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Florida Discovers the Cover and Grows Soil Workgroup

Cheryl Mackowiakl strolls through rye on the Fulford Farm adjacent to Brock’s property.

Cheryl Mackowiakl strolls through rye on the Fulford Farm adjacent to Brock’s property.

It started as an informal gathering of interested extension agents, agronomists, farmers and staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, who came to Gainesville, Fla. to attend an Internet-based conference sponsored as part of this year’s soil health campaign.

But much of the information was based on Midwestern experience.  Everyone knows Florida is different, with sandy soils and a longer growing season.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when the Gainesville group suggested taking the discussions further.  In a flurry of emails, the follow-up meeting evolved into a small tour of cover crop practitioner Kirk Brock’s farm, and then grew to include neighboring Fulford Farms. Read more »

Charles E. Bessey Nursery Showcases its ‘Babies’ – Seedlings That Will Become ‘Forests of the Future’

Richard Gilbert, Bessey Nursery Manager talks with students from Sandhills Public Schools about the seed collection process, growing process and replanting. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

Richard Gilbert, Bessey Nursery Manager talks with students from Sandhills Public Schools about the seed collection process, growing process and replanting. (U.S. Forest Service/Tim Buskirk)

Two million seedlings will grow up one day to become the forests of our future.

The vision for all of those trees is part of the mission of the Charles E. Bessey Nursery, part of the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands, and the oldest federal seedling nursery in the nation.

Working with the Bessey Ranger District and the volunteer group Friends of the Nebraska National Forests, the nursery recently invited the public in for a rare opportunity to see the nursery in full production; growing, packing and shipping hundreds of thousands of seedlings to U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, conservation districts and other government agency locations. The seedlings are used for reforestation following fire and insect infestations, wildlife/habitat plantings, wind breaks, conservation plantings, and general planting. Read more »

USDA Rural Development Assistance Helps Massachusetts Family Afford Home

Pictured above are Heidi Richards and her daughter in their newly constructed Habitat home with Deputy Under Secretary, Patrice Kunesh.

Pictured above are Heidi Richards and her daughter in their newly constructed Habitat home with Deputy Under Secretary, Patrice Kunesh.

Recently, I visited the Habitat for Humanity homes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in celebration of National Homeownership Month, a time to recognize the important role that housing plays in the economy. The construction of these homes was made possible through loans from USDA Rural Development (RD).

The partnership between USDA Rural Development and the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity continues to help provide numerous low-income families with safe, affordable, and well-built homes. USDA Rural Development and the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity first partnered in 2011. In FY 2013, USDA Rural Development financed four out of five of the Habitat homes built on Cape Cod, and they are currently on track to finance eight more Habitat homes being built on Cape Cod in FY 2014. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Record Trade Supports Strong Rural Economies

Agriculture is one of the brightest spots in our economy, and the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Trade and market access support good-paying jobs and drives economic growth. A strong rural economy is critical to the overall economic health of the United States.

The past five years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling $619 billion over five years. Agricultural exports in fiscal year 2013 alone reached $140.9 billion, the highest level on record, and supported nearly one million jobs here at home. Read more »

Tracing a Path Out of a Costly Trade Dispute

The trade dispute was resolved after AMS helped the businesses produce paper work and take the South Korean officials on tours of orange juice processing plants. USDA Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.

The trade dispute was resolved after AMS helped the businesses produce paper work and take the South Korean officials on tours of orange juice processing plants. USDA Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.

When we shop for items like orange juice at the grocery store, we often take for granted what goes on behind the scenes before we can enjoy these quality foods. Our nation’s producers and processors do not take it for granted. These products represent their livelihood, and the ability to reach new customers—especially through the export market—is critical to their businesses’ success. Recently, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) helped four businesses from Florida avert a costly 54% tariff, enabling them to continue to export frozen concentrated orange juice duty free to South Korea.

The US – Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) exempts U.S. orange juice from a 54% tariff when exported to Korea. However, in March 2013 Korean officials questioned the domestic origin of orange juice exported from the Sunshine State to the East Asian country. Without proof that the juice came from the U.S., exporters faced the costly tariff and the volume of exports to South Korea decreased. It was a huge loss for the Florida citrus industry which creates 76,000 jobs and pumps $9 billion into its local economy. Read more »