It’s time to test your soil!

By Chantal Vos, Researcher, and Norman Arancon, Associate Professor of Horticulture.

Norman stands in large sweet potato field.
Norman Arancon collects leaf samples from sweet potato field. Photo by Chantal Vos.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas, L.) production along the Hamakua Coast can be increased by addressing nutrient imbalances in the soil. Sweet potato is an important crop in Hawai‘i both for local consumption and as an export crop and more than 90 percent is produced along the Hamakua Coast on the island of Hawai‘i (Miyasaka and Arakaki, 2010). Most commercial sweet potato farmers on Hawai‘i Island do not test their soil or crops on a regular basis for potential nutritional problems. Fertilizers are often applied indiscriminately based on prior experience or current practice from other growers, whether these areas have been cropped for many years or are newly cleared for cultivation. Soil fertility is often not optimal, even on land that has never been cultivated with sweet potato (virgin land). During crop production, available nutrients are lost through leaching, run-off, and crop harvest. Nutrient balances are distorted, and fallow periods have demonstrated limited capacity to adequately restore and build soil fertility. This being said, fallows will generally reduce many disease and pest problems (Bennett et al., 2012).

The study—led by affiliate researchers in the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management—creates a new, combined process to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, produce food and electricity, and reduce deforestation.

Algae cells under microscope.
Microalgae – Nannochloropsis sp. Photo credit: CSIRO.

Researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, in affiliation with Duke and Cornell universities, have co-authored a study that suggests making croplands more efficient through algae production could unlock an important negative emission technology to combat climate change.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

The research, “Integrating Algae with Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (ABECCS) Increases Sustainability,” is funded by a U.S. Department of Energy award and was recently published in the journal Earth’s Future. This funding is a Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium (MAGIC) grant for which Bruce Mathews, dean of the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM), serves as the facilitating principal investigator at UH Hilo. Duke University subcontracted the overall project out to multiple institutions, including UH Hilo.

There are few annual crops where the farmer can recover costs of high fertilizer and soil amendment inputs required for desired yields coupled with disease and pests in this environment.

By Bruce Mathews.

Bruce Mathews

On January 9, the Hawaiʻi Island Food Alliance Food Access Working Group, together with The Food Basket, The Kohala Center, and the state Department of Health, hosted a presentation in Hilo by Ken Meter (president of the Cross-roads Resource Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota) that was entitled “Growing Secure Food Systems in Hawaiʻi”. The presentation focused on how the pre-European contact native Hawaiians were completely food independent and that the 1900s resulted in a downward spiral in food production in Hawaiʻi, which was particularly rapid from the 1940s onward. The mid 1960s was the last time that about half the food consumed in Hawaiʻi was produced here. The stated goal was to instigate change that results in greatly improved food independence on the Big Island. There was even quite a bit of discussion regarding community-based food systems and avoiding the cash-based economy, and doing food barter.

Prof. Tsang’s passion of hands-on education has permeated through UH Hilo curricula with a lasting effect on agricultural development in Hawai‘i.

By Christopher Lu.

Marcel Tsang
Marcel Tsang. Photo by Norman Arancon.

Long time faculty Marcel Tsang is retiring after decades of exemplary service at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management. A native of Mauritius, Dr. Tsang built a professional career and a family in Hawai‘i. He moved up through the ranks to full professor at UH Hilo.

Dr. Tsang, a trained agricultural engineer by Louisiana State University, has taught a number of core courses at the college including Farm Power, Farm Structures, Introduction to Agricultural Mechanization, Irrigation Principles and Practices, and Microcomputer Applications in Agriculture.

Students and fellow faculty members perceive him as a dedicated, sincere and caring professor. Dr. Tsang served as the curriculum committee chair for many years and assured the curriculum structure to be consistent with the mission of the college. His passion of hands-on education has permeated through the curricula with a lasting effect on agricultural development in Hawai‘i. He has advised, guided and excelled many students throughout their academic careers.

We spent time this summer in China collecting and testing soil samples for a study about the long-term effects that warming and nitrogen addition would have on microbial composition and enzyme production.

By Erin Busch and Tim Zimmerman.

At the Sanming Forest Ecosystem and Global Change Research Station in Fujian, China, scientists and researchers from various fields gather to utilize experimental plots designed as mesocosm studies and in-field sampling and monitoring stations to study forest hydrological change, forest carbon management, and future global change.

The agreement supports cooperative research activities and the exchange of researchers and students.

By Christoher Lu.

Upon invitation, I visited the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine at Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Sciences during the summer of 2016. I presented an invited paper entitled “Overview of Global Meat Goat Industry.”

There are approximately one billion goats in the world, mostly for meat purposes. The top ten countries with the largest goat populations are China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Iran, and Mali. There are about three million goats in the United States with a continued increasing trend since 1980s.

The baseline data this project will generate will be useful for decision makers and farmers as the state moves agriculture forward.

Aerial map of North Kohala with an overlay of graphics showing various farm crops color coded by commodity.
North Kohala Crop Land Summary from the Hawai‘i County Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study 2012. HDOA and UH Hilo are now surveying all agricultural lands throughout the state. Click to enlarge.
Jeff Melrose
Jeff Melrose

The Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture (HDOA) is collaborating with the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo on a statewide agricultural survey to provide a digital depiction of the 2015 agricultural footprint of the state. The project will include mapping current agricultural activity statewide, as well as water systems and irrigation options available to farmers and ranchers.

“The product is intended as a baseline depiction of our current agricultural use and will help to measure progress in the expansion of all agriculture, and particularly local food production, across the state,” says Jeff Melrose, a land planner and longtime agricultural land manager who is serving at HDOA as project manager of the survey.

At the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management at UH Hilo, we are concerned with food production and sustainability, and we value and promote all effective agricultural systems.

By Michael Shintaku, Professor of Plant Pathology.

Michael Shintaku
Michael Shintaku

We have some very serious plant disease problems in Hawai‘i, and plant disease issues keep farmers and conservationists awake at night, as disease-causing pathogens too often take everything away.

A good example of technology used for plant disease management is right in our own back yard. Papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) arrived in Puna in 1992 and rapidly spread through Puna and Kea‘au, killing every papaya tree it infected. The industry and almost every backyard papaya tree would be long gone if not for the transgenic solution provided by Dr. Dennis Gonsalves’s research team, who developed transgenic papaya plants (now widely planted) with PRSV resistance.