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Expanding the American Brand

The American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. The last four years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural exports exceeding $478 billion. This international success is critical to achieving one of USDA’s core missions – fostering economic opportunity and innovation that will continue to help American agriculture grow and thrive in a global economy.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) plays a key role in this area by opening new markets for American producers. We enjoy a close working relationship and collaborate on many projects with our colleagues at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).  Through our export certification and verification programs, we create opportunities for American farmers and businesses to succeed by connecting them with foreign markets. Read more »

StrikeForce Helps S.C. Family Protect & Preserve Forest Land

NRCS District Conservationist Frank Stephens talks with brothers Martin and Oliver Smith about their forest management plan. NRCS photo.

NRCS District Conservationist Frank Stephens talks with brothers Martin and Oliver Smith about their forest management plan. NRCS photo.

The soil in Marlboro County, S.C. is known to be fertile, and legend has it that the land was once so productive it was sold by the pound instead of the acre.

In this agricultural oasis, brothers Oliver and Martin Smith are continuing the farming tradition that has been in their family for three generations.

Oliver Smith credits his grandmother, a freed slave, for starting the family farm on 400 acres of land in the state’s Pee Dee region. Now, he and his brother manage the forestry operation, which their father helped grow by another 50 acres. They’re working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to use conservation to help their operation and the environment. Read more »

Helping Small Businesses Make a Trade Impact

Alex Weiss from Caledonia Spirits, Arnold Coombs from Bascom Family Farms, and Jeremy Stephenson from the Vermont Cheese Council, attend the Food and Hotel China Show in Shanghai to exhibit their agricultural products. The small businesses attended the trade show with the help of one of the State and Regional Trade Groups – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually. (Courtesy Photo)

Alex Weiss from Caledonia Spirits, Arnold Coombs from Bascom Family Farms, and Jeremy Stephenson from the Vermont Cheese Council, attend the Food and Hotel China Show in Shanghai to exhibit their agricultural products. The small businesses attended the trade show with the help of one of the State and Regional Trade Groups – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually. (Courtesy Photo)

Recently, USDA announced that U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2013 finished at another record level, continuing the strongest five-year period for such exports in our nation’s history. Much of this success is due to small businesses, which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted are the backbone of the economy in rural communities, small towns and big cities.

USDA’s efforts with small businesses is helped by the work of four State Regional Trade Groups – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually. Read more »

Teaching the World to Eat Pecans

Hudson Pecan Company hopes to put its products among the variety of nuts sold in this Turkish supermarket where Scott Hudson surveyed food products and exclaimed, “Nuts everywhere, but where are the pecans?  Coming soon!” he said.

Hudson Pecan Company hopes to put its products among the variety of nuts sold in this Turkish supermarket where Scott Hudson surveyed food products and exclaimed, “Nuts everywhere, but where are the pecans? Coming soon!” he said.

Do they like pecan pie in Turkey?  If they don’t now, they will soon if Randy Hudson has anything to say about it.

Hudson, his wife Mary Jo and their family operate Hudson Pecan Company in Ocilla, Ga.  Currently, they have their hopes focused on Turkey as a potential new market.  This past June, Scott Hudson, Randy’s son and company vice president, traveled with USDA’s Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, Michael Scuse, on a trade mission to Turkey. Their goal was to introduce the pecan to prospective buyers.

The June trade mission was part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative to double exports by 2014. Agriculture exports have remained on record-breaking pace since 2009.  The 2012 ag exports reached $135.8 billion, nearly tripling the values from 1999 ($48 billion). Read more »

Biobased Products Important to the Bioeconomy

Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as moderator for a Google+ Hangout examining USDA’s BioPreferred program and the growing bioeconomy. The Hangout was like a visit with old and new friends discussing a subject on which we all agree: biobased products are here to stay!

It was gratifying to see such an excellent panel representing a cross section of this flourishing industry; among them, Ray Miller of Verdezyne, a renewable industrial biotechnology biobased chemicals manufacturer. Ray told Hangout participants the BioPreferred program serves as a respected, independent source of information on new carbon content of bioproducts and said many studies such as this one indicate the production of the chemicals from biobased feed stocks is growing rapidly worldwide. Read more »

Helping Schools Build Better Cafeterias

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

As a former school nutrition director, I am amazed when I visit schools around the country and repeatedly witness students clamoring for items like baked kale chips—who would have ever thought that was possible?  Truly, schools have done an absolutely tremendous job of implementing the new meal standards resulting from the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. I am so proud of all that our nation’s school nutrition professionals have done to provide healthier, tasty meals to the millions of children who eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at school each day.

While schools have made—and continue to make—great strides across the whole realm of school nutrition, they are still facing challenges in meeting their goals.  In particular, many schools across the country do not have appropriate or adequate kitchen equipment.  The need for updated equipment is well-documented, most recently by a new Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project report entitled, “Serving Healthy Meals:  U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment,” and ranges from cutting boards to refrigerator space.  While some schools still need a significant investment in updated and upgraded equipment, many of the needs are simple and could cost as little as $32 to remedy! Read more »