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Posts tagged: ARS

Smart Phones: The Latest Tool for Sustainable Farming

View of farmland and trees

New jointly-developed USDA apps will help promote sustainable land-use practices. ARS photo by Scott Bauer.

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.

Seems like there’s an “app” (application) for everything these days—perhaps because mobile phone use is becoming increasingly global. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Jeff Herrick and colleagues have jumped on that trend in their efforts to promote sustainable land-use practices and world food security.

This past April, they released the first two of a suite of mobile phone apps that, once all are issued, will connect agricultural producers around the world and provide them with shared knowledge on ways to maximize their land’s productivity while protecting its resources for future generations. Read more »

New Toolset Helps Identify Key Water Conservation Options

ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter reviewing a map showing results from a new toolset

Along Beaver Creek in central Iowa, ARS soil scientist Mark D. Tomer and technician Sarah Porter review a map showing results from a new toolset that analyzes conservation data from this watershed. Photo by Jim Ascough.

A free computer-based toolset developed by USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists was launched this month.  The toolset can help conservation planners, landowners and researchers better manage watershed runoff, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also supporting agricultural production.

Excess nutrients from watershed runoff—from sources that include farming—affect the ecological quality of aquatic environments. A watershed is an area of land from which all of the water that runs off its surface flows to the same location, typically a stream or river, but lakes and ponds also have watersheds. There are thousands of watersheds of varying sizes that cover the continental United States. Read more »

Land-Grant Universities Make NFL Natural Turf Grass Better and Safer

A football on a field

Horticultural research at land-grant universities is coming up with better types of grass that stands up to the stresses of NFL football. (iStock image)

Grass is a big deal in football – a really big deal.  Nearly every day of the week, untold millions of people watch players step out onto lush, green fields painted with white.

All aspects of the game are tough. Even growing and maintaining a real turf grass field has its challenges, like freezing temperatures, rain, and damage from tackles and foot traffic.  So what type of grass can hold up to all that? Horticultural specialists and plant breeders throughout the land-grant university cooperative extension system, as well as USDA researchers from Agricultural Research Service, are working to answer that question.  USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports their research with Hatch Act funding. Read more »

A Diet to Help Conserve Bees When Food Is Scarce

Bees eating MegaBee

MegaBee, an artificial diet developed by ARS and S.A.F.E. R&D, LLC, helps sustain honey bees in the face of pressures such as poor nutrition, pathogens, parasites and sublethal exposure to pesticides.

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 fact that honey bees are a critical link in pollinating plants, especially our crops, has become better known to the public in the past few years. In exchange for their labor, flowers provide bees with pollen and nectar as food. But few people wonder what’s available for bees to eat when there are few plants blooming in the late fall and early winter.

During such times of the year, with little natural food available, honey bee colonies usually fade a little. But this is exactly the time of year when beekeepers want their colonies to be producing lots of healthy, robust bees ready to be trucked to California to plunge into pollinating millions of almond blossoms in February. Read more »

USDA CREP Buffers Clean Water and Help Restore Chesapeake Bay

An animal standing in a field

With a buffer zone in place, water quality has improved.

At the English farm in York County, Pennsylvania, you’ll find a comfortable streamside setting that includes a babbling brook, clear water, singing birds, and a thriving young stand of trees — all nestled in a productive cropland setting.  However, this wasn’t always the case.  Don English, the son of the owner of the farm, recalls, “Until we planted these four acres into a buffer by enrolling in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), this creek ran brown with sediment after every rain.  Within a year the water cleared up and now we’re seeing the aquatic life return.” This creek runs into the Deer Creek, which in turn runs into the Chesapeake Bay.  The buffer is a part of a larger USDA effort to improve water quality and help restore the Bay. Read more »

A New Online Tool to Help Growers Select the Right Cover Crop

A cover crop mixture

A cover crop mixture that includes oat, proso millet, canola, sunflower, dry pea, soybean and pasja turnip. Photo by Mark Liebig, 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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Whether you’re a home gardener or a commercial grower of vegetables, cotton, or other agricultural crops, as soon as the growing season is over, you may want to consider planting cover crops—grasses, legumes and small grains that protect and improve the soil.

Cover crops, which are typically grown off season, help reduce soil erosion, increase organic matter and control weeds. At the same time, they can lessen the effects of extreme weather conditions such as drought and help improve water and air quality as well as wildlife habitat. Read more »