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Category: Science

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 »

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 »

Nanotechnology to be Discussed at Outlook Forum

USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum: The Changing Face of Agriculture logo

USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum: The Changing Face of Agriculture logo

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.

Say it: nanotechnology.

The word alone sounds intriguing, futuristic. But what is nanotechnology?

In simple terms, nanotechnology is understanding and controlling matter on a molecular scale—at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometers. Read more »

USDA Innovation Improves Rice Grading

Broken kernels are indicated above.

Broken kernels are indicated above.

With a little help from USDA, consumer-grade photo scanners could revolutionize rice grading.

Consumers much prefer whole kernels of milled rice over broken pieces.  Whole kernels offer more consistent cooking qualities and are in many cases considered more visually appealing.  As a result, the price paid to a rice producer for a load of rough rice can be impacted by the percentage of broken kernels within a sample of rice after it has been milled.

USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is developing software for use with consumer-grade photo scanners to measure the percent of broken kernels in milled rice quickly and accurately.   When rough rice is graded in accordance with USDA’s Rice Grading Standards, the percentage of broken kernels within a sample is determined by a trained grader’s visual inspection. Read more »

USDA Scientist Eager to Lead New Initiative to Combat a Devastating Citrus Disease

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

Mary Palm, Ph.D., who is leading USDA’s multi-agency response to combat Huanglongbing (citrus greening) disease.

When I learned I was chosen to lead USDA’s new emergency, multi-agency response framework to combat one of the most serious citrus diseases in the world, I felt both humbled and honored.  I relish the opportunity as a scientist to partner with other federal agencies, states, and industry to combat a disease—huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening)—that has devastated so many citrus groves in Florida and threatens other citrus-producing states.

When Secretary Vilsack established this new framework—USDA’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group—he directed us to fund the most promising, practical research to give growers tools to use against HLB as quickly as possible.  USDA provided $1 million in funding, and the 2014 Federal budget includes an additional $20 million for HLB research, which the Group will collectively determine how best to spend. Read more »

Consortium Uses Innovative Research to Tap Key Groundwater Source for Rural Region

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 major underground water source, the Ogallala Aquifer plays a key role in the economic vitality of vast stretches of the rural Midwest.  The aquifer covers around 225,000 square miles in 8 states from South Dakota to Texas, supplying 30 percent of all U.S. groundwater used for irrigation.

But as with other natural resources that seem inexhaustible, the aquifer is effectively a nonrenewable resource. Demand from agricultural, municipal and industrial development on the Great Plains has meant that water is pumped out of a large portion of the aquifer much more quickly than it can ever be replenished. Read more »