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Tracking Songbird Progress in Pennsylvania’s Forests

A golden-winged warbler

The golden-winged warbler has suffered a 66 percent population decline since the 1960s.

“Hear that?” Dr. Jeff Larkin bent his ears to a nearby cluster of trees amid a sea of briars.

“There’s one in there,” Larkin said excitedly. We were on the trail of a golden-winged warbler, a black-bibbed songbird, which winters in South and Central America and spends its springs and summers here in Appalachia where it breeds, nests and raises its young. Read more »

Digital Plant Diagnosis: Turning a Mobile App into an Agricultural Game-Changer

High quality images of plants

High quality images of plants are the foundation of PlantVillage’s plant disease diagnosis algorithm. (iStock image)

Ireland lost about 20 percent of its population to starvation and emigration during the great famine of 1845-1849 because disease destroyed that nation’s major food source – potato.  Today, an Irish-born professor at Penn State University believes that a similar situation in other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, could be a thousand times worse.

But there’s hope, he said, because modern food producers have a tool the 19th century Irish did not – smartphones and mobile apps, like PlantVillage. Read more »

Simple, Inexpensive Camera System Detects Foodborne Toxins

A system used to detect active Shiga toxin

USDA-ARS scientists developed this low-cost yet effective system to detect active Shiga toxin. USDA-ARS photo by Reuven Rasooly.

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 the weather heats up this summer, many of us are firing up our grills and going on picnics. But one thing we all want to avoid is getting food poisoning from the food or beverages we consume.

Each year, an estimated 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. An obstacle to extensive testing of foods for microbes, pathogens and toxins that cause food poisoning is equipment cost, according to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist. Read more »

What Are You Doing a Month from Now?

Celebrate National Farmers Market Week graphic

We’re looking forward to celebrating National Farmers Market Week with markets across the nation, August 7-13! Market managers and organizers can download graphics and templates to create their own celebration materials.

What are you doing August 7 through 13? That’s National Farmers Market Week – a time to celebrate the farmers, ranchers and local food businesses, as well as the communities that support them. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has officially declared August 7 through August 13, 2016 as the 17th annual National Farmers Market Week, highlighting the key role that farmers markets play in bringing communities together around agriculture. And with more than 8,500 farmers markets around the country, there are lots of opportunities to celebrate!

I will be celebrating that week by visiting markets across the nation, before wrapping up the week at the USDA’s Farmers Market in Washington, D.C., on Friday, August 12. You can celebrate at your local market too! The National Farmers Market Directory makes it convenient to find farmers markets in your area with weekday, weekend, and evening options. Read more »

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Real, and It’s More Than Just a Nuisance

Gypsy moth caterpillar

A gypsy moth caterpillar on a leaf in Massachusetts

While being outside in Massachusetts this June, I first noticed it.  A lot of leaves were falling from the trees, only these were chewed leaf parts, not whole leaves.

Similar to the children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, some leaves didn’t just have chew marks but actual holes going straight through them.  Unlike the children’s book, this damage isn’t being caused by a friendly caterpillar who turns into a butterfly.  Instead it’s the result of ravenous gypsy moth caterpillars feeding…and feeding.  It’s so bad that in some areas, on walkways and roadways, it looks like fall.  Brown, dried up leaves are a contrast to summer’s lush greenery. Read more »

Happier than a Pig in Mud – Feral Swine Damage to Water Quality

Feral swine impact on water quality

An example of the damage feral swine can have on water quality.

How does the old saying go? That’s right, “Happier than a pig in mud!” Feral swine are no exception to this old farmer’s anecdote. Because they lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature. Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.

Excessive feral swine traffic around wallows and water sources causes erosion along stream banks and shorelines. Sounders, or family groups, of feral swine spend large amounts of their day around the wallow, especially in hot weather, which means they leave significant amounts of urine and feces in and around the water. The impacts to water quality go far beyond the immediate wallow site when silt, excrement, and potentially harmful pathogens, are washed down stream. Read more »