ISU Horticulture Research Station celebrates anniversary

ISU’s Horticulture Research Station provides opportunities for hands-on research for students and faculty. (Iowa State University)
Jenna Ladd| September 22, 2017

Iowa State University’s Horticulture Research Station celebrated its 50th anniversary this week.

The anniversary was marked with a farmer’s market, farm tours, children’s games and a produce washing demonstration on Saturday.

The 235 acre station is home to 80 to 90 research projects each year. Scientists from horticulture, forestry, botany, ecology, plant pathology, entomology and natural resources use the space to study everything from vegetables to honeybees to wasps to swallows. The land bears apples, pumpkins, watermelon, hops, grapes and more.

Ben Pease is a Horticulture Research Associate at Iowa State. He said, “We are able to sell most of what we grow. If it’s part of a research project once it’s done we can sell it or we’re growing stuff to use the land we’re able to sell it,” to Iowa State Daily. Pease added that the station has made over a million dollars selling produce since 2006. Much of the food is sold to ISU’s dining halls, which buys about 5 tons of green peppers each year.

The land, which features a 15 acre lake as well, is located just three miles north of Ames on highway 69.

Iowa State University scientists research advantages of horticultural bioplastics

The flower on the left is planted in a bioplastic container while the flower on the right is planted in a conventional petroleum-based pot. ISU researchers have studied the environmental advantages bioplastic containers may present. (ISU, James Schrader)
Jake Slobe | November 23, 2016

Research conducted by Iowa State University horticulturists show that new bioplastic materials could allow gardeners to tend their plants more sustainably and could potentially help plants self-fertilize and grow healthier roots.

“Bioplastics present a range of environmental advantages, such as improved biodegradability, that conventional petroleum-based plastics can’t claim”, said William Graves. Grave, associate dean of the ISU Graduate College and professor of horticulture, and a team of researchers recently concluded their five-year study on bioplastics in an attempt to find materials that show promise for horticultural uses, such as the plastic pots and flats that retailers use to sell immature plants.

Bioplastics come from renewable biological sources like plants and large-scale adoption in the marketplace could ease dependence on fossil fuels.

The study looked at many options for bioplastic made from sources such as polylactic acid and the more biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates. They also included byproducts that result from the production of corn, soybeans, and ethanol.

They found bioplastic containers have the potential to offer another major advantage that petroleum products can’t:  the ability to self-fertilize plants.

Plastics made from bio-based materials can release nutrients as the plastic degrades. That could lessen the workload for gardeners, and encourage root growth that will improve the plant’s performance once transplanted into soil or into another container, he said.

The study was funded by a $1.94 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and provided results from conducting market research on consumer preferences regarding bioplastics. The researchers found that consumers prefer bioplastic products that resembled petroleum plastics as closely as possible in appearance, color and texture.

ISU receives USDA grant to create biodegradable plant containers

Photo by kylewm, Flickr

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will allow Iowa State University to develop biorenewable and biodegradable plant containers. The $1.9 million project is led by Iowa State horticulture professor Bill Graves.

The High Plains/Midwest AG Journal reports that non-biodegradable plant containers are currently used for many crops, and replacing them will result in major annual savings:

“Nearly all specialty crops, including bedding plants, tomatoes and other vegetables, and containerized shrubs and trees that are purchased for residential gardening and landscaping, are grown and marketed in petroleum-based, conventional plastic containers. Few of those are recycled or reused,” said Graves. “Our vision is to provide sustainable alternatives that can meet the needs horticultural producers, and that will degrade harmlessly when installed with the plant in a garden.”

An estimated $706 million could be saved annually by the specialty crop industry by converting from petroleum-based containers to bioplastic containers, Graves said. Other benefits include shifting resource revenue from foreign oil to domestic biorenewables and eliminating adverse environmental effects of petroleum-based plastics.