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USDA’s Innovative Technology Streamlines Federal Food Purchasing Logistics

WBSCM enabled the ordering, procurement, and delivery of 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. USDA photo courtesy of Lance Cheung.

WBSCM enabled the ordering, procurement, and delivery of 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. USDA photo courtesy of Lance Cheung.

Logistics is not just a fancy buzz word; it is the oil that keeps the engine of an interconnected global market running smoothly. For U.S. food purchasing agencies, logistics means ordering, procuring, and delivering nearly 8.5 billion pounds of domestically-produced foods by successfully awarding nearly $3 billion in contracts during the last fiscal year. It means using the Web-Based Supply Chain Management System (WBSCM) – a tool developed by USDA that helped hundreds of companies deliver quality foods to recipients in the National School Lunch Program, other federal food assistance programs and even victims of disasters.

Before it could facilitate the ordering and delivery of all these foods, WBSCM had to integrate the business processes and needs of recipient agencies, external vendors/contractors and employees from five agencies with unique missions. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) are all USDA agencies, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an entirely different department. Creating a system that successfully tracks data covering the entire process – from gathering orders and soliciting bids to making sure that vendors are paid – was not an easy task. It requires a reliable, flexible system and an efficient staff to make it all come together. Read more »

Prairie Partnership Provides Habitat for Rare Orchid

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

The western prairie fringed orchid is one of Minnesota’s 43 wild orchids. Photo by Ben Sullivan. Used with permission.

My family and I enjoy natural scavenger hunts. When we explore the landscape surrounding our Norman County farm, we teach each other about the birds, animals and plants we see. It’s fun to search for native wildflowers. It’s even more fun to spot something rare.

Recently, through a school project for my son, we learned about Minnesota’s many wild orchids. Our state is home to 43 different orchids. Who knew?

We learned Minnesota is the only state with an orchid as its state flower. We also learned we live in close proximity to suitable habitat for a very special wildflower – the western prairie fringed orchid. We’re planning to search for this unique flower this summer. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Helping America’s Farmers Rise to the Challenge of Climate Change

Farmers, ranchers and foresters have long understood the need to care for our land and water—not only because preserving those resources for our children and their children is the right thing to do, but because they know that our farms and forests are more productive and efficient when they’re properly cared for.

Science and technology has expanded our capability and improved our understanding over the years, but this core mission remains the same. Today’s farmers and ranchers have risen to the twin responsibilities of producing safe, affordable food while employing cutting edge conservation practices on their operations to conserve water, minimize runoff, prevent soil erosion, and preserve wildlife habitat. They know that this will only become more critical as we take on the challenges of feeding a growing global population and dealing with the impacts of a changing climate. Read more »

Strategic Planning, Thoughtful Leadership Bring Leveraged Investments, Community Vitality to Small-Town West Virginia

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

After our terrific meeting with city officials in Ranson and Charles Town, I had the opportunity to visit with local FFA students at Hampshire High School in Romney, WV. Rural America truly is a place where cutting edge innovation meets old-fashioned fun on the farm!

I’d been told the neighboring towns of Ranson and Charles Town, West Virginia, are vibrant communities where people want to live, work and raise a family. During a recent visit with local leaders and USDA’s community economic development partners in the area, I saw first-hand how regional approaches and partnerships are attracting public and private investment to the region that make this quality of life possible.

Along with WV Rural Development State Director Bobby Lewis, I recently convened a discussion with the mayors and city planners of the two towns to learn more about their successes and strategies. I learned that Charles Town and Ranson are thinking big, re-imagining their future, and developing a blueprint for their long-term economic viability. You see, by working together to develop comprehensive objectives and plans, the communities have been able to leverage grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new businesses, transportation links, and affordable housing. And in 2011, USDA contributed an important piece, providing funding through a Community Facilities Direct Loan for a much needed ambulance shelter. Read more »

Celebrating our Native Wildflowers for National Wildflower Week 2014

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

In northern Florida wildflowers are planted in an unused part of this farm field to provide habitat for pollinators. USDA photo.

No matter what part of the country you grew up in, most of us have fond childhood memories of the wildflowers that sprung up each year around our homes, parks and roadsides.

For many, this fondness has carried into our adult years. This week, we celebrate National Wildflower Week as a way to share our interest and to increase public awareness for wildflowers in the landscape.

The beauty of wildflowers can indeed stir up memories of a certain place or time. But the wildflowers that are native to a particular place also serve an important function in the ecology of that place. Read more »

K-9s – A Law Enforcement Officer’s Equal Partner, Best Friend

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer Carson Harris and his K-9 partner, Jasper, patrol the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (U.S. Forest Service)

The recent tragedy involving U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Jason Crisp and his K-9 Maros brought to light the close bond between an officer and his dog and the dangers they face.

Crisp and K-9 Maros were killed in the line of duty on March 12, 2014 in Burke County, North Carolina. The efforts of officers and K-9s are crucial to the mission of Forest Service law enforcement and a well-trained K-9 team is vital to the protection of people, property and resources on U.S. Forest Service-managed lands. Not only are the highly trained dogs involved in the apprehension of suspects and the detection of narcotics, but they also locate evidence, track individuals and provide community demonstrations. Read more »