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Crying Cauliflower The Trend of the Future?

January 4, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If scientists persist, you may be awakened in the middle of the night by the cries of a thirsty cauliflower wanting a drink from the garden sprinkler.

The Agriculture Department says researchers are already strapping tiny microphones to growing plants, listening to unique sounds made by plants when they need watering.

Eventually, according to a report by the department’s Agricultural Research Service, farmers may be able to tell exactly when crops need to be irrigated, thereby saving water and energy by providing the right amount at the right time.

Dr. Edwin L. Fiscus, a USDA plant pathologist at Fort Collins, Colo., has been listing to corn plants for two years, using microphones and ultra- sensitive electronic equipment to record ″high-frequency popping sounds″ emitted by the plants.

The sounds are in the 100-kilohertz range, more than five times the upper limit of what is audible to humans. A kilohertz is 1,000 hertz, the international unit of frequency.

Fiscus monitors only the acoustics of certain cells, those that make up the xylem or water tubes of a plant. They are the pipes that carry water and nutrients from roots to leaves.

When there is adequate water in the soil, water flows upward in the tubes under tension. If the soil lacks enough water, the tension in the tubes becomes too great and the water tubes fracture.

″It’s the minute, high-frequency noise of these fractures that the sound equipment detects,″ Fiscus said.

Air pockets form in the water tubes when they fracture. If enough water is available in the soil, some plants refill their tubes overnight, and by the following day, water and dissolved nutrients again flow to the leaves.

Without refilling, the tubes remain empty and unable to transport water, he said. At that point, the plants wilt.

According to Fiscus, the number of fractures or ″pops″ appear to be related to just how much the plant is stressed, a clue that it is time to irrigate.

Fiscus said that some farmers, like home gardeners, sometimes apply water to their plants after they notice wilting. Although plants usually recover from this stress, their growth and eventual yield already may have been reduced. Other growers prevent such stress by applying too much water.

The research is being conducted in cooperation with Dr. Melvin T. Tyree, a biophysicist at the University of Toronto, Canada. Tyree developed the equipment and supervised its installation and use during the experiments.

″Plants are very noisy when they grow,″ Tyree said. ″Various parts, such as the corn leaves and stalks, make noise when they slide against each other as they grow.″

Other noises come from the rustling of leaves in a breeze and the bending of stalks.

″We didn’t want to record these noises, so the equipment was designed to operate at much higher frequencies, where only the sounds created by the breaking water tubes are detected,″ he said.


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department is proposing revised rules to crack down on cotton handlers who fail to pass along per-bale assessments paid by cotton farmers to finance national research and promotion programs.

Jesse F. Moore of the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service said Friday that the rule changes would give the Cotton Board new enforcement powers to see that the fees are passed along by handlers.

The 19-member board is appointed by the secretary of agriculture ″to collect and safeguard assessment funds″ and to administer research and promotion activities.

Under current procedures, assessments are initially collected on a per-bale basis by the first handlers of cotton. The handlers are required to send the money to the Cotton Board within a prescribed time.

The revised regulations would provide for escrow accounts for the deposit of assessments collected, interest charges on past-due accounts, and late payment charges on seriously delinquent accounts when handlers fail to transfer funds promptly.

″These strengthened procedures would have no effect on the vast majority of collecting handlers who promptly transmit assessments to the Cotton Board,″ Moore said.

Fees paid by cotton farmers are $1 per bale plus 0.6 percent of the value of each bale, approximately an average of about $2.75 per bale, overall.

The board’s budget for 1986 is expected to be about $18.5 million, up from $18.1 million in 1985.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Preliminary figures by the Agriculture Department show that prices received by farmers for raw products in 1985 declined an average of about 10 percent from 1984.

Crop prices dropped 13 percent, overall, while livestock and livestock product prices were down about 7 percent, according to the department’s Statistical Reporting Service.

Prices paid by farmers for items used to produce crops and livestock, meanwhile, dropped 0.6 percent in 1985, figures published by the agency showed.

Interest rates paid by farmers edged down by 0.4 percent last year, while taxes increased by 2.3 percent. Wage rates paid to hired farm laborers increased 2 percent during the year.


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