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An American Grown State Dinner – Featuring America’s Cut Flower Industry

Last week, President and Mrs. Obama hosted France’s President, Francois Hollande for a State Dinner on the South Lawn of the White House. State Dinners are a way to celebrate U.S. relations with international friends and allies.  Past dinners at the White House during the Obama Administration have hosted visiting heads of state from nations including India, Mexico, China, Germany, and Great Britain.  In many ways, these events are an opportunity to demonstrate and celebrate for invited guests and the world, the cultural and culinary heritages of our country.

The State Dinner last week was an excellent example, highlighting the diversity of American agricultural and rural products that our nation has to offer. The dinner celebrated the “best of American cuisine” and featured dry-aged rib eye beef from Colorado, trout from Maine, cheese from Vermont, chocolate from Hawaii, and potatoes from New York, Idaho, and California. The wines served at the dinner included excellent selections featuring California, Washington State, and Virginia offerings. However, beyond the menu itself an equally impressive feature was the visible presence of American cut flowers that decorated and added a stunning visual touch for guests at the White House. The floral arrangements displayed at the dinner included: Read more »

Passionate Couple, USDA, Team up for ‘Miracle:’ Bringing Back the American Chestnut

James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.

James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.

It was on a hilltop in eastern Kentucky where I first met James and Gail Cope, looking at the 27 newly planted American chestnut seedlings on their land. It was our common love for this rare tree that brought us together.

American chestnut trees once dominated the Appalachian landscape, but during the early 1900s a fungus struck the trees causing them nearly to vanish. The American Chestnut Blight, an Asian fungus, first struck in 1904 in New York City and quickly spread, leaving in its wake a trail of dead and dying stems.  By the 1950s, the keystone species of some nine million acres of forests had disappeared.

The tree is important because it produces bushels of nuts for wildlife, and animals like squirrels, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, black bear, and grouse depend on the nuts for a major food source. Read more »

Southeast Regional Climate Hub Works to Sustain Agricultural and Forest Systems

Southeastern Virginia marks the northern boundary of the natural range of longleaf pine forests, which once stretched along most of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains from Virginia to eastern Texas. Research aimed at finding the best seed sources to restore longleaf pine forests to southeastern Virginia area is also providing important clues for adapting forest ecosystems to changing climate.

Southeastern Virginia marks the northern boundary of the natural range of longleaf pine forests, which once stretched along most of the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains from Virginia to eastern Texas. Research aimed at finding the best seed sources to restore longleaf pine forests to southeastern Virginia area is also providing important clues for adapting forest ecosystems to changing climate.

What a day! I am excited and nervous at the same time. Over the past nine months, hundreds of folks have been working together to make the opening of the USDA Southeastern Regional Climate Hub (SERCH) a reality, and today is the big day. SERCH meet world, world meet SERCH.

Now that we have formalities out of the way, what is SERCH? Well, SERCH is for you, if you are a landowner, rural resident, agricultural producer, researcher, policymaker, or anyone who is interested in sustaining the agricultural and forest systems on which we depend. Specifically, SERCH was born to help take decades of scientific research on natural resource disturbances related to weather and climate vulnerability, and convert those studies, data, and knowledge into practical management options for producers, forest owners and land managers across the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. Our region faces many types of disturbances, including wildfire, hurricanes, insects and diseases, and changing land use, just to name a few.  All of these challenges are impacted by climate change and weather variability. SERCH will use its enormous collective brain power and experience to develop ways to adapt to these disturbances. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: New Farm Bill is an Investment in Rural America

The 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress and signed last week by President Obama, strengthens the farm safety net and ensures vital nutrition assistance for hardworking children and families during tough times. It closes loopholes and achieves much-needed reform, saving billions of taxpayer dollars.

Those accomplishments are significant and should be commended, particularly at a time when bipartisan victories in Washington are so rare.

We have already started work on a plan to implement the new Farm Bill. However, many of its provisions are new and complex. As we have done every step of the way in helping to craft this legislation, we will work to keep Congress and our stakeholders informed as we identify and prioritize everything—new regulations, guidance and other activities—that will be required so that we can implement the legislation in an efficient, timely and responsible manner. Read more »

Sweet Valentine Treats from the US Forest Service

Volunteer snow ranger Conradt Fredell shares his love of skiing and the beautiful landscape of the Arapaho National Forest by taking Loveland Ski Area visitors on an educational tour. The ski area is entirely on Forest Service land. (U.S. Forest Service)

Volunteer snow ranger Conradt Fredell shares his love of skiing and the beautiful landscape of the Arapaho National Forest by taking Loveland Ski Area visitors on an educational tour. The ski area is entirely on Forest Service land. (U.S. Forest Service)

Forget the high-priced dinner, artificial moon glow and hurried wait staff this Valentine’s Day.

Try, instead, something very different from the tried and true red roses that wilt away or those earrings that she really had hoped would be a ring. Plan a visit to a national forest or grassland. Let a photograph or video be the record of your everlasting love. Please do not carve your names into a tree or other object or in another way deface the beauty of our national forests and grasslands.

And if the weather for the recreational activity you would like to pursue makes a Valentine’s Day visit out of the question, consider designing and printing a “Let’s Love the Outdoors Together” coupon with a promise for a hike, bike or other activity during a more heart-warming time of year. Read more »

Southwestern Climate Hub Helps Producers Cope with an Uncertain and Changing Climate

The Thompson Ridge Fire in the Sante Fe National Forest approximately 10 miles north of Jemez, NM consumed over 29,903 acres. Photo by Valess Calera Trust Kristin Honig.

The Thompson Ridge Fire in the Sante Fe National Forest approximately 10 miles north of Jemez, NM consumed over 29,903 acres. Photo by Valess Calera Trust Kristin Honig.

Those of us living and working in the Southwestern U.S. have recently experienced a prolonged, extreme drought persisting over several years. We have witnessed large, destructive and catastrophic wildfires that have taken both lives and property, observed expansive areas of forest tree death as a result of massive insect outbreaks, and seen our water supplies in reservoirs and dams across the region decline to previously unseen levels. Yet, what can we realistically do in the face of these climatically driven changes that will likely continue and intensify into the future?

Changing climatic conditions in the southwest that impact temperatures, alter growing seasons, increase plant moisture stress, and trigger extreme events directly contribute to these recent regional catastrophes and water scarcities.  Recently, a highly respected, third generation public land cattle rancher in our region put it this way: “I believe that the climate is changing.  But I can’t accept it.  If I do I would just go out of business.  I have to cope and go on.”  So we are left to look around us and ask what information, tools, and technology can we reach for when it gets tough? Read more »