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Secretary’s Column: USDA Science You Can See

While most people have a mental image of research that involves scientists in lab coats, bubbling test tubes and beakers, and technical language that can seem complex, much of the groundbreaking research conducted by USDA scientists actually ends up on your plate, in your home, or on your back. Their discoveries in the lab truly translate into science you can see.

For example, many of us make a conscious effort to eat healthier and cut calories, but it can be tough when faced with a favorite snack, like French fries. USDA scientists have figured out a way to make French fries healthier. Before frying, scientists exposed potato strips to a few minutes of infrared heat. This forms a crispy outer shell on the outside of the fries, which helps to reduce their oil uptake and ultimately reduces calories per serving. If adopted commercially, this method is great news for both food processors and our waistlines. Read more »

We Can’t Barbecue Our Way Out: Why Feral Swine Management Requires a National Approach

Invasive feral swine have spread rapidly across the United States as a result of natural range expansion, illegal trapping and movement by people, and escapes from domestic swine operations and hunting preserves.

Invasive feral swine have spread rapidly across the United States as a result of natural range expansion, illegal trapping and movement by people, and escapes from domestic swine operations and hunting preserves.

Wild boar, razorback, feral hog, wild pig — these are just some of the names we attribute to one of the most destructive and formidable invasive species in the United States. Feral swine adapt to just about any habitat, have few natural enemies, and reproduce at high rates. As such, their population is growing rapidly nationwide. At 5 million animals and counting, feral swine are now found in at least 39 States and cause approximately $1.5 billion in damages and control costs each year. Their damage is diverse and includes destroying native habitats and crops, eating endangered species, and spreading disease. Natural resource managers, researchers and academics nationwide are grappling with how best to address the challenges of feral swine management.

Feral swine are hunted by the public in some States for recreational purposes; but hunting will not solve our country’s feral swine problems. Read more »

A Small Loan Builds Big Tradition on a Family Farm

William and Thomas Anderson in their current soybean field.

William and Thomas Anderson in their current soybean field.

This post is part of a Microloan Success feature series on the USDA blog.  Check back every Tuesday and Thursday as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

It is often stated that it is hard to start a farm and become a farmer.  You do not have to tell that to Anderson Brothers Grain, LLC.

William and Thomas Anderson of Anderson, S.C., are not only brothers but young, beginning farmers.  At the ripe old age of 18 and 20, the brothers farm 180 acres of small grains–something they have been doing since 2008 when they were teenagers farming 40 acres with assistance from their father Phil Anderson and grandfather William Martin.

Being that young with little collateral and no credit history proved a challenge for the brothers.  They didn’t want to rely on their parents or grandparents to secure financing. Read more »

National Forests Contribute to Alaska’s 2013 Record Salmon Harvest

Sockeye salmon swim upstream in Yakutat, Alaska. (U.S. Forest Service/Nate Catterson)

Sockeye salmon swim upstream in Yakutat, Alaska. (U.S. Forest Service/Nate Catterson)

Alaska’s Chugach and Tongass national forests are sometimes referred to as salmon forests, producing all five species of wild Pacific salmon: king, coho, sockeye, pink, and chum.

Salmon is vital to Alaska’s economy, and last year’s statewide commercial salmon harvest is being noted as a banner year. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the salmon harvested in 2013 set a new record at 272 million fish.

About 45 percent, or 122 million, of these commercially harvested salmon relied on habitat managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Much of the harvest consisted of pink salmon, the most abundant of salmon found in Alaska. Don Martin, the aquatic and fish program leader for the Alaska Region, said that 95 percent of the habitat where pink salmon spawn in Southeast Alaska is on the Tongass National Forest. The work of Forest Service fish biologists contribute to the health and viability of these salmon. Read more »

Help USDA Stop Invaders that Could Devastate U.S. Crops and Forests

The coconut rhinoceros beetle, a new invasive species to Hawaii, can grow up to 2 inches long. Photo Credit: Chris Kishimoto, Hawaii Department of Agriculture

The coconut rhinoceros beetle, a new invasive species to Hawaii, can grow up to 2 inches long. Photo Credit: Chris Kishimoto, Hawaii Department of Agriculture

Big, creepy, and horned, the coconut rhinoceros beetle (CRB) loves to feed on—and kill—coconut and other palms, banana plants, and more.  This invasive species, detected in Hawaii in December 2013, makes the perfect poster child for USDA’s Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month—a child only its mother could love.

How did it get here? And how can we prevent the spread of damaging, invasive species like this unwanted, oversized beetle?  These are great questions to consider as USDA kicks off Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.  Throughout April, we’re raising public awareness about the threat of invasive species and informing people how to prevent their spread—so we’ll face fewer surprises like the CRB. Read more »

Conservation Grant Helps Rice Growers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A California farmer harvests his rice field.  Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).

A California farmer harvests his rice field. Photo by Robert Parkhurst, Environmental Defense Fund (used with permission).

Note: Three projects funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant were recently honored by the American Carbon Registry for innovative approaches to environmental stewardship. The winners included Ducks Unlimited, Delta Institute and Terra Global Capital. Ducks Unlimited’s work aimed to generate a carbon credit system for North Dakota landowners, which not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also restores wetlands and grasslands that are crucial to waterfowl. Delta Institute is working with farmers to reduce use of nitrogen – one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, Terra Global Capital and many others partners are working on a credit system for rice growers in California and the Midsouth. The below post provides more information on this project.

USDA is helping to provide rice growers in California and the Midsouth with new opportunities to voluntarily execute conservation practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while cultivating a new income stream.

The California and Midsouth rice projects are funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is providing more than $1 million to help identify and develop new conservation methods. The grant also leverages new and emerging ecosystem income for landowners while addressing climate change. Read more »