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Research and Science

Earthworms Work Wonders for Soils

Think earthworms are only good for fish bait? Think again! Earthworms play a valuable role in soil health and viability in forests, prairies, gardens and even on farmland.

Earth Day is a good time to recognize earthworms as environmental helpers. They feed primarily on organic material in soils, eating fresh and decaying material from plant roots, including crops like corn and soybeans. As they feed, they move and mix their waste with the soil in a moist, microbe-rich environment. Earthworm tunnels bring in oxygen, drain water and create space for plant roots. Their natural feeding habits mean that small amounts of soil pass through their bodies and, surprisingly, when they excrete it, it is in better condition—what goes in comes out much better!

The Benefits of Studying a Domestic Goat with an Interesting History

In much of the developing world, goats are essential for survival and are highly valued for their meat, milk and hides. So it should come as no surprise that Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and academic and industry colleagues, working with DNA from a domestic goat, used new technologies to develop a vastly improved and relatively inexpensive reference goat genome. This information will serve as a kind of instruction manual for scientists showing them how to use the same technologies to lower the cost of developing improved livestock genomes.

Using the World's Oldest Apple Trees to Supply New Ones

Considering the many different types of apples we see at farmers markets and supermarkets, it may be hard to believe that apple trees are not as diverse as they should be. But it isn’t the fruit-bearing part of the apple tree that’s the problem, it’s the apple tree’s rootstock.

Most of today’s commercially produced apples are from trees that were bred in two parts—the fruit-bearing scion that makes up the higher branches and tree tops, and the rootstock that forms the roots and lower trunk.

U.S. Agricultural Production Systems of the Future: What Research is Needed Now?

Depending on where you live in the United States, the first thing that likely comes to mind for agriculture production systems are the large fields of corn, soybeans, wheat or cotton seen growing each summer. But spend a few minutes looking at CropScape, a color-coded map that charts where almost a hundred different types of U.S. crops are grown currently, and you begin to appreciate the diversity and regionality of production systems. This map shows that although there are U.S. regions where crop production is dominated by a few commodity crops, there are others where U.S. farmers are growing a wide array of fruit, vegetables, and other “specialty” crops. Agricultural Atlas maps produced by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service show similar diversity in livestock production, including land in pasture and range production.

Honey: A Sweet Topic with New Data this Spring

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.

Every day, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) statisticians work hard to produce timely, accurate and useful statistics to U.S agriculture. In addition to producing hundreds of reports each year on crops, livestock and economic indicators for the agriculture industry, NASS collects and reports annual data for honey bee colonies. Historically, we’ve only surveyed operations or farms with five or more colonies, but in 2015 we expanded the survey to cover operations of all sizes. As a statistician who is also a beekeeper, I am pleased to provide valuable information about honey as a public service and decision-making tool.

Flushed Away...Probing For Antibiotic Presence in Our Food Supply

It’s a question with major public-health implications: Could antibiotics and other widely used medications get into our food supply when they are flushed into our sewers?

To try to answer that question, researchers from USDA and Penn State University (PSU) assessed whether some commonly used pharmaceuticals could get into a wheat crop irrigated with recycled wastewater.

Research Can Help the Economy and Inform Policy

When most people think of forests, science isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but, perhaps, it should. That’s because the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development program oversees projects across many science disciplines including forestry, genetics, wildlife, forest products and wildfire.

And the agency has been using this science to deliver returns on investments for stakeholders, industry partners, and the public.

USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Scores "Top Grade" in New Report

“Top grade,” “strong,” “substantially strengthened,” and “significantly improved,” may sound like reviews you might read about consumer products such as smart phones or televisions. However, these are the actual terms used by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in its recent review of USDA’s updated Scientific Integrity Policy.