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Student Agricultural and Food Systems Innovation Prize Launched – Help Innovate Agriculture!

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.

Food ties all of humanity together, and making sure there is enough to go around while conserving our natural resources is critical to USDA’s mission. Our researchers think about how to sustainably produce greater quantities of safe and nutritious food every single day. Our in-house science agency, the Agricultural Research Service, has labs across the country that work on just those problems, while our National Institute of Food and Agriculture seeks out the most promising ideas from our university partners and awards the funding needed to get started.

Sometimes, all it takes is a fresh perspective to make a big jump in progress. Read more »

Organic Crop Insurance Is Growing in New Ways!

B & W Orchards owner Barbara Robinson grows blueberries and other produce on her eastern Mississippi farm. Photo by Mississippi State University Extension Service

B & W Orchards owner Barbara Robinson grows blueberries and other produce on her eastern Mississippi farm. Photo by Mississippi State University Extension Service

Federal crop insurance provides the risk management tools necessary for American farmers to stay in business after a difficult crop year. They can be the difference between a farmer going under because of a lean year or having a safety net that allows them to keep farming and rebuild.  These tools help farmers who rely on good farming practices for smart land use and preserve economic stability for generations.  And the Risk Management Agency (RMA) has worked hard to extend risk management tools for organic producers.

Organic producers were first able to obtain crop insurance under the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000. However, due to the lack of data, organic farmers were initially charged an additional 5 percent surcharge and were only able to insure the “conventional price” for their crop – not the organic price.  Many organic producers felt the surcharge was not justified and that crop insurance prices needed to better reflect what they received in the marketplace. Read more »

Web Soil Survey Update Improves Data Delivery, Customer Service

Data on soils on the nation’s 3,265 soil survey areas are now updated and available free online from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“This update is a major step-forward in meeting the growing demand for NRCS soils data,” said Dave Hoover, NRCS national leader of Soil Business Systems. “Our soil scientists in every state helped us upgrade all our software and databases, improve our spatial data, and put together a complete suite of soil interpretations and other products our customers want.” Read more »

Pioneer African-American Smokejumper Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)

During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.

The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.

In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945. Read more »

New Naturalist Program Aims to Bring Southern Illinois Kids Outdoors

The Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom. Youngsters will have an opportunity to enjoy the Shawnee National Forest, like the kids here at the Young Trekkers afterschool program. Photo used with permission.

The Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom. Youngsters will have an opportunity to enjoy the Shawnee National Forest, like the kids here at the Young Trekkers afterschool program. Photo used with permission.

With declining budgets in the public school system, there has been a steady decrease in school fieldtrips in recent years. This plight further widens the disconnect between children and nature.

To help bridge the gap between the schoolroom and the natural world, the Shawnee National Forest will offer a new school program this year called Naturalist in the Classroom.  The program will be piloted to third- through fifth-grade students in Union and Alexander counties located in southern Illinois, and will focus on two themes – forest ecology and wetland ecology. Read more »

Digging Deeper: New Video Series Unlocks the Secrets of Soil Health

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

Buz Kloot interviews Rick Haney, a research soil scientist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Temple, Texas, for the video series. NRCS photo.

For years, researcher and filmmaker Buz Kloot suspected something remarkable was happening under our feet.

His suspicion was based on interviews he conducted with farmers from various parts of the country – all of whom reported significant production and environmental benefits by simply improving the health of their soil.

“These farmers reported more consistent yields, lower input costs and higher net income,” said Kloot, a University of South Carolina research associate professor. “They weren’t sneaking out at night to fertilize and irrigate. I had to believe what I saw. And with each visit, these ‘anomalies’ amassed.” Read more »