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The Science Behind Your Traditional Holiday Meal

Posted by Faith Peppers, NIFA Communications Director in Research and Science
Dec 16, 2020
Christmas turkey dinner
Throughout the year, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funds research across the nation that puts safe, affordable, nutritious food on your table. Photo credit: Getty Images

Holidays are traditionally a time to focus on family, friends and food. This year, as Americans navigate this unprecedented holiday season, many are turning to the kitchen to cook up expressions of love and care.

Throughout the year, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funds research across the nation that puts safe, affordable, nutritious food on your table. Here are some examples of NIFA-funded projects that make up an all-American feast:

The United States leads the world in turkey production. In 2019, the U.S. produced 5.82 billion pounds of turkey meat, per USDA’s Economic Research Service. NIFA-supported researchers at West Virginia University are working to improve meat quality through better nutrition and management. The Hatch Act provides funds to support agricultural research at U.S. land-grant universities. Michigan State University researchers have a grant from NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to address thermal challenge and meat quality.

Meat needs a side of potatoes. NIFA-supported research at the Universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Idaho enhanced U.S. potato production by improving soil health in potato production systems, creating a new paradigm for potato breeding.

Add a splash of color with sweet potatoes or carrots. A Hatch Multi-State Research Project to contain invasive guava root knot nematode in vegetables helps farmers keep sweet potatoes on your holiday table. Oregon State University researchers are developing better ways to manage bacterial blight, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Wisconsin is using NIFA funds to identify markers and genes in carrot germplasm to deliver improved carrots to growers and consumers.

University of Georgia researchers are keeping healthy greens on your plate by enhancing resiliency in broccoli production by mitigating major diseases in this crop in eastern U.S. production.

Don’t skip the cranberry sauce. North Carolina State University researchers are leveraging genetic and genomic resources to develop blueberry and cranberry cultivars with better fruit quality.

Save room for apple pie! A Cornell University research project, Precision Crop Load Management for Apples, is helping improve yields in U.S. apple production.

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative funds these projects. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized the program, providing $80 million for research to improve these valuable crops.

With people spending more time at home this year, Cooperative Extension experts across the country, supported with NIFA funds through the Smith-Lever Act, reported a booming surge in requests for home gardening educational materials. Contact your local Extension office for resources you can use.

NIFA-funded programs support multiple themes outlined in the USDA Science Blueprint (PDF, 2.6 MB) and move us closer to meeting the goals outlined in USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda.

Category/Topic: Research and Science