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Everyday products based on ag research.

In this nation, we're fortunate to have an abundant supply of high-quality food at affordable prices.

In 1991, Americans spent only 11.7 cents of every dollar of disposable, after-tax income on food. It was slightly lower in 1992---11.4 cents, according to preliminary data. This compares with about 22 cents in the 1950's.

There are a lot of reasons for our abundant and affordable food supply, but a key factor--and one that is often overlooked-is the quality of our agricultural science. Behind every product that a farmer produces, there are thousands of hours of research.

Farmers can work from dawn to dusk, but they won't be able to produce enough---at stable prices---if they don't conserve their soil and water, plant hardy varieties, control insects and diseases, and avoid the postharvest spoilage and losses common in many parts of the world. The impact of research on our supply of agricultural products isn't obvious. We as consumers only see the result.

A few examples that touch our everyday lives illustrate this point. These products aren't limited strictly to food, because our researchers have developed many nonfood uses for agricultural commodities.

Let's begin with frozen foods, starting at the beginning of the day with a glass of orange juice for breakfast. USDA researchers worked closely with fellow scientists from the Florida citrus commission in the mid-1940's to develop a technique for preserving its flavor when reconstituted from concentrate.

If you prefer, say, apple or grape juice, our scientists also developed processes for making those juices from concentrate and techniques to ensure their quality and that they are free from adulteration. In fact, almost any frozen food you eat has ARS' imprint: Our scientists helped spawn the frozen food industry by developing ways to blanch and freeze fruits, vegetables, and other products while retaining their flavor, texture, and nutrients.

Next consider the dally newspaper. In some parts of the country, the ink is based on soybean oil instead of petroleum. Our scientists have developed technology to make its cost more competitive, thereby expanding the use of soybeans.

In early 1991, estimates were that soy-based ink used 5 to 10 million bushels of soybeans yearly. If all U.S. printers converted to 100-percent soy ink, it would consume about 100 million bushels.

Soy ink is good news from an environmental and agricultural standpoint, providing a new use for soybeans and a source of ink from a renewable source. It's also likely that, in coming years, that newspaper will be printed on paper made from a crop called kenaf, which our scientists have been studying as an alternative source of pulp for paper products. Plans are under way for the first commercial plant to make newsprint from kenaf.

If you are suffering from a bacterial infection such as a sore throat, your doctor might prescribe penicillin or a similar antibiotic. Many Americans don't realize that ARS scientists during World War II developed a technique for mass-producing penicillin so it could be available on a large scale for our soldiers. Our scientists also discovered a more productive strain of the Penicillium mold that produces penicillin.

Mashed white potatoes or sweetpotatoes prepared from flakes were brought forth by ARS scientists. And, like our frozen food research, the new technology helped spawn an industry providing nutritious, convenient foods for consumers.

Today, 400 million pounds of potato flakes are produced each year in our country.

If you're having a sandwich for lunch, the bread's quality has been helped by years of research to improve the baking properties of flour. Peanut butter, popular on sandwiches, has better flavor and quality today than it did years ago, partly due to ARS research. If you like sourdough bread, you can thank ARS researchers--in the 1960's they identified the bacterium and yeast that work together to produce the sourdough flavor. Before that discovery, you could only get sourdough bread in the San Francisco area. Now it can be baked anywhere in the world.

These are only a few of the examples of products you might encounter on a given day. It would take too much space to list them all. But, as you can see, ARS is committed to moving our technology from the laboratory into the marketplace.

In 1991 our scientists filed 103 patent applications and licensed 21 inventions to private companies--including a process to grow the cancer-fighting drug Taxol in cell cultures rather than relying on the bark from the scarce Pacific yew tree.

We also signed 59 new cooperative research and development agreements with private companies. If we don't produce a product directly from our research, then often the research is incorporated into a private company's product.

But whether a product is released by ARS or a private company, the important thing is that the product gets to the marketplace, so that the public's tax dollars wind up benefiting the people who paid the bill in the first place.

R.D. Plowman

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Title Annotation:agricultural
Author:Plowman, R.D.
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1993
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