Fresh From the Field, July 18, 2019

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Fresh From the Field is a weekly album showcasing transformative impacts made by partners supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Editor: Falita Liles                                                                                                 July 18, 2019

Success Stories 

Cross section of grass and soil against white background. Getty Image. NIFA Impacts.

Beneath the Earth, the ‘Black Box’ of Soil Holds a Key to Crop Growth

Like much of what lies just beneath the earth’s surface, soil microbes present a mystery. University of Florida (UF) scientist Sarah Strauss seeks to help untangle the web of intrigue surrounding soil microbes to improve agricultural production in Florida and globally.

Strauss is working on a four-year $450,000 AFRI grant from NIFA. She’s conducting the research with Patrick Inglett, a UF associate professor of soil and water sciences in Gainesville, and Catherine Reardon, a microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Pendleton, Oregon. The scientists are studying biocrusts, thin layers of bacteria, fungi, moss and algae that grow together on the surface of some soils.

So far, researchers have found that the biocrusts appear to improve the nitrogen concentrations in soils in some citrus groves. Next, they want to find out how much nitrogen the microbes can make, whether this is enough nitrogen to help plants grow, and if trees are using the nitrogen from the crusts.

“If we can better understand the interactions between these microbes and plants, we might be able to alter soil conditions to increase the positive interactions — those that benefit crop production — and minimize the negative interactions, such as diseases and the loss of nutrients,” Strauss said.

Read the full story at UF/IFAS Blogs.

Stevia green plant . Getty Images. Stevia is a useful green plant agriculture is a sugar substitute. NIFA Impacts

Improving Health Through Stevia Research that May Help Small Farmers

Two Fort Valley State University (FVSU) researchers are investigating ways to help local farmers grow a naturally sweet plant that could have a huge impact on human health.

According to Steven Samuels, “Stevia possesses anti-inflammatory properties and is an all-around health additive that we are going to use as a sweetener. It is non-caloric, so it does not cause weight gain. By having this as a product that we produce and promote, it may change the way people diet.”

NIFA supports this project through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) program.

Read the full article at the FVSU.

Contact: Steven Samuels at (478) 825-3134 or, or Bipu Biswas at (478) 825-6827 or

News Coverage

ice background, blue frozen texture. Getty Images. NIFA Impacts.

‘Functional Ice’ Shows Food Industry How to Keep Cool and Reduce Loss

Over 133 billion pounds of food per year is lost due to waste at different stages in the farm-to-fork continuum. Functional ice has the potential to make a significant impact in reducing the amount of food wasted per year and can significantly improve food safety across the harvest, transportation, and pre-sale storage process.

Functional ice, an additive-enhanced product currently in field-testing, serves to enhance food storage and self-life by generating lower temperatures and melting slower than traditional water-based ice. Additional features allow the slow-release of antimicrobial solutions that protect raw food by eliminating the build-up of spoilage-causing bacteria.

Read the full story at the Land-Grant Impacts.

Contact: Amit Morey, Ph.D., Auburn University


Missouri River Flood at Kansas City . Getty Images. NIFA Impacts.

Flood and Natural Disaster Resources from Kansas State Research and Extension

Spring 2019 is a season likely to be remembered for precipitation, flooding, and the constant possibility of severe weather. Kansas State University (KSU) Research and Extension has curated a group of natural disaster preparedness and response resources from KSU researchers, specialists, and extension agents as well as from our colleagues from around the region, including specific tips for dealing with flooding.

Read the list of helpful resources from KSU here.

Tweet of the Week


UT Ag Research.  USDA NIFA Impacts.