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The Sunshine State’s Agriculture Remains Bright

The Sunshine State is seeing spectacular growth in organic crops. Check back next Thursday for more facts from the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

The Sunshine State is seeing spectacular growth in organic crops. Check back next Thursday for more facts from 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.

As the new Florida State Statistician, I am excited to start digging into the agricultural data here in the Sunshine State. One of the first things anybody would notice upon glancing over our stats is the wealth of fruits, vegetables, and other unique commodities. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, almost 64% of Florida’s total market value of agricultural products sold comes from three categories: (1) fruits and nuts, (2) nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod, and (3) vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. We are one of the top three states nationwide in sales in all three of these categories, and Florida is also the top producer of sugarcane for sugar. Thus, the Sunshine State definitely lives up to its bright nickname by harvesting a rainbow of commodities.

If one crop defines Florida, it’s oranges. There are over 465,000 acres of orange farms in our state, accounting for almost 70% of all the orange acreage in the nation. To top it off, we are the only state to grow the delectable Temple orange. Read more »

Supporting Regional Economic Development Strategies in Oklahoma’s Tribal Communities

USDA is supporting economic development strategies in Oklahoma's Indian Country.

USDA is supporting economic development strategies in Oklahoma's Indian Country.

Rural Oklahoma is home to many important tribal communities.  Among these, the Choctaw Nation spans over ten counties in southeastern Oklahoma, while the Cherokee Nation runs along the state’s northeast border, and Muscogee (Creek) Nation lies farther west.

These communities play a critical role in developing businesses, affordable housing, and infrastructure like water, roads, and telecommunications. However, these areas endure chronic poverty, limited opportunities and countless other economic challenges.  For instance, most of the 1,100 residents of Boley, Oklahoma – located in the heart of Creek nation – live on less than 25 dollars per day.

Earlier this year, I joined Leslie Wheelock, Director of USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations, on a visit to the area. Read more »

Small Farmers Share Land, a High Tunnel and Knowledge

Phalla Nol, Nancy Faulkner and Jim Faulkner in front of the high tunnel.

Phalla Nol, Nancy Faulkner and Jim Faulkner in front of the high tunnel.

When Jim and Nancy Faulkner bought their small farm in Boxborough, Mass. in 2009, the place was a mess. Buildings were falling down, the soil was poor and the land was covered with invasive plants. Nonetheless, they wanted to turn it into a sustainable farm.

Help came from two very different directions: a government agency and another small farmer.

“I really needed a farm plan,” said Jim Faulkner, who wanted to ensure he complied with town bylaws. “I wanted to show that I was serious and that I had a plan.” Read more »

The Sweat Equity Route to Homeownership: Raising Walls & Building a Community!

Wayne Bodley (far right) built his home through the Self-Help program with assistance from USDA Rural Development and the Housing Assistance Corporation. Bodley designed the bear which is displayed in downtown Hendersonville, NC, and will be auctioned off to benefit the local Self-Help program.

Wayne Bodley (far right) built his home through the Self-Help program with assistance from USDA Rural Development and the Housing Assistance Corporation. Bodley designed the bear which is displayed in downtown Hendersonville, NC, and will be auctioned off to benefit the local Self-Help program.

In celebration of USDA’s annual Homeownership Month, I toured a flourishing neighborhood tucked in the woods of Edneyville, North Carolina. Along with me were families who never thought it possible to own a home or have a yard for their children or a garden. Their dreams were realized by building not only their own home, but the homes of their neighbors too! In the process, they also built enduring bonds of a caring community.

This neighborhood is being developed by the private, nonprofit Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) of Hendersonville using Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing program.  Since 1971, USDA has helped build more than 50,000 across the nation. Through the Self Help Housing program, homeowners save money and earn “sweat equity” toward their homes by completing 65% of the labor.  Ten to 12 families pool their efforts and work a minimum of 40 hours a week working on all the homes — and no one moves into their home until every home is completed.  Working together, families pour foundations, frame homes, install electrical wiring, hang doors and windows, and lay tile and paint. Their sweat equity qualifies as their down payment. Once completed, USDA Rural Development provides the families with mortgages through the Single Family Housing Direct Loan Program. Read more »

For American Chestnut Trees, People Help in the Art of Pollination

Clint Neel of Tennessee helps with pollinations at The American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards in Meadowview, Virginia. Photo by TACF.

Clint Neel of Tennessee helps with pollinations at The American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards in Meadowview, Virginia. Photo by TACF.

Nature has transformers! With time and the help of bees, butterflies, birds and other critters, some flowers change into seeds. Sometimes, flowers in trees transform into nuts.

But sometimes these transformers need help. That’s where a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to The American Chestnut Foundation came into play.

The foundation competed for and was awarded a grant from NRCS to plant and grow genetically diverse, blight-resistant chestnuts and other high quality hardwoods to reintroduce and maintain forests on reclaimed mine sites in Appalachia.  The American chestnut trees were once common, but, nearly vanished from the landscape because of an accidentally introduced fungus in the late 1800s. Read more »

Workshop Discusses Delving Deeper into the Animal Genome

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

Data gathered from the AgENCODE project will ultimately improve cattle breeding.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The idea that around 80 percent of human DNA is “junk” DNA with no real purpose never sat well with scientists.  So in 2003, researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health started working on a project called ENCODE, which was designed to study the role of non-coding “junk” DNA in genetic expression and to define basic functional units in the human genome.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are spearheading a parallel project called AgENCODE, which takes a similar approach to exploring the mechanics of DNA regulation in key livestock species. “We can identify 70 to 90 percent (or more) of the DNA coding elements in animal genomes, but we don’t know much at all about the non-coding elements,” says ARS National Program Leader Jeffrey Silverstein, who is helping to organize the AgENCODE effort. “We think many of these non-coding segments regulate gene activity, and we need to understand how these segments affect the expression of an animal’s physical traits, which is very important in breeding.” Read more »