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Rural Electric Cooperatives: Leaders in Renewable Energy

America’s rural electric cooperatives provide electricity to more than 42 million people living and working in rural communities across the country. Co-ops, with support from USDA, have embraced renewable energy production. Today, they deepened that commitment by announcing new solar projects that will generate more than 150 megawatts of new solar capacity by 2020.

At an event in California, President Obama was joined by two West Coast industry leaders—Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative (PSREC) based in Portola, California, and Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC), based in the state of Washington—to highlight industry efforts to expand renewable energy production.

USDA has been an advocate and partner in co-ops’ efforts to diversify their portfolios and expand their renewable fuel sources. Since 2009, USDA has funded over $1 billion in renewable energy projects that will generate  more than 447 MW – enough energy to power 160,603 American homes annually. Read more »

Renewable Energy: Bringing New Opportunities to Indian Country

A tractor tills the soil among wind turbines in Oklahoma on August 13, 2009. USDA photo by Alice Welch.

A tractor tills the soil among wind turbines in Oklahoma on August 13, 2009. USDA photo by Alice Welch.

In rural communities across the country, USDA Rural Development is bringing new energy efficiency and cost saving opportunities to Indian Country.

Choggiung Limited, a Native American Corporation in southwest Alaska, received a $20,000 energy assistance grant from USDA Rural Development to install a wind turbine at the courthouse in Dillingham – a Native-owned building and leased to the state – that has reduced its energy costs by 80 percent and is saving Choggiung about $20,000 a year.  Choggiung is a for-profit Native corporation serving Tribal residents in Dillingham, Ekuk, and Portage Creek, Alaska. “This wind turbine marks a new approach to sustainable business management and renewable energy in Dillingham,” Choggiung CEO Doug Calaway said.

In the southwest, USDA awarded the Arizona-based Navajo Tribal Utility Authority a $100,000 grant to conduct energy audits that helped farmers, ranchers, and small business owners across the Navajo Nation make their operations more energy efficient and economical. Read more »

USDA’s Innovative Technology Streamlines Federal Food Purchasing Logistics

WBSCM enabled the ordering, procurement, and delivery of 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. USDA photo courtesy of Lance Cheung.

WBSCM enabled the ordering, procurement, and delivery of 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. USDA photo courtesy of Lance Cheung.

Logistics is not just a fancy buzz word; it is the oil that keeps the engine of an interconnected global market running smoothly. For U.S. food purchasing agencies, logistics means ordering, procuring, and delivering nearly 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. It means using the Web-Based Supply Chain Management System (WBSCM) – a tool developed by USDA that helped hundreds of companies deliver quality foods to recipients in the National School Lunch Program, other federal food assistance programs and even victims of disasters.

Before it could facilitate the ordering and delivery of all these foods, WBSCM had to integrate the business processes and needs of recipient agencies, external vendors/contractors and employees from five agencies with unique missions. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) are all USDA agencies, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an entirely different department. Creating a system that successfully tracks data covering the entire process – from gathering orders and soliciting bids to making sure that vendors are paid – was not an easy task. It requires a reliable, flexible system and an efficient staff to make it all come together. Read more »

Prairie Partnership Provides Habitat for Rare Orchid

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

My family and I enjoy natural scavenger hunts. When we explore the landscape surrounding our Norman County farm, we teach each other about the birds, animals and plants we see. It’s fun to search for native wildflowers. It’s even more fun to spot something rare.

Recently, through a school project for my son, we learned about Minnesota’s many wild orchids. Our state is home to 43 different orchids. Who knew?

We learned Minnesota is the only state with an orchid as its state flower. We also learned we live in close proximity to suitable habitat for a very special wildflower – the western prairie fringed orchid. We’re planning to search for this unique flower this summer. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »

Strategic Planning, Thoughtful Leadership Bring Leveraged Investments, Community Vitality to Small-Town West Virginia

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

I’d been told the neighboring towns of Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia, are vibrant communities where people want to live, work and raise a family. During a recent visit with local leaders and USDA’s community economic development partners in the area, I saw first-hand how regional approaches and partnerships are attracting public and private investment to the region that make this quality of life possible.

Along with WV Rural Development State Director Bobby Lewis, I recently convened a discussion with the mayors and city planners of the two towns to learn more about their successes and strategies. I learned that Charles Town and Ranson are thinking big, re-imagining their future, and developing a blueprint for their long-term economic viability. You see, by working together to develop comprehensive objectives and plans, the communities have been able to leverage grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new businesses, transportation links, and affordable housing. And in 2011, USDA contributed an important piece, providing funding through a Community Facilities Direct Loan for a much needed ambulance shelter. Read more »