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Category: Plant and Animal Health

Preserving “Heirloom” Collections – Microbial, That Is

Plant molecular pathologist Yulin Jia samples a field for rice blast disease

Plant molecular pathologist Yulin Jia samples a field in Columbia for rice blast disease. (Photo by Fernando Correa).

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 plant pathologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Rice Research Unit in Beaumont, Texas, Toni Marchetti oversaw a new program in 1972 to develop new cultivars that better resisted costly diseases like rice blast.  

Marchetti retired from ARS in 2001, leaving behind not only a legacy of excellence in rice breeding and plant pathology, but also a prized collection of 1,000 rice blast specimens he isolated from Texas, Arkansas, and other rice-growing states. The Beaumont unit was closed in 2012, and the collection was relocated to ARS’s Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Read more »

New Guide Helps Citizens Customize Their Gardens for Native Bees

A native Andrena bee species gathering nectar and pollen from a pear flower

A native Andrena bee species gathers nectar and pollen from a pear flower (Jim Cane, ARS).

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.

Dogged by pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and other problems, the European honey bee is having a rough time these days. The bee pollinates over 90 different kinds of fruit, vegetable and nut crops. These same crops are also pollinated by native bees, particularly on smaller or diversified farms and especially in home gardens. Together, their pollination services are an $18 billion annual asset to U.S. agriculture, and concern over their welfare prompted the White House in May to issue a directive aimed at bolstering their numbers and health through a series of initiatives including improving and expanding pollinator habitat.

Citizen involvement is another component. Among the actions citizens can take is growing nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants; another is “customizing” garden or landscaping areas to make them more hospitable to these pollinators—especially native bees, says entomologist Jim Cane, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS)  Pollinating Insect–Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit in Logan, Utah. Read more »

What is Your Citrus Tree Hiding?

Check Your Tree graphic

If you have citrus trees growing near you, check them out and help Save Our Citrus!

Do you have a citrus tree in your backyard? From afar it may look fine, but when was the last time you took a close look? Your tree could be hiding all kinds of clues about its health. Here are a few resources to hone your citrus sleuth skills!

Checking your citrus tree regularly is extremely important to prevent the spread of citrus disease. Four serious citrus diseases found in the United States include: Huanglongbing (also known as citrus greening or HLB for short), citrus canker, citrus black spot and sweet orange scab. These diseases are a threat to the health of U.S. citrus, and finding them early is critical. That’s why we need your help! Read more »

Improving the Safety of Leafy Greens

Sadhana Ravishankar with a bag of leafy greens

Sadhana Ravishankar, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, led a team of researchers at the University of Arizona that discovered natural methods to sanitize leafy vegetables.

Food safety is a top priority for consumers, especially when it comes to the leafy greens in salads. Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered natural methods to sanitize these vegetables using ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, such as oregano, cinnamon, and vinegar.

Plant extracts, essential oils, and organic sanitizers have all proved effective in killing bacteria on leafy greens and extending their shelf life. When emulsified in the water used to wash these leaves, the approach compares to (and sometimes even works better than) bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Read more »

Opportunities for Native Youth Available through APHIS’ Safeguarding Natural Heritage Program

2015 Safeguarding Natural Heritage Diné College summer youth students

2015 Safeguarding Natural Heritage Diné College summer youth students, Mansi (left), Thomasina (middle) and Tenaya (right) weed a corn field as a part of learning about Navajo traditional farming, from community elders Ferlin and Gwen Clark. Students weeded several corn field plots, helped build a taller fence around the field, and listened in on traditional teachings from the elders. Photographer: Amy Redhorse

The land and our strong ties to the earth as humans are a source of culture and livelihood throughout Indian Country. Native youth carry the hopes of their ancestors forward, and many tribes have visited with me at the Office of Tribal Relations, interested in learning how their children and grandchildren can discover more about the world around them.  Through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Safeguarding Natural Heritage (SNH) program, the USDA partners with Tribal Colleges and Universities to promote youth exposure to agriculture, natural resources, and wildlife biology. 

Since 2007,  the SNH program has served as a 2-week outreach program for students 14 to 17 years of age, bringing APHIS experts—as well as Tribal elders, Tribal professionals, and university professors—together with Tribal youth for instruction and mentoring.  SNH students pay only the cost of transportation to and from their homes to the participating campus, and APHIS covers the cost of tuition, room and board, and laboratory supplies.  Tribal Colleges and Universities work with APHIS to develop workshops and trainings to help students learn how to safeguard the natural world within and outside Tribal boundaries.  Activities often include hands-on labs, workshops, discussions, and field trips. Read more »

Second Morrill Act Redux: America’s 1890s Land Grant Universities Academic Excellence

1890s 125th logo

USDA joins everyone celebrating 125 years of the Second Morrill Act, which has provided educational opportunities for all.

Booker T. Washington.  George Washington Carver.  Educators par excellence.  Pioneers in food and agricultural scientific research. Dedicated their lives to helping “lift the veil of ignorance” by bringing knowledge to African-Americans and others with limited resources.

For 125 years, since passage of the Second Morrill Act on Aug. 30, 1890, which created a “broader education for the American people in the arts of peace, and especially in agriculture and mechanics arts,” the legacy of innovations has been sustained. Read more »