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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Troy FFA Students Visit


On November 21st, 2008, we were visited by five students who represented the Troy FFA. The team consisted of students KaRonna Bass, Dakota Fleming, Alyssa Spoonts, and Vincent Provasek, and Preston Roberts.  They were accompanied by their Agricultural Science Instructor, Mindy Howard.


They were on their way to the 2008 State FFA Leadership Development Event at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.  They were among the top 20 teams to get to the state level.    They debated the pros and cons of Wind Energy in the United States.  Scientists and Technicians at the lab made suggestions and participated in a question and answer session.



Congratulations, Jeff


Dr. Jeffrey Arnold Named 2008 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni in
Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering

West Lafayette, IN – March 21, 2008  – Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering recognized Dr. Jeffrey Arnold as its 2008 Distinguished Agricultural Alumni.

The Distinguished Agricultural Alumni honor and title is given to select individuals in recognition of outstanding accomplishments and significant contributions to their profession and to society. One hundred fifty-two alumni from the College of Agriculture have received this distinction since the award program started in 1992.

Dr. Arnold earned a PhD degree from Purdue University’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering department in 1992 and is currently the Research Leader of the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Temple.

As a Purdue doctoral student, Dr. Arnold worked to develop the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT).  This public domain software is a river basin scale model used to quantify the impact of land management practices in complex watersheds.  

He has published over 235 articles and chapters and has reported at nearly 50 national and international meetings.  In the United States, his work plays a key role in USDA conservation policy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental policy. His international reach is equally impressive with many scientists traveling from various countries to have the opportunity to work with him.



Halloween 2008

This year our Awards in Excellence Banquet was held on October 31 st,   many of our employees dressed up in celebration of   Halloween .  


We had a costume and a pumpkin carving contest.

    Winnersof the Pumpkin Carving Contest were:


     1 stPlace -   Parker Knutson

      & Pedram   Daneshgar



              2 nd Place                          3rd Place 

    Katherine Jones &             Avery Meinardus &

    Chris Kolodziejczyk          Theresa Pierce                 

    2nd Place Pumpkin 3rd Place Pumpkin

    Winnersof the Costume Contest were:

    1 stPlace – "Grim Saltcedar Eater Beetle" - James Tracy James Tracy in Costume

                       2 ndPlace -  "Saloon Girl"       3 rdPlace - "Rag Doll"                          Deborah Spanel                      Georgie Mitchell 

    Deborah & Georgie in Costume

2nd Annual Soil Festival

The U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and Texas AgriLife Extension Service teamed up to co-host the 2nd Annual Soil Festival at USDA-ARS’s Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory.   The Soil Festival was held on February 4th for fifth graders in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program at all Temple ISD elementary schools.   Both federal and state researchers, their research teams, and other agency employees provided hands-on activities and demonstrations of soil-related topics important in agriculture and for environmental stewardship.   Students examined the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of soil as well as methods of soil management.


                             Soil Texturing             Farming Equipment  

Composting               Soil Food Web

Scientist in Training 4/22/2009


by Janice Gibbs- Telegram Medical Writer

Erin Witherington spent part of her 11-week internship with the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory knee deep in sludge taking soil samples.           She was happy to do it.

Witherington is finishing her degree in the Biotechnology Program of the Texas Bioscience Institute. Thursday she will give her internship presentation on “The Role of Biotechnology in Agroecology.”

  Erin Witherington works with Mari-Vaughn Johnson, research agronomist in the greenhouse at Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory. They are measuring growth rates of invasive rangeland grasses.
--photo by Scott Gaulin/Telegram


The two-year associate degree in applied science prepares students to work in the biotechnology field, including medical research, forensics and agriculture research.

The Temple area is rich in resources for medical and clinical research, said Katie Burrows, chair of the department of associate of applied science in biotechnology.

It’s no surprise that many of the students choose to focus on medical and clinical research, but Witherington had different preferences.

“Erin liked the molecular research work, but she was also interested in environmental issues - remediation and biofuels,” Burrows said.

She contacted USDA Agriculture Research Service and Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple to see if they would be willing to take Witherington as an intern.

Witherington works with Dr. Virginia Jin, ecologist, and Dr. Mari-Vaughn Johnson, research agronomist, both with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service and Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory.

Jin and Johnson are working on a grant with the Hornsby Bends Biosolids Project - where Austin’s sewage and yard trimmings are recycled and turned into biosolids applied to land or turned into Dillo Dirt, a natural compost.

Soil samples are collected to ascertain nitrogen and carbon content. Soil chemistry analysis looks at trace metal content to determine if it’s in an acceptable range, because the land is used to grow hay for farm animals.

Since Hornsby Bends is close to the Colorado River, runoff is a concern. It’s also a bird habitat and that has to be considered when looking at the health of the land.

When Witherington began her internship, she was able to hit the ground running and start collecting soil samples, Johnson said.

Witherington has been processing the core samples taken at different areas in the Hornsby Bends site.

The cores are cut into small pieces, dried out, then tested to see what’s getting down into the soil, depending on the amount of waste applied in that area.

Witherington also works with Jim Kiniry on biofuels research.

“We try to make it as dynamic as we can for the intern,” Johnson said. “Erin has been exposed to all types of work - in the lab, field and greenhouse. We’ve been very impressed with her work, and Jim Kiniry has been able to extend her internship through the summer.”

This internship is great for young potential scientists, because they can get their feet wet, she said. They can find out what it’s really like to get out and take soil cores samples filled with municipal waste.

“I’ve smelled worse,” Witherington said.

The research community is losing soil scientists, losing people who might be interested, Johnson said.

“It may be a disconnect in the school between students and the environment,” she said. “You ask a kid where his shirt came from and the answer will be Wal-Mart rather than cotton.”

Students in the biotechnology program take the typical science and math classes required during the first year of most allied health classes. In the second year, the classes include laboratory instrumentation, laboratory methods and techniques, cell culture techniques.

Students who complete the biotechnology program are likely to continue their education.

“It’s a rigorous course load,” Burrows said. “It teaches really good skills. Researchers who have worked with the biotechnology students appreciate that the students know how to use the equipment. Our goal is to have the students well prepared for the frontline basics of working in a research lab.”

No matter what direction the students go, the same methodologies, techniques, basic skills and instruments are used, she said.

Biotechnology students have had internships at Scott & White, A&M College of Medicine and the VA.

One of the interns, Burrows said, is pursuing a four-year degree, one was hired in the lab where they had been working and another is now working at the Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Witherington, who will move to Kentucky when her husband returns from Afghanistan, has been looking at what jobs are available there.

She was working on a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science when she moved to Texas.

“I visited TC and they sent me to the Texas Bioscience Institute,” Witherington said. “They worked with me to get financial aid and here I am.”

Her goal is to get her master’s degree. “Even if I did leave the biotechnology field I’ve learned a lot,” she said.

The internships are where the students get their feet in the door and receive real-world experience, Burrows said. The classroom is good, but it can’t take the place of hands on activity.

“If Mrs. Burrows has another student who is interested in doing ecological or agronomic research, we’re certainly willing to host that person.” Jin said “It’s worked out fabulous for us.”

The Texas Bioscience Institute, its middle college for high school students and its college level programs, are a reality because the business community, Temple College, Scott & White, the VA and area school districts worked together to make it happen, Burrows said.

As biotechnology industry expands in Temple and startup companies move here, it will be possible for the Texas Bioscience Institute to tailor instruction to meet their needs, she said.


--Reprinted with permission of Temple Daily Telegram


Local Farmers trying alternative crop 4/21/2009



by Fred Afflerbach - Telegram Business Writer

Driving along FM 320 outside Westphalia, you may wonder how that waist-high patch of weedy plants survived the county’s mowing machines.

Longtime farmer Curtis Kahlig said a few motorists have pulled over and asked if the elongated seed pods are edible. Not exactly.

Curtis Kahlig examines rapeseed as alternative crop=

Despite a dry winter, and spring aphids attacking his 30-acre experimental rapeseed crop, Westphalia farmer Curtis Kahlig is optimistic the plant could work well in rotation with corn.
--photo by Fred Afflerbach/Telegram

Kahlig and his 26-year-old son, Derek, are growing a 30-acre experimental plot of rapeseed.

The plant is grown in Canada and the northern United States to make a cooking oil called canola. It’s also refined into biodiesel.

Kahlig said he’s growing rapeseed because it could work well in rotation, breaking up the yearly corn crop that has dominated farming in Bell and Falls counties the last several years.

Planted around Halloween, Kahlig’s plants suffered from a dry winter. Spring rains have recently coaxed a bright, yellow flower from the woody stalks. But that rain may do more harm than good.

The tiny seeds grow inside an elongated shell that looks like a skinny pea pod. With uneven rainfall, new pods are forming while old ones are maturing. During spring harvest, the older, dry pods will burst and spill on the ground, and the green ones will gum up the harvesting machine.

Research scientist Rick Haney has experienced this dilemma first-hand. He’s growing his second rapeseed crop over at the Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory in Temple.

“There’s a window of opportunity in there. Some of the seeds will be ripe . . . and the pod just opens and the seeds go flying out. You want to get it right before then,” Haney said. “If it’s real dry, as soon as your combine header hits it - BAM - it pops the seeds out. It’s just tricky.”

Haney said northern farmers have used two harvesting methods with success: Push the plant over mechanically, or cut it off at the ground, and let it dry for a short time to gain seedpod uniformity.

“They just take it and chop it . . . pile it up like you’re getting ready to bale it,” Haney said. “And they run that through a special combine.”

Because Central Texas has received sparse rainfall the last two winters, neither man knows what yield could be expected under optimum growing conditions.

But Haney said canola oil makes good fuel for diesel engines with few side effects. He’s experimented with canola, soybean and sunflower oil. Even though canola produces the lowest yield, the center’s Ford tractor and Chevrolet pickup both run best on biodiesel made from canola.

Over at Zabcikville, seed dealer Glenn Marek said Monsanto Corp. furnished free seed to farmers such as Kahlig because they, too, want to see how it would perform in Texas.

Marek said it is a good rotational crop because of a deep taproot.

“It really is good for your soil because it goes down pretty deep and it has a big root system underneath there,” Marek said. “This crop is probably a pretty good soil builder. A good rotation is following a tap root with a shallow root crop.”

Sometime next month Kahlig will have to determine how he will harvest his 30 acres. When he does, trucks will probably haul it to Oklahoma because there are no nearby processing facilities.

--Reprinted with permission of Temple Daily Telegram

Riesel: A Local Treasure
Riesel: A Local Treasure

By Daren Harmel

Did you know that there’s a world-famous outdoor research facility right here in central Texas?   It’s located about 2-1/2 miles east of Riesel, and while it’s officially called the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory, it’s commonly known as the Riesel Watersheds.   The facility was established in 1937 as the Blacklands Experimental Watershed and is operated by ARS—the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture—in cooperation with Texas AgriLIFE Research.

Harmel in native hay field at Riesel, TXEngineer and site manager Daren Harmel
in a native hay field at the USDA-ARS
Riesel Watersheds.



The USDA-ARS Riesel Watersheds have provided valuable information to the water resource community for more than 70 years, making it one of the longest continuously monitored hydrologic research sites in the country.   Long-term data sets are very rare, thus the 70 year data record from Riesel is extremely valuable for management of water supply, water quality, and flood impacts and for optimal design of culverts, bridges, detention basins and reservoirs.   The information produced at Riesel is continually used by university, federal and state agency, and private consulting firms in hydraulic design, flood analysis, and infrastructure planning.

Currently, 13 water monitoring stations and 15 rain gauges are in operation to measure rainfall, runoff, and water quality on native prairie, improved pasture, and cultivated cropland.   In addition to the active “edge-of-field” runoff sites, several larger stations located on Brushy Creek were monitored in the past.

Visitors from across the United States and around the world come to Riesel to see the research site.   In the last few years, we’ve given tours to scientists from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, as well as professors and students from several universities, including Purdue, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa State, Texas A&M, North Texas, Baylor, Louisiana State, and UT-San Antonio.

Brushy Creek sampling stationStreamflow measurements at a Brushy Creek sampling station in the late 1930’s. This station was located on private land downstream of the federally-owned smaller watersheds.




Baylor University Geology Department professor Peter Allen says his department uses the Riesel Watersheds for senior and graduate classes in hydrology “because Riesel is an excellent example of a world-class hydrologic field lab with examples of instrumentation from weather stations to weirs.”

The Riesel Watersheds facility is an excellent site for visitors to learn about state-of-the-art hydrologic and water quality instrumentation.   That’s because very few sites have the type and amount of instrumentation we have to measure rainfall, runoff, and water quality from small agricultural watersheds.   Visitors also come to site the see the Texas State Soil, which is Houston Black Clay.   This soil is infamous for its shrinking and swelling, which causes considerable soil movement and damage to building and road foundations.

Another valuable feature at the Riesel Watersheds is a remnant (native) prairie site, which provides a valuable baseline (natural background) view of water quality in the Texas Blackland Prairie.     

The site is managed as a typical Central Texas farm and ranch operation and is designed to provide field-scale, real-world information, which is a real plus for Riesel.  In a recently published paper on the history of Riesel Watersheds, I noted that in the mid-1930s USDA realized the importance of understanding hydrologic processes on agricultrual fields and watersheds and established three experimental watersheds.  Of the three, the Riesel Watersheds and the North Applachian Expermiental Watershed near Coshocton, Ohio, are still operating.

Because water supply shortage, flood occurrence, and water quality degradation will increasingly affect the environment and future generations, watershed-based studies continue to be needed to solve these problems.   With the Riesel Watersheds and ARS scientific expertise, we are here ready and willing to attack these new challenging questions and develop effective, economical solutions.

If you have questions or would like a tour of the site, please contact me at 254-770-6521 (

Blackland recognized by State Legislature for 100 years of service

Employees at Capitol for Resolution

Dr. Tom Gerik, Director of the Blackland Research and Extension Center; Dr. Jeff Arnold, director of USDA-Agricultural Research Service; Dr. Bill Dugas, interim director of Texas AgriLife Research; Bell County Judge Jon Burrows; and Cookie Sparrow, business administrator for Blackland Research and Extension Center, were on the dais in Austin during the state legislature's reading and vote on the resolution congratulating Blackland on its 100th anniversary.  Staff from both UDSA and Blackland Research Center were in the gallery and were recognized during the event.

2009 New Holland Young Researcher Award

Daren Harmel is the recipient of the 2009 New Holland Young Researcher Award for his outstanding achievements and contributions to agricultural hydrology and water quality research.


Harmel, an agricultural engineer with the USDA-ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory, Temple, Texas, is recognized internationally as a leader in hydrologic and water quality measurement methodology.  He conceived and developed foundational guidance for water quality sampling on small watersheds, which has been applied by federal, state, and local agencies, universities, and consulting firms in project implementation, product design, and regulatory formulation.  In related research, he developed and published an uncertainty estimation framework and software tool specifically for hydrology and water quality data.  The framework and resulting fundamental uncertainty estimates have been incorporated into model evaluation guidance developed by ARS and university researchers and resulted in a novel statistical method that incorporates measurement uncertainty in model evaluation.


Harmel has authored or coauthored more than 50 refereed journal articles, 6 book chapters, and numerous conference proceedings and other technical publications.  A 14-year member of ASABE, he has provided leadership to the Soil and Water division by chairing the SW-04 Program and SW-06 Paper Awards committees and the SW-21 Hydrology group and serving on the SW-05 Publications Review and P-511 Refereed Publications committees.  He is the incoming chair of the Soil and Water Division Executive (SW-01) and Steering Committees (SW-02).  He currently serves as associate editor for two ASABE journals and received a 2007 ASABE Superior Paper award.  


His other professional activities include representing USDA-ARS on the National Water Monitoring Council Methods and Data Comparability Board and serving as an adjunct professor in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, Texas A&M University.

13th Annual Awards in Excellence



On October 28th, 2009 we had our 13th Annual Awards in Excellence Program.


The purpose of the awards program is to promote job performance excellence and to recognize employees of the USDA/ARS Grassland, Soil and Water Research Laboratory (GSWRL), the TAES Blackland Research Center (BRC), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) located in our Temple and Riesel facilities for their contributions.  This annual award is open to all full-time ARS, TAES, and NRCS employees who have worked at the Temple center for two or more years at the time of nomination.


Awards are presented in three categories:


1)      Location Support Employee of the Year;

2)      Technical/Scientific Support Employee of the Year; and

3)      Scientist or Professional Employee of the Year.


This years winners are: 

1)      Location Support Employee of the Year – Diane Taylor is a Texas AgriLife employee.

2)      Technical/Scientific Support Employee of the Year – Larry Frances is a Texas AgriLife employee.

3)      Scientist or Professional Employee of the Year. - Jay Atwood is an NRCS employee.


Employees of the three agencies nominate and select the winners for the three categories.


A selection panel is appointed by the Laboratory Director (ARS) and Resident Director (TAES).  The panel evaluates the nominations and recommends a winner in each of the three categories. 


Also Length of Service Awards were given to three Texas AgriLife employees and four ARS employees.



In recognition of 10 years of service to the Texas A & M

University System:


                                             Steve Potter

                                                 David Jones



In recognition of 20 years of service to the Texas A & M University System:


                                             Judy Cheatham





In recognition of 10 years of service to Agricultural Research Service:


                                             Kyle Tiner



In recognition of 20 years of service to Agricultural Research Service:



                                             Andrea Griffith

                                                 James Tracy



 In recognition of 25 years of service to Agricultural Research Service:


                                             Earnest Janacek

Congratulations Again, Jeff

.Jeff's Award

The Carl Amonett People's Garden

Our People’s Garden, the USDA People’s Garden at the GSWRL and BREC, is named the Carl Amonett People’s Garden on this day June 17th, 2013.



Carl Amonett is a former USDA-NRCS employee who worked at out Lab with the NRCS modeling group from 2000-2010, who was killed by a drunk driver in October 2010.   He had a degree in forestry from Stephen F. Austin University. Carl was awarded the Professional of the Year Award at the Center in 2009. Everyone connected to this project decided to name this local effort after Carl Amonett.   ARS has furnished the sign dedicating the garden to Carl.  Ken Dodge built and installed the framework and Andrea Griffith and Katherine Jones planted the small bed at the base of the sign. Other employees have planted and designed the other garden beds contained in the garden.   The Water Resources Staff at the NRCS state office also provided a Chinkapin oak tree that is planted adjacent to the garden area. 


The garden is a fitting tribute to Carl, he kept people at work supplied with fresh vegetables from his own home garden. He enjoyed bringing the excess produce to the office to share with others. Carl also planted many trees on his land near Academy. He purchased many of these through the SWCD’s Windbreak tree program. He shared some of these seedlings with others here at the station.


Since the garden was established, our employees have donated much of the produce to people in need in the area and have enjoyed working in and relaxing around the garden. If Carl was still here, the garden would no doubt be even bigger, like the garden he established at home, and I bet he would be out here every day watering, weeding, picking produce, and certainly delivering produce to the needy.


He will never be forgotten here at the Lab.

ARS News Articles

Probing Phosphorus Losses from Midwestern Crop Fields
Jan 28, 2015
Reducing Fertilizer Use with a More Accurate Soil Test
Jul 10, 2014
USDA's Agricultural Research Service Announces Scientist of the Year Awards
Jun 12, 2012
Water Quality Model Passes Another Test
Feb 24, 2010
Time-Tunneling for Climate Change Clues
Nov 20, 2009
Work with Nature - Don't Beat Her Back
Dec 10, 2008
Models Help Assess Biofuels' Sustainability
Oct 09, 2008
Farm Conservation Dollars and Sense
Dec 09, 2005
Beneficial Beetles Battle Pesky Saltcedar
Apr 01, 2005
Last Modified: 6/17/2013