Tag Archives: K-State

Potato lovers are sure to find this research about spuds appealing.

Chetan Sharma is completing his doctorate in human nutrition at Kansas State University’s Olathe campus under the guidance of Martin Talavera, assistant professor of sensory analysis and consumer behavior. For his dissertation, Sharma is conducting a comprehensive, multiyear project that looks at the sensory aspects of potatoes — one of the world’s largest food crops. He is focusing specifically on the drivers behind what people like about potatoes.

“If someone says that they ‘like’ something, such as coffee or chocolate, we understand it to mean that they found that food enjoyable,” Sharma said. “But for companies that produce foods and products, a consumer saying they ‘like’ something is a vague descriptive term that doesn’t provide insight about what that means and why. This creates a knowledge gap when it comes to making products people want.”

Sharma is working to decode vague concepts, such as “like” and taste, into a common language that helps sensory researchers, potato breeders, restaurants and other food producers better align potato and potato products with consumer expectations and desires.


For the first phase of the project, Sharma worked with universities in Colorado and Oregon to collect 55 potato varieties among the more than 4,000 grown worldwide. Sharma also worked with the Center for Sensory Analysis and Consumer Behavior at Kansas State University’s Manhattan campus to develop a technical language comprised of sensory descriptors. The language, called a lexicon, helps breakdown, standardize and streamline terminology involving the taste, smell, visual appearance, texture and mouthfeel of several potato varieties. Mustardy, cauliflower, beany, earthy, cardboard and metallic are some of the flavor nodes included in the potato lexicon.

Food producers and restaurants can use the lexicon as a reference when selecting potatoes for a food, Sharma said. For example, if mashed potatoes were being made, a potato variety that has a metallic aftertaste can be avoided in favor of a variety that has a smooth finish.

In addition to serving as a guide, the lexicon also establishes a historical record documenting the sensory profile of potatoes in 2019, which may be beneficial to potato breeders, Sharma said. Flavors tend to change as foods are bred throughout the ages and many modern foods have been bred to have a sweeter taste than their counterparts centuries ago.

For the second phase, the 55 varieties were narrowed to 12 based on diversity and dynamic characteristics such as bold flavor, texture and color.

Sharma conducted consumer testing with 100 consumers to evaluate each of the 12 potato varieties on liking, taste, texture, aroma and visual appearance.

Two questionnaire types were used to collect information from participants. One questionnaire asked open-ended questions, letting participants create their own terminology to describe the characteristics of each potato sample. The second type, which was given to a new test audience, presented participants with a predetermined list of descriptor terms and asked them to check all that applied to a sample.

The goal was to benchmark the lexicon, determine which questionnaire provided researchers with the most information and also test consumer perceptions about each of the 12 potato varieties. Additionally, questions looked at whether different consumer segments detected texture, aroma, bitterness and other characteristics differently.

Some of Sharma’s findings include that people prefer the cooked taste versus roasted or raw and a more smooth than dry texture. He also found that color deeply affects perception and opinion.

“People do not like color,” said Sharma, who included varieties of purple and canary yellow potatoes in tests. “Even though these colored potatoes had characteristics that were similar to the more familiar varieties like russet or white, they were disliked because of their color. People reported that they enjoyed them if they closed their eyes, but otherwise they said these colored varieties did not look like potatoes.”

He said this presents companies with the opportunity to advertise the health benefits of these colorful potatoes in an effort to change consumer perception.

Sharma is currently conducting the third phase of the project, which sheds light on what qualities people think about when buying potatoes and how that affects their purchase. He is looking at multiple factors that may influence decision-making, including potato variety, where the potato is grown and whether the potato is organic.

Sharma will present his research this summer for his doctoral dissertation.

Michael L. Day has been selected to lead Kansas State University’s department of animal sciences and industry beginning Aug. 11.

For the past four years, Day served as head of the department of animal science at the University of Wyoming. He was on the faculty in the department of animal sciences at The Ohio State University from 1985-2015, holding a research and teaching appointment focused on reproductive physiology of beef cattle.

“Dr. Mike Day comes to us with a great reputation as a research scientist, accomplished teacher and promising administrative leader,” said Ernie Minton, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and interim director of K-State Research and Extension. “He is an outstanding choice as the next academic leader for the department of animal sciences and industry and an ideal cultural fit for the department, the College of Agriculture, and K-State as a whole.”

The department of animal sciences and industry is the largest academic degree program at K-State, and among the largest of its kind nationally. The department records the greatest research expenditures of any single academic department in K-State’s Higher Education Research and Development report to the National Science Foundation, topping $15 million annually.

Day holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree in animal science with an emphasis on reproductive physiology from the University of Nebraska. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from the University of Missouri.

Since 2000, Day has received approximately $1.5 million in funding in support of his research. He has published 99 peer-reviewed scientific papers, along with hundreds of abstracts, proceedings, books and book chapters. He has been an invited speaker at numerous national and international settings.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the department of animal sciences and industry as head,” Day said. I am looking forward to working with faculty, staff, students and stakeholders as we move the department forward as a leader in animal and food sciences.”

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Continuing to deliver on its promise to meet the grand challenge of helping feed the world, Kansas State University and its partners brought together nearly 100 researchers and funding recipients in west Africa last month to share their work.

K-State’s Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL) conducted its annual meeting April 8-10 in Saly, Senegal. Participants presented their research on sustainable agriculture projects in seven developing nations: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Senegal and Tanzania.

The theme of this year’s SIIL meeting was “Suitability, Scalability and Sustainability.” It highlighted the use of the systems approach to creating innovations that can be embraced by and successfully practiced in their intended environments and eventually expand to larger and more diverse farm operations.

“Our activities aren’t just about crop production, although that’s certainly part of the equation,” said Vara Prasad, University Distinguished Professor and director of the SIIL. “Our research takes a holistic, long-term view at the variety of factors that will allow farmers and others along the agricultural value chain to adopt innovative technologies.

Prasad said the end goal is to develop innovations that increase production, nutrition and resilience of the farming systems – all the while looking for ways to ensure sustainability and scalability from the smallest to the largest farms.

A systems approach can solve critical problems for farmers and lead to stronger commodity prices, better nutrition for children, and higher standards of living.

Prasad said a systems-based perspective helps researchers solve complex problems by considering all the factors that lead to the success — or failure — of agricultural innovations. The goal is to assess outcomes across multiple domains — productivity, economics, environment, human and social.

Truly international cooperation

The SIIL is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative.

Each project has a unique research focus and set of collaborating organizations, such as other innovation labs, international research institutes, and universities in the U.S. as well as the target countries.

Members of USAID, affiliated international research institutes and the SIIL External Advisory Board members attended the gathering in Senegal. Discussion and presentations centered on innovations developed by the projects and their outcomes over the last four years of the SIIL partnership.

Nora Lapitan, division chief of research at the USAID Bureau for Food Security, was particularly excited to see the synergies and collaborations made evident throughout the three-day event and was encouraged as to what that would mean for future collaborations across the SIIL focus countries.

Additionally, Jerry Glover, senior sustainable agricultural systems advisor at USAID, emphasized the need for systems thinking, participatory approaches and strong collaboration between biophysical and social scientists to address the needs of farming communities.

Up close with progress

Meeting attendees got a firsthand look at some of the projects currently being implemented in several communities in Senegal.

They were able to see how dual-purpose millet is being used as nutrition for people, especially young children and nursing mothers, as well as fodder for sheep and goats.

They were also given a tour of an agricultural high school where a dynamic principal is encouraging collaborations between the students and the local agricultural scientists, as youth engagement was one of the key components highlighted at the meeting and field visits.

The school is focusing on improved composting techniques, improved varieties, conservation agriculture practices and sustainable agricultural intensification innovations.

“Most of the time we work at different levels,” Prasad said. “We have some research which is at the plot level, some at the household level, some at the community level, some even at the larger scales of landscapes, across regions and countries.”

Another way to encourage farmers to adopt new practices is to work alongside them to develop innovations and showcase them in the communities in which they live.

Making these projects available for the community to see and participate in helps ensure that the technologies and practices being implemented will be suitable, sustainable and scalable.

“The biggest strength of the innovation labs at K-State is that each of them brings a unique perspective on the issues the agriculture sector around the world is facing, along with the knowledge and research to back up the innovative solutions that they provide,” said Nina Lilja, associate dean for international agriculture programs in Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture.

Building partnerships

Collaboration between research entities and other national and international organizations, such as those between the SIIL, the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricole (ISRA) and the Peace Corps, were also highlighted and celebrated.

“We are excited that after only a year of collaboration with ISRA and the Peace Corps, we are already seeing the fruits of their labors, as the researchers and the volunteers build relationships with farmers in their communities, and are working to provide them with technologies that are suitable for them,” said Jan Middendorf, associate director of the SIIL.

Involving university students, especially those from ISRA, helps the SIIL-funded researchers accomplish their goal of building capacity and increasing the ability of educational institutions in the target countries to carry out their own research projects. Many of the projects require collaboration between U.S. university researchers and faculty and students in the target countries.

Making a difference for all

In a complex and globally connected agriculture ecosystem, K-State leads the way in improving food production and local economies in Kansas, the United States and developing countries around the world by helping to solve the myriad of problems that beset farming communities.

The SIIL brings together more than 120 scholars from more than 60 organizations, including 12 universities in the U.S., to address the challenge of increasing food production to meet the demand of growing populations, all while protecting our environment.

“Conducting innovative research and building human and institutional capacity is the strength of U.S. universities,” Prasad said. “We have the ability to identify the problems, solutions and options through research, and translate them into appropriate innovations for our target populations. Then we create networks and relationships with in-country organizations around the world to scale up those innovations for maximum positive impact.”

The harsh conditions in Kansas this past winter have prompted one of the state’s leading weather agencies to develop a tool that will help cattle producers in the future.

Officials with the Kansas Mesonet, a Kansas State University-based network of weather monitoring stations across the state, has announced the release of the Cattle Comfort Index, a tool that they say will help cattle producers better monitor the needs of their herds during normal and extreme weather conditions.

The tool is available at mesonet.k-state.edu/agriculture/animal.

“We’ve already had a lot of negative impacts on the cattle industry because of the cold temperatures this winter,” said Mary Knapp, the assistant state climatologist with Kansas Mesonet. “This tool will also look at extreme high temperatures.”

The Cattle Comfort Index compiles such climatological factors as weather, humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and more to help producers determine the level of stress their animals may be experiencing at any given time.

“The index is driven by our five-minute data that is available from Kansas Mesonet,” Knapp said. “It will be calculated real-time and updated on a regular basis so that producers can see how that will change during the day.”

The climate information is gathered from each of the Mesonet’s 61 reporting stations in Kansas. For each, the system reports the perceived comfort level of cattle in that area, from no stress, to mild, moderate and severe.

Knapp said, “the actual animal response to temperature stress will be dependent on a number of factors not accounted for in the index,” including age, hair coat, health, body condition, micro-environment, and acclimatization.

“The index shown may start off at a reasonable comfort level in the morning, but as you get into the afternoon when that heat starts developing and the humidity hasn’t abated, that’s when you can get some of the heaviest stress on the livestock,” she said. “A chart will show the level over time, but historical data is limited to the week, ending with the current day.”

The tool was developed from research conducted at the University of Nebraska. The Kansas Mesonet website includes a map that shows conditions across the state and how that might play into risk for cattle.