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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 »

South Dakota Partnership Helps Native American Families Own Their Future through Homeownership

“Our home is a beautiful white house with a porch and a creek runs through our backyard,” said Joe Donnell. “There is lots of space for our family to grow. This house is an amazing gift from the Lord!”

“Our home is a beautiful white house with a porch and a creek runs through our backyard,” said Joe Donnell. “There is lots of space for our family to grow. This house is an amazing gift from the Lord!”

With their family of eight, Myron Doud and Stephanie Richards were in tight quarters when they were living with Myron’s parents in a four-bedroom house.  Like them, Joe and Danielle Donnell and their young one had resided with Danielle’s family.

“Our daughter was very excited about her new bedroom, and she wasn’t even scared to sleep in a room all by herself!” said Stephanie Richards. “The kids now have room to have sleep-overs with their friends and a nice backyard to play.”

These South Dakota families, like many starting out in rural America, just needed a little assistance to begin their lives — and begin building assets for the future — as homeowners.  They found the help they needed through USDA Rural Development’s Direct Housing Loan, which offers 100-percent, affordable mortgages to rural homebuyers who cannot access affordable conventional financing. Read more »

Introducing www.usda.gov/newfarmers: A One-Stop Shop for the Farmers of Tomorrow

Growing up on a farm in Camilla, Ga., I developed a passion for agriculture early. Being a farmer’s daughter helped me understand the challenges farmers and ranchers face over time and the need for common-sense policies and programs to create and expand opportunities for the farmers of the future. Now, as the Deputy Secretary of the USDA, my highest priority is to ensure that beginning farmers and ranchers – women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees – have access to the programs and support they need to succeed.

Today, we’re announcing a new resource: USDA.gov/newfarmers.  This new website is a one-stop shop to connect new farmers and ranchers with USDA resources, programs and support.  On www.usda.gov/newfarmers, new farmers can find information about accessing land and capital, managing risk, finding education, outreach and technical assistance, growing businesses and markets, and investing in the land and environment. Read more »

USDA, Habitat for Humanity Collaborate to Help Rural Virginians Find a Place to Call Home

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Hanover Habitat Executive Director Tim Bowring, Rural Development State Director Basil Gooden, Rural Development Housing Director for Virginia Anne Herring tour energy efficient homes constructed through a new partnership between USDA and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Hanover Habitat Executive Director Tim Bowring, Rural Development State Director Basil Gooden, Rural Development Housing Director for Virginia Anne Herring tour energy efficient homes constructed through a new partnership between USDA and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

USDA Rural Development and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity are thinking outside of the box with their new partnership in Virginia. By working together, USDA Rural Development and Habitat for Humanity are able to provide mortgage assistance to low and very low-income rural families. Earlier this month, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visited Bailey Woods, the first-ever Habitat Development in this area, as part of USDA’s celebration of National Homeownership Month.

Every year, rural families rely on USDA Rural Development’s direct and guaranteed home loans to provide an affordable opportunity to become homeowners. Bailey Woods will provide building lots for eight new houses and a renovation of one. These homes range from 1,500 to 1,700 square feet and feature many energy efficient features, such as ceiling fans, high insulation, and high efficiency heat pumps. These cost reducing systems will provide families in rural areas such as Hanover County the opportunity to purchase a home, while maintaining low operating costs. Read more »

US – EU Organic Equivalence Trade Arrangement Opens New Markets

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Two years ago this month, the United States and the European Union (EU) implemented an organic equivalence arrangement, meaning products that are certified as organic in the U.S. can also be sold as organic in the EU, and vice versa. This arrangement broke down many of the barriers that organic producers, especially small and medium-sized farmers, were facing in exporting their goods to one of their largest markets. It has also proved to be a good example of how we can recognize each others’ systems and work together across borders to arrive at beneficial agreements.

The U.S. and EU have some of the strongest regulatory protections in the world, and the organic equivalence arrangement recognizes these standards and uses them for everyone’s benefit. Before the agreement, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two different standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. Now, if a product is certified organic by one party, it can bear both the USDA organic seal and the EU organic logo, without going through that second certification process. This is possible because the EU and the U.S. have recognized that though our regulatory systems are different, they both produce high quality organic food and agricultural products under rigorous programs. Secretary Vilsack, while addressing the EU agricultural ministers earlier this week, had the same message of cooperation in regards to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Read more »