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Training Empowers Ag Boards to Recruit the Next Generation of Farmers

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (center, first row) is thanked by AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (far right, first row) and members of the AMS research and promotion team for speaking at the diversity and inclusion training event on Feb. 18, 2015. USDA photo.

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden (center, first row) is thanked by AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (far right, first row) and members of the AMS research and promotion team for speaking at the diversity and inclusion training event on Feb. 18, 2015. USDA photo.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and all of USDA are committed to supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers and promoting diversity and inclusion in all sectors of agriculture. As Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I had the pleasure of advancing these important priorities during our Research and Promotion Program (R&P) board diversity and inclusion training session, held in Northern Virginia prior to the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum.

Meeting participants – including more than 50 board members and board staff from 20 of the 22 R&P boards that we oversee, AMS employees, and representatives of Certified Nominating Organizations – gathered to tackle a serious issue: how to recruit talented and diverse board members who are representative of the industries they serve. The R&P boards allow farmers and ranchers to pool their resources and set common goals to develop new markets and strengthen current markets for the commodities they grow or handle. Read more »

Waving Wheat Still Smells Sweet in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Agriculture is diverse – both in the crops raised and in the farmers that work the land. Check back next week for another state spotlight from the 2012 Census of Agriculture!

Oklahoma Agriculture is diverse – both in the crops raised and in the farmers that work the land. Check back next week for another state spotlight 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.

Oklahoma consistently ranks in the top five states for beef cattle and winter wheat, but our agriculture is much more than just rolling fields of wheat and cattle. With more than 80,000 farms counted in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Oklahoma remains in 4th position in the number of farms in the nation. The bulk of our farms are less than 500 acres in size, but contributed $2.2 billion dollars to the market value of agriculture products sold (including government payments).

The average age of farmers nationally and in Oklahoma is now 58.3 years, increasing in both since the last census. Here in Oklahoma however, this increase is happening at a significantly slower rate than the U.S. average. Read more »

Braving Frigid Alaska Elements, Federal Workers Volunteer for the ‘Toughest 300 Miles in Dog Racing’

Musher Heidi Sutter and dog sled team approach the Sourdough checkpoint for a mandatory rest period during the Copper Basin 300 dog sled race.  Federal agency land management volunteers met in Glenallen, population less than 500, to lend support for event success. (Photo courtesy of Photography on the Kenai/Robert Parsons)

Musher Heidi Sutter and dog sled team approach the Sourdough checkpoint for a mandatory rest period during the Copper Basin 300 dog sled race. Federal agency land management volunteers met in Glenallen, population less than 500, to lend support for event success. (Photo courtesy of Photography on the Kenai/Robert Parsons)

Think Alaska in the winter: a large land canvas of powdery, granular or icy snow and days of often very, very cold weather.

With those conditions, it’s off to the races for some of the heartiest Alaskan sled dogs and volunteers like U.S. Forest Service employee Carol Teitzel, who works in the U.S. Forest Service Alaska Region and who lent her support to the excitement and challenge of this year’s Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race.

The 310-mile competition counts as a qualifying race for the nearly 1,000-mile Iditarod, the most popular dog sled race, and the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest, sometimes called the world’s toughest dog sled race. Read more »

At the Agricultural Outlook Forum, Prognosticators Peer Ahead to 2060

Tom Brown, Economist, Rocky Mountain Research Station's Social and Economic Values Group, Forest Service, USDA, Fort Collins, CO. outlined climate models during his panel presentation at the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Tom Brown, Economist, Rocky Mountain Research Station's Social and Economic Values Group, Forest Service, USDA, Fort Collins, CO. outlined climate models during his panel presentation at the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

No one can say with certainty what the American climate will be like 45 years from now, but looking at climate models discussed at the Agricultural Outlook Forum last week in suburban Washington, D.C., the best prediction is that the American southwest will be drier, the northwest may get more rain and less snow, and the entire nation will see more climate variability.  Weather swings, and their effect on production, will be more pronounced.  Some areas may get too much rain in the winter and spring and not enough in the summer and fall.  That’s a guess, but it’s an educated one.

A few things are fairly certain:  There will be more people, and with a highly diffused American water management system, it will be a challenge to adapt. People will take priority over crops like rice.  Every drop of water will count. It will be necessary for areas accustomed to getting much of their water from melting snowpack to store more water in reservoirs, and water now discarded as “dirty” or “grey” can no longer be flushed away. Read more »

Powered by Diversity and Healthy Soil, an Organic Iowa Farm Flourishes

The Rosmann’s have a retail store on the farm where they sell a wide variety of goods to visiting consumers. NRCS photo.

The Rosmann’s have a retail store on the farm where they sell a wide variety of goods to visiting consumers. NRCS photo.

In many respects, Ron and Maria Vakulskas Rosmann’s “Farm Sweet Farm” is a typical Iowa farm. The Rosmann’s grow corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs.

But that’s where the similarities with traditional farming operations end.  A certified organic producer since 1994, the 700-acre farm near Harlan, Iowa is home to a remarkable amount of diversity — above and below the ground.

“Last year, we planted 26 different species of seeds, and this is typical,” Ron said. Read more »

Bill Gates, Computerized Plant Breeding and Contending with Hunger

Bill Gates learns to pollinate wheat from Cornell University assistant professor Jessica Rutkoski, while ARS geneticist Edward Buckler looks on. Photo credit: Robert Barker, Cornell University.

Bill Gates learns to pollinate wheat from Cornell University assistant professor Jessica Rutkoski, while ARS geneticist Edward Buckler looks on. Photo credit: Robert Barker, Cornell University.

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 USDA’s rich science and research profile.

Bill Gates, once simply of Microsoft fame, is now as famous for his dedication to reducing hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa and other goals that drive the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  He recently visited Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Plant, Soil and Nutrition Research Unit in Ithaca, NY, to learn what two geneticists are doing to improve crop breeding decisions that could be used in that part of the world.

At the research unit, ARS geneticist Edward Buckler is turning the encyclopedic amount of genetic information he has developed about corn into helping the crop yield the kind of improvements in Africa that have been made in North America. Varieties bred for North American climates simply do not work in Africa where they currently produce only about one-fifth the harvest they do in this country. Millions of hungry and extremely poor people can’t afford the hundred years it would take for conventional breeding that was once the path taken in the United States. Read more »