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Cover Crops: Agriculture’s Hero

Testing can provide the vital information needed when deciding what cover crop seed to purchase. Pictured here is AMS Botanist Elizabeth Tatum identifying a weed seed. (AMS photo)

Testing can provide the vital information needed when deciding what cover crop seed to purchase. Pictured here is AMS Botanist Elizabeth Tatum identifying a weed seed. (AMS photo)

Cover crops are the real heroes in the world of agriculture. Their job starts after a field is harvested and ends just before the next season’s crop is planted. Expectations for cover crops are high because if they don’t produce, the next crop may suffer.

After crops are harvested each year, planting fields are left bare. Runoff from rainwater, wind, and other forms of erosion devastate planting fields by stripping essential nutrients from the soil – nutrients needed for the next growing season. In addition to the loss of vital nutrients, the exposed fields are prime real estate for noxious-weed seeds intent on stealing what is left of the field’s nutrients. Replacing the lost nutrients and removing the weedy invaders costs millions of dollars each year for farmers. Read more »

The Greatest Good

I was asked recently what the Forest Service mission meant to me. There are three words that always come to mind any time I think about what we do … the greatest good.

Founder of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot said that where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.

Our mission is varied and complex, but the concept of doing our best for the largest amount of people is much simpler. We will always strive to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Read more »

USDA Grant Improves Monitoring of Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Other At-Risk Wildlife

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is an endangered bird that lives in the riparian areas of the Southwest. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Southwestern willow flycatcher is an endangered bird that lives in the riparian areas of the Southwest. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The distinctive “fitz-bew” of the Southwestern willow flycatchers is music to the ears of the partners of Wetland Dynamics, LLC, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently improved the ability to hear them. Wetland Dynamics received a $60,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS in 2014 to develop innovative technology for monitoring the endangered flycatcher and two other imperiled species in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

“What we’re doing is innovative,” said Jenny Nehring, a biologist and partner at Wetland Dynamics. “The technology we’re using has been around for quite some time. But with the partnership now forged with NRCS, we are able to expand and improve our innovative techniques that build upon existing tools, which will in turn help to better understand certain wildlife species and improve protection of them.” Read more »

New USDA Survey Examines Where We Shop for Groceries and How We Get There

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.

We’ve long recognized that what we eat affects our health. But distances to stores offering healthy and affordable foods—as well as travel modes—can play a role in what gets purchased and consumed. Are the poor at a disadvantage when it comes to getting to a grocery store? How do shoppers—poor and not poor—travel to their main grocery store and how far do they travel to get there?

A new survey funded by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and Food and Nutrition Service is ideally suited to answer these questions. The National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) collected information from a national sample of 4,826 households between April 2012 and January 2013 about where they shop for food and other unique, comprehensive data about household food purchases and acquisitions. FoodAPS is unique because it sampled a relatively large number of households that participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as nonparticipant households from three income levels. Read more »

A Year Round Fire Season?

A pine burns with snow on the ground on the Boise National Forest (Photo Credit: US Forest Service)

A pine burns with snow on the ground on the Boise National Forest (Photo Credit: US Forest Service)

There was a time when fire season for Western states meant only certain months out of the year. Not so long ago the U.S. Forest Service considered it primarily a summer problem with a few regions breaking the trend in early spring and late fall.

But climate change, according to most wildland fire experts, has turned fire season into a year-round issue.

What used to slow down fire season was winter—a long and cold time of year with lots of snow that killed off many invasive or destructive pests and filled rivers and reservoirs with ample water to supply the needs of millions living in the West. Read more »

Celebrate National Nutrition Month with MyPlate at School!

MyPlate is the perfect teaching tool for nutrition education! Discover classroom materials at ChooseMyPlate.gov and from Team Nutrition.

MyPlate is the perfect teaching tool for nutrition education! Discover classroom materials at ChooseMyPlate.gov and from Team Nutrition.

In honor of National Nutrition Month®, MyPlate is sharing resources to help you bite into a healthy lifestyle everywhere you go! This blog highlights resources for encouraging a healthy lifestyle in the classroom. Learn about healthy eating at home, work, and throughout the community here.

MyPlate can be used to teach students of all ages about healthy eating. Start early and introduce preschoolers to fruits and vegetables through garden-themed nutrition education using the Grow It, Try It, Like It! Nutrition Education Kit. Elementary school teachers can integrate nutrition education into other subjects including Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Health with Serving Up MyPlate: A Yummy Curriculum. Read more »