Hawaii Agriculture Posts

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs in Hawaii for 8/17/2021

Supervisory Civil Engineer (Direct Hire)
Department: Department of Agriculture –
Agency: Natural Resources Conservation Service –
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): vacancies – Honolulu, Hawaii
Salary: $95,012.00 to $123,516.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0810-13
Open Period: 2021-08-17 to 2021-08-23
Position Information: Permanent – Full-time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

NPS releases short film on endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers

Maui News –

The National Park Service has released a new short film called “Drawing Connections: Haleakala National Park,” which sheds light on how climate change is impacting the park’s most critically endangered species, Hawaiian honeycreepers.

With only 17 species remaining, some with fewer than 500 individuals left, honeycreepers are a unique group of forest birds found only in Hawaii that once encompassed more than 50 species.

The National Park Service said in a news release that avian malaria, a disease transmitted by invasive Culex mosquitoes, is driving the extinction of forest birds in Hawaii; a single bite by an infected mosquito can kill an ‘i’iwi.

“It is becoming very clear that the changing climate patterns are now allowing disease-carrying mosquitoes to reach our native forest birds at the highest elevations that they occur,” said Chris Warren, forest bird biologist at Haleakala National Park. “This is no longer a matter of disease simply limiting the range of these birds.”

As the climate warms, mosquitoes carrying avian malaria are moving upslope into the last refugia for Hawaii’s forest birds.

“We are on the brink of losing a number of species in the next few years as a direct result of changing temperature and precipitation patterns,” Warren said. “If we cannot control avian malaria and its mosquito vector, we will lose these species, and my heart breaks to say that.”

To watch the film and learn more about climate change and forest birds, visit www.nps .gov/hale/learn/nature/saving-our-forest-birds.htm.

To learn more about climate change impacts in national parks, visit www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/index.htm.

$1 trillion infrastructure deal heads to House, Hawaii expected to receive $2.8 billion if passed

KHON2

An estimated $2.8 billion of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal passed by the Senate on Tuesday might be headed to Hawaii sooner than later.

The Senate gave approval to the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that will fund the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act after weeks of back and forth talks, paving way to some much needed assistance for Hawaii’s roads.

The deal would give states money to repair roads and bridges, make roads more resilient to climate change, improve public transportation options for residents and strengthen high-speed internet access.

“Billions of federal dollars for Hawaii are in this bill to help us fix up our roads and bridges, and create thousands of new jobs across the state,” said Senator Schatz, who voted on the bill. “This massive investment will make it safer and easier for Hawai‘i families to get around, while helping grow our local economy.”

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Included in the plan is legislation, authored by Senator Schatz, that aims to improve road safety standards and make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Key provisions in the infrastructure deal for Hawaii include:

Roads, bridges, and major projects – at least $1.5 billion

At least $1.2 billion in estimated funding will be used to repair and rebuild roads with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience and safety for all road users.
At least $339 million from the Bridge Program will work to repair and replace deficient or outdated bridges.
Hawaii will have access to nearly $16 billion in nationwide funding for major projects.
Access to $7.5 billion for competitive RAISE grants will support surface transportation projects of local and/or regional significance.

Public transit – at least $637.4 million

Funding will be used to help repair and expand Hawai‘i’s public transit system, including a historic investment in cleaner and safer buses.

Airports – at least $246 million

Funding will be used to improve runways, gates, taxiways and terminals and make investments that will reduce congestion and emissions, and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies.
Access to $5 billion in nationwide funding from the Airport Terminal Program for major terminal renovations and expansions.

Broadband – at least $160 million

At least $100 million in funding will be used to help the state deploy and expand broadband access to more Hawaii families
The Department of Hawaiian Homelands is set to receive at least $60 million to provide high-speed internet access to Native Hawaiian families.
At least 280,000 Hawaii residents will be eligible for a new broadband benefit aimed at helping low-income families afford high-speed internet access.
Funding will also support the construction of new broadband infrastructure, including undersea cables.

Water infrastructure – at least $200.4 million

A total of $88 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to improve drinking water treatment, pipes and water storage tanks.
An additional $112.4 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help support municipal wastewater facilities and treatment systems.
Access to $10 billion to address Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Access to $250 million in grants for low-income households for the construction, repair or replacement of individual decentralized wastewater treatment systems

Electric vehicles – at least $18 million

Funding to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Hawaii to enable long-distance travel and to provide convenient charging where people live and work.
Access to an additional $2.5 billion in nationwide grant funding dedicated to EV and alternative fuels charging infrastructure.
Access to $5 billion to replace existing school buses with zero emission and clean school buses, with a priority on low income, rural and tribal schools.

Clean energy and grid – at least $3 million

Funding includes at least $3 million from the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program to pursue state-led initiatives that accelerate our clean energy transition.
Access to $3 billion in matching grants for smart grid investments, including energy storage.
Access to $500 million in competitive grants to make energy efficiency, renewable energy and vehicle upgrades at public schools.
Access to an additional $550 million in nationwide funding for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.

Resiliency – $11 billion (nationwide)

Hawaii has access to nearly $1.3 billion in nationwide funding for coastal habitat restoration to increase resilience.
Access to $1 billion for resilience infrastructure through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program.
Access to $8 billion from the new Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program, which provides formula and competitive funding for resilience improvement grants, community resilience and evacuation route grants and at-risk coastal infrastructure grants.

Street safety – $5 billion (nationwide)

Funds a new program to help state and local governments implement “vision zero” plans and other improvements to reduce crashes and fatalities, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Flood mitigation – $7 billion (nationwide)

Access to $7 billion in nationwide funding to support flood control projects that protect vulnerable communities from sea level rise and extreme weather.

Ports and waterways – $16.6 billion (nationwide)

Access to new funding for waterway and coastal infrastructure, inland waterway improvements, and port infrastructure.

Addressing Legacy Pollution – $21 billion (nationwide)

Access to $1.5 billion in nationwide funding for brownfields remediation.
Access to $3.5 billion for Superfund cleanup.

The bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs in Hawaii for 8/10/2021

Biological Science Laboratory Technician
Department: Department of Agriculture
Agency: Agricultural Research Service
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): 1 vacancy – Hilo, Hawaii
Salary: $40,534.00 to $52,694.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0404-6
Open Period: 2021-08-10 to 2021-08-19
Position Information: Term – Full-time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

Kualoa Ranch uses oysters to organically clean its fishpond and newspapers with banana and coconut leaves to grow taro with less weeding

Kealakai
By Anna Stephenson –

Farmers and researchers are using oysters in a more than 800-year-old loko ia, or fishpond, on Kualoa Ranch, blending Hawaiian heritage and today’s innovation to overcome problems pre-contact Hawaiian farmers did not have to face. The problems include not having enough fish to eat pond algae and a lack of banana and coconut leaves to help grow taro better by keeping down weeds, they said.

In fact, according to Kuuipo Mccarty, fishpond caretaker and “oyster maiden” at the ranch, Kualoa Ranch has become home to Hawaii’s only loko ia that can sell the oysters used to clean the water in the pond as food.

“There are projects in Hawaii using native oysters to clean contaminated water. You shouldn’t eat those oysters.” The oysters Mccarty raises, however, are “delicious and sweet” because so many years have gone into cleaning the water of the ranch’s loko ia.

At some point, carnivorous fish were introduced to the loko ia, she said. Thus, so many herbivorous fish were being eaten there wasn’t enough fish to eat the algae that grows there. Soon, the loko ia had nearly three quarters of its surface covered in a thick mat of algae, preventing sunlight from reaching much of the pond. Because this was not a problem the ancient Hawaiians would have encountered, she said there was no age-old wisdom on how to combat it.

Mccarty credits former Kulaloa Ranch employee Bruce Anderson with the new addition to restore the loko ia to its former function. By adding oysters to the pond, the algae began to clear up.

“An adult oyster can filter-feed about 25 gallons of water a day, on average,” said Mccarty, holding the palm-sized shell of one in her hand. “They feed on the nutrients the algae would eat.”

Dr. Anthony Mau works as the diverse agriculture manager and oversees food production at Kualoa Ranch, including the growth of taro. He received a doctorate from the University of Hawaii with a specialized background in aquaculture.

Mau said aquaculture often gets a “bad rap” because aquaculture projects in the past have polluted nearby waterways with excess fertilizers and nutrients. Oysters, however, actually improve water quality. While the water in Kualoa Ranch’s loko ia already passes a stringent 15-series quality test set by the FDA to allow the ranch to sell its oysters as food, the water at other locations around Hawaii is still in the process of being cleaned, said Mau.

He also came up with a way to preserve ancient Hawaiian tradition while making adjustments to suit available resources to grow taro. “It’s not just for show,” Mau said of their loi kalo, which are rectangular ponds with mud heaped into long “mo’o” or “lizard-style” mounds planted with a row of taro. According to Mau, growing the taro in this way maximizes yields. “It’s authentic, and it makes sense to be authentic. This is what’s meant to grow here. … When planting, you need to listen to what the climate is saying.”

Traditionally, Mau said after the taro were planted, banana and coconut leaves were placed around the stems to prevent weeds from sprouting and water from evaporating. Banana and coconut leaves were a plentiful resource in pre-contact Hawaii, but not so much today because coconuts and bananas no longer grow as plentifully. However, without them, the mo’o quickly become covered in grass, impeding the growth of the taro as they suck up nutrients.

Mau’s solution to the problem, he said, was inspired by a common practice in Japan where gardeners use old newspaper as mulch. By covering the mud with a thick layer of newspaper before adding the banana or coconut leaves, the same effect can be achieved with less leaves. Following this practice allows Kualoa’s farmers to stretch their supply of leaves further. Additionally, Mau said newspaper is plentiful and actually improves the quality of the soil by adding carbon back into it as it breaks down.

“There used to be over 300 varieties of taro, but many of them have died out,” said Mau. “A lot of the loi were converted into rice paddies when the Chinese and Japanese immigrants came, but nowadays a lot of people are growing taro [in those places] again. … Taro, along with sweet potato and ulu [breadfruit], is at the forefront of Hawaiian agriculture.”

Kualoa Ranch’s popular Taste of Kualoa tour, which takes visitors through its agricultural sections and allows them to sample what is being grown and harvested, reopened in April.

Ahupuaa system
For thousands of years, native Hawaiians used a special agricultural system called ahupuaa, which covered everything from the mountains to the sea, to sustain a population similar in size to the one in Hawaii today. Although much of this old land has now been developed, Mau said, the agricultural techniques the native Hawaiians used to grow food still work best.

Amy Campbell, who lives in the town of Volcano on the Big Island, has a degree in sustainability and works for a large conservation group. She studied the ahupuaa systems on Maui and said they are incredible.

“When I first started studying systems, I was shocked at how intricate it was,” she said. “They used the waterflow that naturally occurred to irrigate a number of fields.” She said the taro was typically kept at the top, with other crops, like ulu, at the bottom. According to her, people are typically shocked when they learn how much food the ahupuaa system produces. She said pre-contact Hawaiians and those who maintain the practices today are “incredible botanists.”

The loko ia, or fishpond, is traditionally built where the ahupuaa meets the coastal plain, Campbell explained. “If I was going to scientifically go in and design the ideal fishpond, I don’t think I could match what they did,” she said. “They were ingeniously designed.” Fish enter the loko ia while small and grow large within its walls by eating algae. Because of this, she said Hawaiians ate almost exclusively herbivorous fish that were low on the food chain.

To harvest the fish out of the loko ia, she said they used a plant called ʻākia to stun them. It’s just poisonous enough to the fish to temporarily immobilize them, but completely harmless to humans. After the harvest, the fish that weren’t eaten were released back into the ocean, where the ʻākia wore off and the fish “came magically back to life. That plant was endemic and only found in Hawaii, so they learned about that and used it,” said Campbell.

While using a loko ia to collect fish is no longer a common practice, restoring them is a hot topic among preservationists. In Haleiwa, the Malama Loko Ea Foundation works tirelessly to restore the Loko Ea fishpond. On its website, it describes Loko Ea as “a sacred space for the community of pae ʻāina o Hawaiʻi” because it’s a place to practice culture, share heritage and celebrate community.

The website says the group has two sand-dune ponds in Waialua connected to the ocean through a stream or ditch. “Connected physically through the streams and freshwater springs, they are also spiritually connected, as both are the home to Laniwahine, the moʻowahine female water guardian of the two fishponds. Together, they make up the third largest existing wetland on the island of Oahu.”

The Malama Loko Ea Foundation runs community workdays every Saturday between 9 and 11 a.m. Under current COVID-19 protocols, participants must pre-register groups between three and 10 people on its website.

Other aspects of the ahupuaa system, such as the loi kalo or taro fields, are also actively preserved around Oahu and on the BYU–Hawaii campus. One such example is a community nonprofit in Hakipuu Valley, Hoʻāla ʻᾹina Kūpono. The Hakipuu loi kalo has been tended to using traditional techniques for hundreds of years without interruption, says the Hoʻāla ʻᾹina Kūpono website. According to the Trust for Public Land, more than $1 million was raised in 2016 in order to preserve the loi kalo. Today, the nonprofit is still growing taro and the space is an outdoor classroom for students of restorative agriculture.

BYUH also participates in restorative agriculture by growing various native plants using traditional techniques in the Hawaiian studies garden. A similar arrangement can be observed on a visit to Waimea Valley.

However, restoration isn’t the only way to keep native Hawaiian agriculture alive. Other places where modern farming techniques are combined with tradition, allowing farmers to grow both native and introduced plants, include Kahuku Farms and the farms at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

USAJOBS Daily Saved Search Results for Agriculture jobs in Hawaii for 8/9/2021

Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Soil Scientist
Department: Department of Agriculture –
Agency: Natural Resources Conservation Service –
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): Many vacancies – Multiple Locations
Salary: $64,649.00 to $103,875.00 / PA
Series and Grade: GS-0408/0470-11/12
Open Period: 2021-08-09 to 2021-08-13
Position Information: Permanent – Full-time
Who May Apply: Internal to an agency

Supervisory Fishery Management Specialist, ZP-0401-4 (Direct Hire)
Department: Department of Commerce
Agency:National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Number of Job Opportunities & Location(s): 1 vacancy – Honolulu, Hawaii
Salary: $95,012.00 to $154,844.00 / PA
Series and Grade: ZP-0401-4
Open Period: 2021-08-09 to 2021-08-16T00:00:00Z
Position Information: Permanent – Full-time
Who May Apply: Career transition (CTAP, ICTAP, RPL), Open to the public

Na Wai ‘Eha ruling prioritizes sustainability and culture

Maui News
Shane M. Sinenci

After over 20 years of legal proceedings, the Hawaii Commission on Water Resources Management issued a decision and order on June 28 prioritizing sustainable water resource management and Hawaiian culture for Na Wai ‘Eha, which encompasses all waters from Waihee, Waiehu, Wailuku and Waikapu.

The landmark decision establishes the state’s responsibility to uphold the public trust doctrine by prioritizing the ecosystem and cultural practices, including traditional taro farming and other practices.

On July 20, my Agriculture and Public Trust Committee received a presentation on this historic case and the legal battle that the community has tenaciously, yet patiently, fought for more than two decades.

The battle resulted in a decision shifting state policy from “plantation water management” to “balanced water management,” as stated in the water commission’s news release.

“This is a new era of water use and management,” according to the executive summary of the decision and order. “Behavior shaped in times when values were not in balance must give way to more sustainable and just policies and practices.

“This includes optimizing resource storage and efficient delivery, implementing more efficient irrigation and farming techniques, as well as aligning our priorities with the collective good rather than self-interests.”

“This order works to establish a new paradigm for water resource management and collaboration in Na Wai ‘Eha,” said Kamanamaikalani Beamer, who left the water commission following the Na Wai ‘Eha ruling after eight years of service. “We affirmed that kalo cultivation is a traditional and customary right in this region, recognized appurtenant rights to wai (water) and ensured connectivity of streams to enhance biota and ecosystems services.”

The water commission strove to honor past mediated settlements and Supreme Court rulings by establishing stream flows required to offer a higher degree of habitat protection and providing sufficient divertible flow to meet public trust and other reasonable and beneficial uses. It also acknowledges the rights of kanaka maoli and kuleana landowners as superseding all other rights.

The decision and order mandates that 51 percent of available stream flows be allocated to protect in-stream habitat and related benefits, 14 percent for kalo cultivation, 28 percent for beneficial off-stream uses including diversified agriculture, 7 percent for Maui County water uses and just under 1 percent for private domestic use.

Under ancestral Hawaiian water management, the profusion of fresh-flowing water in the streams of Na Wai ‘Eha gave life to an extensive area of wetland kalo cultivation, which supported one of the largest populations on the island.

Throughout the proceedings, cultural experts and community witnesses provided uncontroverted testimony of the system’s decline in productivity over time.

Native Hawaiians’ ability to exercise traditional and customary rights and practices have beem diminished by the lack of freshwater flowing in the streams and into nearshore waters.

Hawaiian cultural use of water is based upon a value system of sustainability and a healthy ecosystem, but inadequate water has undoubtedly had a detrimental impact in these areas, hurting the perpetuation of our culture and people.

The return of water to the streams and connectivity of mauka to makai enhances our entire ecosystem, which will provide an essential foundation for the continuation of Hawaiian cultural practices and way of life.

Hawaiian culture is based on wai. It feeds not only the body, but the spirit. When water is taken, it affects not only the ability of Hawaiians to provide for themselves but also damages the spirit of a people.

This long-awaited decision brings justice for native Hawaiians, setting water free to once again cultivate kalo, which will nourish the Hawaiian spirit and protect the perpetuation of our culture.

While this is a time for celebration, it’s also an opportunity for all decision-makers — including myself, my colleagues on the council and our partners in the county’s executive branch — to recommit to our own responsibilities under the public trust doctrine to ensure the most beneficial uses of our precious water resources.

Maui Nui, like all of Hawaii, is rooted in Hawaiian culture, and when we protect and prioritize our culture and people, we all win. For if we are to put a poi board and pounder in every household, then we will need to grow more kalo.

* Shane M. Sinenci is chair of the council’s Agricultural and Public Trust Committee. He holds the council seat for the East Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

Hirono co-introduces legislation to fund ag research

The Garden Island

WASHINGTON — There’s an estimated backlog of $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance and modernization needed at various agricultural-research facilities, including the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in Manoa and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service facilities.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) introduced the AG RESEARCH Act to address the multi-billion-dollar backlog.

The Augmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful Act would create competitive grants to be administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund renovations at schools of agriculture and direct funds to the modernization of ARS facilities.

“Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry faces ongoing threats like climate change and invasive species,” said Hirono. “Now more than ever, we must make certain that schools like the University of Hawai‘i have the tools and resources to continue conducting cutting-edge research,” she said. “The AG RESEARCH Act provides overdue investments that will continue America’s global agricultural leadership.”

The AG RESEARCH Act would provide competitive grants to schools of agriculture for altering, modernizing, renovating or remodeling research facilities and equipment. The USDA secretary is directed to distribute the grants equitably based on geography, diversity and size of institutions. The bill would also allow the use of Commodity Credit Corporation funds for continued maintenance of ARS facilities, with priority given to the most-critical projects as indicated in the ARS Capital Investment Strategy.

“We deeply appreciate Sen. Hirono’s leadership to support critical agricultural research that addresses community health, food security and food safety,” said Nicholas Comerford, dean, UH CTAHR. “Such research is dependent on state-of-the-art facilities as well as the creativity of scientists. Support to modernize these facilities is tremendously needed and welcome.”

An initial report in 2015 estimated the deferred-maintenance backlog at schools of agriculture to be $8.4 billion, with a total replacement cost of $29 billion. The report warned that without significant federal investment, the need would continue to grow. An updated report published earlier this year found just that, with the need now totaling at least $11.5 billion, with a total replacement cost of $38.1 billion.

Spicing up farming in N.C.: Professors work to make ginger a profitable, predictable crop choice

News & Record
by Lydian Bernhardt Averitt

GREENSBORO — Foodies and health advocates have long known about the benefits of ginger. Now, two researchers in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at N.C. A&T State University are working to bring North Carolina farmers to the table.

Drawing on their knowledge of the public demand for ginger and its potential profitability, Guochen Yang, Ph.D., and Sanjun Gu, Ph.D., are inviting farmers to give growing it a try.

Yang, a horticulture professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design, and Gu, a horticulture specialist for Cooperative Extension, want to bring ginger off the spice aisle and into more prominence as a niche specialty crop for North Carolina growers. Yang and Gu believe that ginger, though not destined to be a field staple or a production crop, has the earning potential, and the public interest, to help farmers replace some of the income once generated by tobacco.

“Baby ginger sells for $15 a pound, conservatively,” Yang said. “Each plant easily has the potential to generate 1 to 2 pounds of ginger root. Using tissue-culture propagation, we can produce thousands of plants at once. After they have factored out expenses, farmers can make a lot of money.”

Then, there are the value-added health benefits that make ginger not only good to eat, but good for you. Ginger is packed with phytonutrients — natural compounds in plants that can benefit health. Ginger’s phytonutrients are gingerols and shogaols, two compounds that have shown promise in fighting cancer, reducing inflammation, aiding digestion and buffering aspirin. As the public has become increasingly health conscious and aware of these properties, ginger’s appeal has risen, Yang said.

Using a $280,000 USDA Evans-Allen grant, Yang and Gu are testing the viability of a market for U.S.-sourced, tissue culture-propagated ginger. Their research project is one of the few that has not been delayed by COVID-19 restrictions. The professors and their team have spent the year both in the lab and in the field, growing seven ginger varieties and evaluating them for yield, shade tolerance, resistance to disease, tolerance to cold and a host of other qualities. They will seek to extend the project through additional grants to continue their promising start.

A tropical crop, ginger is being produced domestically for U.S. commercial markets exclusively in Hawaii. But Hawaii can meet only about 20% of total U.S. demand; the other 80% is being met by imports.

Growers typically rely on “seed ginger” from Hawaii, the grey, gnarled root with tiny nubs sometimes called the “mother.” These tiny nubs, when properly sliced off, cleaned scrupulously and planted in a growth medium, can grow new plants, each of which can produce a marketable amount of ginger root in a little under a year.

Obtaining seed ginger depends on the situation in Hawaii, Yang said. Weather, disease and other field issues all have an impact.

“If they can’t produce it, we can’t purchase it and then we’re completely reliant on foreign markets,” Yang said. “Tissue-culture ginger has the potential to broaden the places ginger can be grown and remove all those variables.”

Growing plants using tissue cultures, or micropropagation, is Yang’s specialty. In his Carver Hall lab, thousands of tiny, green plants in clear plastic boxes full of growing media chill in a glass cooler or turn rhythmically on a machine under artificial light.

“This is part of the study too,” Yang said, taking one out of refrigeration. “It gets cold in North Carolina during the winter. We need to see which varieties do the best when the weather is colder so that we can work towards extending the growing season.”

Tissue-cultured ginger has shown great promise in the past two years of testing, Yang said, demonstrating better resistance to disease, significantly more vigorous and healthier growth, higher yield per cultivar, and an overall better consistency than seed-sprouted ginger. The amounts of the phytonutrients 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol were significantly higher, too, so tissue-cultured ginger may be healthier for consumers.

“We’re not sure why yet, but the amount of 6-gingerol almost doubled from what is found in traditional seed-sprouted ginger,” Yang said. “That’s something that we’ll study as a next step.”

After tissue-cultured samples reach planting height in the lab, some of them are transplanted into pots in the University Farm’s greenhouses. Madonna, Hawaii Yellow, Big Kahuna and other fragrant varieties are grouped according to tissue-cultured or seed-sprouted origin, and then compared for shade tolerance, adaptability to different types of soil, substrate preference and other qualities.

Other small plants head to the field, where Yang and Gu are growing five varieties next to traditional seed-sprouted plants for comparison in high tunnels, an enclosed section of field designed to shelter the plants and extend the growing season. In the farm’s organic high tunnel area, a forest of green ginger shrubs, several feet tall with slender, almost bamboo-like stalks and long, spiky leaves, grow in well-manicured rows. When crushed, the leaves emit a familiar ginger-y smell.

One of the challenges of producing ginger in North Carolina is that, summer humidity to the contrary, it’s not the tropics. North Carolina growers can rely on a fairly predictable eight-month growing season from early April to early November, Gu said, but the longer the plants can stay in the field, the more money the growers can make.

Because North Carolina’s growing season is not long enough to produce mature ginger, Gu and Yang are focusing on “baby” ginger, the same root only younger. When baby ginger is dug up from the ground, a round, radish-sized, reddish-white ginger root is at the end of each slender stalk. It is smaller, thinner-skinned and slightly less pungent than the larger, gnarled root sold in grocery stores.

“Each variety has unique characteristics and different responses,” Gu said. “Some prefer a little shade, others prefer none. Some grow better in the microclimate we’ve created in the high tunnel. We work to find the best growing conditions, and when we answer our questions, we can arrive at best recommendations for farmers.”

Farmers are taking notice. Yang and Gu have been collaborating with Plum Granny Farm, an organic small farm in King, since the USDA grant launched the project in 2017. Farmer Ray Tuegel and his wife, Cheryl Ferguson, have successfully grown two varieties of baby ginger using the researchers’ methods. They share their experiences in two or three ginger-growing workshops each year on their farm. The workshops have been popular, each drawing between 30 and 40 farmers, pre-COVID-19.

In addition, Gu and Yang have introduced small farmers to high-tunnel ginger growing during Cooperative Extension’s Small Farms Week, held each spring at N.C. A&T.

One thing sparking the farmers’ interest is the plant’s versatility.

“Ginger is very high in value-added components,” Gu said. “You can extract the oil from the roots, you can use the root itself, and there are possible uses for the greens as animal feed supplements. That will be an area for further study.”

Although they are excited about ginger’s possibilities, Yang and Gu are equally eager to resolve some of the questions their research has raised in the project’s next phase.

“Why are tissue-culture plants bushier and healthier than seeded plants? Why are the levels of phytonutrients higher? These are things we need to know,” Yang said. “Our next steps will be to figure them out. I’m very happy with our progress.”