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Research

Each day, the work of USDA scientists and researchers touches the lives of all Americans: from the farm field to the kitchen table and from the air we breathe to the energy that powers our country. USDA science is on the cutting edge, helping to protect, secure, and improve our food, agricultural and natural resources systems.

USDA research has supported America's farmers and ranchers in their work to produce a safe and abundant food supply for more than 100 years. This work has helped feed the nation and sustain an agricultural trade surplus since the 1960s. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research now returns over $20 to our economy.

Driving Innovation in Rural America

USDA continues to aggressively partner with private companies, universities and others to transfer technology to the marketplace to benefit consumers and stakeholders. Since 2009, USDA has invested $4.32 billion in research and development grants.

  • In the past five years, research by USDA scientists has led to over 600 patent applications covering a wide range of topics and discoveries.
  • In fiscal year 2013 alone, USDA received 51 patents, filed 147 patent applications, and disclosed 180 new inventions.
  • Helping drive these innovations, in fiscal year 2013, USDA also had 259 active Cooperative Research and Development Agreements with outside investigators, which includes universities and other organizations, including 117 with small businesses.

Enhancing the Productivity of American Agriculture and Our Food Supply

  • USDA scientists and university partners have revealed the genetic blueprints of a host of plants and animals including the genomes of apples, pigs, and turkeys, and in 2012, they furthered understanding of the tomato, bean, wheat and barley genomes -- key drivers in developing the resilience of those crops to feed growing populations in the face of climate change. USDA researchers also created the Maize Genome Database, an important tool to help farmers improve traits in this vital crop.
  • USDA scientists played a key role in mapping the bovine genome to help produce cattle with improved production traits. This research has the potential to help in finding cures for human diseases.
  • USDA ranked first worldwide among research institutions publishing on priority diseases in animal health including salmonellosis, avian influenza, mycobacterial disease, coccidiosis, campylobacterosis, and mastitis.
  • Our scientists have found the primary site where the virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease begins infection in cattle and used that new understanding to develop an improved vaccine against the disease.
  • They are also working on new strategies to control mites and other major honey bee problems such as colony collapse disorder.
  • USDA is a leader in using remote sensing and mapping to visualize data in support of agricultural policy and business decision making. NASS has developed and published online animated U.S. crop progress and topsoil moisture maps, along with other resources, to help experts assess farmland data.
  • USDA awarded $70 million through 146 grants to organizations that provide training and resources for our nation's beginning farmers and ranchers. More than 50,000 new farmers and ranchers have received training, helping to ensure the next generation is able to meet the global demand for food in the coming years.

Improving Nutrition and Fighting Obesity

  • USDA scientists are part of an international team that has found a way to boost the nutritional value of broccoli, tomatoes, corn, and other staple crops like oats and rice.
  • USDA-supported science is investigating the causes of childhood obesity. USDA research has shown how healthy foods can often cost less than foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar and/or sodium.
  • USDA created the Food Environment Atlas, which offers an interactive tool for mapping a wide range of county-level indicators of the food environment, food assistance, and affordability—indicators such as distance to full-service grocery stores, incomes and poverty rates, health outcomes, and State-level participation rates for food assistance programs. This tool provides a spatial overview of a community's ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so.

Conserving Natural Resources and Combating Climate Change

  • USDA researchers examined the potential impacts of a suite of climate scenarios on U.S. crop production. Studies like these will help policymakers, farmers, industry leaders and others better understand the effects of and adapt to a changing climate on America's crop production.
  • USDA scientists are developing rice and corn crops that are drought- and flood-resistant, and help improve the productivity of soil, as well as production systems that require increasing smaller amounts of pesticides or none at all.
  • USDA researchers created i-Tree, urban forest management software to help cities understand the value of urban trees through carbon sequestration, erosion protection, energy conservation and water filtration.
  • USDA scientists conduct research on the use of wood as a building material, helping companies meet green building design standards and creating jobs using forest products. We also worked with Major League Baseball to reduce the occurrence of broken baseball bats.
  • USDA supports families managing through tough economic times by helping residents save energy at home and conserve water, with a program run by Cooperative Extension and our land-grant university partners. Participants in the program saved an average of $350 per year on utility bills.