Report from Sturgeon Bay: Hail, rain, shredded crops

“If I took all the hail storms I’ve seen in my life and put them into one storm, that’s what we had.”

The night of Monday, July 14 was a tough one at the college’s Peninsular Ag Research Station near Sturgeon Bay.

“We had 4–6 inches of hail and over three inches of rain last night,” superintendnet Matt Stasiak said in an email the next morning. “All crops in a 1.5 x 2-mile swath are a complete loss.”

“If I took all the hail storms I’ve seen in my life and put them into one storm, that’s what we had,” Stasiak told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday. With the exception of some potato plants in greenhouses, “everything at the research station is a loss,” he says.


Photos: Matt Stasiak


Making a film on the roots of corn

Millions of high school and college biology students could soon get a look at geneticist John Doebley’s research related to the domestication of corn. A film crew from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was on campus last week to gather footage in Doebley’s lab, and they’ll be back in September to shoot in his field plots. The film will be shown in high school AP biology classes and college intro biology classes.

“We think that the domestication of corn is a terrific story, combining genetics with anthropology and archeology, all the better when it concerns the roots of a modern commodity that’s virtually taken over the world,” says Dennis Liu, an educator with HHMI’s Educational Media Group.

Liu’s group produces short science films, along with supplements designed to facilitate using them for formal science education and to extend the learning beyond what can be covered in the film itself.

“We pride outselves…on presenting research with scientific fidelity but also in a way that is engaging for students,” Liu says. He estimates the audience for the HHMI films to be well over 5 million students.

Hosting a film crew wasn’t that big a deal, says Doebley. “This is my 5th science film so same-old story.  Previously, I had crews from Germany and Japan in my Minnesota Lab, and crews from Portugal and NSF in my UW lab.”

As seen on TV: Biochem alum Jeff Vinokur – a.k.a. the Dancing Scientist – performs on national shows

After taking some time to get his graduate research project up and running at UCLA, CALS biochemistry alumnus Jeffrey Vinokur – a.k.a. The Dancing Scientist – is back onstage. Vinokur, BS’12, who we featured in Grow magazine back in Summer 2011, recently brought his hip-hop laboratory extravaganza to The Today Show on NBC, The View on ABC and The Queen Latifah Show on CBS.

According to Vinokur, this outreach work – along with his research – helped him snag a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award this year.


An environmental history of the Babcock Hall Dairy Store

Most people who visit the Babcock Hall dairy store for the first time come out with a generous serving of ice cream and a hankering for more of the same. Bethany Laursen came out with that and something more: An idea for a research project on landscape governance.* Or to put it in less academic terms: A history of how this icon of cool and sweet ended up on the campus of a major research university. Her article, “An Environmental History of the Babcock Hall Dairy Store,” was published earlier this year in the Wisconsin Magazine of History and is now available online. It’s not just a history of the Babcock store itself. It’s a history of dairy product sales on campus that begins with the arrival of ag chemist Stephen Babock in Madison in 1887.

“The Dairy Store is perhaps the most obvious example on campus of the productive tension inherent in the Wisconsin Idea between industry and education, elite privilege and service, profit and not-for-profit,” says Laursen, who last May received an M.S. in Environment and Resources and Forestry, advised by Mark Rickenbach and Gary Green.

“I hoped by publishing this story, when readers are standing in line at the Dairy Store, it would make us think a little more reflectively on how we are contributing to the Wisconsin Idea today,” she says. “Are we still walking the line appropriately and harnessing that productive tension?“

For most of us, those will be second thoughts—the ones we’ll have after we’ve wrestled with whether to go with Mocha Macchiato or Union Utopia or give it up and have a scoop of each.


Landscape governance refers to the set of rules, norms, and strategies that describe how people make decisions about a landscape.

New life for a grand old campus tree


Emmett S. Goff

The Goff family invites you to sit on a branch of their family tree. They were on campus last Thursday to present the horticulture department with a spectacular bench crafted from a fallen portion of the historic larch named after their forbear, Emmett S. Goff, the UW’s first professor of horticulture and one of CALS original faculty members. The wood had been salvaged when the world famous geotropic Goff Larch lost a major limb during a winter storm in 2007.

With the Goffs’ generous financial support, Madison artist Aaron Laux bult the bench, using the living portion of the tree as inspiration for the design. Laux said he was “honored to work on a project that memorialized Goff in a place where it will be appreciated by so many people for so many years.”


Charlie Goff (MBA’75), great grandson of Emmett), Carson Goff (great great grandson) and Beverly Goff. Photos by Rebecca Bock.


Ken, Samuel, Wally, Jamie and Bea Jackson (great granddaughter of Emmett)

The bench was unveiled at the Department of Horticulture’s annual garden party, which was also a celebration of the department’s 125th anniversary, held in the Allen Centennial Gardens, where the surviving portion of the Goff Larch still grows. The family members also participated in a ceremonial “planting” of a new larch (it was too wet for a real planting) on the bank of the garden’s newly reconstructed pond.

The right stuff: Phil Townsend shares remote-sensing expertise with NASA astronauts


Phil Townsend making leaf level measurements with a spectrometer.

Forest and wildlife ecology professor Phil Townsend is in Houston this month to train astronaut candidates at the Johnson Space Flight Center. eCALS caught up with Townsend via email to find out more about this experience.

eCALS: How did you end up at the Johnson Space Flight Center this summer?

Townsend: I’ve been funded by NASA for many years, looking at how we can use NASA’s earth-observing information—information gathered using remote sensing instruments—to understand the distribution and function of vegetation. A big focus of this work is to better understand how terrestrial ecosystems are responding to environmental change.

So now I am providing training to astronaut candidates on how remotely sensed data are used to measure ecosystem function on earth. Things like: how do we measure biological processes and their variation on Earth? What remote sensing technologies allow us to do this? What new approaches can we deploy on the International Space Station to help us better understand terrestrial biology and how it is changing?

eCALS: Why do astronauts-in-training need to learn about remote sensing?

Townsend: The International Space Station (ISS) is now being viewed as a platform for earth observation. Given the expense of putting satellites into orbit, the ISS is seen as a cost-effective approach for deploying new earth-observing technologies that are not currently slated for launch on satellites in the near future. With this new emphasis, the astronauts need to know more about why they are deploying these instruments, what they measure, and how the data will be used. So, they are receiving training in this new area.

eCALS: How did you get tapped for this project?

Townsend: The program managers I work with at NASA asked me to lead this training.

eCALS: How did you react when you first found out you’d be training astronauts?

Townsend: It was kind of a shock. My first reaction was “Why me?” There are lots of folks who do great remote sensing work on Earth’s terrestrial vegetation, but I guess I am interested in a mix of new-fangled approaches, new technologies and new science questions that may be of interest to the astronauts.

And of course, when I was a boy I was definitely one of those kids who wanted to be an astronaut.  Maybe not so much anymore, but it’s fun to meet up with real astronauts and try to share my enthusiasm for what NASA does in earth science and global ecology.

Facing reality: Food science grad students compete in The Amazing Race TV show

UW-Madison food science graduate students Amy DeJong and Maya Warren are among the cast of the 25th edition of The Amazing Race, a CBS television reality show where the duo will compete against 10 other teams in various physical and mental challenges as they trek around the globe. The way this multi-Emmy Award-winning TV series works, the teams that lag behind are gradually eliminated, while the first team to arrive at the final destination wins $1 million.


Amy DeJong

“Maya had the idea of doing The Amazing Race for a while, I guess, and was able to talk Amy into trying out,” says food science professor Rich Hartel, who advises both students. “During the process, they had to show their personalities and explain why they would be good on the show. They’re both characters, so I don’t think it was difficult for them to show that they’d be an entertaining duo, and also smart.”

The race kicked off on Saturday, May 31 in Times Square in New York City. DeJong and Warren can be seen (toward the right wearing magenta tops) in a photo from the opening event shared in a web post on The Amazing Race’s website, which also revealed the names of the new cast members for the first time.

Throughout the tryout period, DeJong and Warren kept their efforts largely a secret, only sharing information about it on a need-to-know basis.

Their first audition involved a one-minute skit that they performed live in Chicago back in October. They were then invited to submit a three-minute video about themselves, which they filmed partly in Hartel’s lab, calling themselves “Doctor Ice Cream” and “Doctor Candy,” a reference to Warren’s ice cream research and DeJong’s candy research.


Maya Warren

“I’m sure they were as wacky as only those two can be,” says Hartel, who believes the video may include footage of them smashing a marshmallow peep that they’d frozen in liquid nitrogen.

They then flew out to Los Angeles for an in-person meeting, which ultimately led to an invitation to join the show. At some point, CBS flew a camera crew out to Madison to film the students working in the lab, yet hardly anybody found out about the shoot.

“It’s remarkable that they were able to keep the secret for so long,” says Mary Rice, the department’s graduate student coordinator, who learned about their involvement only after the official CBS announcement.

“So now they are off on the four-week adventure of a lifetime,” says Hartel. “They don’t get back until the end of June, and, even then, I’m not sure they can say a lot about what happened. You’ll have to watch the show to find out the result.”

Lead photo from The Amazing Race website:

Headshots of DeJong and Warren by Wan Mei Leong.

Science on Tap tackles the issue of Northwoods mining

Mining in the Penokee Range is the third rail of Wisconsin environmental politics. So you might wonder why the directors of the UW’s northernmost research stations decided to touch it. But the mine and the science behind it is the topic for a session on Thursday night of Science on Tap, a monthly outreach forum in Minoqua created by Tom Steele of CALS Kemp Natural Resources Station and Tim Kratz of the limnology department’s Trout Lake station.

Tom Steele, Kemp Natural Resources Station

“It’s a really important story and it’s one where the demand for information is incredible,” Steele says.

“It’s a really important story and it’s one where the demand for information is incredible,” Steele says. “When we did our first Science on Tap and opened up the floor for questions, the very first one was “Tell us about the mine. When we get back our comment cards, the topic that appears most often is mining in the Penokee range.”

Steele says addressing the issue is the “epitome of the Wisconsin Idea—bring information so people can decide for themselves.”

“We’ve told every speaker that this is supposed to be value-neutral and science-based.  A key element of that is our choice of moderator. Larry Konopaki is a senior staff attorney of the Wisconsin Legislative Council, which by law is a nonpartisan group,” Steele says.

The six-person panel will include Dominic Parker, assistant professor in CALS Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. W-Madison. Parker will discuss the potential socio-economic impacts of mining on local communities.

Since a large crowd is expected, the location has been shifted from the Minoqua Brewing Co., the usual Science on Tap venue (hence the name) to the larger Campanile Center for the Arts. The forum will be recorded, so If you can’t make the trip you can view it online on the Science on Tap YouTube channel. Past presentations have had an impressive virtual audience. The most popular session has had 5,000 viewing minutes with viewers from at least five continents. This one may well top that.

How to tame the wild milk market

At 4:30 p.m. on the last business Friday of each month, dairy farmers across the country have 27 hours to decide whether to insure their milk income in a volatile market. “Milk prices can double or fall by half in any given year,” says Brian Gould. He points to the 1995 change in the way milk is priced as the culprit that has forced dairy producers to become experts in risk management just to stay solvent. Gould’s unique, award-winning website gives them a powerful decision-making tool.

“Milk prices can double or fall by half in any given year,” says Brian Gould. “Add to the mix the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program that now claims 40 percentof the corn crop for ethanol, and you have big fluctuations in the price of feed, as well,” he explains. A drought in New Zealand can profoundly stimulate the export market for U.S. dairy products, while drought at home raises the cost of feed and other inputs. “A bushel of corn before RFS cost $2.50, but during the drought of 2012 corn rose to $7.70, which made milking cows a lot more expensive.”

In 2008, the USDA Risk Management Agency responded to price volatility with a new type of insurance to help dairy farmers protect their bottom line: the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy (or LGM Dairy) program.

Knowing how complex a set of variables would be in play to administer such a program, Gould and his colleague Victor Cabrera set out to help both insurers and farmers figure it out. “In the first years, we ran workshops all over the country for crop insurers, who didn’t know how to design policies for this new program,” he said. “Now we’re helping farmers from Vermont to California.”

Gould’s website offers daily updates on the futures prices of feed and fluid milk, which are used to determine LGM-Dairy insurance premiums. A web-based decision tool lets operators estimate future dairy income, feed costs, and insurance premiums under alternative insurance deductible levels. It’s also a boon for insurers. “Without the LGM Dairy website, we would be in the dark ages,” says insurance agent Ronald Mortensen.”We use the calculator designed and maintained by Dr. Gould extensively to show producers what the estimated premium will be for LGM Dairy. I also use the website to review and test past performance of the LGM product. Our customers, the dairymen, use the calculator to estimate premiums and also estimate potential indemnities due them.” Another agent comments that the website “actually allows agents and clients real insight into how milk margin can be managed.” Gould’s LGM Dairy Analyzer is unique in the country and is used nation-wide each month. In 2012, his Understanding Dairy Markets website won the Outstanding Electronic Media Education award from the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

“We’re the go-to site in the country for dairy producers who need a few extra weeks to analyze the terms of contracts before deciding whether and how much insurance to purchase,” says Gould.

Ask the meat man: Top tips for great grilling

With due respect to the solstice, the true first day of summer is the day you drag your grill out of the garage and hunt up your tongs and long-handled spatula. With the first three-day holiday coming up, it’s time for a (BB)Q & A with  UW-Madison Extension meat specialist Jeff Sindelar.

How can I get my grill ready for the season?
The first thing is to make sure that it’s cleaned up and in good working order. Grab a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and clean the grates and the non-cooking surfaces.

What foods work well on the grill?
Meat is a favorite, of course, but vegetables, fruit, breads and a variety of other foods are also very good candidates for grilling. As far as meat and poultry—we can grill fresh cuts, sausages, we can even grill a roast. It really just depends on what you feeling like grilling on that particular occasion.

What’s your number-one tip for great grilling?
Make sure that you select the right temperature. If you are cooking a sausage, like a bratwurst, you want the grill to be fairly hot, but not too hot, because you don’t want the casing to burst open and lose all of those flavorful juices. If you’re grilling steaks, increase the grilling temperatures a bit more to around 375 to 400 degrees to get a little bit of a sear on the outside. If you’re doing more of a slow-cooking procedure with your grill, you might want to turn that grill down to maybe 250 or 275 degrees to avoid drying out the food.

So I should use a thermometer.
That’s absolutely critical. For about 20 dollars, you can invest in a thermometer that will last you many years and will help make sure that you are cooking the meat products to the right temperature. This is important for two reasons. One is for food safety. We want to make sure that we kill any and all bacteria on the outside and inside the meat. We should always fully cook ground products such as hamburgers or fresh sausages to at least 160  °F as bacteria could be on inside of the product (bacteria on the outside can be transferred to the inside when grinding). In addition, all poultry (whole muscle or ground) should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165F.


We also want to cook to the right temperature for quality. If we’re cooking beef steaks or pork chops, or even poultry, we don’t want to overcook those cuts so that they don’t become dry and tough. So generally, we could cook whole muscle meat cuts such as steaks or chops to an internal temperature of 135 to 140  °F if we want them to have a rare to medium rare degree of doneness. If we want something closer to a medium degree of doneness, we might cook them to around 145 to 150  °F. If we want  well done, cook those meat cuts all the way up to about 160 to 165  °F.

Why is grilling big in Wisconsin?
Grilling is a very popular activity in all parts of the country but it’s particularly important here. One reason is that we have such a great variety of products to grill. You can very easily run to a grocery store, local meat processor or farmers market and pick up many different types of meat and poultry products that you can grill, from pork chops or steaks to poultry items to sausages and stuffed items. Grilling is also important from an economic perspective. We have a very large, robust, and historic meat industry. There are nearly 500 meat-processing plants in the state, from very large to very small plants. The meat industry contributes nearly a $12 billion to the state’s economy. By grilling, you support that industry, the employees who work in the meat industry and their families.

What’s your favorite thing to grill?
That’s a tough one. I like a lot of different things. But going out and finding a really good, traditional Wisconsin bratwurst—all-pork, natural casing, grilled to perfection—is just awfully tough to beat.