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USDA Reminds Producers That the Conservation Reserve Program General Sign-up Ends on Friday

USDA’s commitment to conservation was shown recently when Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the first general sign-up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in more than four years.  Secretary Vilsack has told Farm Service Agency Administrator Jonathan Coppess that he expects the agency to keep enrollment near the limit set in legislation to maximize the benefits from the program.  FSA’s mission is to enroll approximately 4.5 million acres in the current general sign up in order to keep the total CRP enrollment close to 32 million acres.  However, the general sign up ends this Friday, Aug. 27, so FSA is making a last-minute appeal to all prospective participants to contact their county offices to complete their sign ups before time runs out. Read more »

USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager Discusses New Rural Economy at Shenandoah Valley Virginia Agriculture Conference

From Left to Right is:  Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture, Congressman Robert "Bob" Goodlatte of the 6th Congressional District, Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager and Dave White, Chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From Left to Right is: Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture, Congressman Robert "Bob" Goodlatte of the 6th Congressional District, Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager and Dave White, Chief of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia’s 6th Congressional District hosted an Agriculture Conference at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton on Tuesday August 24th. The Conference covered many regional and local agricultural issues and concerns to Virginia farmers and those interested in farm policy. Read more »

Partnerships Make Child Care Center Serve Children and Families Fresh, Healthy Foods

Under Secretary Concannon heard about fresh peaches and the variety of colors that watermelon comes in from the children at Plaza de Niños in Kansas City.

Under Secretary Concannon heard about fresh peaches and the variety of colors that watermelon comes in from the children at Plaza de Niños in Kansas City.

Every chance I get I try to see our nutrition programs at work to get a true sense of how we are improving the lives of millions of people we serve. While I was in Missouri yesterday, I stopped in at the Guadalupe Centers’ Plaza de Niños. That’s a child care center on the Kansas City Metro Community College campus. Read more »

USDA Forest Service Researchers Participate in International Conference in Seoul, Korea

Huge banners extolling the pillars of the IUFRO World Congress greet the 1100-plus attendees to this international gathering in Seoul, Korea. (IUFRO photo)

Huge banners extolling the pillars of the IUFRO World Congress greet the 1100-plus attendees to this international gathering in Seoul, Korea. (IUFRO photo)

Almost a four dozen USDA Forest Service researchers and staff members represent the United States among more than 3000 participants at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) World Congress underway this week in Seoul, Korea. The conference theme is “Forests for the Future: Sustaining Society and the Environment”, and conference organizers are expressing the hope that this Congress will present a crucial opportunity to promote understanding of the contributions of forests and forest science to the Earth’s sustainability. Read more »

Reflections on Civil Rights at USDA

Before I was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture, I took time to meet with a handful individuals who held the job before I did.  I asked them for advice, and two recent Secretaries mentioned that it was important that I focus on civil rights.  As I soon learned for myself, USDA has an unfortunate and checkered history with regards to civil rights, with a multi-decade history of discrimination against our customers and our employees.

So since becoming Secretary in January 2009, I have made civil rights a priority at USDA, working to turn the page on the Department’s tragic civil rights record.  I pledged that we would correct past errors, learn from mistakes, and take definitive action to ensure that there is no disparity in program benefits based on race, color, sex, age, sexual orientation or disability.

Over the past 20 months, I have implemented a comprehensive program to move us into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.  And I made it clear to every employee that USDA will have zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, and that each employee and customer must be treated fairly and equitably, with dignity and respect. We have made substantial progress towards these goals, and civil rights will remain a priority at USDA until we have truly moved into the new era I envision.

But for our work on civil rights to be successful and lasting, it must be part of a broader cultural change at USDA.  We began this process last year when I created a task force to build a more open, responsive, collaborative, transparent, and effective USDA.

So there is irony in the fact that my commitment to civil rights was a factor in the run-up and decision to ask for and accept Shirley Sherrod’s resignation as USDA State Director for Rural Development in the State of Georgia.

Following that incident, I directed the USDA Acting General Counsel to conduct a review of what took place.  I wanted to determine what mistakes were made to ensure that the USDA could learn from the incident and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

Today, I met with Mrs. Sherrod to discuss, among other things, the review we completed of this incident and how USDA will be moving forward to address the recommendations it contains.

This review identified a handful of significant lessons.  Among them is that we need to improve protocols for internal communications at the Department, and create a set of safeguards to avoid the sort of hasty action which led to the mishandling of the matter with Mrs. Sherrod.  I have accepted all of these recommendations and asked that they be implemented immediately.  I know that they will help us build a more inclusive and deliberative decision-making environment and prevent similar mistakes from occurring again at USDA.

This experience provides an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  But it also provides an opportunity to build a Department that empowers and respects its employees and customers.  And at the end of the day, I know that we will build a stronger Department and better serve the American people.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack meets with Shirley Sherrod in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, August 24, 2010. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols

Recovery Act Money Clears Loan Backlog, Helps North Dakota Farmers

Tom Grzadzieleski, Jr., received help from FSA staff, including Farm Loan Manager Linda Werven, to double the size of his operation in Drayton, N.D.

Tom Grzadzieleski, Jr., received help from FSA staff, including Farm Loan Manager Linda Werven, to double the size of his operation in Drayton, N.D.

North Dakota farmers and ranchers have received more than $1.7 million in Recovery Act funding through direct operating loans offered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). The funding, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), improved FSA’s ability to make loans to farmers and ranchers that are unable to obtain commercial credit from a bank.  Read more »