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Serving Up Statistics More Efficiently

Ag Census Importance Infographic

The Census of Agriculture and the resulting data help inform decisions made across the agricultural spectrum, ranging from producers to policymakers. (Click to enlarge)

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.

On any given day, a USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) employee or representative might be contacting a farmer or rancher to request information about his or her operation. At the same time, another employee could be analyzing data provided by other producers, while other employees prepare one of the many statistical reports we publish each year on U.S. agriculture to help with business, research and policy decisions. 

Although the general cycle of data collection, analysis and publication of our agricultural estimates and census of agriculture programs is like a well-oiled machine, the recent rate of change is much more rapid than I can ever recall in the years I’ve worked in government statistics. New technology and changes in budgets, communications, leadership and workplace culture has allowed us to modernize to better serve the American public. Read more »

Regional Conservation Partnership Program – New Partners, New Resources, New Ideas

NRCS Chief Jason Weller (far right) touring acequias in New Mexico

NRCS Chief Jason Weller (far right) completes his tour of acequias in New Mexico at the oldest continuously functioning acequia in the United States – the Acequia de Chamita, near Espanola, New Mexico – in operation since 1597. With Chief Weller are (left to right) Gilbert Borrego, NRCS New Mexico Acequia Civil Engineering Technician; Kenny Salazar, President of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts; and Bren van Dyke, First Vice President of the National Association of Conservation Districts. Photo by Rey T. Adame.

Last week, I visited with local communities in northern New Mexico. Many of these communities rely on irrigation ditches, called acequias, as their primary water source in an otherwise arid region. These are ditches that were used by their parents, and their grandparents, and their great-grand parents. Some acequias in the area date back more than 400 years.

Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), NRCS is working with acequia communities and partners across the state of New Mexico to improve water quality, water quantity, and boost the overall health of these local irrigation ditches that so many rural American communities depend on. The Acequia San Rafael del Guique, for example, provides water for roughly 150 people in the Ohkay Owengeh and El Guique communities – it’s being revitalized as part of our RCPP project in the state. Read more »

Rural Housing Service: Stewards of the American Dream and Leading the Way to a Modern USDA with Paperless Processing

Guaranteed Home Loan Program infographic

New home loan processing is saving customer and staff time, taxpayer money and lots of paper. (Click to enlarge)

This has been the year of innovation at USDA Rural Housing Service. We are working smarter, faster, more efficient and environmentally conscious than ever before.  After years of brainstorming, planning, reengineering, testing, and training, RHS has realized its vision: the Section 502 Guaranteed Single Family Home Loan Program now operates paperless, and we’re saving more than we ever imagined possible.

USDA’s Rural Development State field offices now transact business with private lenders via Web-based uploads and electronic signatures.  This means RHS and our private partners are no longer printing and sending hundreds of pages of paper back-and-forth every time a loan guarantee is used to help a rural American family buy their home. Read more »

A Hedge against Drought: Why Healthy Soil is ‘Water in the Bank’

Niagra Falls infographic

As soil health improves, so too does its hydrologic function. This graphic illustrates how much additional water could be stored in the soil of all U.S. cropland with the addition of 1 percent of organic matter.

While most look to the sky for drought relief, an increasing number of farmers are looking to the soil. And for good reason: Healthy soils capture and store much more water – which can come in handy during dry spells.

Through its “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” campaign, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is leading the effort to get more farmers and ranchers to adopt soil health management systems for a wide range of on- and off-farm benefits – including drought resiliency.

So what’s the water-banking secret in healthy soil? Read more »

Lessons Learned from a Food Service Director: Kids Like Healthy Foods

Fruits in plastic trays

In Kentucky, the Whitley County School District customizes the fruit and vegetable options served in each school, based on the preferences of those particular students.

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

By Sharon Foley, Food Service Director, Whitley County School District, Kentucky

During the more than two decades I’ve worked in schools, I’ve witnessed what we now know to be true: healthy kids learn better. But I’ll also let you in on a secret: Not only are healthy foods better for our children’s long-term outcomes, kids like healthy foods! Read more »

Rural Electrification Celebrates 80 Years of Rural Productivity

REA 80th Anniversary - North Plains Electric Cooperative. The first home furnished with cooperative power in the North Plains EC service area was that of George Robbins (below) located in the southwest part of Lipscomb County, Texas. W.M. Good (above), first president of the Boards of Directors at North Plains Electric Cooperative threw the switch to energize the first 80 miles of line on February 5, 1946. Power was purchased from the City of Canadian, Texas. A very small 300 KVA substation located in Canadian served the first few miles of line for the cooperative members.

North Plains Electric Cooperative, located in Perryton, Texas, and serving the Northeast corner of the Texas panhandle, the co-op has “been lighting the Texas Plains since 1944.”

In the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7037 on May 11, 1935 establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a temporary agency tasked with deciding how to fund rural electric systems. The following year, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, giving statutory power to the new agency.

It didn’t take them long to get to work. In 1937, the REA noted the most spectacular increase of rural electrification in the history of the United States had been achieved. Thanks to this national commitment, more than 1.2 million farms had electric service and the gap between urban and rural standards of living was closing. Read more »