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A Model for Managing a Weed’s Mischief

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

– Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff

Along streams and irrigation canals in 16 states, a wily weed called giant reed, or Arundo donax, can grow a remarkable three to six inches a day. This intruder develops dense stands that can crowd out native plants like cottonwoods and willows, and can block water flow to farms and cities.

In research designed to stop arundo’s advance, Agricultural Research Service ecologist David F. Spencer and co-investigators have developed a computerized, science-based animation that shows precisely how a real-world arundo plant grows. The animation—apparently a first for an invasive weed—is intended for researchers, streamkeepers, students and others.

Click here to view the animation.

During this brief clip, a reality based “virtual arundo” goes through its first year of growth, emerging from a single, thick, underground stem, or rhizome, to reach its maximum height of about 30 feet.

The animation is derived from studies led by Spencer. In some of those studies, thousands of digitized measurements were taken by magnetic sensors of dozens of giant reed plants. Using commercially available software, the measurements were analyzed to create a computer-based model of the giant reed’s growth, with optional 3-D animation.

Researchers can use the animations to gauge—and see on-screen—the predicted effects of tactics to control arundo. For example, the model could help scientists determine the best times in the weed’s growth to unleash helpful insects that attack arundo’s leaves, stems or rhizomes.

In northern California, technician Greg Ksander (left) and ecologist David Spencer collect a leaf sample from giant reed (Arundo donax).
In northern California, technician Greg Ksander (left) and ecologist David Spencer collect a leaf sample from giant reed (Arundo donax).

Aerial view of Arundo near Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Aerial view of Arundo near Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Alaskan Businesses “REAP” the Benefits of Renewable Energy Grants and Loan Guarantees

Several months ago, Vice President Biden said:   “I’m pleased to report that the administration is laying the foundation for a clean energy economy that will create a new generation of jobs, reduce dependence on oil and enhance national security.” If you want proof, check out USDA’s   Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).  USDA Rural Development awards grants through this Farm Bill program on a competitive basis and they can be up to 25 percent of total eligible project costs. Grants are limited to $500,000 for renewable energy systems and $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements.  The program also provides loan guarantees. Read more »

USDA Recovery Act Funds Help a Key Supplier to America’s Natural Gas Industry

Written by Vicki Schurman, USDA Public Information Officer

Much of the natural gas consumed in the United States comes from North America.  But when you think of natural gas, you don’t usually think of sand.  Preferred Sands of Nebraska provides the North American natural gas industry with high quality specialty (frac) sand. It’s used by industry customers in every production basin in the United States and Canada. The sand is injected into a well as part of a process to increase gas flow.  The special sand produced in Nebraska holds open fractures in gas-bearing deposits during production.

Recently, USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl L. Cook toured the Preferred Sands facility in Genoa, Neb.

USDA Rural Development’s Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan provided American Recovery and Reinvestment Act support that will help the company preserve 50 jobs at Preferred Sands. An additional 50 new jobs for local residents are expected to be created in the next two years.

“USDA Rural Development is in the business of helping businesses like Preferred Sands of Genoa LLC support job creation, and strengthen the local economy,” Cook said. “The guaranteed loan the company is receiving will provide a much needed boost to the local economy by helping to preserve existing jobs and creating even more employment opportunities in the future as the company grows.”

The company provides good jobs for the area. Wages average over $34,000 annually.

Preferred Sands received a $22 million loan from Siemens Financial Services, Inc., backed by an USDA Rural Development guarantee.  Leveraged with the loan are $10.1 million from Preferred Sands and $7 million from a GE equipment loan.  The funds were used to refinance real estate and equipment at the facility.

USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook (fourth from left), Nebraska RD staff, Congressional staff, State Senator Annette Dubas, Lenders, and Borrowers Celebrate the Sustainability of a Rural Business, Preferred Sands of Genoa LLC.
USDA Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook (fourth from left), Nebraska RD staff, Congressional staff, State Senator Annette Dubas, Lenders, and Borrowers Celebrate the Sustainability of a Rural Business, Preferred Sands of Genoa LLC.