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The United States Department of Agriculture
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Watkins Delivers Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Conference

August 8, 2016 - 20:18
Watkins Delivers Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Conference / August 8, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
2016 ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecturer Christopher B. Watkins.


Consumers now have access to apples like Golden Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious all year round, thanks in part to new storage technologies and management strategies. Click the image for more information about it.


Watkins Delivers Morrison Memorial Lecture at ASHS Conference

By Kim Kaplan
August 8, 2016

"New Technologies for Storage of Horticultural Products—There Is More to Adoption Than Availability" is the title of Christopher B. Watkins' 2016 ARS B.Y. Morrison Memorial Lecture, which he delivered today at the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) annual conference in Atlanta.

Watkins has contributed to the success of fruit and floral industries around the world as a leader in postharvest science and outreach. His research about controlled atmosphere biology, edible quality of fruit management, and chilling injury prevention is used across varieties and cultivars, across species, and across production areas.

In particular, Watkins has remained at the forefront of addressing significant apple industry issues by applying new developments in postharvest technologies. His research about the artificial ripening regulator 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) is instrumental in the understanding of apple ethylene biology, both from a scientific standpoint and from industry's applied perspective and practical need to control ripening.

Within the floral industry, 1-MCP is used to preserve the freshness of ornamental plants and flowers. Growers, packers and shippers use 1-MCP to maintain the quality of fruits and vegetables as diverse as kiwifruit, tomatoes, plums, persimmons, avocados and melons.

By implementing the postharvest practices developed by Dr. Watkins, the apple industry has greatly improved the quality of fruit delivered to consumers while reducing or eliminating the use of synthetic postharvest chemicals. His research with 'Honeycrisp' apples identified a postharvest strategy that has largely eliminated postharvest chilling injury, which has allowed this variety to achieve a profitability unprecedented in the apple industry.

Watkins is director of Cornell University Cooperative Extension as well as a professor of postharvest science and associate dean of the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) established this memorial lectureship in 1968 to honor the memory of Benjamin Y. Morrison (1891-1966) and to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to horticulture and other environmental sciences, to encourage the use of these sciences, and to stress the urgency of preserving and enhancing natural beauty. Morrison was a pioneer in horticulture and the first director of ARS's U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC. A scientist, landscape architect, plant explorer, author and lecturer, Morrison advanced the science of botany in the United States and fostered broad international exchange of ornamental plants.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.

Categories: Agricultural News

Flushing HLB out of Citrus Trees

August 3, 2016 - 20:25
Flushing HLB out of Citrus Trees / August 3, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service Read the magazine story to find out more.


Adult Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri, (2-3 millimeters long) on a young citrus leaf. Click the image for more information about it.

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Flushing HLB out of Citrus Trees

By Dennis O'Brien
August 3, 2016

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) entomologist is providing citrus growers with much-needed guidance about the best times to use insecticides to control Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening.

HLB has cost Florida citrus growers an estimated $1.3 billion since 2005. The disease is caused by a bacterium spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, which feeds on leaves of infected trees and carries the disease from tree to tree. Insecticides are currently the best option for controlling HLB.

David G. Hall, with Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida, studied whether trees are more susceptible when producing new leaves-a cyclical phase known as "flush" that happens three or four times a year. Flushing cycles in Florida citrus usually occur in February, in late May, and again in late August. Researchers can prompt new leaf development at almost any time of year by trimming small branches.

Hall and his colleagues trimmed the branches of groups of trees at three staggered intervals. The first group was trimmed three weeks before being exposed to infected psyllids to simulate trees in their "old flush" stage. A second group was trimmed two weeks later to simulate "new flush," and a third group was trimmed two weeks after that to simulate trees that were not in flush. Immediately after the third trimming, the scientists released HLB-infected psyllids and let them feed for a week. The researchers evaluated infection rates after six months.

The results indicate that trees in flush had much higher infection rates than the "no flush" trees, and that the first group of trimmed trees (old flush) experienced the highest infection rates. In one trial, trees exposed to HLB at their old flush stage were 80 percent infected, those exposed during young flush were 23 percent infected, and those with no flush were only 3 percent infected.

The findings show growers the importance of monitoring for psyllids when the trees are in flush, and that it's the older-flush trees they really need to worry about and target with insecticides, Hall says.

Categories: Agricultural News

ARS Research Leads to Better Understanding of Bee Health

August 2, 2016 - 22:32
ARS Research Leads to Better Understanding of Bee Health / August 2, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Honey bee flying to cuphea flower. Click the image for more information about it.


Altering the microbes in a very young honey bee's gut can have long-term consequences throughout the bee's life. Click the image for more information about it.


ARS Research Leads to Better Understanding of Bee Health

By Kim Kaplan
August 2, 2016

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2016—Bacteria in the gut of young honey bees may provide clues about the impact parasites have on bee health. That and other experimental findings were published by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Because young honey bees don't have gut bacteria, entomologist Jay Evans and post-doc Ryan Schwarz at ARS' Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and University of Texas at Austin professor Nancy Moran conducted tests to determine the impact different combinations of a common bacterium and a common parasite had on honey bee health. The scientists hypothesized that increasing the gut bacterium would make the bees more resistant to the parasite, but instead it lead to surprising results.

"This was 180 degrees opposite of our original hypothesis," said Schwarz. "We suspected introduction of the bacterium would promote a resistance to the parasite, but the opposite occurred."

Other findings from the research include,

  • If the gut of the young bees were colonized by parasites and/or by an unusually large number of the gut bacterium, they would have a much different gut make-up (microbiome) in later life than normal bees.
  • Bees treated with combinations of the bacterium and/or parasites showed greater key detoxification gene activity when placed in a stressed (low-protein diet) condition. This is significant as these genes affect a bee's ability to breakdown foreign molecules, including insecticides.
  • Bees with greater parasite infestations might spend more time in the hive as workers and thus increase the likelihood of parasite transmission within the colony and impact the ability of the bees to gather food.

These results highlight how shifts in the bees' gut make-up might play a crucial role in the health of the honey bee colony.

"Bee keepers need to be more mindful of what goes into their hives whether antibiotic, probiotic, or parasite," said ARS entomologist Jay Evans. "Eight types of bacteria usually inhabit a bee's gut. It's clear that more research is needed in order to gain a better understanding of these microbes and their impact on bee health."

Pollinators are critical to the nation's economy, food security and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts and vegetables. As part of the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, USDA and other federal agencies conduct science-based research to understand and find solutions for the causes of honey bee losses, to increase pollinator habitat and raise awareness about better bee management.

USDA's research and outreach agencies are working in many ways to contribute to the President's National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators. For example, the U.S. Forest Service is also conducting research on pollinators while restoring and improving pollinator habitat on national forests and grasslands. Over the past six years, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service has invested more than $82 million in cutting-edge pollinator research and over the past decade has published nearly 200 journal articles about pollinators. USDA's People's Garden Initiative has launched a number of efforts to expand pollinator public education programs, including a bee cam that gives real time insight into the 80,000 bees who live on the roof of USDA's Headquarters and pollinate the surrounding landscape.

The fact sheet: Research and Outreach at USDA Keeps Pollinators Buzzing contains more information about USDA's work to keep pollinators buzzing and contributing to a diverse domestic and global food supply.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. The Agency strives to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting Americans every day. ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination to ensure high-quality, safe food and other agricultural products; assess the nutritional needs of Americans; sustain a competitive agricultural economy; enhance the natural resource base and the environment; and provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

Categories: Agricultural News

New Faba Beans Offer Multiple Benefits

July 27, 2016 - 19:47
New Faba Beans Offer Multiple Benefits / July 27, 2016 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Read the magazine story to find out more.

ARS postdoc Erik Landry measures a new winter-hardy faba bean plant while visiting scientist Jun He records the data.


New Faba Beans Offer Multiple Benefits

By Jan Suszkiw
July 27, 2016

Four cold-tolerant faba bean germplasm lines are now available for developing pulse or cover crops that can be rotated with wheat and other cereal grains grown in the Pacific Northwest.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists who co-developed the new germplasm lines, planting faba beans can offer both environmental and economic benefits. These include converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form subsequent crops can use for growth, forming a thick canopy that shades out weeds, protecting the soil from erosion, and nourishing it when chopped and left to decompose as a so-called “green manure.”

Although current U.S. varieties can tolerate cool temperatures and light frosts, they don’t possess true winter hardiness, according to geneticist Jinguo Hu, with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Shoring up that trait could allow greater flexibility in where and when growers use faba beans as an annual winter cover crop or green manure. Other benefits are fertilizer savings and extra income from harvesting the seed.

In the Palouse—a region encompassing parts of southeastern Washington State and northwestern Idaho—pea, chickpea and lentil are currently used as rotation crops with wheat, the predominant crop there. However, faba bean has the potential to extend the crop diversity in the Palouse and other U.S. regions, notes Hu, who leads ARS’s Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research Unit in Pullman, Washington.

In October 2008, Hu and his ARS and Washington State University collaborators began an intensive screening effort to identify sources of winter hardiness in faba bean plant populations derived from 175 germplasm accessions collected worldwide.

From that total, the team chose several promising lines and produced six consecutive generations of offspring plants to recover and refine the hardiest individuals. They ultimately selected four lines of European descent with average winter survival rates of 84 percent during 2013-2014 field tests in southeastern Washington, where the lowest air temperatures ranged from 11 degrees Fahrenheit (F) down to minus 12.5 F during the past six winter seasons.

Read more about these faba beans in the July 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine. ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

Categories: Agricultural News