STEVENS POINT, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- Two units within the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have been nationally recognized for sustainability initiatives and a proposal to use compost made of paper mill and vegetable by-products to improve soil and crops within the Central Sands agricultural region.
The Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology and Soil and Waste Resources Discipline received one of four $10,000 Honorable Mention Awards in the 2017 Rathmann Challenge, which recognizes sustainable solutions through the Rathmann Family Foundation and Innovation Center in Arnold, Md. (www.rathmanninnovation.org). The two units will split the award to support their programs.
This year's Rathmann Challenge asked applicants from across the nation for proposals on "Mitigating Climate Change by Expanding the Use of Compost."
In their entry, Rob Michitsch, associate professor in soil and waste resources, and Paul Fowler, executive director of WIST, outlined initiatives already accomplished or ongoing at UW-Stevens Point. These included the wide range of composting education and composting activities occurring on campus and the development and commercialization of a range of new fine art printmaking papers through RiverPoint Paper.
For their "Even Bigger Idea" in the challenge application, Fowler and Michitsch drew on WIST's links to the paper and agricultural industries established through its research and laboratory service functions, and the Soil and Waste Resources Discipline's knowledge and experience in composting. They proposed research and programming to prove the viability of large-scale composting of paper mill sludge, potato and vegetable processing by-products and other materials.
The compost would be used in the Central Sands region to build and sequester soil carbon; improve water retention capacity in the soil and reduce irrigation rates; improve nutrient retention and reduce the requirement to apply fertilizers; and improve crop yield.
Michitsch noted that an undergraduate student in soil and waste resources, Serena Kuczmarski of Rhinelander, helped develop the project proposal.
"She put in a lot of work and was part of the project from the start," Michitsch said.
Although only the first place winner's "Even Bigger Idea" was selected for further development, Michitsch and Fowler said they were honored to receive recognition for their work in the College of Natural Resources.
"We are delighted to be recognized as one of the top five applicants from a pool of approximately 100 proposals," Fowler said. "This award gives credence to our collaborative and entrepreneurial approach to problem solving and recognizes the regional importance of our work at WIST."
WIST provides research, laboratory services, and education for business and industry, bringing new ideas and innovation from the university to the private sector. Learn more at www.uwsp.edu/wist.