West Virginia University's commitment to developing and supporting sustainable agriculture manifests itself in the areas of teaching, research and service. Two graduate students have expanded WVU's efforts by earning some highly competitive grants.
Kellie D'Souza and Stephanie Simpson, master's candidates in reproductive physiology at WVU's Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, successfully competed for two graduate student grants from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
D'Souza, a Morgantown native who earned her undergraduate degree in animal and nutritional sciences at WVU, will focus on evaluating the economic and technical feasibility of breeding ewes outside of their normal breeding season.
"Breeding ewes outside the normal breeding season allows producers to take advantage of seasonally higher lamb prices, reduce losses of lambs due to attacks by predators and parasitism, and can enhance ewe productivity by placing ewes in an accelerated breeding programs," said Marlon Knights, an associate professor of animal and nutritional sciences and graduate supervisor of D'Souza and Simpson.
For D'Souza, receipt of the grant is part of a continuing evolution in her perspective on agriculture.
"Only within the past few years have I come to fully understand the concept of sustainable agriculture," D'Souza said. "During my undergraduate years, I learned about the food supply chain, from producer to consumer. This not only intrigued me, but also made me more aware of the problems and opportunities faced by the agriculture industry. Now, as a graduate student, it is my goal to develop new techniques that will lead to a more efficient, sustainable industry as a whole."
Simpson, a Weston native who also earned her bachelor's degree in animal and nutritional sciences at WVU, will evaluate the effect of continuous suckling or "ewe-rearing" on growth, the degree of parasitism, productivity and profitability of lamb production.
"Rearing of lambs with ewes until market weight can potentially increase growth rates and improve the efficiency in which concentrate feeds are utilized by lambs, while avoiding the decline in well-being and the high levels of morbidity and mortality often seen in the weaned offspring," Knights said.
Simpson, who currently works in the Microbiology department of WVU's Health Sciences Center while pursuing her master's degree, has been involved in agriculture all her life.
"I grew up on a farm and was very active in 4-H, so I have a background in agriculture; this is the main reason I am interested in sustainable agriculture," Simpson explained.
Both students were guided through the USDA-SARE grant process by Doolarie Singh-Knights, a specialist with the WVU Extension Service and assistant professor of agricultural economics.
"I want to take this opportunity to salute the student-centered work of Professors Knights and Singh-Knights as well as the dedication of gifted graduate students who are so important to the Davis College educational mission," said interim Dean Rudolph Almasy.
"SARE offers competitive grants for new ideas in farming that improves profits, stewardship, and the vibrancy of farm communities," Sing-Knights said. "The Graduate Student Grant is specifically for graduate students who are researching topics in sustainable agriculture that will serve the interests of farmers and agricultural service providers. The selection process is competitive and only about 30 percent of the applicants are funded."
Singh-Knights is a collaborator on the West Virginia Small Ruminant Project and also serves as the Northeast SARE State Coordinator for WVU.