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Category: Science

NIFA Small Business Grant Could Help Quench Thirst Around the World

Robert Sorber operates the MicroDesal, which may successfully remove heavy metals, nitrates, phosphorus, and bacteria, making water safe to drink.  Photo by Isaac Madsen

Robert Sorber operates the MicroDesal, which may successfully remove heavy metals, nitrates, phosphorus, and bacteria, making water safe to drink. Photo by Isaac Madsen

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Clean drinking water for the world is a pretty tall order, considering that the United Nations says nearly a billion people currently go without it.  But, that’s exactly the vision that Karen Sorber had when she co-founded Micronic Technologies in 2008 as a family business.

Now a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is bringing the company one step closer to making that dream a reality.  Micronic Technologies has introduced “MicroDesal,” a technology that takes well water with unsafe nitrate levels and treats it to the point where the water meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean drinking water safety standards.  Nitrates are unsafe for humans – especially children and pregnant women – and livestock. Read more »

Watching Our Water

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality.  Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe.  Photo by ARS.

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality. Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe. Photo by 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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

There’s no farming without water. Recent droughts in the United States and elsewhere underscore our need to conserve water in agricultural production, and studies have identified agricultural management practices that help protect water quality.  USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are making key contributions to these efforts.

For instance, ARS scientists use moisture information collected by satellites to develop the Evaporative Stress Index.  In 2012, this tool predicted that drought conditions were developing weeks before other drought monitoring networks made the same call. ARS researchers also use satellite data to design methods of estimating rainfall amounts in regions where setting up sampling stations would be a challenge, work that has long-range potential for improving precipitation estimates globally. Read more »

Helping Honey Bees’ Health

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

The black dot on this honey bee is a varroa mite--a parasite that sucks vital fluids like a tick, although it also acts like a mosquito transmitting viruses and other pathogens to the bee.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

You’ve probably heard that the honey bees in this country are in trouble, with about one-third of our managed colonies dying off every winter. Later this week, we will learn how the honey bees survived this winter. With severe weather in a number of areas in the U.S. this winter, a number of us concerned about bees will be closely watching the results.

While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve.  Parasites, diseases, pesticides, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines.  To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »

A Lifetime of Statistics

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for numbers and statistics. That’s why I’ve dedicated the last 39 years of my life to this amazing field.

I earned my degree in statistics in 1975 and shortly after that joined the U.S. Census Bureau, where I worked for 21 years.  At the Census Bureau, I had a really diverse experience, having worked on crime, housing, economics, and labor statistics, before ending up with the Census of Agriculture team. It was when this team transitioned to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 1997 that I joined my new home away from home at USDA. Read more »

Getting Geeky at the 3rd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA, has fun with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Sonny Ramaswamy, director of NIFA, has fun with Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

When you think of agriculture do you think of science and engineering? You should! Farmers are some of our original scientists, tinkering with plant varieties and farming techniques to find ways to reliably grow food. At USDA, we still do that kind of research in a never-ending effort to find better ways to produce food, fuel, and fiber. We also do a lot of research you might not think of when you think about agriculture: from forensic genetic analysis to track down unwanted pests to figuring out how to turn spent grain from distilleries into biodegradable kitty litter.

On April 26-27, the 3rd Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival took over the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Over 325,000 people came out to celebrate discovery and innovation through over 3,000 hands-on activities and 150 performances and lectures.  USDA pulled all of the stops to show our geeky side and hopefully convince a few young booth visitors to consider agriculture when they think about careers in science. Read more »