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Transferring Dead Trees from Source of Wildfire Fuel to Biofuel

Mountain lake with pine beetle damaged forest

Researchers are harvesting beetle-killed trees in the Rocky Mountain region for use as feedstock for biofuel. (iStock image)

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.

Trees killed by bark beetles have, for years, been a source of fuel for forest fires.  Now, those very trees are being turned into biofuel and biobased products.

This vast bioenergy resource—approximately 46 million acres—requires no cultivation, circumvents food-versus-fuel concerns, and may have a highly favorable carbon balance compared other forestry feedstocks. The problem, however, is that beetle-killed biomass is typically located far from urban industrial centers in relatively inaccessible areas, which means transportation costs are a key barrier to widespread utilization of this vast resource. Read more »

Industry Research and Promotion Programs Prepare Next Generation of Ag Leaders

Brittany Lowery, a student at North Carolina State University, receiving her certificate of completion of Swine Science Online, from Dr. Todd See, Dr. Ken Esbenshade and Dr. Billy Flowers

Brittany Lowery, a student at North Carolina State University, receives her certificate of completion of Swine Science Online, from Dr. Todd See, Dr. Ken Esbenshade and Dr. Billy Flowers. The SSO courses teach students scientific principles and management skills to prepare them for careers in the swine industry. Photo courtesy of the National Pork Board.

As recent studies indicate agriculture is one of the best fields for college graduates, it is imperative for the industry to groom the next generation of leaders. All of us here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would like to highlight the efforts of a couple industry Research and Promotion Programs for encouraging young students to choose agricultural careers.

The Pork Checkoff and the US Pork Center of Excellence worked together to develop Swine Science Online (SSO) courses that teach students scientific principles and management skills to best prepare them for careers in the swine industry. Read more »

Invasive Pest Invades a National Comic Strip

EAB Comic strip

Photo credit: Mark Trail via @ComicsKingdom

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Awareness week is May 17-23 and my tenure in a nationally syndicated comic strip is coming to an end, so it’s a good time to tell you how a new USDA employee wound up cartoon-ized.

The Mark Trail strip—known for its environmental themes—just finished a six-week long storyline about the invasive EAB.  The EAB, a small metallic green wood-boring beetle, destroys ash trees and is now found in 25 U.S. States.  The Mark Trail strip features “Agent Abbey Powell from the USDA” and shares information about the EAB. To view the comic—beginning with my debut—visit Mark Trail. Read more »

Planting Seeds for New Careers for our Veterans

Veterans Farm founder Adam Burke taking AMS Veteran Program Manager Yowei Peralta on a tour of the organization’s blueberry farm

Veterans Farm founder Adam Burke (dark jeans and blue shirt) takes AMS Veteran Program Manager Yowei Peralta (khakis and white shirt) on a tour of the organization’s blueberry farm. Each plant bears a military Identification tag of a veteran that participated in the fellowship program. Photo Courtesy of Veterans Farm.

Tucked away in the countryside of Jacksonville, Fla., is a place that offers hope and opportunity for returning veterans. Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land, opened its doors in 2009. Its founder, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is utilizing his skills to create a unique environment where veterans can develop agriculture skills that can help them become effective farmers or ranchers.  USDA is partnering with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly workshops to connect these veterans to key departmental resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers.

I recently attended one of these workshops to introduce our veterans to my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). In particular, I talked about opportunities to strengthen the local food sector via AMS’ Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (which includes the Local Food Promotion Program and the Farmers Market Promotion Program) as well as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. I also talked about our recent partnership with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to begin a series of grant-writing workshops to help potential grant applicants write successful grant applications. Read more »

USDA, Partners Seek Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium for our Students

School lunch staff with food in trays

Creating healthier environments starts at home and in schools.

Sodium, the major nutrient found in salt, is essential to maintain blood volume, regulate water balance in cells, and aid nerve function.  According to the American Heart Association, however, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease.

Unfortunately, 90 percent of children in the U.S. consume too much sodium (as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  With that in mind, USDA and our partners are seeking creative ways to reduce sodium content in school meals, yet still keep students healthy and happy. Read more »

Adding a Helping of Books to Nutritious Summer Meals

A boy reading a book with a man

Enrichment activities help keep children and teens engaged, while they receive a healthy meal or snack at USDA summer meals sites.

The following guest blog was submitted by Kyle Zimmer, CEO of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides access to free and low-cost books to children in need. Many USDA summer meals sites provide not only healthy meals and snacks, but also offer physical activity and enrichment activities to keep children and teens engaged and coming back.  First Book serves up a helping of books and educational resources to support these meals sites while they provide healthy options when school is out for the summer.

By Kyle Zimmer, CEO of First Book

We all know that nutrition is closely tied to school performance.  Brains and bodies need healthy foods to nourish and nurture their development.  While schools play a critical role in providing free and reduced cost breakfasts and lunches during the school year, those needs can be even greater in the summer when children are out of school and families’ limited food budgets need to account for those extra meals. Fortunately, thanks to the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), healthy summer meals are available for children in low-income neighborhoods. We just have to work together to make sure families know about summer meals programs available in their community. Read more »