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Category: Science

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life Bring Skill and Talent to Farm and Ranch

The U.S. flag

Each day, nearly 1,300 veterans and their family members return to civilian life. USDA is helping many veterans transition from the military to agriculture.

In honor of Veterans Day, Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam provided Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with an overview of USDA’s support for veterans. Baccam, a proud army veteran, also serves as the Department’s Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison. Read more »

A Root Beer-Based Discovery that Saved Lives

Allene Jeanes

A one-time high school science teacher, ARS chemist Allene R. Jeanes was instrumental in developing a blood plasma extender that saved lives and a compound used to thicken household products ranging from steak sauces and cough syrups to skin lotions. (USDA-ARS Photo)

Science can do more than improve people’s lives; sometimes it can save them.

Consider the contributions of the late Allene Rosalind Jeanes, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist at what is now the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. Her efforts are particularly worth celebrating this Veteran’s Day.

Jeanes studied polymers (large molecules composed of many repeated subunits) found in corn, wheat and wood. She spent long hours investigating how bacteria could produce polymers in huge fermentation vats. Eventually, she found a way to mass produce dextran, a type of polymer, so that it could be used as a blood volume “expander” to sustain accident and trauma victims who have lost massive amounts of blood and need to get to a hospital for a transfusion. Read more »

High-Tech Agriculture Continues to Reap Rewards for Farmers and Society

A team of researchers with an unmanned aerial system

With a new view from above, diverse teams of researchers help deliver information to farmers using useful, inexpensive unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

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.

Just like a smart phone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology—known as precision agriculture—helps farmers know and apply critical information about the right investments in fertilizer, seed, pesticide and water needed to produce their crops. Through new technologies, farmers produce more efficiently and see an increase in profits while improving stewardship of ecosystems and local communities.

To talk about precision agriculture is to talk about mapping the amount of a crop grown per acre (yield) or the types of soils in a given area. It also includes the technology that automatically guides farm machines and controls variables like the rates of seeds, fertilizers or chemicals. Read more »

People behind Scientific Innovation at USDA

Dr. Woteki working with 4-H members

Dr. Woteki works with 4-H members.

The past eight years have been an extraordinary time for agricultural science, and for the application of new insights from other fields to enhance agricultural productivity and the overall agricultural economy. As the final days of this administration are approaching, it gives me a great deal of pride to look back at what USDA has accomplished in the areas of research and innovation.

Scientific research is a fundamental part of our mission at USDA. But, ultimately, what’s behind all the science is people – people who do the research and people who are affected by it. As USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, I’ve met and worked with both as I’ve traveled across the country and around the world. Read more »

Biosecurity Education and Compliance are Critical in Preventing Avian Influenza Outbreaks

Chicken infected with low pathogenic avian influenza

A chicken infected with low pathogenic avian influenza. Photo courtesy of Dr. Nathaniel Tablante

The December 2014 to June 2015 avian influenza outbreak was the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. The virus contributed to the death of more than 48 million birds, either due to infection with the virus or depopulation to prevent additional spread.  The virus was introduced into the U.S. by wild migratory waterfowl and then spread from farm to farm in a number of ways.  This included farms sharing equipment, vehicles moving between farms without being cleaned or disinfected, employees moving between infected and non-infected farms, rodents and small wild birds reported inside some poultry houses, and feed stored outside or without appropriate biosecurity measures. The virus spread was also assisted by instances of noncompliance with industry-recommended biosecurity practices.

Fortunately, avian influenza poses little threat to human health and food safety. Human infections with avian influenza are rare and most often occur after direct contact with an infected bird. Avian influenza does, however, adversely affect food availability and the economy. If a single bird became infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus during the 2014-15 outbreak, every bird in the same commercial poultry house – which contains an average of 30,000 birds – was depopulated. Read more »

A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

A giant electronic scanner in Maricopa, Arizona

ARS scientists and their partners are using a giant electronic scanner in Maricopa, Arizona to study the growth characteristics of sorghum plants as part of a project designed to speed biofuel crop development. Photo by Jeffrey White, Agricultural Research Service.

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.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs. Read more »