Freshman Scholars Program 2014

Impact of Brassinosteroids and Biostimulants on Greenhouse and Field Performance of Select Crops

Instructor:  Tim Durham, Ph.D.


Project Description:

Students with a background or interest in agriculture, horticulture, plant/microbe interactions and ecology, plant hormones, plant physiology, field and/or greenhouse cropping, ecological and alternative/organic farming, or biostimulants.

Long relegated to the annals of plant physiology as a curiosity and footnote, brassinosteroids are now touted as a 6th class of plant hormones with a suite of positive growth effects reported in the literature. A veritable workhorse in the plant, these compounds are involved in varied activities such as cell expansion, elongation, cell division, and stress tolerance.  Most importantly, brassinosteroids can potentially enhance yields without the negative externalities associated with synthetic fertilizers.  In addition to brassinosteroids, a number of biostimulants have been introduced to the market.  These are similarly reported to enhance yields through a proprietary blend of soil microorganisms and organic fertilizers.  The microorganisms represent a soil "probiotic" of sorts that enhances nutrient cycling and uptake by the plant.

The goal of this project is to evaluate the potential benefits of brassinosteroids and biostimulants in the greenhouse and field.  How do they perform independently? Are there synergistic effects when used together?  What is the optimal method to administer these products?  What is the cost/benefit analysis?  Are there other intangible benefits like enhanced disease resistance?  This is an exciting opportunity for a Freshman Scholar (or scholars) to consider these questions within the broader context of ecological farming, environmental quality, and food security.

Tim Durham

Tim Durham, Ph.D.

Tim is a lifelong agriculturist.  His family operates Deer Run Farm -- a 30-acre vegetable farm on Long Island, New York.  As one of a handful of farms in the area, it faces unique challenges, especially those associated with urban-edge agriculture. As a result, Tim has a keen interest in the interplay between science, sustainable farming, and policy-making. In 2004, Tim was awarded a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship for agricultural study at Lincoln University, New Zealand.  The Department of Homeland Security awarded Tim a graduate fellowship in 2005.  In the summer of 2006, he was a visiting fellow at Los Alamos National Lab, working with tunable diode laser spectroscopy and crop biosecurity.  In 2007, Tim was awarded an NSF sponsored travel grant to participate in the Rice: Research to Production Course at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. Between 2006 and 2009, Tim traveled to Costa Rica and Honduras as part of a delegation of students and professors examining sustainable agriculture and plant health management in the field. In 2008, Tim graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Plant Medicine, the equivalent of a "plant M.D."


If you have specific questions about this project, please contact Dr. Durham directly at Tdurham@ferrum.edu.

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