Author Archives: Insights Editor

Food justice symposium with Karen Washington

-2The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will host food justice advocate Karen Washington from Rise and Root Farm on Oct. 25 at 11 a.m. in the Fralin Life Science Auditorium.

Karen Washington is a community activist, gardener, and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens. She has worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens and traveled globally to talk about the importance of introducing diverse voices into food systems to create a more just and robust model of food production and community resilience.

Read more about Karen Washington here.

The event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the CALS Diversity Council and by faculty in Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Department of Agricultural, Leaderhsip, and Community Education.



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INSIDE the ARECS: Precision Ag Day at Kentland Farm

Virginia Tech will host a Precision Agriculture Day on Oct. 12 at Kentland Farm in Blacksburg from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Participants will have the opportunity to get answers to common questions about the benefits of precision agriculture and learn how they can establish cost-effective technologies on their farms.

Precision agriculture is becoming increasingly utilized — and economical — in recent years as producers use technology such as iPads, GPS, and variable rate equipment to increase yields and inform management decisions.

Registration for the event, which costs $10, can be found here. Kentland Farm is about 8 minutes from the Virginia Tech campus at 5250 Whitethorne Road.

The following topics will discussed at the field day:

  • low-cost technologies that are available now and are practical for your operation;
  • technologies that work on smaller farms;
  • precision agriculture equipment for use on hilly terrain;
  • recommendations for producers who are just beginning to consider a technology investment; and
  • potential return on investment from establishing a precision agriculture system.

Featured demonstrations and presentations will be provided by Hoober Inc. of Ashland, Virginia, James River Equipment of Rappahannock, Virginia, Meade Tractor of Christiansburg, Virginia, and Southern States Cooperative.

The Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering will also present a drone flying demonstration that will broadcast images on a big screen.

The event is sponsored by Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension. A special thanks to Farm Credit of the Virginias for providing water and refreshments.

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Fralin researcher finds gene that reduces female mosquitoes

Virginia Tech researchers have found a gene that can reduce female mosquitoes over many generations.

Males are preferred because they do not bite. Female mosquitoes bite to get blood for egg production and are the prime carriers of the pathogens that cause malaria, Zika, and dengue fever.

In this case, Jake Tu and colleagues found that placing a particular Y chromosome gene on the autosomes of Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes — a species responsible for transmitting malaria — killed off 100 percent of all female embryos that inherited this gene.

The extra copy of this gene, which the researchers call Guy1, is passed on to both sexes but only males survive. Furthermore, these male mosquitoes do not appear to have any detectable reproductive disadvantages in the laboratory.

The findings were published Sept. 20 in the journal eLife.

“The Guy1 protein is a strong candidate of the male determining factor in Anopheles stephensi,” said Tu, a professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of the Fralin Life Science Institute Vector-borne Disease Research Group. The Guy1 gene is not related to Nix, a male determining factor recently discovered in the Aedes aegypti mosquito by Tu’s lab and collaborators.

“The extra copy of the Guy1 gene is only passed down to half of the progeny, leaving some females among the mosquitoes that did not inherit the gene in the next generation,” said Frank Criscione, who is the first author of the paper and worked on the project when he was a graduate student in the Tu laboratory.

In order to produce all male offspring, all progeny needs to inherit this extra copy of Guy1. This is one of the group’s future objectives and can potentially be achieved by using genome-editing.

Yumin Qi, a research scientist in the department of biochemistry is a co-author of the paper.

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Robert E. James honored with emeritus status

Robert E. James, professor of dairy science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, has been conferred the title of professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

The emeritus title may be conferred on retired professors, associate professors, and administrative officers who are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. Nominated individuals who are approved by the board receive an emeritus certificate from the university.

A member of the university community since 1974, James served the dairy industry of Virginia and the nation as an Extension specialist, contributed to scientific and Extension education literature, and served as Extension project leader for dairy science.

He taught applied dairy nutrition to undergraduate students, mentored graduate students, and fostered their growth and development for successful careers in industry and academia. He served as the faculty advisor to the Dairy Club and was co-coach of Virginia Tech’s Dairy Challenge Team. James was also instrumental in helping relocate the dairy to Kentland Farm.

During his career, James was honored with a Virginia Tech Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2009, a Cady Award for distinguished service from the Professional Dairy Heifer Growers Association in 2003, and an Honors Award – Southern Branch from the American Dairy Science Association in 1999.

James received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech.

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eFARS changes

  • Faculty will use the new university eFARS system to complete their 2016 annual report.
  • CALS Unit Leaders (department heads and others) will use the old CALS eFARS system to post faculty evaluations since the university eFARS system is not yet set up to do that function.
  • CALS eFARS is only open to faculty for the purpose of 1) accessing archived reports and 2) communicating performance evaluation info from unit leaders to faculty once your 2016 report has been submitted and reviewed.
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Virginia Cooperative Extension offers tips for Emergency Preparedness Month

Virginia Cooperative Extension helped to build a more resilient response to disaster around the commonwealth by taking part in National Preparedness Month in September.

The goal of the initiative was to increase the number of individuals who understand which disasters could happen in their community, know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage, take action to increase their preparedness, and participate in community resilience planning.

The theme for 2016 was “Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make Your Emergency Plan Today.”

“Disasters can strike anyone, anywhere, and sometimes without notice. Regardless of the type of disaster, it is wise for you and your family to be prepared,” said Michael Martin, Virginia Cooperative Extension emergency response and preparedness coordinator.

Families can prepare for natural disasters, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and weather-related power outages, by assembling an emergency kit to keep in their home, car, and on their person; developing a communication plan; and paying attention to local weather conditions and emergency alerts.

One of the first things that you can do is assemble several emergency kits: one for the home, one to leave in a primary mode of transportation, and one that is portable in case it is necessary to abandon your home quickly. An emergency kit should contain enough items to supply food and water for your family for at least three days. Examples of some items your home kit may contain include:

  • one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days;
  • nonperishable food for at least three days;
  • a battery-powered or crank weather radio with extra batteries;
  • a flashlight and extra batteries;
  • a first-aid kit;
  • prescription medications;
  • nonelectric can opener;
  • personal care products; and
  • food and water for pets.

In addition to an emergency kit, Martin encourages every family to have a communication plan with phone numbers of individuals to contact in case of emergencies.

“Since it is possible that family members may get separated during a disaster and may not be able to get in touch with each other, you should identify a person in another locality or even in another state whom each person would contact,” said Martin. “You can also identify a common meeting place in your community should you not be able to access your home. A written plan should be given to each family member to keep with them at all times.”

In an emergency, you may have to leave your home quickly. If evacuation is necessary, listen to the radio for more information and follow the guidance of emergency personnel. Also, make sure that all family members are familiar with:

  • the best exits out of your home;
  • a community meeting place;
  • a local radio station;
  • the location of an emergency kit;
  • plans for care of pets and livestock; and
  • plans for movement of family members with special needs, such as the elderly or disabled.

Martin also suggests that families keep cars at least half-full of fuel because in an emergency fuel may not be available.

For more information on making plans for disaster preparedness, visit the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Ready Virginia website or the Virginia Cooperative Extension storm and emergency preparedness website.

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Battle at Bristol winning photo

Congratulations to Department of Dairy Science students Whitney Bowman and Grace Ott who won our Battle at Bristol photo contest and earned the right to show off some CALS swag.

We asked students to show off their Hokie pride during the run up to this epic college football standoff in Bristol by showing our rivals at the University of Tennessee in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources why studying in our college is the best there is!

Check out Bowman and Ott’s winning photo here.


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Tom Thompson named associate dean and director of international programs

Tom Thompson has been named associate dean and director of international programs for the college.

Thompson, who has been the head of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences for the last five years, will focus in his new role on growing the college’s international programs across our teaching, research, and Extension missions.

Thompson is replacing Jerzy Nowak, emeritus professor of Horticulture, who is retiring. Thompson will assume his new role Nov. 1.


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In the news


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Administrative updates



College updates

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Research updates

Extension updates




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