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More than ‘The Peanut Man’

Dr. George Washington Carver was an American scientist, educator, and inventor. Photo Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

Dr. George Washington Carver was an American scientist, educator, and inventor. Photo Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

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.

Steeped in African tradition, the practice of storytelling in African-American culture provides a communal sense of pride and reflection, and ensures that history is preserved from generation to generation.  African-American History Month honors the work and contributions of African-Americans, including educators, inventors, and scientists—all titles which George Washington Carver possessed.  And like the continuity of storytelling, the legacy of Carver’s pioneering research left an undeniable impact on the face of American agriculture.

Born a slave on a Missouri farm in 1865, Carver became the first black student and the first black faculty member at what is now Iowa State University.  The well-respected botanist led the bacterial laboratory work in the Systematic Botany Department. But at the urging of Booker T. Washington, Carver moved to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to serve as the school’s director of agriculture.   He used his agricultural research to help black farmers become more self-sufficient and less reliant on cotton, the major cash crop of the South. Read more »

Bugs’ Life Not so Rosy Around Young Entomologist

Research Entomologist Justin Runyon is a winner of this year’s prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He studies the chemical reaction between insects and plants for the Rocky Mountain Research Station. (Montana State University/Kelly Gorham)

Research Entomologist Justin Runyon is a winner of this year’s prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He studies the chemical reaction between insects and plants for the Rocky Mountain Research Station. (Montana State University/Kelly Gorham)

It’s a wonder that Justin Runyon’s parents didn’t have insomnia. After all, who could sleep when the young bug enthusiast was throwing on floodlights outside the house in the middle of the night to attract and collect insects?

“Yes, my parents were very patient with me,” said Runyon, a research entomologist at the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Runyon no longer needs to wake his parents to conduct his research – he has plenty of opportunity to do that at his lab in Bozeman, Mont., where he studies the chemical interaction between insects and plants. His work and accomplishments earned him this year’s prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The accolade is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Runyon was one of 102 recipients to receive the award this year. Read more »

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 »