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Honduran Agronomy Students Tour Unique USDA Laboratory

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 profile.

This was not your typical class trip. The group of agriculture students from Honduras who visited USDA’s National Soil Dynamics Laboratory (NSDL) in Auburn, Alabama, were given tours of a one-of-a kind research facility that features, among other things, 13 soil bins, about the length of football fields, that look like huge outdoor bowling lanes. These gigantic soil bins have a special purpose: they are used to study the effects of farm machinery on the soil.

The NSDL, operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), has played a key role over the years in helping farmers in southeastern United States produce quality food in sustainable, economical and environmentally friendly ways. Built in 1935, the NSDL was the world’s first full-size outdoor laboratory for tillage tools and traction equipment. Work there has influenced the design of almost all modern agricultural equipment and is credited with spawning the scientific discipline of soil dynamics. The site has been designated as an historic landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. Read more »

With USDA Support, Aging Utah Dams to be Revitalized

Utah State Conservationist Dave Brown standing beside NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin

Utah State Conservationist Dave Brown, standing beside NRCS Assistant Chief Kirk Hanlin, discusses the impact of watershed investments in Utah. (NRCS photo)

In the 1950s and 60s USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), working with state, local governments and partners, designed and built many dams across the United States for flood and sediment control and water storage. Many of these dams are coming to the end of their design life.

In early April, I traveled up the American Fork Canyon in Utah to Tibble Fork Dam to announce Utah would be receiving nearly $30 million dollars to rehabilitate aging dams. Read more »

$1 Billion Invested in Rural Health Care Across 13 States

In late 2011, the President announced a White House Rural Council initiative lead by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in rural health and link rural doctors and hospitals to financing for health IT. The initiative was designed to address the need for financing to support the adoption of health IT systems in rural communities.  Financing has been cited as one of the top challenges for rural doctors and hospitals serving remote and poor communities.

Between 2012 and 2014, the HHS and USDA led initiative generated approximately $1 Billion in rural health care financing across 13 states. These investments, funded by USDA, included grants and loans to help rural clinics and hospitals transition from paper to electronic health records (EHRs), encourage exchange of health information with health care providers and patients, and offer telehealth services. Read more »

Direct Certification Improves Low-Income Children’s Access to Healthy School Meals, Boosts Program Efficiency

Students at the Wolcott Elementary School in West Hartford, Connecticut enjoying lunchtime

Direct certification can increase access to free school meals for eligible students.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is committed to helping America’s children get the nutritious food they need to learn and grow.  Direct certification for school meals is one important strategy to make that possible for the low-income children.  This process links student enrollment records to states’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program data, so children receiving SNAP or TANF can be directly certified for free school meals without having to submit additional paperwork through applications. 

By using data already verified through SNAP and TANF, direct certification improves efficiency and accuracy for schools.  Just as importantly, families are spared the burden of a separate meals application.  Congress made direct certification a requirement for all schools through the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act. Read more »

The Joy and Value of a Meadow

Forest Hydrologist Tracy Weddel

Forest Hydrologist Tracy Weddel helps restore meadow landscape burned by the Rim Fire. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)

Watching the golden glow of the sun alight upon meadow grasses stirs my imagination.  My mind conjures up misty visions of the famous naturalist, John Muir, traipsing through the Sierras, admiring Corn Lilies and sedges. A red-tailed hawk swoops into this vision and silently plucks a pocket gopher with outstretched talons. Coursing through this living landscape, creating a back drop for this scene, is the magical, musical sound of water. 

Aside from their beauty, meadows provide a variety of important ecological functions. A multitude of species depend upon riparian areas and meadows to survive. Black bears turn over meadow logs looking for ants. Deer nibble the grasses and brush. Coyote music echoes across the flatlands and bounces between walls of lava stone. Walk close to the waterway of a meadow and you may hear the plop of a basking frog as it jumps the bank to enter the stream of life. Read more »

Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub Vulnerability Assessment Published

Moving cattle on the Northern Plains

Moving cattle on the Northern Plains. Photo Credit: Matt Mortenson

The Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub—encompassing Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado— has a high diversity of land use types including the largest remaining tracts of native rangeland in North America. Substantial areas of both dryland and irrigated cropland and pasture, mosaics of cropland and grassland, and forested lands can be found across the region. With the publication of the Northern Plains Regional Vulnerability Assessment, the Northern Plains Hub is providing stakeholders with an introduction to the region, regional sensitivities and adaptation strategies for working lands, a greenhouse gas emissions profile with mitigation opportunities, and an overview of how partner USDA agencies are being affected by a changing climate. This vulnerability assessment is an important first step in establishing a baseline “snapshot” of current climate vulnerabilities, and provides region-specific adaptation and mitigation strategies to increase the resilience of working lands in the region. Read more »