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Why is Cogongrass So Successful at Invading the South?

Widely used in landscaping, the cold-tolerant cogongrass Red Baron variety does not produce viable seed, but its pollen could present problems in the future. (Auburn University/David Teem, Bugwood.org). Photo used with permission.

Widely used in landscaping, the cold-tolerant cogongrass Red Baron variety does not produce viable seed, but its pollen could present problems in the future. (Auburn University/David Teem, Bugwood.org). Photo used with permission.

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.

Cogongrass makes kudzu look like a lightweight. A perennial grass, it grows on every continent except Antarctica and has earned a reputation as one of the worst weeds on Earth. In the South, cogongrass ranks among the top 10 plant marauders, invading forests, rights-of-way, and agricultural fields, literally taking over the landscape and altering ecosystems.

Native to Southeast Asia, the weed first arrived in the United States in 1912 as packing material in orange crates imported to Grand Bay, Alabama.  A few years later, farmers planted cogongrass in Mississippi as a possible forage crop. Since then, it’s spread to more than 66,000 acres throughout the South, its progress limited only by winter cold. Landowners and agencies have fought this weed for years with limited success. Read more »

Thousands of Reasons to Celebrate National Farmers Market Week

AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo visits with Madison, Wisconsin Mayor Paul Soglin at the Dane County Farmers Market.  Alonzo kicked off National Farmers Market Week, sharing USDA’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems.

AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo visits with Madison, Wisconsin Mayor Paul Soglin at the Dane County Farmers Market. Alonzo kicked off National Farmers Market Week, sharing USDA’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems.

The 15th Annual National Farmers Market Week is off to a great start!

Farmers markets connect and unite people living in urban and rural environments, provide access to fresh, healthy and delicious foods, and—best of all—put a face to the farmers and ranchers who produce their wonderful wares. We, in turn, can support farmers and local communities with our purchases. Read more »

Virginia Tech Demonstrates New Method to Treat Ash Firewood

Ash logs undergoing vacuum treatment to kill emerald ash borer larvae.  (U.S. Forest Service)

Ash logs undergoing vacuum treatment to kill emerald ash borer larvae. (U.S. Forest Service)

The shiny green one-half-inch-long, one-eighth-inch-wide emerald ash borer has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. since the beetle’s discovery in 2002 in Detroit.

The real Ash trees comprise around seven percent of the trees in eastern U.S. forests. In urban areas, ash trees make up about 50 percent of street trees.

Ash trees are important both economically and ecologically. A wide array of  products are made from ash wood, including baseball bats, tool handles, pool cues, furniture, cabinets, oars, and acoustic and electric guitars. Ash seeds are an important food source for birds, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals. Ash trees also provide essential habitat for cavity nesting birds, such as woodpeckers, owls, and wood ducks. Read more »

Making Artisan Cheese, a Couple Preserves a Way of Life

Nancy Mims tests a batch of cheese. NRCS photo.

Nancy Mims tests a batch of cheese. NRCS photo.

John and Nancy Mims never imagined they would be running a dairy when they met at the University of Florida and married 40-some years ago.  He was going to be an architect and a pilot, and she was going to be a nurse.

They were going to move to the Caribbean. But then John was drafted.  After a six-year stint in the Navy, Nancy’s father died, and they went home to help her mother on the dairy where Nancy grew up. They ended up buying the dairy in 1980.

It is a lifestyle the two have grown to love and they have worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect their way of life. Read more »

Resuscitated Biorefinery Breathes New Life into Rural Ohio Community

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno listens as Erik Chaffer, environmental health, safety and logistics manager for Three Rivers Energy, recounts the long-hoped for reopening of the ethanol plant he helped mothball in 2008 during the Great Recession. Located in rural Coshocton County, Ohio, the plant employs nearly 40 area residents and purchases corn from local farmers. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno listens as Erik Chaffer, environmental health, safety and logistics manager for Three Rivers Energy, recounts the long-hoped for reopening of the ethanol plant he helped mothball in 2008 during the Great Recession. Located in rural Coshocton County, Ohio, the plant employs nearly 40 area residents and purchases corn from local farmers. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)

Erik Chaffer considers himself an optimist. Still, he found himself feeling pretty low as he watched the Great Recession knock the legs out from under the rural Ohio ethanol plant he helped manage.

“Everything was pretty good until July 2008. It was just a ‘perfect storm’ type of situation,” said Chaffer. “The unknown is the worst part of it. You can’t make plans for the future. It’s a very stressful, unnerving way of life.” Read more »

New Biogas Opportunities Roadmap is Part of Climate Change Solution, Emerging Biogas Industry Offers New Revenue Opportunities for America’s Farmers

Farmers have long understood the need to care for our air, land and water. They know that farms are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for. Protecting natural resources protects their bottom lines and may be able to improve them as well.

Farmers are always looking for ways to make a living and be good stewards of the land, which is why the emerging biogas industry is so important to rural America. Across the country, biogas systems that capture methane from farming operations and use it to generate renewable energy currently provide enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of almost 70,000 average American homes. Read more »