3 Ways Science Is Vital to the United States Department of Agriculture

What does the Department of Agriculture do when it comes to science? Ask Science explores the answer.

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #239

The USDA also has programs like their Food Desert Locator to assess access in the US to fresh, healthy foods by tracking urban and rural food deserts, or low income areas that do not have reliable access to affordable, fresh food. The Food and Nutrition Service under the USDA manages the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) which provides millions of low income households with nutritional support.

The USDA also leads research into how to boost the nutritional value of our food as its grown.

Finally, the USDA also leads research into how to boost the nutritional value of our food as its grown. For example, some agricultural practices like those that speed up the growth of vegetables have the unfortunate potential to reduce the amount of nutrients the produce absorbs from the soil before we eat it. Studies also suggest that the nutrient richness of the soil used in farming is decreasing. Thus, USDA researchers are investigating how nutritional value varies with farming and food storage practices and how nutrient content can be improved in our food.

USDA research is preparing farmers for the effects of climate change.

Research supported by the USDA provides evidence-based predictions for the type and extent of impacts on farming, forestry, and ranching due to climate change. For example, with an already-observed increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change, USDA researchers are investigating ways to make crops like rice and corn more drought- and flood-resistant. Users can use the VegScape tool to track extreme weather and its effects on crops in close to real time across the US. Since droughts and floods can also increase runoff, USDA scientists are also researching possibilities to limit pesticide use.

The budget for the USDA in the upcoming year is uncertain. The budget proposed by the White House back in March proposed a major 21% cut to the department’s discretionary budget although it is not entirely clear which programs will see the biggest reductions. The projects discussed here represent only a sampling of USDA-linked research. What are your favorites?

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Ask Science’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Ask Science on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Ask Science. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.