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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.

Improving the Safety of Leafy Greens

Food safety is a top priority for consumers, especially when it comes to the leafy greens in salads. Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered natural methods to sanitize these vegetables using ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, such as oregano, cinnamon, and vinegar.

Plant extracts, essential oils, and organic sanitizers have all proved effective in killing bacteria on leafy greens and extending their shelf life. When emulsified in the water used to wash these leaves, the approach compares to (and sometimes even works better than) bleach or hydrogen peroxide.

Arizona 4-H Director Earns Awards for Leadership in Nepal

With more than 6.5 million American youth actively involved in 4-H, it’s not unusual to think of 4-H as an “All-American” tradition – and that’s OK, but there’s more to the story.  The fact is, it is estimated that more than 7 million youth in 80 countries around the world are 4-H’ers.  Now, thanks to the efforts of a man from Arizona, the mountainous Asian nation of Nepal has joined the 4-H family.

Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development program within University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, spent August and September 2014 in Nepal teaching local youth development professionals the finer points of creating a 4-H program and laying the groundwork for three members of the Nepal National Youth Federation to attend the 1st Global 4-H Summit in South Korea.  As a result, the group in January received official government recognition for the Nepal 4-H national organization.

Want to Know about Soil Moisture on your Farm? Soon, There May be an App for That

“Probably it is one of the most innovative interagency tools on the planet.”  So said Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in Boulder, CO), in describing the development of a coordinated National Soil Moisture Network.

Americans hear the words “drought” and “flood” quite often, but a key factor in determining drought or flood potential, crop yield, water supply, hydrology or climate change impacts is soil moisture.  At the Ag Outlook Forum, held recently in suburban Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA’s National Water and Climate Center (part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service) outlined plans for a nation-wide soil moisture monitoring system and the pilot system that will pave the way.

It's 'Rockets to the Rescue' During National 4-H Week

Millions of youth around the country became “aerospace engineers” for a day on Wednesday, as 4-H National Youth Science Day’s “Rockets to the Rescue” took center stage during National 4-H Week, Oct.  5 – 11.

National 4-H Week is the time when America’s 4-H clubs showcase their 6 million members and the programs in which they participate.  Studies indicate that youth who engage in 4-H’s research-driven programming are four times more likely to contribute to their communities, make healthy life choices, and strive to finish college.

Jointly Developed Watershed Assessment Model Being Used in Yosemite National Park

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 award-winning watershed assessment tool, the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA), was deployed to assess potential Rim Fire threats in Yosemite National Park in California.  The park experienced a devastating fire that began on August 17, 2013, and took several months to contain. The fire burned more than 400 square miles in and around the park, cost $125.8 million to date, and is considered one of the largest wildfires in California’s history.

BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) is a multi-agency group that includes USDA’s Forest Service and others, and is responsible for identifying potential threats such as downstream flooding and developing plans to rehabilitate and restore burned areas. BAER teams use AGWA to target immediate efforts to prevent threats to people, wildlife and the land.  Using AGWA combined with the burn severity map produced by BAER teams, experts can rapidly pull together information on pre- and post-fire conditions. For example, knowing where to apply mulch after a fire can reduce runoff and erosion and can help minimize downstream risks from fire induced land cover and soil changes.

Moving up and Out -- These Trees Were Made for Walking

With large areas of our planet heating up because of climate change, some trees (and plants) are pulling up roots and heading north, to higher elevations and to cooling climes—well, sort of.

A U.S. Forest Service-led study suggests there are a few dozen tree species in the eastern U.S. that are moving north at an unexpected rate.

“For some plants and trees, moving north is real and their only chance for survival,” said Chris Woodall, a research forester for Northern Research Station and the study’s author. “Our study confirms a link between global warming and forest migration. It’s no longer conjecture.”

Pest v. Pest: ARS Offers Method for Combating Whiteflies

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.

Some Arizona growers rely on broad-spectrum insecticides to treat whiteflies, but scientists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are studying the option of letting nature lend a hand in combating the costly pests.