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Dogs Help Protect Livestock Against Predators

Two livestock protection dogs

Working dogs like these two livestock protection dogs help drive off predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes, and offer sheep ranchers an alternative to reducing livestock losses.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is helping to provide livestock producers in the western United States with livestock guard dogs that offer greater protection against predators.

Generally large and white with shaggy hair, livestock protection dogs are trained to respond aggressively to predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes. Guard dogs are often used in the sheep industry as a method of non-lethal predator management because of their perceived effectiveness and low cost to producers. According to a 2010 American Sheep Industry survey, guard dog use is only second to shed lambing at effectively reducing depredation. Shed lambing, that is, raising lambs exclusively indoors, however is more than 9 times the annual cost of using a dog for lamb protection. Owing to the low cost of using livestock protection dogs, they are extremely valuable to the sheep industry. According to Michael Marlow, resource management specialist for APHIS’ Wildlife Services program, many producers are certain they’d be out of business without them. Read more »

USDA Agencies, Suppliers and Vendors Taking Steps to Improve USDA Foods Purchase Process

Fresh vegetable cups at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Just after the ACDA event concluded, we met in California with producers and processors about our fruit and vegetable purchases for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). These meetings are another example of the steps we take to learn from our stakeholders and improve USDA Foods products. USDA Photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) commodity purchases play an important role in supporting American agriculture.  One commodity purchasing effort – the USDA Foods Program – purchases about 2 billion pounds of nutritious, domestically produced foods each year and supplies this food to families, schools, food banks, and communities nationwide, also serving as a key tool for combatting hunger.

Together, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Food and Nutrition Service and Farm Service Agency manage the USDA Foods Program. And together, we have launched the USDA Foods Business Management Improvement project, a broad effort to review and re-engineer USDA’s food procurement practices to improve the program for our customers and stakeholders. Read more »

USDA-Brazil Team Examines Biodegradable Food Packaging

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 portfolio.

A taste of Brazilian culture is presenting a favorable research environment for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Atanu Biswas, who just returned from one of three trips he will be taking to Fortaleza, Brazil.

Biswas was awarded the “Science without Borders” fellowship, sponsored by the Brazilian government’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), to lead a collaborative research team investigating new food packaging based on natural biodegradable plastics. He is the first ARS scientist selected to participate in the competitive program. Read more »

Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health

Cross-posted from the White House blog:

Pollinators are critical to the Nation’s economy, food security, and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables. This tremendously valuable service is provided to society by honey bees, native bees and other insect pollinators, birds, and bats.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture. Monarch butterflies, too, are in jeopardy. The number of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico’s forests has declined by 90% or more over the past two decades, placing the iconic annual North American Monarch migration at risk. Read more »

New Training Tracker Tool Now Available to School Nutrition Professionals

Professional Standards Tracking Tool screenshot

The ‘Enter Training Information’ page of the Professional Standards Tracking Tool provides training information for a school or school district’s employees. (Click to enlarge)

As a former school nutrition director, I can tell you that school nutrition professionals are dedicated to serving nutritious meals to their students and committed to making the new meal patterns work.  Established by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the new standards require schools to prepare healthier meals for the nearly 31 million children who rely on them each and every school day. At USDA, we understand school nutrition professionals are on the front lines every day as we all work together to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our nation’s children….and we’re glad we have them in our corner!

In March, USDA announced the final rule to establish national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition personnel who manage and operate our meal programs. The rule establishes education and training standards to ensure personnel have the training and tools to plan, prepare, and purchase healthy foods.  These strategies will support our hardworking school nutrition professionals as they create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals for our kids. Read more »

Much Ado about Fisher

Group of stakeholders participating in a field trip within the Ashland municipal watershed

A group of stakeholders participate in a field trip within the Ashland municipal watershed. Photo credit: US Forest Service

Located at the base of the Ashland Creek Watershed, the city of Ashland, Oregon, is home to nearly 21,000 people and a bustling tourist industry that revolves around world-class theatre experiences. Rogue Valley residents and tourists actively and passionately recreate in the Ashland municipal watershed, of which the upper portion is located primarily on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Like many areas in Southwest Oregon, a history of fire suppression has dramatically changed the way forests could potentially respond to fires. Stands once considered to be fire-adapted and fire-resilient have become densely overgrown. As a result of this fuels buildup, a high-intensity fire could result in the loss of the watershed’s largest trees, which help maintain soil stability and clean drinking water, and provide habitat for a diverse range of wildlife species. Read more »