USDA

Using Local Lakes to Safeguard Regional Water Quality

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Fri, 09/26/2014 - 06:31
Using Local Lakes to Safeguard Regional Water Quality / September 26, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 A metal weir constructed in a natural bendway of the Coldwater River. Link to photo information
Shallow oxbow lakes fitted with low dams called weirs to slow water flow can help trap pesticides, nutrients and sediment from field runoff. Click the image for more information about it.


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Using Local Lakes to Safeguard Regional Water Quality

By Ann Perry
September 26, 2014

Isolated lakes in the Mississippi Delta can be transformed into farmer-friendly landscape features that trap agricultural pollutants, according to research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These findings by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) ecologist Richard Lizotte and his colleagues can help producers control the impacts of field runoff on downstream water bodies as far as the Gulf of Mexico. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific agency.

Lizotte, who works at the ARS Water Quality and Ecology Research Unit in Oxford, Mississippi, led a series of studies that evaluated how effectively an experimental wetland along Mississippi's Coldwater River trapped common crop pesticides. The study watershed was developed in a small stretch of the river that had been cut off from the main channel. The resulting pool had two distinct sections: One was as deep as a small lake, and the other was a shallow wetland surrounded by natural vegetation.

The team installed small dams called weirs at either end of the wetland. Then they added three pesticides to the wetland at the upstream weir at rates that would simulate typical runoff rates from a 40-acre field.

After the researchers added the pesticide mix to the water, it only took 24 hours for pesticide concentrations near the upstream weir to drop almost 65 percent, while at the downstream weir, only trace amounts of the pesticide were detected. Pesticide concentrations became undetectable at the upstream weir 21 days later.

Lizotte also assessed how well the experimental wetland reduced concentrations of pesticides, nutrients, and sediment from a "catastrophic" runoff event that could result from sudden and severe storms shortly after fertilizers and/or pesticides are applied. He noted that sediment, phosphorus, nitrogen, and pesticide concentrations peaked within three hours after the event as far as 325 yards below the upstream weir.

But within 48 hours, loads of the sediment, nutrients, and pesticides had been reduced by as much as 98 percent. Twenty-eight days later, levels of all the pollutants had returned to—and sometimes even dropped below—pre-event levels.

Lizotte believes his findings show that these types of wetlands could become a very effective and efficient tool for reducing field runoff contaminants.

Results from his research have been published in River Research and Applications, Science of the Total Environment, and Ecohydrology.

Read more about this work in the September 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Categories: USDA

Choosing the Right Season for Applying Chicken Litter in the South

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 09/24/2014 - 06:35
Choosing the Right Season for Applying Chicken Litter in the South / September 24, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

 Poultry litter being incorporated into the soil during disking of a field.  Link to photo information
ARS research shows that spring is the optimal season for applying poultry litter to corn fields in the South and Southeast and can improve crop yields. Click the image for more information about it.


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Choosing the Right Season for Applying Chicken Litter in the South

By Dennis O'Brien
September 24, 2014

Using poultry litter as fertilizer is a welcome trend in many southern states because that is where most of the U.S. broiler chickens are produced. The litter's nitrogen content helps boost crop yields, and also helps reduce farmers' expenses for commercial fertilizers. But a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agronomist has found that many farmers in Mississippi may be applying litter at the wrong time of year.

Farmers in Mississippi often apply poultry litter in the fall, months before planting cash crops in the spring, because it's cheaper then and they have more time than in the spring. But Haile Tewolde, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agronomist at Mississippi State, Mississippi, has found that spring is the optimal season for applying litter in the South and Southeast. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

Tewolde and his colleagues applied poultry litter in the spring and fall to test plots of corn planted each April for three years. They applied the litter at two rates—four tons per acre and eight tons per acre—and incorporated it into the soil by "disking," a process that turns the soil and pulverizes it so that the litter blends in with the soil. For comparison, the researchers applied nitrogen fertilizer to other test plots in the spring and fall.

The results showed that over three years, yields were cumulatively higher in plots with litter applied in the spring than in the fall, regardless of the application rate. At the four-ton rate, spring-application yields were 16.7 percent higher, and at the eight-ton rate, they were 12.8 percent higher.

The results also showed that while using litter produced less corn than using fertilizer in the first year, those results were reversed in the second and third years. Higher yields in the second and third years were likely because nitrogen in the litter applied during the first year stayed in the soil and benefited crops in subsequent years.

The results, published in 2013 in the Agronomy Journal, show that if growers stick with litter for more than a year, their yields will improve. Yields also will be enhanced if they apply that litter in the spring.

Categories: USDA

Fungi Eyed to Tackle Weedy Menace of American West

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 07:40
Fungi Eyed to Tackle Weedy Menace of American West / September 19, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Russian thistle. Link to photo information
ARS researchers have identified two new biological controls for tumbleweed, which is a nasty problem in the American West. Photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr. Click the image for a 300 dpi download.


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Fungi Eyed to Tackle Weedy Menace of American West

By Jan Suszkiw
September 22, 2014

Beneficial fungi could become microbial marshals tasked with wrangling a weedy icon of the American West, Salsola tragus—also known as tumbleweed or Russian thistle.

Popularly depicted in movies and television tumbling through dusty towns of the Old West, tumbleweed is in fact one nasty hombre of the western American landscape, elbowing aside crops, clogging irrigation ditches, spreading insect pests, and even posing a driving hazard.

Large-scale infestations, especially on low-value agricultural lands, can make chemical or cultural control too costly or impractical, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant pathologist Dana Berner. He works at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit in Frederick, Maryland. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

In studies at Frederick, Berner and his colleagues are evaluating certain fungi with potential to biologically control tumbleweed, an invasive species that entered the United States in the 1870s as a flax seed contaminant.

Their most promising fungal candidates, Uromyces salsolae and Colletotrichum salsolae, were originally isolated from infected thistle plants in Russia and Hungary and exported to the ARS Frederick lab under permit for quarantine study. In Biosafety Level-3 greenhouse containment, the researchers exposed plant specimens from 64 different species to U. salsolae and 89 species to C. salsolae and gauged the plants' reactions and disease symptoms, if any.

To broaden the scope of their host-range tests—critical to ensuring the fungi won't harm non-target plants or crops once released—the team used an approach called BLUPs, short for "mixed model equations that produce Best Linear Unbiased Predictors." Using a disease ranking system and matrix information, BLUPs predict a plant species' susceptibility based on how genetically similar it is to the targeted weed—Russian thistle, for example.

Based on the information, the researchers have submitted petitions seeking recommendation for release of the two fungi from the Technical Advisory Group for Biological Control Agents of Weeds, which comprises members from federal and state regulatory agencies, as well as from Canada and Mexico.

Read more about this research in the September 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Categories: USDA

Compound from Bacteria Could Be Useful Against Pecan Scab

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 09/17/2014 - 06:37
Compound from Bacteria Could Be Useful Against Pecan Scab / September 17, 2014September 17, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Pecan husks displaying black lesions caused by a fungus are shown beside a photo of pecan nuts.
ARS researchers have identified compounds from extracts of bacteria that live inside beneficial nematodes that can suppress pecan scab (shown on left), a major fungal disease affecting pecan production in the southeastern United States.


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Compound from Bacteria Could Be Useful Against Pecan Scab

By Sharon Durham
September 17, 2014

Bacteria that live inside the guts of tiny nematodes could hold the key to controlling pecan scab, a major fungal disease that affects pecan production in the southeastern United States.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists discovered nematode-dwelling bacteria that produce chemical compounds that control the fungus Fusicladium effusum, which causes pecan scab.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist Clive Bock, entomologist David Shapiro-Ilan, chemist Charles Cantrell, and plant pathologist David Wedge examined chemical extracts of the bacteria to identify the major components responsible for suppressing pecan scab. ARS is the USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

Bock and Shapiro-Ilan work at the ARS Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory in Byron, Georgia. Cantrell and Wedge work at the ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, Mississippi.

The bacteria, according to Shapiro-Ilan, live in the guts of beneficial nematodes in the genera Steinernema and Heterorhabditis. The bacteria are critical in helping the beneficial nematodes kill their insect hosts, and can be grown in petri dishes. Extracts of the cultures contain antimicrobial metabolites that are active against a wide range of microbial pathogens of animals and plants, including bacteria and fungi.

The extract found to be most toxic to the pecan scab fungus was purified and found to contain trans-cinnamic acid. Laboratory test results showed that trans-cinnamic acid was toxic to the pecan scab fungus in amounts as low as 148-200 micrograms per milliliter in solid culture and 64 micrograms per milliliter in liquid culture.

Conventional chemical fungicides have been widely used to control pecan scab, but in some growing seasons, more than 10 sprays are required to ensure adequate control of the disease on susceptible pecan cultivars. As a result, F. effusum has now developed resistance to at least two classes of fungicide, according to Bock.

This work was published in the Journal of Pest Science in March 2014.

Read more about this research in the September 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Categories: USDA

"2,000 Bull Project" Targets Cattle Traits

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 07:11
2,000 Bull Project Targets Cattle Traits / September 15, 2014September 15, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Cattle from the germplasm evaluation project at the Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska.  Link to photo information
As part of the "2,000 Bull Project," ARS geneticist Warren Snelling has identified genetic markers that make it easier to pinpoint cattle that have the hard-to-measure trait of meat tenderness, enhancing breeding decisions. Click the image for more information about it.


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"2,000 Bull Project" Targets Cattle Traits

By Sandra Avant
September 15, 2014

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are investigating methods to help beef cattle producers further improve genetic evaluations for routinely measured traits such as growth and calving ease. They are also targeting economically important traits like feed efficiency and disease resistance that are expensive or difficult to measure.

In 2007, scientists started the "2,000 Bull Project" at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska, to study relationships between genomic variation and economically important traits in 16 breeds. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

USMARC geneticists Mark Thallman and Larry Kuehn and their colleagues worked with U.S. cattle breed associations to obtain genomic profiles of 2,000 bulls from those 16 breeds to promote the development of genomic predictions. For each breed, the project provided the first substantial set of high-density genotypes, which are being used by breed associations as a starting point to incorporate genomic data into their breed improvement programs.

Growth is a routine and easily measured trait that is related to increased feed consumption, but an animal's feed efficiency-how much feed is required to produce a unit of growth-is more economically important to producers. However, individual feed intake is not practical to measure on large numbers of animals in commercial operations. Instead, a more feasible approach is to use research populations to develop genomic predictions for traits such as individual feed intake, disease resistance and meat tenderness that are expensive or difficult to measure.

At USMARC, thousands of cattle have been evaluated for such traits, and about 15,000 have been genotyped. The researchers' goal is to detect genomic regions that affect these traits to improve the accuracy of genomic tests available to producers. Also, the scientists are sequencing the genomes of bulls that have the most descendants in the USMARC population, which may lead to more accurate predictions across breeds and benefit the industry.

As part of this effort, geneticist Warren Snelling is focusing on identifying DNA sequence variation that affects gene function to help predict important traits consistently across many breeds. Snelling has demonstrated that this technique can be used to identify genetic markers predictive of meat tenderness.

Read more about this research in the September 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Categories: USDA

Four Scientists Named to ARS Science Hall of Fame

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:23
Four Scientists Named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame / September 10, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Perry Cregan
Perry Cregan
300 dpi image.

Jerry Hatfield
Jerry Hatfield
300 dpi image.

Hyun Lillehoj
Hyun Lillehoj
300 dpi image.

Ross Welch
Ross Welch
300 dpi image.

Four Scientists Named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame

By Jan Suszkiw
September 10, 2014

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2014—Four scientists have been named to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Science Hall of Fame for discoveries in soybean genomics, sustainable farming, poultry disease control and crop micronutrients. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Perry B. Cregan, Jerry L. Hatfield, Hyun S. Lillehoj and Ross M. Welch will be honored today in a ceremony at the ARS National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md. ARS established the Science Hall of Fame in 1986 to honor senior agency researchers for outstanding, lifelong achievements in agricultural science and technology. Nominees must be retired or eligible to retire to receive the award.

"Our four inductees are being recognized today for exemplary research that has had significant impact on the agricultural sector and scientific community through their innovative approaches to problem solving and dedication to mentoring young scientists," said ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young. "They exemplify the values that have made ARS the premier agricultural research organization that it is today."

Cregan, research leader of the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has been the driving force behind the development of new tools to identify, describe and map soybean, wheat and common bean genes for economically important traits, including resistance to pests and diseases, better tolerance to stresses such as drought, increased yield and improved seed quality traits.

Hatfield, director of the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, has conducted numerous field-scale research projects leading to the development of more efficient farming practices and strategies to prevent or mitigate the environmental impact of nutrient, sediment or chemical losses from crop fields through runoff, erosion or other processes.

Lillehoj, a research molecular biologist at the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has conducted basic and applied research that advanced the understanding of immunological responses in poultry to the enteric pathogens Eimeria and Clostridium, which together cost the U.S. poultry industry $5 billion annually in losses. Lillehoj also has developed alternatives to antibiotic approaches—integrating nutrition, health and disease research—to protect commercial chickens from important avian diseases.

Welch, a retired plant physiologist who worked at the ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, N.Y., conducted pioneering research on the roles of zinc, iron, nickel and other micronutrients in maintaining plant health and productivity. His discoveries illustrated the importance of using plant breeding and fertilization to bolster micronutrient levels in staple food crops, especially in developing countries where health problems associated with malnutrition is a concern.

Categories: USDA

New Lure Target's Almond Enemy No. 1: Navel Orangeworm

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 11:21
Four Scientists Named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame / September 10, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Perry Cregan
Perry Cregan
300 dpi image.

Jerry Hatfield
Jerry Hatfield
300 dpi image.

Hyun Lillehoj
Hyun Lillehoj
300 dpi image.

Ross Welch
Ross Welch
300 dpi image.

Four Scientists Named to Agricultural Research Service Science Hall of Fame

By Jan Suszkiw
September 10, 2014

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2014—Four scientists have been named to the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Science Hall of Fame for discoveries in soybean genomics, sustainable farming, poultry disease control and crop micronutrients. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Perry B. Cregan, Jerry L. Hatfield, Hyun S. Lillehoj and Ross M. Welch will be honored today in a ceremony at the ARS National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md. ARS established the Science Hall of Fame in 1986 to honor senior agency researchers for outstanding, lifelong achievements in agricultural science and technology. Nominees must be retired or eligible to retire to receive the award.

"Our four inductees are being recognized today for exemplary research that has had significant impact on the agricultural sector and scientific community through their innovative approaches to problem solving and dedication to mentoring young scientists," said ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young. "They exemplify the values that have made ARS the premier agricultural research organization that it is today."

Cregan, research leader of the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has been the driving force behind the development of new tools to identify, describe and map soybean, wheat and common bean genes for economically important traits, including resistance to pests and diseases, better tolerance to stresses such as drought, increased yield and improved seed quality traits.

Hatfield, director of the ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, has conducted numerous field-scale research projects leading to the development of more efficient farming practices and strategies to prevent or mitigate the environmental impact of nutrient, sediment or chemical losses from crop fields through runoff, erosion or other processes.

Lillehoj, a research molecular biologist at the ARS Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has conducted basic and applied research that advanced the understanding of immunological responses in poultry to the enteric pathogens Eimeria and Clostridium, which together cost the U.S. poultry industry $5 billion annually in losses. Lillehoj also has developed alternatives to antibiotic approaches—integrating nutrition, health and disease research—to protect commercial chickens from important avian diseases.

Welch, a retired plant physiologist who worked at the ARS Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, N.Y., conducted pioneering research on the roles of zinc, iron, nickel and other micronutrients in maintaining plant health and productivity. His discoveries illustrated the importance of using plant breeding and fertilization to bolster micronutrient levels in staple food crops, especially in developing countries where health problems associated with malnutrition is a concern.

Categories: USDA

New Lure Target's Almond Enemy No. 1: Navel Orangeworm

USDA Agricultural Research Service - Thu, 08/28/2014 - 11:21
New Lure Target's Almond Enemy No. 1: Navel Orangeworm / August 28, 2014 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

 Adult navel orangeworm moth (Amyelois transitella) on an almond. Link to photo information
ARS researchers and their colleagues have developed a new lure that is seven times more powerful than the current standard for bringing the navel orangeworm, the number one insect pest of almonds, into monitoring traps. Click the image for more information about it.


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New Lure Target's Almond Enemy No. 1: Navel Orangeworm

By Marcia Wood
August 28, 2014

Almond orchard experiments and laboratory tests led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and their colleagues are yielding good news for almond fans and bad news for almond's No. 1 insect enemy, the navel orangeworm. Headed by USDA chemist John J. Beck, the team has developed a promising new combination of all-natural compounds to lure navel orangeworm moths into monitoring traps.

According to Beck, preliminary tests at his Albany, California, laboratory and in two orchards in that state—the nation's leader in almond production—indicate that the experimental lure is at least seven times more powerful than the most commonly used alternative. Beck works at the Western Regional Research Center operated by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the chief intramural scientific research agency of USDA.

The new lure's effectiveness is due, at least in part, to its ability to attract both male and female navel orangeworm moths. The conventional lure can't do that.

The monitoring traps in which the new lure might someday be used are typically hung from almond tree branches. Growers and their pest control advisors use the traps to detect incoming navel orangeworm moths and to monitor their numbers, then use that information to determine the best time to apply insecticide. The new lure may provide a more accurate picture of moth numbers within an orchard.

Navel orangeworm larvae that emerge from eggs laid by female moths can damage almonds by feeding on the kernels or by contaminating them with mold-forming Aspergillus flavus or A. parasiticus fungi. The fungi are of concern because they can produce cancer-causing compounds known as aflatoxins. Almond processors spend millions of dollars annually inspecting harvested almonds to keep any nuts that contain unsafe levels of these toxins out of the food supply.

The almond studies help improve food safety and reduce food waste, two USDA top priorities. An article in the August 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine has more details about the research.

Beck and Douglas M. Light, Wai S. Gee, and Noreen E. Mahoney, all with ARS at Albany; Daniel D. Cook, with ARS at Logan, Utah; Bradley S. Higbee of Paramount Farming Co., LLC, and other colleagues, conducted the research with funding from ARS, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Almond Board of California, the California Pistachio Research Board, and Paramount Farming; and with the assistance of D&D Farms, S&J Ranch, Strain Ranches, Nickels Soil Laboratory, and others.

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