Measuring Soil Componentsin the Field
An instrument designed to provide in-field analysis of
key soil constituents may be on the horizon. A prototype has been built
and tested for mechanical durability by Veris Technologies, part of
Kejr, Inc., of Salina, Kansas. It consists of a thick soil shank with
a sensor that uses near-infrared-reflectance spectroscopy to take readings
through a sapphire "window" on its bottom. Initial field trials
have demonstrated an ability to measure moisture, organic carbon, and
total nitrogen in soils.
Data from on-the-go soil analysesparticularly of
important components like nitrogen and carboncould help growers
and land managers adjust their field applications of fertilizer and
pesticides for optimal agricultural benefit and minimal environmental
harm. The device can also be used to measure in-soil carbon storage,
a topic of growing interest because of the potential for soils to help
reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Laboratory analyses of soil samples and interpretation of data are being completed under a cooperative research and development agreement with Veris Technologies.
Z-trim, a natural food ingredient made from crop-processing byproducts,
such as oat, soybean, or rice hulls, may be on its way to commercialization.
It has been found to act as a satisfactory fat replacement in many processed
foods, helping to give them pleasing texture, mouth feel, body, and
Tests have shown that Z-trim works well in dairy products, baked goods,
pasta, snack foods, ground meats, and nutritional drinks. It adds no
calories and provides insoluble fiber that aids digestion.
Developed in 1995 and patented in 1998, it was originally licensed by Fiber-Gels Technologies, Inc., and more recently was acquired by Circle Group Internet, Inc., of Mundelein, Illinois. With demand for carbohydrate-based fat replacements rising, the company plans to seek commercial food processors to help market Z-trim. Forecasts have predicted a potential $360 million market by 2004.
George E. Inglett, USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Illinois; phone (309) 681-6363.
Although higher carbon dioxide levels expected from global changes
under way may increase forage and seed crop yields under optimum temperatures,
global warming might also leave seed crops partly sterile. What's most
threatening to cereal grains and legumes is the potential rise in temperatures.
Research has shown that for every 2 °F the temperature increases
above ideal levels, seed productivity decreases about 10 percent. But
photosynthesis and plant size aren't much affected until much higher
temperatures are reached.
Elevated-temperature studies have shown that either pollination of individual flowers fails completely or seeds of some crops develop poorly, even when fertilization is successful. Breeders hope to use traditional techniques to build in tolerance to hot environments, if high-yielding wild relativesor even current cultivarscan be identified. Cultivars that shed pollen earlier in the day, when temperatures are cooler, would be more likely to flourish. Genetic engineering could help scientists introduce desirable genes for such traits from other plants.
The billions of chickens raised annually by U.S. growers produce a
lot of manure-laden litter. It's worth about $3 to $10 a ton when sold
for use as fertilizer. But the topical application of manure to farm
fields can lead to a leaching of nutrients that contributes to costly
pollution of rivers and streams. And unused poultry litter presents
a very large waste-disposal problem.
Scientists have long searched for uses that would not only solve the
manure-disposal problem, but would also generate revenue. Now, a way
has been found to convert poultry litter into activated carbons that
can be used to soak up environmental pollutants. Bituminous coal and
coconut shells are the two materials most commonly used to manufacture
activated carbons today. Coal is an expensive and nonrenewable resource,
and coconut shells are not readily available here. But poultry manure
is plentiful and cheap.
When pelletized and activated under specific conditions, poultry litter becomes a highly porous material with a large surface area. Early tests showed that these activated carbons perform well in adsorbing copper, which suggests that they may do well as a wastewater filter for other metal ions. Their adsorption capacity may also make them more cost effective than activated carbons on the market. Researchers are seeking a commercial partner to further develop this innovative technology.
"Science Update" was published in the August 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.