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Kitty Litter: Potential New Use for Spent Corn Grains

ARS scientists have developed a nearly 100 percent biodegradable kitty litter made from dried distiller's grains, left over from corn-ethanol production.

ARS scientists have developed a nearly 100 percent biodegradable kitty litter made from dried distiller's grains, left over from corn-ethanol production.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Sometimes, the results of USDA science show up in the most unlikely places—maybe even in your cat’s litter box.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have discovered a way to make kitty litter that’s nearly 100 percent biodegradable by processing spent grains left over from corn ethanol production.

And what’s good for you and your cat may also be good for the environment. ARS researcher Steven F. Vaughn and his colleagues have shown that litter made with these grains as the starting material may prove to be more environmentally friendly than popular but nonbiodegradable, clay-based litters that mostly end up in landfills. Read more »

Science that Sells

New certification programs could open market opportunities in the European Union, Russia, China and others.

New certification programs could open market opportunities in the European Union, Russia, China and others.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Agriculture is key to any nation’s success.  American farmers continue to be more innovative and productive, providing affordable foods for the U.S. consumer while supporting a robust export market. Global agricultural trade is complex, constantly changing, with multi-layered requirements that have to be met before a grower can get his product into another country.

Although a general export certificate is issued for most agricultural products, some countries require certification based on scientific testing.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service provides the service and scientific expertise that helps American farmers export their products. Read more »

Alaska Forests are Fine for Fungi

The Chugach National Forest BioBlitz – an intense period of biological surveys – included surveys of all organisms in Portage Valley including fungi. Ecologist Kate Mohatt leads a walk for the public to identify all mushrooms fruiting in the valley in 2011. (U.S. Forest Service/ Mona Spargo)

The Chugach National Forest BioBlitz – an intense period of biological surveys – included surveys of all organisms in Portage Valley including fungi. Ecologist Kate Mohatt leads a walk for the public to identify all mushrooms fruiting in the valley in 2011. (U.S. Forest Service/ Mona Spargo)

While many people look forward to fall for football rivalries and tailgate parties, others enjoy a different pastime — foraging for fall’s crop of fungi.

In Alaska, the season’s fungi festivals will find enthusiasts lined up for hikes into the woods to search for lichens and forage for mushrooms.

In September, the Wrangell Ranger District on the Tongass National Forest hosted a two-day event near the Rainbow Falls Trail. Karen Dillman, the forest’s ecologist, and Kate Mohatt, an ecologist from the Chugach National Forest, shared a variety of tips and information on fungi with locals and visitors including information profiled in the video “The Mushroom Maven of the Chugach National Forest.” What are the differences between edible and poisonous mushrooms? The pair described how to look for telling colors of the mushrooms after they are cut open, as well as the distinctive features of the caps and ridges. Read more »

Water Quality Trading in the Chesapeake Bay

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay is important for many reasons, such as supporting local fishing economies. Water quality trading is one way to improve the quality of the Bay so that we can continue to rely on the ecosystem benefits it provides. Photo credit: NRCS

Water quality in the Chesapeake Bay is important for many reasons, such as supporting local fishing economies. Water quality trading is one way to improve the quality of the Bay so that we can continue to rely on the ecosystem benefits it provides. Photo credit: NRCS

Last fall, USDA brought together a group of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) awardees, state policymakers, and other stakeholders involved in one of the most challenging nutrient management initiatives in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: enabling water quality trading markets.

Water quality trading offers flexibility to those required to improve water quality in the Bay: power plants, wastewater treatment plants, new developments, and agricultural producers, among others. It allows those facing high costs of water quality improvement to reduce those costs, working with farmers to improve water quality on their behalf, thus providing farmers with additional income streams and the opportunity to significantly increase the scope of conservation practices on their land. Read more »

MyPlate Holiday Makeover – Week 5

Julie’s Cranberry Chutney

Julie’s Cranberry Chutney

The MyPlate Team continues to share “Makeover Monday” recipes each week on the USDA blog and the MyPlate Facebook page through January 6th.

We love serving cranberry sauce as a sweet side with our holiday meals — but, traditional cranberry sauce can be a little too sweet. This year we decided to try something new – cranberry chutney.

This recipe for cranberry chutney was simple to prepare — all the ingredients go in one pot, and cook for about 30 minutes. And, to save time during the busy holiday season, it can be made 2-3 days in advance. Read more »

The Faces of Agriculture – A Glimpse of What the Farm Bill Means to Our Nation

Under Secretary Edward Avalos and John Lyman III, owner of Lyman Orchards, tour the orchard’s Apple Barrel Market in Middlefield, CT.  A Farm Bill is crucial to the long-term stability of family-owned farms and orchards.

Under Secretary Edward Avalos and John Lyman III, owner of Lyman Orchards, tour the orchard’s Apple Barrel Market in Middlefield, CT. A Farm Bill is crucial to the long-term stability of family-owned farms and orchards.

A life of farming—whether you grow up in it or are called to it later in life—takes a special kind of commitment and sense of responsibility. The reward is just as unique and appeals only to a handful of people who are willing to literally roll up their sleeves and work hard at a physically- and mentally-challenging job every day of the year. To me, there’s just something special about a profession where the fruits of your labor provide one of life’s most essential elements–food.

But that’s not where their contributions stop. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers strengthen our economy, with nearly one out of 12 jobs in the U.S. coming from agriculture.

Over the last year, I had the opportunity to visit and speak to farmers and ranchers across the country. During these visits, I get a chance to see first-hand how connected they are to their communities and the differences they make for the folks that live and work with them. And I also get to answer their questions directly, to hear the challenges they face and the help they could use. Inevitably, conversation turns to the Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill and what that legislation would mean to each of the farmers, ranchers, businesses and schools that depend on it. Read more »