Meet the scourge

IT IS AN INSECT LITTLE BIGGER THAN A GRAIN OF RICE. But the invasive emerald ash borer may as well be Godzilla for all the chaos it has brought to the Upper Midwest’s forested landscapes.

The borer has already laid ruin to the ash that dominated urban and lowland forests in Michigan, where it first turned up near Detroit in 2002, likely a hitchhiker on wooden shipping pallets from China. And in dozens of Wisconsin villages and cities, street terraces are marked by the stumps of ash trees already removed because of infestation.

“The emerald ash borer means the demise of ash trees in North America.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the borer has killed more than 50 million ash trees and is now found in a dozen states, including more than 30 counties in Wisconsin. Though it is not a threat to human health, the ash borer’s inevitable spread is likely to dramatically change the face of both urban and state and national public forests. The insect has already cost Wisconsin communities millions of dollars as they prepare for its assault and as they begin to remove and treat infested and threatened trees.

And it has proven a massive challenge to researchers—including entomologists at CALS—as they bring science to bear on understanding and slowing the march of the tiny, tree-killing insect and reducing its impact where it is established.

View the gallery.

CALS entomologist Chris Williamson, who has studied the insect since 2003, says the word “cataclysmic” is not too strong to describe the eventual devastation that will be wrought by the emerald ash borer.

“The emerald ash borer means the demise of ash trees in North America,” says Williamson, who is also a UW–Extension specialist.

His colleague, CALS entomologist Ken Raffa, has researched and introduced parasitic wasps as potential predators that might help at least slow the insect’s steady march across the continent. But Raffa also said there is little doubt that such efforts are mostly holding actions against a foe that cannot be stopped.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Raffa says.

Even so, in the face of what seems to be nothing but bad news, research at CALS and elsewhere has provided weapons that are proving effective at slowing the insect, giving communities time to plan and homeowners the ability to treat and possibly save treasured trees with insecticides.

In fact, Williamson, surveying a stand of ash trees he has treated and studied at Warner Park on Madison’s North Side, says he actually gets irked when someone says there’s nothing that can be done to save an ash tree. He has spent long hours in the field, testing various insecticides. And he has found that treating an ash tree early enough and repeating that treatment every couple of years can save even large, prized trees that homeowners want to protect. Insecticides such as emamectin benzoate, marketed under the brand name “TREE-age,” have also given urban foresters an effective tool to slow the loss of ash and temper the impact on a community’s cooling leaf canopy.

Treatment has also been found to be less expensive than was originally anticipated. Experts with Arborjet, a company that has worked with a number of communities on treatment, says that an injection treatment, in which the insecticide is shot into the tree through holes bored in the bark, costs on average $50 to $60 every two years for municipalities. The cost is more for individual homeowners, according to Arborjet, but still cheaper than removal and replacement.

Research by Williamson and others has shown that when it comes to protecting an ash from the voracious borer, action must be taken.

“If you have an ash tree you want to preserve and you don’t treat it, it will die,” says Williamson.

WHAT MAKES the emerald ash borer, also known as EAB, such an effective killer?

First, it is an invasive species. As such, it arrived on our shores to find it had won the insect lottery—millions of acres of tasty ash, no natural enemies poised to make a dent in its growing populations, and ash trees with no natural defense against the feeding larvae.

Added to this deadly mix of traits, according to Williamson, is the insect’s near invisibility at the early stages of infestation. The flying insect is only about an eighth of an inch wide, he says, and it lays its eggs high in a tree’s upper branches. The larvae emerge within a month, bore through the tree’s bark and begin feeding on the soft wood beneath, creating a crazy map of looping trails. All of this—from the infestation by flying adults high in the tree to the burrowing by larvae beneath the bark—is nearly impossible to spot, Williamson says. The only way to detect an infestation is through a laborious process of peeling away the outer bark of a tree and looking for the telltale trails left by the gnashing larvae. Unfortunately, by the time such evidence is found, it is too late to save the tree.

This cloak of invisibility, Williamson says, has made the borer a particularly deadly foe. Entomologists have estimated that, based on the extent of the damage to ash stands in Michigan, the borer had been dining on trees for nearly a decade before its presence was discovered, notes Williamson.

In the interim, the larvae were fatally damaging the ash trees’ inner tissues, or cambium, the layers of the tree that carry food down to the roots and water and nutrients up to the leaves.

“It’s like me going to your house without you knowing it and destroying your plumbing.” 


“It’s like me going to your house without you knowing it and destroying your plumbing,” says Williamson.

Williamson notes that if the tree’s cambium is significantly damaged as a result of the feeding larvae, treatment is likely futile. “They’ve destroyed the conductive tissues,” he says.

While Williamson has focused on the study of insecticides, Raffa has worked to find predators that might help slow the borer.

Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture studying the insect in 2003 in its native China haunts found parasitic wasps that feed on the ash borer larvae, Raffa notes. Scientists narrowed their focus to three species that they concluded might be effective and would not attack native insects. Eight states released these parasitic stingless wasps between 2007 and 2010, and in 2011 Raffa, researchers from his laboratory, and members of state agencies cooperatively released specimens of the three species at Wisconsin’s Riveredge Nature Center, near Newburg.

Raffa felled four infested trees in 2013, sectioned the logs and searched for wasps. He found that one species had survived and thrived.

“We knew they had established a population,” says Raffa. “There’s no doubt they were killing ash borers because that’s all they feed on.”

Now more of the wasps are being released by DNR pest specialists. But Raffa warns that, with the rapid spread of the ash borer, it is too late to hope that the wasps will have an immediate impact. Rather, Raffa says, the wasps may multiply and provide control after this initial, destructive wave of ash borer activity. Once the ash borer destroys much of its food source, the wasps may have a better shot at keeping their numbers in check.

“Their numbers are inadequate to affect this first big wave,” Raffa says. “I’m hoping the wasps will be there to kick EAB when it’s down.”

Raffa adds that other researchers, including scientists at Ohio State University, are searching for and studying ash trees that survive the first ash borer attacks. Such trees may offer hope because of a natural resistance that, once understood, could be bred into a new borer-resistant strain of ash.

The problem, both Williamson and Raffa say, is that such science takes time. “And time is not our friend here,” notes Williamson.

Most effective in the short term at slowing the spread are DNR rules aimed at preventing the movement of firewood around the state. Raffa says the insect does not travel far on its own, and that the insect spread through the state is due mostly to its hitching rides on firewood.

A federal and state quarantine on counties where the ash borer is present requires tree nurseries and the wood industry to take precautions that prevent the spread of the borer in nursery stock or logs (see map on page 20). General public restrictions for bringing firewood onto state properties are posted here.

AT STAKE ARE extensive stands of ash that most communities planted in the wake of another tree calamity—Dutch elm disease. Often cited as being similar in impact to the emerald ash borer’s spread, Dutch elm disease first appeared in the late 1920s and moved steadily across the continent through the 1970s. Caused by a fungus and spread by bark beetles, the disease killed 77 million of the much-beloved American elms between 1930 and 1989. Lost in that disaster were the beautiful urban tree stands that graced so many city and village streets, creating cathedral-like arches of shade.

In the wake of that loss, urban foresters planted millions of green
and white ash trees. They grew fast, adapted well to urban growing conditions and resisted droughts. Madison’s streets, for example, are lined with ash. The city’s forestry department estimated that 21,700 of its publicly owned trees are ash. Thousands more are found in parks and on private property. Milwaukee has more than 30,000 ash trees lining its streets.

Statewide, Wisconsin has more than 770 million ash trees, according to the DNR’s forestry division. That’s 7 percent of the total tree population, and they dominate lowland forests. In the state’s urban areas, according to the agency, 20 percent of street trees are ash.

Wisconsin ecological pioneer Aldo Leopold observed that disturbing one part of an ecosystem often has powerful and far-removed consequences. So it is with the loss of the state’s ash trees, according to forestry experts. The loss of a large percentage of a community’s tree canopy can lead to everything from more flooding to increased energy bills for homeowners, according to Marla Eddy, Madison’s city forester.

In a 2004 study of urban trees in Minneapolis, researchers with the U.S. Forest Service found that the benefits of landscape trees dramatically exceed the costs of planting and care over their lifetime. Each year, the study found, 100 shade trees catch about 216,200 gallons of rainwater and remove 37 tons of carbon dioxide as well as 259 pounds of other pollutants.

The researchers calculated that one well-placed large tree provides an average savings of $31 in home energy costs each year. And trees add value to a home, according to the study, which found that each large front yard tree adds 1 percent to the sales price of a house. Big trees can add 10 percent to property value.

So losing such a large percentage of the tree canopy in a community is about more than just appearances. That’s why Milwaukee has chosen to treat as many as 28,000 of its 33,000 trees—to slow the loss of ash and keep as much of the canopy in place as possible as infested trees are removed.

In communities that were hit early by emerald ash borer, saving trees has been more difficult. In Oak Creek, just outside Milwaukee, EAB was discovered in November 2009, making it ground zero for the borer’s assault on Wisconsin. In the absence of tested pesticides at the time, the city started an ambitious removal and replacement program aimed at getting new trees up as soon as possible, according to Rebecca Lane, Oak Creek’s urban forester.

In fact, Lane, in anticipation of the insect’s arrival, had already been taking steps to protect the canopy. “When we heard about EAB, I almost immediately stopped planting ash trees,” Lane recalls. Of the city’s 10,000 street trees, 1,500 were ash. Of these, 750 have been removed and 750 are under treatment. “As treatments became deemed dependable, we began to use insecticides for long and short-term ash treatments,” notes Lane.

Other communities, too, have been able to take advantage of insecticides that have proven effective, thanks to the work of Williamson and other researchers.

Madison is treating all healthy street trees 10 inches in diameter or larger, and anticipates saving as many as 60 percent of its street ash tree population, according to city forester Eddy.

“We have to think long-term,” says Karl van Lith, organizational development and training officer for the city of Madison. “We’re thinking about the tree canopy for the next generation.”

WHILE RESEARCHERS have provided some help for urban forests, the more dense stands of ash in county, state and national forests will be much harder to save, according to Andrea Diss-Torrance, a plant pest and disease specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.The chemical treatments used in urban forests require application to individual trees, which is impossible when you’re talking about entire forests. Williamson says some research has looked at the effectiveness of aerial spraying a specific strain of Bacillus thuringiensis, similar to a bacterial strain used to control gypsy moth caterpillars. The pathogen is sprayed over the canopy and kills flying adults.

The practice remains limited, Williamson says, and comes with its own set of problems, not the least of which is the potential environmental impact of widespread spraying, as opposed to the controlled treatment of individual trees.

The bottom line is that saving extensive stands of ash trees in Wisconsin’s public forests is going to be very difficult, acknowledges Diss-Torrance. “Our forests are going to be greatly changed,” she says.

Diss-Torrance confirms that, just as the loss of urban ash trees will have environmental impacts, the death of thousands of forest trees is likely to cause damaging changes to the state’s forest ecosystems.

Of special concern are lowland forests, such as black ash swamps. Research has already shown that the loss of black ash in these wetland areas can result in a rise in water levels because the trees are no longer there to soak up the water. That change, in turn, results in the growth of problem species such as reed canary grass, which muscles out other plants and so changes the wetland that it is no longer able to support its native cohort of plants and creatures, from amphibians to insects.

“You end up with very different communities,” Diss-Torrance says. The loss of black ash would be

keenly felt by several of Wisconsin’s Native American tribes, which have traditionally used the supple wood of the ash to make baskets for storing food.

“These baskets have always been a symbol of home and abundance,” Diss-Torrance says. “They’re central to the harvest and to Native tradition.”

In southern Wisconsin, green ash is prominent among the trees that line lakes, rivers and wetlands.

“We have a lot of lakes and a lot of wetland areas,” Diss-Torrance notes. “And they’re all dominated by green ash. Those trees help stabilize banks. What happens when they fall into the water?”

So the stakes are high as the battle continues against this tiny foe.

Williamson is spending less time on borer-related research but continues to spread the word about the use of insecticides—and he still spends a lot of time consulting with communities as they battle the insect.

In fact, Williamson says, with considerable misinformation circulating, the job of educating the public about the insect has been an important task of CALS scientists. He figures that between 2003 and 2013, he gave nearly 170 talks about the emerald ash borer.

One important lesson to come from the ash borer, Williamson says, is the need to diversify an urban forest’s population. It’s a lesson that should
have been learned after the spread of Dutch elm disease, he notes. Now the rule of thumb is that no single species should represent 10 percent or more of a community’s total tree inventory.

Both Eddy, the city forester in Madison, and Lane, her counterpart in Oak Creek, say creating that diversity in their plantings is a priority in the wake of the emerald ash borer.

Both also say that the disastrous spread of the insect has given them new insight into the touching connections between people and the natural world, especially their attachment to the beauty and solace of trees.

“That human factor is so much larger than I thought when I first started doing this,” says Lane. “I thought of this as mostly a technical career.”

But around Yahara Place Park, on Madison’s near East Side, neighbors have seen ash trees beginning to fall and have decided to mobilize to protect what trees they can, according to Paul Nichols, one of the neighborhood organizers.

He and others went door to door collecting money to pay for treatment of healthy ash trees in the park alongside Lake Monona. Storms have recently roared through and destroyed a number of towering cottonwoods. So the remaining ash trees—about 22—took on added significance. Nichols and others took advantage of the city’s “Adopt-a-Park Tree” program—which allows residents to pay for treatment of treasured park trees—to make sure that the ash got treated.

Why make such an effort? Nichols, strolling the park on a pleasant summer morning, pointed to the stumps of the removed trees and recalled the beauty of the big trees and their arched branches—old friends that were once visible from the front window of his home.

Nichols and others say they miss the trees and understand they may not be around when the ash that are saved grow to maturity. But, he adds, they know that others will someday know and appreciate the view of the blue lake framed between stately trunks, or the pleasure of sitting beneath a shady canopy on a lazy summer afternoon.

“What we’re really talking about,” Nichols says, “is doing something for the generations to come.”

This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Grow magazine.


Google Glass goes to class

Teaching students how to determine if a sow is in estrus is tricky. Bringing a class into the barn to watch would be distracting for the sows, and chaotic, given that space is limited and the procedure involves letting a boar or two loose in the barn to see which sows are interested. So animal sciences professor John Parrish uses video. But that too has posed problems.

“I would have another person perform the procedure while I recorded what they were doing,” explains Parrish, who teaches Reproductive Animal Physiology. “The problem is that I know what I want to record, but I can’t control what the other person is going to do, and they don’t do exactly what I want. And I can’t have someone else tape me, because they won’t get the image that I want.“

Now Parrish has a better way. He pops on a Google Glass unit and records and narrates the procedure as he performs it. His students watch online so they can figure out which sows are ready and then head to the barn to perform their next lab assignment: artificial insemination.

The Google Glass unit he uses is provided by the CALS Computer Lab, which used campus Instructional Lab Modernization Funding to acquire the technology to encourage instructional innovation.

While the Google Glass was purchased primarily to be used for instruction, researchers who have a good idea for their use can also sign them out to familiarize themselves with the tool. If you need inspiration, there are plenty of innovative instructional uses for GG described online.

The CALS Computer Lab was one of the original campus open computer labs dating back more than 20 years. There are a dozen computers available for walk-in use, a group study area, and two computer classrooms that can be reserved for trainings or classroom use. The lab also checks out equipment to students and university employees.  Thirty-five laptop computers are available for 3-day checkouts.  A few portable LCD projectors, camcorders, video recorders and Apple iPads are also available for check out.

Tom Tabone is the lab manager as well as the College’s instructional technologist. Those interested in reserving computer classroom time or in trying out the Google Glass should contact Tom (


STEP AWAY FROM THE DONUT: UW police learn to cook healthy meals

While most officers in the UW-Madison Police Department forgo the stereotypical coffee-and-donuts breakfast, it’s true that many still struggle with healthy eating.

And no wonder. After a ten-hour shift, it’s hard to muster the energy to go home and cook a meal from scratch. Healthy lunches are also a problem, since many officers are out and about at lunchtime, without access to a refrigerator or microwave.

What’s a hungry cop to do?

This fall 18 members of the UWPD sought the answer by signing up for a hands-on cooking course led by CALS food science instructor Monica Theis. The 10–week course, which is being run as a pilot project, fits in nicely with the UWPD’s larger wellness program. Each class begins with brief instruction on foods, food preparation and nutrition. Then participants hit Babcock Hall’s cooking lab to prepare a potluck’s worth of healthier-for-you dishes that everybody samples at the end of class.


Officers David Kromm and Ruth Ewing with the “mac n’ cheese” they cooked together.

“I signed up so I could get different, healthier recipes to make for my family, and quicker options for making things at night after work,” says Ruth Ewing, UWPD’s day shift lieutenant, who made “macaroni and cheese” sans cheese: it featured boiled, pureed squash instead.

Participants show up on Wednesday evenings with a can-do and will-try attitude. Each session highlights a particular type of meal or food group. They’ve covered vegetables, animal-based proteins, plant-based proteins, pasta and sauces, and chilis, soups and stews.


With guidance from dietetics student Maria Gruetzmacher, UWPD lieutenant Mark Silbernagel rolls out pizza dough he made from scratch.

The course was the idea of special events lieutenant Mark Silbernagel, the team leader for the UWPD’s healthy culture and climate effort. He’d heard about Theis’ cooking classes for students and reached out to her. “We knew we had tons of passionate experts here on campus [who could help],” he says.

Theis loved the idea, not just as a way to serve the campus community, but also as a great learning opportunity for students. Students in a dietetics lab class help set up the cooking stations each week, and students from the food science and nutritional sciences departments participate in the cooking sessions and help develop educational materials requested by the officers.

Dietetics senior Kylee Secrist said she learned a lot by helping to create a one-page flowchart that recommends safe, healthy lunch options, taking into account whether officers will be in the office or on the go at lunchtime.

“It was interesting to have insight into what people in the community need and want to know about consuming healthy food in the context of their lifestyle,” Secrist says.

Theis says it’s rewarding to see the participants incorporate some of the new recipes and nutritional advice into their routines. “They come back each week and talk about what they tried at home,” she says. “To me that’s one of the best success stories.”


At a recent cooking session, Karen Soley sauted leeks to add to mashed potatoes.

UWPD Support Services Captain Karen Soley had a great example: She’s introduced her husband to tempeh and Brussels sprouts since joining the class.

“He said, ‘Unless you bury these things in nacho cheese sauce, I do not like Brussels sprouts.’ I said, ‘Just trust me.’ So I followed the recipe that we made in class, and he took the first bite and he stopped and looked at me and he said, ‘Huh, these are kind of good,’” says Soley. “And then he had seconds.”


Natural beauty: Plant geneticist creates colorful veggie earrings

If you’ve ever gaped at the interior of a purple carrot or a beauty heart radish while preparing dinner, you have a sense of what inspired plant geneticist Shelby Ellison to start making earrings out of vegetables.

“When I first started working with various pigmented carrots, I couldn’t believe how beautiful they were,” says Ellison, a postdoc in horticulture professor Phil Simon’s lab who studies the genetic control of carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments, the health-promoting compounds that turn carrots and other vegetables orange, purple, red and yellow.

Over the years, Ellison has looked at carrots from all over the world – and found some really stunning patterns. She started turning some of them into earrings about two years ago, and she’s also given beets and potatoes a try.

How does it work? Ellison cuts the veggies into shapes and then dries the pieces in an industrial dehydrator. Next, she coats the slices with lacquer to protect them from moisture and fading. Finally, she adds the metal earwires.

“The first few pairs I made are now over two years old and they still look pretty cool. The orange and yellow pigments begin to fade as they are exposed to the sun, but they still draw a lot of attention,” says Ellison, who says people often think the earrings are made out of decorative wood.

She wore a pair of carrot earrings at the recent Science of Supper Clubs event at the Wisconsin Science Festival, where they sparked a number of conversations with festival attendees and served as a handy science outreach “prop.”

“It’s a really nice way to introduce non-scientists to my research,” she says. “I can then explain how different pigments confer different nutritional benefits, and that we focus on these pigments to create more nutritious carrot varieties.”

You can learn more about colorful carrot and their pigments from Ellison in this recent podCALS interview: 

For more information about the earrings, contact Shelby Ellison at

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All photos by Stephanie Stegeman Photography.

36 years of teaching good taste

Be sure to view this episode of WPT’s Wisconsin Life about a class that’s been taught for 36 years by Emeritus Professor of Food Science Bob Bradley. The sensory evaluation class trains students to be taste testers of dairy products. Students who have what Professor Bradley regards as “good buds” get to join in the team that competes nationally.

Climate change alters the cast of winter birds

Over the past two decades, the resident communities of birds that attend eastern North America’s backyard bird feeders in winter have quietly been remade, most likely as a result of a warming climate.

Carolina wrens, which have greatly expanded their wintering range, sit atop a snowman’s head. Photo: Michele Black/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Carolina wrens, which have greatly expanded their wintering range, sit atop a snowman’s head. Photo: Michele Black/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Writing this week in the journal Global Change Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biologists Benjamin Zuckerberg and Karine Princé document that once rare wintering bird species are now commonplace in the American Northeast.

Using more than two decades of data on 38 species of birds gathered by thousands of “citizen scientists” through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, the Wisconsin researchers show that birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north, restructuring the communities of birds that spend their winters in northern latitudes.To the causal observer of backyard birds, the list of species becoming more common includes the readily familiar: cardinals, chipping sparrows and Carolina wrens. These birds and other warm-adapted species, according to Princé and Zuckerberg, have greatly expanded their wintering range in a warmer world, a change that may have untold consequences for North American ecosystems.

“Fifty years ago, cardinals were rare in the northeastern United States. Carolina wrens even more so,” explains Zuckerberg, a UW-Madison assistant professor of forest and wildlife ecology.

A mix of birds gather around a snow-covered bird feeder during a winter day. According to UW researchers, birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north — a likely result of climate change. Photo: Martha Allen/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

A mix of birds gather around a snow-covered bird feeder during a winter day. According to UW researchers, birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north — a likely result of climate change. Photo: Martha Allen/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

An estimated 53 million Americans maintain feeding stations near their homes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, suggesting that increases in some species may be attributable to more readily available sources of food. However, that figure has remained constant, reflecting only a slight decline since 1991, indicating that environmental factors beyond the availability of food sources are at play.

The Wisconsin researchers measured the changes over time in the abundance of 38 bird species at feeders in eastern North America, specifically looking at the influence of changes in winter minimum temperature over a 22-year period on the flocks of birds that gather at backyard feeding stations.

“We conclude that a shifting winter climate has provided an opportunity for smaller, southerly distributed species to colonize new regions and promote the formation of unique winter bird assemblages throughout eastern North America,” Princé and Zuckerberg write in their Global Change Biology report.

“People will likely start seeing new species in their backyards,” says Princé, a UW-Madison postdoctoral fellow. “There can also be subtle changes in species abundance.”

The changes in the mix of overwintering bird species is occurring against a backdrop of milder winters with less snow, more variable and intense precipitation events, and a shorter snow season, overall. Climate models predict even warmer temperatures occurring over the next 100 years, with seasonal climate effects being the most pronounced in northern regions of the world.

“We’ve been able to document in past studies that species are shifting in response to climate change,” Zuckerberg says. “This study documents changes in the (winter bird) community structure. If you have a species coming into a new area, it can modify the composition of the community.”


A northern cardinal glides above a snowy landscape. “Birds have always been very good indicators of environmental change,” says UW-Madison wildlife biologist Benjamin Zuckerberg.

Photo: John Capella/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Photo: John Capella/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

In any ecosystem, Zuckerberg notes, removing or introducing even a single species can have a cascade of ecological consequences, many of them unknown.

“These backyard birds are the canaries in the coal mine,” Zuckerberg says. “Birds have always been very good indicators of environmental change. Whenever you have a reshuffling of a community of species, you have less of a sense of what change is going to be.”

Princé notes that other environmental changes, such as the pervasive human impact on landscape, for example, may also be exerting an influence on the observed changes in the composition of birds attending winter feeding stations in eastern North America.

“Climate change should not be viewed as the sole driver of changes in winter bird communities, but this signal is a pretty strong one for climate change,” she explains. “The changes we document are so broad in scope that anything that is occurring at a local level is swamped out by the scale of this analysis.”

Educating the state’s winemakers

Ryan Prellwitz has a piece of advice for amateur winemakers who decide to scale up and make it a business. “Forget everything you learned as a home winemaker.

“It’s a tough transition to make, and you need to find someone with the right expertise who can help you take that next step,” says Prellwitz, president of the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association, who dabbled in winemaking before founding Vines and Rushes Winery in Ripon in 2012.

While Prellwitz chose to hire a private winemaking consultant, many new winery owners make the decision to try to go it alone. Soon, however, they’ll have another option: They’ll be able to call on a University of Wisconsin-Madison outreach specialist whose job is to support the state’s wine and hard apple cider industry. The position was recently funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

“This person will work closely with the wine and cider producers in the state to improve the quality of their products,” says UW-Madison food science professor Jim Steele, who leads the university’s new Farm to Glass project.

Wisconsin now has about 110 wineries—up from 13 in 2000—and has been adding around a dozen new ones each year in recent years. Many of these operations could use some help, says Prellwitz. So could the state’s amateur winemakers, adds George Scovronski, a member and recent past president of the Wisconsin Vintners Association, an organization for serious winemaking hobbyists.

Prellwitz and Scovronski together came up with the idea for a university-based expert.

“We were asking ourselves, ‘How do we take the next step?’ How do we help winemakers improve their protocols and processes, resulting in a better end product?” says Prellwitz. “We came to the conclusion that what we really need is somebody who reaches out to wineries, who can work with them on an individual, per-problem basis, as well as on a continuing education basis.”

The idea struck a chord at CALS. Faculty in the food science and horticulture departments helped write the grant proposal, which included the offer of matching funds from the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association, the Wisconsin Vintners Association and the Wisconsin Winery Association.

The specialist will help operators of wineries and cider companies with microbial issues, cleaning and sanitation issues, protocol and equipment issues, and will train winemakers how to detect off-flavors and to address the underlying causes. The project will also give the industry access to UW labs and experts.

Farm to Glass fits nicely with the college’s effort to develop a fermented foods and beverages program through the food science department, Steele says. The idea is to bring together the college’s research, teaching and outreach efforts related to fermentation.

“There hasn’t been a lot of wine science in the state of Wisconsin, but there are lots of commonalities between wine, beer, cheese, sauerkraut, soy sauce—all of the things that make up this huge, dynamic fermentation industry that we have in the state,” says Steele, who hopes to have the new outreach specialist in place by January.

It can’t come too soon for Scovronski, who makes close to the legal limit of 200 gallons of wine each year to share with family and friends.

“I have a couple of things that are baffling me. I need this new outreach specialist right now,” he says.

Proven again: Badgers know their dairy cows

Cow-judging champ Laura Finley with her coaches, Brian Kelroy (right) and Chad Wethal.

Cow-judging champ Laura Finley with her coaches Brian Kelroy (left) and Chad Wethal.

Students from America’s Dairyland are the best in the nation at judging dairy cows. That was proven last week when the UW-Madison team swept the National Intercollegiate Dairy Judging Contest at World Dairy Expo. The UW students took first place as a team—for the 11th time—both in the overall competition and in reasons, the crucial part of the competition in which contestants explain their rationale for ranking the cows as they did. UW students also had the highest individual scores in both categories: Laura Finley (highest score overall) and teammate Cassie Endres (highest score for reasons). The champion team also included Mackenzie Cash and Mariah Fjarlie. The team was coached by Brian Kelroy and Chad Wethal, both UW team alumni.

Each participant in the contest judges 12 classes of four cows. For each class, the contestant has to rank the four cows from best to worst. They have to remember details about all 48 cows until the end of the event, when they meet with panels of judges to give the reasons for their rankings.

2014 Collegiate High Team-Madison

Members of the High Team at the 94th National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Contest included (left to right) Brian Kelroy (coach), Laura Finley, Cassie Endres, Mackenzie Cash, Mariah Fjarlie and Chad Wethal (coach). Photo courtesy of Agri-Graphics.


By the numbers: A look at Wisconsin’s Latino population

Wisconsin’s Latino population is 74 percent larger and significantly more homegrown today than it was at the beginning of the century, according to a report by University of Wisconsin-Madison demographers.


Latino population growth by county, 2000–2010

The number of Latinos residing in Wisconsin increased from 193,000 to 336,000 between 2000 and 2010, and the share of them who were born in Wisconsin rose from 40 percent to 45 percent, according to the report by the UW-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory. The share born outside the U.S. dropped from 40 percent to 36 percent, while the portion born in other states remained around 20 percent.

“In many rural counties, in-migration by Latinos has stemmed population declines…” 

Ninety percent of Wisconsin’s Latinos live in urban counties—37 percent in Milwaukee County alone—compared to about 70 percent of all Wisconsin residents, the report notes. But while relatively few Latinos live in rural areas, some of the highest rates of growth are occurring far from urban centers. In Trempealeau County the Latino population rose from 240 to 1,667, a six-fold increase. In Lafayette County it went from 92 to 522, a five-fold increase.

“In many rural counties, in-migration by Latinos has stemmed population declines and filled gaps in the labor market caused by young non-Hispanic whites moving out,” says David Long, one of the report’s authors.

The 58-page report, Latinos in Wisconsin, uses graphics and text to provide a statistical portrait of Latinos across the state, with details on factors such as income, employment, education, language proficiency, housing and health insurance. There’s also a companion set of Latino Population Briefs, one for every county.

“Most of the people who are doing community programming with Latinos, such as service providers and educators, are interested in local characteristics and trends,” Long says. “The county profiles offer a way to drill down a little deeper to a more local level.”

Population shares by age and sex, Wisconsin 2010

Population shares by age and sex, Wisconsin 2010


Among other findings in the report:

  • The age distribution of Latinos differs markedly from that of the state as a whole. While the biggest age groups in the general population consist of baby boomers—ages 46–64—the largest among Latinos are children under age 10.
  • Trends in education are in the right direction, but Latinos still lag behind the general population. “The estimated share of Latinos with less than a high school diploma declined from 45 percent to 40 percent, but that’s still four times greater than the share of the total population without a diploma,” Long notes.
  • Latinos make up 18 percent of the student population in the state’s urban school districts and 6 percent in both suburban and rural districts. The Delavan/Darien school district has the highest proportion of Latino students (44 percent), followed by Abbotsford (35 percent).
  • The poverty rate among Latinos is more than twice that of the overall population, and the median income for Latino households in 2010 was only 72 percent of that of all Wisconsin households. That’s a bigger gap than a decade ago, when Latino households’ income was 80 percent of that of all Wisconsin households.
  • Latinos comprise a growing share of the Wisconsin labor force and are particularly concentrated in service occupations, but unemployment rates among Latino men and women remain about 50 percent higher than for the population as a whole.
  • The share of Wisconsin Latinos who speak only Spanish or speak English “not well” declined from 21 percent to 17 percent, although absolute numbers in this category increased. About half of the state’s Latinos speak Spanish at home but speak English “well” or “very well,” while about a third speak only English at home.

Data in the report came for the 2010 census and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and various state agencies. Both reports are available online at

An amazing summer on “The Amazing Race”

Amy DeJong and Maya Warren had a truly epic summer, but they can’t tell you about it.

The UW-Madison food science grad students spent the month of June zipping around the globe as part of the cast of the 25th edition of The Amazing Race, the multi-Emmy Award winning CBS television reality show. Along the way, they competed against 10 other two-person teams in various mental and physical challenges, with the goal of beating their rivals to the final destination—and claiming the $1 million prize.

“A big part of being a scientist is being comfortable in situations with a lot of details and a lot of unknowns…Those things directly apply to the race.”

Suspense is a critical element of the show, so DeJong and Warren—like all of their fellow cast members—have to be very tight-lipped, at least for now. But one thing they can say: Their scientific training proved to be an asset.

“A big part of being a scientist is being comfortable in situations with a lot of details and a lot of unknowns, where you have to persevere. If an experiment fails, you have to keep trying,” says DeJong, who studies candy crystallization in the lab of food science professor Rich Hartel. “Those things directly apply to the race. You have to keep going. You can’t give up.”

It was Warren’s idea to try out for the race. She’s an avid fan of the show, and when she learned there would be auditions in Chicago last October, she brought it up in conversation in Hartel’s lab, where she studies the physical properties of ice cream. DeJong, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, was game.

The Amazing Race

Amy DeJong and Maya Warren. Photo courtesy of CBS.

“It sounded like such a unique, fun-sounding opportunity, so I said ‘why not’?” says DeJong.

Right from the start, Warren felt they had a good shot of making it onto the show.

“We weren’t the typical cookie-cutter couple,” says Warren, a native of St. Louis, Missouri. “We would bring something very different to the table.”

Her hunch was right. They were selected, but had to keep the fact largely a secret, only sharing information on a need-to-know basis. When they both took off in late May, most people thought they were heading off for normal, separate summer vacations.

Word got out on May 31, when the 2014 race launched and CBS revealed the identities of the cast members.

Fast-forward four weeks. When DeJong and Warren returned to campus, reentry was a little tough, particularly for Warren.

“I missed the thrill. I didn’t necessarily want to get back into the hustle and bustle of research,” she says. “But now it’s cool, and it was fun to see everybody’s excitement and to feel all of the support. People would stop us in the hallway to say ‘congratulations,’ and ask a bunch of questions that we couldn’t answer.”

Fortunately, it’s almost time to watch their adventure unfold. The season premier of The Amazing Race airs on Friday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. CST, with the finale in early December. DeJong and Warren’s team is named—and can be followed on Twitter using the hashtag—#SweetScientists.

DeJong plans to watch the premier with friends and family in Madison. Warren is hosting a “red carpet event” for around 60 family members at her parents’ home in St. Louis.

The following week, the food science department plans to throw a celebratory pizza party, where faculty, staff and students can (re)watch the premier alongside the new celebrities.

“It was an experience of a lifetime, and I hope it helps inspire other people to do the things they’ve always wanted to do,” says Warren. “The sky isn’t even the limit.”

The Amazing Race

Amy DeJong and Maya Warren (in magenta) among their fellow competitors. Photo courtesy of CBS.