KUTZTOWN, PA – Dr. Alexander Hernandez, assistant professor of biology at Kutztown University, has been awarded a $449,542 collaborative grant sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The award is in conjunction with Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist at Rodale Institute, and Dr. Yuzhi Li, associate professor of swine behavior and welfare at the University of Minnesota – West Central Research and Outreach Center. Kutztown University’s share of the grant is $112,315, which will fund Hernandez and three KU students each year for three years between 2018 and 2021. The students will work with Hernandez at KU monitoring the relative incidence of parasites common to production pigs in organic farming operations.
Field trials will be conducted at Rodale Institute, where KU students will learn to identify and quantify parasite infective stages in pig feces and soil, as well as assist in the development of manure and pasture management strategies that could help organic and transitioning pastured pork producers to mitigate swine parasite contamination and transmission. Students will also conduct lab experiments that mimic field trials in incubators at KU.
“Parasites pose a huge challenge to farmers trying to raise organic livestock primarily because they can’t treat their animals with medicinal products to minimize infection,” Hernandez said. “The goal of this project is to come up with easily applied alternative strategies using plants that have potential medicinal purposes so that the animals can self-medicate and reduce the number of parasites.”
In the first year, students will collect feces and soil samples at Rodale Institute and other collaborating organic farms in the Midwest in order to assess the severity of swine parasite infection and contamination across the United States. This very basic information does not presently exist for organic farmers in North America with the scientific literature coming primarily from Europe. At the same time, field trials will measure if swine manure composting is an effective strategy for eliminating parasites because elevated temperatures may reduce the viability of swine parasite infective stages.
In the second year of the grant, students will determine the level of field contamination of swine parasites in an organic centralized housing pastured pork operation prior to establishing experimental pastures for pig grazing. They will also establish experimental pastures of various crops and evaluate the ability to biofumigate swine parasites after plant residues are mechanically incorporated into the soil.
During the third year, students will evaluate the soil and livers of finished pigs for parasite symptoms and repeat the experimental crop study. Symptomatology then will be used to provide a link between the severity of prevalence parasite infection and field contamination.
The grant is part of NIFA’s support of initiatives to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA supports programs that address key national challenge areas by finding innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global problems; specifically, they support scientific progress made through discovery and application.
For more information on KU’s biology programs, visit www.kutztown.edu/biology.