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Digital Plant Diagnosis: Turning a Mobile App into an Agricultural Game-Changer

Ireland lost about 20 percent of its population to starvation and emigration during the great famine of 1845-1849 because disease destroyed that nation’s major food source – potato.  Today, an Irish-born professor at Penn State University believes that a similar situation in other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, could be a thousand times worse.

But there’s hope, he said, because modern food producers have a tool the 19th century Irish did not – smartphones and mobile apps, like PlantVillage.

Creating Uniformity in a Diverse Industry

During its 100 years of serving the livestock industry, USDA Market News – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – has prided itself in creating transparency and clarity in the marketplace by allowing all industry stakeholders to have the same information about the market at the same time.  The entire agricultural supply chain relies on USDA Market News for timely, unbiased data.  Without this free service, information would not be available to everyone equally, making USDA Market News a vital lifeline for America’s agricultural economy.

Over the years, countless changes have occurred in the livestock industry – like the way that livestock standards are applied and the way market reporting is conducted.  To keep up with these changes, livestock correlations are held to assure the industry that all USDA market reporters are applying the USDA’s livestock grades and standards consistently and accurately.

USDA Team Nutrition Grants Promote Healthier Meals for Our Nation's Schoolchildren

Schools are successfully serving more nutritious meals to America's students, and healthier meals mean healthier kids. USDA is constantly working to do everything we can to support school nutrition professionals as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults. To further assist schools, USDA announced the availability of up to $5.5 million in Team Nutrition training grants for states for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. These grants focus on the implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms - an innovative strategy using behavioral economics to encourage healthy eating in the cafeteria - as well as the healthier meal standards, HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), USDA Foods, nutrition education, and wellness activities in schools and child care institutions. To apply for the grants, state agencies should visit www.grants.gov.

Here are some examples of how Team Nutrition grants have helped schools in the past:

Grant Workshops Continue USDA's Solid Investment into Local Food Sector

A year ago, President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) into law. Equipped with resources from the Bill, USDA continues to support the growth of farmers markets and local and regional food systems. In fact, last year the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing opportunities through the new Farmers Market and Local Food Marketing Promotion Program.

In addition to financial investments into our communities, we also invest our time and expertise to help farmers, ranchers and others strengthen the local and regional food sector and the communities it supports. That’s why we’re excited to begin a series of grant writing workshops with our sister agency, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Avocados: Helping Draw up the Perfect Recipe for the Big Game

The Super Bowl is next Sunday and people are busy making plans for the big game. For many, the most valuable player will be the avocado, which is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

In fact, it’s estimated that Americans will consume 120 million pounds or 240 million fresh avocados during the week leading up to the Super Bowl. This is a 20 percent increase from last year. It is also estimated that the amount of avocados consumed during the big game will be enough to fill an entire football field from end zone to end zone over 46 feet high.

Collective Courage: New Book Relates History of African-American Co-ops

Note: Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, was published this year by Penn State University Press (www.psupress.org). The following is one in a series of blogs being posted in observance of National Cooperative Month in October.

Scholars of cooperative topics are praising Collective Courage: A History of African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, by Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, a faculty member at John Jay College, City University of New York. The book has been called “the most complete history to date of the cooperative economic struggles of African Americans.”

The author reminds readers that large proportions of the African-American community have had to struggle with familial, social, political and economic difficulties due to a history of enslavement, racial segregation, discrimination and violence. This experience has resulted in solidarity within the African-American community and helped facilitate social-action organizations.

The Cost of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is a valuable resource. The Bay is home to a variety of species, such as blue crab and striped bass, provides jobs for local fishing communities, and serves as a place to interact with nature. About a quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agriculture. The crops and livestock produced in this region provide food and fiber for millions of Americans. But these agricultural lands do more than produce food—they can play a role in improving the Bay’s water quality.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with the Bay states to set water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to develop Watershed Improvement Plans, or “WIPs,” for each of the states.

Why Research is Vital for Eradicating the Asian Longhorned Beetle

In addition to the existing science-based eradication protocols for fighting an Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) infestation, such as surveying trees and removing infested ones, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) relies on on-going research to not only improve current protocols, but also to develop new ones.

APHIS’s Center for Plant Health Science and Technology continues research to develop attractant-baited traps designed to lure and capture adult insects. The attractants include plant odors and pheromones, which are naturally occurring chemicals created and used by insects to communicate with each other.  These attractants are used to lure beetles to traps that are hung on trees that the beetle will attack.  Traps can aid in early detection of insects in areas where survey staff may not be working. When the traps are checked by staff members and a beetle is found, nearby trees may be surveyed to determine if they are infested. This year, the traps will be placed in the spring and early summer in strategic locations in all three ALB-affected states: New York, Massachusetts, and Ohio.  APHIS is also working with the U.S. Forest Service and Penn State University on their research with similar ALB traps.

Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake Bay

Last fall, USDA brought together a group of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, state policymakers, and other stakeholders involved in one of the most challenging nutrient management initiatives in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: enabling water quality trading markets.

Water quality trading offers flexibility to those required to improve water quality in the Bay: power plants, wastewater treatment plants, new developments, and agricultural producers, among others. It allows those facing high costs of water quality improvement to reduce those costs, working with farmers to improve water quality on their behalf, thus providing farmers with additional income streams and the opportunity to significantly increase the scope of conservation practices on their land.

Mobile Apps Help Dairy Farmers Compute Costs and be Environmentally Friendly

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 profile.

It’s a digital world – and agriculture is no exception. More and more, farmers and ranchers are moving away from traditional methods of getting their news and information. Mobile devices are convenient, budget-friendly ways for farmers and ranchers to stay up-to-date on a variety of agricultural issues.