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Where the People and Prairie Restore Each Other

Bison grazing near a trailhead

Bison grazing near a trailhead on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Meandering along a rustic trail surrounded by towering prairie grasses and blooming flowers, you feel a sense of simplicity as you come to a quiet overlook that slopes onto a bench where you can observe the activity of birds and small mammals surrounding a still pond. This beautiful prairie landscape leaves the viewer with an appreciation for nature’s wide open spaces.

And, amazingly, you’re in the middle of one of America’s most populated regions because this could only be the Midewin (mi-Day-win) National Tallgrass Prairie, the largest piece of contiguous open space in the Chicago metropolitan area, located just an hour’s drive from the heart of the Windy City. Read more »

Smokejumpers Help Ohio Fight Beetle Fire

Smokejumpers joining the search for Asian longhorned beetles

Smokejumpers join the search for Asian longhorned beetles.

Smokejumpers are a unique breed.  They are people who are willing to jump, really parachute, out of an aircraft to provide a quick attack on forest fires. While smokejumpers are highly trained, experienced firefighters, they are also expert tree climbers. These firefighters usually work in rugged terrain, but travel all over the country to fight fires. Recently they traveled to Tate Township, Ohio to fight a fire of a different kind.

In April, the U.S. Forest Service sent smokejumpers to help the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) combat the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) by climbing trees in Tate Township, Ohio, about 40 minutes outside of Cincinnati. The beetle is destroying trees in this area and the goal is to find infested tree quickly before the insect starts to emerge in May as adult beetles from the inside infested trees. Read more »

USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub Form Partnership with Natural Resources Canada

White-water rapids (class 5 rapids) of the Tutshi River and Canyon in the British Columbia, Canada

White-water rapids (class 5 rapids) of the Tutshi River and Canyon in the British Columbia, Canada. USDA photo by Alice Welch.

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science  and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

There are many reasons landowners value forests – their iconic beauty, cultural connections, wildlife, recreation, and economic opportunities.  More reasons and in-depth information can be found in the USDA Forest Service National Woodland Owner Survey. The bottom line is forests help to sustain our local communities: ecologically, economically, and culturally, and many forests are vulnerable to climate change. These ecosystems are already responding to changing conditions, and climate change is anticipated to have a pervasive influence on forests over the coming decades.

Careful forest stewardship involves long-term planning, which naturally includes the consideration of these changing climate influences. This is especially true in northern forests that formed in cold climates, but are now beginning to experience rapid change. Our northern neighbors in Canada manage 397 million hectares of forests and woodlands (approximately 10% of the worlds forest cover), which face many of the same climate change impacts and challenges that we are grappling with in the United States. Read more »

Beginning Rancher Applies Tribal Traditions and USDA Risk Management Tools to Help Grow Her Business

James McCuen, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Shawna Kalama

James McCuen and Shawna Kalama discuss business opportunities available for beginning ranchers. USDA-RMA photo by Jo Lynne Seufer.

Shawna Kalama is a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. She’s also a beginning rancher, pursuing her dream the past few years near the Cascade Mountains on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington State. Kalama has successfully leveraged several USDA programs to simultaneously support both her entrepreneurial education goals and her growing livestock operation.

She began earning her business degree at Heritage University, and recently participated in a risk management education program, sponsored by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). This week, the agency announced that $8.7 million in cooperative agreement funding is available for the risk management education program for fiscal year 2016. The program introduces the agency’s risk management tools, crop and livestock insurance programs and educational partnerships to new and beginning, and traditionally underserved farmers and ranchers. The curriculum includes an overview of RMA’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis tool, which identifies potential problems, and finds solutions and resources to help beginning farmers and ranchers manage risks. Nearly 90,000 producers participated in risk management education events in 2015. Read more »

Bringing up Better Biofuel

A mobile pyrolysis system for on-farm production of bio-oil from agricultural waste

Agricultural Research Service scientists are testing a mobile pyrolysis system for on-farm production of bio-oil from agricultural waste. USDA-ARS photo by Mark Schaffer

The idea of replacing fossil-based fuel, such as petroleum, with a renewable energy source is enough to get any environmentalist excited. Now, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have advanced a process to produce crude liquid fuel called “bio-oil” from agricultural waste. The bio-oil is produced by a process called “pyrolysis,” which involves chemical decomposition of plant and other organic matter at very high heat without oxygen.  This new technology for producing renewable fuels is called “tail-gas reactive pyrolysis” or TGRP.

The TGRP method might be considered a new generation of pyrolysis because it holds promise for processing and improving bio-oil as an intermediate product toward finished biofuel. Read more »

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Joyce Hunter

Joyce Hunter, USDA Deputy Chief Information Officer for Policy and Planning

Joyce Hunter, USDA Deputy Chief Information Officer for Policy and Planning, speaking at FCW.

In an effort to lift up the opportunities available for women in the agricultural field, USDA shares stories of women who are leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. In this post, USDA Deputy Chief Information Officer for Policy and Planning Joyce Hunter shares her perspective as a woman in the technology field and how she puts her unique experience and skills to work at USDA.

Ms. Hunter oversees the Department’s strategic technology planning initiatives, establishes policy framework, and lays the track for the future. With over 30 years’ experience in the information technology industry, Ms. Hunter has a strong ability to build and sustain relationships with public/private stakeholders and lead innovative projects and inter-agency initiatives.  Earlier this year, she was selected by the editors of FedScoop as one of “D.C.’s Top 50 Women in Technology.” Read more »