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Secretary’s Column: Accomplishing More by Democratizing Data

Here in the United States, we enjoy incredible benefits from scientific research – including an amazing amount of useful data.

Data is a very powerful tool, and an important asset for innovation. President Obama made clear on his first day in office that the U.S. is committed to openness in government, and that includes expanded access to scientific data.

We have a history of achieving great things by providing open access to data. For example, the release of weather data has fueled production of new tools that return more than $4 billion every year to the U.S. economy. The release of Global Positioning System technology has led to an industry that returns an estimated $90 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Read more »

Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, Streamlined and Accessible

Water flows off a farm in Tennessee following a storm. NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe.

Water flows off a farm in Tennessee following a storm. NRCS Photo/Tim McCabe.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has developed a new web-based tool to help producers easily calculate the quality of water flowing off their fields.

It’s called the Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, or WQIag for short, and this is how it works: Producers input variables about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices, and, finally, conservation practices. Read more »

USDA Rural Development Helps Rural Wisconsin Community Provide Senior Housing, Child Care and Clean Water

Earth Day was earlier this week and one village in Wisconsin has helped secure the future for themselves and their children through environmental upgrades.  Nestled in a valley in western Wisconsin, the Village of Spring Valley has faced its share of challenges throughout its history. Prior to completion of an earthen dam in 1968, flooding was a chronic problem.

Two projects largely funded by USDA Rural Development have improved the quality of life and the environment in Spring Valley.  The first, completed in June 2011, is the new wastewater treatment plant.  Because the Rotating Biological Contactor system’s capacity had been significantly reduced in years prior, the need to upgrade the plant was inevitable.  The Village received $3.5 million in funding through USDA Rural Development’s Water and Environmental program.

“The wastewater treatment plant is more compliant with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  We release back into the Eau Galle River after treatment, so it’s imperative that we meet the standards,” said Marsha Brunkhorst, Spring Valley Village President. Read more »

Federal Grain Inspection Service Adds An Additional Layer of Wheat Quality Assurance

A perfect pie crust is often the measure of a top quality baker.  The “blue ribbon” pie crust is light and flaky.  Even the best baker’s skills, however, depend on the quality of the ingredients.  The quality of flour is based on the quality of the wheat – and measuring the quality of the wheat is a key responsibility of the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).

FGIS and the Official Service Providers it supervises conduct Falling Number tests as a measure of wheat quality.  Scientists and technicians at FGIS’s National Grain Center will soon begin a quality assurance program to monitor these tests and verify the original results to ensure that any procedural issues that could possibly impact the results of these important tests are quickly

addressed.  FGIS will monitor a percentage of all tests performed throughout the Official testing system.  Last year, over 25,000 Falling Number tests were performed on wheat targeted for sale domestically and abroad. Read more »

Students Aid Invasive Species Control While Learning

High School welding students gained hands-on fabrication experience while contributing to the collaborative state-wide effort to manage an invasive species.

High School welding students gained hands-on fabrication experience while contributing to the collaborative state-wide effort to manage an invasive species.

USDA Wildlife Services (WS) employees in New Mexico have been fabricating the traps and tools for their jobs for many years.  As feral swine management work began in the state, naturally we began to build our own traps and gates to contain this invasive and damaging mammal. Read more »

Saipan Students Set Conservation Example

Northern Marianas College in Saipan has an extraordinary group of student volunteers eager to answer conservation’s call.

These students, members of a college club called Environmental & Natural Resource Organization, are known throughout the community for their environmental work. Whether cleaning beaches and city streets or tending public gardens, they are role models and valuable volunteers in the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Earth Team program. Earth Team is the volunteer workforce of NRCS.

A faculty member in the NMC Math, Science, & Health Department founded ENRO in 2009. Since then, students have led, planned and organized conservation activities. These students log countless volunteer hours cleaning up and improving the environment of Saipan. In addition to picking up trash and weeding, they spend their free time learning about more complex methods of conservation. Read more »