Lab Matters Winter 2017 | Page 36

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Nebraska ' s Agricultural Laboratories shares space with other Nebraska state laboratories

Cattle , Corn and Chemistry : High Priorities at Nebraska ’ s Agricultural Laboratories

by Nancy Maddox , MPH , writer
A residue laboratory chemist prepares the ICP-MS system to analyze food samples for toxic metals

From the sizzle of rib eyes on the grill to the crunch of sweet corn on the cob , “ agriculture is the heart and soul of Nebraska ,” according to the state ’ s Farm Fresh website .

In fact , Nebraska — in the middle of the Midwest — is prototypical US farm country . Plains and prairieland stretch as far as the eye can see ; the Ogallala aquifer sits beneath a blanket of rich loess soil , and nearly 24,00 miles of rivers and streams interlace the landscape .
In 2017 , the Agricultural Laboratories will celebrate 50 years of service to the people of Nebraska .
Overall , farms and ranches occupy 92 % of Nebraska ’ s 77,000 square miles of land area and contribute $ 25 billion to the state economy , catapulting the Cornhusker State to the fourth spot in total US agricultural receipts . The industry supports one of every four Nebraskan jobs .
As its nickname implies , corn is one of Nebraska ' s largest crops . The state ranks third in production of other corns , mostly intended for livestock feed , high-fructose corn syrup or ethanol . Other important crops are soybeans , wheat , hay , dry edible beans and potatoes .
Yet Nebraska ’ s ranches rival its farms in terms of production . Nebraska produces more commercial red meat — over seven billion pounds — and exports more beef and veal than any other state . It ranks first among states in the number of cattle on feed , second in cattle and calf production and sixth in the number of hogs and pigs on farms . Of note , the roughly 6.5 million cattle and calves on feed in Nebraska outnumber human residents by over three to one . About half of Nebraska ’ s 49,100 farms have livestock or poultry operations .
Lincoln , Nebraska ’ s capital , sits in the southeast corner of the state . With just under 300,000 people , it is the second most populous city in Nebraska , after Omaha .
However , Sally Flowers , PhD , administrator of Nebraska ’ s Agricultural Laboratories , notes that when the Cornhuskers host home games at the
University of Nebraska ’ s Memorial Stadium , the stadium becomes the state ’ s third most populous “ jurisdiction ,” at least temporarily .
The basement of the state capitol was the first home of Nebraska ’ s Agricultural Laboratories . In 1973 , the agency relocated to a newly constructed building where it remains today . The Agricultural Laboratories take up half of a two-story , brick edifice , sitting “ side-by-side ” with the Department of Health and Human Services ’ Public Health Environmental Laboratory . The building is surrounded by native and ornamental plants and located about two miles south of downtown Lincoln and , fittingly , less than a mile from prime farmland , where neatly spaced rows of golden-haired corn light up the summer landscape .
Laboratory Leadership
Director Sally Flowers , PhD was born to a Navy family in Honolulu , HI . She grew up , however , almost 5,000 miles away in Florida , where she discovered a love for agriculture . Flowers raised steers —“ heavily marbled and rather delicious ”— on her dad ’ s hobby farm and judged livestock and meats in 4-H . After growing up alongside pot-bellied pigs and other farm animals , she left home to study food science , earning four credentials along the way : a BS in animal science ( University of Florida-Gainesville ), a PhD in food science ( Penn State ), a two-year post-doctoral fellowship focused on food microbiology ( Mississippi State University ) and a BS in clinical laboratory science ( University of Nebraska Medical Center ). Before accepting her current post in September 2016 , she directed operations for AEGIS Food Testing Laboratory ( now Vanguard Sciences )— where she helped the laboratory achieve ISO 17025 accreditation — oversaw quality control ( QC ) for a veterinary vaccine manufacturer and did ELISA method development for another livestock vaccine manufacturer .
Tai Ha , supervisor of the Feed , Fertilizer and Agricultural Lime Laboratory ( FFAL ), began his career as a research chemist / project leader for the National Center for Scientific Research in Vietnam . He served as quality assurance ( QA )/ quality control ( QC ) laboratory analyst for Iowa Beef Packers in Lexington , NE after moving to the US . Ha accepted a chemist position at FFAL in 2000 and was gradually promoted upward to his current position , where he also oversees QA . Ha specializes in real-time PCR for prohibited materials in
LAB MATTERS Winter 2017
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