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A Farewell Message from Secretary Tom Vilsack to Employees

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent the following message to all USDA employees:

I want to take this opportunity on my final day at USDA to express my profound gratitude to the people who work at USDA. Every day, nearly 90,000 people leave their families and the comfort of their home to do the people's work in the People's Department. What an amazing job you do each day for the country.

Open Data Summer Camp Plans Gaining STEAM for 2017

USDA and the Governance Lab at New York University (GovLab) are teaming up again to design and deliver a “summer camp” in 2017 for middle- and high-school students that focuses on using Open Data related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math (STEAM).

The Open Data STEAM Summer Camp program, begun in 2016, is an immersive two-week project-based and team-focused learning experience for students in the Washington, D.C. area. The program aims to help these students build familiarity and hands-on competence with the approaches, tools and analytical techniques relevant to harnessing the power of open data on critical issues related to food and agriculture.

A Root Beer-Based Discovery that Saved Lives

Science can do more than improve people’s lives; sometimes it can save them.

Consider the contributions of the late Allene Rosalind Jeanes, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist at what is now the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois. Her efforts are particularly worth celebrating this Veteran’s Day.

Jeanes studied polymers (large molecules composed of many repeated subunits) found in corn, wheat and wood. She spent long hours investigating how bacteria could produce polymers in huge fermentation vats. Eventually, she found a way to mass produce dextran, a type of polymer, so that it could be used as a blood volume “expander” to sustain accident and trauma victims who have lost massive amounts of blood and need to get to a hospital for a transfusion.

People behind Scientific Innovation at USDA

The past eight years have been an extraordinary time for agricultural science, and for the application of new insights from other fields to enhance agricultural productivity and the overall agricultural economy. As the final days of this administration are approaching, it gives me a great deal of pride to look back at what USDA has accomplished in the areas of research and innovation.

Scientific research is a fundamental part of our mission at USDA. But, ultimately, what's behind all the science is people – people who do the research and people who are affected by it. As USDA's Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, I've met and worked with both as I've traveled across the country and around the world.

Using Science to Help Keep Food Safe: A Day in the Life of a USDA Laboratory Auditor

July is the height of summer grilling season, and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

From soup to nuts, we use science to help ensure the quality of agricultural products for consumers worldwide. As a Microbiologist for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I am one of a small group of highly-qualified auditors that travel across the country to certify over 70 private laboratories. These labs are consistently testing to verify the quality and wholesomeness of U.S. food and agricultural products.

Our Laboratory Approval Service approves, or accredits, labs that test agricultural products in support of domestic and international trade. Our programs cover a variety of products from aflatoxin testing in peanuts and tree nuts to export verification for meat and poultry products.

Using Market Data to Feed the World

In 2050, there will be about 9 billion people in the world. How do you feed 9 billion people? Clearly, we need more food, greater production, and more efficient processes, but how do we achieve that and how does that translate to success?

The answer may be found through science and data.  USDA works hard to provide good data to decision makers on the farm, in the field, at the lab and in the office place. This data includes economic information that characterizes and evaluates global market performance and keeps food and agricultural systems working smoothly.  Information includes data on crop production, farm income, food and agricultural prices, trade, nutrition, and food security.

Students Intrigued Enough to 'Worm' Their Way into Ag Science

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.

The goal of USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program (HSINP) Future Scientists Program is to enhance the scientific knowledge of teachers, helping them to become more effective in encouraging student interest and progress in science. Teachers in the program attend two-day summer institutes at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs nationwide, where scientists introduce them to various research projects. ARS researchers share scientific knowledge with the teachers, who then share it with their students to encourage them to become future scientists.

One of the catalysts for this lofty goal is a tiny, inconspicuous and innocuous caterpillar—the corn earworm that wreaks havoc in corn fields nationwide as an agricultural pest.  This program began in 2003.  I brought 10 teachers into the ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center (SPARC) in College Station, Texas, for a summer institute that included teachers studying in corn research plots searching for corn earworm caterpillars in 100-degree heat! It was the first time I made caterpillars the focus of this program.

How College Catapults Students to Ag Careers

Gracie Valdez explains how traveling around the world helped her to want to pursue a career in international agricultural development and trade.

Growing up, the question of the day often started with “why” or “how” because I loved discovering things. Though my specific interests morphed from archaeology to geology to biology, I knew I wanted to be a scientist since the 5th grade.  In college, I chose to study biology, which exposed me to many different aspects of the field.  College was the springboard that sharpened my focus and led me to becoming the ecosystem ecologist I am today.  Recognizing National College Signing Day, I hope that today’s inbound students consider studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects to help meet our future agricultural challenges.

'Bee'ing at White House Day at the Lab

“Whoa! Do you have bees in there?” is not something the Secret Service asks every day, even of scientists when they come to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which sits next to the White House West Wing and houses most of the staff offices.

It was just a month ago that agronomist Eton Codling, from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Systems and Global Change Lab, and I, research leader of the ARS Bee Research Lab, were on our way into the White House. We were there to represent USDA at the White House Day at the Lab to give young students a taste of exciting science careers they may never have considered or even known about otherwise.

Real Superheroes Wear Lab Coats

With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the National Plant Diagnostic Network has grown into an internationally respected consortium of plant diagnostic laboratories dedicated to enhancing agricultural security by protecting health and productivity of plants in agricultural and natural ecosystems.

Dr. Ray Hammerschmidt, President of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, discusses this partnership and the benefits all Americans receive in the following guest post:

Superheroes really do work among us. But, instead of capes and cowls and ice palaces and caves, they are often found in a lab at a public university or state agriculture department, wearing lab coats and working over a microscope.

These men and women work daily to protect our communities and crops from dangerous pests and pathogens.  They are plant pathologists, entomologists, nematologists, weed scientists, and other plant scientists who work diligently to mitigate the impact of endemic, emerging, and exotic pathogens and pests that attack agricultural, forest, and landscape plants in the United States.