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High-Tech Agriculture Continues to Reap Rewards for Farmers and Society

A team of researchers with an unmanned aerial system

With a new view from above, diverse teams of researchers help deliver information to farmers using useful, inexpensive unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

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.

Just like a smart phone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology—known as precision agriculture—helps farmers know and apply critical information about the right investments in fertilizer, seed, pesticide and water needed to produce their crops. Through new technologies, farmers produce more efficiently and see an increase in profits while improving stewardship of ecosystems and local communities.

To talk about precision agriculture is to talk about mapping the amount of a crop grown per acre (yield) or the types of soils in a given area. It also includes the technology that automatically guides farm machines and controls variables like the rates of seeds, fertilizers or chemicals. Read more »

USDA Helps Eastern North Carolina Recover after Matthew

Under Secretary Michael Scuse, North Carolina FSA State Executive Director Bob Etheridge, and FSA County Executive Director Kenny Johnson standing with farmer Kent Smith

Under Secretary Michael Scuse, North Carolina FSA State Executive Director Bob Etheridge, and FSA County Executive Director Kenny Johnson stand with farmer Kent Smith to assess flood damage to his sweet potato crop in Tarboro, North Carolina.

When Hurricane Matthew hit last month, disaster struck as high flood waters devastated communities up and down the East Coast. Agricultural producers in Eastern North Carolina were hit especially hard and suffered devastating losses to crops, livestock, and property.

Secretary Vilsack recently designated 39 counties in North Carolina as primary natural disaster areas, in addition to 15 contiguous counties. This week, I traveled to the state to visit some of the communities that were affected. I saw a peanut farm littered with uprooted plants and cracked shells. I met with an organic tobacco producer whose top soil had completely washed away. I visited a sweet potato and soybean farm that suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. We drove by washed out roads and gutted homes with waterlogged furniture piled high on the side of the road. Read more »

People behind Scientific Innovation at USDA

Dr. Woteki working with 4-H members

Dr. Woteki works with 4-H members.

The past eight years have been an extraordinary time for agricultural science, and for the application of new insights from other fields to enhance agricultural productivity and the overall agricultural economy. As the final days of this administration are approaching, it gives me a great deal of pride to look back at what USDA has accomplished in the areas of research and innovation.

Scientific research is a fundamental part of our mission at USDA. But, ultimately, what’s behind all the science is people – people who do the research and people who are affected by it. As USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, I’ve met and worked with both as I’ve traveled across the country and around the world. Read more »

NRCS Helps to Keep Native American Traditions Alive

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Mississippi soil conservation technician Allen Hughes displays baskets made from Southeastern longleaf pine needles in Poplarville, MS

NRCS Soil Conservation Technician Allen Hughes mailed longleaf pine needles from his backyard to Oregon to be used to weave baskets, a Native American tradition across the U.S. Photo: Justin Fritscher, NRCS.

The 567 federally-recognized Native American Tribes are unique in their own way—from their languages and family structure, to their clothing and food. Tribes are working hard to revive their roots to help reconnect their heritage to the land, rekindle their spiritual bonds and cultural traditions, and raise awareness amongst future generations; especially tribal youth in line to inherit the land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with the tribes like the Choctaw Indians, comprised of nearly 10,000 members across the United States, to farm and harvest hickory king corn and other heirloom white varieties, and process them to make hominy. Hominy is made from dried corn kernels, but it is expensive to purchase. NRCS provides the tribe with technical assistance to help transform idle land into a hominy-making enterprise–enabling the tribe to provide their own locally-grown, fresh produce, and cut their expenses by growing the corn. Read more »

US Forest Service Every Kid in a Park Program Offers Field Trip Idea, Educational Resources – and a Free Holiday Tree Permit

A member of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American Northwest talking to fourth graders

A member of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American Northwest talk to fourth graders about the importance and contribution of black soldiers in the 1800s. Education about natural resources and history is an important part of U.S. Forest Service Every Kid in a Park field trips and events. (Photo courtesy National Parks Trust)

For the second year, the U.S. Forest Service is part of the administration’s Every Kid in a Park program, an initiative to provide American fourth graders with a free pass to more than 2,000 federal land and water sites for them, their siblings and up to three adults.

The pass includes access to 153 national forests, 20 grasslands and one tall grass prairie managed for the public by the Forest Service and other lands and waters managed by six other federal agencies. Some state parks also honor the pass. Read more »

Ranchers Using NRCS Conservation Practices Boost Prairie Chicken Occupancy

Lesser prairie-chickens

Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from lands where a rancher is using prescribed grazing, according to a new report. Photo courtesy of Nick Richter.

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That’s the finding of a recent scientific study – the first part of a multi-year study – described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat have been restored on working lands. Read more »