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Secretary’s Column: Deadline Approaching for Health Insurance Coverage that Begins January 1

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference in the lives of millions of rural Americans. Thanks to the ACA, families can choose from a variety of affordable insurance plans and many will qualify for financial assistance to help them pay for coverage.

The deadline is coming up to sign up for health insurance coverage that begins on January 1. To start the new year with coverage, you must sign up by December 15 at healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 if you need help signing up. Read more »

Providing the Gift of Water for Poinsettias and Other Ornamental Crops

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

Happy Poinsettia Day!

Of the countless iconic holiday season images in American homes, perhaps the most popular and colorful of them started off as a humble bush from our neighbors to the south.

The poinsettia was introduced to this country in the late 1820s by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, but only started on the path to holiday season superstardom in the early 1900s.  By 2013, poinsettias accounted for 23 percent of sales for flowering potted plants – to the tune of $146 million. Read more »

Exploration and Agriculture: Connecting the Next Generation with Science to Grow the Future

Deputy Secretary Harden and 4-H'ers observe plant growing experiments at the NASA Space Life Science Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Deputy Secretary Harden and 4-H'ers observe plant growing experiments at the NASA Space Life Science Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Last week, we entered a bold new era of exploration and discovery as NASA launched the Orion spacecraft, a major step testing the possibility of going to Mars.

As NASA contemplates sending human missions to Mars, one question we must answer is: what will the astronauts eat and what foods will assist future missions? NASA and USDA are working together to develop plants that can grow, thrive, and produce in new environments – signaling opportunities for fresh, nutrition-rich food for astronauts on long duration space flights. Read more »

A Potato’s Eye on Idaho Agriculture

Idaho potatoes – the phrase rolls off the tongue easily because Idaho leads the country in growing potatoes.  Check back next week as we spotlight another state and the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Idaho potatoes – the phrase rolls off the tongue easily because Idaho leads the country in growing potatoes. Check back next week as we spotlight another state and the results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

When it comes to potatoes, Idaho is #1. Results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture confirmed it. According to the census, Idaho farmers led the United States in acres of potatoes harvested, at 345,217 acres. And believe it or not, this was done by only 794 farms. On these farms, 58 percent of the potato harvested acres were for the fresh market and 42 percent were for processing.

Of course, the other parts of our agriculture are no small potatoes either. Overall, in 2012 we had 24,816 farms in our state, and our farmers sold more than $7.8 billion worth of agricultural products. Nearly a third of that amount – $2.3 billion – came from milk sales. Only three states, California, Wisconsin, and New York, had more milk sales than Idaho. Idaho’s Gooding County ranked fourth in the nation for milk cow inventory. The 2012 census counted nearly 179,000 head of milk cows there. Read more »

Tis the Season to Avoid Raw Meat

Everyone loves spending time with family and friends enjoying special winter treats, but you might want to think twice before reaching for some traditional dishes. Raw meat dishes like tartare may be more common this time of year, but they still come with health risks.

“Tiger meat” is another traditional winter dish. Despite the name, this dish is not made using meat from tigers. It’s a holiday mixture of raw ground beef, raw eggs, onions and other seasonings served on rye bread or crackers. Beef tartare, tiger meat, and dishes alike have ground beef and eggs that pose a health hazard when eaten undercooked or raw. Read more »

Think Like a Deer: Award-Winning Video Aims to Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

A deer crosses a rural road. Deer are often on the move in the fall and early winter, especially at dusk. (USDA Agricultural Research Service/Charles T. Bryson_Bugwood.org)

A deer crosses a rural road. Deer are often on the move in the fall and early winter, especially at dusk. (USDA Agricultural Research Service/Charles T. Bryson_Bugwood.org)

Collisions between vehicles and wildlife are a big problem on U.S. roads. Each year, on average, 1-2 million collisions with large animals, especially mule deer and white-tailed deer, end in 200 fatalities, 26,000 injuries, and costs exceeding $1 billion. About a third of the collisions reported on rural roads are wildlife-related, and two-lane highways with speed limits exceeding 55 miles per hour are particularly problematic.

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station wildlife biologist Sandra Jacobson, a transportation ecology expert, wants to make roads safer for wildlife and people. She and partners at the agency’s Missoula Technology and Development Center have produced a video, “Avoiding Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions,” to do just that. Read more »