Probably not, because the media never mentions it; because our state and local governments do not know about it; and because we are so busy trying to be someplace else rather than exploring what we have and who we are. In the northwest corner of Prince George's County lies the 100 year old, premier agricultural research facility in the world. If it has to do with food, fuel, fiber, forests, feed, or flowers BARC is working on it hidden in plain sight. From turkeys to strawberries, obesity to animal genetics, human nutrition to infant inoculation, insect repellents to organic plastics, the long reach of BARC is here in our county unknown to most of us. The cows leaning against the fence on Powder Mill Rd are not lean beef but tomorrow's answer to food for the world.
One of the many of research labs is the USDA ARS Crop Systems And Global Change Lab at BARC (Beltsville Agricultural Research Center) focuses on "developing crop simulation models for on-farm decision support and assessment of global climate change effects on crop yields and soil quality." Theyt also carry out world class, cutting edge" research to better understand the mechanisms controlling response and adaptation to carbon dioxide, light, water, temperature and soil chemistry." In other words, Prince George's County, Maryland, proudly hosts a world center of climate change research of the first rank right in its collective backyards - in the case of College Park, Greenbelt and Beltsville quite literally in the backyard or perhaps better put, the front yard. Much of the research is carried out in "both indoor and outdoor growth chambers, greenhouses and field plots."
And why should you care? Changes in climate for whatever reason directly affect food crops from corn to milk, from eggs to blueberries, from bread to apples. If you eat it, climate impacts how much there is, where it grows and the final price paid in the grocery store. The work of BARC is the national effort to keep food available and affordable. Understanding changes in climate helps farmers stay ahead of problems enabling them to keep food reaching our tables. In addition changes in climate affect how weeds that reduce harvests grow and how we react to changes in plant toxicity and even how plants and our allergies may interact. The work of BARC tells farmers what to grow, where to grow it, and when to grow it so that the shelves in market places do not go empty.
Did you know that Dr. Lewis Ziska's study of plants and pollen in test plots and carbon dioxide chambers was the first continental-scale measurement of the effects of climate warming on ragweed plants? The Crop Systems and Global Change Lab (CSGCL), headed up by Dr. Vangimalla Reddy, "applies systems theory to the solution of complex agricultural problems and to the development of computer-aided farm decision support systems and assessment tools for environmental study and analysis. This Lab undertakes research to analyze and design systems, to develop models and expert systems, and to generate and evaluate data bases. It carries out research to improve the growth, yield and quality of crops in the face of climatic changes, through increased understanding of mechanisms controlling response and adaptation to CO2, light, water, temperature, and soil chemistry. Studies are undertaken at molecular, biochemical, organismic, and community levels in controlled environments, greenhouses and in the field, exploiting natural and induced genetic variability and emphasizing interactions among environmental variables. CSGCL carries out basic and applied research to improve methods of managing agriculturally important crops."
The next time someone asks why anyone would live here, point out the exciting work that leads the world into the 21st century and ask what their county is doing to better science and understanding?
What else are they doing here in Proud Prince George's County?