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 bulls and 5,000 insect species in the i5K initiative. But classifying and understanding DNA is only part of the story. Read more »
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 »
The golden leaves of aspens shimmer in the midst of other fall colors on the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. (U.S. Forest Service)
Forests become a veritable garden in the fall, presenting a riot of color in national forests as well as on the streets where we live.
But what exactly is going on in those leaves? How – and why – do leaves change color, and why is there so much variety? It boils down to chemistry. Read more »
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 »
(Left to right): USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki, Dr. Fidelis (Fidel) Hegngi, with the APHIS National Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) Program, and Dr. Denise Brinson Director of APHIS National Poultry Improvement Plan, pose wearing the latest in functional and fashionable wear before visiting a backyard chicken coop.
During a walk along tree-shading sidewalks in the “burbs”; you’re accustomed to seeing games of hopscotch, bike rides, and maybe even the occasional Golden Retriever. However, one residential backyard, nearly 6 miles from downtown Atlanta, calls into question whether this is suburbia at all. There were swings, a tree house, and even patio furniture. Yet one feature certified this was not your mother’s suburban home: over a dozen chickens living comfortably in a custom made “Coop de Ville.”
The rise of “backyard poultry” is one of many agricultural phenomena tied to a growing food consciousness and increased urbanization. And while USDA’s fundamental job doesn’t change, the Department does because the challenges do. The recent cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) at increasingly popular backyard chicken coops underscore this. While this concern was not clearly expressed in the 1862 Act of Congress that created the Department, the mandate was. USDA still works to “acquire and to diffuse…information” towards facilitating the protected growth of American agriculture. That service is what brought Research, Education, and Economics Undersecretary Dr. Catherine Woteki to this residence in Decatur, GA. Accompanied by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials and a man known best as the “Chicken Whisperer,” Dr. Woteki toured the site and helped to shed light on current HPAI research and important biosafety measures. Read more »
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.
When the Terrebonne Parish Main Library in Houma, Louisiana, issued flyers asking local science and engineering professionals to spend a few hours mentoring students on their science-fair project ideas, Michael Grisham didn’t hesitate.
Indeed, you might say that Grisham has had a lifelong affinity for science fairs—first as a student and, today, as a plant pathologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), where he leads the agency’s Sugarcane Research Unit (SRU) in Houma. Read more »