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The working month of July.

July is generally not an idyllic time for farmers. While many Americans are taking time off for vacation, farmers roll up their sleeves for some of the year's most intensive work. Crops are growing, but so are insect numbers. Turn a few leaves, and you have an instant status report on which pest-control problems need to be addressed--and addressed right now if the coming harvest is to be a profitable one.

When insect populations burgeon, critical dollars-and-cents decisions must be made quickly. Set the farmer's day-to-day and season-to-season production deadlines against agriculture's conumtment to long-term environmental risk reduction, and you can appreciate why many producers feel they have their hands full right now. And why they look to agricultural research for viable pest control plans that serve their immediate needs while remaining ecologically benign.

July's feature story, "20th Century Insect Control" by Sandy Miller Hays, chronicles the course of modern thinking in insect control, from 19th century successes in biocontrol to the discovery of DDT, which proved a lifesaver during World War II when an epidemic of typhus loomed over Europe. The article walks us through dark days of disillusionment with the ecological risks posed by hydrocarbon chemicals and examines the thinking behind today's more ecologically sensitive insect control strategies that focus on total population management.

A few years back, orchardists whose trees were plagued by fire blight received some heartening news. ARS scientists had discovered an environmentally friendly bacterium that could outcompete the troublesome disease pathogen. But discovering this helpful bioagent proved only a first step toward developing a usable control for fire blight. Scientists still needed a way to safely and effectively broadcast the good bacterium to every nook and cranny of the orchard.

Just then, an old familiar friend happened to buzz by...Apis mellifera, the humble, hardworking honey bee. At that moment, researchers at the ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, had a honey of an idea.

Well, it didn't happen quite that way. What it took was a specially rigged exit lane from the beehive, one in which each honey bee is automatically dusted with the biocontrol bacteria--and voila! At every stopping point throughout the orchard, a pollinated blossom becomes an inoculated blossom, and a colony of fire-blight-fighter bacteria is on its way to becoming established. Story by Julie Corliss and Sean Adams on page 10.

When you're out in the middle of a fallow field, and the wind is swirling dirt all around you, the laws of physics may be the last thing on your mind.

But ARS scientists are taking a more calculating look at what causes dust storms to be the sudden hazards that periodically plague us, leading to crop loss, lung and eye irritations, and even tragic traffic accidents.

The scientists, at the ARS Conservation and Production Systems Research Unit in Big Spring, Texas, have unearthed some fascinating findings. It turns out that a delicate dance between wind, soil, and moisture conditions is played out in a complex cycle of events.

They've found, surprisingly, that marble-sized aggregates of earth--small clods, if you will--become agitated by the wind during an oncoming dust storm. Though they may be kicked along only a few feet, these clumps of dirt are more damaging than soil scientists had previously believed. Stephen Miller tracks the life cycle of a dust storm on page 28.

Getting the most from forage is especially important for dairy cows because they have higher energy requirements than beef cows. So wouldn't it be great if Bossy could, as reporter Linda Cooke puts it in her page 20 story, "get more benefit from every bite"?

Its been long known that lignin--a cell wall component that gives plants their structural strength resists digestion. At several USDA-ARS locations, researchers are coming up with ways to enhance both forage production and use. So, while some scientists approach forage digestibility from the viewpoint of changing the growing plant, others are devising ways to improve digestibility after the crop is harvested.

You don't need to be a crop scientist to know that, on a sizzling hot aftemoon in late July, certain crops appear to be suffering more than others from the heat. Check out the vigor of your corn, then look over at the tomatoes that seem to be drooping.

Just as a person who prefers the cool afternoons of upstate New York might wilt in midday temperatures that seem ideal to an Arizonan, different species of plants have clear temperature preferences--preferences that transcend the variations between growing seasons.

While it seems uncertain whether people are bom with their affinities for hot or cold weather, scientists strongly suspect that plants' thermal kinetic windows are genetically controlled, which leads to some intriguing speculation. See Don Comis' "Resetting a Plant's Thermostat" on page 14.

Regina Wiggen

ARS Information Staff
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Title Annotation:Forum
Author:Wiggen, Regina
Publication:Agricultural Research
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Fungal diseases, beware!
Next Article:20th century insect control.

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