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Conservation Tour Showcases an Awe-Inspiring Partnership

NRCS Soil Scientist Roger Windhorn shows participants the differences in soil layers and what makes a healthy soil.

NRCS Soil Scientist Roger Windhorn shows participants the differences in soil layers and what makes a healthy soil.

A recent tour in Livingston, Ill. showcased the successes a powerful partnership has had in the Indian Creek Watershed.

The 6th Annual Conservation in Action Tour was organized by the Conservation Technology Information Center to highlight community efforts in the watershed taking place under the auspices of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative.

Through the initiative, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partners work with landowners and farmers to address nutrient loading in priority small watersheds within the Mississippi River Basin. Program participants implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat while allowing them to sustain or improve agricultural productivity. Illinois is one of the 13 states included in the initiative. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Commonsense Immigration Reform: Pro-Growth and Pro-Agriculture

A report released this week by the White House economic team shows the benefits of commonsense immigration reform for rural America.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate passed a commonsense immigration reform measure in a strongly bipartisan fashion. The Senate plan provides a pathway to earned citizenship for those who are in our country without authorization. They will have to go to the back of the line, pay fines and settle taxes they owe our nation. It would also put in place the toughest border security plan that America has ever seen. Read more »

Smurfs Encourage Kids to Get Outdoors

Young Smurf fans visit the Forest Service’s booth during a community outreach event promoting the Discover the Forest campaign. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Young Smurf fans visit the Forest Service’s booth during a community outreach event promoting the Discover the Forest campaign. (U.S. Forest Service photo)

Little blue gnome-like creatures helped the U.S. Forest Service kick off its latest campaign to get people out into the woods. Partnering with the Ad Council and Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Forest Service recently launched its Discover the Forest campaign featuring the Smurfs and their new movie, The Smurfs 2.

Studies have shown that the time children in the United States spend outdoors has declined 50 percent over the past 20 years. Population shifts to urban and suburban environments, an increase in children’s indoor activities, and a lack of awareness of, or access to, nearby nature locations have contributed to this trend. However, research shows there are many benefits to kids spending time in nature. Time spent outdoors gives children the ability to explore, use their imaginations, discover new wildlife and engage in unstructured and adventurous play. Read more »

NIFA Grant Addresses Climate Issues Related to Beef Cattle Production

Today, I am on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. When I visit universities across the nation, I look forward to meeting with faculty and students to hear about the work they are doing. On this particular visit, I am excited to meet with a research team working on an issue important to all Americans: climate.

As most people are well aware, last year’s drought put tremendous stress on cattle across the nation, especially in the Southern Great Plains. Drought, along with other extreme weather events and climate patterns, threatens food production across the nation. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has provided grant funds to land-grant universities across our nation to develop approaches to mitigate or adapt to the impact of climate change on food production. Earlier this year, NIFA awarded more than $9 million in funding to Oklahoma State University (OSU) to address the vulnerabilities of beef cattle under stress from climate variations. OSU’s goal is to safeguard regional beef production against climate change while mitigating the environmental footprint of agriculture. Read more »

Texas Town Gets out the Arsenic with Help from USDA

Anthony Arredondo takes a water sample at the Freer Water Control and Improvement District Arsenic Removal System Site in Freer, TX on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Anthony Arredondo takes a water sample at the Freer Water Control and Improvement District Arsenic Removal System Site in Freer, TX on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Arsenic is poisonous. It is also just about everywhere, but it is especially prevalent in the groundwater of the Southwest. In the economically challenged City of Freer, Texas, citizens rely on the Freer Water Control and Improvement District (FWCID) to draw water from the underground Catahoula aquifer and deliver safe drinking water. Naturally occurring arsenic levels have remained constant in the region for more than a century. Then, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new national standards took effect and the City of Freer turned to FWCID to take action.

Aided by financial assistance from the USDA Water and Environmental Program, the FWCID has completed a two-phase approach to meeting the district’s water supply and public safety needs. FWCID first received USDA funding to drill two new water wells, each rated at 167 gallons per minute (now a total of eight wells); 13,600 feet of well collection lines; and 15,000 linear feet of well control line to remotely control the wells, and the delivery of raw water from the well site’s million-gallon holding tank to the new Arsenic Removal System (Phase II). Previously, water flow was manually controlled by FWCID personnel and gravity fed from the well facility to its customers. Read more »

Building Swap Financed by USDA Supports Arts, Education Goals

During a tour of the new home of Sussex Academy (l-r) USDA Rural Development Community Program Director Denise MacLeish, USDA Director of Legislative and Public Affairs David Sandretti, rising freshman Cohen Davis, U.S. Senator Tom Carper, rising eight grader Elise Conlin, Acting Delaware/Maryland State Director Kathy Beisner, and Loan Specialist Angela Tilghman stand with Sussex Academy’s new logo. USDA Photo.

During a tour of the new home of Sussex Academy (l-r) USDA Rural Development Community Program Director Denise MacLeish, USDA Director of Legislative and Public Affairs David Sandretti, rising freshman Cohen Davis, U.S. Senator Tom Carper, rising eight grader Elise Conlin, Acting Delaware/Maryland State Director Kathy Beisner, and Loan Specialist Angela Tilghman stand with Sussex Academy’s new logo. USDA Photo.

Sussex County, Delaware’s only charter school, the former Sussex Academy of Arts & Sciences middle school, is being re-named “Sussex Academy” as it expands to include a high school.  But unlike most expansion projects, the academy is swapping its old building for an existing building that meets its needs, and it is doing it with help from USDA.

The swap was highlighted recently at an event attended by USDA Rural Development, school officials, and U.S. Senator Tom Carper. Read more »