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New International Wood Packaging Standard Stops Bugs Dead in their Tracks

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

Several hundred non-native forest insect species have become established in the U.S. Recent arrivals, such as this adult Asian longhorned beetle, have killed millions of trees and altered urban landscapes in the Northeast and Midwest. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Kenneth R. Law, courtesy of Bugwood.org)

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Wood makes great packaging material—it’s inexpensive, abundant and versatile—but there’s one drawback: destructive forest pests stowaway in the pallets, crates and dunnage (wood used to brace cargo) used in international shipping. Over many years, international trade has resulted in the inadvertent introduction of many non-native wood-feeding pests and plant pathogens in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some of these non-native insects, including the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle, have become highly invasive and caused serious environmental and economic impacts.

But an international standard for wood packaging material is slowing the inadvertent export of invasive bark- and wood-boring insects, according to a study conducted by Robert Haack, a research entomologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Lansing, Mich., and a team of scientists. Researchers found as much as a 52 percent drop in infestation rates in the U.S., where the standard was implemented in three phases between 2005 and 2006. The study was published May 14 in the journal PLOS ONE. Read more »

The Healthy Eating Index: How does America Score?

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

The Healthy Eating Index logo.

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 the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Have you ever heard of the Healthy Eating Index? The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) measures the quality of Americans’ food choices. At USDA we use the HEI to see how closely Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate. The HEI assigns scores to diets on a scale in which the maximum score of 100 indicates that the diet meets all Dietary Guidelines recommendations. The HEI shows us that the diets of most Americans could use some improvement. For example, HEI scores for 2007-08 averaged about 53.5 points out of 100 points, and these scores have not changed substantially since 2001-02. Using the HEI we can also compare how food choices and overall diet quality differ among males and females and in certain age groups, such as HEI scores for children and adolescents.

The HEI includes 12 components, each of which measures one aspect of dietary quality. These components represent all of the key Dietary Guidelines food choice recommendations. Nine of the components focus on the types of foods that Americans should eat more of, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains. Three components focus on foods or nutrients that are over consumed and Americans should eat less of, including refined grains, sodium, and calories from solid fats and added sugars (empty calories). Read more »

The More Conservation for the Illinois and Macinaw Rivers – the Better

Tim Malone, center, is a NRCS district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. Here he leads a watershed tour. (NRCS photo)

Tim Malone, center, is a NRCS district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. Here he leads a watershed tour. (NRCS photo)

Rivers are special places, and for me, the Illinois and Macinaw rivers in central Illinois are my special places. Both rivers eventually send their waters to the Mississippi River, and the area provides habitat for wildlife as well as recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing.

But the rivers suffer from streambank erosion, soil erosion, sedimentation and nutrient runoff. We all hear about the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi, which is caused by high levels of nutrients in the water.

Water quality is important to me as a conservationist and motivates me as a conservationist. I am interested in conservation and wildlife habitat – both as a citizen that enjoys the outdoors as well as my job as a district conservationist in Tazewell County, Ill. with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »

Ohio Habitat for Humanity Home Framed and Rising with Help from ‘Team RD’

USDA Ohio Rural Development employees help construction workers "walk up a wall" during a day of volunteering at a Marysville, Ohio Habitat for Humanity build. The house, which will belong to Union County resident Michelle Amrine, is the first-ever built-from-the-ground-up collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Rural Development in Ohio. (USDA Photo by Heather Hartley)

USDA Ohio Rural Development employees help construction workers "walk up a wall" during a day of volunteering at a Marysville, Ohio Habitat for Humanity build. The house, which will belong to Union County resident Michelle Amrine, is the first-ever built-from-the-ground-up collaboration between Habitat for Humanity and Rural Development in Ohio. (USDA Photo by Heather Hartley)

In commemoration of USDA’s annual Homeownership Month, some industrious Ohio Rural Development team members and I recently spent a sunny day at a Habitat for Humanity building site, helping Marysville resident Michelle Amrine and her two children frame out a place to call their own.

Financed through USDA Rural Development’s Direct Home Loan program, the home is being constructed through Habitat for Humanity of Union County. Although earlier projects in the state included funds for the rehabilitation of already-existing construction, the Amrine house marks the first “from-the-ground-up” collaboration between Ohio Rural Development and Habitat for Humanity. Read more »

Conservation Work in Arkansas Makes Positive Impact Downstream

Terry Dabbs gives Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Nancy Stoner, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for Water (right), a tour of his farm. (NRCS photo by Reginald L. Jackson)

Terry Dabbs gives Ann Mills, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and Nancy Stoner, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Assistant Administrator for Water (right), a tour of his farm. (NRCS photo by Reginald L. Jackson)

I recently toured several farms near Stuttgart, Ark. with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner, state officials and conservationists. We met farmers working to clean and conserve water using conservation efforts, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The tour provided me and my colleagues from Washington, D.C. and almost a dozen states an opportunity to see firsthand how voluntary, incentive-conservation practices are helping Arkansas farmers maintain productivity while protecting wildlife habitat and improving water quality and water use efficiency.

On Terry Dabbs’ Discovery Farm, we heard how the combination of conservation practices results in better water quality. As Dabbs said, if he is contributing to poor water quality downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, he wants to know about it and fix it. Read more »

Calling on Communities to Help Feed Children in Need

Cross-posted from the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships blog:

With summer’s arrival, officials at the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are preparing for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines are provided to all children 18 years old and under at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

Our offices recently hosted a nationwide conference call to thank faith and community leaders for their work in this area and to inform them about efforts surrounding the SFSP this summer. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the call, challenging community leaders to strive for an aggressive, but attainable goal: serving an additional 10 million meals over the course of the summer to better reach our children in need. Secretary Vilsack discussed the need for children to be well-nourished, an essential part of our commitment to helping children learn and thrive. Read more »