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Secretary’s Column: Getting Covered is Good for Rural America

Infographic: Getting covered is good for rural America.

Infographic: Getting covered is good for rural America. (click to enlarge image)

Cross posted from the Huffington Post:

Living in a rural community shouldn’t have to come with a hefty price tag for healthcare. On this National Rural Health Day, we celebrate the fact that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it no longer has to.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference in the lives of millions of rural Americans. Prior to the ACA, many rural families had a hard time finding affordable insurance coverage, paying an average of nearly half of their costs out of their own pockets. Many didn’t have access to affordable health insurance through an employer because they were self-employed as farmers, ranchers or rural business owners and entrepreneurs. While those folks take calculated business risks every day, their health should not be one of them. Read more »

Pollinators-An Indicator of a Healthy Mother Earth

Often I am asked to participate in events in my role as a Deputy Undersecretary.  Other times I participate based on my heritage, as a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe.  Sometimes, the lines blur, as they did recently when I addressed those attending the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign meeting here at USDA.

Pollinator health is tied closely to the overall health of ecosystems. Pollinators are important to producers of a wide variety of crops, and to forest health.  Native Americans grasp how all things are interconnected. I told the audience that when I was a boy, my relatives would sing songs in Apache.  These songs were about things in nature: evergreens, water, even the rocks.  All things are tied to Mother Earth: all things work together. So it is with pollinators. Read more »

Always Home Grown or Homemade In South Dakota

Ernie and Terry Lehmkuhl of Springerridge Barnyard Products, organizers of the Country Farmer's Market in Pierre, SD, show off their products at a recent market.

Ernie and Terry Lehmkuhl of Springerridge Barnyard Products, organizers of the Country Farmer's Market in Pierre, SD, show off their products at a recent market.

Here in South Dakota, we’re proud of the agricultural products we produce, and local farmer’s markets are a great venue to get these products directly in the hands of consumers. One market I wanted to single out is the Country Farmer’s Market held in our capital of Pierre, South Dakota. Terry Lehmkuhl of Springerridge Barnyard Products and her husband Ernie are the organizers of the market. Terry said “We are just a few hard working people that love bringing country to town. Our Farmer’s Market customers love what we do with our hands. Picking eggs, milking goats, working in our kitchens or just playing in the dirt, we bring our customers the best, freshest products and produce.” Read more »

Why Test Seeds?

AMS’s Seed Regulatory and Testing Division scientist conducts a test to detect the presence of harmful pathogens in grass seed. USDA photo.

AMS’s Seed Regulatory and Testing Division scientist conducts a test to detect the presence of harmful pathogens in grass seed. USDA photo.

Before the late 1800’s, there weren’t any standards or laws overseeing the seed trade.  This allowed individuals to take advantage of the unorganized seed market by selling low quality seed to buyers.  In some instances, what was sold wasn’t even seed at all.

Unfortunately, even the most seasoned seed buyers can’t always tell what they will get when purchasing seed.  Will the seed grow?  If it does grow, what will it grow into?  Will these seeds contain a disease that will hurt my other crops?  Will the packet contain other unwanted weeds that will reduce my yield, hurt my animals, or destroy my land?  The worst part is that the outcome of your purchase won’t be known for months after you buy and “try” to grow them.  In the late 1800’s, these questions asked by millions of people around the world led to the rapid development of laboratories tasked with using science to predict seed quality.  Read more »

Quick Response Codes Tell the Story of the Uwharrie Trail

Audio stop 12 is among the two dozen posts with QR codes that tell the history of the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail. (Photo courtesy The LandTrust for Central North Carolina)

Audio stop 12 is among the two dozen posts with QR codes that tell the history of the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail. (Photo courtesy The LandTrust for Central North Carolina)

Hikers of a popular trail in North Carolina’s Piedmont region can now have a personally guided tour, with no other person present.

Boy Scout Chris Moncrief has created a listening tour for hikers along the Uwharrie National Recreation Trail using Quick Response (QR) codes. QR codes are machine-readable codes consisting of black and white squares that, when scanned, are capable of providing a spectrum of information.  Read more »

Women are the Past, Present and Future of American Agriculture

Cross posted from the White House Rural Council blog:

From historic homesteaders to contemporary cattle ranchers, women have been the cornerstone of America’s agriculture heritage. We’ve produced food to feed our families, feed our neighbors and to feed the world.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture notes that nearly one million women are working America’s lands. That’s nearly a third of our nation’s farmers.  These women are generating $12.9 billion in annual agricultural sales.

Farm work isn’t the only way women are contributing to agriculture.  We are scientists, economists, foresters, veterinarians and conservationists. We are in the boardrooms and the corner offices of international enterprises, and are the owners and operators of small businesses. We are property owners and managers. We are policy makers and standard bearers.  Women are increasingly involved in every aspect of agriculture.

On October 20, I have invited a small group of leaders from almost all corners of the ag sector to join me at the White House and discuss the future of women in agriculture.  Co-hosted by the White House Rural Council, and co-organized by AGree (a collaborative initiative of nine of the world’s leading foundations to tackle long-term food and agriculture issues), this meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the impact women have had in American agriculture and the vision we have for the next generation of agricultural leaders.

Women principal farm operators average 60 years old. This means our daughters and granddaughters hold the future of American agriculture in their hands.  As women leaders, it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of women are educated, trained and prepared to usher agriculture into the future.

When I was a kid growing up on a Georgia peanut farm, I was inspired by my mother’s hard work on and off the farm. She taught me to carry my love of the land into all aspects of my life. As my career has developed, I have continued to be inspired by not only incredibly strong and talented women who are making a difference in agriculture, but also by men who recognize the vital role that women play in this industry. Monday’s dialogue will be just one of many parts of an important conversation on how we can better engage and empower women to continue helping agriculture succeed.

Join the conversation using #womeninag and share with the world the women who inspire you.