Group Title: Agricultural research (Washington, D.C.)
Title: Agricultural research
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Title: Agricultural research
Uniform Title: Agricultural research (Washington, D.C.)
Physical Description: v. : ill. ; 25-28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: United States -- Science and Education Administration
United States -- Agricultural Research Administration
United States -- Agricultural Research Service
Publisher: Science and Education Administration, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture :
Science and Education Administration, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture :
Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O., distributor
Place of Publication: Washington D.C
Publication Date: May 1998
Frequency: monthly[1989-]
bimonthly[ former jan./feb.-may/june 1953]
monthly[ former july 1953-198]
Subject: Agriculture -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Research -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Periodicals -- United States   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Research -- Periodicals -- United States   ( lcsh )
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periodical   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dates or Sequential Designation: Began with vol. 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1953).
Issuing Body: Vols. for Jan./Feb.-Nov. 1953 issued by: Agricultural Research Administration; Dec. 1953-<Sept. 1976> by: Agricultural Research Service; <June 1979>-June 1981 by: the Science and Education Administration; July 1981- by: the Agricultural Research Service.
General Note: Description based on: Vol. 27, no. 7 (Jan. 1979).
General Note: Latest issue consulted: Vol. 46, no. 8 (Aug. 1998).
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Bibliographic ID: UF00074949
Volume ID: VID00017
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: ltuf - ABP6986
oclc - 01478561
alephbibnum - 000271150
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issn - 0002-161X

Full Text


~Btter Safety CI





Research That
Goes Beyond the
Farm Gate
The 4-H Club, that venerable bas-
tion of educational activity for Ameri-
can youth, summed it up admirably in
the club's motto: "To make the best
Those five simple words also
encompass the purpose of the Agri-
cultural Research Service. The United
States has the world's greatest agri-
cultural system, capable of producing
the most abundant, safe, and afford-
able food supply anywhere-as well
as a multitude of nonfood products
important to everyday life.
Given this demonstrated level of
excellence, is it really possible to
make the best better? ARS scientists
believe it is, and they've put their in-
genuity to work time and time again
to accomplish just that.
It might surprise some that the
agency focuses not only on creating
the best agricultural raw materials, but
also on developing the most efficient
and cost-effective use of those
materials. For example, in this issue
of Agricultural Research, you'll read
how ARS scientists designed a system
that uses fiber optic probes to reveal
possible quality problems in chicken
carcasses as they speed down the
processing line.
ARS has a deep commitment to
technology transfer, going beyond
breeding a great new soybean variety
or creating an ag-based, environmen-
tally friendly product to helping pro-
pel ideas and inventions from the lab-
oratory to the marketplace. ARS
wants its discoveries to be useful and
practical-as well as exceptional.
Some of ARS' processing succes-
ses are now legendary-the develop-
ment of technology for durable-press
cotton fabric, for example, or the
Time-Temperature Tolerance Project

that laid the foundation for the pro-
cedures still followed today in
processing frozen vegetables. Let us
not forget that 50 years ago, frozen
condensed orange juice-today a
staple of the American breakfast-
was on the fast track to failure until
ARS researchers helped fine-tune the
process for preserving its flavor.
Through the years, there have been
many ARS processing-oriented dis-
coveries to celebrate, such as:
ARS scientists in Louisiana have
shown that spinning cotton in a new
way can make the most of the
strength and versatility of naturally
colored cotton fabrics. Some cotton
varieties can grow in soft earth tones
of olive green, pumpkin, or deep rus-
set, eliminating the need for dyes. But
these fibers also tend to be shorter
and weaker than white varieties, com-
plicating the spinning process. Two
ARS-patented methods of spinning-
staple-core and filament-core spin-
ning-can be used to make composite
yarns with an outer layer of naturally
colored cotton and a tougher inner
core of white cotton or synthetic fi-
bers. The resulting fabrics have the
look and feel of solid-colored cotton,
complemented by extra fiber strength.
Also in the world of textiles,
ARS scientists in Mississippi devel-
oped a new computerized system that
automatically measures cotton quality
at various stages of gin processing.
This system predicts the effects of
moisture content, color, and trash and
then routes the cotton through the
proper mechanical cleaning and dry-
ing sequences so it gets an optimum
grade. This means ginners can cus-
tomize their ginning process for each
farmer. Data from 1994 to 1996 show
farmers receive additional profits of
$10 to $20 per bale with the custom-
ized ginning system. The system also
cuts energy use, thereby saving the
ginner nearly $1 per bale.

A soy protein refining process de-
veloped by ARS scientists in North
Carolina yields protein so pure it rivals
synthetic proteins used by the pharma-
ceutical industry. The same protein has
great food potential; for example, it
might be whipped into fat-free dessert
topping. In the soybean industry, 60-
percent protein purity is the standard,
but the ARS process yields nearly 100-
percent pure protein.
Software developed by ARS re-
searchers in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania,
helps food processors predict the fate
of E. coli 0157:H7 and other illness-
causing food pathogens, including Sal-
monella and Listeria monocytogenes,
in their products. The user types in in-
formation on food formulation or stor-
age conditions, including temperature,
salt levels, and acidity. Then the pro-
gram graphically predicts the growth
or death of the organism. This user-
friendly software provides a first-
round estimate of the safety potential
of foods.
ARS scientists at Wyndmoor also
developed a process to use potassium
chloride in the meat-packing and hide-
tanning industries, in a switch from the
common salt now used. Shifting to po-
tassium chloride would help the pack-
ing and tanning industries solve an en-
vironmental problem-disposal of the
leftover salt brine. Unlike sodium, po-
tassium is a plant nutrient, so the waste
from the new process could be put to
work as crop fertilizer. The ARS sci-
entists say leather quality is just as
high when produced with potassium
From snack foods to leather goods,
ARS scientists go the extra mile to
find ways to turn the world's best raw
products into even better finished
goods-all part of keeping American
agriculture and industry competitive in
the global marketplace.

L. Frank Flora
ARS National Program Leader
Product Quality and Utilization

Agricultural Research/May 1998

May 1998
Vol. 46, No. 5
ISSN 0002.161X, ,lala Re st rc.'i is published monthly by
the .\ri.nulturai Re-earch Service, U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA). The
Secretary of Agriculture has determined that
this periodical is necessary in the transaction of
public business required by law.
Dan Glickman, Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
I. Miley Gonzalez, Under Secretary
Research, Education, and Economics
Floyd P. Horn, Administrator
Agricultural Research Service
Ruth Coy, Acting Director
Information Staff
Editor: Lloyd McLaughlin (301) 344-2514
Assoc. Editor: Linda McElreath (301) 344-2536
Art Director: William Johnson (301) 344-2561
Acting Photo Ed.: Scott Bauer (301) 344-2957
Assoc. Photo Ed.: Anita Daniels (301) 344-2956
Infoimlanion in this magazine is public property
and may be reprinted without permission. Non-
copyrighted photos are available to mass media
in color transparencies. Order by photo number
and date of magazine issue.
Subscription requests should be placed with
New Orders, Superintendent of Documents,
P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954.
See back cover for order form.
Co:mplirnIntaia 1-year subscriptions are
ja al!ble to public libraries, schools, USDA
ermploi c,. jnd ith nces media. Send requests
or 'oiirmenriato EdI!L F r. Agricultural Research,
Room 41Is. h0303 I: Lane, Greenbelt, MD
21.1'l F1-m.nilt
This magazine may report research involving
pesticides. It does not contain recommendations
for their use, nor does it imply that uses dis-
cussed herein have been registered. All uses of
pesticides must be registered by appropriate
state and/or federal agencies before they can be
Reference to any commercial product or service
is made with the understanding that no discrimi-
nation is intended and no endorsement by
USDA is implied.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits
discrimination in all its programs and activities
on the basis of race, color, national origin,
gender, religion, age, disability, political
beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or
family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to
all programs.) Persons with disabilities who
require alternative means for communication of
program information (Braille, large print,
audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's
TARGET Center at 1021 720-2600 (voice and
To file a complaint of discrimination, write:
USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room
326-W, Whitten Bldg., 14th & Independence
Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or
call (202) 720-5964 (TDD). USDA is an equal
opportunity provider and employer.

Agricultural Research

Automated Chicken Inspection 4

Giving Broilers a Firmer Leg To Stand On 6

Milk Is Milk... or Is It? 7

Exploiting Plants' Protective Proteins 8

Corn Rootworms Get Juiced 11

Giant Soybeans Have Multiple Uses 12

Grass Tailored Just for Putting Greens 13

NIR Detects, Destroys Insect Pests 14

Synthetics Mimic Natural Brain Chemicals 15

DECI: Information Age Tool for the Cattle Industry 1 6

"Designer" Composts To Fight Farm Pollutants 20

Science Update 23

Cover: ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen is developing a computer-directed
scanning system that could help speed inspection of the nearly 8 billion chickens
processed annually through federally inspected U.S. plants. Photo by Keith Weller.

In the next issue!

Af Tough cuts of meat rocked by controlled underwater explosions get
food panel raves for taste and tenderness.

c' They can run, but can they hide? High-tech methods detect and
eliminate cockroaches and reduce irritating allergens they leave behind.

(0 By improving encapsulation of biological pesticides, U.S. and
Mexican scientists have upped ease of use and marketability for these

Agricultural Research/May 1998

A s chickens move down the
processing line at speeds as
high as 140 birds per
minute, four cameras click away,
followed by near-infrared and visible
light scans of each bird.
Instantly, a computer decides
whether a chicken has signs of
defects or disease. If not, the bird
continues down the production line.
Otherwise, the computer directs the
suspect carcass to a separate re-
inspect line.
On the re-inspect line, birds get a
closer examination by a human
inspector because the automated
system spotted signs-such as
reddish or purplish skin or abnor-
mally small body size-that
suggested unwholesomeness.
That's the chicken plant of the
near future, says Yud-Ren Chen, an
agricultural engineer with the Agri-
cultural Research Service who has
led the group that designed and built
the prototype. He says the increasing
popularity of poultry products has
made improved inspection even more
Chen's group will test their
prototype this year at Tyson Food's


Agricultural engineer Bosson Park uses a
near-infrared and visible light probe to
scan a chicken's skin and underlying breast
area tissue, to determine its condition.

poultry processing plant in New
Holland, Pennsylvania.
"Almost 8 billion chickens go
through federally inspected plants
annually, compared to less than 3
billion 30 years ago," Chen says. "If
you are going to increase productiv-
ity without sacrificing the accuracy
of meat and poultry inspection, you
have to use machine vision and other
automated sensors."
Developed over the past 7 years,
the prototype consists of four spectral
cameras, a light probe, and a spectro-
photometer-all linked to computers.
When the chickens, on hooks dan-
gling from a moving chain, pass
through a light beam, the interruption
triggers a fraction-of-a-second photo
opportunity: One pair of cameras
takes photos of the chicken's front;
the other pair, its back. One camera
of each pair uses a red filter; the
other, a green one. This obtains
images of the bird's front and back in
two colors.
"The same physical condition-
involving surface color and texture-
shows up differently under different
wavelength filters," says Chen. "We
use two wavelengths for comparison,
to be sure we don't miss anything."
Chen's group developed computer
software that compares the images at
different wavelengths, to determine if
the bird is wholesome or not. Color
differences can be caused by improp-
er bleeding during slaughter or by
blood-related diseases like septice-
mia. Skin textural differences can be
caused by tears, bruises, or tumors.
The cameras also detect body size.
Chen explains that an abnormally
small chicken requires closer inspec-
tion because disease may have
stunted the bird's growth.
After a chicken passes the camer-
as, it crosses another light beam, this
one triggering a scan from about an
inch away.

A light probe illuminates a portion
of the chicken with both near-
infrared and visible light. The
chicken absorbs some of the light,
but any that is reflected is analyzed
by the spectrophotometer and com-
puter using software developed by
Chen's team.
Differences between light shining
on the bird and light reflection are
due to variations in external skin
color and texture and to internal
blood color and tissue composition.
In the prototype, the probe can
analyze properties deep beneath the
chicken's skin, stopping only at the
abdominal cavity.
A red light on the frame near the
computer setup indicates rejection.
"The computer can also keep a
record of the conditions of each bird

Agricultural Research/May 1998

on the line, ready for the inspector's
review," Chen says.
Chen's group has tested the system
in a chicken plant in West Virginia.
All those tests used birds hung on a
portable conveyor line brought to the
plant-alongside, but not on, a real
production line like the one at the
Tyson's New Holland plant.
Leonard Payne, who manages the
New Holland plant, has been looking
forward to this first production-line
test of Chen's automated system.
Payne says machine vision would
benefit the industry mainly through
more consistency and accuracy. In
most cases, wholesome birds differ
obviously from unwholesome ones.
"Over 90 percent of the birds are
unquestionably wholesome. Machine
vision could quickly pass these birds

on, while identifying those that
require a second look to determine if
a problem exists," says Payne.
"The federal inspectors and the
assistants we provide are highly
trained. But machine vision can free
them to focus on the relatively few
birds whose condition is not conclu-
sive," he says. Payne sees machine
vision, if it works as expected, as a
win-win situation for consumers,
inspectors, and the industry.
For Chen, an important part of the
Tyson's test is to see how the system
stands up to the high humidity of a
commercial production plant.
"We want to see how long the
prototype lasts in this environment,
how much maintenance it'll need,
and how accurate and consistent it is
online," says Chen. "The prototype

lih, dn a\ %rae accUrIIc\ rtiae oif o\er
Y5 percent W\e are continually\
imprio ing this,. and \\e achie\ ed 101(
percent Liccuriac in a. recent lest
comllpdring the \y stem's conclusions
u\ Ih tho,,e of a \eterinari. n."
"T1o Imlinlalin a.cclurac\ ." he sa\ .
"lhe \ ~iem111 oCCaiionlall needle
retraining \ ith ,special .oll\\ are. Thi-s
ddjLI's, [hie c .', puter to recogniZe the
normnil skin color of different chick-
en breed or chicken' fed different
ration, for e\iample. ProcessinL plant
empI0o ces would d do this reirainin,'
b\ running. self-lcarnin:: soft\ are
while e 11ipping s % itches to -sho%% the
,'\ .teml chicken, h a [ ic rI nornil ind
chickens lhat are noit.
Though this pioto.[ pe can slpot
un\\ wholesome birds, it can tell the
reasons l' r Condellnn lioai tn onl\ ill
cases ,i1" 'epticemiui or improper
bleeding. "But." notes Chen. "'thecs
[\%0 collditionl acco. nt for o\ er half
of the carcasse, remlo\ed frolm tihe
processing lines."
Chen aims to expand the system's
capabilities, along with incorporating
advances in computer and sensor
technology. He is also planning to
test a new probe that will explore the
whole chicken-still without touch-
ing it-and take color photographs of
the abdominal cavity as well as the
viscera. The color images would also
be analyzed by the computer.
Ultimately, Chen wants the
automated system to quickly diag-
nose every physical or biological
condition that causes an inspector to
remove chickens from the processing
line. It cannot spot bacterial contami-
nation, he explains, adding that many
other scientists are busy developing
tests for that.-By Don Comis, ARS.
Yud-Ren Chen is at the USDA-ARS
Instrumentation and Sensing Labora-
tory, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Belts-
ville, MD 20705-2350; phone (301)
504-8450, fax (301) 504-9466, e-mail
ychen *

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Giving Broilers a Firmer

Leg To Stand On

oday's broiler chickens are
bred for fast growth-and
their growth rate is now
almost double that of 30 years ago.
Consequently, the bones do not have
enough time to mature and grow
properly. Producers are plagued with
lame birds, their lameness attributed
to leg deformities, broken bones, and
inflammation-causing bone
Tackling this problem is Narayan
Rath, a poultry physiologist in the
ARS Poultry Production and Product
Safety Research Unit at Fayetteville,
Arkansas. He is trying to establish
methods that will reduce the inci-
dence or severity of bone-related
problems that cost the poultry
industry millions of dollars in losses
each year. Rath says reducing leg
problems in poultry will save money
for the industry and eventually for
He is studying a major metabolic
bone disorder known as tibial
dyschondroplasia, or TD.
"The ends of long bones are made
up of cartilage, a type of connective
tissue responsible for long-bone
growth in young birds. It is gradually
replaced by bone, until growth
ceases," says Rath.
But TD impedes cartilage replace-
ment by bone. This causes the
tibia-the inner, larger bone just
below the knee-to be soft and
fragile and prone to deformities and
In laboratory tests, Rath found
that cartilage cell death in the growth
plate near the ends of the bones
prevents the cartilage tissue from
being replaced by new living cells
and bone tissue. Instead, it remains
as an island of dead cartilage sur-
rounded by living cells.
"We didn't have this knowledge
before. And even though we don't
know the cause of this cell death,"
says Rath, "the finding at least

ROB FLYNN (K8030-1)
provides a major
clue in searching
for agents that
cause abnormal
cell death in the
tibial growth
plate. It also
allows us to focus
on specific ways
to suppress this
Rath notes that
certain mineral
nutrients prevent cell death in lab
tests, but researchers have not tried
them in animal experiments.
Rath is also looking at ways to
increase bone maturity and strength
during its growth period. Bone
contains both inorganic mineral and
organic components. The inorganic
part is mostly calcium and phospho-
rus and constitutes 65 to 70 percent
of bone weight; the organic part is
mostly collagen-a fibrous protein.
Bone strength is related to its
density and mineral content. Chemi-
cal bonds called cross-links tie
collagen fibers to each other, signifi-
cantly increasing collagen strength
and eventually
bone strength. ROB FLYNN (K8028-1)
"We are now
examining these
collagen cross-
links from birds
of both sexes and
different ages,"
Rath says. "We
want to learn
more about bone
strength as related
to the cross-links,
bone minerals,
and other bio-
Rath says
researchers don't
know if the cross-

An indentation of cartilage
from the growth plate
border into the bone (red,
dyed area)-usually a
smooth arc-indicates a
growth abnormality from
tibial dyschondroplasia.

links can be enhanced to increase
bone strength.
"We know that steroids such as
androgen can enhance bone strength,
but we'll be looking for some cost-
effective nutritional manipulations to
achieve these objectives," he says.
"We may have a long way to go."-
By Tara Weaver, ARS.
Narayan Rath is in the USDA-ARS
Poultry Production and Product
Safety Research Unit, University of
Arkansas, 0-303 Poultry Science
Center, Fayetteville, AR 72701; phone
(501) 575-6189, fax (501) 575-4202,
e-mail *

Technician David Horlick (left) and poultry physiologist Narayan
Rath prepare to analyze collagen cross-links made of a fibrous

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Milk Is Milk... or Is It?

t's easy to milk an elephant-if
you know how. Just ask veteri-
narian Eric Miller, director of
animal health and research at the St.
Louis Zoo.
Four years ago, one of the zoo's
pachyderms, named Pearl, had
trouble nursing her newborn calf,
Raja. Miller and other members of
the zoo staff devised a way to feed
Raja. They gave Pearl the lactation-
stimulating drug oxytocin. Then the
animal staff restrained her and used a
human breast pump to get enough
milk to bottle-feed Raja.
After Pearl was able to nurse,
some milk was left over-milk that
helped scientists in Houston, Texas,
who were studying human infant
Nutritionists Teresa A. Davis and
Peter J. Reeds have been studying the
milks of various mammal species to
find how the nutrients they contain
contribute to development of their
young. Understanding the ways milks
differ may lead the scientists to better
formulas to nourish human babies
who can't breast-feed. This is espe-
cially important for premature infants
who may not have the digestive
systems necessary to break foods
down into what they need for life.
Human feeding formulas are
routinely tested on animals-but the
results could be misleading if human
milk differs dramatically from that of
the other mammals. Until Reeds and
Davis did this study, most compari-
sons had been between human and
cow's milk-which is what most
infants get after weaning.
Davis and Reeds found that amino
acids, the building blocks of protein,
are the same in breast milk through-
out the animal kingdom. However,
the concentrations of these amino
acids can vary almost tenfold among
species. That means that while a
human and a sea lion may have
different concentrations of amino

acids, the basic makeup of both
human and sea lion milk will be
Three amino acids-glutamate,
leucine, and proline-make up 40
percent of the total amino acids in all
animals' milk. That commonality
gives researchers more confidence in
their animal-tested formulas. But
why are some amino acids present in
different ratios between species?
While all primates-humans,
chimps, and apes-have very similar
milk components, JACK DYKINGA (K2
human milk has the
highest cystine content,
with the great apes -
coming in second. '
Cystine is believed to
play more of a role in .
body maintenance than
in growth. So Davis
and Reeds reasoned
that the high cystine
levels reflected the fact
that human and ape
babies take longer to
mature than their
primate relatives. In
fact, the closer any two
animal species are on
the evolutionary tree, Former Texa
the more likely their human milk
milks are to be similar. Research Ce
Enter Miller's
elephant milk: Davis and Reeds
wanted to know if elephants, another
slow-growing animal, also had high
cystine levels. They didn't.
Researchers now speculate that
high cystine levels might relate to
brain and eye development. That's
because cystine is used to make
another compound called taurine,
which is highly concentrated in both
the brain and eyes.
In fact, cystine levels were higher,
the further up the primates were on
the evolutionary tree.
And there seems to be a connec-
tion between amino acid content and

a species' particular needs. For
example, both tiger and house cat
milks have a high arginine content.
It's an important amino acid for all
felines, because kittens and cubs
can't synthesize it. In fact, cat parents
must get all the arginine they need
from food, while other mammals
synthesize it.
"The good news is there is more
similarity than difference between
species," said Davis. "And we will
keep studying how these amino acid

s Southern University student Pattie Ross at the
bank maintained at the Children's Nutrition
nter in Houston, Texas.

combinations work to promote
optimum growth."-By Jill Lee,
Teresa A. Davis and Peter J.
Reeds are at the USDA-ARS Chil-
dren's Nutrition Research Center,
Baylor College of Medicine, 1100
Bates St., Houston, TX 77030-2600;
phone (713) 798-7147, fax (713) 798-
7171, e-mail *

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Exploiting Plants' Protective Proteins

L ike our own bodies that
valiantly fight off infections,
plants also have built-in
protective mechanisms.
In plants, this system can be trig-
gered by pathogenesis-related (PR)
proteins. These proteins are induced
and start working when an outside
enemy-an insect or a disease-
causing pathogen, for example-
invades the plant.
As it feeds on a plant, an insect
can release substances in saliva that
can turn on defensive proteins. Or the
action of plant cells being disrupted
by insect feeding can trigger the
proteins. And proteins and carbohy-
drates secreted by pathogenic fungi
can also initiate protective measures
in plants.
"For several years, we've been
studying plant responses to disease
and insect pests," says Agricultural
Research Service chemist Richard T.
Mayer. "A plant may have resistance
mechanisms, but the damage from
pathogens or pests often overwhelms
the plant before it can marshal its
Mayer heads research at the U.S.
Horticultural Research Laboratory,
the ARS research facility that will
soon move from Orlando to Fort
Pierce, Florida. At Orlando, Mayer
and colleagues Hamed Doostdar,
Moshe Inbar, Gregory T. McCollum,
and Roy E. McDonald have identi-
fied more than 20 PR proteins in
According to Mayer, scientists
have known that plants contain
protective proteins but not that they
exist in citrus. He and colleagues
found two classes of enzymes-
chitinases and glucanases-in citrus.
"We found these enzymes in citrus
roots, leaves, blossoms, and fruit,"
Mayer reports. "Once we knew that
the compounds were present in citrus,
our next goal was to find a way to

elicit them, or make them become
more active."
To help learn more about plant
defenses, the Florida Citrus Produc-
tion Research Advisory Council
supports the ARS research with
funding from a self-imposed grower
tax. If plants can better defend
themselves, growers will spend less
money on fungicides and insecticides
and greatly benefit the environment.

| .

AKS chemist Kichard Mayer (left) and
George Butler, vice president of Morse
Enterprises, examine tomatoes that have
been treated with KeyPlex 350-DP, a
cooperatively developed product that deters

Three New Defense Products
The plant defense research has
already led to one industry partner-
ship, a cooperative research and
development agreement (CRADA)
with Morse Enterprises Limited, Inc.,
in Miami, Florida. From this, three
products-KeyPlex 250-DP, 350-DP,
and 445-DP-are being marketed in
the United States, and the company is
expanding the market to Central

America and the Caribbean Basin.
These products are as effective as
fungicides against two diseases that
plague citrus: greasy spot, My-
cosphaerella citri, and postbloom
fruit drop, Colletotrichum acutatum.
Morse Enterprises markets fertil-
izer supplements for foliar or soil
application. Because Florida's well-
drained soil often contains lots of
calcium and very little organic matter
and gets ample rain, growers usually
add nutrients to the soil or the foliage
to boost productivity.
George C. Butler, Jr., vice presi-
dent of Morse Enterprises, explains,
"We brought three products to Dr.
Mayer's lab for evaluation. Our
original products were micronutrients
that could be used to make plants
healthier. ARS scientists added other
naturally occurring compounds that
increase plant resistance by causing
them to produce more pathogenesis-
related proteins."
These jointly developed products
can be sprayed on plants or incorpo-
rated into the soil to protect citrus
and tomato crops. Butler says that in
field tests, KeyPlex 350-DP reduced
the incidence of postbloom fruit drop
of navel oranges by 80 percent.
KeyPlex is also effective against
whiteflies. Their feeding on crops can
introduce a geminivirus that signifi-
cantly affects tomato plants.
"Treatment of tomato plants with
KeyPlex 350-DP reduced the num-
bers of whitefly adults, pupae, and
eggs. Whiteflies seem to prefer
untreated plants," says Butler.
KeyPlex products are being used
on citrus, bush beans, and tomatoes
and tested on limes, bananas, bell
peppers, and cotton. Future tests will
include squash and other cucurbits.
The label list is being extended to
include most vegetable and fruit
"We've tested KeyPlex 350-DP on
bananas in Florida and Central

Agricultural Research/May 1998

America against yellow and black
Sigatoka," says Butler. "We have had
significant reduction of both diseases,
which are significant problems for
growers in Central America and the
Caribbean Basin. Three major banana
growers there are interested in testing
KeyPlex 350-DP because treating
Sigatoka diseases with expensive
fungicides is not totally effective."
Made from naturally occurring
compounds, KeyPlex products don't
require registration by the Environ-
mental Protection Agency. "KeyPlex
products are no more toxic to hu-
mans, animals, plants, or insects than
common fertilizer," Butler says.
"They work by causing the plant to
produce more of the compounds that
resist pathogens and repel insects."

Boosting Plants' Protective
For 6 years, ARS chemist Hamed
Doostdar has been working on
identifying and purifying plant-
protective proteins in citrus.
"Purifying the proteins enables us
to characterize them-that is, to
determine their composition and
activity. We must know how these
proteins work and where they're
located within the plant's structure,"
he says. "If we expect to manipulate
these proteins in plants, then we must
first understand how and why they
Along with McCollum, Doostdar
has isolated genes that produce these
protective proteins. The newly
isolated genes are now in gene banks
for public use.
"Once you have the gene, it can be
inserted into a plant that doesn't have
that gene, if it does something you
want that plant to do," Doostdar says.
"Even if a plant has a desirable gene,
it might be useful to have a trans-
genic plant that expresses the protein
in larger quantities or at a different

place in the plant or at a different
"The next step for us has been to
see if we can manipulate the levels of
the compounds in existing plants
without having to produce transgenic
plants," says Doostdar. "It takes
years to get transgenic plants ap-
proved and released, and in tree crops
like citrus, you get no fruit for the
first 4 or 5," he says. This means that
it would not be economically feasible

for growers to get rid of existing
groves and replant with transgenic
plants, even if plants were available.
Growers could possibly replace
diseased or nonproductive trees with
transgenic ones, but most could not
start over.
Because of this, Doostdar and
colleagues have begun looking at
ways to evoke protective compounds
in existing plants.
"We started looking at chemicals
that would start the protective
mechanism without the plant being

actually attacked by a pest," says
ARS entomologist Inbar.
Inbar got his best results with BTH
(benzothiadiazole), a nontoxic
chemical developed by Novartis,
formerly Ciba Geigy. The compound
does not harm humans, livestock,
wild or domestic animals, or plants.
When sprayed on crops such as
tomatoes, it starts an internal chemi-
cal chain reaction that reduces the
number of leafminers.

A secondary pest of Florida's
vegetable crops, leafminers are now
treated with chemicals and biocontrol
Tomato fields treated with BTH
had 30 percent less leafminers than
untreated fields. A tomato crop takes
about 2 to 3 months to grow, and
treatment should begin 1 week before
young seedlings are transplanted to
the field. After transplanting, plants
should be sprayed about every third

Agricultural Research/May 1998


Grapefruit leaves on the right have been treated with KeyPlex 445-UD, which reduces the
incidence of greasy spot, Mycosphaerella citri, shown on left.

Because of this research, Novartis
has amended its patents on BTH to
include insect pests. The patents
originally covered protection against
pathogenic fungi and bacteria.

Postharvest Use of Elicitors
Harvested fruits and vegetables
also have built-in protective mecha-
nisms, according to ARS horticultur-
ist Roy McDonald.
"When we found the enzyme
chitinase in citrus fruit, we knew it
must be a protective compound
because its purpose is to break down
chitin and there is none in citrus," he
explains. "But insects' exoskeletons
are made of chitin-as are the walls
of microbial pathogens. So we
presume chitinase is there to protect
the fruit, since it becomes active
when the fruit is attacked by a
Plant physiologist McCollum has
been working on glucanases. These
enzymes break down glucans, which


Lnemlst Kicnara Mvayer analyzes
chlorophyll fluorescence in Valencia
oranges as a measure of the tree's stress.

Made from naturally occurring compounds, KeyPlex products stimulate plants to
increase production of their own defensive compounds. Already used on several crops,
they don't require registration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

are anti-fungal compounds found in
citrus. He has also purified a poly-
galacturonase inhibitor protein
(PGIP) from grapefruit peel.
"This protein may play a role in
fungal resistance," says McCollum.
"Fungi release pectinases during the
infection process. PGIP proteins in-
hibit pectinase production, thereby
preventing the fungus from growing."
Lab director Mayer says that PGIP
proteins may also prove valuable in
increasing resistance to insect pests.
"Insects secrete pectinase when
they feed. If we can get transgenic
citrus plants to express PGIP, then we
have an excellent chance of produc-
ing insect-resistant plants."

Dual Protection for Sweet Oranges
The West Indies sugarcane root-
stalk borer weevil, Diaprepes abbre-
viatus, and the fungal pathogen
Phytophthora parasitica are two
interrelated problems for citrus
Diaprepes larvae feed on citrus
roots, causing plant decline and

death. Injured roots are more suscep-
tible to infection by the fungi that
cause foot rot. Most of the best citrus
varieties are sweet oranges whose
roots are highly susceptible to foot
rot, so they must be grafted on more
resistant rootstocks. Mayer and col-
leagues are using the pathogenesis-
related protein approach on these
"We've identified substances that
stop the larvae from feeding, and
we've isolated a gene from citrus
varieties resistant to foot rot that may
confer Phytophthora resistance,"
Mayer reports.
"What we're hoping for is to put
this gene into a sweet orange like
Valencia to see if it can be grown on
its own roots and still resist Phytoph-
thora."-By Doris Stanley, ARS.
Richard T. Mayer and other
scientists in this article can be
reached at the USDA-ARS U.S.
Horticultural Research Laboratory,
2120 Camden Road, Orlando, FL
32803; phone 407-897-7300, fax
407-897-7309, e-mail +

Agricultural Research/May 1998

VCITU I~IEl 1 5~ IVF~nd~~~~

Corn Rootworms Get Juiced

Corn rootworms account for
more pesticide use on row
crops than any other insect
pest in the United States.
Farmers apply pesticides, often as
a preventive measure, to between 30
and 40 million acres annually. The
insect costs corn farmers about $1
billion a year in control measures and
lost crops.
Now, Agricultural Research
Service scientists from two laborato-
ries at the Beltsville (Maryland)
Agricultural Research Center have
concocted a mix that turns the
insects' gluttony against them. The
new potion combines a red dye-
proven safe for people and animals
but deadly to insects-with the juice
from a bitter, mutant watermelon.
While the bitter watermelon juice
would gag most human palates, "it
tastes like a hot fudge sundae to
rootworms," says Albert DeMilo,
who is now retired from the ARS
Insect Chemical Ecology Laboratory.
"The insects gorge on it, taking in
plenty of the deadly red dye at the
same time."
DeMilo, former postdoctoral
fellow Chang-Joo Lee, and Robert
Schroder, an entomologist with the
ARS Insect Biocontrol Laboratory,
identified the watermelon ingredi-
ent-cucurbitacin E-glycoside-that
rings the rootworm's internal dinner
bell. Now they have developed a
process for extracting the juice,
which is also a perfect solvent for the
lethal dye, DeMilo says. When the
formulated juice-dye mix is sprayed,
it covers all the areas on the corn
plants where the adult rootworm
beetles hang out.
Farmers normally apply pesticides
to the soil to kill the larvae, says
Schroder. But these pesticides can
pollute groundwater and surface
streams. By contrast, the watermelon-
dye combo zeros in on the adult stage
of the insect and helps to break the

reproductive cycle so next year's
population is lower. And it's safe.
The dye, phloxine B, is approved
by the Food and Drug Administration
as D&C Red #28 for use in drugs and
cosmetics. It's also in the registration
process for controlling fruit flies.
Sunlight activates the dye inside
the insects, where it forms a potent
oxidizing agent that attacks their
tissues, DeMilo explains. It doesn't
take long before they die. [For more
on dye as an insecticide, see "Red
Dye, Updated Traps," Agricultural
Research, January 1996, p. 20.]
The new potion held its own
against a promising bait-pesticide
combo called SLAM that was
developed by industry and ARS
researchers in Brookings, South
Dakota. SLAM is expected to cut the
quantity of pesticide used for corn
rootworm control by more than 90
percent. [See "Corn Belt Growers
Give Areawide IPM a Try," Agricul-
tural Research, October 1997, p. 5.]
But it's good to have a backup, says

Schroder, because insects are notable
for developing pesticide resistance.
In a preliminary field test at the
Brookings laboratory last summer,
the watermelon-dye combo actually
killed 25 percent more rootworms
than SLAM on the first day of
application and equaled SLAM's kill
rate after 4 days. A larger field test is
planned for this summer.
DeMilo, Schroder, and Lee
applied for a patent on the water-
melon-dye combo. PhotoDye Interna-
tional of Baltimore, Maryland, has
signed a cooperative research and
development agreement with ARS,
giving the company right of first
refusal to license the patent. Other
companies have also expressed
interest, Schroder says.-By Judy
McBride, ARS.
Robert F. W. Schroder is at the
USDA-ARS Insect Biocontrol Labo-
ratory, Bldg. 306, 10300 Baltimore
Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-2350;
phone 301-504-8369, fax 301-504-
8190, e-mail *

Corn rootworm larva (about five times actual size).

Agricultural ResearchlMay 1998



Geneticist Thomas Devine has bred three new giant soybean cultivars-Derry, Donegal,
and Tyrone-to provide high-protein livestock forage.

he product of 19 years of
breeding, Derry, Donegal,
and Tyrone are the first
improved forage-type soybean
cultivars bred for animal feed.
Soybeans were originally grown
in the United States as forage for
livestock. In 1924, a million acres
were planted for hay. But use of
soybeans as hay soon declined
because of the difficulty in drying
the forage. Instead, soybeans as a
grain became the wonder crop of the
20th century, with their oil and
protein used in many food and
industrial applications. By 1964,
only 3 percent of U.S. soybeans were
being grown for forage.
But soybeans as a forage are
primed for a comeback, says Thomas
E. Devine, a plant geneticist with the
Agricultural Research Service. This
is partly because improved technol-
ogy for ensiling it has reduced the
need for drying the crop. And with
the new varieties, dairy and livestock
producers have new opportunities for
using soybeans as a high-quality,
nutritious forage.
"They can be used for grazing,
hay, or silage over a wide geographic
area of the United States," says De-

vine, who is based at the ARS Weed
Science Laboratory in Beltsville,
The varieties differ in maturity
dates, disease resistance, and areas
where they will grow best. "Donegal
matures earliest and is suited to the
Northeast," says Devine. "Derry ma-
tures later and is ideal for the Mid-
west, and Tyrone matures last and is
best for the South."
To breed the new soybeans, Devine
crossed an old hay type with modem
grain cultivars having resistance to
diseases such as Phytophthora root
rot. Later genetic selection for plant
height, branching, lodging resistance,
pod set, and leafiness produced lines
that grow 6 feet tall.
"Short, conventional grain-type
soybean plants are not as well suited
for high forage yields," says Devine.
"These giants have exceptional vigor
and continue growing after other soy-
beans stop. That's the key to their
high forage production."
In tests in several states through
1996, the forage soybeans have pro-
duced over 6 tons of dry matter per
acre, exceeding conventional soybean
yields by up to 75 percent. Last
spring, Devine shipped seeds of the

three new varieties for performance
testing to 19 states.
On their roots, soybeans harbor soil
bacteria that take nitrogen from the air
and convert it to a form plants can use
as fertilizer. The new varieties can
produce high yields without added
nitrogen fertilizer.
Scientists at Beltsville's Nutrient
Conservation and Metabolism Labora-
tory and at several universities have
found the new forage ranks high in
nutrient composition and quality. In
feeding trials with Holstein heifers at
Beltsville, all three varieties were as
palatable as alfalfa.
The forage soybeans offer advan-
tages over conventional soybeans in
states from Maryland southward,
where the long growing season and
mild winters allow farmers to double-
crop. After harvesting soybeans in the
fall, many farmers plant a small
grain-wheat or barley-that is
harvested in the spring or grazed by
Devine believes there are ecological
and economic advantages, too. The
small-grain crop in fall absorbs
nitrogen from the soil and preserves it
in plant tissues-rather than releasing
it into streams and lakes. And the
forage soybeans can be harvested a
month earlier than conventional grain
soybeans. This allows the small-grain
crop to be planted earlier and gives it
more time to grow when days are
longer and the soil is warmer.
In developing the new varieties,
Devine worked with Elwood O.
Hatley of Pennsylvania State Univer-
sity and David E. Starner at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State Univer-
sity. ARS has applied for plant variety
protection for the new soybeans.-By
Hank Becker, ARS.
Thomas E. Devine is at the USDA-
ARS Weed Science Laboratory, Bldg.
001, 10300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville,
MD 20705-2350; phone (301) 504-
6375, fax (301) 504-6491. *

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Grass Tailored Just for Putting Greens

ifEagle, a new bermudagrass for putting greens,
will debut this summer on golf courses in Florida,
i* Georgia, and other southern states.
It is the latest product of Agricultural Research
Service geneticist Wayne W. Hanna's research to develop
new forage and turfgrass varieties with improved perfor-
mance, quality, pest resistance, and other desired traits. An
advantage of TifEagle: It crowds out pesky weeds-even
at low cutting heights-reducing the need for herbicides
that may endanger groundwater.
TifEagle is being licensed to certified seed producers
under a collaborative agreement between ARS and the
Georgia Seed Development Commission and University
of Georgia Research Foundation, both located in Athens.
ARS has also applied for a patent. Through licensing,
Hanna hopes to preserve the genetic purity and longevity
of TifEagle in commercial production.
Groundskeeper Ralph A. Hinz, of The Landings golf
club in Savannah, Georgia, is impressed with TifEagle's
ability to tolerate the close, daily mowing that gives the
North's cool-season bentgrass varieties their putting
speed. Unlike many of the South's existing bermuda
varieties, including the industry standard Tifdwarf,
TifEagle withstands routine cutting to a height of 3
millimeters (one-eighth inch). Most importantly, its leafy
canopy stays lush and carpetlike, ensuring a golfer's ball
rolls quickly in the direction it's putted.
"You can get Tifdwarf to where it's really fast for
special golfing events like the Masters," says Hinz. "But
you can't keep it at the same height as a bentgrass for too
long before it starts to thin out from stress."
Such stress can open the door to opportunistic algae or
to weeds like crabgrass, necessitating use of herbicides.
TifEagle's key advantage is its fast growth and tightly knit
root system. As a result, "it has a thick canopy to shade
out the algae and weeds," says Hanna.
"It's very aggressive, which I feel is a plus," says
William F. Smith, a golf superintendent who began testing

Closeup of Tifdwarf bermudagrass turf mowed at 0.135 inch shows
low-quality open spots with algae growth at a West Palm Beach,
lAnrrlSa alff pnrrCp - 1 \

TifEagle last year at the Country Club of Columbus in
Columbus, Georgia. "I look at it as far superior to our
existing greens."
To develop TifEagle, Hanna first subjected portions of
the bermuda variety Tifway2 to gamma radiation. Then, he
selected mutant plants with very short stolons-shoot-like
structures that enable a turfgrass to withstand frequent
mowing. TifEagle was Hanna's top pick of 48 such mutant
Test plantings on experimental plots and putting greens
since 1991 indicate that it outperforms its predecessor-
Tifdwarf-at mowing heights of one-eighth inch or less.
Over 3 dozen university scientists and golf superintendents
from California to North Carolina participated in these
Currently, the Georgia Seed Development Commission
has 12 acres of foundation sprigs, says Earl Elsner, the
organization's director. Each acre will produce sprigs for
40 more acres of certified plant material.
Hinz, who helped evaluate TifEagle, plans to establish
the new grass this summer on all the putting greens at one
of The Landings' six courses. He has already gotten
positive feedback from the club's golfing clientele.
"They'll ask, 'How come this green puts better than the
others on the course?'" says Hinz.
For his part, Smith says, "We'll plant our practice
putting green in TifEagle, just to see how it responds to
wear and tear." Meanwhile, Hanna is continuing his search
for hardy new grasses, especially those with resistance to
fungi and insects like the tawny mole cricket.
"We have a philosophy here," he says. "We're going to
have to grow grass in the future with less water and less
pesticide. So we make sure we don't baby our grasses in
the test plots."-By Jan Suszkiw, ARS.
Wayne W. Hanna is in the USDA-ARS Forage and Turf
Grass Research Unit, P.O. Box 748, Tifton, GA 31793;
phone (912) 386-3177, fax (912) 391-3701, e-mail *

The newer TifEagle bermudagrass over-seeded with Poa trivialis,
mowed at 0.125 inch at a Savannah, Georgia, golf course.

Agricultural Research/May 1998

NIR Detects, Destroys Insect Pests

Researchers are

evaluating NIR for

triple duty: detect-

ing, identifying, and

destroying insect

pests hidden inside

grain storage bins.


Maize weevil feeding on corn kernels.

Shat's good for Georgia
peanuts may also be good
for Kansas wheat. An
electric eye that scans all food-grade
peanuts for visual defects could one
day do the same for wheat kernels.
For peanuts, it's a proven method
for monitoring quality. In wheat,
scanning with near-infrared (NIR) en-
ergy can reveal hidden insect infesta-
tions that lower wheat quality.
ARS entomologists James E.
Throne and James E. Baker and ARS
agricultural engineer Floyd E. Dowell
are the first to combine NIR with an
automated grain-handling system to
rapidly detect insects hidden in single
wheat kernels.
The instrument combines a diode
array spectrometer and a wheat singu-
lator developed under a cooperative
research and development agreement
by Perten Instruments of Springfield,
Illinois, and engineers at the agency's
Grain Marketing and Production Re-
search Center in Manhattan, Kansas.
The singulator separates individual
kernels and delivers them to the tester
for NIR scanning. The spectrometer is
an optical sensor that can distinguish
insect pests from grain kernels by the
different amounts of light energy re-
flected or absorbed.
"Detecting hidden insect infesta-
tions has been a serious problem in
the grain industry," says Baker.
These infestations are important
because larvae of the lesser grain bor-
er, rice weevil, and maize weevil can
cause severe damage to wheat. Feed-
ing by these insects' larvae costs the
U.S. wheat industry about $500 mil-
lion annually. The NIR system can
spot and identify hidden larvae that
cannot be visually detected.
"And with visual examination, a
rice weevil looks just like a granary
weevil," says Baker. Studies show
that NIR can distinguish between

"Each species has its unique spec-
tral signature," adds Dowell, "based
on how much carbon, hydrogen, and
nitrogen it contains." Insects' body
chemistry determines how much light
is absorbed, and the instrument pro-
duces a graph much like a cardio-
gram with peaks and valleys.
Primary insects like the granary
weevil, maize weevil, or lesser grain
borer destroy the whole kernel. Sec-
ondary ones, such as the sawtoothed
grain beetle or the rusty grain beetle,
come in after other pests have opened
things up for them. They eat small
fragments of broken kernels and are
not considered damaging enough to
warrant fumigation unless they occur
in very large numbers. So grain stor-
age managers can often save the cost
of fumigation if they know which
species has infested the grain.
The researchers have shown that
NIR can also kill insects feeding in-
side wheat kernels. "NIR is effective,
and it's safer than microwave radia-
tion," says Throne. Studies done in
June 1997 showed 100 percent of rice
weevil larvae killed in wheat kernels
exposed to NIR.
The researchers envision this tech-
nology being used with grain samples
or while grain moves on a conveyor
belt at storage and food-processing
facilities.-By Linda Cooke
McGraw, ARS.
James E. Throne and James E.
Baker are in the USDA-ARS Biologi-
cal Research Unit, Grain Marketing
and Production Research Center,
1515 College Ave., Manhattan, KS
66502; phone (785) 776-2796, fax
(785) 776-2792, e-mail
throne @
Floyd E. Dowell is also at the cen-
ter, in the USDA-ARS Engineering
Research Unit; phone (785) 776-
2753, fax (785) 776-2792, e-mail *

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Synthetics Mimic Natural Brain Chemicals

C hanging an insect's
behavior by "messing
with its brain" may be the
way to stop pests in the future.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists have developed artificial
brain chemicals designed to mimic
natural chemical messengers that
control molting and other life
"Commercial products containing
artificial neuropeptides that can be
sprayed onto corn earworms, for
example, could be developed in
about 5 years," says Ronald J.
Nachman. He is a chemist in the
ARS Veterinary Entomology Re-
search Unit at College Station,
Nachman and ARS entomologist
G. Mark Holman began studying
neuropeptides-chemical messen-
gers sent out in insect brains to
stimulate life-sustaining functions-
in 1987. These messengers are made
up of strings of amino acids, the
building blocks of protein, and
control an array of behaviors. They
can halt molting (shedding of outer
covering), upset mating, alter
digestion, or disturb water balance.
By 1996, Nachman and Holman
had built the first of eight analogs-
artificial versions that mimic natural
brain chemicals.
The artificial versions don't work
quite like the real thing.
The biggest problem in delivering
the mimics was getting them to
penetrate the pest insects' tough
skin, or cuticle. Nachman overcame
this obstacle in the laboratory by
using a combination of boron,
carbon, and other chemicals, replac-
ing one part of a string of amino
acids with this combination. The
result: The molecule became greasy.
The greasy quality of the molecule

To control pheromone production and other
life functions, insect physiologist Peter Teal
applies artificial neuropeptide chemicals to
a tobacco hornworm moth.

Neuropeptides stimulate

life-sustaining functions in

insects. An array of

critical functions and

behaviors, including

digestion and mating, are

controlled by these strings

of amino acids.

matched the physical characteristic
of the insects' cuticle, making
absorption into the insect possible.
Nachman sent his greasy analog
to ARS insect physiologist Peter E.
A. Teal in Gainesville, Florida, for
further testing.
To stimulate the production of sex
pheromones, Teal applied the analog
to the skin of tobacco budworms and
cotton bollworms. Both of these
major cotton pests have adapted to
commonly used chemical insecti-
cides, making them less effective,
notes Teal.
Normally, these insects produce
pheromones-in this case, female
sex odors released to attract males
for mating-for 3 hours. Teal
demonstrated that some of the
analogs caused both species to
produce pheromones nonstop for 20
"This strategy could cause the
insect to run out of pheromone-
producing chemicals and make it
impossible for the insect to attract
mates," says Teal.
This work represents a significant
milestone in developing environmen-
tally friendly pest insect manage-
ment strategies. Nachman, Teal, and
Holman are pursuing patents on all
the compounds.-By Linda Cooke
McGraw, ARS.
Ronald J. Nachman and G. Mark
Holman are in the USDA-ARS
Veterinary Entomology Research
Unit, 2881 F&B Rd., College
Station, TX 77845; phone (409) 260-
9315, fax (409) 260-9377, e-mail
nachman @
Peter E. A. Teal is in the ARS-
USDA Chemistry Research Unit,
Center for Medical, Agricultural,
and Veterinary Entomology, 1700
SW 23rd Dr., Gainesville, FL 32604;
phone (352) 374-5788, fax (352)
374-5707, e-mail
pteal@ +

Agricultural Research/May 1998


Information Age Tool for the Cattle Industry
change stares Jim McAdams
in the face every day.
The fourth-generation
cattleman from Lubbock, Texas,
knows he must adapt to change if
he's going to remain profitable. So
he's among a cadre of beef industry
people who recently checked out a
new personal computer program for
managing cattle.
McAdams says the computer
model called DECI-Decision
Evaluator for the Cattle Industry-
may help him make the right deci-
sions with the cattle he raises on
Spade Ranches in Lubbock.
"The margin between profit and
loss is getting tighter in all segments
of the beef industry," he says. That
means a single decision can easily
make the difference between making
or losing money.
Times have changed in the cattle
business. More than a century ago,
along routes such as the Chisholm
Trail, drovers counted on unsettled
country stretching from San Antonio,
Texas, northward to provide abun-
dant grass and water for cattle.
When the fattened cattle reached
,. railcars at the trek's end-Abilene,
Kansas-they'd have nearly doubled
S. in value. And consumer demand
back east was such that by the time
the cattle reached Chicago for
slaughter, their price would have
nearly tripled.
Laws of supply and demand still
reign for modern-day ranchers like
McAdams, but management options
are more complex.
"No longer can one simply assume
increasing pounds of beef on the
hoof will lead to profitability," says
Thomas G. Jenkins, an ARS animal
scientist at the Roman L. Hruska
U.S. Meat Animal Research Center
(MARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska.
A computer will tie breed evaluations made by specialists like animal scientist Tom Jenkins and cooperating research-
Jenkins (left) and geneticist Larry Cundiff together with other databases needed by ers at Clay Center are trying to help
livestock producers for efficient decisionmaking. er s at Clay Center cattle trying to help
McAdams and other cattle ranchers

Agricultural Research/May 1998

sort out management options that
may help them produce beef that
consumers want-at an acceptable

Complex Findings Simplified
The Chisholm Trail of halcyon
days gave way to more extensive
transportation systems and to settlers'
barbed wire fencing. In today's
information age, producers'
roads to success may depend on
applying a complex array of
beef research findings to farms sco
and ranches, each with its own
set of resources. This is the idea
behind DECI.
"Our goal is to keep improv-
ing decision support aids that
people in the industry can use to
think through choices, step by
step," Jenkins says. "The
computer ties several databases
together in a way that lets
producers use large amounts of
information garnered from
research without being overbur- At
dened by it." Ne
Using a computer to pose a
number of what-if questions Ev
could help producers avoid
costly mistakes or missed
opportunities that otherwise
might not be recognized for
years-if at all.
This approach strikes a resonant
chord with McAdams. It's old hat for
him, when considering purchase of a
new bull, to use computerized data-
bases to decide whether the animal is
likely to increase the herd's average
weaning weight. But the impact of
one change can affect others.
Producers like McAdams ask,
"What will happen to the grazing
capacity of land stocked with more
cows or with cows of a different
breed that produce heavier calves?
Will the extra grazing lower produc-
tion over time?"

Fact-Based Decisions
For answers, McAdams selects
questions and supplies relevant
information to DECI in response to
prompts. By entering information
that includes historical management
strategies, users of the model can
consider changes that may help them
better match genetics and feed
resources to meet market demands.

the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Cent
braska, animal scientists Calvin Ferrell (left) and Toi
nkins are involved in feeding studies that generate
perimental data for the model called DECI-Decisioi
aluator for the Cattle Industry.

Other questions DECI can address:
Is the cost of harvested feeds imped-
ing profitability? Would reducing the
amount fed or breeding cows to calve
earlier or later in a season make
better use of forages available on the
farm? As choices involving feed are
made, what happens to cow concep-
tion rates, weaning weights, and the
need for female replacements?
Answers to questions like these
would be obscure without research
on nutrition, genetics, breeding, or
other problem areas that Clay Center
scientists tackle. MARC animal

scientist Calvin L. Ferrell's studies
on cows' use of feed energy helped
start the first computer modeling on
beef production.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s,
ARS researchers at three locations-
Clay Center; Miles City, Montana;
and El Reno, Oklahoma-began
work on a model to show how feed
energy can be converted most
efficiently into lean beef.
Coordinated by MARC
geneticist Gary L. Bennett, the
model provided answers based
on genetic traits and ages of the
cattle. Beef cattle industry rep-
resentatives then asked for a
model that would further help
breeders, producers, and feed-
ers manage their operations,
considering other research-
based information.
The proposed model, later
named DECI, would address
the total beef production
system. Charles B. Williams,
er, an animal scientist who had
m developed much of the energy
model, and colleagues found
ways to incorporate their
original work into the DECI
project that Jenkins led.
Additional elements going into
DECI included research
information on genetics,
growth, body composition, and
"We were excited by the scien-
tists' enthusiastic response to the
complex challenge, and the model
was put together in just 2 years,"
says Barry Dunn, chairman of the
National Cattlemen's Beef Associa-
tion's (NCBA) subcommittee on
production efficiency.
Based in Brookings, South
Dakota, Dunn runs a cow-calf
operation near there while pursuing a
doctoral degree in animal husbandry
at South Dakota State University. He
is 1 of 20 producers, beef extension

Agricultural Research/May 1998

lywo In sm L9

A laptop computer running the DECI model shows animal scientists Tom Jenkins (left) and Charles Williams an array of management
options for cattle-breeding programs.

people, and consultants who evalu-
ated the first version of DECI last
spring. Since January 1998, the ARS
scientists have made the new version
available to other researchers. Soon,
more general distribution will be
handled by the NCBA. To run, DECI
requires a personal computer with the
Windows 95 operating system.

Change Will Be a Constant
DECI's designed to evolve con-
tinuously with updated research
information related to productivity
measurements, weights and carcass
composition, and conception, calv-
ing, and weaning rates. Plans are
under way to combine DECI with
SPA, a standard production analysis
that the NCBA uses to evaluate
economic performance of cattle.

The model could eventually help
producers evaluate costs versus
returns for producing cattle suitable
for marketing under a premium
pricing system based on qualities
such as meat leanness rather than on
carcass weight.
Already the model can tell pro-
ducers whether their feed resources
are appropriate for cattle breeds that
tend to produce less fat. Cattle with
genetic leanness are not for every
producer, Dunn points out, because
thinner cattle may have curtailed
reproduction. Not to worry, he adds,
because sizable markets exists for
both the leanest of beef and beef well
marbled with fat.
Beef that's most popular with
consumers has both marbling with
tiny fat flecks characteristic of British

breeds and the leanness characteristic
of Continental European breeds, says
Larry V. Cundiff. He heads the
Genetics and Breeding Research Unit
at MARC.
Researchers have shown that
crosses with 50:50 ratios of Conti-
nental to British inheritance provide
about the right balance. Projects are
in progress at Clay Center and Miles
City to assess other advantages and
disadvantages of alternative mating
systems using various breeds.
Meat can be quite lean, yet tender.
Research led by MARC animal
physiologist Mohammad Koohma-
raie has shown marbling accounts for
only about 10 percent of variation in
tenderness among steaks. He and
MARC food technologists Steven D.
Shackelford and Tommy L. Wheeler

Agricultural Research/May 1998


I4b Ife~te&" mp
Aron nr^

2 l51ensi


have developed a way to help meat
processors quickly identify carcasses
most certain to yield beef cuts that
are both lean and palatable.
Beef tenderness or toughness is
controlled about 70 percent by
environment and 30 percent by
genetics. As researchers map out the
active genes and develop tests to
identify animals having them, DECI
can be programmed to more precisely
define impacts of genetic leanness
and tenderness in individual herds.-
By Ben Hardin, ARS.
Thomas G. Jenkins and other sci-
entists mentioned in this article are at
the USDA-ARS Roman L. Hruska
U.S. Meat Animal Research Center,
P.O. Box 166, State Spur 18D, Clay
Center, NE 68933; phone (402) 762-
4100, fax (402) 762-4148, e-mail *



Detecting Marbling-on the Hoof

A well-marbled, fat-flecked steak is more likely to satisfy consumers
than a steak without these qualities. So it follows that marbling in a
carcass's ribeye is the basis of federal grade standards. A ribeye that
matches photographed marbling of a model choice cut will get premium
pricing at the supermarket.
For buyers and sellers of live animals, estimating how a carcass will
grade is serious business. A 1,100-pound steer that grades as Choice
could easily be valued $50 higher than a Select steer, says Michael D.
MacNeil. He is an animal geneticist in the ARS Range and Livestock
Research Unit at Miles City, Montana.
Now, measuring marbling in live cattle is becoming a science that
may help make pricing more efficient.
At the behest of the Beef Improvement Federation, MacNeil and other
researchers evaluated four commercial ultrasound scanning systems for
predicting carcass marbling. "Two of the systems, tested independently
by expert sonographers, proved accurate and precise," MacNeil says.
As the technology evolves, one system may work better than another
for a variety of reasons, MacNeil says. A good system must include a
well-designed combination of hardware, an image analysis computer
program, and another program capable of using mathematical equations
to translate the image analyses into a measure of fat within the muscle.
Most important, however, is a competent operator to collect the ultra-
sound image.
Besides showing potential for helping buyers and sellers establish the
value of live animals, he says, "ultrasound provides tremendous opportu-
nity as a tool for feedlot management and standardized genetic evalua-
tion programs."
Using ultrasound, feedlot managers could see how far marbling in
steers may have progressed. Then they could decide whether additional
days of feeding to help the steers grade as Choice would justify the
expense. Breeders, knowing that steers' propensity for marbling is an
inherited trait, could benefit from ultrasound data on feedlot steers from
different bulls. They could use the data to calculate expected differences
between the future progeny of the bulls and then decide which bulls to
keep in breeding programs.-By Ben Hardin, ARS.
Michael D. MacNeil is at the USDA-ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and
Range Research Laboratory, Box 2021, Miles, City, MT 59301-9202;
phone (406) 232-8213, fax (406) 232-8209, e-mail
mike @ *

Technician Eldon Shetler readies an air
sample bag for analysis of respiration gases
collected during an indirect calorimetry
study. Data on heat production will help
the DECI model predict energy partioning
in growing cattle.

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Rainwater falling on the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center's 77,000-square-foot composting pad drains into an
orchardgrass field (foreground) that filters out nutrients in the runoff.

"Designer" Composts

To Fight Farm Pollutants

The Agricultural Research
Service officially opened its
composting center for
organic byproducts in Beltsville,
Maryland, this past fall-just as the
debate over Pfiesteria in some
Chesapeake Bay tributaries captured
national attention.
Pfiesteria piscicida and other
Pfiesteria-like microscopic organisms
are dinoflagellates. These tiny,
complex creatures sometimes behave
like plants and sometimes like
animals. In one of two dozen or more
life stages, Pfiesteria and its cousins
can produce a toxin that kills fish and
harms people who come in close
contact with the toxin.
The new composting center offers
a model for two recommendations
made by a Pfiesteria commission
formed by Maryland's governor.
One recommendation is to com-
post chicken litter. The other: Install
grass or tree buffer zones around
farm fields to filter out nutrients
thought to be responsible for Pfieste-
ria blooms.
The 2-acre composting site at the
Beltsville Agricultural Research

Center (BARC) is surrounded on
three sides by an 8-acre field of
orchardgrass. This buffer zone sits
between the compost pad and the
tree-lined banks of Beaver Dam
Creek, which teems with beavers,
turtles, and other wildlife. The creek
flows into Indian Creek, which in
turn feeds the Anacostia River, a
tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Near Beaver Dam Creek is a bird-
watcher's paradise, a wetlands that
even plays host to great blue herons.
Canada geese fly over the compost
center to feed in BARC's grain fields
or swim in its ponds.
"We harvest the orchardgrass for
hay four times a year and feed it to
cattle. Then we recycle their manure
and hay bedding back here again,"
says BARC director Phyllis E.
The two-way street is a mark of
the facility. The composts it produces
will go to the farm's researchers for
testing in next year's sustainable and
organic farming projects. Even its
vehicular traffic is two-way: Almost
daily, dump trucks arrive carrying

manure, livestock bedding, landscape
trimmings, greenhouse discards,
wood chips, and leaves. The trucks
depart with loads of finished compost
to use as mulch in landscaping and
farm research.
Last October 21, for example, a
front-end loader filled a truck with 6
cubic yards of finished compost, and
the truck headed off to deliver it as
landscaping mulch around a nearby
ARS office building. The truck made
five more return trips to complete the
The same day, according to a
hauler's daily log, incoming trucks
arrived with 30 cubic yards of wood
shavings-used livestock bedding-
and 67 cubic yards of dairy and
poultry manure.
At any one time, the 77,000-
square-foot composting pad between
the shed and the orchardgrass buffer
holds about 900 tons of composting
materials. These are stacked in about
20 neat rows, each 160 feet long, 5
feet wide, and 40 inches high.
The windows, as they're called,
represent a simple method of com-

Agricultural Research/May 1998


posting, which relies on regular
turning so that heat generated by
decomposition can "cook" compost
from the inside out. Frequent turning
makes for a uniform mixture. The
finished product shows no sign of the
compost's origins: woodchips,
manure, used animal bedding, or
plant residue such as cornstalks and
discarded ornamentals.
Lawrence J. Sikora, the ARS
microbiologist in charge of the
composting research center, says the
8-inch-thick composting pad has held
up well under all this weight during
its first year. He's especially proud
because the pad itself is made partly
of recycled materials: coal ash from
area power plants and cement kiln

dust. It was built by working these
materials, along with quicklime and
cement, into the existing clay subsoil.

Designing Composts for Special
Sikora and his colleagues will use
the facility to find better ways to
make composts from a blend of farm,
industrial, and urban materials.
"We call them designer composts
because we will tailor-make them in
hopes of solving particular problems
such as vegetable diseases," he says.
"Compost has an inherent ability
to control certain diseases-an ability
we can enhance with the right ingre-
dients, such as manure type and the

right age or maturity. We can also
add disease-fighting microorgan-
isms. Liquids leaching from the
compost pile can be used as a liquid
disease-control spray.
"By adding a specific benefit to
compost, we add enough value that
an entrepreneur could justify ship-
ping it hundreds of miles beyond the
traditional 50- to 100-mile limit of
today's commercial compost opera-
tions," says Sikora.
The scientists will test composts
in six concrete bins in the equipment
shed. Each bin, about twice the size
of a typical backyard compost pile,
has a separate drainage system, so
all compost "tea" drains into sepa-
rate containers. The scientists can

Compost site operator Randy Townsend turns the windows as necessary to replenish oxygen and mix the organic material
for efficient comnosting. .. unA..Mn ,m ..m

analyze the liquids for nutrients,
chemicals, and disease organisms.
Sikora and his colleagues often
seek feedback from regulatory
agencies and industries they invite to
the composting center, such as the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
and a number of food associations.
Sikora says the first research
projects will include finding better
ways to reduce chances of nutrient
pollution of waterways, kill disease
organisms such as Escherichia coli
0157:H7, and control odors.
"Composting stabilizes nutrients
such as nitrogen and phosphorus,
making them less likely to leach into
groundwater," he says.
While the composting center is a
research facility, it also provides vital
recycling services for BARC's 7,000-
acre research farm, which includes
greenhouses, animal barns, crop
fields, pastures, and lawns and other
landscaped areas. The BARC "farm"
produces manure from 650 head of
cattle, 600 pigs, 250 sheep, and 3,500
chickens and turkeys-along with
their used bedding-and plant
residue from its greenhouse and
landscape operations. The compost
facility recycles all this organic
This helps the farm comply with
voluntary state restrictions designed
to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out
of the Chesapeake Bay and its

Where There's Heat, There's
The operational side of the com-
post facility is Randy Townsend's
turf. Townsend is an ARS employee
who is certified as a compost opera-
tor by the Maryland State Depart-
ment of Agriculture.
Townsend says the signature
BARC compost-a mixture of the
same ingredients produced year after

year-will be a blend of dairy
manure, shredded wood chips, and
"We will use all of it on the
research farm," Townsend says.
"Researchers require a steady and
consistent supply for multiyear
Townsend has office space in a
nearby trailer he shares with a mini-
lab equipped with an oven for drying
compost to measure its moisture

The 7.000-acre

BARC "farmf"

recycles manure and

bedding from 650

head of cattle. 600

pigs. 250 sheep, and

3.500 chickens and

turkeys, along with

residue from its

greenhouses and

landscape operations.

content. He uses special vacuum
bottles to test the maturity of compost
by monitoring its reheating potential:
If the temperature of a sample rises
more than 35 degrees above the
ambient air temperature, the compost
is not ready to use.

To speed up composting,
Townsend runs a window turner
over the rows once a week. The
turner has six rows of blades that rake
through the piles, tossing and reform-
ing them while letting air in. He will
turn the piles more often if they're
not getting enough air. He determines
this with a 5-foot probe equipped
with sensors for oxygen, temperature,
and carbon dioxide.
Townsend explains that a tempera-
ture of 131 F for more than 2 weeks
is enough to kill all disease organ-
isms and weed seeds. When the
temperature in a pile drops to about
1150F to 1200F, the compost is ready
to be used on the farm.
"That usually occurs in 12 weeks,"
Townsend says. He occasionally
verifies the compost's readiness with
the vacuum bottle test.
Even Townsend's neat operational
piles are useful to Sikora. "We are
keeping careful records of various
mixtures to see which work best, in
terms of speedy compost," he says.
He points to three windows, each
containing a different combination of
animal manure, bedding, and tomato
and other vegetable residues.
With over 20,000 cubic yards of
BARC organic expected to be
trucked in before the year ends,
Sikora will have plenty of opportuni-
ties to fine-tune designer recipes.-
By Don Comis, ARS.
Lawrence J. Sikora is at the
USDA-ARS Soil Microbial Systems
Laboratory, Bldg. 318, 10300 Balti-
more Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-
2350; phone (301) 504-9384, fax
(301) 504-8370, e-mail
Isikora @asrr.arsusda. gov
Randall K. Townsend is at the
USDA-ARS Compost Research
Facility, Bldg. 218-P, 10300 Balti-
more Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-
2350; phone (301) 504-6762, fax
(301)504-8403. *

Agricultural Research/May 1998

Low-Phytic-Acid Corn Gets First
In a couple of years, corn growers
may be able to plant commercial
hybrids with a trait that can cut water
pollution while increasing the grain's
nutritional value in poultry and pig
feed. In February, ARS awarded the
first license for its new patented corn,
which is low in phytic acid. Abun-
dant in regular corn, phytic acid is a
form of phosphorus unusable by
animals with one stomach, notably
poultry and pigs. Most phosphorus in
corn winds up in the animals' ma-
nure. Rain can carry the nutrient to
waterways, and excess phosphorus
promotes algae that can consume
oxygen from the water to choke out
fish and other aquatic organisms.
Feed for one-stomached animals can
be treated with enzymes to increase
phosphorus intake. But low-phytic-
acid (LPA) hybrids could be a less
expensive, more sustainable strategy.
An ARS scientist developed LPA
corn as a result of natural gene
mutation. In tests, using this corn in
feed has reduced phosphorus loss to
manure by 25 to 40 percent. To
enable wide use of LPA corn, ARS is
negotiating licenses with companies
that produce hybrid corn seed. The
first license was signed with Pioneer
Hi-Bred International, Johnston,
Iowa. Pioneer and other companies
are breeding the trait into superior
corn plants. Commercial hybrids may
be released in a year or two. But that
will happen only if the plants have
other critical qualities such as desir-
able yield and nutrition. ARS has
expanded the research to rice, barley,
and wheat-other grains high in
phytic acid. Victor Raboy, USDA-
ARS Small Grains and Potato
Germplasm Research Unit, Aber-
deen, Idaho; phone (208) 397-4162,

e.Ae ce Ipdate

The Buzz on Russian Bees: They're
Research Ready
Outdoor testing has begun to see if
Russian honey bees can resist varroa
and tracheal mites. If they do prove
resistant, scientists could arrange to
distribute hybrids-offspring of
Russian queens and American
drones-to beekeepers. Breeding
new colonies of resistant bees might
help put the mites, which are among
the worst pests of bees, out of busi-
ness. In February, USDA's Animal
and Plant Health Inspection Service
gave the mild-mannered Russian bees
an "all clear" for release from quar-
antine. ARS had determined that they
harbored no foreign pests or diseases.
Since their importation last July,
they've been kept at Grand Terre
Island near the mouth of the Missis-
sippi River. The scientists' outdoor
tests will also measure the Russian
bees' honey production and other
valuable traits. The bees evolved in a
mite-infested region in far eastern
Russia. Because of pressure from
mites over time, natural selection
may have favored the most resistant
bees. If so, resistant bees would be an
environmentally friendly alternative
to insecticides. Domestic honey bees
are crucial for crop pollination, as
well as honey production. Tom
Rinderer, USDA-ARS Honeybee
Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology
Laboratory, Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
phone (504) 767-9280, e-mail
rdanka @

Company Gets License To Dye
Fruit Flies
ARS has issued a license for its
patented technology using a bait to
trick fruit flies into eating a red dye
that kills them once they are exposed
to light. ARS issued an exclusive
license to PhotoDye International,
Inc., of Baltimore, Maryland. Scien-
tists refined and tested the bait-dye

product, SureDye, under cooperative
research and development agree-
ments with the company. The product
has potential as an alternative to
malathion for suppressing fly inva-
sions such as the one by Mediterra-
nean fruit flies last year in Florida.
The dye also kills Mexican, Carib-
bean, carambola, and oriental fruit
flies. It has long had Food and Drug
Administration approval for drug and
cosmetic uses. The bait doesn't
attract honey bees, ladybugs, or other
beneficial bugs. But its sugars,
proteins, and other ingredients attract
fruit flies and stimulate them to feed.
The bait-dye mix has killed up to 100
percent of fruit flies in tests in citrus,
mango, carambola, and other tropical
and subtropical crops. Test sites have
included California, Florida, Hawaii,
and Texas, as well as Brazil, Guate-
mala, Mexico, Morocco, South
Africa, and Surinam. Robert Man-
gan, USDA-ARS Subtropical Agricul-
tural Research Center, Weslaco,
Texas; phone (956) 565-2647, e-mail
Steven Peck, USDA-ARS Tropical
Fruit, Vegetable, and Ornamental
Crop Research Laboratory, Hilo,
Hawaii; phone (808) 959-4300, e-


Medfly feeding on a cotton wick soaked
with a bait-dye mixture.

Agricultural Research/May 1998

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