Iowa State University

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777


Agriculture, veterinary medicine and natural resources news from Iowa State University

Getting the numbers on niche pork

Niche pork -- the kind raised with potential value-added attributes -- has become a staple on many restaurant menus. But Iowa farmers who have entered new markets for organic meat or meat from animals farrowed outdoors face the challenge of documenting production costs to support higher prices for their products (expected to be more than $5 per animal according to one Iowa State University study). And they find little integrated technical and research support for production or herd health issues. A $400,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will pair ISU researchers, veterinarians and extension field specialists with niche pork producers to help them better understand and manage their herds. As part of the two-year project, 80 swine producers will keep extensive records of their feed, facility and labor costs. And the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will analyze pigs from 40 antibiotic-free farms and sick pigs from 100 other antibiotic-free farms.

"Alternative swine enterprises hold great promise for beginning farmers because of their lower start-up costs," said John Mabry, director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State, which will oversee the project. "We think that what we learn from this project will enhance the business expertise and potentially improve the long-term prosperity of small and midsize farms." Other partners include the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Practical Farmers of Iowa, ISU Hoop Group, ISU Extension, University of Nebraska Department of Animal Science, Iowa Farm Business Association and companies that sell niche pork products, including Eden Natural, Niman Ranch and Organic Valley. Contact Mabry, (515) 294-4103; or Rich Pirog, Leopold Center, (515) 294-1854. (Pirog is one of several project co-directors and leads another ISU project that focuses on the entire value chain for niche pork and similar products.)

ISU researcher explores therapeutic proteins in soybeans

Soybeans are very efficient at packing soy proteins in their seeds. An Iowa State University plant scientist is exploring ways to use that packaging system to store therapeutic proteins made in the seeds of soybean plants engineered to produce biopharmaceuticals. Diane Bassham, assistant professor of genetics, development and cell biology, has received funding from ISU's Plant Sciences Institute for a two-year study. She hopes to be able to make pharmaceutical proteins in soybeans. "We're looking to see if we can make foreign proteins in a plant without the plant breaking them down," she said. "In effect, we're looking to 'convince' the soybean's cells to make and store very large amounts of useful proteins. We want to test the system and see if this is possible." Bassham will use a green fluorescent protein in the initial tests because it is easier to see. If these tests prove successful, she says soybeans can be genetically engineered with whatever protein someone wishes to make in the plant. This project is part of an overall initiative to produce high-value proteins for pharmaceutical use in Iowa crops. Contact Bassham, (515) 294-7461; or Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778.

ISU aquaculture facility begins its second year

An aquaculture (fish farming) facility at Iowa State University is one of the northern most facilities of its kind in the nation. It was completed in summer 2004 and designed for both research and demonstration. It consists of six identical ponds, a well and a wetland-sediment removal system. The ponds are 8-feet deep, a depth that allows them to be used year-round. Research focuses on aquaculture, aquatic ecology, fish management and water quality. The first residents of the ponds were 18,000 channel catfish, part of research by ISU and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to determine the best management practices for raising catfish for later release into Iowa lakes. This project continues for another year. Future projects will include yellow perch broodstock and bait fish culture using out-of-season practices. Future demonstrations for individuals interested in aquaculture will include pond construction, water quality, fish culture and harvest. The Aquaculture Research Facility is open 8 a.m. -5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is located on the ISU Horticulture Research Station near Gilbert. (From Ames, travel north on Highway 69 to the Gilbert corner. Turn right onto the gravel road and proceed 1.5 miles. The Horticulture Station is on the left.) Contact Joseph Morris, natural resource ecology and management and the North Central Regional Aquaculture Center, (515) 294-4622; Rich Clayton, aquaculture extension and ISU Aquaculture Research Facility, (515) 294-8616; or Susan Thompson, Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-0705.

ISU professor to present at farm animal welfare symposium

Jay Harmon, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University, will be a featured speaker on farm animal welfare at a Sept. 21 Future Trends in Animal Agriculture Symposium in Washington, D.C. The goal of the program, "Certification and Education Programs: Current Status of Farm Animal Welfare," is to help ensure that U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel and policy-makers, animal advocates, staffers and the public have a better understanding of the current status and implications of certification programs and educational initiatives. In the symposium's section on educational programs, Harmon will speak on ISU's education and extension programs related to alternative swine housing and what producers should know before they adopt these practices. Members of the Future Trends in Animal Agriculture committee include representatives from animal welfare and industry organizations, universities and USDA. The committee fosters balanced and enlightened public dialogue on topics related to the nature and future of animal agriculture. Contact Harmon, (515) 294-0554; or Brian Meyer, Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-5616.

Three students from Belgium study biorenewables at ISU

Three graduate students from the University of Ghent in Belgium are studying in the biorenewable resources and technology graduate program at Iowa State University this fall. Elke Vermoesen, Miet de Baere, and Dirk Aerts are enrolled in courses while also working with ISU researchers on projects involving biorenewable resources. They are part of the Renewable Resources and Clean Technology International Exchange Program led by Lawrence Johnson, director of ISU's Center for Crops Utilization Research. The exchange program's overall goal is to further the students' education in biorenewable resources and provide an opportunity to study with international experts in the field. The program also includes students at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the University of Washington, Seattle, and three European universities: the University of Ghent, the University of Graz, Austria, and the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse, France. Next semester, Iowa State students will study in Europe. In addition to the semester-long exchanges, the program offers a two-week intensive course in biorenewables. Five graduate students and five professors from ISU took part in the intensive course held last April in Toulouse. The program is funded through a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education. More information is online at Contact Johnson, (515) 294-4365; or Krysta Nibe, Office of Biorenewables Program, (515) 294-7936.


Quick look

  • Getting the numbers on niche pork
  • ISU researcher explores therapeutic proteins in soybeans
  • ISU aquaculture facility begins its second year
  • ISU professor to present at farm animal welfare symposium
  • Three students from Belgium study biorenewables