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Posts tagged: Science Tuesday

Celebrating the Highbush Blueberry’s Centennial

A winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry

Nocturne, a winter-hardy, black-fruited blueberry developed by ARS. USDA-ARS photo by Mark Ehlenfeldt.

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.

You probably don’t think there’s anything special about picking up a tub of fresh blueberries at the store or the farmers market—the quality of the product, the freshness and the convenience of it all. If only you had to go pick the fruit from the wild yourself!

Up until 1911, blueberries had to be picked from the wild, and bushes were dug from the wild that might or might not survive when transplanted elsewhere. True domestication—reproduction at the will of the grower and breeding to improve desirable traits—was beyond reach until USDA botanist Frederick Coville unlocked a longstanding mystery in 1910. Read more »

Investigating Retail Price Premiums for Organic Foods

Retail price premiums for selected organic foods, 2010 chart

The Economic Research Service used grocery store purchase data to estimate retail price premiums for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010.

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.

Consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown double-digit growth during most years since the 1990s, according to industry statistics, providing market incentives for U.S. farmers across a broad range of products. Consumers can now purchase organic food at nearly three out of four conventional grocery stores. These products generally carry a price that reflects the additional costs of producing organic foods and of keeping products segregated throughout the supply chain. The price premiums reflect these costs as well as consumers’ willingness to pay more for organic products.

A new Economic Research Service report provides estimated retail price premiums—and changes in premiums—for 17 commonly purchased organic foods relative to their nonorganic counterparts from 2004 to 2010. We used grocery store purchase data from a large set of nationally representative households. The data included detailed information on each product (degree of processing, flavor, package size, and whether organic), its price, and where it was purchased, allowing us to isolate the organic price premium. Read more »

Students Intrigued Enough to ‘Worm’ Their Way into Ag Science

Future Scientists Program teachers in the field with ARS research entomologist John Goolsby

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 »

The Nutrient Challenge of Sustainable Fertilizer Management

Map of nitrogen deposition in the United States.

Map of nitrogen deposition in the United States.

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.

It’s a case of “darned if you do, darned if don’t.” Read more »

Climate Data Tools for Informed Decisions

Aerial view of GRACEnet test plots

Aerial view of GRACEnet test plots at the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Pendleton, Oregon. Photo by Oregon State University.

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.

Responding to Climate Variability is one of the goal areas of the REE Action Plan.  The objective is to develop science-based knowledge to address climate variability, position agricultural communities to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and enhance carbon sequestration.

Many valuable USDA accomplishments for the year 2015 were the result of cross-divisional teams that developed useful tools to support decision-makers with research-based data.  Knowing weather and climate patterns–driving forces behind the success or failure of cropping systems–is vital information to land managers.  One such tool, AgroClimate, supported by REE and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), helps users manage climate risk with tools that provide information on crops best suited to grow in their region, based on water availability and the amount of water a crop will use. Read more »

Will Chestnuts Roast on an Open Fire Again Someday?

A chestnut tree

The iconic American chestnut tree is rebounding from virtual extinction, thanks to transgenic research funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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. Today we learn more about how the National Institute of Food and Agriculture invests in and advances agricultural research, education and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Seventy years ago, when Nat “King” Cole first regaled us about roasted chestnuts in The Christmas Song, not many Americans could actually enjoy the treat because American chestnut trees were in dire straits.

The predominant tree in Eastern American forests was nearing the tail end of a 50-year blight that killed an astonishing three to five billion trees, making the species functionally extinct. Now, however, researchers supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are working to restore the American chestnut and may be only a few years away from bringing back the iconic tree. Read more »