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Southern Plains Climate Hub Seeks to Address Three Huge Problems

Corn shows the affect of drought in Texas on Aug. 20, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Corn shows the affect of drought in Texas on Aug. 20, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

I am a research scientist, by nature, training, and now more than 30 years of experience.  I hold degrees in Physics, Atmospheric Sciences, Meteorology, and have done research in many sub-specialties of the last two, including climate science.  My curiosity about the natural world never slows down, and I am not intimidated by difficult problems.  But the research I’ve been doing since 1999 has been the most challenging:  how do we transform what we know about weather, weather variability, climate, and climate change into practical advice for farmers and ranchers?  This is not just one problem in my mind, but three.  Three huge gnarly problems, each close to intractable.  But these new USDA Climate Hubs are an opportunity to make progress on all three.  What follows are thumbnails of the three problems I have in mind, and then briefly how I see the Climate Hubs providing a handle on them. Read more »

Pinchot Award Recognizes Scientist’s Passion: Public Relations for Bats

Bats like this northern long-eared bat are important to agricultural and forest ecosystems and are a significant force in keeping insect populations in check. (U.S. Forest Service/Sybill Amelon)

Bats like this northern long-eared bat are important to agricultural and forest ecosystems and are a significant force in keeping insect populations in check. (U.S. Forest Service/Sybill Amelon)

Sybill Amelon is trying to repair the damage Bram Stoker did to bats’ public image.

A research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Columbia, Mo., Amelon has introduced bats to more than 20,000 primary, secondary and college students and teachers. Over the past 20 years, she has explained bat biology and lifecycles to master naturalist classes, Audubon clubs, garden clubs and native plant societies. Through her research and conservation efforts, she has raised awareness about bat species, while inspiring people to save them.

Amelon’s work was recently recognized with a regional Gifford Pinchot Excellence in Interpretation and Conservation Education Award, a national accolade given to Forest Service employees for achievement in environmental interpretation and conservation education. The annual award is named in honor of the first Forest Service chief. Read more »

USDA Scientist Eager to Lead New Initiative to Combat a Devastating Citrus Disease

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

When I learned I was chosen to lead USDA’s new emergency, multi-agency response framework to combat one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, I felt both humbled and honored.  I relish the opportunity as a scientist to partner with other federal agencies, states, and industry to combat a disease—huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening)—that has devastated so many citrus groves in Florida and threatens other citrus-producing states.

When Secretary Vilsack established this new framework—USDA’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group—he directed us to fund the most promising, practical research to give growers tools to use against HLB as quickly as possible.  USDA provided $1 million in funding, and the 2014 Federal budget includes an additional $20 million for HLB research, which the Group will collectively determine how best to spend. Read more »

Consortium Uses Innovative Research to Tap Key Groundwater Source for Rural Region

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.

As a major underground water source, the Ogallala Aquifer plays a key role in the economic vitality of vast stretches of the rural Midwest.  The aquifer covers around 225,000 square miles in 8 states from South Dakota to Texas, supplying 30 percent of all U.S. groundwater used for irrigation.

But as with other natural resources that seem inexhaustible, the aquifer is effectively a nonrenewable resource. Demand from agricultural, municipal and industrial development on the Great Plains has meant that water is pumped out of a large portion of the aquifer much more quickly than it can ever be replenished. Read more »

Spotting of Rare Snake in Georgia Shows Conservation Works

This large male Eastern indigo snake is more than five feet long and sits near a gopher tortoise burrow in southern Georgia. Photo by Dirk Stevenson, the Orianne Society (Used with permission).

This large male Eastern indigo snake is more than five feet long and sits near a gopher tortoise burrow in southern Georgia. Photo by Dirk Stevenson, the Orianne Society (Used with permission).

A recent sighting of a threatened snake in Georgia by partners of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) shows how conservation work helps wildlife.

The Orianne Society and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, two key NRCS partners, spotted an Eastern indigo snake in an area where NRCS and landowners have worked together to restore wetlands, an ecosystem where the species typically spends several months of the year.

The Eastern indigo snake is a large nonvenomous snake found in Georgia and Florida. Its historic range also included Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina, and it’s the nation’s longest native snake. The snake was listed as threatened in 1978 because of a lack of habitat and people capturing for pets or killing them. Read more »

Pacific Northwest Climate Hub Gets “Information to People in the Right Way”

This is an image of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Portland, OR. USDA photo.

This is an image of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Portland, OR. USDA photo.

The lands of the Pacific Northwest produce a bounty of grains, dairy, beef, fish, vegetables, and wild game that feed the people of the region and the rest of the country.  Many of those who work directly with the land have been doing so for generations.  Two of my own great uncles helped to bring irrigation to the Rogue River Valley near the turn of the 20th century, and my cousins have been farming there ever since.

Over time, farmers, ranchers, fishers, and private forest owners have accumulated knowledge and wisdom from family, local communities, and agricultural universities.  These individuals have supported a technically progressive agricultural industry that supplies most of the nation’s potato crop and a good share of its wheat and milk.  Agricultural producers are used to working with many sources of information about weather, water, climate, soils and fertility, pests, and disease and then making important decisions and investments about what they will do on the land.  Their decisions about investments of time, money, and materials have daily, seasonal, annual, and multi-year implications.  Selections of fruit, nut, grape, or forest tree varieties and capital investments in machinery, irrigation, and processing are made with today’s best information in anticipation of several decades or more.  Doing this right requires both technical savvy and the wisdom to integrate many different kinds of information. Read more »