment.

Doug Bunn, a cattle producer from Dublin, Virginia, recently attended a precision agriculture demonstration at Kentland Farm along with 115 other people. He uses precision agriculture machinery on his cattle farming operation.

“We use autosteer on our tractors,” said Bunn. “The automation reduces the amount of chemicals we use because it’s a more precise way of delivering inputs when we use our sprayers on the corn we grow to feed our cattle.”

Bunn uses technology for recordkeeping also.

“I also have apps on my smartphone I use to keep track of my sire and dams, the cattle birth dates, and vaccinations.”

Other equipment that was demonstrated during the event were UAVs such as fixed-wing eBee drones look like large boomerangs and help with assessing crop health.  Using cameras and specialized software a producer can see realtime which crops are stressed and need more water and fertilizer using 3-D structure mapping.

“This event was critical in evaluating what farmers are already doing with precision agriculture and what industry has to offer and where we could go in the future,” said Bobby Grisso, Virginia Cooperative Extension associate director of agriculture and natural resources.  “Farmers are innovative people. As the price of technology continues to go down, we’ll see more producers utilizing these methods to remain at the forefront of the industry.”







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Governor McAuliffe Announces new specialty crop grants for Virginia

Governor Terry McAuliffe  announced ten agriculture-related projects in Virginia have been awarded $393,999 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant will promote and enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops and create more economic development opportunities across the Commonwealth. The project awards resulted from a competitive grant process established by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

“As one of Virginia’s largest industries, agriculture depends on quality research and data to remain competitive in the 21st century economy,” said Governor McAuliffe. “These USDA grants will ensure Virginia farmers continue to yield some of the best crops on the market, with 40 percent of the funding directed toward research in various aspects of food safety and quality. I congratulate these organizations and educational institutions for pursuing innovative research that will help enhance marketing opportunities and food safety for growers across the commonwealth.”

“Today’s announcement is good news for Virginia agriculture and helps bolster the Governor’s work to keep the industry at the forefront of his overall economic development strategic plan,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Basil Gooden. “In addition to food safety, these projects highlight hops; insect, disease and weed control; cider; and our honey and mason bee populations. They illustrate Virginia’s extremely diversified agricultural interests across a broad geographic footprint.”

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorizes the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities:

  • Assisting farmers transitioning into specialty, high-value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops;
  • Increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises;
  • Finding new ways to market or add value to specialty agricultural products; and/or
  • Developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

Specialty crops, including apples, berries, herbs, hops, nursery products, pears, wine grapes and more, will benefit from the grants. Other grants focus on food safety, training, marketing, pollinators and plant diseases, or on production research for specific geographical areas.  Grants range from $30,000 to $44,000 per applicant. VDACS awarded grants totaling $393,999 to the following recipients and projects from Virginia Tech:

  • Building Capacity to Meet Virginia Produce Grower Needs for the Food Safety Modernization Act Water Testing – Amber D. Vallotton, Fresh Produce Food Safety Team Coordinator, Department of Horticulture
  • Internalization of Salmonella in Commercial Cultivars of Tomato and Pepper Plants – Laura Strawn, Assistant Professor and Produce Safety Extension Specialist, Eastern Shore Agriculture Research and Extension Center, Painter; and Co-Principal Investigator: Steve Rideout, Associate Professor and Plant Pathology Extension Specialist, Eastern Shore AREC, Painter
  • Risk of Sand Filtration Systems to Act as a Reservoir and Transmission Vehicle for Pathogens –  Strawn and Rideout
  • Impact of site selection on cultivar performance and flavor profile of hops (Humulus lupulus L.) – Holly Scoggins, Associate Professor, Department of Horticulture
  • Developing and Promoting a Multi-pest Scouting Program for Sweet Corn in Virginia – Thomas P. Kuhar, Professor and Vegetable Entomology Specialist, Department of Entomology
  • Sampling for Trissolcus japonicus, a New Asian Egg Parasitoid of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug – Christopher Bergh, Professor of Entomology
  • New Technology and Techniques for Weed Control in Virginia Vegetable Crops – Charles W. Cahoon and Stephanie Romelczyk, Eastern Shore AREC, Painter and Stephanie Romelczyk, ANR Agent, Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Cider Production from Virginia-Grown Apples: Research-based Processing and Fermentation Strategies – Amanda Stewart, Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology
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October Employee of the Month

img_3008-copyCongratulations to October Employee of the Month, Melanie Huffman!

Huffman is the fiscal coordinator in the Department of Biochemistry and had multiple nominators including Glenda Gillaspy, Karen Dove, and other members of the departmental office.

“In a nutshell, she helps us to accomplish more in a challenging funding environment,” said Gillaspy. “This involves managing our sponsored program accounts of more than $4 million a year, and numerous departmental accounts and purchases for faculty labs. She is a greatly respected member of our department who goes above and beyond to provide assistance with the many daily fiscal transactions necessary for the department to operate successfully.”

Her nominators called Huffman’s work ethic “exceptional.” Huffman provides valuable assistance to others within the department office calculating salaries, fringes, and figuring remaining balances on various accounts and sponsored projects in order to help faculty facilitate daily financial decisions. She makes herself available to help others figure out the best solution to many different challenging situations.We value her commitment to delivering excellent accountability in our fiscal office and being adaptable and flexible in working towards the goals of our department and individual research programs.

“Under her guidance, our fiscal operations run smoothly and efficiently.
We all appreciate the opportunity to work with her as her professional manner, coupled with her sense of humor, make her an absolute pleasure to have in the departmental office,” Gillaspy said.

Past winners include:

  • September 2016- Dumitru Branisteanu, field research technician  from the Department of Biological Systems Engineering
  • August 2016- April Mays, administrative assistant from Page County Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • July 2016- Chris Ellke, agricultural specialist, Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center
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Virginia 4-H member wins national 4-H lawn mower operator safety contest

Tyler Burgess of Franklin, Virginia, won the 2016 National Youth Lawn Tractor Challenge.

This event is designed to give youth participating in the lawn tractor-focused educational programs and opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the areas of lawn care, business management, and lawn and garden tractor operation, maintenance and safety, while competing with other youth. Tyler had to complete a written exam, identify parts, and demonstrate safe operation of a lawn tractor through an obstacle course to finish the contest on top.

The event is part of the the National 4-H Engineering Challenge. It is the premier contest within the National 4-H program that allows talented youth from around the country to assemble together to showcase their knowledge and skills in a variety of individual and team-based engineering contests and activities. While this event has become increasingly focused on engineering, traditional events, such as lawn tractor operation, have been retained and continue to play a big part in the challenge.

The Engineering Challenge was hosted by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In addition to the competitive events and challenges, in keeping with the engineering theme, tours of the Caterpillar and Subaru manufacturing plants were provided so that the participants were able to see in practice various engineering principles as they relate to design, manufacturing, or other types of production of goods and services. The group also visited the Mechanical and Agricultural engineering programs on the campus of Purdue University.

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Food justice advocate visits Virginia Tech

20161025_193135 The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Diversity Council hosted food justice advocate Karen Washington in October. Washington talked to students in a roundtable discussion and also spoke in an open forum at the Fralin Life Science Auditorium. The event was sponsored by the College Diversity Council and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Listen to her seminar here.

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From the Dean – October 2016

Dear Colleagues,Alan Grant, dean

The university’s annual reception for faculty members who were promoted this year was held on Sept. 1. I was pleased to join the celebration and to congratulate the many faculty members who were awarded tenure and/or promoted in 2016. The complete list of university-wide faculty can be found here. When you have an opportunity, please congratulate and thank these faculty members for their outstanding achievements.

I am delighted that Tom Thompson, head of the crop and soil environmental sciences department, has accepted our offer to be the next associate dean and director of international programs for the college. Tom will transition into this new role on Nov. 1 and will provide leadership to strategies that will enhance the college’s international programs.

Orientation for new faculty was held on Sept. 28 at the Inn at Virginia Tech. Many new faculty members were welcomed to the college. Among them are many new extension agents, as well as eight new tenure-track faculty members who have appointments across teaching, research, and Extension and who specialize in areas of growth for the college. Please welcome all of the new faculty members to the college.

Finally, I hope you had the opportunity to listen to President Sands’ State of the University Address on Friday, Sept. 30 during which he reflected on the university’s accomplishments and his vision for its future. I encourage you to view it online if you were unable to livestream it or attend in person.

Best wishes to everyone for a great fall season.


Alan Grant


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Also in this issue

Administrative updates



College updates

Academic Programs Updates

Research updates

Extension updates


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