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In the West, Preparing for Uncertain Water Supply

The April 1 Snowpack Map shows the dramatic, early reduction in snowpack across the West.

The April 1 Snowpack Map shows the dramatic, early reduction in snowpack across the West.

“Well, this shouldn’t take long,” Dr. David Garen said as I sat down to interview him about April snowpack conditions. “March was warm and dry. Spring came early and the snowpack is already melting across most of the West. The End.”

Garen is a hydrologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Among other duties, he creates forecast maps and helps write the West-wide forecast summary for the Snow Survey Program.

“This year we had record low snowpack up and down the West Coast,” said Garen. “But even in the areas that had normal snowpack, it’s melting earlier than usual.” Historically, April 1st is when the snowpack peaks. This year has been different. Read more »

Removing Barriers to Agricultural Trade Ensures US Products Can Thrive in Foreign Markets

Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 saw the United States once again make significant gains in the international trade as USDA expanded opportunities for American producers overseas.  In FY14 American farmers and ranchers exported a record $152.5 billion of food and agricultural goods to consumers worldwide, an $11.6 billion increase over FY13’s figures.

USDA plays a key role in fostering American agricultural exports by opening new markets for our producers and ensuring their products meet foreign requirements for import.  As a result of these efforts, U.S. agricultural exports now drive overall U.S. economic growth by supporting nearly 1 million American jobs on and off the farm.  These trade efforts also contribute to a strong rural economy, which is critical to the overall economic health of the United States. Read more »

Farming Going Strong in Kansas According to #AgCensus

Agriculture is blooming in the Sunflower State! Be sure to check back next week for more highlights from another state and the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Agriculture is blooming in the Sunflower State! Be sure to check back next week for more highlights from another state and 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.

The Kansas state seal and state flag both feature a farmer, and looking at the results of the most recent Census of Agriculture, it is not hard to see why. In 2012, the year for which the Census was conducted, there were almost 62,000 farms covering more than 46 million acres of land in Kansas. That year Kansas producers sold close to $18.5 billion worth of agricultural products.

Crops have long been a symbol of Kansas farming. According to the Census, in 2012 Kansans produced almost 360 million bushels of winter wheat from more than 9 million harvested acres. More than 20 percent of all winter wheat in the U.S. that year came from Kansas – more than double both the acreage and production of Oklahoma which was the second-largest winter wheat producer in the nation. Read more »

U.S. Beef Jerky is Back in Japan!

In January, the United States and Japan concluded nearly two years of negotiations to re-open the Japanese market to U.S. processed beef products. These efforts ensured that, for the first time since 2003, all products from U.S. cattle less than 30 months of age would be eligible for export to Japan. Japan is the United States’ largest beef export market, valued at nearly $1.6 billion in 2014.

In February, the FAS Office of Agricultural Affairs in Tokyo was understandably excited to learn that Perky Jerky, a Colorado-based company, was interested in bringing its beef jerky to FOODEX 2015, the largest food tradeshow in Asia drawing almost 3,000 exhibitors from 79 countries. The value of exhibiting at FOODEX is considerable, as over 75,000 trade professionals from Japan, North Asia, Southeast Asia, and around the world would attend the show. The only problem was that FOODEX was scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, and the beef jerky hadn’t even been produced yet. Bringing a new-to-market product to Japan in less than two weeks would be a daunting task under normal conditions, but late February was anything but normal as Japanese customs and quarantine officials were busy clearing an enormous volume of products for the nearly 2,300 other international exhibitors from 79 countries participating at FOODEX. Read more »

A Tool Helps Farmers, Conservationists Measure Cover Crop Economics

The cover crop tool is an Excel spreadsheet developed for easy use. Click to enlarge.

The cover crop tool is an Excel spreadsheet developed for easy use. Click to enlarge.

What happens when you get two energized agriculture economists together? Possibly one of the best economic tools out there for farmers using or considering cover crops. The Cover Crop Economics Decision Support Tool, an Excel spreadsheet, was created by two economists with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – Bryon Kirwan in Illinois and Lauren Cartwright in Missouri. The tool has taken off with great success, and the second version was released last fall.

“Where this tool has landed is not what we initially envisioned,” said Kirwan. “We wanted to build a tool valuable for producers and planners locally, and we have received many positive comments. Then it took off.” Read more »

USDA Marketing Orders and Agreements Foster Industry Innovation

Vidalia Onions are only grown in Georgia. In the past 5 years, the Vidalia Onion Committee increased its focus on research. After seeing consumers demand the traditional Vidalia onion, the committee decided to ensure that the onion that they marketed was of the best eating quality. (Photo courtesy of the Vidalia Onion Committee)

Vidalia Onions are only grown in Georgia. In the past 5 years, the Vidalia Onion Committee increased its focus on research. After seeing consumers demand the traditional Vidalia onion, the committee decided to ensure that the onion that they marketed was of the best eating quality. (Photo courtesy of the Vidalia Onion Committee)

Success is often achieved when you have access to a number of tools and know how and when to use them. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is equipping produce businesses with the proper tools for success through our Marketing Order and Agreement Division (MOAD). As discussed before, this division administers fruit and vegetable marketing orders and agreements designed to support the industry’s financial and commercial success with the help of tools such as funding production and market research.

As self-help programs requested for and completely funded by the industry, marketing orders and agreements can address issues ranging from combating invasive species to identifying key product attributes based on consumer preferences. Our MOAD employees oversee industry boards and committees as they partner with local universities and organizations to overcome these types of challenges. Read more »