Western innovator: Researcher looks at big picture

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press University of Idaho entomologist Sanford Eigenbrode demonstrates the ability to map and track aphids and virus risk on the university campus in Moscow, Idaho, on Oct. 5.

Climate change work, cooperation help scientist 'reinvent the box'

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Sanford Eigenbrode first fell in love with entomology when he was a boy.

"I can remember my surprise as a little kid discovering every day you could find an insect you hadn't seen before," he said. "You could do that for the rest of your life."

Eigenbrode was drawn by the diversity and the alien beauty of the insect world.

"If everyone had a microscope instead of a television, everyone would be an entomologist," he said. "You just look at them and see them completely differently, realize you're sharing the planet with something totally fantastic and beautiful in a way we're not used to thinking about."

As a youth, Eigenbrode worked on dairy farms in upstate New York in the summer, becoming familiar with agriculture, and becoming aware of the changing face of science.

More recently, he's expanded his approach to think about issues on a broader scale, such as how entomology works with other disciplines to ensure science-based approaches for agriculture.

Eigenbrode was selected last year to lead the $20 million Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture project, which incorporates every aspect of the dryland cereal production system that is vulnerable to a changing climate.

The project's first annual meeting will be Feb. 29 to March 2 in Pendleton, Ore. Eigenbrode hopes to show how alternative cropping systems will perform in future climates so that growers can adopt them, increasing soil carbon levels and nitrogen efficiency.

"We have the opportunity to think outside the box by essentially reinventing the box," he said.

The team plans to produce new Internet-based tools to help producers use climate information to make decisions. Eigenbrode also hopes to improve on the transfer of information between researchers and producers.

"Not only is he a respected scientist in his own right, he's also a recognized expert in this art of pulling scientists together to focus on a societal objective," said Franklin Boteler, assistant director of the Institute of Bioenergy, Climate and Environment for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Eigenbrode's research on aphids is slated to end in the fall. The virus the insects carry can reduce yields by 20 percent, and Eigenbrode is determining how producers can best combat them.

Information he gathered for peas as part of his project can be applied to cereal crops, Eigenbrode said. Eigenbrode will post calculators on his aphid tracker website in the next few weeks to help farmers decide on early and midseason treatments for aphids.

Todd Scholz, director of research and information for the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council, said Eigenbrode applied several years for funding from the council to research pea enation mosaic virus but was rejected.

"And then we had the virus infection and we said, 'Oh, maybe that wasn't such a good idea,'" Scholz said. "He never gave up."

Eigenbrode's efforts have led to tools that help farmers reduce the aphid's impact, Scholz said. "We know more than we ever did, and we can build on that."

Sanford Eigenbrode

Job: Professor of entomology, University of Idaho

Age: 63

Hometown: Ithaca, N.Y.

Current location: Moscow, Idaho

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees and Ph.D., Cornell University

Family: Wife Sara Pepper, daughter Clare, 13

Websites: Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture: www.uidaho.edu/reacchpna

Aphid Tracker: www.cals.idaho.edu/aphidtracker

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