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Kansas State University

Racing for alternatives in the age of antibiotic resistance

This week is World Antibiotic Awareness week and ‘Get Smart About Antibiotics’ week. Learn more about how USDA works to ensure antibiotics remain effective to treat both people and animals when necessary and the alternatives available to traditional antibiotics.”

For billions of years, microbes such as bacteria and viruses have been in a struggle for survival in the face of naturally occurring antimicrobial substances. This struggle has continued in nature and into human society, where humans, plants, animals, and microbes themselves constantly ward off disease-causing microbes. The plight for adaptation and survival is not unlike the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, where it takes all of the running one can do to remain in the same place. 

A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

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.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs.

Growing Rural Economies and Opportunities through Social Media

From Facebook to Snapchat, rural businesses are exploring how to use social media to improve their customer’s experience and expand their customer base. Over the last eight years, USDA and the Obama Administration have partnered with rural communities to build more opportunities that support rural small business owners, farmers and ranchers through applied research.   Today USDA awarded nearly $1 million in Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grants to support market research to strengthen markets for U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.

Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), FSMIP projects make a real difference to diverse stakeholders and largely benefit rural communities.  For example, in 2013, FSMIP awarded a 2-year grant to Kansas State University to develop social media strategies for small green businesses, including nurseries, garden centers and lawn care operations, and to explore the potential of social media to expand their markets and profitability.  Social media holds promise as a strategy for these rural businesses which frequently have a small customer base and struggle to be profitable throughout the year, given the seasonal nature of their business.  Through social media, business owners could reach more potential customers for little to no cost but they often do not know how or why they should use these tools.

Wheat Blast, Bangladesh, and Biosecurity: NIFA-Funded Research Works for Global Food Security

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.

An epidemic of wheat blast is underway in Bangladesh, published reports say, and losses may be substantial in the six southeastern districts where it has been reported. Wheat blast is a crop disease caused by the Triticum pathotype of the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae (MoT). In nations where broad wheat blast epidemics have occurred, 30 percent losses have been noted, but localized areas have experienced 50-100 percent losses, according to Dr. Barbara Valent, fungal molecular geneticist at Kansas State University (KSU).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), has provided nearly $5.4 million since 2009 to support research on wheat and rice blast. KSU leads a multi-institutional research project that brings together expertise from University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, the Ohio State University, Purdue University, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

New Study Highlights Redcedar's Impact on Prairie Chickens, Helps Improve Conservation Efforts

A new study offers the first empirical data proving that female lesser prairie-chickens avoid grasslands when trees are present. The study, highlighted in a Science to Solutions report by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), underscores the importance of removing woody invasive plants like redcedar to restore grassland habitat. The new data will help guide USDA’s conservation efforts.

Though sometimes called the “green glacier” for its steady progress across the prairie, redcedar encroachment is far from glacial in speed. Open grasslands can become closed-canopy forest in as little as 40 years, making the land unsuitable to lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife.

Food Safety 101 Webinar Series: Bringing Food Safety To Your Kitchen

Food poisoning is a serious public health threat. CDC estimates that approximately 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) could suffer from food poisoning illness this year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. This September, to celebrate Food Safety Education Month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) will help get the word out about important safety tips and tools to combat foodborne illness by hosting a free two-part webinar series: “Food Safety 101”. The series will be hosted by FSIS’ Food Safety Education Staff, and will feature speakers from the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, FSIS’ Office of Public Health Science, Kansas State University, and the International Food Information Council.

The webinars will emphasize USDA’s four steps to food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill and offer a unique opportunity to hear from FSIS’s educators, researchers and partners. “Back to Basics”, the first webinar in this series, will occur on September 10th from noon to 1:30 pm EST and cover basic food safety tasks and the risks that can be avoided with proper food safety practices. “Everyday Application” will occur a week later on September 17th from noon to 1:30 pm EST. Participants of the second webinar will be able to identify common kitchen food safety blunders, and alternatives to keep your family foodborne illness free.

Consortium Uses Innovative Research to Tap Key Groundwater Source for Rural Region

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.

As a major underground water source, the Ogallala Aquifer plays a key role in the economic vitality of vast stretches of the rural Midwest.  The aquifer covers around 225,000 square miles in 8 states from South Dakota to Texas, supplying 30 percent of all U.S. groundwater used for irrigation.

But as with other natural resources that seem inexhaustible, the aquifer is effectively a nonrenewable resource. Demand from agricultural, municipal and industrial development on the Great Plains has meant that water is pumped out of a large portion of the aquifer much more quickly than it can ever be replenished.

Cochran Fellow Influences Food Security in Mozambique

Promoting food security and agricultural development around the world is a key part of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) mission. One way FAS does this is by providing educational opportunities to emerging leaders from developing countries through programs such as the Cochran Fellowship Program. Among the FAS-trained fellows who have gone on to great things is Mozambique’s Minister of Science and Technology Louis Pelembe.

Minister Pelembe was a Cochran fellow in 2003, learning about food processing techniques for soy and other commodities at Texas A&M University. He later continued his training at the University of Illinois National Soybean Research Laboratory and Kansas State University with the support of FAS’s Emerging Markets Program. Today, he’s helping address critical food security and developing agricultural policy in Mozambique.

From an Idaho Youth Loan to National Youth Leader

Shane Kerner applied for her first USDA Farm Service Agency Rural Youth Loan at age 14. Now, at age 20, she not only reached adulthood, but financial independence to grow what was once a 4-H project into a thriving cattle operation.

“I never thought I would get as far as I am today with my cattle,” said Shane. “It is truly a privilege to have the opportunity to start at a young age and see the growth of your animals from seed stock to a small commercial herd, right outside your door.”

Shane refers to her operation as a passion for finding the highest genetics for breeding Angus cattle. With the proceeds from the sale of seven grass-fed calves she purchased with the youth loan, she bought more cattle, including her best show heifer. This started the foundation for growing a registered Angus herd.

Scientists Discover Gene to Combat Devastating Wheat Rust

USDA scientists and their partners have found a molecular tool that will help control wheat stem rust, a fungal disease threatening much of the world’s wheat supply.

First reported in 1999 in Uganda, wheat stem rust--caused by the Ug99 pathogen--is a devastating disease in several countries in Africa and the Middle East where losses can be up to 70 percent. Many experts predict this specific strain could spread rapidly, causing a wheat shortage affecting food security worldwide. Ninety percent of the wheat grown worldwide is susceptible, so if no preventive action is taken, it could cause wheat shortages and affect food security.