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New GroupGAP Certification Brings New Opportunities for the Produce Industry

A National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School

From salad greens to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up everywhere from grocery stores to our kids’ school lunch plates. Helping the produce industry meet this local food demand and to meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) now offers a new GroupGAP certification program for smaller growers. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Excitement is building in the produce industry.  From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates.  The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements. Read more »

The Little-Known Threat to Wild Turkeys

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting

Turkeys in Texas engaging in courting before laying eggs, which are increasingly at risk from feral swine. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spring brings new life to the fields and forests and wild turkeys are one of the most interesting spectacles this time of year. Male turkeys gobble and strut to attract the attention of hen turkeys. Hens, in turn, go off and lay their eggs- one egg each day until the clutch is complete and the hens then begin incubation.

Unfortunately, this spring more than ever, wild turkeys across the U.S. are facing an increasing threat from a new and rapidly expanding population of nest predators…feral swine. Feral swine, also known as wild pigs, feral hogs, and wild boars, are not native to North America and are the descendants of domestic swine which either escaped or were liberated. In some cases, feral swine are intentionally released to create new hunting opportunities. But these opportunities come at the expense of other wildlife, including ground nesting birds such as the wild turkey. Feral swine are highly adaptable and can learn to seek out turkey nests even before the hen starts incubation, consuming the eggs when left unprotected. When a partially completed clutch is depredated, the hen is forced to start over, depleting vital reserves within herself as well as risking lower nest success and chick survival. Read more »

USDA Helps Military Veterans Explore Agriculture as a Career

A veteran and participant of the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program handling living basil at an organic hydroponic farm

A veteran and participant of the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program handles living basil at an organic hydroponic farm, which grows plants in water as opposed to soil. USDA is committed to introducing agriculture as a career possibility to the 1,300 new veterans and their families who return to civilian life each day.

Before serving in my current role at USDA, I served eight years in the U.S. Army and the Iowa National Guard, including a 15-month mobilization and deployment as a combat engineer in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During my tour, I saw firsthand the tremendous scope of unique skills, experiences and perspectives held by those who serve in our armed forces.

Those exact same skills can be an excellent fit for farming and ranching, which is why USDA is increasing its efforts to introduce agriculture as a career possibility to the 1,300 new veterans and their families who return to civilian life each day. Read more »

Variety is Key When Serving Grains

Oats, barley, and other grains

Oats, barley, and other grains. USDA photo by Peggy Greb.

The programs within USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS) strive to provide Americans with the assistance and information they need to maintain healthy lifestyles.

In achieving that mission, FNCS relies heavily on the advice of experts, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Recently, the level of arsenic in rice has received increased attention, and FDA has proposed a maximum allowable level of arsenic in infant rice cereal products. Because of the new proposed guidance issued by FDA, which is open to public comment now, USDA is working to assist growers and processors wishing to utilize their products for infant rice cereal to ensure that their rice does not contain amounts of arsenic that surpass the new limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb). Read more »

New Study Highlights Redcedar’s Impact on Prairie Chickens, Helps Improve Conservation Efforts

Photo of prairie after redcedars are removed

Photo of prairie after redcedars are removed.

A new study offers the first empirical data proving that female lesser prairie-chickens avoid grasslands when trees are present. The study, highlighted in a Science to Solutions report by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), underscores the importance of removing woody invasive plants like redcedar to restore grassland habitat. The new data will help guide USDA’s conservation efforts.

Though sometimes called the “green glacier” for its steady progress across the prairie, redcedar encroachment is far from glacial in speed. Open grasslands can become closed-canopy forest in as little as 40 years, making the land unsuitable to lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife. Read more »

Silent Cultural Symbols that Speak Volumes

Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado

Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado. Forest Service photo

Quietly waiting for you in our national forests and grasslands are what remains of long past civilizations and cultures. Some of these sites still have direct spiritual or cultural meaning to folks today while others are a complete mystery of what once was of a vanished people. Yet, in both cases, the adventurer is reminded of the centuries-old relationship between people and the land.

It’s this relationship between land and people that gives the U.S. Forest Service such pride in knowing that we protect these irreplaceable symbols that ancient peoples left to us. These near mystical treasures can be found from the Olympic National Forest in Washington State to the Dakota Prairie Grasslands of North Dakota to the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest of Virginia. Read more »