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Category: Science

Agriculture Gets an Aerodynamic Boost

Anni Brogan, owner and president of Micro Aerodynamics, inspecting vortex generators (VGs) on the wings of a small aircraft

Anni Brogan, owner and president of Micro Aerodynamics, inspects vortex generators (VGs) on the wings of a small aircraft used in studies by ARS engineer Dan Martin. Martin found that the dime-sized metal clips can help ensure more accurate targeting of pesticides. Brogan’s firm provided the VGs used in the research.

Hitting your target—and only your target—is a top priority when spraying pesticides from an airplane. And the use of a small object could be a big help in making sure that happens.

That’s the focus of the research being conducted by Daniel Martin, an engineer with Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Aerial Application Technology Research Unit in College Station, Texas. Martin has shown that attaching dime-sized metal clips to airplane wings—a technology known as “vortex generators”—can reduce pesticide drift. Read more »

Nanostructured Biosensors Detect Pesticide, Help Preserve Environment

Artist conception of the creation of a biosensor that is created with graphene ink

Artist conception of the creation of a biosensor that is created with graphene ink. (Image reproduced by permission of Dr. Jonathan Claussen from Nanoscale, 2016, 8, 15870.)

When does too much of a good thing become a bad thing? That’s the question Dr. Jonathan Claussen, assistant professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team of researchers aim to help farmers answer when it comes to pesticide use. Underuse can harm farmers’ crops, while overuse can result in runoff into the soil or waterways.

Claussen and his team created a flexible, low cost and disposable biosensor that can detect pesticides in soil. This biosensor is made of graphene, a strong and stable nanoparticle, and provides instantaneous feedback, as opposed to the time and money it would otherwise take to send a sample to a lab and await results. Read more »

Small Town 4-H’er Reaches for the Stars

Peggy Whitson monitoring a soybean plant growth experiment

Peggy Whitson monitors a soybean plant growth experiment on one of her previous International Space Station (ISS) expeditions. Whitson, a former 4-H’er, is now the ISS commander. (NASA photo)

Many kids gaze up into the night’s sky and dream of touching the stars. Peggy Whitson, NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, turned that dream into reality.

Whitson grew up in the small town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, completing standard chores like mowing the lawn and caring for animals, but never lost her determination to fly and eventually go to outer space. At the age of nine, Whitson became involved with the 4-H program. Her brothers and sisters were active with the local Ringgold County 4-H club and it was a natural fit for her. The program played a key role in helping her develop from a shy girl into an exceptional leader. Read more »

Distance Learning and Telemedicine projects

Some of the best stories about successful rural health projects are often from those who offer medical services, or those who benefit from those services.  It was inspiring to hear from an Oklahoma woman who cared for her elderly mother, thankful because broadband and telemedicine services meant she no longer had to spend the better part of an hour sending medical data to a hospital over 100 miles away via dial-up service and then wait another hour for medication instructions.

USDA funding for broadband and Distance Learning and Telemedicine services helps connect rural communities to medical services and improve access to quality care from health care experts. For example, Norton Healthcare Foundation in Kentucky provides specialty care to patients in rural communities using telemedicine technology.  Providers consult with specialists to determine changes in care and whether care can be managed locally.  This reduces unnecessary transfers and allows patients to remain in their community where their support system is.  Read more »

Racing for alternatives in the age of antibiotic resistance

Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)

Alice and the Red Queen in Peter Newell’s Through the Looking Glass. Biologist Leigh Van Valen is credited for hypothesizing the need for organisms to constantly adapt and evolve by referencing the Red Queen’s race. (Illustration by Peter Newell.)

This week is World Antibiotic Awareness week and ‘Get Smart About Antibiotics’ week. Learn more about how USDA works to ensure antibiotics remain effective to treat both people and animals when necessary and the alternatives available to traditional antibiotics.”

For billions of years, microbes such as bacteria and viruses have been in a struggle for survival in the face of naturally occurring antimicrobial substances. This struggle has continued in nature and into human society, where humans, plants, animals, and microbes themselves constantly ward off disease-causing microbes. The plight for adaptation and survival is not unlike the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where it takes all of the running one can do to remain in the same place.  Read more »

ERS Makes FoodAPS Purchase and Nutrition Data Easier to Access

FoodAPS data show the sources of food acquisitions (e.g., store types, restaurants, and schools) by SNAP households and by non-SNAP households of differing income levels.

FoodAPS data show the sources of food acquisitions (e.g., store types, restaurants, and schools) by SNAP households and by non-SNAP households of differing income levels.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has developed a unique treasure trove of data from a survey on food purchases and acquisitions by U.S. households – USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey FoodAPS. To protect individual survey respondents’ privacy, access to the data had been restricted to researchers from academic institutions and government agencies. Now, a modified version that aggregates information so individuals cannot be identified, but still provides valuable data for research and planning is available to everyone.

What can FoodAPS data tell us? USDA’s investment in FoodAPS was undertaken to fill a critical knowledge gap and encourage research that can support an evidence-based approach to Federal food assistance policies and programs. The data are being used to address a range of questions such as where households acquire food in a typical week, which foods they acquire, how much they pay for the food and how the acquired foods match recommendations for a healthy diet. Read more »