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Rabies and Vampire Bats

A vampire bat in Mexico

A vampire bat in Mexico. Photo by Luis Lecuna, USDA APHIS, International Services, Mexico.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. For APHIS, changes in environmental conditions will increase the likelihood of shifts in the distribution and nature of current domestic diseases, invasive species and agricultural pests.  These changes will likely influence the dynamics of invasion and establishment of these diseases and pests, and therefore much of APHIS’ work. Understanding and adapting to these changes is therefore critical to meeting our mission.

Vampire bats rank high on the list of animals that scare us the most. Spooky Halloween tales of their blood-sucking, nocturnal, and secretive habits have likely led to their bad reputation. The fact that some also carry and spread the deadly rabies virus doesn’t help.

The common vampire bat feeds on the blood of Central and South American wildlife and livestock. They also sometimes bite and feed on the blood of people. Recently, vampire bats have been documented within 35 miles of the Texas border. This has caused concern and speculation about the potential movement of vampire bats to areas within the United States as a result of rising global temperatures. To gain a better understanding of the likelihood of such movement, USDA-APHIS geneticist Dr. Toni Piaggio with the Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center partnered with U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Mark Hayes to analyze and map the potential distribution of vampire bats under various climate scenarios. Read more »

Sharing the Costs Helps Farmers and Businesses Explore Organic Options

A variety of dried ingredients

The organic community needs more farmers, ranchers and handlers to produce everything from organic vegetables to organic grains to organic meats. The organic cost share programs make organic certification more affordable for producers and handlers across the country. USDA photo

The organic community needs more farmers, ranchers and handlers to produce everything from organic vegetables to organic grains to organic meats. Consumer demand for organic products continues to grow, with retail sales hitting over $39 billion in the United States in 2014 and over $75 billion worldwide.

USDA’s National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has overseen the organic sector since 2002. Since that time, the number of certified organic operations in the U.S. has increased to more than 21,700 — nearly a 300 percent increase. Read more »

Public Service Recognition Week: Thank You, AMS!

Associate Deputy Administrator Melissa Bailey (center) with staff from Fort Worth, Texas PACA division

Associate Deputy Administrator Melissa Bailey (center) with staff from our Fort Worth, Texas PACA division. Since implementation, over 3,700 claims worth more than $66 million have been resolved by our Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) division, which helps protect the American produce industry.

At USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), our 4,000 employees work hard every day to support the country’s diverse agricultural operations. Whether it’s individual farmers or international businesses, we have a long tradition of collaborating, innovating, and evolving to keep American agriculture competitive in the global marketplace.

As part of Public Service Recognition Week, I would like to introduce you to some of our employees and tell you about the remarkable work they do each and every day. Read more »

Connecting with Local Farmers, One Savory Dish at a Time

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor speaking with local growers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor speaking with local growers.

There’s nothing better than talking about food over a delicious meal of fresh, locally produced ingredients.  I had the chance to do that recently, when I visited Central Foods, a Spokane, Washington, restaurant that sources from local farmers and ranchers.  There, I met with stakeholders and producers who are taking advantage of new economic opportunities created by the growing consumer demand for local food. We had a great conversation about how USDA supports local food systems and how we can continue to do so in the future.

In communities across America, entrepreneurs like Beth Robinette and Joel Williamson from Spokane’s LINC Foods and Teri McKenzie from Inland NW Food Network are invigorating rural economies by connecting local farmers and consumers. They are opening up new markets for farmers, drawing young people back to farming, and increasing access to fresh foods for consumers. That’s why USDA has identified strong local and regional food systems as one of four pillars for rural economic development, and we’ve stepped up our support for this important sector of agriculture. Read more »

Addressing Climate Change Today for a Healthier Tomorrow

Ned Wood looking out at land

Photo: Ned Wood began a life long dream of ranching and he now leads a thriving family business that has endured and will improve the lives of hundreds of his cows, calves and yearlings that graze the approximately 4,000 acres of drought stricken range land in the 6,255 acre East Bay Regional Park District’s Briones Regional Park in Contra Costa County, CA. Image: USDA Results Badge.

USDA is bringing tools and solutions to farmers, foresters and ranchers so they have help confronting climate change while working to produce a global food supply adequate to feed the 9 billion people estimated by 2040 while still protecting the earth’s natural resources.

Today, USDA is launching the fifth chapter of USDA Results, telling the story of how USDA has been working since 2009 with partners across the country and around the world to curb the effects of climate change for a healthier tomorrow. Throughout May, we will be announcing new projects and highlight the progress we’ve made under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, which has made this issue one of his top priorities. Here in the Climate Change Program Office and in Agencies across the Department, we have been busy. Read more »

Wheat Blast, Bangladesh, and Biosecurity: NIFA-Funded Research Works for Global Food Security

Wheat blast

Wheat blast is a fungal pathogen that can devastate a crop and ruin entire harvests. Photo courtesy of Guillermo Isidoro Barea Vargas

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

An epidemic of wheat blast is underway in Bangladesh, published reports say, and losses may be substantial in the six southeastern districts where it has been reported. Wheat blast is a crop disease caused by the Triticum pathotype of the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae (MoT). In nations where broad wheat blast epidemics have occurred, 30 percent losses have been noted, but localized areas have experienced 50-100 percent losses, according to Dr. Barbara Valent, fungal molecular geneticist at Kansas State University (KSU).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), has provided nearly $5.4 million since 2009 to support research on wheat and rice blast. KSU leads a multi-institutional research project that brings together expertise from University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, the Ohio State University, Purdue University, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Read more »