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Two Years after Sandy: USDA Continues to Aid in Recovery and Disaster Prevention Efforts

Only the dock remains from a Bay Point, New Jersey residence after Hurricane Sandy hit.

Only the dock remains from a Bay Point, New Jersey residence after Hurricane Sandy hit.

About two years ago, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on several states in the Northeast, causing $68 billion dollars’ worth of damage to critical infrastructure, businesses, homes and landscapes. Since 2012, multiple agencies, including the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), have remained committed to helping the region build back stronger and better prepared for future storms.

To help the victims recover from Sandy and prevent future devastation in vulnerable flood areas, NRCS has invested about $120 million in Emergency Watershed Floodplain Easement Program, a program that helps restore and protect lands vulnerable to flooding. Read more »

On the Road with the Hypoxia Task Force

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

If you ever wonder about the future of agriculture, go no further than Brighton, Illinois.  Just 10 minutes with 15-year-old Adlai Schetter will reinforce that stewardship of private working lands is in good hands. It will also convince you that cover crops and second generation biofuels are a dynamic part of our agricultural future.  On the day I visited with Adlai at his parents’ farm, he summed up his vision in a professional PowerPoint presentation to an audience of more than 20 state and federal officials.

Adlai spends a lot of his free time researching the effectiveness of different cover crop seed mixes that include rye and radishes. After his formal presentation, we walked over to his test plots.  I asked him if he’s determining which cover crop work best and he responded that “they are like players on a football team, they each have important roles.”  Adlai understands how to make these cover crops work for him.  While other farmers may be looking at bare fields this winter and early next spring, Adlai and his parents get to watch their cover crops scavenge nutrients, improve soil porosity and suppress weeds. This frees up time for Adlai to spend on another passion – the second generation biofuel miscanthus.  Adlai puts his harvested miscanthus to work fueling a burner that heats a cavernous building that houses farm equipment and the farm’s office.  Ten bales a day of miscanthus and corn stover keep the building a comfortable 72 degrees throughout the cold Illinois winter.  This winter he will experiment with using even less fuel.  Asked if he gets any school credit for all this work, Adlai responds, “not really.” Read more »

Collier County, Florida, Features Highly Successful Farm to School Program

Left to right, Steve Condit, representative from 6 L's Farm, Penny Parham, the Director of Nutrition Services Miami-Dade, several Miami Dade Nutrition Services staff members, Dawn Houser, Director of Nutrition Services Collier County (blue shirt), several Collier Nutrition Services staff members, and the 6 L's Farm Manager.

Left to right, Steve Condit, representative from 6 L's Farm, Penny Parham, the Director of Nutrition Services Miami-Dade, several Miami Dade Nutrition Services staff members, Dawn Houser, Director of Nutrition Services Collier County (blue shirt), several Collier Nutrition Services staff members, and the 6 L's Farm Manager.

Throughout the Southeast, school districts are coming up with innovative ways to promote farm to school efforts. Farm to school programs engage students, teachers, and communities on the importance of healthier eating habits, local food systems, and provide nutritional education that stimulates the mind and has a lasting effect. Increasing awareness about Farm to School efforts is no longer on the back burner for school nutrition professionals. In Florida, there are several school districts who have taken on the challenge to increase farm to school efforts using some unique approaches.  In Sarasota County Schools, the Nutrition Department is committed to purchasing at least 50 percent of their produce from local farmers. The School Board of Alachua County has established 29 school gardens used as outdoor learning labs providing students hands-on nutritional education. This year during farm to school month, it is no surprise that Collier County Public Schools Department of Nutrition Services is promoting student health and wellness using the theme “Feeding the Future.”

By Greg Turchetta, Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement, Collier County Public Schools, Naples, Fla.

“Feeding the Future” is the theme of Collier County Public Schools Department of Nutrition Services, and it certainly applies to their farm to school program. Read more »

USDA Extends Dairy Margin Protection Program Deadline

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses dairy producers at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Dallas, Texas on Oct. 29, 2014

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses dairy producers at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Dallas, Texas on Oct. 29, 2014

Over the past nine months, USDA staff in offices around the country have been hard at work implementing new initiatives under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Service Agency in particular has been tasked with getting a number of new safety net features off the ground for farmers and ranchers, including the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. Because these new programs are important to farmers’ and ranchers’ businesses, USDA also wants to make sure plenty of time and tools are available to help farmers and ranchers make the best decisions for their operations.

Last week, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that America’s milk producers have an extra week to enroll in the voluntary Dairy Margin Protection Program. The program provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer. The original sign up deadline was November 28, 2014, the day after Thanksgiving. The deadline has been moved to December 5, 2014, which allows both FSA staff and dairy producers to spend more time with their families over the holiday. Read more »

Meeting to Make a Difference in USDA’s Food Purchasing Programs

AMS Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller opens the 2014 AMS Annual Industry Meeting for Contractors and Suppliers of USDA’s Commodity Purchase Programs.

AMS Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller opens the 2014 AMS Annual Industry Meeting for Contractors and Suppliers of USDA’s Commodity Purchase Programs.

When you’re a contract specialist with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), you’re part of a Commodity Procurement team that purchases 1.7 billion pounds of commodities a year to support domestic agriculture. You’re part of a network- which also includes the Food and Nutrition Service, the Farm Service Agency, and hundreds of American agricultural producers, processors, and suppliers- which reaches far and wide to send quality, wholesome, nutritious products that feed students and other recipients in federal food and nutrition assistance programs.

While the daily activities of contract management mean I am in constant contact with many people within this network, it’s still beneficial to get out and connect with new and existing stakeholders and promote the dual mission of these purchase programs. I recently had the privilege of making some solid connections at the 2014 AMS Annual Industry Meeting for Contractors and Suppliers in USDA’s Commodity Purchase Programs. Read more »

Federal Research Jumps from Lab to Marketplace

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.

An innovative network of public- and private-sector groups are working together to transfer federal research out of the lab and into the marketplace—where it can not only solve important agricultural problems, but also serve as an economic accelerator. Such is the Agricultural Research Partnerships (ARP) Network, a program created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, (ARS) Office of Technology Transfer.

The ARP Network is really sort of a 21st-century rolodex crossed with a marriage broker—a group of about 30 regional organizations across the U.S. who have close connections with companies, agriculture associations, economic development groups, venture capitalists and economic incubators within their region or State.  ARP Network partners match businesses and organizations in their regions that have technology needs to ARS researchers or ARS technologies that are ready for development and commercialization. Read more »