RIAES research on integrated agro-ecosystem management promotes economically profitable and technologically progressive local agriculture that is 1) environmentally benign and 2) sensitive to the balance of scarce resources allocated among competing uses important to society. Rhode Island contains both agricultural production, predominantly of ornamental plants and sod, and extensive areas of managed urban and suburban landscapes. The sustainability of Rhode Island farms and managed landscapes is critical to the future of our green industry. Our research efforts seek to identify turf grasses and ornamental plant taxa which can tolerate the environmental stresses present in the landscape, both natural and man-made. As well we are selecting and breeding amenity plants for management with reduced inputs, and native grass populations suited for use in low traffic/minimally managed areas and
roadsides. Our horticulture and integrated pest management (IPM) programs, for example, seek to minimize the need for pesticides through promotion of resistant plant varieties, biological controls, and cultural alternatives to pesticides. We are actively engaged in developing successful biocontrol strategies against major plant-pest complexes and invasive plants species. Toward this goal we maintain a USDAapproved plant pest quarantine and biocontrol facility.
Similarly, through the URI Biotechnology Initiative, we seek to develop state-of-the-art strategies for plant improvement for a range of agricultural products. Approaches include modern genomic analysis for gene identification and functional characterization and transgenics for genetic modification and enhancement of a range of plant materials.

Our research efforts often target the green industries of Rhode Island (turf grasses and ornamental horticulture) because of their relative importance to the local economy (wholesale nurseries and turf grass production accounts for two-thirds of Rhode Island’s 11,000 acres in agricultural production), but also encompass other important agricultural crops appropriate to RI agriculture. These farms face a wide array of pest problems and significant pressure for land development. Technological and market innovations are essential for this industry to remain regionally and nationally competitive in the new economy. Efforts to address the needs of farmers growing food are listed under the Sustainable Communities program.

RICE reaches out to both green industry professionals, who develop and manage landscapes, and the gardening public (described in our Community and Gardening Program).We include them here because we are attempting to influence what is produced locally and how it is produced. While emphasizing ornamental horticulture, we also maintain a capability to respond to emerging problems in insect and disease management on the wide variety of crops grown in RI. We seek to better understand the market potential of products that result from  identifiably more benign forms of agriculture.

Goals of this Program
  • RIAES research and RICE outreach on integrated agro-ecosystem management promotes economically profitable and technologically progressive local agriculture that is environmentally benign and sensitive to the balance of scarce resources allocated among competing uses important to society.
 Activities
  • Identify, select or breed species and cultivars of plants which are better adapted for use in the landscapes and environment of Rhode Island and the Northeastern US.
  • Develop and deliver training for green industry professionals and gardeners emphasizing the use of plants that require less water, labor, nutrients, and pesticides.
  • Expand markets for resource-conserving products.
  • Reduce pest-induced damage to horticultural and forest plants, while maintaining environmental quality by minimizing the use of agrochemicals.
  • Develop novel non-chemical methods of controlling invasive plant species.

Contact
Dr. Nathaniel Mitkowski
Department Chair
Plant Sciences and Entomology
Room 238 Woodward Hall
mitkowski@uri.edu

Dr. Richard Casagrand
Professor
Plant Sciences and Entomology
Room 210A Woodward Hall
casa@uri.edu

Dr. Brian Maynard
Professor
Plant Sciences and Entomology
Room 215 Woodward Hall
bmaynard@uri.edu

Dr. Evan Preisser
Assistant Professor
Biological Sciences
Room 237 Woodward Hall
preisser@uri.edu

Dr. Rebecca Brown
Associate Professor
Plant Sciences and Entomology
Room 236 Woodward Hall
brownreb@uri.edu

Andrew Radin
Research Associate
Plant Sciences and Entomology
Woodward Hall
andy_radin@mail.uri.edu