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Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Insectary raise insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. (Dan Garrison for Harvest Public Media)
Scientists at the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Insectary raise insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. (Dan Garrison for Harvest Public Media)

Halfway down a dead-end road in the small farming town of Palisade, Colorado, is the research facility known as “The Insectary.”  Scientists at the lab develop “biocontrol insects,” insects adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture. Colorado’s Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States.

The pioneering program began in response to a peach pest called oriental fruit moth that devastated the local crop in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Scientists saved the famed Palisade peach industry by successfully introducing the parasitic wasp, Macrocentrus ancylivorus, which was the perfect predator to control the moth.   

Today the facility’s angular, modern design stands out in its rural setting, but it reflects the groundbreaking science going on inside. Room after room of labs and two greenhouses are full of pesky insects and noxious weeds that have been introduced into the United States accidentally or on purpose over the years and are proven plagues to food and field. 

Many food companies began labeling food that has genetically-modified ingredients in anticipation of a Vermont law that kicked in July 1. (Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media)
Many food companies began labeling food that has genetically-modified ingredients in anticipation of a Vermont law that kicked in July 1. (Jeremy Bernfeld/Harvest Public Media)

Food companies and farm groups were the victors Thursday with the passage of a federal bill establishing standards for the disclosure of genetically-modified ingredients in food products.

In a 306-117 vote, the U.S. House approved a bill that supersedes a much stricter law that went into effect in Vermont on July 1. The measure, pushed through the Senate last week, is expected to be signed by President Obama.

Miscanthus, shown growing in Iowa, is a perennial grass that could help keep nutrients out of waterways. (file: Rick Fredericksen/Iowa Public Radio)
Miscanthus, shown growing in Iowa, is a perennial grass that could help keep nutrients out of waterways. (file: Rick Fredericksen/Iowa Public Radio)

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.

Researchers used models to calculate how much the flow of nitrogen into the Mississippi River, which has contributed to a dead zone the size of Connecticut, could be reduced if certain amounts of farmland grew switchgrass or miscanthus instead of their current crops.

Iowa State University agronomist Andy Vanloocke says the results show that the grasses can help—but are not a silver bullet.

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