USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) – Southeast Area


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P.O. Box 225
Stoneville, MS 38776
United States

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The Southeast Area is one of five research areas within ARS. We have over 1,700 full-time personnel, including 485 scientist and engineers, working at 27 research locations and 4 worksites.  The Southeast Area states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia,  Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Puerto Rico.  Additionally, we have worksites in Tennessee, Arizona and St. Croix, VI.

All major agricultural commodities of the mid-south United States are researched by Southeast Area scientists including cotton, corn, soybean, rice, sugarcane, poultry and catfish, as well as small fruits, nuts, such as blueberries and strawberries.

LabTech in your Life:

USDA Annual Reports in Technology Transfer:



ARS conducts research to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority and provide information access and dissemination in order to:

Ensure high-quality safe food and other agricultural products;
Assess the nutritional needs of Americans;
Sustain a competitive agricultural economy;
Enhance the natural resource base and the environment;
Provide economic opportunities for rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.
Provide the infrastructure necessary to create and maintain a diversified workplace.

Research in the Southeast Area addresses these goals.

Technology Disciplines

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Adhesive Compositions and Methods of Adhering Articles Together
Altered Avian Virus for In-Ovo Inoculation
Antisense Oligo Targets Bacterial Pathogens in Plants and Insects
Bioactive Peptides Having Insecticide Activity
Composition and Method for Reducing Ammonia and Soluble Phosphorus in Runoff From Animal Manure
Compositions and Methods for Repelling Bloodsucking and Biting Insects, Ticks and Mites
Compositions and Methods of Treating Animal Manure
Cotton Fibers Fighting Off Germs Wash After Wash
Double Stranded RNA for Asian Citrus Psyllid Control
Highly Active, Root Hair Cell-Specific Gene Regulatory Sequences


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Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC)

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ARS research is organized into National Programs. These programs serve to bring coordination, communication, and empowerment to approximately 690 research projects carried out by ARS. The National Programs focus on the relevance, impact, and quality of ARS research. Check out the National Programs' website here:


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Pickles have always been a popular food, but they are even trendier today as more and more craft brands show up in stores and farmers’ markets all over the country. But did you know that the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has helped commercial pickle makers, from small brands to the nation’s largest, meet the highest standards of food safety?

While pickling—storing in an acidic liquid, usually vinegar—has been recognized as a food-preserver since long before the discovery of bacteria, the kind of data that today’s precise food safety standards require was not established until recently.

In the late 1990s, incidents of bacterial contamination in acidic foods like unpasteurized orange juice and apple cider, which have the same pH as pickles, alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that pathogens such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 survived in juices at more acidic pH levels than previously believed—leading to new juice regulations. It also raised collateral questions about these pathogens in acidified foods, such as pickles, and prompted the FDA to issue draft guidance applicable to the pickle industry.

Even though there haven’t been any foodborne illnesses from commercial pickles in 50 years, no one knew exactly how to reach the 99.999-percent reduction in bacterial pathogens the FDA now considered appropriate. This also needed to be done without hurting the quality or taste of the pickles.

It was a job for researchers at the ARS Food Science Research Unit in Raleigh, North Carolina, the only national laboratory that works full time on the processing of commercially pickled vegetables. Every type of pickle and pickled vegetable would require its own study and set of numbers.

With significant support and funding from the pickle industry, the first ones the lab tackled were the pasteurized pickles—dill, bread and butter, sweet, sour, gherkin, kosher—the ones that pretty much dominate grocery store aisles. The researchers found that it took less than 1.2 minutes at 160°F (71°C) in brine at pH 4.1 to reach the 99.999-percent reduction level.

The scientists then moved on to the acidified, shelf-stable pickled vegetables like peppers and okra, which do not undergo pasteurization because they would fall apart in the heat. These products are instead made safe through the combined bacteria-killing effects of low pH and high organic acid concentration.

Today, all U.S.-produced pickled vegetables—a multibillion-dollar a year industry—are made following the standards set by the ARS Food Science Research Unit’s work.

This wasn’t the first time the lab revolutionized the pickle industry. For instance, John L. Etchells, the lab’s research leader from 1937 to 1975, improved the pickle fermentation process and reduced spoilage by a significant amount that pickles became much less expensive—making dill pickle slices a standard accompaniment on hamburgers in restaurants everywhere. Today, dill slices are 25 percent of the pickle market.

This post was originally featured on the USDA blog, to view, click here.

Pickles of many kinds fill grocery store shelves, all of them safe for consumers thanks to the work of an ARS food safety lab in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo credit: USDA)

Sunbutter - a Peanut Butter Alternative

Researchers at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, LA, in collaboration with Red River Commodities, a major sunflower seed producer based in Fargo, ND, developed a process for making a sunflower butter product that resembles the flavor, texture and appearance of commercially available peanut butter. Red River Commodities came to USDA-ARS researchers Isabel Lima and Harmeet Guraya for their processing expertise. The ARS scientists were able to solve a major obstacle in processing the product after discovering that improper roasting results in poor texture, flavor and appearance. By modifying the roasting process, and controlling moisture and ingredient effects, they produced a significantly improved sunflower butter.

The beauty of this product is that it is an alternative to peanut butter for peanut allergy sufferers. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, approximately 2 percent of the population suffers from peanut allergies, with symptoms ranging from a mild case of hives to severe anaphylactic shock. So, this alternative is welcome news.

Red River Commodities created SunGold Foods, Inc., a company dedicated to commercializing the sunflower product SunButter®. As a result, 25 new jobs were created in rural America.

Although Red River Commodities unveiled the new product in 2002, SunButter® has had tremendous commercial success within the last few years with its expanded product line. It is now available in a variety of flavors (creamy, organic unsweetened, natural, natural crunch and natural omega-3) and sizes, including new "go packs" designed for lunches and on-the-go snacking. The product is being sold to some of the largest U.S. food companies and retailers, such as Kroger, SuperValu, Walmart, Target, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and recently through the QVC network. It can also be purchased at the company's Website:

Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, zinc and iron. SunButter® is currently being used in a variety of foods as an added ingredient, including in energy bars and a no-peanut peanut sauce. SunButter® is an entitlement item, and thus part of the food commodities list for the USDA National School Lunch Program.

The technology addresses one of the USDA Secretary's top priorities—child nutrition and health—in that it promotes a healthy food alternative for children with peanut allergies. It also supports farm and rural development by increasing the value of U.S. sunflower seeds, boosting profitability for U.S. sunflower farmers.

New Ways To Clean Up Water and Use It Again

In 2006, farmers in North and South Carolina earned some $10 billion from crops and livestock, but it wasn’t easy money. Like elsewhere in the country, livestock and crop producers in this region struggle with managing agricultural pollutants that can affect the quality of surface water and groundwater.

Excess rainfall can also be a problem—and so can damaging droughts. These droughts, which can start as short dry spells, are exacerbated by the region’s sandy soils, which have a limited capacity for holding water.

Agricultural engineer Ken Stone and soil scientist Patrick Hunt joined colleagues at the ARS Coastal Plains Soil, Water, and Plant Research Center in Florence, South Carolina, to make the job a little bit easier. They’re finding ways to clean up nitrogen that escapes to drainage water and ways to use pretreated swine wastewater for crop irrigation.

Digging for New Solutions

As part of this effort, the scientists tackled a significant downside of crop production—the excess nitrate sometimes carried away by field drainage. This nitrate comes mainly from nitrogen fertilizers that are not taken up by crops.

Tile drains installed under crop fields are essential to crop production in much of North America. But they can also discharge large amounts of nitrate into bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay. This nitrate can lead to development of oxygen-deficient “dead zones” in the larger water bodies, a condition called “hypoxia.” So Hunt and soil scientist Matias Vanotti began to look for a denitrifying process that could take place in subsurface drains before the nitrate-laced runoff reached sensitive aquatic ecosystems downstream.

The team obtained denitrifying bacteria from soil samples collected at a nearby overland flow treatment site and cultured them in the lab. Then they encapsulated the bacteria in polymer gels and verified their denitrification rates. They called the final product “immobilized denitrification sludge,” or IDS.

Hunt and Stone then devised a bioreactor by placing the IDS into a small reactor cylinder. For about 6 weeks they pumped a test solution containing nitrate through the bioreactor and confirmed that the device effectively removed nitrate from the solution.

The team then tested a bioreactor in the field, where nitrate concentrations in runoff averaged 7.8 milligrams per liter. (The federal standard for nitrate in drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter.) They sampled inflow and outflow nitrate concentrations in the runoff at 4-hour intervals for 36 days.

Hunt and environmental engineer Kyoung Ro determined that the hydraulic retention time (HRT)—how long the field drainage water remained in the bioreactor—was crucial in the denitrification process. With a 1-hour HRT, 50 percent of the nitrogen was removed from the runoff. When the HRT was increased to  more than 8 hours, the nitrate-removal efficiency approached 100 percent.

Based on these results, the team concluded that the daily nitrate-removal rate of a 1-cubic-meter bioreactor would be about 94 grams per square meter of nitrate from field runoff. This is significantly higher than removal rates reported for in-stream wetlands, treatment wetlands, or wood-based bioreactors.

“This means that the IDS bioreactors could treat nitrate hot spots and moderate the impact of storm flows,” Stone says. “But we need to conduct a full-size test of this process to see how well it works during prolonged storm patterns—when drainage volumes increase—and during extreme droughts.”

“We also need to see how IDS reactors can be integrated effectively with other agricultural practices—like good nutrient management plans, controlled drainage, treatment wetlands, and passive carbonaceous reactors,” Hunt adds.

Every Drop Counts

A climatologist will say that the Carolinas receive an average precipitation of 4 inches per month. But farmers here know that there are months when almost no rain falls. Livestock wastewater is typically used to irrigate crops, but its high nutrient content limits its use. Moreover, spray irrigation enhances the emission of ammonia and other volatile organic compounds present in the wastewater.

Stone, Hunt, and Vanotti wanted to see whether subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) with pretreated swine wastewater could eliminate emissions and increase the effectiveness of irrigation. They conducted a 2-year study of SDI that compared yields of bermudagrass hay irrigated with wastewater and hay irrigated with well water and amended with commercial fertilizer. The wastewater was pretreated to remove concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.

When the SDI study was over, the team assessed hay yield, hay biomass, soil nutrients, and soil-water nutrients. They found that SDI crop yields were higher for the bermudagrass that had been irrigated with the pretreated wastewater.

The scientists also found that yields of bermudagrass hay did not vary significantly when the crops were irrigated with wastewater levels that replenished only 75 percent of the water lost to evapotranspiration. This suggests that wastewater SDI can be effective at lower application rates, which would help conserve water supplies. It would also reduce the amount of water draining through the soil, which would lessen the opportunity for plant nutrients to be leached below the root zone.

“We’ve found that by irrigating with treated swine wastewater, we can use less water than traditionally required. Since water is a precious commodity, this finding is extremely important,” says Vanotti.

All these results suggest that SDI with treated swine wastewater provides forage crops with both water and fertilization.  The benefits can equal—and even sometimes exceed—those of using commercial fertilizer.

“In the late 1990s, the swine population in this area increased from around 2 million animals to around 10 million,” Hunt says. “When we find ways to recycle the byproducts from this intensive livestock production to replenish scarce water supplies and boost crop yields, everyone benefits.”

In Florence, South Carolina, agricultural engineers Kenneth Stone (left) and Joseph Millen collect bermudagrass hay for forage quality and nutrient analyses. They compared yields of hay grown with treated wastewater to those grown with commercial fertilizers.

Sweet Watermelons Brought to You by ARS

Did You Know?

Watermelons are about 6 percent sugar and 91 percent water. They are usually a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and lycopene. Farmers in 44 States grow every year about 40 million pounds of watermelon, worth more than $500 million. Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are the leading watermelon producers. July is National Watermelon Month, but most people don't know that watermelons have been brought to you by USDA's Agricultural Research Service research.

Watermelons originated in Africa somewhere around the Kalahari Desert. By the 10th century, watermelons were being cultivated in China, which is now the world's single largest watermelon producer. The Moors introduced the fruit to Europe in the 13th century. Watermelons were being grown in Massachusetts in 1629, and Native Americans were known to be growing them in 1664. These original watermelons were very susceptible to diseases and were not very sweet.  

In 1938, Charles Fredric Andrus, with ARS's U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, SC, began breeding watermelon to increase sweetness and disease resistance. In 1954, he released ‘Charleston Grey’, considered the classic watermelon variety. Besides having sweet and flavorful taste, ‘Charleston Grey’ has an oblong shape and a hard rind that makes it easy to stack and ship. Even more importantly, ‘Charleston Grey’ extensive disease resistance makes it even today a choice for home and commercial growers. In 2007, ‘Charleston Gray’ was designed by the American Society for Horticultural Science as “the most successfully vegetable cultivar ever developed.” It is in the pedigree of 95 percent of the watermelons grown in the world today.

Currently, U.S. Vegetable Laboratory is going back to wild watermelon relatives in Africa to find genes for resistance to problems like watermelon vine decline, root-knot nematodes, zucchini yellow mosaic virus, and wilting diseases. ARS also has more than 1,600 watermelon lines from different parts of the world in a germplasm collection housed in Griffin, GA, which may provide genes for important new traits.

ARS Makes Condensed Orange Juice Taste More Like Fresh

Florida's citrus industry employs more than 100,000 people and contributes $8 billion a year to the state's economy. In addition to lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruit, and other citrus, growers there raise and harvest over 200 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, on average, every year. Around 80 percent of them are processed, much of them into nutritious orange juice (O.J.)

Flavor is one of the most important qualities of O.J., and aroma compounds are significantly responsible for the fresh-squeezed taste consumers prefer. Unfortunately, those aroma compounds evaporate away during the condensing process used to make frozen concentrated orange juice. The aroma compounds—blended into mixtures—are sold to juice companies as "flavor packs" and are added back into the juice along with water before the juice is marketed.

Finding the Source of Great Taste

At the ARS Citrus and Subtropical Products Laboratory in Winter Haven, Florida, Elizabeth Baldwin, horticulturist and research leader, chemist Kevin Goodner, project leader of the flavor group, and chemist Anne Plotto are developing information about the thresholds of so-called flavor-impact aroma compounds that make fresh orange juice taste so good. A threshold is the minimum level at which a compound can be detected by smell or taste.

To improve O.J.'s flavor, it is necessary to unravel the interactions between all the compounds in juice, which is a complex mixture. In addition to flavor compounds, juice contains sugars, acids, pulp, pectin, salts, and phenolic compounds, which can influence perception of flavor. To understand interactions among the compounds and how they affect flavor perception, the researchers identified odor and taste thresholds of compounds considered to be important contributors to O.J. flavor. The researchers mixed the compounds into deodorized juice rather than water. The team solicited the help of some 50 nonprofessional taste testers.

In evaluating various aroma compounds, volunteers were sent to a booth illuminated by red light, so they wouldn't be able to see and be influenced by a sample's color. The booth had positive outgoing air pressure so that outside smells couldn't get inside and affect the testers.

Each volunteer was then given 15 samples of chilled orange juice, distributed in 5 rows of 3 cups. In each row, two cups contained just deodorized O.J. and one cup contained juice spiked with a particular unidentified aroma compound. Each row differed in taste and odor intensity, with the top row containing the least amount of the compound and the bottom row the most.

For each row, the volunteers had to smell the cups, guess which one was spiked with a compound, and describe the smell. Then, they had to sip through the rows and do the same for taste.

Responses differed greatly. Various compounds were described as smelling or tasting like paint thinner, fruit, mothballs, gasoline, pineapple, citrus, cheesy feet, musty, earthy, roses, lilacs, and even cotton candy.

Why Test Both Smell and Taste?

"Your taste buds may be on your tongue, but aroma compounds are perceived by the olfactory bulb in your nose. It's accessed through the front of the nose or through the back of your throat when food enters the mouth," explains Baldwin. "This combined orthonasal (smelling through the front of the nose) and retronasal (the aroma going to the nose through the back of the throat) olfactory testing is really important to those in the citrus industry who are trying to formulate flavors."

So far, giant juice companies like Tropicana, Coca-Cola North America (makers of Minute Maid juices), Florida's Natural, and Cargill Citro-America have all shown interest in this project and have offered to help find sources of O.J. aroma compounds to help Baldwin and her team. Flavor companies Kerry Food Ingredients and Danisco Cultour have also been supportive.

Providing scientific and technical support have been Rene Goodrich, a professor at the University of Florida's Citrus Research and Education Center in nearby Lake Alfred, and the Florida Citrus Processors Association.

The O.J. matrix contains well over 40 detectable compounds. Research at the Winter Haven facility over the last 40 years has determined that terpenes, alcohols, esters, and aldehydes are the compounds that are by far the most valuable when determining the best tasting O.J. Aldehydes and esters proved to be what Baldwin refers to as the "top-note" compounds, while terpenes provide the background. Now the O.J. scientific team is trying to find out what relative amounts of these types of compounds are needed to get that fresh-squeezed taste into reconstituted O.J.

Developing flavor packs that more closely mimic fresh juice flavor would improve the desirability of U.S. processed orange juice and help it better compete in the global marketplace.—By Alfredo Flores, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

This research is part of Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products, an ARS National Program (#306) described on the World Wide Web at

"New Ways To Make Condensed O.J. Taste More Like Fresh" was published in the September 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


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