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  1. U of G Student Among Winners of National Photography Prize
  2. New Grant, Scholarship to Focus on Agri-Food Research
  3. Pesticide Changes How Crops Talk, React: Study
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U of G Student Among Winners of National Photography Prize

A University of Guelph student will receive a year’s free tuition as one of three winners of an Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) prize for photography.

Alison Postma, now studying studio art at U of G, was selected for the 2015 Aimia |AGO Photography Prize. The annual national contest, which began in 2013, recognizes three full-time undergraduates entering their final year of study at one of 15 participating institutions across Canada.

Alison Postma

Alison Postma

The other winners this year were from Ryerson University and the University of Manitoba.

Postma will receive $7,000 toward tuition, and U of G will receive a $1,000 honorarium.

She said she was surprised to learn she had been chosen from more than 100 applicants.

“I’m feeling a little overwhelmed as this all happened pretty fast; I sent in my application at the beginning of March and found out I won just last week,” Postma said.

“I am very thankful to everybody who made this possible, especially as there aren’t a lot of scholarship opportunities in the arts to begin with.”

The winners were selected for “taking on the conventions of various photographic approaches,” the jury wrote. “Alison Postma’s masterfully executed compositions investigate the uncanny dimensions of personal space.”

Postma said she tries to create emotions in viewers by allowing them to interpret her work.

“My photography is subtle. I don’t want to spell out a scene for my viewers. A lot of my photography focuses on the mundane, and aims to make the viewer pause and reflect.”

She credits her Guelph professors with helping her develop her art.

“U of G has one of the best studio art programs in the country, and I wanted to choose a school that wasn’t dedicated to the arts, as I like being able to take a wide variety of courses,” she said. “My professors are all practising artists; they are supportive while pushing you to go outside your comfort zone.”


Alison Postma’s winning photo

Photography professor Susan Dobson, School of Fine Art and Music, said Postma has a unique photographic style.

“Alison is interested in spaces that are virtual or dreamed rather than tangible and accessible,” Dobson said. “What is especially interesting about this work is how she employs both traditional photographic tropes as well as photo-sculpture to convey this sense of dislocation.”

Dobson said Postma’s win – following graduate Samuel de Lange’s win in a 2014 national art competition – is a credit to the school.

“I expect that our program will continue to garner attention in the years to come, as the University of Guelph’s studio art program provides a very effective combination of studio work and intellectual rigour, combined with intimate class sizes and individual attention that produces students of exceptional calibre.”


New Grant, Scholarship to Focus on Agri-Food Research

Agri-food research at the University of Guelph will be enhanced through a new grant and scholarship supported by the former George Morris Centre.

The George Morris Centre, an agri-food think tank, ceased operations at the end of 2014. Earlier, the centre announced plans to transfer its net assets to U of G’s Ontario Agricultural College.

The $450,000 will be used to create the George Morris Agriculture and Food Policy Research Grant and the George Morris Graduate Student Scholarship.

“We were determined that George’s vision for independent analysis of agri-food policy would be sustained,” said Bob Funk, chair of the centre’s board.

Bob Hunsburger, a friend of the late George Morris and board treasurer, added: “George would be so pleased with these actions taken in his memory.”

The grant will support a visiting researcher for up to two weeks in the University’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics (FARE) on work relevant to Ontario or Canadian agricultural policy issues.

The graduate student scholarship, worth $10,000, will be available to FARE students interested in policy-related research.

“George Morris was a visionary farmer and longtime friend of the University of Guelph. We are thankful and pleased to help continue his legacy through research efforts and scholarships,” said Rob Gordon, OAC dean.

George Fletcher Morris, a farmer and agri-food leader, created the centre in 1990 along with U of G. In 1998, the centre became an independent, non-profit charitable corporation.


Pesticide Changes How Crops Talk, React: Study

It sounds like science fiction, but University of Guelph researchers have found that crops can “talk” and “make decisions” about their growth – and that a pesticide can change their plans and improve their growth.

The research team led by Prof. Clarence Swanton, Plant Agriculture, found in two studies that crops communicate and react to other plants such as weeds growing around them — even before the crops poke through the soil surface.

In another surprising result, the researchers found that treating corn seeds with thiamethoxam, a commonly used neonicotinoid pesticide, enhances early crop seedling growth.

Corn normally reacted to weeds by slowing its own growth, even before reaching the soil surface. The researchers found that occurred even when the weeds were not direct competitors for water, fertilizer or sunlight.

But treating corn seeds with thiamethoxam overrode that reaction and triggered expression of genes that helped to enhance seedling growth.

The 2014 results could offer a huge benefit to Ontario farmers now planting corn, said Swanton, who is calling for more research to be conducted in this area.

“Agriculture is a high-risk business, and these findings could help to reduce the risk to farmers,” he said.

“In terms of pure chemistry, there are some very significant benefits to farmers. We generally think about seed treatments solely for protection, but thiamethoxam could be used to help protect crop seedlings from stresses.”

The researchers began by studying crop reaction to weeds. They found that developing plants could detect light from below the soil surface. Changes in light, such as those caused by weeds growing nearby, delayed seed germination. Normally that would mean a delay in seedling emergence, which could lead to an uneven crop stand.

“These plants are like computer network boards, and they can read what is above the surface,” said Swanton.

“Before we started the study, I had a hard time believing that a seed treatment could trigger genes that could help the crop seedling overcome environmental stresses.”

The researchers found that using thiamethoxam overrode whatever told the seeds to delay germination.

Swanton said the findings are important some studies have found that bees and other pollinators can be adversely affected by this family of pesticides.

“The reality is that farmers are anxious to protect the environment and the bee population,” he said.

“Treating the seeds, rather than applying a pesticide as a broadcast application, should in theory, have a smaller environmental impact. We need research to address the environmental issues.”

The researchers continue to study how plants communicate and how to manipulate gene expression.

The studies, which were partially funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Syngenta Crop Protection, were published in the journal Pest Management Science.


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