The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the Annual Report on Technology Transfer last week, as part of its effort to highlight the work done by agencies within the department, said Ann Bartuska, acting undersecretary of research, education and economics at the USDA.
The report covers the outcomes of work done or supported by several agencies within the department, including the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the Economic Research Service (ERS), the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) and the Forest Service, she said. “We have multiple agencies at USDA almost all of them produce innovation in one way or another,” she added.
“It was driven by Congress to provide oversight of investments,” she told FeedNavigator. “But it’s become a way to coordinate and collect the project across USDA that leads to a tangible technology.”
Research projects from the last year generated 244 new inventions and 109 patent applications, she said.
“It’s also for our own purposes, being able to share what we’ve accomplished that research is available that [is] leading to something tangible,” she said. “$20 is returned for every dollar spent – so it’s a way to describe what we’re doing, to indicate to the tax payer there is a return on investment.”
Additionally, established connections with industry allow for some of the products and development made to be refined or scaled for commercial use, said Bartuska.
While much of the research is practical and applied, there is still room for foundational work, she said. “There is a place for that because you can get breakthroughs that go in another direction, and I would like to think that we can always be funding a piece of our science that is high risk and maybe low payout but could push us,” she added.
Feed research focus
Although the projects cover a variety of topics, several of them focus on innovation in feed technology and animal production, said the USDA.
“Domestically and globally the investment in animals is less than for plant research [but] we do have a lot of animal research going on,” said Bartuska. “[But research is done] – our dairy innovation center and the work they’re doing to increase efficiencies, energy reduction and waste management – in the past, there was a great breakthrough in capturing methane from waste to heat the livestock areas and being able to make those kind of connections.”
One project highlighted in the report looked at work done to alter ruminal microbial communities with the goal of improve feed use and production efficiency in dairy cattle, the department said. Other studies examined the use of red clover in cattle diets to reduce the production of ammonia and how feeding forages with polyphenolic-containing ingredients, like cover and birdsfoot trefoil, improved feed nitrogen use.
Another project done by researchers with ARS evaluated the potential of different types of algae to produce omega-3 fatty acids that could be used to replace the fish oil in trout feeds, the department said.
Animal welfare has been another focus, said Bartuska. One such project done by ARS researchers at Mississippi State looked at developing an automated vaccine delivery system for use in poultry houses.
“We do want to increase our investment in animal science because there are so many issues – animal welfare, antibiotic use, being able to be more efficient – there are a lot of elements to it,” she said.