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Posts tagged: Research

Producing Statistics about Hard-to-Reach Populations through Adaptive and Network Sampling

Dr. Steve Thompson at the 25th annual Morris Hansen Lecture

Dr. Steve Thompson headlined the 25th annual Morris Hansen Lecture, November 17, 2015.

The number of people who had heart disease related surgeries, the percentage of Americans who take anti-depressants; the number of women who opt for natural childbirth, these are health statistics you likely hear about in the news frequently. But how do public health researchers obtain data about hard-to-reach, marginalized populations such as the homeless at-risk of contracting specific things like HIV/AIDS?

Producing statistics about hidden, underserved populations was one of the topics explored by Dr. Steve Thompson, professor of statistics at Simon Fraser University during the 25th annual Morris Hansen Lecture hosted by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The lecture series was established by the Washington Statistical Society to honor Morris Hansen and his pioneering contributions to survey sampling and related statistical methods during his long and distinguished service at the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 200 people attended this year’s lecture at USDA’s Jefferson Auditorium in Washington. Read more »

Genomics and Precision Agriculture: The Future of Farming

A variable-rate center-pivot irrigation system in a field in Bushland, Texas

A variable-rate center-pivot irrigation system in a field in Bushland, Texas, equipped with infrared thermometers that collect temperature data and a neutron gauge to measure soil water content. High-resolution data such as these are used by scientists to optimize crop performance in specific environmental conditions.

For nearly 400 years, Thanksgiving has been a time in North America when families come together to celebrate food and agriculture. As we reflect on yet another year, agricultural scientists at USDA continue to keep a wary eye on the future. At the end of what may be the hottest year on record, a period of drought has threatened the heart of one of the most important agricultural production zones in the United States. Water demands are increasing, and disease and pest pressures are continually evolving. This challenges our farmers’ ability to raise livestock and crops.  How are science and technology going to address the problems facing our food supply? 

To find answers, agricultural scientists turn to data—big data.  Genomics, the field of science responsible for cataloging billions of DNA base pairs that encode thousands of genes in an organism, is fundamentally changing our understanding of plants and animals.  USDA has already helped to fund and collect genomes for 25 crop plant species, important livestock and fish species, and numerous bacteria, fungi, and insect species related to agricultural production. Other USDA-supported research projects expanding these efforts are currently underway, including genome sequencing of 1,000 breeds of bulls and 5,000 insect species in the i5K initiative. But classifying and understanding DNA is only part of the story. Read more »

A Commitment to Scientific Integrity

David Marshall, research leader of the USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit, examining rust infections in a greenhouse in Muree, Pakistan

USDA and its scientists are dedicated to excellence, transparency, and cutting-edge scientific research.

USDA is one of the world’s leading scientific research institutions for agriculture, food and nutrition. We also have the largest forestry research resource in the world. At just one USDA agency – the Agriculture Research Service – more than 2,000 scientists publish more than 4,000 research papers each year in peer-reviewed journals on their work to ensure high-quality, safe, and sustainable food and other agricultural products. This work continues year after year, and the volume and quality of our research is particularly impressive when you consider that overall funding for both public and private spending on food and agriculture research has been stagnant for many years.

Our research extends from the farm field to the kitchen table, and from the air we breathe to the energy that powers our country.  Recent work by our researchers has produced a way to use radio frequencies to kill harmful salmonella in eggs; gene silencing technology that controls mosquito populations without harming pollinators; and a new soil nitrogen test that reduces fertilizer application amounts, reduces costs for farmers, and benefits the environment. Read more »

Investing in Opportunity in Indian Country

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented with a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is presented a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., from left to right, Kye Wientjes, Cheyenne River Sioux, Nitara Cheykaychi, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Jess Begaye Oldham, Navajo Nation, at the “Better the Future” An Indian Agriculture Symposium, hosted by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and the Indian Nations Conservation Alliance (INCA), in Las Vegas, NV, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. USDA photo.

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Earlier today, I met with leaders from the 566 federally-recognized Native nations who participated in the White House Tribal Nations Conference. This was the seventh of such conferences hosted by the Obama Administration, and built upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, with an emphasis on increasing opportunity for Native youth.

All told, over the course of the Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone has invested nearly $3 billion in rural development projects that have helped Tribal members achieve the dream of homeownership; improved community facilities in Tribal communities; made critical upgrades to electric, water and telecommunications infrastructure that serve Tribal communities and members; and invested in the Tribal businesses and entrepreneurs who drive economic growth in Indian Country. 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 »

Planting the Seeds for Tomorrow’s STEAM Leaders

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (center), helping a Jefferson Middle School student finish up the planting of “Outredgeous Red Romaine Lettuce” in a garden box, in The People's Garden at USDA's Whitten Building.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (center), helps a Jefferson Middle School student finish up the planting of “Outredgeous Red Romaine Lettuce” in a garden box, in The People's Garden at USDA's Whitten Building. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Did you know that NASA has a mini veggie farm at the International Space Station that grows lettuce? Every day, ground-breaking scientific research is taking place to improve food production practices in order to feed people on Earth and in space.

Earlier this week in USDA’s People’s Garden, local 4-H and FFA students gathered to plant sister seeds to lettuce grown on the International Space Station, which will be harvested in about a month. By getting their hands dirty, students were able to ask questions about what it takes to grow food under a variety of conditions. This is particularly important as our nation’s farmers and ranchers look to feed a growing world population. Read more »