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NIFA

Nanostructured Biosensors Detect Pesticide, Help Preserve Environment

When does too much of a good thing become a bad thing? That’s the question Dr. Jonathan Claussen, assistant professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team of researchers aim to help farmers answer when it comes to pesticide use. Underuse can harm farmers’ crops, while overuse can result in runoff into the soil or waterways.

Claussen and his team created a flexible, low cost and disposable biosensor that can detect pesticides in soil. This biosensor is made of graphene, a strong and stable nanoparticle, and provides instantaneous feedback, as opposed to the time and money it would otherwise take to send a sample to a lab and await results.

Small Town 4-H'er Reaches for the Stars

Many kids gaze up into the night’s sky and dream of touching the stars. Peggy Whitson, NASA astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, turned that dream into reality.

Whitson grew up in the small town of Beaconsfield, Iowa, completing standard chores like mowing the lawn and caring for animals, but never lost her determination to fly and eventually go to outer space. At the age of nine, Whitson became involved with the 4-H program. Her brothers and sisters were active with the local Ringgold County 4-H club and it was a natural fit for her. The program played a key role in helping her develop from a shy girl into an exceptional leader.

NIFA, Agricultural Research Tackle Society’s ‘wicked’ problems

Our charge in the food and agricultural sciences is to move from evolutionary discoveries, which contribute to marginal changes over long periods of time, to revolutionary thinking to deal with ‘wicked’ problems by deploying transdisciplinary approaches that solve complex societal challenges. Similar to how the Internet-driven disruptive technologies have transformed America and the rest of the world, advances in data science, information science, biotechnology and nanotechnology can transform agriculture and our capacity to address societal challenges.

Advances in the field of genomics have helped breeders produce desirable varieties of crops and livestock and overcome challenges that had previously been undertaken via conventional breeding. For example, in the dairy industry, most cattle are mechanically or chemically dehorned early in life to protect against injury to other cattle and their handlers. To eliminate this bloody and painful process, a team of NIFA-funded researchers at Recombinetics have successfully used gene editing to introduce the hornless gene into the cells of horned bulls. While the majority of hornless cattle generated via conventional breeding produce low quality milk, gene editing offers a simple and rapid solution of generating hornless cattle that produce high quality milk.

Training Growers, Growing Trainers: Preparing for New Food Safety Requirements

Are you preparing to meet the new Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Produce Safety rule standards?  Have you heard about Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs)?  Maybe you’ve heard that they can get buyers to notice your products and improve your access to the market place - but you need more information to know if it can work for you.

USDA is hard at work connecting growers with training and resources to support GAP certification and expand their food safety know how. We’ve made big investments in food safety education for growers in recent years, supporting projects through AMS grant programs—the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Federal-State Market Improvement Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program, and Local Food Promotion Program.

Veterans Returning to Civilian Life Bring Skill and Talent to Farm and Ranch

In honor of Veterans Day, Deputy Under Secretary Lanon Baccam provided Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with an overview of USDA’s support for veterans. Baccam, a proud army veteran, also serves as the Department’s Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison.

NIFA Programs Salute and Assist Veterans and their Families

Whether protecting our nation and its highest ideals with military service or ensuring a safe, abundant, and nutritious food supply as veterans, we are grateful for their willingness to serve.

For more than 35 years, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs have collaborated to support those who support America – the U.S. military Veterans and their families. These collaborations have helped thousands of military families gain access to the high quality educational programs in early childhood education, youth development, community capacity and related fields that land-grant university cooperative extension services provide.

Biosecurity Education and Compliance are Critical in Preventing Avian Influenza Outbreaks

The December 2014 to June 2015 avian influenza outbreak was the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. The virus contributed to the death of more than 48 million birds, either due to infection with the virus or depopulation to prevent additional spread.  The virus was introduced into the U.S. by wild migratory waterfowl and then spread from farm to farm in a number of ways.  This included farms sharing equipment, vehicles moving between farms without being cleaned or disinfected, employees moving between infected and non-infected farms, rodents and small wild birds reported inside some poultry houses, and feed stored outside or without appropriate biosecurity measures. The virus spread was also assisted by instances of noncompliance with industry-recommended biosecurity practices.

Fortunately, avian influenza poses little threat to human health and food safety. Human infections with avian influenza are rare and most often occur after direct contact with an infected bird. Avian influenza does, however, adversely affect food availability and the economy. If a single bird became infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus during the 2014-15 outbreak, every bird in the same commercial poultry house – which contains an average of 30,000 birds – was depopulated.

Youth Embracing Agricultural Innovation Grows a Three Leaf Clover into 4-H

National 4-H Week happens each October, a time when nearly six million youth celebrate their participation in 4-H.  Every year, clubs around the country showcase the great things that 4-H offers young people and highlight the incredible things they do to make a positive impact in their communities.

The 4-H clover is one of the most recognized icons in the country, but it wasn’t always that way.  Like most things, it grew – this case from three leaves.

The seeds of 4-H were planted at the start of the 20th century by several adults in different states who were concerned about young people. Clark County, Ohio, claims credit as being the birthplace of 4-H, although the initial groups were called “The Tomato Club” or the “Corn Club.”

NIFA Programs Key to Reducing U.S. Household Food Insecurity

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2009, created by the 2008 Farm Bill.  NIFA begins its eighth year as USDA’s premier extramural agricultural science agency by examining its role in helping reduce hunger in the United States.

As a nation, we are making great strides in combating food insecurity—the limited access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources. A recent household food security report issued by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) shows the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children.

Funding and leadership from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) support many food and nutrition assistance programs that provide low-income households access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education. Three such programs are the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), Community Food Projects (CFP), and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

USDA Farmers Market Shoppers Participate in Behavioral Economics Study about Food Choices

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.

What were visitors to USDA’s Farmers Market on Friday, Sept. 30, doing with the iPads they were holding?  They certainly weren’t playing Pokemon Go!  Instead, they were participating in a behavioral economics study about food choices.

The USDA Farmers Market, managed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and located just steps from the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C., is a “living laboratory” for farmers markets around the country.  It’s also a great place to learn about the factors that influence customers’ buying decisions.