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USDA Then and Now

For over a century and a half, USDA has worked alongside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to ensure USDA programs put forward the most innovative thinking to meet the changing needs of a modern agricultural landscape. Mission areas across USDA, from agricultural research to forest management to nutrition programs and more, also look forward to create a stronger rural America, better prepared to meet 21st century challenges.

To illustrate some of the major innovations in our recent history to continuously serve communities across the nation – and in honor of Throwback Thursday – we’ve collected several historic photos and paired them with their modern counterparts. This photo series features USDA programs and services, Then and Now, and shows the impact of creative and innovative investments for a brighter future for rural Americans.

Food Stamps to SNAP: Converting from paper coupons to Electronic Benefit Transfer has allowed USDA to increase access to fresh healthy food, including farmers markets, while reducing fraud, waste and abuse within the SNAP program.

A book of paper food stamps used in 1941

This electronic card reader using a wireless connection allows consumers to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer cards

 

Rural Infrastructure: Rural broadband creates educational, health and economic benefits for rural America, and provides access to new opportunities that may not have been available before.

Rural Electrification Administration workers erect telephone lines in rural areas.

Family Nurse Practitioner and patient using telemedicine equipment to meet virtually with doctors.

 

On the Farm Technology: Modern technology allows agriculture to be more productive than ever before, leading to the strongest 5 years of agriculture exports in our history. Modern tractors and farm equipment often utilize GPS for precision planting or harvesting, and are able to perform tasks like measuring moisture content and weight in real time, and can update yield per acres on the fly during harvest time.

Man planting corn with a team of horses in 1940

A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting.

 

Conservation: Conservation and risk management practices have helped to bring us into a 21st century of land stewardship, promoting soil health and healthy land management that help to ensure that the dust bowl of the 1930′s is history. Making reliable, effective risk management tools available for producers to make sound decisions that benefit the land is just one way USDA helps farmers and ranchers help the land.

Dust blown by the wind from an Iowa field that was not planted to grass to prevent soil erosion in 1890.

View of farmland and mountain range.

These are the first of many Then and Now images we’ll share, but we’d love to hear from you. We know some of agriculture’s most compelling innovation stories are the ones seldom told. Use #AgInnovates to add your voice to our shared story and tell us how your family or community has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Secretary Vilsack: Why I’m Proud of Our USDA Employees

USDA employees across the country and around the world do critical work that impacts millions of lives. I am proud of our employees for many reasons, and I want to share just a few of their great accomplishments under the Obama Administration.

  1. Since 2009 the Rural Housing Service has financed 743,309 home loans.
  2. Since 2009 the Rural Housing Service supported improvements to 276 hospital and medical clinics, 166 schools and 401 libraries in rural America.
  3. Since 2009 the Rural Utilities Service completed 176 broadband projects providing new or improved service to 104,471 subscribers, including 5,858 businesses and 647 critical community facilities.
  4. Since 2009 the Rural Utilities Service financed 3,785 water projects providing clean water to thousands of rural residents.
  5. Since 2009 the Rural Business Service awarded 15,727 grants and loans to aid 65,636 businesses expand opportunity and create jobs.
  6. Since 2009 the Rural Business Service authorized 7,586 awards under the Rural Energy for America Program, saving or generating 8,549,590 megawatt hours of energy.
  7. Since 2009 the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service expanded summer feeding programs to an additional 9,546 sites, bringing the total number of sites to 42,266.
  8. Since 2009 the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service instituted Electronic Benefit Transfer systems in an additional 3,087 Farmers Markets to allow SNAP beneficiaries greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables while supporting more local and regional food systems.
  9. Since 2009 the Farm Service Agency processed 159,475 loans to farmers and ranchers, with a majority of the loans going to beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged producers.
  10. Since 2009 the Natural Resources Conservation Service entered into 190,822 contracts under Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), providing conservation benefits for more than 108 million acres.
  11. Since 2009 the Farm Service Agency enrolled 286,635 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, bringing into this conservation effort or retaining 14,131,055 acres.
  12. Since 2009 the Forest Service partnered with state and local interests in 23 projects under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program to improve over 500,000 acres of forests, producing 1.2 million tons of biomass for renewable energy production.
  13. Since 2009 the Forest Service and the brave men and women of the Service have helped fight more than 285,000 forest fires, risking their lives to protect lives and property.
  14. Since 2009 the National Institute of Food and Agriculture supported research projects resulting in 392 patent applications.
  15. Since 2009 the Agricultural Research Service in the area of Genetics, Genomes and Biotechnology alone generated over 3,500 publications, 830 Material Transfer Agreements, and 70 patent applications filed.
  16. Since 2009, the Foreign Agricultural Service helped challenge 751 sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to the export of American agricultural products, helping to spur record exports of American agricultural products.
  17. Since 2009 the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service reduced processing time for non-regulated status petitions involving biotechnology by 332 days.
  18. Since 2009 the Agricultural Marketing Service assisted in purchasing $6.8 billion of product, helping to stabilize producer income.
  19. Since 2009 the Food Safety and Inspection Service adopted new Performance Standards for poultry and turkey inspections that will prevent 25,000 illnesses a year due to Salmonella and Campylobacter.
  20. The Food Safety and Inspection Service partnered with the Ad Council to launch the “Food Safe Families” ad campaign.  Since then, USDA consumer food safety messages have reached an estimated 291 million people, helping families and caregivers of young children prepare safe food.
  21. The National Agricultural Statistics Service worked on the 2012 Agricultural Census and obtained a response rate of over 80 percent to the survey sent to more than 3 million producers.
  22. Since 2009 the Economic Research Service has published, on a yearly basis, a fact sheet on the condition of the rural economy that highlights persistent poverty and employment challenges that rural America faces, reminding policymakers of the importance of addressing those challenges.
  23. Since 2009, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration has identified more than 460 instances of underfunded market accounts of funds held in trust for livestock sellers, and 110 instances of market weighing violations, returning to producers over $14,000,000.
  24. Since 2009, USDA’s Departmental Management has spearheaded the Blueprint for Stronger Service that has saved USDA more than $920 million – an effort which to date has allowed USDA to avoid furloughs and layoffs as a result of the sequester.

These are just 24 of the hundreds of examples of extraordinary work going on around the country by USDA employees. Our nation is truly fortunate that so many dedicated people serving the American public are back to work, so that these accomplishments can continue to grow.

 

US Drought and Your Food Costs

This info graphic demonstrate how the current drought, or any event that affects prices for raw farm commodities, ultimately has a marginal effect on what we pay at the grocery or restaurant. The info graphic is based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service's analysis of retail food prices and the food dollar, or all the factors that affect what we pay for food.

This info graphic demonstrate how the current drought, or any event that affects prices for raw farm commodities, ultimately has a marginal effect on what we pay at the grocery or restaurant. The info graphic is based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service's analysis of retail food prices and the food dollar, or all the factors that affect what we pay for food. (Click to enlarge)

In relation to the current drought, many people ask: What does this mean for food prices? Here we try to provide a response and the necessary context on food price inflation. The info graphic is based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service’s analysis of retail food prices and the food dollar, or all the factors that affect what we pay for food. The graphic helps to demonstrate how the current drought, or any event that affects prices for raw farm commodities, ultimately has a marginal effect on what we pay at the grocery or restaurant. Primarily, the graphic demonstrates two important pieces of information:

1. In the bar chart, food price inflation is expected to be close to the historical average this year and just slightly above that next year. As you can see, recent spikes from 2008 and 2011, especially, outpace current forecasts.

2. In the grocery cart model, you see that raw farm commodity prices (the price of things like a bushel of corn or soybeans) are just one of many factors affecting retail food prices. In fact, commodities make up about 14% of the average retail food purchase, so even if all commodity prices doubled, retail food prices would increase by about 14%. Together, factors such as energy and transportation costs, labor costs, processing and marketing costs all play a much more significant role.

On July 25th, ERS forecast that we will likely see impacts on retail food prices within two months for beef, pork, poultry and dairy. Yet the full effects of the increase in corn prices for packaged and processed foods (cereal, corn flour, etc.) will likely take 10-12 months to move through to retail food prices, and should have little to no effect until that time.

For additional information, see USDA ERS resources: A Revised and Expanded Food Dollar Series A Better Understanding of Our Food Costs (PDF) and Food Price Outlook web page.

Secretary Vilsack on Steve Jobs, Innovators and Entrepreneurs: At our Best When Fearless

“I think Steve Jobs and all the innovators and entrepreneurs of this country have been fearless and that’s when we operate at our best. I happen to be working in a field right now with the American farmer and rancher, who is fearless. They put a crop in the ground every day and we’re having a record year in agriculture. It’s part of a story that’s not told very often in the economy.  Trade surpluses,  job growth, record income levels. Because American agriculture takes a risk every day.”

– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asked about the death of Steve Jobs, on this morning’s “Morning Joe” on MSNBC

Secretary’s Column: Lessons from the Farm to Strengthen America

A week ago, President Obama released the American Jobs Act, a specific plan to jumpstart our economy and put Americans to work today.  It contains ideas that both parties in Washington have supported.  And yesterday, he laid out a plan that will pay for it – and for other long-term investments we need to stay competitive – while reducing our deficits.

The plan takes a balanced approach.  It looks for savings across government.  And it asks everyone to do their part and pay their fair share so we can live within our means.

For agriculture, the plan focuses on what the President and I believe is one of the most pressing challenges facing producers right now: maintaining a strong safety net and disaster assistance programs that will work for all farmers and ranchers, no matter what they produce or where they produce it. Read more »

USDA Announces Streamlining of Program to Improve Water Quality in Alaska Rural Villages

Yesterday, USDA Rural Development in the State of Alaska hosted the official signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rural Alaska Village grant (RAVG) program partners.  The MOU partners, which include the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (SOA DEC), Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), and the Indian Health Service (IHS), are essential in the continued effort to bring safe water and waste systems to rural Alaskan communities. Read more »