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Streamlined Process Helps Farmers Put Conservation on the Ground in Record Time

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is always looking for ways to do things better — whether it is how to conserve more soil on a farming operation or how to streamline internal business processes.

Recently, NRCS made vast improvements to its grants and agreements process making it easier, more timely and efficient for partners to work with us on locally-led conservation projects. Read more »

USDA Goes All in for Produce Safety Outreach

Small grower Warren Ford in a field

The Harmonized GAPs Food Safety audit provided by AMS has helped small grower Warren Ford expand his business from selling a couple hundred bushels of peas a summer to selling more than 3,000 cases a summer to Walmart. Photo courtesy Warren and Rosha Ford.

For the produce industry, the summer and fall of 2015 is more than a chance to share a new season of crops with customers. It’s when several of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws will become final. FSMA will make significant changes to the country’s food safety laws, including the first-ever regulation of fresh produce and a more proactive approach to preventing foodborne illnesses. My colleagues at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) have been working hard with our partners to expand our outreach efforts about food safety to help the produce industry prepare for compliance.

One of the ways that we help the industry prepare for compliance is through a successful partnership with Cornell University and the FDA via the Produce Safety Alliance (PSA).  We recently renewed this partnership through a Cooperative Agreement that enables the three entities to devote funds for training and outreach events. Since 2010, AMS has enjoyed working with our colleagues to engage with produce growers, industry members, regulators, and extension educators through working committees, public meetings, focus groups, and webinars. Read more »

Key Sage Grouse Habitat Protected in Colorado through a Conservation Easement Partnership

Chris West (who directed CCALT up until May 2015), left, celebrating conservation progress at the Yust ranch with Jay and Jim Yust, and CCALT's Carolyn Aspelin

Chris West (who directed CCALT up until May 2015), left, celebrates conservation progress at the Yust ranch with Jay and Jim Yust, and CCALT's Carolyn Aspelin, who worked closely with the family to close this important conservation easement. Photo courtesy of Deborah Richie with SGI.

The recent conservation easement on the Yust Ranch in northwestern Colorado represents not only the preservation of a five-generation ranching entity, it also illustrates the vitality of partnerships that expand federal programs and initiatives aimed at protecting wildlife habitat, particularly for species of concern. Read more »

USDA Creates On-site Application Acceptance Program to Recruit Highly Talented and Diverse Candidates

Marcus Peebles, a Procurement Technician with the Agricultural Marketing Service

Marcus Peebles, a Procurement Technician with the Agricultural Marketing Service, joined the agency through its Pathways program. AMS photo.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is driven to recruit and hire new and diverse talent into our workforce. Recently, our agency participated in USDA’s innovative on-site application acceptance events targeting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), 1994 Tribal Land-Grant Colleges and Universities and veterans as part of USDA’s overall recruitment strategy in which all were welcome to apply. USDA’s on-site application acceptance events use the federal Pathways Programs, which offer students and recent graduates a path to federal careers.

We kicked off these events early this year during the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Ga., the world’s largest annual poultry, meat and feed industry tradeshow. IPPE drew hundreds of students for its career fair from about 30 colleges and universities from around the country, including numerous HBCUs and HSIs. Many students came to AMS’ on-site application acceptance event at the nearby Sam Nunn Federal Building, where we received dozens of applications from a highly diverse and talented group of students. Among the applicants that AMS hired at that event was Marcus Peebles, who is now a Procurement Technician with our Commodity Procurement Program. We also learned from this experience and made several process improvements for our next on-site application acceptance event, which occurred at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) student conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more »

Managing for Wildfires Every Single Day of the Year

Research Forester Mike Battaglia leading a field tour at the Manitou Experimental Forest

Research Forester Mike Battaglia leads a field tour at the Manitou Experimental Forest, in Colorado, describing research aimed at understanding how different tree densities influence growth rates and subsequent re-entry, in order to maintain longevity of restoration treatments. Photo credit: US Forest Service

On June 9, 2012, a lightning strike sparked a wildfire in the mountains west of Fort Collins, Colorado, burning into the Roosevelt National Forest. The High Park fire burned over 87,000 acres and remains the third largest fire in recorded Colorado history, with more than 250 homes destroyed.

Matt Champa, assistant prescribed fire specialist with the Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, remembers clearly the two and a half weeks the High Park Fire burned. Matt was among the individuals actively working on the ground to suppress and contain the fire; at its height, more than 2,000 people were involved in the suppression effort. Read more »

Surf’s High for a Desert Plant

Guayule, a desert shrub

Guayule is a desert shrub. USDA-ARS photo.

When you hear “surf’s up,” the last thing you might think of is a desert shrub called “guayule” (pronounced “why-oo-lee”). But technology that began with a partnership between USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a small Arizona-based company, Yulex Corporation, recently put wetsuits made with this daisy relative on the market that are more elastic and more comfortable than those made with conventional, petroleum-based neoprene.

The wetsuits were created with Yulex’s guayule natural rubber by Patagonia, a high-end outdoor clothing company, which currently produces and sells the wetsuits.  They are also available from other retailers. The wetsuit—with its 60/40 guayule and petroleum-based neoprene blend—is proving to be popular. Surfer Magazine said: “It’s the cashmere of wetsuit material.” Read more »