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The 2008 Farm Bill: Making an Impact through NIFA

Investing in Plant Health, Production, and Products

When most Americans think of farming, they think of growing plants. Whether they get their hands dirty in backyard or urban gardens, buy local goods at a farmers market, or shop for fruits and vegetables at a supermarket, there’s a good chance that NIFA’s plant science programs have touched their lives. NIFA-funded plant and plant product programs provide better understanding of plants: how they grow, how to improve productivity, and how to use them in new ways. These programs reflect the diversity of plants and their uses around the world. NIFA also supports education programs, such as Master Gardeners and the extension program, which bring science-based information about growing plants to the public.

NIFA'S PLANT HEALTH, PRODUCTION, AND PRODUCTS PORTFOLIO INCLUDES:

Plant breeding, genetics, and genomics

Genetics and genomics tools are improving the effectiveness and efficiency of plant breeding. NIFA-funded projects protect and sustain plants for agriculture and the environment.

Biobased products and processing

Agricultural and forestry products—both raw material and waste—are the new frontier for producing biofuels. NIFA supports projects that develop and improve the quality and use of biobased products.

Horticulture

NIFA-funded programs focus on issues that affect the breeding, growth, production, storage, handling, and marketing of horticultural products—which range from vegetables; to fruits, nuts, and berries; to flowers, nursery, and greenhouse plants.

Agronomy and forage crops

Advances in plant and soil sciences improve the productivity of field and forage crops. In addition, these programs ensure wise use of natural resources, reduce soil erosion, and improve soil quality.

Crop protection/pest management

Integrated pest management (IPM) strategies reduce losses caused by insects, diseases, and weeds. NIFA-funded research, education, and extension programs develop IPM approaches such as plant protection tactics and tools, diversified IPM systems, enhanced agricultural biosecurity, IPM for sustainable communities, and preparing the next generation of IPM scientists.

SECURING OUR FUTURE IN PLANT HEALTH, PRODUCTION, AND PRODUCTS

Arkansas program improves corn yield

With increases in acreage and the number of producers growing corn in Arkansas (many for the first time), county extension agents have turned to the Arkansas Corn Research Verification program to educate producers about up-to-date management practices for growing profitable corn. The program takes University of Arkansas-generated research on hybrid selection, fertility management, pest control, and irrigation management and demonstrates it on a whole-field basis. Yields for program participants averaged over 180 bu/acre, well above the state average corn yield of 142 bu/acre. Those extra 38 bu/acre amounted to an increase of $247/acre gain in gross revenue compared to state average fields

AFRI-funded plant breeding and genetics projects produce results

NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) places a high priority on conventional plant breeding, plant genome structure and function, and other science that improves plant material. From 2008-2012, 20 AFRI-funded Plant Genetics and Genomics Coordinated  Agricultural Projects (CAP) have developed 45 bean, potato, tomato, wheat, and barley cultivars and improved over 130 lines; received 27 patents; provided training to 208 undergraduate and 172 graduate students; and spread the word of their research through workshops, webinars, 171 publications, and Web-based outreach materials that have been accessed over 374,500 times.

University of Florida develops decision-management tool for sustainable strawberry production

Rainfall can cause fruit rot fungal spores to splash onto strawberries, which creates the need for fungicide applications. However, heavy use of these products has resulted in the development of fungicide resistance. This resistance, when combined with an increase in demand for organically grown crops, threatens the sustainability of strawberry production in the Eastern United States, where consumer demand is high. A team of researchers and extension specialists led by scientists from the University of Florida has developed a Web-based disease forecast system that provides recommendations to help strawberry growers know exactly when to apply reduced-risk fungicides. This system has allowed growers to reduce fungicide applications by 50 percent, achieve maximum fruit rot reduction, and increase fruit quality and profit. The resistance monitoring system will allow experts to recommend fungicides that will be effective against particular fruit rot-causing organisms.

SBIR-funded invention helps drought-affected growers

Last year's severe drought increased the amount of nitrates in plants to potentially toxic levels and had farmers wondering if they could safely feed stressed hay and silage to their livestock. Feed with high nitrate can cause nitrate poisoning in livestock, which prevents the bloodstream from transporting oxygen. The result was a large increase in demand for forage test kits that test whether feed is safe for livestock. The Nitrate Elimination Company, Inc. (NECi), received NIFA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to develop a new type of environmentally friendly nitrate test kit. Compared to traditional cadmium-based test kits, NECi test kits are less expensive, just as sensitive, and more selective with fewer substances interfering with the tests. The U.S. Geological Survey has approved the kits for measuring nitrate in solids and water; later this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to approve the test kits, which will open up new markets worldwide. NECi is located in a rural, economically depressed area of Michigan. The company employs 10 people and subcontracts work to local businesses. Sales have increased each year and are expected to grow significantly in the next few years.

Onion and garlic growers benefit from disease diagnostic tools

Onion and garlic production is a billion-dollar-per-year industry in the United States and one where even small improvements can have a big payoff to producers. A team of researchers and extension specialists led by Colorado State University developed online software that enables onion and garlic growers to make timely, smarter, and more economically beneficial integrated pest management decisions. The software combines pest scouting information, weather, plant growth stage, pest and disease thresholds, and economic market monitoring to improve grower decisionmaking. A profitability estimate predicts a 50-to-1 annual return for the original research and extension investment.

California-led program improves wheat and barley breeding

A 21-state CAP is targeting breeding for the sustainable agricultural production of wheat and barley at the national level. Led by the University of California-Davis, the project's 200 scientists, technical staff, and students have generated an integrated network of public wheat and barley breeding programs to increase yields, end-use quality, and adaptation to climate change; to improve varieties; and to better disease and insect resistance. Through investigative research, U.S. wheat and barley breeders have released 14 new varieties, 12 new improved germplasm, and 2 mapping populations and characterized tens of thousands of breeding lines by using molecular markers suited to changing conditions.

Organic growers receive contracting help

Until now, organic farmers had little independent, reliable legal information to help them with contracts for their organic farm products. The Minnesota-based Farmers' Legal Action Group addressed this problem by releasing a comprehensive publication, the Farmers' Guide to Organic Contracts. This farmer-friendly legal guide—the direct result of a NIFA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grant—will help the nation's nearly 30,000 certified organic farmers as they evaluate, negotiate, and manage contract agreements with buyers of organic farm products.

Iowa State University scientists close in on plant disease predictability

Iowa State University scientists are working to improve our ability to predict, and even prevent, disease outbreaks by better understanding the behavior of pathogens in and on plants. Until recently, scientists did not know much about the lives of bacteria on the surface or inside of leaves. In this study, researchers learned that bacteria on leaf surfaces degrade an amino acid that is necessary for plants to defend themselves against invading pathogens. Results of this project will support the development of recommended management and treatment practices for plant disease control.

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