Grass & Grain

07-29-2014

Agricultural Newspaper

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By Donna Sullivan, Editor What began as an effort to ensure his diabetic father a reliable protein supply if availability to his medication were interrupted has grown into a growing business ven- ture for Pottawatomie Coun- ty resident James Sperman. Travelers along Highway 24 between Manhattan and Wamego may have noticed the high tunnel, semi-pit greenhouse and large blue pools that house his aquaponic gardening system and tilapia farm. Aquaponics combines fish farming with hydropon- ic gardening inside a high tunnel, which allows for the production of fruits, vegeta- bles and fish year-round. The system has a 1,700-gallon fish tank and 165-square- foot grow bed. Water from the fish tank carries fish waste to the grow bed, where it feeds the plants. Sper- man's high tunnel even in- cludes banana and fig trees. "Bananas are a common de- nominator for people," Sper- man described. "When they see bananas growing in Kansas, they can't help but smile and their eyes twin- kle." Constructing the semi-pit greenhouse was no easy ven- ture, as he dug out the 55'x14'x7.5' pit, as well as the fishpond, by hand, haul- ing the dirt away in a wheel- barrow. He builds a frame over the pond in the winter and covers it with green- house plastic. The water in both the pond and the green- houses helps to keep the temperatures above freezing. After the first year of tilapia production, Sperman was approached by a grower in Missouri who wanted him to mass-produce the tilapia fry(newly hatched fish) and sell them to him wholesale. That first year he sold 50,000 fry at twenty cents apiece. He now produces 60,000 to 80,000 per month and receives about 13.5 cents each. He's scaled up and expanded to also selling adolescents and older fish for pond stocking. Sperman now has 220 breeding adults that share 75 nests. "By share, I mean the biggest males take them," he said. He only feeds the fish on one end of the pond, be- cause the mothers release their young at the other end. "In their minds I want to es- tablish that this is the end where you eat, so they don't ever eat anything of any kind at the other end," he ex- plained. Tilapia are cichlids, meaning mouth breeders. The males excavate a nest on the bottom and attract a fe- male. The female will come in and lay about a dozen eggs. When the male fertil- izes them, she will scoop them back into her mouth, then lay some more. Accord- ing to Sperman, they will continue until she has a thou- sand or more fertilized eggs, then she'll hold them in her mouth for about two weeks until they hatch. Even after they've hatched, she'll hold them in her mouth as long as she can to give them the best chance of survival, then will spit them out. She'll guard them for a couple of days, and suck them back into her mouth if she senses danger. Once the fry are hatched, Sperman uses a net to scoop them into a bucket to trans- port to fry pools. The bread and butter of his business is selling three-quarter to one- inch fry in bulk. "When fry are the size of mosquito lar- vae, they're not the most re- silient things in the world," he said. So he waits about two weeks for them to grow to around an inch, then ships them nationwide. "None of my fish go to waste," he con- tinued. "The ones that I don't manage to find homes for can grow and become adolescents and some are just on the verge of becom- ing breeders and will be- come pond stockers." Sperman says that be- cause tilapia are predomi- nantly vegetarian and are fil- ter feeders, the algae and bacteria that grows in the pools is tailored perfectly to their needs. The algae thrives on well water be- cause it contains a good amount of nitrates and ni- trites. The fry give off am- monia, which also breaks down into the nitrates and ni- trites. "So the fish them- selves are spurring on the growth of their own food," he said. The only filtering he does is using a sump pump to pump the bottom third of the water out of the large pools into a nearby orchard and garden. As Sperman looks to the future of his business, he hopes to lease some nearby land in the next year or so to expand his operation. "I'm really good at producing a lot of fish in a small area, so I've been able to satisfy my demand here with what I have. But I need to expand," he stated. He would like to custom-design full sized high tunnels to accommo- date different environments for everything he would like to grow. He also hopes to set Pottawatomie County is home to aquaponics farm James Sperman describes how he feeds the fish at only one end of the pond since the females release their eggs on the other end. The blue pools in the background house the fish as they grow, and also visible is the plantation that includes banana and fig trees. Pools inside the high tunnel help keep temperatures up in the winter for the banana and fig trees and are also home to growing tilapia. Photos by Donna Sullivan Several Kansas State University researchers were essential in helping scien- tists assemble a draft of a ge- netic blueprint of bread wheat, also known as com- mon wheat. The food plant is grown on more than 531 million acres around the world and produces nearly 700 million tons of food each year. The International Wheat Genome Sequencing Con- sortium, which also includes faculty at Kansas State Uni- versity, recently published a chromosome-based draft se- quence of wheat's genetic code, which is called a genome. A chromosome- based draft sequence of the hexaploid bread wheat genome is one of four papers about the wheat genome that appear in the journal Sci- ence. The genetic blueprint is an invaluable resource to plant science researchers and breeders, said Eduard Akhunov, associate profes- sor of plant pathology and a collaborator with the Inter- national Wheat Genome Se- quencing Consortium. "For the first time, they have at their disposal a set of tools enabling them to rapid- ly locate specific genes on individual wheat chromo- somes throughout the genome," Akhunov said. "This resource is invaluable for identifying those genes that control complex traits, such as yield, grain quality, disease, pest resistance and abiotic stress tolerance. They will be able to produce a new generation of wheat varieties with higher yields and improved sustainability to meet the demands of a growing world population in a changing environment." Although a draft, the se- quence provides new insight into the plant's structure, or- ganization, evolution and genetic complexity. "This is a very significant advancement for wheat ge- netics and breeding commu- nity," Akhunov said. "The wheat genome sequence provides a foundation for studying genetic variation and understanding how changes in the genetic code can impact important agro- nomic traits. In our lab we use this sequence to create a catalog of single base changes in DNA sequence of a worldwide sample of wheat lines to get insights into the evolution and origin of wheat genetic diversity." Akhunov, Shichen Wang, a programmer and bioinfor- matics scientist in plant pathology, and Jesse Poland, assistant professor of plant pathology, collaborated with the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Con- sortium to order genes along the wheat chromosomes. Other Kansas State Uni- versity researchers in the de- partment of plant pathology involved include Bik-ram Gill, university distin- guished professor and direc- tor of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center, and Bernd Friebe, research professor, who developed genetic ma- terial that was essential for obtaining the chromosome- based sequence of the wheat genome. A second paper in Sci- ence details the first refer- ence sequence of chromo- some 3B, the largest chro- mosome in common wheat. Scientists complete chromosome-based draft of wheat genome Continued on page 3 Continued on page 3

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