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A Hot Idea for Producing Cool, Clean Energy

Solar panels on fallow ground in Las Cruces, NM
A typical utility-scale single-axis tracking installation built on fallow ground in Las Cruces, NM. The solar panels are elevated 4 feet above the ground on pedestals and rotate from east to west to follow the sun. (Photo courtesy of Derek Whitelock)

'Agrivoltaics' – agriculture + photovoltaics, is a hot new idea that uses land for both growing food and making energy from the sun in states where there’s lots of sunshine and not much water.

Agrivoltaics involves placing solar panels in farm fields and ranches in Southwestern U.S. states like New Mexico. In addition to capturing sunlight to produce electricity, shade from the solar panels provides cover that can prevent plants and animals from overheating in the scorching sun. The results of this project will be both green crops and green energy – that can also produce revenue for farmers and ranchers. Learn more about this innovative research. 

Predicting E. coli Outbreaks in Leafy Greens

Foodborne illness outbreaks due to Escherichia coli O157:H7 (EcO157) contamination not only cause harm to consumers but may also result in nationwide recalls for food suppliers. Predicting contamination in the field could reduce human illness and limit the amount of lettuce that must be thrown away. 

ARS researchers in Albany, CA, and Cleveland State University developed a weather data model to predict EcO157 contamination trends in lettuce. The model accurately predicted EcO157 survival rates on young romaine lettuce plants that had been measured in previous field experiments in Salinas, CA the lettuce-growing capital of the world. 

Food safety regulatory agencies can use this user-friendly model to develop a weather-based risk assessment tool for the lettuce industry thereby reducing waste due to crop contamination. Learn more about this research.

 

Stamping Out Fire Ants

Fire ants are a menace to humans, animals, and agriculture. They reduce crop yields, injure livestock, damage farm and electrical equipment, and put human lives at risk when stung, from allergic reactions to their venom. Fire ants currently infest about 350 million acres, with up to 60 colonies per acre and each colony can have more than 200,000 workers. They reproduce during mating flights that distribute millions of new queens several times a year; this makes eradication nearly impossible. Fortunately, researchers from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are working on a variety of innovative, diverse strategies to control the spread of fire ants. Learn more below:
 

Fire Ant Control Research Projects

Dampening the Spread of Fire Ants

ARS researchers are working on biocontrol methods that suppress the ants and make them less competitive with other, local ant species. 

 

Improving Fire Ant Bait

Recent studies show that the venom found in fire ant's digestive systems could be a key ingredient to solve fire ant bait issues.

 

Using Fire Ants to Fight the Sugarcane Borer

ARS researchers are using fire ants as biocontrol to help save sugarcane fields from the sugarcane borer.

Sharing is Caring with Fire Ant Venom

ARS scientists discovered a new way that fire ants use their venom to prevent diseases in their colonies.

Fire Ants and Other Burning Problems

ARS scientists are working to reduce the toll fire ants have been taking.
 

New Enviro-Safe Technology

ARS scientists recently discovered a new technology that is safer than pesticides to control fire ants and keep them away. 

Natural Enemies Close In on Fire Ants

Hunting for natural enemies of the red imported fire ant is paying off.

A Field Kit for Fire Ants

ARS researchers and APHIS colleagues developed a new test that quickly identifies red imported fire ants.

Could Fire Ants Be Useful as a Biocontrol?

A blue bottle fly

Protecting Our Pollinators

Pollinators are essential to healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.

National Pollinator Week is celebrated every June to raise awareness about what we can do to protect our important pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, beetles, flies and other insects play a vital role in producing more than 100 crops grown in the United States. 

The USDA supports the critical role pollinators play in agriculture through research and data collections, diagnostic services and pollinator health monitoring, pollinator habitat enhancement programs, and pollinator health grants.

 

A monarch butterfly

How the Agricultural Research Service is Helping Pollinators

Breeding Honey Bees for Adaptation to Regionalized Plants and Artificial Diets
Honey bees could be intentionally bred to thrive on plants that are already locally present or even solely on artificial diets.

ARS Asian Giant Hornet Research
How ARS is protecting pollinators from a new threat — the Asian giant hornet.

Natural Products May Be Buzzworthy Solutions for Honey Bees' Health
Researchers from the ARS Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and collaborators found some natural products' medicinal properties reduced virus levels and improved gut health in honey bees.

Honey Bee Health
ARS is striving to enhance overall honey bee health and improve bee management practices by studying honey bee diseases as well as basic honey bee biology and genetics.

Trapping Weevils and Saving Monarchs
ARS studies intended to improve detection of boll weevils could help save the monarch butterfly.

Collecting a Library of Bee Genomes
ARS is leading a project dubbed "Beenome100" to produce high-quality maps of the genomes of at least 100 bee species, capturing the diversity of bees in the United States, representing each of the major bee taxonomic groups in this country.

Which Milkweeds Do Monarch Butterflies Prefer?
Not all milkweeds are created equal when it comes to species of the native flowering plants that monarch butterflies prefer most.

Cool Bee Videos

Pollinator Resources: Fact Sheets, Blogs and More

An alfalfa leafcutter

Pollinator Resources: Fact Sheets, Blogs and More

ARS Honey Bee Health page 
Honey bees are a critical link in U.S. agricultural production. Learn about Colony Collapse Disorder and other major factors threatening honey bee health.

ARS Facebook Premiere on Beekeeping
Try your hand at beekeeping with these tips from our bee expert and help our pollinators.

Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond 
Make sure your garden is bee friendly (USDA Bee Biology and Systematics Lab, Logan, UT)

Pollinator Friendly Tips
Tips from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to help you be a friend to pollinators.

The U.S. National Pollinating Insects Collection
As part of the ARS Pollinating Insects Research Unit, this world class collection supports research to enhance pollination through the development of native bees as crop pollinators.

Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to enable farmers and ranchers to plant milkweed and other plants to help monarch butterflies.

U.S. Forest Service's Pollinator of the Month 
Highlights the interdependency of certain species of native North American wildflowers and their pollinators. Most plants have a flower color, blooming period or scent that will attract a particular type of pollinator to its pollen.

USDA National Pollinator Week blogs 
USDA blogs related to past National Pollinator Week.

USDA Pollinators Site 
Each of us depends on pollinators in a practical way to provide us with the wide range of foods we eat. Learn about USDA initiatives

ARS Honey Bee Research Laboratories

A scientist working with a collection of pollinators
One of the top bee museums in the world, the U.S. National Pollinating Insects Collection requires careful maintenance. A technician is placing labels on samples. (Photo by Jack Dykinga)

Did you know? ARS bee research laboratories are located throughout the United States. Each of the labs focus on a wide range of issues that impact bee health. Learn more

ARS Bee Research Laboratories

Bee Research Laboratory
Beltsville, MD

Carl Hayden Bee Research Center
Tucson, AZ

Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit
Baton Rouge, LA

Pollinating Insect-Biology, Management, Systematics Research Unit
Logan, UT

Invasive Species and Pollinator Health Unit
Davis, CA

Southern Horticultural Research Center
Poplarville, MS

Tropical Crop and Commodity Protection Research Unit 
Hilo, HI

Agricultural Genetic Resources Preservation Research Unit 
Peoria, IL

Crop Bioprotection Research Unit
Peoria, IL

Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Research Unit 
Fargo, ND 

Soil Management Research Unit
Morris, MN

Vegetable Crops Research Unit
Madison, WI

Integrated Cropping Systems Research Unit
Brookings, SD

 


Can't get enough of pollinators? To learn more about honey bee and pollinator research, follow us on:  

#PollinatorWeek   #USDAScience

Topic

Insects

Citrus Greening Portal

What is Huanglongbing or Citrus Greening?

Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, poses the most serious threat that the Florida citrus industry has ever faced. The bacteria that cause citrus greening - three species of Liberibacter – most likely originated in Asia prior to 1900 and has slowly spread throughout the world in many citrus growing areas. In countries where the disease is endemic, different varieties of citrus trees like “sweet orange” begin to decline within 3-4 years after planting, resulting in reduced fruit crop and fruit quality. 

Citrus greening FAQs

Citrus greening was first detected in Florida in 2005. By 2008, it had been identified in most of the citrus growing counties in the state. Despite intense efforts, citrus greening now threatens the survival of Florida citrus, has a toehold in other citrus areas, and poses a threat to the entire U.S. citrus industry. 

What are we doing to control citrus greening?

ARS scientists across the country are actively engaged in research with university and industry partners on all aspects of this disease problem, including the host, pathogen, and insect vector. We are making great progress in not only understanding how citrus greening infiltrates healthy citrus trees, but how to protect these trees from the disease. Our goal is to overcome citrus greening and ensure the U.S. citrus industry can provide consumers with tasty, high quality citrus fruits for years to come.

 

Watch our citrus greening research in action:

Scientists’ Push for HLB-Tolerant Citrus

Genetic discovery could speed the search for hybrid citrus trees that tolerate citrus greening disease and produce fruit ideal for making juice.

How to Save the Florida Citrus Industry?

ARS researchers find answers in the unique biology of the ocean.

 

Citrus Greening: Is the End in Sight?

Researchers are boosting the citrus tree immune system.

 

ARS Citrus Rootstocks: A Success Story

 Begun by USDA more than a century ago, the citrus research program has helped to ensure a bounty of oranges and other citrus. 

 

A dog detecting citrus greening in a grove
Canines Detect Citrus Greening

Specially trained canines may be used to detect citrus greening in orchards.

 

Leaves with symptoms of citrus greening.
Beating a Citrus Grove Enemy

ARS scientists in Florida are studying the effectiveness of two new antibacterial spray treatments that show promise for improving tree health.

 

Jekyll from Hyde in Citrus Disease

Researchers found a way to distinguish between two citrus diseases that are similar in appearance, but dangerously different.

 

citrus leaf with yellow spots
Guarding Against Citrus Greening

Researchers are developing new strategies to combat citrus greening, including an improved diagnostic test to detect the bacterium.

 

See Where We Are Conducting Citrus Greening Research 

Citrus and Other Subtropical Products Research Unit: Fort Pierce, FL    

Subtropical Plant Pathology Research Unit: Fort Pierce, FL  

Subtropical Insects and Horticulture Research Unit: Fort Pierce, FL 

Emerging Pests and Pathogens Research Unit: Ithaca, NY

National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Citrus: Riverside, CA

Molecular Plant Pathology Laboratory: Beltsville, MD


 


For more information about ARS citrus greening research, contact:

Tim Rinehart 
Crop Production and Protection
National Program Leader (Specialty Crops)
Email: tim.rinehart@usda.gov

Jack Okamuro
Crop Production and Protection (Biotechnology)
National Program Leader
Email: jack.okamuro@usda.gov 


 


Additional Citrus Greening Resources: 

Coordinated Response to Citrus Greening Disease | USDA

Citrus Greening | Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

Huanglongbing/Citrus Greening Disease Information | Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Citrus Greening | National Invasive Species Information Center

Lady beetles are synonymous with sunshine and summertime, buzzing around tall green grass and plants from small gardens to large meadows. Perhaps the most familiar lady beetle is the iconic red bug with black spots, but there are hundreds of species, both native and non-native to the United States.

Lady beetles prey on a wide variety of aphids, or insect pests, making them essential to biological pest control. It’s for this reason that ARS scientists continually work to collect, research, and identify the most beneficial species of lady beetles to help curb the use of pesticides.

While many lady beetles are native to all 50 states, when it comes to crossing the Pacific to the islands of Hawaii, there are no lady beetles inherent to the tropical ecosystem.

“There is no evidence, at this point, that any of the lady beetles in Hawaii are native, those that exist have all been brought in from other places in the world,” said Louis Hesler, entomologist and lead scientist at the North Central Research Laboratory for Integrated Cropping System Research in Brookings, SD.

Presently, ARS researchers have collected and identified 50 lady beetles that are beneficial, serving as champions of Hawaiian biological pest control.

Recently, Hesler’s team received two apparently new kinds of lady beetles from collaborators in Hawaii. The team is currently working to research and identify whether these two kinds will also benefit the islands.

“We want to inform the pest management practitioners, horticulturalists, and the people that are involved in production agriculture and landscape architecture to give them a handle on what biological resources are available for pest control,” Hesler said. “We’re trying to develop a list of all species that are established, or confirmed, in Hawaii.

“There’s been a lot of beneficial insects, like lady beetles, that have been introduced in Hawaii but not all have been proven within the environment,” Hesler added. “So, it’s important we document those lady beetles that are fully established.” – Tami Terella-Faram, ARS Office of Communications


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A green pea aphid.

Locking Out Viruses

Aphids are a well-known foe of anyone who grows plants, whether they’re farmers or home gardeners. The tiny insects harm plants by sucking sap from them, but they’re also very good at spreading viruses that are bad for plants – including important crops. One ARS researcher found a breakthrough way to keep aphids and the diseases they spread at bay, using the infamous spike protein that’s located on the outside of viruses. Find out more about how this game-changing technology can save plants.

An ARS scientist examines bioplastics, produced using byproducts of agricultural production. 

Planet vs. Plastics

One of the great challenges to sustainability today is plastics — so much so that the theme of Earth Day in 2024 was “Planet vs. Plastics.” There are many reasons that plastics post a threat —  from their sources in non-renewable petrochemicals to the fact that they can last for long periods in the environment, long after people have finished using them for their intended purposes. They can also produce harmful particles called microplastics that end up in the food system and our bodies. What solutions does ARS offer to this challenge? 

Listen to this Earth Day interview with scientist Bill Orts to hear about some of the promising solutions that we’re developing — including plastics made from renewable agricultural byproducts, and more!

Salmonellosis (salmonella poisoning) is a leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., with over one million illnesses per year. Salmonellosis is transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food products, including raw or under-cooked poultry, eggs, meat, raw or unpasteurized dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. It can also be transferred from handling pets — particularly some birds and reptiles. 

To combat its harmful effects, USDA is launching a "Grand Challenge" initiative to combat Salmonella. Learn how ARS is using the Grand Challenge to determine ways to identify and reduce Salmonella infections by reading our Under the Microscope Q&A.

ARS researchers in West Lafayette, IN, are examining how cattle, swine, and poultry are raised in an effort to improve their quality of life. To reach their goal, the researchers are focusing on three priority areas under modern farming conditions: pain or distress, animal health and productivity, and harmful effects caused by climate variability. 

Profile of a black and white cow's head with blue sky backgound.
A happy cow. (Photo by Peggy Greb)

Modern farming refers to the use of technology to improve agricultural practices. Examples include the dairy industry's use of automated milk feeders for young calves and the use of monitors to track an animal’s movements. In both cases, data can note changes in behavior and help predict the onset of disease. Early detection means a sick animal can receive treatment sooner, reducing suffering, production losses, and the chance of the illness spreading. This approach could save treatment-related expenses and improve animal welfare.

Animal welfare science is a relatively young field that combines several scientific disciplines. One discipline that figures prominently is ethology, the study of animal behavior.

“We will continue to optimize animal welfare to maintain stakeholder confidence in animal agricultural practices,” said Jessica Pempek, an ARS animal scientist. “There is an ethical and moral obligation to ensure that animals under human care have a good quality of life, regardless of if they are used for companionship or food production.” Read more here.

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