August 15, 2004
Drainage Pipes: Helping Farmers ? and the Environment
Pumping water back through the same buried pipes used to drain wet fields could increase crop yields significantly while cleaning groundwater and providing a wetland wildlife habitat. Results from three test sites in the counties of Fulton, Defiance and Van Wert, Ohio, show corn yields went up nine to 60 bushels an acre while soybean yields increased by six to 11 bushels an acre, on average. The 'reuse' system kept the water table constant during the growing season, giving crops all the water they needed. The stable water table also limited nitrate-nitrogen from leaching below the reach of corn or soybean roots. Preliminary results show that water exiting the wetland had, on average, 75 percent less solids - organic matter and sediment, with pesticides possibly attached; 74 percent less nitrate from fertilizer and 63 percent less organic carbon. The wetland trapped the solids and organic carbon, and used the nitrogen to fertilize wetland plants. Vegetation is thriving in the healthy wetland, providing cover for a variety of wildlife such as herons, mallards and dragonflies.
Desert Laboratory - for the World
The fifth year of drought on ARS' 193,000-acre Jordana Experimental Range at Las Cruces, N.M., established in 1912, has sped up the loss of grazing land to brush invasions. ARS scientists analyzing USDA aerial photographs of the Jordana taken in the 1930s have noticed that shrubs seemed better able to outcompete grass in dry times. The historical data shows that vegetation reaches a threshold beyond which a change, such as from grass to brush, is irreversible. The scientists are investigating what drives this vegetation change, by feeding historical and current data into computer models to help them predict, and avoid, the threshold. The desert rangeland scientists' main concern is protecting the land's health while sustaining farming and ranching. Jordana researchers have about a century of historical data to rely on, in addition to new data being collected. They are finding ways to mine the past for clues to help rangeland managers around the world shape the landscape in desirable ways on the one-third of the Earth's land mass that is desert.
Sorghum: The Next New Wave in Grains?
Is your breakfast cereal boring you? Or do you have to avoid bread products that contain wheat, or the cereal proteins known as 'gluten?' If so, sorghum might be for you. ARS scientists in Manhattan, Kan., are trying to coax this lesser-known grain out of its shell. More specifically, they are analyzing kernels of food-grade sorghum in hopes of bringing into the mainstream products such as breads and noodles made from the nutty-tasting grain. Why? Some varieties of sorghum represent a surprising new source of cancer-fighting compounds. Such whole-grain varieties contain high levels of phenols and tannins, two plant compounds with a knack for mopping up cellular byproducts called free radicals that can wreak havoc on cell membranes. What makes sorghum attractive to many consumers, though, is not so much what it contains, but what it is missing. Because it lacks gluten - certain proteins present in wheat and two closely related cereals, rye and barley - sorghum is considered safe for the 1 to 2 million people in the United States diagnosed with celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance.