Time to Act
The 1998 report by the U.S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture's National Commis-
sion on Small Farms, "A Time to Act,"
recommends that by 2002, at least two-
thirds of our agency's research be geared
toward strengthening small farms.
That makes sense, because 94 percent
of U.S. farms are small-under
$250,000 in gross annual income. While
that sounds like a lot of money at first
glance, a second look proves an eye-
opener. An average farm with annual
.gross sales between $50,000 and
:- ,i$2500.00 has a net cash income of onl\
S '$23,159. That's because over 80 percent
:. of- t farmer's gross sales are absorbed
.. tb armngexpenses.
"' .And that's the reason so man farmers
'"...;, ril o',.ltonfarm jobs as their primary
T.,.,so6rce ofncome, as does Lonnie Burns.
S'. as ho aises calves in West Virginia. See
; ti:ersiing Helps Small Farms
l s".., page 4).
j ltal Research Ser ice scien-
S tistSin Bea\.er; West Virginia, \ ho \ ork
witlt[ Lonnie and his father. Lloyd. and
theit neighbors, are a sterling example
S.. of Or intensified efforts to aid farm fam-
ilies. The Beaver lab's name was recent-
'*, ly changed from the Appalichian Soil
and Water Conservation Laboratory to
----the Appalachian Farming Systems Re-
-.'seatc.h Center.trreflect the.lab's new fo-
"-'i-u.s uo'-smiall fiarm-research.
; :.' Th B'eaver.cen ter's.vision for small
k' arms. irtors that of-the -report Scien- -
~ pi on rea -farmers' skilled -
SS ~;,anu S.it.a eas on the di-'..
', t 't --,a;;. .nd ape :. ..are .help-
&.''elop niche market prod-
5i P J. .- 4
monocropping operations. When they He cites the work of ARS entomolo-
sell their crops in farmers' markets, they gist W. Joe Lewis in Tifton, Georgia, as
provide urban people with a social con- an example of the type of research that
nection to farmers and a healthy, fresh is helpful to small farms and should be
food supply, expanded to other parts of the country.
The Dale Bumpers center demon- Lewis and colleagues are engaged in
states that large-scale agriculture is not farm-scaping; that is, designing an en-
and should not be our only model for tire farm with an eye to keeping down
agricultural production, but that multiple pest numbers and thus reducing pesticide
and diverse models are necessary for needs. They view the entire farm as a sin-
economic, ecological, and social stability gle diverse garden, making landscaping
in our food and agricultural system. decisions on, for example, whether and
That is why we are developing melh- where to use perennials and choosing
ods that are more kno\ ledge- and man- flowers that attract beneficial insects.
agement-intensive but less capital-inten- "This research is critical to small
sive. A good example of this appears in farms." lMagdoff says, "but there's no
the story "Model Takes the Guesswork profit in it for private industry. Only the
Out of Fertilizing" on page 15. state universities and ARS wouldd do
Alan E. Olness has eliminated the this-and only ARS has the national net-
need for a second nitrate soil test dunng work to do it for each region."
the gro\ ing season. This--could save lMadoff also cites the \ork of ARS
farmers several hundreds of dollars in scientists Aref Abdul-Baki and John R.
soil-sampling .costs--not counting their Teasdale in Belts'ille. Maryland. They
savings.from higheryields-and potential ha\e sho\ n that a hair) vetch legume
reductions in nitrogen fertilizer use. cover crop can reduce-fettilizer, pesti- - -
Fred Magdoff, a professor at the cide. and Wiateruse in grow ing tomatoes
University of Vermont, invented one of and other crops.
the tests that'Olness uses, the Pre- "The implications of their work are
Sidedress Nitrate Test, which promises gradually dawning on the farming world,
to solve major economic and environ- and more and more farmers are using
mental .problems for farmers. Magdoff their techniques-saving money and
has interacted with a variety of ARS helping-4t environment at the same
scientists for the past two decades, most time." says' lagdoff. ...
recently while working on the USDA ARS managers are inventorying the
Small Farms Commission. We plan to agency's research portfolio as part of an
work closely with Magdoff to implement effort to strengthen small farm research.
"A Time to Act." We must be sure that we include appro-
.Magdoff says that "'Olness is enhanc-- private technologies.
ing the-use of ne.er nitratetetestsas.nian- The USDA's Economic-Research
: agement tools. By reducing the number Service is studyNrig successful small
of spi--saamples needed, he can save all. farns o.E identify the principles respon-
harniers money." .. sible for their success. The agency is also
M agdoffielieves that.whileA. RS.has o.doing market surveys. We and USDA's
grayP donei.cttgmendons jbt 'Me- 1(qopeiy&SEae Resefarch EBducation, .
d OS,6 Lsn'v:-: andxJ sension'. SAerice will'use the ERS :' '.
r to. ideqntif.'y techr olegial odels ut ie
-- -- *- I
.4..4-"-:If ."., '"", - " .,
A ~.4 ~ 'r-
Vol -17, No 10
ISSN h0-lt I61X
Agricultural Research is published monthly by
the Agricultural Researh Ser' ice. U S Depart-
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Agriculture has determined hat this periodical is
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Dan Glickman. Secretary,
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Agricultural Research Service
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Diversifying Helps Small Farms Thrive 4
New Vaccines for Aquaculturists 10
Seed-Savers Unite 12
Model Takes the Guesswork Out of Fertilizing 1
Protecting Poultry Farmers on Two Fronts 16
Turning to the Sun-Instead of Methyl Bromide 18
Grass-Based Farming: A Demo Dairy Project 20
Clues to Redder, More Nutritious Tomatoes 22
Science Update 23
COVER: A small dairy farm in western Maryland. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture defines "small farms" as those a eraging $50,000 to $250.000 in gross
sales annuall--which net, on average, around $23.159. Photo by Scott Bauer.
In the next issue!
,r CHOCOLATE ALERT! Consumers and processors could face a
shortage 5 or 6 years from now, if research doesn't solve-some of the
disease and pest problems that threaten cocoa bean production. '-' ".
it ANOTHER PENICILLIN? Thirty-nine new Penicillium species have.
been added to the 102 previously known ones maintained in the ARS,.; -:-
Culture Collection at Peoria, Illinois.
Agncultural Research/October 1999
The Appalachian hills offer challenges relished by its indepen-
dent-minded residents. And the same rolling, diverse topography that can
make traditional midwestern farming practices impossible here
also supports an extraordinarily broad array of plant species.
It is with the idea of seeing an opportunity in each challenge
offered by the rugged but rich topography that U.S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture scientists are helping Appalachian farmers
look for niche markets for products such as grass-fed beef,
ramps, and chevon.
"Why send cattle to the Midwest to be fattened on corn, when
New York City restaurants and other East Coast markets are
buying grass-finished beef from Argentina?" wonders William
M. Clapham. He has been head of the Appalachian Farming
Systems Research Center in Beaver, West Virginia, for the past
2 years. USDA's Agricultural Research Service operates the
center, which is about 3,000 feet above sea level.
"One of the many things our hills are tremendous at produc-
ing is lush grass," Clapham says. "So why not keep the cows
here, save the transportation costs for shipping them out to mid-
western feedlots, and build up a niche market here for a meat
product that will command a premium price in the health food
market? Cattle that graze grass have leaner meat."
Ramps? Better known as wild leek, this onion relative with
a garlicky flavor may have anticancer properties. It certainly is a cultural
icon in the Appalachian hills, with seasonal festivals built around it. For
centuries, locals have celebrated the wild leek, touting its virtues in every-
thing from salads to relishes, as well as just eaten plain-raw or steamed.
This spring, horticulturist Carol M. Schumann planted some ramp bulbs
in woods around the ARS lab. "They seem ideal for an understory crop
because they mature so early in the spring, before the tree leaves are out,"
Schumann says, "and they're dormant at the same time the forest is fully
h for ni
of our la
Agricultural Research/October 1999
The efforts of the lab's scientists to experiment with cultivating leeks in
farm woods are typical of the lab's new emphasis on capitalizing on the
region's remarkable geographic resource to create products for specialty
"The search for niche products and new markets for small farms is key
to the mission of our newly named lab," Clapham says. The facility was
originally established in 1980 as the Appalachian Soil and Water Conser-
vation Research Laboratory. The research center is in southern West Vir-
ginia and occupies 280 acres.
As suited as leeks are to
forest understory, so, too, is
agroforestry well suited to the
Appalachian region, where
hills are covered with either
trees or pastures. Agroforestry
is the growing of forest crops
on farmland or farm crops in
ARS soil scientist Charles
M. Feldhake has planted
1,200 black locust trees in a
steep hillside pasture. He
"One challenge will b
grass from outcompeti
lings without herbicide
-Charles M. Feldhake
planted the trees in rows about 30 feet apart in a 5-acre watershed where
25 sheep graze. Another 25 graze in an adjacent, treeless watershed.
Feldhake wants to find out whether the deep-rooting trees can catch excess
nutrients from livestock urine and manure before the waste reaches ground-
water. The trees also provide shade for grass and other pasture plants, as
well as for livestock, during hot summer days.
Feldhake and ARS agronomist David P. Belesky put small pasture plots
in existing woodlands, thinning out some of the trees to increase growth of
forage for livestock.
This spring, Feldhake planted walnut and pawpaw trees in a hayfield on
an organic farm operated by West Virginia's Lightstone Foundation. "One
challenge will be keeping the grass from outcompeting the tree seedlings
without herbicides," says Feldhake.
Get Your Goat!
As for chevon, it's the industry term for goat meat. "Our hills are ideal
for goats," Clapham says, "but they're usually there only as brush mow-
ers, since the hills are too steep for tractors or mechanical mowers."
The thinking at the center is: Why not sell the goats for meat after they're
Agricultural Research/October 1999
SCOTT~~~-' BA I\KS9-
exrat chmcl rmV evso
done mowing? Many fields in the Appalachian hills are aban-
doned parts of farms that produce no income for farmers, ex-
cept possibly fees from hunters. They are overrun with weeds
like multiflora rose and honeysuckle. The center's scientists
are experimenting with ways to return these fields to produc-
One such field is near the Dan Hale Reservoir for the City
of Princeton, West Virginia. It is a former cornfield overrun
with shrubs, grass, and other weeds. Nothing has been done to
the field in a decade, except to mow a few alleys through it for
Joyce G. Foster, an ARS chemist, and
Kenneth E. Turner, an ARS animal scien-
tist, have teamed up for the abandoned
fields project. Their idea is to use goats to
do the initial clearing. At the same time,
they want to be sure the goats eat nutri-
tiously so they can be sold for meat when
their work is done.
Not that chevon production would stop
once the land was cleared enough to be-
come a pasture for cattle and sheep. The
goats would continue to graze alongside
the sheep and cattle. For the most part,
they wouldn't be competing for forage,
because their grazing tastes and behavior
are so dissimilar.
Somewhat like deer, goats graze high
and from the top down, preferring the
growing tips and buds of tall grasses and
woody shrubs. They avoid the white clo-
ver that is a mainstay of sheep and cattle.
Foster analyzes the chemical makeup
of native and exotic pasture plants at var-
ious maturities to find those that are safe,
nutritious, and palatable to various kinds
"You have to watch plants closely.
They're tricky. To defend against the eat-
grazing season-earlier in the spring and later in the fall. He
also wants to fill in gaps in forage production during droughts
and hot summer days. For the heat, he is looking at warm-sea-
son grasses like bermudagrass to supplement existing cool-sea-
son ones, such as tall fescue, that stop producing during hot
Belesky and colleagues are also building systems that match
forage supply and quality with the nutritional needs of grazing
livestock. Their approach builds on the hardy characteristics of
adapted forage species and minimizes the need for purchased
feed supplements for livestock.
so1i scientist tnaries elonaKe measures
photosynthetically active radiation as part
of a study on how seasonal microclimate
modification by variable-density conifer
stands affects the quality and yield of
forage grown below.
ing habits of goats and deer, plants often produce noxious chem-
icals during their early growth stages to deter the animals," she
To account for the possible role of various soil types, Foster
and Turner are also studying abandoned farmland restoration
on different soils in the region. For example, they are studying
unfarmed fields on karst topography, where underlying
limestone strata lend themselves to cave formation. (See
"Scientists Go Underground To Check Water Quality," August
1993, Agricultural Research, page 4.)
To help farmers fatten goats, sheep, and cattle for market,
agronomist David P. Belesky is exploring ways to extend the
Rolling in Clover
Plant geneticist Paul W. Voigt is
breeding new white clover varieties to help
farmers renovate their pastures with
hardier ones that can stand up better to the
pressures of sheep and cattle eating or
stepping on the plants' stolons, or runners.
Most commercial varieties are not well-
adapted to pasture use. Voigt wants to com-
bine the high yields of larger leafed white
clovers with the hardy stolons of the small-
He and colleagues from USDA's
Natural Resources Conservation Service
(NRCS) and the West Virginia and Virginia
Extension Services recently finished
collecting sample tips of stolons from more
than 2,000 wild white clovers from the
central Appalachian region. After the tips
are well-rooted and producing good
growth in a greenhouse at the Beaver
center, he will take cuttings and start other
plants. Those will be maintained at Beaver,
and the original collection will be planted
at the new USDA-NRCS Plant Materials
Center near Alderson, West Virginia.
The Alderson plants will be evaluated
to determine leaf size and stolon structure. Based on these data,
promising plants in the greenhouse at Beaver will be grouped
together. When those plants flower, they will be put into net
cages with honey bees to cross-pollinate them to produce seed.
Then, working with Turner, Voigt will test plants from that seed
in pastures with livestock grazing.
If he's successful, farmers in the Appalachian region, as well
as elsewhere in the country, will have more durable pastures.
"White clover is widely used and is a very important pasture
crop," Voigt says. "It provides livestock with high-quality pro-
tein while also providing nitrogen fertilizer for itself and grass-
es growing with it."
Agricultural Research/October 1999
John Vandevender, manager of the Alderson plant materials
center in southern West Virginia-about 60 miles from Beaver
and 1,500 feet lower in elevation-works with Voigt and his
"We test their plants, and they test ours," Vandevender says.
His center, recently relocated from Quick Sand, Kentucky, has
released several cultivars of conservation and forage plants,
including a clover and a lespedeza that Foster is considering as
a possible forage. The center's releases include grasses,
legumes, and trees.
Vandevender plans to spend some time promoting an ear-
lier black locust cultivar release and to explore the possibility
of encouraging farmers to use it and other cultivars to start tree
nursery businesses in West Virginia.
"I'd like to see if we could help farmers go beyond the
traditional enterprises of cattle and sheep," he says. "We'd need
to discuss this with economists and others first, to see if it's
feasible to develop a market-assess the need for a product
and then produce enough to meet the need.
Tree nurseries could be one of the supporting industries for
agroforestry. Vandevender has 3 acres set aside for Feldhake's
and Schumann's agroforestry experiments. He is also helping
Foster locate various lines of lespedeza and is discussing the
possibility of testing dogwood trees for goat browsing.
Vandevender says his center has three new releases pending
over the next few years, the first being an orchardgrass cultivar.
Water-Quality and Quantity
Lloyd Burns welcomes any help he can get with feeding his
calves, which he raises on 258 rolling acres for Midwest feed-
lots. This year's early drought has him worried about produc-
ing enough grass to fatten his cattle up to their 800-pound sale
weights. Like most farmers, he's always thinking about water.
"It's essential to my livelihood," he says, thinking not only
of the drought but of the groundwater deep beneath his farm,
which supplies his drinking water. It reassures him to know
that ARS hydrologist Douglas G. Boyer goes 300 feet under-
ground to study water quality below his pastures and barns.
Boyer walks and crawls through caves deep underneath pas-
tures and dairy farms to sample cave streams and springs for
contaminants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and fecal bacteria.
He will soon add Cryptosporidium parvum parasites to his list
of contaminants to routinely check for.
C. parvum sickened more than 400,000 people in Milwau-
kee, Wisconsin, in 1993. The protozoan lays eggs, or oocysts,
inside intestines of domestic and wild animals and humans.
Shed in manure or human waste, disease-causing oocysts can
enter lakes and streams by rain or snowmelt runoff and from
inadequate septic systems.
Boyer's 9 years of caving and studying water quality have
shown that animal waste is the main source of water pollution
in the karst area. This is a labyrinth of limestone bedrock into
which underground streams can easily scour out caves. Water
sampling can't be done by the traditional method of drilling a
narrow pipe well down to the water table because the bedrock
is thick, and the water runs in such narrow, labyrinthine paths
that striking it would be very difficult.
Boyer says water quality is definitely a small farms issue,
because the farmers in this area don't have any treated water. It
all comes from wells.
"There's been a growing public awareness of groundwater
pollution over the past 15 years, especially among farmers,"
His son Lonnie farms with him and has been a caver since
the 1990s, inspired by Boyer. Like his father and neighbors, he
supplements his farm income with a full-time job in town. He
says more people would be concerned about water quality if
they had the information Boyer has shared with them. They
feel fortunate to be able to talk to Boyer about the karst forma-
tion and groundwater flow below their farm.
"When you stand in a surface stream and then follow that
stream down to 300 feet, walking and crawling for hours, and
then see well casings reaching the stream, you get a whole dif-
ferent perspective," Lonnie Burns says.
"Farming in the Appalachian region is like farming
anywhere-it's an uphill business," he says, referring
not to the hills that present their own special challenge,
but to the everyday struggles farmers face-like too
much or too little rain-resulting in too little income.
SCOTT BAUER (K8596-6)
In studying animal waste distribution in a karst sinkhole, plant
physiologist Ralph Clark (left) withdraws a soil sample while
hydrologist Doug Boyer operates a global positioning system device.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
Plant physiologist Ralph Clark (left) and hydrologist Doug Boyer examine a water sample taken from a spring flowing out of this cave
"The karst land has its own set of challenges, though," Lon-
nie says. "Streams can fall down 300 feet real quickly, along
with possible contaminants from animal manure." He says
many people in the karst area are already trying to take meas-
ures to keep the streams and groundwater clean.
Because of Boyer's information, Lonnie and his father and
a crew from the West Virginia Association for Cave Studies
spent the third Saturday of each month, for about 6 months,
removing a ton of metal and 29 tons of trash from a sinkhole
on property they acquired across the road from their farm. This
is the second sinkhole they've cleaned.
Sinkholes are ground-level depressions formed as surface
water carves its way through fractures in the limestone. They
are critical points in the landscape because water runoff often
drains through them quickly down to cave streams.
Boyer believes that cattle may be congregating around sink-
holes and threatening water quality with their manure. To check
this theory, he plans to use global positioning system receiv-
ers placed on several beef steers to continuously track them
The soil that doesn't have limestone bedrock underneath it
is actually the problem soil, because it is usually too high in
acids for many plants. It also often has very low levels of phos-
phorus, a critical plant nutrient, and high levels of toxic forms
of soil aluminum. The Beaver center has many experts on mar-
ginal soils who are searching for ways to improve them and the
plants that grow on them.
"Good soil is the starting point for all of our small farms
projects," says Clapham. "Recognizing that, we have a soil sci-
entist on each of our four research teams. The interaction be-
tween soil, plants, animals, and water is at the heart of each of
our projects to help small farmers."-By Don Comis, ARS.
This research is part of Rangeland, Pastures, and Forages
(#205); Integrated Farming Systems (#207); and Water Qual-
ity and Management (#201), ARS National Programs described
on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov/pro-
The scientists mentioned in this article are located at the
USDA-ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center,
1224 Airport Rd., Beaver WV 25813-9423; phone (304) 256-
2858, fax (304) 256-2921, firstname.lastname@example.org. *
Agricultural Research/October 1999
New Vaccines for Aquaculturists
L ike people, fish have their share of diseases and need
vaccines to keep them healthy. Agricultural Research
Service scientists at Auburn, Alabama, have devel-
oped several of these vaccines and are now closing
in on one that protects fish from a Streptococcus bacterium.
The agency's Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory
is developing a new vaccine against Streptococcus iniae, says
Phillip H. Klesius, who heads the Auburn unit. "S. iniae is an
emerging bacterial pathogen in cultivated tilapia, hybrid striped
bass, rainbow trout, yellowtail, eel, and turbot. Worldwide,
streptococcal infections are reported in 22 fish species, both
cultured and wild," he says.
S. iniae is recognized as one of the most problematic bacte-
rial pathogens in intensively cultured tilapia and hybrid striped
bass in the United States. Development of good health man-
agement practices and a vaccine to control it is a superior ap-
proach to using antibiotics or chemicals, Klesius says.
Klesius, ARS molecular biologist Craig A. Shoemaker, and
ARS aquatic pathologist Joyce J. Evans are co-developing the
vaccine. This team combines unique expertise in fish disease
prevention. Members conduct basic research to understand
immunity, transmission, and infection-particularly in hybrid
striped bass and tilapia.
"We found the S. iniae bacterium KEITH WELLER (K8612-9)
possibly enters the nostrils of the fish
from the water," says Evans, who is
with the Auburn unit but based at Wash-
ington College in Chestertown, Mary-
land. She is researching fish health
problems associated with fish kills and
aquatic pathogens. "Finding out how
bacteria enter and travel through the
fish may aid in development of an ef-
fective vaccine," she says.
The higher the density of cultured
fish, the more easily S. iniae is trans-
mitted and the higher the mortality,
says Shoemaker. "Signs of the disease
in fish are abnormal behavior such as
erratic swimming, whirling motion at
the surface of the water, darkening of
the skin, blindness, popeyes, and small
lesions on the body, fins, and anus."
Antibiotics are currently used to
control the streptococcal disease in fish.
Surprisingly, the team's research indi-
cates there are certain negative effects
on fish health and immunity after anti-
biotic treatment for S. iniae. This indi- Samples of wild channel
aquatic pathologist Joyc
cates that antibiotic treatment suppres- River, Maryland, net peJ
ses streptococcal disease signs but all health and the present
doesn't completely eliminate the bacterium from treated fish.
Vaccine to the Rescue
These new findings are important determinants for
developing a successful vaccine to fight S. iniae,
which causes $150 million a year in loss-
es. The ARS scientists are designing it to
provide lifelong protection. In laboratory
studies, it has reduced mortality in tilapia
and hybrid striped bass by more than 80 per-
Popular in Asian countries, tilapia is showing
up on more U.S. menus. Since 1997, U.S. fresh
and frozen tilapia imports have increased 28 per-
cent and U.S. tilapia cultivation is expanding steadi-
ly. Hybrid striped bass consumption and production
through cultivation are also increasing rapidly because
of rising consumer demand for this excellent-tasting fish.
"We are currently developing plans to test the vaccine
on a larger scale throughout the United States," Klesius says.
"We are testing effectiveness of both injection and the bath
immersion immunization that gives fish farmers more flexibil-
ity. This vaccine could potentially save
producers money worldwide."
The ARS team has filed for a patent
on the new vaccine for use in both
small and larger sized fish.
More Catfish Disease Protection
Klesius and Shoemaker recently
developed the first approved modified
live-bacterium fish vaccine, one that
protects young channel catfish against
enteric septicemia (ESC). A major
catfish disease caused by the bacterium
Edwardsiella ictaluri, ESC costs
catfish farmers as much as $60 million
a year in losses. This new vaccine-
made of a live E. ictaluri organism
rendered unable to cause disease-
prevents infection. ARS has filed for
a patent on it.
Also called "hole in the head,"
enteric septicemia is characterized by
lesions and holes in the fish's cranium,
as well as by a bright-red color at the
base of its gills and belly. It accounts
fish harvested by for 70 percent of disease losses in
vans from a Chester
ansll be assessed for over- catfish but has never been associated
io be assessed for over-
,f microorganisms. with human infection.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
Blood obtained nonlethally from wild channel
catfish will be used to develop monoclonal
antibodies against infectious disease agents.
"In field studies," Shoemaker says, "the ESC vaccine re-
duced catfish mortality by 80 percent."
Not To Forget Tail Rot
Another emerging problem is the bacterium Flavobacter-
ium columnare. It causes columnaris disease, sometimes called
peduncle disease or tail rot (in aquarium species, cotton-wool
mouth), a significant source of economic loss in cultivated cat-
fish, hybrid striped bass, and other fish species. Currently, there
is no means to successfully control this infection, says Klesius.
The scientists at Auburn are evaluating various vaccine
d immune to reinfection. This shows that
a future vaccine is possible.
Klesius and colleagues are also researching fish
be hi\ ior and health problems related to fungal, algal, bac-
terial. and chemical toxins that have been implicated in fish
kills in U.S. coastal waters. They have developed unique meth-
ods to culture brain cells from fish and determine the types of
brain cell injury caused by toxins from infectious and non-
"We hope this research provides new insights into behavior,
health, and immunity in wild and cultured fish exposed to toxic
agents and pollutants found frequently in the United States.
This research is a necessary part of ensuring a safe food supply,"
says Klesius.-By Tara Weaver-Missick, ARS.
This research is part ofAquaculture, an ARS National Pro-
gram (#106) described on the World Wide Web at http://
Phillip H. Klesius and Craig A. Shoemaker are at the USDA-
ARS Aquatic Animal Health Research Laboratory, 990 Wire
Rd., Auburn, AL 36831-0952; phone (334) 887-3741, fax (334)
887-2983, e-mail email@example.com
cshoemak@ acesag. auburn. edu.
Joyce J. Evans, USDA-ARSAquatic Animal Health Research
Laboratory, Washington College, 300 Washington St., Ches-
tertown, MD 21620; phone (410) 810-7151, fax (410) 810-7451,
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. *
Agricultural Research/October 1999
ARS joins with organic growers to preserve germplasm.
T here's nothing more basic to
agriculture than collecting seeds from a
crop and replanting them the next sea-
son. Documenting how well the seeds
grow brings science to the venture. Share
the results, and you have education; sell
the seeds, and you add business to the
A unique informal alliance between
the Agricultural Research Service and a
group of organic farmers pulls these
components together in a manner that
may benefit scientists, growers, and con-
The Farmer Coopera- BRIAN PRECHTEL
tive Genome Project
(FCGP) based in Junction
City, Oregon, seeks to in-
crease the diversity of crop
seeds offered for sale to
small farmers and garden-
ers, teach organic farmers
how to regenerate seed,
and eventually provide the
ARS National Plant Germ-
plasm System (NPGS)
with additional seed and
"The purpose of the
NPGS is to retain as much
of the natural diversity of
crop plants as possible," At theNatio
says ARS horticulturist example of
Richard M. Hannan. "Plant Cooperative
breeders use these plants to
develop new crop varieties
that offer better disease resistance or
improved nutrition or that grow in
different environments from existing
Hannan leads the Western Regional
Plant Introduction Station in Pullman,
Washington, and serves informally as
liaison between ARS and the FCGP.
The germplasm system is a network
of 26 repositories nationwide that pre-
serve and regenerate seed and other re-
productive tissues-known as germ-
plasm-of crop plants and their wild
relatives. The system houses more than
400,000 accessions comprising more
than 10,000 species. An accession is a
genetically distinct group of plants, such
as a crop variety or wild subspecies that
has been added to a collection.
But providing breeders with these
genetic resources is a mammoth task.
After a number of years-which can
nal Plant Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Orego
Joseph Postman examines a dwarf blueberry mutant
-lonal germplasm that is available to members of the
Genome Project for evaluation or further develop
range from just a few, for crops like
onions, to several decades for hearty
seeds like lentils and peas-the acces-
sions must be grown and new seeds
collected and stored again in a repository.
Backup supplies of these collections
are also sent to a long-term storage fa-
cility ARS operates in Fort Collins, Col-
orado. Ideally, each accession is grown
out and characterized so breeders have
information about the plants-but there
is not always enough staff to collect these
An Idea Germinates
J.J. Haapala, an Oregon organic seed
grower, realized that small farmers and
the germplasm system could help each
other. "It struck me that there was a huge
opportunity for individuals to participate
in safeguarding our plant resources," he
Farmers would benefit
by taking advantage of a
greater diversity of seeds
than they might otherwise
have access to, while the
germplasm system could
have many more hands to
carry out its mission. "Four
of every five traditional
crop seed varieties avail-
able just 10 years ago are
no longer sold," Haapala
-- The project began in
1998 with a grant awarded
by the U. S. Department of
n, plant Agriculture's Fund for Ru-
-just one ral America. Haapala also
Farmer works as director of re-
ent. search and education for
Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit
So far, more than 300 farmers, seed
Elephant's Head amaranth has been
commercialized by a garden seed company
and is now available to individuals for
Agricultural Research/October 1999
producers, home gardeners, and scien-
tists have joined the FCGP.
"After someone indicates interest, we
send a survey to find out that person's
land capacity, experience with seeds, and
desired crops," Haapala says. About 80
people have returned the surveys.
Haapala serves as a distribution point
and interface between the various reposi-
tories and growers. Working with several
of the ARS germplasm management
sites, he has requested about 570 ac-
cessions covering about 50 species.
But, Haapala cautions, the project is
not a free seed program for gardeners.
Participants must follow rigorous guide-
lines established by ARS scientists to
provide pertinent information on plant
growth and development. The farmers
are free to use plants they like to devel-
op into new varieties. They can keep
excess seed and fruit.
A Source of the Unusual
An eventual goal of the project is to
develop an economically viable cooper-
ative of organic growers producing a
wide diversity of seeds for anyone inter-
ested in growing unique crops.
Hannan and Haapala believe every-
one could benefit. "Many of these farm-
ers are interested in heirloom varieties
and traditional crops that might not be
getting much attention from customary
germplasm users, such as breeders and
botanists," Hannan says.
Interest in unusual crops could be
wide-ranging, agrees Joseph Postman, an
ARS plant pathologist at the National
Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corval-
lis, Oregon. The Corvallis site stores, for
example, 250 ancient pear varieties.
"We have pears that ripen earlier than
the normal harvest season, old English
pears that provide a fermented beverage
of interest to some microbreweries, and
pears with Siberian or Manchurian an-
cestry that could extend production into
cold climates where there is no commer-
cial pear production," says Postman.
"A pear tree can live more than 100
J.J. Haapala, an organic seed grower and
director of research and education for
Oregon Tilth, pours harvested Red Russian
kale into a device that separates the seed
years, so each heirloom pear tree plant-
ed by a farmer essentially becomes a
mini-repository-a future source for that
NPGS staff will benefit from the
project by receiving information they
wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity
to collect. An example would be data on
how a specific variety grows without
pesticides in a cool climate such as
Oregon's Willamette Valley. "This might
be the first information gathered on a
particular accession," says Hannan.
"The key is developing trust between
the curators and farmers," Hannan notes.
He says curators are like parents in their
protectiveness over their accessions.
They are eager to teach farmers about
the specific protocols necessary to main-
tain genetic integrity. And the arrange-
ment could be a real money-saver, since
it costs up to $350 each time an acces-
sion is grown out for some species.
Haapala also sees the relationship
between organic growers and ARS as a
primary benefit. "Some growers have
seeds produced and saved for genera-
tions that they could contribute to the
germplasm system," he says. "Everyone
will benefit from this combined effort
to preserve our heritage."-By Kathryn
Barry Stelljes, ARS.
This project is part of Plant, Micro-
bial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Ge-
nomics, and Genetic Improvement, an
ARS National Program (#301) described
on the World Wide Web at http://www.
nps.ars. usda.gov/programs/cppvs. htm.
Richard M. Hannan is at the USDA-
ARS Western Regional Plant Introduc-
tion Station, 59 Johnson Hall, Washing-
ton State University, Pullman, WA
99164-6402; phone (509) 335-1502, fax
(509) 335-6654, e-mail hannan@
Joseph D. Postman is at the USDA-
ARS National Clonal Germplasm Re-
pository, 33447 Peoria Rd., Corvallis,
OR 97333; phone (541) 750-8712, fax
(541) 750-8717, e-mail postman @bcc.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
Model Takes the Guesswork
Out of Fertilizing
A new Agricultural Research Service computer mod-
el could save farmers millions of dollars world-
wide in soil test costs and wasted nitrogen.
Before year's end, the ARS Nitrogen Fertilizer
Decision Aid will be posted on the World Wide Web for farm-
ers, consultants, and anyone else who wants to use it.
Tested for 9 years with Minnesota corn farmers, the model
helps eliminate uncertainties that lead many farmers to over-
apply nitrogen in the spring. They add so-called "insurance
fertilizer" to the amount called for by a fall soil sample, to
compensate for possible nitrogen losses over the winter.
Alan E. Olness, a soil scientist, says the new model requires
very little information from farmers planning to use it.
"Mostly the farmer needs to know only the clay and organ-
ic matter content of the top 6 inches of soil, as well as the soil
pH and data from a field weather station," he says. "Then the
farmer sends in soil samples to the usual state university or
private lab for a Pre-Plant Soil Nitrate Test. This test is gradu-
ally gaining popularity because it's so accurate and useful."
Olness serves on the North Central Regional Committee
that evaluated pre-plant and pre-sidedress tests on 307 sites in
the north-central Corn Belt. One of the committee's goals is to
facilitate more accurate nitrogen recommendations, to avoid
waste, and to minimize possible nitrate pollution of ground-
The Pre-Plant Soil Nitrate Test solves the problem of esti-
mating nitrogen losses over winter by sampling for nitrogen
just before planting. The idea behind the test is this: Farmers
can trust the test's analysis and apply only the amount of ni-
trogen the soil is lacking-if any-because they then follow
up later with another soil test, in time to add more nitrogen if
Olness says his model eliminates the need for the second
soil nitrate test by predicting nitrogen content for up to 90 days
The model uses soil and weather information to predict how
much nitrogen will be produced-after spring planting-by
microbes. The microbes feed on soil organic matter and de-
caying plants, stalks, and leaves from the previous year's crop.
In many soils, the microbes will naturally produce between 50
and 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
By adding this natural production to the amount measured
at planting, the model tells farmers exactly how much nitro-
gen will be available to plants during the critical 60-day up-
take period. The model subtracts this sum from the corn's to-
tal fertilizer need to recommend how much, if any, nitrogen
fertilizer should be added for the best economic yield.
Olness says his model can also help farmers time the mi-
crobial production of nitrogen to meet plant needs at various
ANSON EAGLIN (K8602-1)
Soil scientist Alan Olness and chemist Jana Rinke inspect corn
plants in a tillage/nitrate study that helped show the accuracy of the
Pre-Plant Soil Nitrate Test.
"They can slow down the rate by leaving crop residue on the
surface and planting without tillage," says Olness. "Or they can
till the soil first, to bury the residue and speed up the nitrogen
production."-By Don Comis, ARS.
This research is part of Integrated Crop Production and Pro-
tection Systems, an ARS National Program (#305) described
on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov/pro-
Alan E. Olness is at the USDA-ARS North Central Soil Con-
servation Research Laboratory, 803 Iowa Ave., Morris, MN
56267; phone (320) 589-3411, ext. 131, fax (320) 589-3787, e-
mail email@example.com. *
Agricultural Research/October 1999
Veterinary medical officer Jack King inspects embryonated chicken
eggs before inoculation. After the shell surface is disinfected with
iodine, a small hole will be punched to allow entry of a needle.
Iewcastle disease has plagued poultry producers for
75 years. Strains native to the United States cause
only mild symptoms-akin to a "common cold" for
poultry. But exotic strains can cause devastating loss-
es in other countries-and in the United States, if they
invade via smuggled birds or wild birds, such as cormorants.
Keeping tabs on hazardous forms of Newcastle disease is a
responsibility of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, which collaborates closely with the Agricultural Re-
Newcastle disease surfaced in this country in the 1930s. By
the late 1940s, scientists had developed vaccines. They had
also identified virus strains that produced symptoms in poultry
ranging from mild to fatal. But identifying the differences in
virus strains that explain their differing severity remains a chal-
At ARS' Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens,
Georgia, veterinarian Daniel J. King and microbiologist Bruce
S. Seal work to keep U.S. poultry farmers protected on two
fronts. Seal studies the genetic component of Newcastle virus
samples sent in by APHIS. King studies how these viruses sick-
en and kill birds.
"Ultimately," says King, "we hope this combined approach
will lead to better detection methods, so live birds don't have
to be used to identify the virulence, or disease-causing ability,
of new strains."
During 1971, a particularly nasty Newcastle strain from pet
birds struck the poultry industry in California. Eradication took
over 2 years and cost $56 million in federal funds. Nearly 12
million birds had to be destroyed.
In Seal's lab, analyses of gene sequences within the last few
years helped confirm scientists' long-suspected connection
between this outbreak and infected imported parrots. Some
birds-particularly in the parrot family-can appear healthy
even while harboring a virulent Newcastle strain.
After the California outbreak, APHIS established quarantine
stations to stop infected pet birds from entering the country.
The stations and other APHIS actions have protected U.S.
poultry, despite ever-present threats. Virulent Newcastle strains
have been detected in U.S. pet bird populations in all but 3
years since 1974. In addition, virulent Newcastle virus period-
ically flares up in other countries. In 1998, Australia began
battling a virulent strain that apparently evolved from a weak
virus indigenous to Australian poultry for at least 30 years.
Meanwhile, making sure all of America's pet parrots are
"born in the USA" won't remove Newcastle's threat to this
country. Wild birds can also carry strains deadly to poultry.
In 1992, 26,000 turkeys in North Dakota were destroyed
Agricultural Research/October 1999
VShl Ud~lllALln IYL)C(IP~I*\
after APHIS diagnosed virulent Newcastle disease in the flock.
Cormorants were the suspected source. Hundreds had died from
the disease at a lake near where the turkeys were being reared
on range. Seal confirmed this suspicion when he compared
the genomes of turkey and cormorant isolates.
The episode was part of the United States' first known
Newcastle-related die-off of free-ranging wild birds.
Besides directly threatening U.S. poultry, Newcastle can
damage our export markets. In 1998, several dead and dying
game chickens from a backyard flock in California's Central
Valley were delivered by the owner to the California Veteri-
nary Diagnostic Laboratory in Fresno. APHIS' National Vet-
erinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the
birds were infected with exotic Newcastle disease.
In accordance with international trade law, the incident was
reported to the Office of International Epizootic Diseases in
Paris, France. Some countries instituted a temporary ban on
imports from the region until the outbreak was eradicated. The
ban cost area poultry producers hundreds of thousands of
"Newcastle disease may not be a household word," says
King. "But you can see why it's a big concern to the poultry
industry. Each time APHIS sends us a strain with unique char-
acteristics, we can understand the virus better."
A recent case illustrates how this partnership works.
In 1993, an anhinga-a
wild water bird native to the
Southeast-was found dead
among a captive population
in a Florida theme park.
Samples from the bird were
sent to APHIS microbiolo-
gist Dennis Senne in Ames.
He confirmed the virus was
Senne also evaluated the
strain's potential virulence,
using a standard test that de-
termines how quickly a
strain kills chicken em-
bryos. The result: While the
strain was not extremely
virulent, neither was it as
weak as a common cold.
Senne then sent a sample to
"Ourjob is basic diagno-
sis," Senne says. "But we
KEN HAMMOND (K8589-5)
often see isolates that
come from interesting
sources or seem unusual
in their ability to cause
disease. On the front
lines, we don't have time
to study these samples in
detail. We rely on Jack
King, Bruce Seal, and
others to tell us where .
these different strains
might be coming from
and what kind of threat
they might pose."
Senne's samples of an-
hinga virus arrived at the
Athens laboratory by
overnight express. Seal Microbiologist Bruce Seal and
technician Joyce Bennett prepare
discovered that the anhin- samples from new virus isolates for
ga isolate appeared al- the automated nucleic acid sequencer.
most identical to the one Data obtained will be used to
that killed the North Da- compare the new isolates with data
from previous ones deposited in the
kota turkeys. But while Genbank database.
the genetic code was po-
tentially ominous, King
found that the anhinga
strain's virulence was
The ARS scientists deposited the anhinga strain's genetic
code into international databases, such as Genbank, designed
for accumulating nucleic acid sequences. Through the data-
bases, researchers worldwide can quickly share new genetic
information when viral samples are not available.
"The anhinga case demonstrates the value of our two-step
approach," says King. "The genetic coding alone, or the clini-
cal study alone, is not enough. We can know more about what
a virus can do by joining the two approaches-the molecular
and the clinical."
That approach continues in studies of new isolates from
domestic poultry, imported doves, pheasants, and other birds.-
By Jill Lee, formerly with ARS.
This research is part of Animal Health, an ARS National
Program (#103) described on the World Wide Web at http://
Daniel J. King and Bruce S. Seal are with the USDA-ARS
Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, 934 College Station
Rd., Athens, GA 30605; phone (706) 546-3434, fax (706) 546-
3161, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Agricultural Research/October 1999
lTrning to the Sun-
Instead of Methyl Bromide
RANDALL SMITH (K8607-4)
Plant pathologist Daniel Chellemi (left) and organic grower Kevin O'Dare inspect the progress of a soil solarization treatment.
ARS plant pathologist Daniel O.
Chellemi has pulled out all the stops,
looking for ways to sustain Southeast
vegetable farmers after the loss of methyl
bromide, now slated for the year 2005.
Since 1992, his mainstay has been soil
"solarization"-the process of heating
soil under clear plastic for at least 6
weeks during the summer to kill off weed
seeds and diseases that would otherwise
destroy a winter crop.
Chellemi's efforts are paying off. In
1998, yields from solarized fields ranged
from 96 to 123 percent of those from
methyl bromide-treated fields on three
of the four commercial farms cooperat-
ing in Chellemi's study. The fourth
farm-an organic farm-doesn't use
methyl bromide or any other chemicals.
The yields have improved over those in
earlier years, when Chellemi collabor-
ated with his former colleagues at the
University of Florida at Quincy.
"We're getting better at it," says
Chellemi, who is now with ARS' U.S.
Horticultural Research Laboratory in
Fort Pierce, Florida. "The more familiar
you become with the biology of the
fields, the better the outcome."
That's because solarization requires
an integrated pest management (IPM)
approach that can include chemicals and
changes in cultural practices, depending
on which weeds, diseases, or insects lie
waiting in a given field. Chellemi has
been looking at all possible combinations
on farms ranging from 10 to 3,000 acres.
The field yielding the 123 percent had
been deep-disked before solarization to
break up plant material that had not yet
decomposed and to bring tiny, destruc-
tive worms called nematodes to the sur-
face, where the sun and heat could de-
stroy them. It was planted with peppers.
Another pepper field on the same farm,
which had been shallow-disked, yielded
106 percent as much as a comparable field
treated with methyl bromide. Where no
disking was done before solarization,
yields were virtually the same as those
achieved with methyl bromide, at 99
On another farm, two solarized pep-
per fields yielded better than those treat-
ed with methyl bromide-118 and 104
percent. Soils in both had been beefed up
with a biosolids compost before planting.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
"For many growers who are willing to explore it, soil solarization can provide a viable
methyl bromide alternative."-Daniel 0. Chellemi
It was the second year of solarization for
the field yielding 104 percent and third
for the one yielding 118 percent,
"Although we're not getting the
residual benefits from methyl bromide
fumigation anymore, yields are actually
going up under soil solarization."
Chellemi suspects that the revival of
beneficial microorganisms-giving the
soil a better balance-is behind the
Nothing's Ever Quite Perfect RANDAI
Solarization has its drawbacks:
It works only for fall planting, or
for half the crop in the deep South.
It doesn't control all pests ade-
quately, particularly root knot
nematodes and the weeds portula-
ca and Bermudagrass-all of
which succumb to methyl bro-
mide. And it requires that the
grower get started preparing beds
at least 6 weeks before planting.
That poses logistic problems for
the larger operations, says
"Growers are reluctant to adopt
IPM to control soilborne pests;
they haven't needed it for 30 years.
IPM is a niche that will be filled
by other types of professionals,"
Chellemi says, noting that Califor-
nia now has groups of pest specialists
who know the least toxic controls to use
for specific pests.
But for organic grower Kevin O'Dare
of Vero Beach, Florida, solarization
saved his business. "I can't say enough
for it," O'Dare says.
Purple nutsedge was close to taking
over the 10 acres of Osceola Organic
Farm, he says, and is even hard to con-
trol on conventional farms with chemi-
cals. Last year, his second year of solar-
ization, "our production was up 30
percent, our labor was down 75 percent,
and our profits were up 100 percent,"
He grows 10 varieties of lettuce, plus
tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, and
culinary herbs. At Chellemi's suggestion,
O'Dare incorporated compost and ma-
nure into the beds and wet them down
before solarizing. "When that mix heats
up under clear plastic, it produces gas-
es, some of which are toxic to soil pests
such as fungi and nematodes and to weed
seeds," says O'Dare.
And diseases, which blemish pro-
duce, are kept at bay. One of O'Dare's
buyers commented that he "had never
seen organic peppers as nice," says
O'Dare. What's more, the covered beds
require less water and fertilizer. "It's a
very sustainable system."
A Little Bit of Trial and Error
Dale and Greg Murray of Decatur
County, Georgia, are solarizing again
this summer, after a 2-year hiatus. This
year, the Murrays have increased their
solarized acreage from 3 to 14 under the
guidance of Steve Olson, professor of
horticulture at University of Florida-
Quincy, who is a former colleague of
Chellemi. Each season, the brothers
grow 100 acres of tomatoes, rotating
them over 400 acres.
During the last study, says Dale, "we
had a respectable yield-encouraging
enough to try again. We think we've
learned from the mistakes we made."
The two most obvious ones were not
burying the irrigation drip tape deep
enough and not covering the clear plas-
tic well enough with white paint before
As a result, the sun burned holes in
the drip tape, and the soil stayed too hot
for the new plants to survive. "A
good paint job is essential," he
This year's test field was home
to root knot nematodes, so the
Murrays injected a nematocide
along with solarizing.
"We'd rather do a little study
along the way than lose methyl
bromide and have to do all the tri-
al and error in a year," says Dale.
"It's a big plus to have Dan
Chellemi on the farmers' side. He
really works to find an alternative
to methyl bromide."
Now in his eighth year of test-
ing soil solarization, Chellemi
says, "There's no doubt in my
mind that it has a place. It's not a
universal replacement for methyl
bromide, but it is a viable option
for farmers who are willing to ex-
"We want to tell growers that they're
not going to have a widespread crop fail-
ure if they use soil solarization."-By
Judy McBride, ARS.
This research is part of Methyl Bro-
mide Alternatives, anARS National Pro-
gram (#308) described on the World
Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.
Daniel O. Chellemi is at the USDA-
ARS U.S. Horticultural Research Labo-
ratory, 2001 South Rock Rd., Fort
Pierce, FL 34945; phone (561) 462-
5800, fax (561) 468-5668. *
Agricultural Research/October 1999
A Demo Dairy Project
T he Cove Mountain Project
has a neat, top-secret military
ring to it. In reality, it's the
name for a demonstration
dairy farm owned by the American Farm
Trust (AFT) in Franklin County, south-
Each month, Cove Mountain is be-
sieged by a small army of agricultural
researchers tending to various experi-
ments on the 300-plus-acre farm. Data
generated there by meteorological and
other instrumentation are helping the
scientists gauge the economic and envi-
ronmental merits of an alternative ap-
proach to dairying.
In short, it calls for grazing dairy
cows on intensively managed grass and
legume pastures instead of confining the
animals indoors and feeding them hay,
grain, or cut forage.
Dairy farmer Glenn Moyer first be-
gan operating the farm in March 1998
as both an AFT demo project and a com-
"It should be recognized there's more
than one way to dairy," says Bryan
Petrucci, AFT's Cove Mountain Farm
project director. "Our aim is to use the
farm as a place where people can learn
about the economic and environmental
benefits of grass-based farming."
According to several estimates,
grazing-based systems on small to
medium-sized dairies can boost net
income by $50 to $100 per cow. Com-
puter simulations on ARS' Dairy Forage
System Model generally bear this out,
say agricultural engineer C. Alan Rotz
and animal scientist Kathy J. Soder, who
are at the ARS Pasture Systems and
Watershed Management Research
Laboratory (PSWMRL) in University
Preliminary analyses with the model
have shown that this low-input approach
at Cove Mountain may increase net in-
come up to twice this amount.
Cows in full-confinement operations
generally produce higher milk yields
than those that graze. The benefit of
BOB NICHOLS (K8586-8)
.-- ... "';" I 1
grazing comes from lower production
costs and less labor.
For those who try it, the secret to suc-
cess isn't hiking milk production, but
rather decreasing operating costs asso-
ciated with growing, harvesting, and stor-
ing crops like corn as year-round feed-
a standard practice for full-confinement
operations. There's also less capital in-
vestment than is associated with manag-
ing and housing large dairy herds, says
Still, some northeastern dairy farm-
ers remain skeptical, he acknowledges.
"To Glenn's credit, he's a leader and not
afraid to try new things," says Petrucci.
For researchers, the Cove Mountain
farm is a unique opportunity to collect
scientifically defensible data on the eco-
nomics and sustainability of grazing-
based systems from a commercial oper-
ation. Thanks in great part to Moyer and
AFT, visiting scientists can carry out
their experiments to that end in a con-
Monitoring Animal Wastes
A chief interest of the scientists is de-
termining the extent to which waste from
grazing animals contributes to nitrate
leaching or phosphorus runoff. Both can
diminish water quality. Consider that on
average, an adult cow excretes 2 to 3
quarts of urine a dozen times daily and
defecates 4 pounds of manure about as
often-and that's 7 days a week, 52
weeks a year.
"Only about 15 percent of the
nutrients contained in pasture herbage
leave the pasture as milk or meat. The
remaining 85 percent are recycled onto
the pasture in urine or manure," says
PSWMRL soil scientist William L. Stout.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
And because "85 percent of the
nutrients are recycled onto only about 15
percent of the pasture," he adds, "the con-
centrations beneath urine or manure
patches are very high."
The challenge, then, is improving
management of these pasture wastes.
Under certain conditions, wasteborne
nutrients can outpace what pasture
plants, soil microbes, and other biologi-
cal processes can recycle or convert into
forms less damaging to water quality. For
example, excess phosphorus in runoff
can harm recipient streams, lakes, or res-
ervoirs by triggering algal blooms.
To address these concerns, Stout and
fellow ARS soil scientist Stephan R.
Weaver closely monitor various instru-
ments set up at the farm. One site is a
10-acre paddock where they can moni-
tor nutrients from the cows' urine and
manure. Unbeknownst to the placid ani-
mals, the paddock is home to roughly
10,000 feet of underground piping.
This network, or drainage tile, cap-
tures water flowing beneath the paddock
and directs it to five, keg-size sampling
devices. These are located in a flume
house a few hundred yards from Little
Cove Creek and about a mile or so from
the hulking green shoulders of Cove and
Ecological Benefits and Drawbacks
Walking from the flume house during
a June visit to the farm, Stout notes some
pros and cons to grazing.
Without a corn crop to worry about-
unless grown for winter feed-a grazier
doesn't have to spray chemical pesti-
cides. This cuts the risk of drift beyond
the field and spares beneficial insects,
like bees. What's more, it minimizes ero-
sion because the pasture's plants keep
soil firmly anchored.
And by keeping herds out on pasture,
rather than indoors, less fuel and labor
are spent spreading manure and harvest-
ing feed. This minimizes offensive odors
and further cuts the grazier's expenses.
"But on the other hand," says Stout,
"there's the potential for greater nitrate
loss to groundwater because of the
concentrated deposition of urine and
Another concern is the impact of se-
lective grazing and constant trampling by
cows on the habitat, diversity, and pro-
ductivity of grasses like orchardgrass,
bluegrass, or tall fescue and legumes like
clover and alfalfa.
Understanding these ecological
changes, including their effect on pas-
ture productivity, is the focus of ARS sci-
entists R. Howard Skinner, Matt A. Sand-
erson, and Benjamin J. Tracy, all from
University Park, about 2 hours north of
About once a week, they visit the farm
to examine the height, density, and dis-
tribution of pasture plants. They also take
root samples, along with photosynthetic
and carbon partitioning measurements.
Skinner uses a 3-foot-wide Plexiglas
chamber to collect photosynthetic data.
During visits, he'll place the chamber
over grassy patches inside and outside
each of the farm's six fenced exclosures.
According to farm records dating back
to 1968, no livestock have grazed inside
the exclosures, a stroke of luck for sci-
entists. Such virgin territory allows them
Holstein and Jersey crossbreeds graze on
American Farm Land Trust's Cove Moun-
tain Farm in south-central Pennsylvania.
BOB NICHOLS (K8586-7)
Plant physiologist Howard Skinner (right)
demonstrates the plant canopy photo-
synthesis system to farm operator Glenn
Moyer. It pumps carbon dioxide into the
Plexiglas chamber, which is placed over a
selected area of pasture to see how much is
absorbed by pasture grasses. The grazing
exclosures in the background are used to
study grazed and nongrazed pastureland.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
to compare the plants' health and pro-
ductivity with those in other pasture ar-
eas regularly grazed by the farm's 106
Jersey and Holstein cows.
Flipping a switch on the chamber's
control panel, Skinner starts a motor that
draws in air and pipes it into the cham-
ber. Of chief interest is the rate at which
pasture plants absorb carbon dioxide to
drive photosynthesis. The rate at which
carbon is stored gives scientists a clue to
the productivity of pasture plants.
"We want to see if there's a difference
in pasture production levels when it's cut
for hay versus when it's grazed," says
Skinner. In dairy circles, "there's been
some question as to whether it's better
to graze, or to cut a pasture for hay."
For Cambridge, New Zealand, gra-
ziers Ron Geck and his wife Willy, who
visited Glenn Moyer in June, there's no
better alternative, because of high feed
costs and other prohibitive expenses.
Sitting at a picnic table in front of the
farm's main home, Ron likens the prac-
tice to playing chess. "When you're graz-
ing, set your farm up so you can still
graze under difficult conditions," he says.
Drawing on 30 year's experience, he
adds "grazing's a science and should be
treated that way."-By Jan Suszkiw,
This research is part of Animal Pro-
duction Systems (#102); Rangelands,
Pastures, and Forages (#205); and Wa-
ter Quality and Management (#201),
ARS National Programs described on the
World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.
Scientists mentioned in this article are
at the USDA-ARS Pasture Systems and
Watershed Management Research Lab-
oratory, Bldg. 3702, Curtin Rd., Univer-
sity Park, PA 16802; phone (814) 863-
0947, fax (814) 863-0935, e-mail
American Farm Trust hosts a Cove
Mountain Farm web site at http://
Clues to Redder, More
Tomatoes with much more lycopene than those now found in stores may be
on the horizon if ARS research pans out.
Epidemiological research has shown that lycopene, which gives tomatoes
their bright-red color, may help reduce the risk of some cancers.
While working with tomato tissue cultures, ARS biologist Betty K. Ishida
serendipitously uncovered clues about ripening and lycopene formation. As
expected, the culture developed into a cherry tomato. Surprisingly, the fruit's
green outer leaves, known as the calyx, also ripened into fruitlike tissue.
"We discovered that in this particular tomato, called VFNT cherry, low grow-
ing temperatures trigger ripening in nonfruit tissue," says Ishida. Because the
fruit was very dark red, they also tested the lycopene content. It was 10 times
the amount found in most commercial tomatoes.
But the process doesn't work outside tissue culture. "Something else in the
plant prevents this transformation into fruit," she says.
Ishida is on the trail to find the trigger that turns on the gene responsible for
the increased lycopene. "When we find that, we can apply it to commercial
varieties," she says.
Medical researchers have shown that the lycopene in processed tomato prod-
ucts-like spaghetti sauce-is absorbed to a greater extent than lycopene in
the fresh fruit.
Ishida is looking at how different forms of lycopene develop. And she wants
to find out if changing the form would increase the nutritional benefits of her
"In tomatoes, lycopene is a long-chain molecule," Ishida says. "But in hu-
man blood plasma, lycopene appears in several different shapes-the chain is
'bent' in various ways." Tomatoes with the bent form (known as "cis"-lyco-
pene) might be more beneficial if this lycopene were more easily absorbed.
She plans to develop tomatoes with high cis-lycopene for testing.
"The goal of this research is to produce tomatoes that have more value to
consumers," she says.-By Kathryn Barry Stelljes, ARS.
Betty K. Ishida is in the USDA-ARS Process Chemistry and Engineering
Research Unit, Western Regional Research Center, 800 Buchanan St., Albany,
CA 94710; phone (510) 5595726, fax (510) 559-8777, e-mail bkishida@pw.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
Surfing for Soy Compounds
ARS researchers have posted a data-
base on the web to help scientists pin-
point isoflavones-estrogen-like com-
pounds in soy foods. Some isoflavones
have been reported to help lower cancer
risks, benefit the cardiovascular system,
or reduce bone loss after menopause. The
database could help nutritionists and
physicians recommend foods with the
highest levels of specific isoflavones. It
provides values for daidzein, genistein,
glycitein, and other isoflavones in 128
soy foods and ingredients.
The isoflavone web site springs from
a larger effort to compile information on
health-enhancing phytonutrients. Last
fall, ARS released a database on caro-
tenoids, such as beta carotene and lyco-
pene, in 215 foods. They also plan one
for flavonoids, including catechins in tea,
naringin and taxifolin in citrus, and quer-
citin in onions, apples, and red wine.
David Haytowitz, USDA-ARS Beltsville
Human Nutrition Research Center, Belts-
ville, Maryland; phone (301) 734-5635,
e-mail dhaytowitz@ rbhnrc. usda. gov.
Visit the isoflavone database at http:/
Oral Vaccine for Shipping
A new oral vaccine for shipping fe-
ver in cattle may be on the market in
about 3 years. Also known as bovine res-
piratory disease, shipping fever can kill
the animals. It costs U.S. producers in
excess of $1 billion annually in animal
deaths, reduced weight gain, lower feed
efficiency, antibiotic needs, trimming
costs at the packer, and poor-quality meat
and hide products.
In an ARS field trial, the oral vaccine
was fed to calves considered to have
either high or low risk for the disease.
Vaccinated and unvaccinated high-risk
calves were shipped from Arkansas to a
New Mexico State University feedlot in
Clayton. Low-risk animals were shipped
to the same feedlot but from a much
shorter distance. Only 4 percent of
vaccinated high-risk calves died, com-
pared to 16 percent of the unvaccinated
ones. Low-risk calves fed the oral vac-
cine had a 25 percent higher average
weight gain during the first 28 days on
feed, compared to unvaccinated animals.
The oral dose also protected the animals
within 4 days, instead of the 10 to 14
common with injectable vaccines. The
oral vaccine avoids another drawback of
injectable vaccines, which often produce
lesions. The Biotechnology Research
and Development Consortium in Peoria,
Illinois, funded part of the research and
has applied for a patent. Robert E. Briggs
and Fred M. Tatum, USDA-ARS National
Animal Disease Center, Ames, Iowa;
phone (515) 663-7639, e-mail
bbriggs @ nadc.ars. usda.gov
ftatum @nadc. ars. usda. gov.
New Grape Trio
Consumers may be smacking their
lips on three new seedless grapes within
a few years. Melissa, Summer Royal, and
Summer Muscat are the latest sweet of-
ferings of the ARS grape breeding pro-
gram in Fresno, California. Cuttings
were made available to breeders and
growers for the first time this spring.
More cuttings may be available this win-
ter. Growers stand to benefit from unique
traits of each new variety.
Melissa, a white seedless grape, yields
large, sweet fruits that ripen about the
same time as Thompson Seedless-the
most popular seedless grape. But Melis-
sa vines require no sprays of the natural
growth regulator gibberellic acid to pro-
duce big berries. Summer Royal, a black
seedless, is sweet, large, firm, and ideal
for snacks and salads. It fills a produc-
tion gap at the end of August, when few
American-grown black seedless grapes
are on the market.
Last of the trio, Summer Muscat is a
seedless raisin grape. Its sweet, strong
muscat flavor is somewhat like the
traditional Muscat of Alexandria grapes
favored by some makers of candy-coated
raisins. But Muscat of Alexandria seeds
have to be removed mechanically,
making the raisins sticky and hard to
process. Summer Muscat is the second
dry-on-the-vine or "DOV" grape from
the Fresno researchers. Unlike con-
ventional raisin grapes, DOV grapes can
dry on the vine once the cane or branch
is severed. They can then be picked by
machine instead of by hand, saving on
The Fresno breeding program, active
since 1923, is best known for Flame
Seedless, America's most popular red
seedless grape. David W. Ramming,
USDA-ARS Horticultural Crops Re-
search Laboratory, Fresno, California;
phone (559) 453-3061, e-mail dramm@
Electricity "Waste" Powers
Since enactment of the Clean Air Act
as amended in 1990, scrubbers added to
smokestacks of electric power plants
have been generating more and more
gypsum as a waste product. But instead
of going to a landfill, that gypsum can
help farmers raise their corn and soybean
yields while protecting soil from erosion.
Though still in the research stage, the
tactic is being tried on hundreds of thou-
sands of acres in the Midwest.
ARS researchers in Indiana have
shown that the gypsum helps soil take in
more water by preventing soil from
crusting, so more rainwater enters the
soil, instead of running off. In the past,
gypsum from quarries has been used to
loosen soil, treat soils high in sodium or
toxic aluminum, and fertilize soils with
calcium and sulfur deficiencies. At least
one Illinois farmer operates a business
applying the power-plant gypsum on
other farmers' fields. Trucks that used to
return empty from the grain elevator now
return full-of gypsum. Darrell Norton,
USDA-ARS National Soil Erosion
Research Laboratory, West Lafayette,
Indiana; phone (765) 494-8673, e-mail
nortond@ ecn.purdue. edu.
Agricultural Research/October 1999
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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ARS research on Methyl Bromide Alternatives
What is it?
Why research it?
Who's doing it?
Where's it being done?
Any results, yet?
For answers to these questions-and more-go to www.ars.usda.gov/is/
mb/mebrweb.htm and read the ARS Methyl Bromide Newsletter.