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Thousands of Members of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico Will Soon Get Running Water

By Ernie Watson – Public Information Coordinator, USDA Rural Development

Although Earth Day won’t be celebrated until April 22nd, the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline at Counselor, New Mexico on Monday epitomized the very essence of what former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson envisioned 40 years ago when he established the first celebration of Earth Day.

The new water line will serve 10,000 members of the Navajo Nation with another 10,000 to be served within the next decade.  Currently, 4,500 residents that will be served by the waterline drive up to 100 miles round trip to haul water for their home use and to provide water for their livestock.

The Navajo Chapters of Huerfano, Nageezi, Burnam, Counselor, Ojo Encino, Torreon, Pueblo Pintado and Whitehorse Lake are in the midst of a major water crisis. The residents of these communities do not have a sustainable long-term water supply and the aquifer in this harshly arid region is pumped much more quickly than it can be recharged by rainfall.

USDA Rural Development, the State of New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, the Indian Health Services and these eight Navajo Chapters to be served by the waterline, partnered to fund the $28.6 million to construct the water supply system. Rural Development provided $8.7 million in Tribal Set-Aside Water and Environmental Program funds for the project.  When completed in two years, the water line will stretch 70 miles across four counties to provide clean, healthy water to those living in this remote area of New Mexico.

During the dedication ceremony, Earl Herrera the Hataalii (medicine man) asked the officials from each of the agencies, including RD State Director Terry Brunner, to participate in the traditional blessing of the water system.  Each sprinkled corn pollen on themselves and the earth to give thanks for the construction of the water system.

A weaver from the Pueblo Pintado Navajo Chapter created a USDA rug commemorating the ceremonies that said “Ahehee” or “Thank you” in Navajo.

A Navajo rug was presented to State Director Terry Brunner during the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline ceremonies. The rug was crafted by a local artesian. The word “Ahehee” means ““Thank you” in Navajo.
A Navajo rug was presented to State Director Terry Brunner during the dedication and blessing of the Eastern Navajo Waterline ceremonies. The rug was crafted by a local artesian. The word “Ahehee” means ““Thank you” in Navajo.

New Mexico Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner (center) participates in a traditional Navajo blessing by sprinkling corn pollen on the ground during the dedication ceremonies for the Eastern Navajo Waterline in northwest New Mexico.
New Mexico Rural Development State Director Terry Brunner (center) participates in a traditional Navajo blessing by sprinkling corn pollen on the ground during the dedication ceremonies for the Eastern Navajo Waterline in northwest New Mexico

Solution to Dairy Industry Woes in Hands of Newly-Formed Advisory Committee

A group of 17 men and women that represent the dairy industry met at USDA headquarters on Tuesday for the first time to find a solution to the volatile pricing of milk and milk products that has decreased industry profits and caused many operations to close.

“We need a relatively quick response from this group,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in his opening remarks to the newly-formed Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. “I hope at the end of all of this you can come up with a common solution that you can recommend to us and that we can present to the rest of the industry.”

The committee, which was established by USDA in August 2009, was designed to advise the secretary on policy issues impacting the dairy industry. The three-day public meeting will allow members to review farm milk price volatility and dairy farmer profitability, and make recommendations on how USDA can best address the long- and short-term needs of the dairy industry.

“The bandwidth between the good times and bad times used to be relatively stable,” said Vilsack.  “Over the past couple of years it has become very dramatic. The dips are significant, increases are not as high and there is not enough time for an operator to recover.”

Dairy farmers like Mary Cameron have been hit hard and continues to struggle to keep her operation running.

“My gross income has dropped to $160,000 a month and I’m about $600,000 in debt,” said Cameron, who owns nearly 1,000 cows on her farm in California. “It’s difficult to operate a farm when you have lost 42 percent of your income.”

The price of milk is based on commodity markets, which fluctuates with global demand. During the first quarter of 2009, milk prices dropped from $16.80 per cwt to $12.23 per cwt due to oversupply. Consumers weren’t buying as frequently and restaurants and other businesses cut down on how much milk and milk-based products they bought, creating a surplus of milk, which drove prices down.

According to the USDA, during that time, producers were paid half of what it cost them to produce the milk.

In response to those fluctuating prices, the government took action. “We went through a series of steps last year in an effort to try and help the industry,” said Vilsack. “It ranged from counter cyclical payments to commodity purchases, to an increase in additional resources provided by Congress. The hope was that as a result of that assistance the industry would produce inventory and eventually right itself.”

The assistance created a slight rebound late last year, but it did not last as current numbers show a steady decline in prices.

“The government can’t keep going with the Band-Aid approach,” said Vilsack. “We have to solve this and I am confident that [this group] will come up with a solution that we can implement through the legislative or regulatory process.”

 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of the committee’s work, adding that saving the dairy industry is part of the survival and revival of rural America.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed the importance of the committee’s work, adding that saving the dairy industry is part of the survival and revival of rural America.

Dairy Industry Advisory Committee members took time to introduce themselves and offer opening statements.
Dairy Industry Advisory Committee members took time to introduce themselves and offer opening statements.

The 17 members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee were selected=The 17 members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee were selected from more than 300 nominations representing producer and producer organizations, processors and processor organizations, handlers, retailers, consumers, academia and state agencies.

USDA’s Nutrition Tour Makes Pit Stop in South Carolina

Cross-posted from the www.letsmove.gov blogBy Julie Paradis, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator

This week I got a chance to travel to South Carolina and to talk to child nutrition staff from South Carolina as well as surrounding States like Tennessee, Mississippi and North Carolina about how we plan to improve school meals and the overall health of our nation’s children. It was a great group and a productive discussion.

This Administration’s goal is to improve child nutrition by ending child hunger and childhood obesity. As Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, I can tell you that we’re committed to meeting this goal. FNS has 15 nutrition assistance programs—many of which serve children directly. Our National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs serve 32 million and 11 million children respectively. For many of the children we serve, School Lunch and Breakfast are the only nutritious meals they eat in a day.

Currently, our child nutrition programs are up for reauthorization. I see this as a crucial opportunity to make inroads toward ending child hunger and obesity. A strong reauthorization would help give parents, school districts, State Agencies, and all of our other partners the support and resources they need to make a difference. I was inspired by the level of commitment shown by those who attended the April 12 discussion in Charleston.  I heard a lot of great suggestions on how to make our programs more effective.  My hope is that through child nutrition reauthorization we can help creative ideas come to fruition.

Todd Bedenbaugh with the South Carolina Department of Education said, “It’s imperative that Secretary Vilsack is given the authority to regulate all foods sold during the school day to include vending machines and school stores. It will allow us to improve nutrition Integrity in the schools.”

I agree. One thing that we are acutely aware of is the fact that we must address hunger and obesity from many angles.  Nutrition assistance programs won’t solve these problems alone. That’s why I’m so excited about the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Let’s Move! is the type of integrated approach that is absolutely necessary.

We have to combine our efforts to serve better meals through nutrition assistance programs with efforts to improve access to healthy and affordable food, increase children’s physical activity, and help parents make healthy choices for their families.

Alice Lenihan with the NC Department of Health and Human Services applauds the First Lady for her efforts.  She said, “It’s the best thing that has come along in a long time. I urge the Administration and Congress to implement the CNR Bill. We need to shift our forces onto nutrition and physical activity. It’s an exciting time to be involved in child nutrition.” Alice Lenihan N C.

Child Nutrition reauthorization can ensure Let’s Move! gets the support it deserves.

My colleagues and I have several stops planned across the country.  Our goal is to escalate the national conversation on child nutrition. The feedback we get will help us take steps that build healthier families and communities across America.

 Roundtable group shot. FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.
Roundtable group shot. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs Audrey Rowe, and Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette meet with key state personnel and advocates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia, to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12.

FNCS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12. FNS Administrator Julie Paradis discusses the Child Nutrition Reauthorization with Southeast Regional Administrator Donald Arnette and state personnel in Charleston, S.C., Apr 12

Sugarcane as a Biofuel – How Sweet It Is.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Hawaii, most people would agree, is pretty close to being paradise – and the same things that make Hawaii a great place for a vacation also make it a great place to grow things. The natural capacity of land to produce crops depends on the amount and distribution of sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.  Hawaii has a greater natural production capacity than anywhere else in the U.S.   At one time, sugarcane was planted on over 100,000 acres of Hawaii farmland, and there were nine major sugar producers in the state.  Now there is only one producer, and the sugarcane acreage has shrunk to 37,000.

One way to revive the sugar industry in Hawaii is to diversify its products so that Hawaiians earn more per acre, and have their own sustainable supply of energy.  The USDA has partnered with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (the “last man standing” in Hawaii’s sugarcane industry) to develop new ways to grow and use sugarcane as a source of biomass (the organic material used to create biofuels).

In Hawaii, sugarcane has the greatest near-term potential as a biomass feedstock for producing biofuels—it’s perennial and non-invasive, it’s already been grown in Hawaii for over a hundred years, and there is room to improve the existing yields by using newer varieties and harvesting other parts of the plant.  Sugarcane yields more energy per acre than other existing crops– it produces both cellulosic biomass (that can be converted into sugars) as well as the sugar itself. 

In January, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Navy got together and signed an agreement to work together on developing new biofuels and renewable energy sources.  Why is the Navy interested?  The Navy has also been looking into ways to “green” its large fleet of ships stationed in Hawaii, and it costs $10.6 million per year (at a price per gallon of $2.81) to keep one fueled and ready to move.  Right now all of that fuel has to be imported, too.

It has a 270-megawatt geothermal power plant in California, a wind farm at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and solar photovoltaic panels at its facilities in San Diego.   Using biofuels in its fleet is a logical next step.   The USDA, the Department of the Navy, the University of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar are now working together on this project.

Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.
Harvesting sugarcane in south Florida, where scientists in the ARS Sugarcane Production Research Unit are identifying research to help sustain both agriculture and natural Everglades ecosystems.

An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.
An experimental ARS sugarcane field near Canal Point, Florida.

Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.
Bar-coded tags identify experimental varieties of sugarcane.

- Ellen Buckley, Program Analyst, Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Secretary Vilsack Finds the Beef in Illinois

“Where’s the beef?”  And the pork, and chicken?  At RMH Foods in Morton, Illinois…thanks to a USDA Rural Development guaranteed loan! Read more »

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Meets with Community Leaders to Discuss Lahaina Watershed Project

During her visit to Lahaina, Hawaii Merrigan met with local officials and community members.  The discussions centered on the history of the Lahaina Watershed Project (LWP) and the multiple benefits that programs such as the LWP provide. Community members thanked the Deputy Secretary for the USDA natural resources conservation programs provided to rural communities, expressed their appreciation for these projects, and discussed the overall benefits for citizens of Hawaii and the nation.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is pictured here with Kiewit Project manager Jeff Fahey and other community leaders on a visit to the Lahaina Watershed project site.
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan is pictured here with Kiewit Project manager Jeff Fahey and other community leaders on a visit to the Lahaina Watershed project site.