Farmers Scott and Susan Hill in front of their pollinator garden. “We had an agricultural specialist visit our farm operations who told us we needed more pollinators,” explained Susan Hill. “We initially added two bee hives and established a pollinator garden. It was amazing, our tomato production increased by 25 percent in the first year!”. Photo by Hill Farm
Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill – who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA. Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!
In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets. And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent. Read more »
Future Scientists Program teachers in the field with ARS research entomologist John Goolsby, learning about his research on bio-control for Giant Reed (Arundo donax) in the Rio Grande Valley.
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 goal of USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP) Future Scientists Program is to enhance the scientific knowledge of teachers, helping them to become more effective in encouraging student interest and progress in science. Teachers in the program attend two-day summer institutes at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs nationwide, where scientists introduce them to various research projects. ARS researchers share scientific knowledge with the teachers, who then share it with their students to encourage them to become future scientists.
One of the catalysts for this lofty goal is a tiny, inconspicuous and innocuous caterpillar—the corn earworm that wreaks havoc in corn fields nationwide as an agricultural pest. This program began in 2003. I brought 10 teachers into the ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC) in College Station, Texas, for a summer institute that included teachers studying in corn research plots searching for corn earworm caterpillars in 100-degree heat! It was the first time I made caterpillars the focus of this program. Read more »
Annie Ceccarini of the People's Garden Initiative and USDA Farmers welcomes Alice Deal Middle School students to a day of fun and learning.
Over the past three years, USDA has welcomed seventh-graders from Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C. to participate in “Deal Gives Back,” a day of service that empowers students to serve their community. This year was no exception. Alongside local volunteers, 118 students and faculty spent a day at USDA’s People’s Garden planting, weeding, and tilling soil to better understand how community gardens can increase access to fresh, healthy food choices in communities where nutritious options aren’t easily accessible.
All work and no play? Not a chance. After a warm welcome from USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Dr. Gregory Parham, the students checked out demonstrations from the Agricultural Research Services’ (ARS) Bee Research and Systematic Etymology Labs to learn about insect classification, research, and the vital role pollinators play in growing healthy fruits and vegetables. And to wrap up the day, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy stopped by with a surprise treat – an invitation to try toasted mealworms. Yum! Read more »
Healthy soil. USDA-ARS photo by Peggy Greb
You probably know that climate change affects how we grow food, but you might not know that how food is grown also affects our climate. This interplay is at the heart of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) project called “Soil and Air,” a concerted effort to feed the Earth’s 7.5 billion people while protecting the planet.
Farmers and ranchers produce food at the intersection of soil and air, which in turn impacts soil and air quality. For instance, warmer air creates warmer soil, leading to different compositions of bacteria and other microbes in the ecosystem and to increased moisture loss through evaporation. Read more »
Just over a year ago, President Obama released a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria. As part of that plan, he also charged the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with co-chairing a Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (Advisory Council). In the past year, our three agencies and the Council have held numerous stakeholder meetings, made new discoveries, and undertaken new research to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics.
In recent weeks, our three agencies have made some important discoveries regarding antibiotic resistance in the United States. Earlier this week, the Department of Defense notified stakeholders that its Multidrug-resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network (MRSN) at the Walter Reed Institute of Research had identified the first colistin-resistant mcr-1 E. coli in a person in the United States. A USDA and HHS search for colistin-resistant bacteria in food animals, retail meats and people also has found colistin-resistant E. coli in a single sample from a pig intestine. Read more »
Micro-sprinklers in a mature almond orchard in Merced County, CA. Photo by Amber Kerr
All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.
Despite hopes for a drenching from El Niño, California farmers are facing another drought year in 2016. Even after four years of the worst drought on record, California farm output was a record $54 billion in 2015, accounting for more than half of the nation’s fresh produce. Groundwater has helped compensate for California’s lack of rainfall, but groundwater overdraft cannot be continued indefinitely.
California farmers have responded to the drought by fallowing land; switching to crops that yield higher value per unit of water; and switching irrigation technologies. Almost all California cropland is irrigated, so continued improvements in irrigation efficiency are key to weathering this and future droughts. Read more »