Locals study crop production in Colorado | News, Sports, Work

I grew up attending Farm Bureau meetings with my grandparents, playing on the floor with toy tractors as business was discussed. Evenings and weekends were spent running around the farm helping with chores and projects with the promise of dinner and ice cream in return.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, choosing what to pursue next, that I decided a career in agriculture might provide a more satisfying payoff than a sweet treat at the end of the day. Agriculture was not only an important livelihood in my local community, but also the foundation of so many communities around the world.

In 2019, I received my BS in Agriculture from Ohio State University, excited to jump into the field (figuratively and literally) and contribute. I found my home in a smaller system than the one I was raised in, managing the production of four acres of fruits and vegetables for distribution to the Columbus urban community. I felt excited, empowered and inspired to serve community members in need and connect them with fresh, healthy food. Although the opportunity was cut short after just two seasons due to the pandemic, it ignited a fire in me to pursue work with a global impact on agriculture.

The end of 2020 brought me the most significant opportunity of my life: I accepted a graduate research assistantship at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado to begin a master’s degree in plant breeding and genetics.

After moving to Colorado in January 2021, I began work on my project to characterize the genetic variation underlying a water use trait in crop sorghum. Sorghum is a domesticated crop in sub-Saharan Africa, closely related to maize and sugarcane. It is an inherently drought-tolerant crop that is very favorable in regions of the Great Plains that regularly experience limited water conditions. It was a shock to me, coming from a region where we tile fields to divert water, that farmers are in such desperate need of more water-efficient varieties.

The feature I have been studying for the past two years is known as “limited transpiration” Characteristic trait. Cultivars with this trait could reduce the rate at which they transpire (release water vapor into the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis) in mid-season vegetative growth phases coinciding with periods of very dry air that cause high water demand. This allows plants to retain water in the soil profile during these adverse conditions to be available later for the grain filling stages, increasing yields by 5 percent. My research focuses on which regions of the sorghum genome (genetic material) control the trait. Once these regions are known, plant breeders may be able to cross-pollinate them to transfer them into good-performing varieties grown in agricultural fields. Hopefully, in a few years, more water-efficient sorghum varieties with the “limited transpiration” trait will be grown in the US sorghum belt and global drought-prone regions, thanks in part to the results of my research.

As I prepare to complete my MSc in December 2022, I have accepted an offer to continue as a PhD student to earn a PhD in Ecological and Quantitative Genetics. I will still be working with sorghum, focusing on identifying the genetic control of resistance to iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC). Iron deficiency is a huge problem in sorghum producing areas. This project will allow me to research sorghum cultivars from across Africa to find sources of tolerance to these nutrient problems, leading to the breeding of IDC resistant cultivars and a reduced need for field application of iron supplements.

I have never felt more passionate about my path. By working in the public research sector, I contribute to publicly available knowledge that will contribute to the sustainability of agriculture. Crop varieties bred to be adaptable to environmental stressors such as drought and nutrient deficiencies are an integral tool for farmers in their mission and work to feed and fuel the world.

If you have any questions or additional interest in my research, please email [email protected] I’d love to hear from you!

Kerimel is a native of Trumbull County and is now a graduate research assistant and student in the Morris Lab in the Department of Soil and Plant Sciences at Colorado State University.

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