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Enjoy Your Garden Year-Round: Try Home Canning

This year, USDA has been encouraging folks to try local food production and consumption. The People’s Garden has been an excellent example in connecting people to where their food comes from. And many of you followed suit, planting gardens of your own. Read more »

Cochran Fellowship Program Marks 25th Anniversary

One of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) most noteworthy programs, the Cochran Fellowship Program (CFP), is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The CFP provides U.S.-based agricultural training opportunities for senior and mid-level specialists and administrators from public and private sectors concerned with agricultural trade, agribusiness development, management, policy, and marketing. Read more »

Abundance is the Key Theme for Harvest-Time.

We all come together for festivals, fun and food as the growing season comes to an end.  This is the opening of the season of celebrating holidays bringing family and friends together. Our challenge is know how enjoy and deal with an abundance of food throughout out celebrations.

Abundance of food is a blessing for most Americans. Yet at the same time, given the high rate of overweight and obesity in our society, we all need to be recognize how much we eat compared to how much we need to eat.  So, how do YOU figure out how much YOU actually eat?  How much food do YOU need to eat?  A few simple tips can help you out.

First – since everyone is different – finding the amount of food YOU need is right at your fingertips at MyPyramid.gov.  The website will tell you the specific  amounts (in cups and ounces) of fruits, vegetables, meat and beans, breads and cereals, and milk (or foods made from milk) you need.   For example, many adults need 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables each day.

Second – Learn to estimate amounts of foods.  Use common objects as visual cues.  A baseball has the same volume as 1-cup and a computer mouse is equal to about ½-cup.  A deck of cards is equal to 3 ounces of meat, or ½-cup of another food.  Also,  practice  using measuring cups a couple of times to get a sense of the volume of 1-cup or ½-cup.  Paying attention to the amounts of food will help you get what ‘just’ you need, instead of  ‘more’ than you need.

Third – Put lower calorie foods, like fruits and vegetables, on your plate first.  Eating lower calorie foods first  will fill you up before you get to the dessert table.  Be mindful and slowly savor every bite. You’ll probably find a little less will do just fine.

Fourth- Watch out for the hidden calories in beverages.  Alternate a glass of water, or other calorie-free drink, with other beverages.

Celebrating the season abundance is a gift to ourselves.  Let yourself taste and enjoy all the delectable foods of the harvest season — without overdoing it!

Common Objects as Visual Cues for Vegetables

Common Objects as Visual Cues for Fruits

Biofuels Testimony

I had a chance this morning to testify before the House Agriculture Committee about USDA’s commitment to energy security for America.  I shared the spotlight for this hearing with Under Secretary Tonsager, and together we impressed on our colleagues on the Hill the great challenges we have before us in developing a new biofuels industry, and expertise and knowledge of the many people here at USDA working on this critical issue.

Congress has laid out a significant challenge to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 to power our cars, trucks, jets, ships and tractors. This is a substantial goal, but one that the United States, with the help of American agriculture, can meet or beat. However, I believe to achieve this goal we will need to expand our focus on drop-in or third generation fuels. These are biofuels that can directly substitute for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel.

Today more than 9 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually by first-generation biofuel technologies that turn corn grain starch into ethanol, an increase from 1% of the U.S. fuel supply in 2000 to 7% in 2008.

However, Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) stipulated that only 15 billion gallons of the 36 billion can be provided by ethanol produced from grain, or what is called first-generation biofuel. This means that 21 billion gallons of biofuels will need to come from sources other than corn grain. Second-generation biofuel technologies that turn crop residue such as corn stover or dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass into ethanol, and third-generation biofuel technologies that turn these feedstocks into advanced biofuels – synthetic substitutes for gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel – will have to come rapidly into commercial use.

If we are to reach our target of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, we will need to change the way we do business. The U.S. has funded thousands of worthy projects, but there has been little effective integration of these efforts across government agencies, and also there has not been a focus on partnering with public and private resources to rapidly develop biofuel supply chains capable for achieving our nation’s biofuels goals.  Significant parts of the supply chain have been ignored or have received too little attention such as sustainable feedstock production systems, solutions to lower the cost of biomass transport, and efforts to leverage America’s existing fuel distribution and utilization systems.

Switchgrass and Genetecist Ken VogelFor example, the amounts of biomass and other dedicated energy crops that are needed to produce second- and third-generation biofuels basically requires creation of an entirely new agricultural commodity sector. There are many economic and environmental uncertainties to be expected as this sector emerges.   We intend to focus on feedstock development for a range of second- and third-generation bioenergy crops.  We will continue to work in corn – where our Agricultural Research Service scientists have made important recent discoveries in genomics.  And we will build a robust research portfolio in perennial grasses (like switchgrass and miscanthus), energy cane, sorghum, and other potential dedicated feedstocks.  To ensure continued genetic improvement of bioenergy crops, NIFA and DOE Office of Science have partnered to fund six projects totaling $6.3 million for fundamental science to accelerate plant breeding programs by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production.

Under Secretary Tonsager and his team have taken a leadership role in helping to ensure that people throughout rural America can contribute to building this new capability to produce and deliver biofuels to the market.  Without their work in commercializing biofuels and developing markets to realize rural wealth, our research on biofeedstock development and cultivation won’t ensure the energy security biofuels can bring.  Promising developments in the laboratory or inventions by a farmer or an aspiring entrepreneur will simply never see the light of day. Innovation and our ability to meet the food, fuel and fiber needs of the country will come from all sorts of places and we need to incubate those technology breakthroughs as well.

We need this now more than ever, so that we can unleash the creativity and skills of people in government, in college laboratories, in the garages of aspiring entrepreneurs, and in the R&D facilities of the private sector.

– Raj Shah, Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics

Secretary to Discuss Agricultural Trade Issues During JCCT Meeting in China

While in China, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will participate in the meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) in Hangzhou on Thursday. He will be joined by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The JCCT serves as an important forum for Cabinet-level officials from both countries to resolve trade concerns and enhance economic opportunities and cooperation in several areas, including agriculture. Vilsack met with his counterparts in Beijing for bilateral discussions before arriving in Hangzhou. Prior to tomorrow’s JCCT, Vilsack will meet with U.S. government officials, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and several Ministers, to discuss what they hope to achieve during the meeting.

The United States and China are the largest agricultural producers and the world looks to our two countries for leadership in the trade arena. Since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, it has become the United States’ fourth largest market for agricultural exports and U.S. agricultural exports have reached more than $13 billion. We can attribute much of this dramatic growth to the market liberalization and adoption of standard rules that accompanied China’s accession to the WTO.

With market opportunities this large and two-way trade at more than $400 billion last year, we are bound to experience issues that require coordination. The JCCT provides a forum for the United States and China to discuss and resolve mutual trade concerns. As agricultural trade between our two countries grows, it is imperative that we have a transparent regulatory framework in place that both ensures food safety and prevents needless trade disputes.

One current issue that will be addressed during the JCCT are China’s H1N1-related restrictions on U.S. pork products, despite repeated guidance from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) that the H1N1 Influenza A virus is not transmitted by food. The USDA has fully engaged its trading partners to remind them that these international organizations have indicated that people cannot get the flu from eating pork or pork products. Other significant issues affecting trade with China-avian influenza and pathogen standards for meat and poultry products- will also be discussed at the JCCT.

Under Secretary Marks 60th Year of USDA Telecommunications at Cooperstown, New York Event

It was great to have Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager on hand for our combined event with Bassett Healthcare on Tuesday. The event highlighted the 60th anniversary of our Telecommunications Program and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Amy, a breast cancer survivor, spoke to the crowd about the importance of breast cancer screenings and early detection, which is crucial to curing the disease. Her remarks about being the mother of two boys, as well as a wife, daughter and sister were truly moving. I’m proud that my agency has made such a positive contribution to women’s health in this very rural part of our state. Read more »