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Buzzing into Action to Support Pollinator Health through Research

As an ecosystem ecologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollinators are near and dear to me.  Not only are they vital to agricultural production, providing billions of dollars in pollination services for the fruits, nuts and vegetables that contribute to a healthy diet, they are also important members of natural ecosystems, pollinating the plants that many other organisms rely on for food and habitat. Yet pollinators have been having a rocky time, lately. Beekeepers have struggled to maintain their honey bee colonies, the primary pollinators for our crops in the United States. They are managing a suite of simultaneous and interacting stressors to bee health, including severe weather episodes, inadequate nutrition, exposure to pesticides, and numerous damaging pests and diseases. Native pollinators also seem to be struggling with some of these same stressors, as well as land use change and habitat loss. Because of the incredible diversity of native pollinators, we know much less about their individual populations and the factors affecting their health. Read more »

Organic and Local Food Opportunities in New York

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow

USDA Certified Organic farmer Cathy Stroll of Fresh Meadow Farm will participate in a learning workshop for organic producers in New York’s Hudson Valley on June 2.

On June 2, 2015, USDA will join producers and local stakeholders to discuss opportunities in the Hudson Valley’s organic market.  Nationwide, organic sales reached more than $39 billion last year, and the number of certified operations grew by 5 percent to a total of 19,474 certified operations in the United States.

Many organic wholesalers and retailers report difficulties keeping up with the market demand. This creates an opportunity for local and regional producers, and USDA has numerous programs and services to help them access the organic market. Read more »

The New Wave of Wheat: Increasing Resistant Starch to Improve Health Benefits

Brittany Hazard, a University of California-Davis doctoral student collecting samples from a wheat field

Brittany Hazard, a University of California-Davis doctoral student working on wheat and resistant starch research, collects samples from a wheat field for analysis at the UC Davis’ Dubcovsky Lab.

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.

Bread and pasta are mealtime favorites and household staples for many, but carbohydrates may also present a problem for many who struggle with health issues brought on by obesity.  With this in mind, researchers are developing wheat that has positive health implications.

A University of California-Davis-led Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project (T-CAP) is introducing changes into durum wheat genes that can increase resistant starch content by more than 750%. Read more »

Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

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.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »

Industry Research and Promotion Programs Prepare Next Generation of Ag Leaders

Brittany Lowery, a student at North Carolina State University, receiving her certificate of completion of Swine Science Online, from Dr. Todd See, Dr. Ken Esbenshade and Dr. Billy Flowers

Brittany Lowery, a student at North Carolina State University, receives her certificate of completion of Swine Science Online, from Dr. Todd See, Dr. Ken Esbenshade and Dr. Billy Flowers. The SSO courses teach students scientific principles and management skills to prepare them for careers in the swine industry. Photo courtesy of the National Pork Board.

As recent studies indicate agriculture is one of the best fields for college graduates, it is imperative for the industry to groom the next generation of leaders. All of us here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would like to highlight the efforts of a couple industry Research and Promotion Programs for encouraging young students to choose agricultural careers.

The Pork Checkoff and the US Pork Center of Excellence worked together to develop Swine Science Online (SSO) courses that teach students scientific principles and management skills to best prepare them for careers in the swine industry. Read more »

Invasive Pest Invades a National Comic Strip

EAB Comic strip

Photo credit: Mark Trail via @ComicsKingdom

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Awareness week is May 17-23 and my tenure in a nationally syndicated comic strip is coming to an end, so it’s a good time to tell you how a new USDA employee wound up cartoon-ized.

The Mark Trail strip—known for its environmental themes—just finished a six-week long storyline about the invasive EAB.  The EAB, a small metallic green wood-boring beetle, destroys ash trees and is now found in 25 U.S. States.  The Mark Trail strip features “Agent Abbey Powell from the USDA” and shares information about the EAB. To view the comic—beginning with my debut—visit Mark Trail. Read more »