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Preserving that Beautiful Buzz

Work at USDA’s National Science Laboratories helps researchers and beekeepers better understand the effects of pesticide residue exposure on honey bees.

Work at USDA’s National Science Laboratories helps researchers and beekeepers better understand the effects of pesticide residue exposure on honey bees.

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

In agriculture, buzzing can be music to our ears—especially if that buzz means pollinators are busy helping produce our fruits, nuts, vegetables and field crops.  Unfortunately, the sound of my favorite pollinator, the honey bee, has grown fainter in recent years due to higher rates of over-winter colony loss. These losses were initially attributed to a condition described as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Many factors involved with CCD are not yet fully understood.  Honey bee research is focused on gathering data from multiple angles to increase the understanding of overall honey bee health. Many USDA agencies and industry partners are conducting research to better understand the complexities of honey bee health and working to develop best practices to improve the honey bee population. Read more »

#Newfarmers: Please Join me at the Table

Coming from a farming family in Georgia, I know firsthand the risks farmers take each and every day. The work is hard, the margins are slim and Mother Nature can be fickle. The questions that my family is asking about what happens to our farm in the future are questions that are shared by farmers across the country. Where will the next generation of farmers come from? Who will they be? Where will they live? How will they get started? What do they need to succeed?

Yesterday, I hosted a Google+ Hangout with Kate Danner and Alejandro Tecum, two passionate individuals who share a love of agriculture. They spoke about the challenges and experiences of new farmers across the country. With the recent Agricultural Census indicating the average age of farmers continues to rise and opportunities for new farmers are growing, I wanted to know why Kate and Alejandro got into agriculture and what advice they could offer to others interested in doing the same. Read more »

Exploring New Options for Agroforestry

A Dust Bowl era poster urged farmers to plant windbreaks.

A Dust Bowl era poster urged farmers to plant windbreaks.

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The language on the 1930s poster for the Prairie States Forestry Project was downright plaintive: “Trees Prevent Soil Erosion/Save Moisture/Protect Crops/Contribute to Human Comfort and Happiness.”

The mission of the project, initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt, was to encourage landowners to plant tree windbreaks on cropland ravaged by dust storms and drought. As a result, more than 210 million trees from North Dakota to Texas were planted in 18,500 miles of windbreaks, some of which still remain. Read more »

Grant Helps Farmers’ Sustainability Goals, Embrace New Technology

Young soybean plants thrive in the residue of a wheat crop. This form of no till farming provides good protection for the soil from erosion and helps retain moisture for the new crop. NRCS photo.

Young soybean plants thrive in the residue of a wheat crop. This form of no till farming provides good protection for the soil from erosion and helps retain moisture for the new crop. NRCS photo.

How can farmers reduce their fertilizer costs, maintain yields, reduce their environmental impacts, and take advantage of a new and emerging source of income? A project funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant is showing how.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded a CIG grant in 2011 to the Delta Institute to develop an innovative opportunity for farmers to receive greenhouse gas emissions reductions payments from the voluntary implementation of more efficient nitrogen fertilizer management techniques.

The Delta Institute engaged a variety of partners in the project, including American Farmland Trust, Conservation Technology Information Center, Environmental Defense Fund and agricultural retailers. Read more »

An Airport is No Place for an Owl

USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.

USDA airport biologist Bobby Hromack holds his first captured short-eared owl. Although it weighs no more than 16.8 ounces, the species can pose an aviation safety hazard due to its 33-43 inch wingspan and low, rolling flight style.

Seeing a short-eared owl in November on the Pittsburgh International Airport, where I work as an airport wildlife biologist, was a unique occasion. However, as the number of owls grew to eight, I recognized the challenge ahead:  Like all birds of prey, short-eared owls are a recognized potential aviation hazard. Their low rolling flight and difficult-to-disperse reputation means they pose an aviation safety threat.  From 1990-2012, short-eared owl strikes with aircraft in the United States caused over $1 million in damage, and often are fatal to the birds.  Convincing them to leave would be difficult but important.

The task would be harder because short-eared owls are listed by the State as an endangered species.  Common in many areas globally, Pennsylvania is the southernmost edge of their breeding range.  These owls likely migrated from Canadian breeding grounds to winter in Pennsylvania. Read more »

Digging into a Farm’s History Helps Teach About Soil

NRCS Maryland leadership joined the midshipmen for the service project. NRCS photo.

NRCS Maryland leadership joined the midshipmen for the service project. NRCS photo.

In the middle of the Broadneck Peninsula in Cape St. Claire sits a part of Maryland history that was neglected until a few years ago. The empty house resting on 30 acres was once part of Goshen Farm, a working farm that nearly covered the entire peninsula. Corn, wheat, beets, buckwheat and cabbage, as well as food for oxen, cows, pig, sheep, horses and mules grew abundantly, nourished by the rich and healthy soil.

Now, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with the Goshen Farm Preservation Society, Inc. to protect this farm – and put it back to work. NRCS and the society want to raise awareness of the importance of healthy soils for long-term, sustainable agricultural production, and Goshen Farm is the perfect place. Read more »