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2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum Preview: International Trade

USDA is committed to addressing the challenges of international trade, and providing solutions.  As we look forward to USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, Feb. 19-20, 2015, in Arlington, Virginia, speakers and attendees will have the opportunity to discuss relevant issues on a wide range of international as well as domestic topics.

We live in a world where domestic agriculture and international trade are inseparable.  We can’t talk about one without discussing the other. In 2014, American ag exports soared to a record $152.5 billion, and accounted for 20% of U.S. agriculture income.

Trade and foreign market access affect not only rural economies, but the overall economic health of nations – including ours. In that spirit, I’m happy to welcome Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, to the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum.  He will join our own Secretary Tom Vilsack during the plenary session for a discussion that promises to be insightful. Read more »

Early-Season Forecast Shows Rain – Not Snow – Keeping Pacific Northwest Wet

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well…maybe.

To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: New Approach to Conservation Creates New Partnerships, New Jobs

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix.

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix. The Secretary announced that 115 projects across all 50 states, will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program. NRCS photo.

When USDA unveiled the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, I said that this effort would pioneer a new era of conservation. As of today, the program is doing just that—leveraging an unprecedented three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar investment in projects to preserve clean land and water and create new jobs across the country.

One of the innovative programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program brings a wide variety of new partners together—from private businesses, to universities, to local and Tribal governments, to non-profit organizations and more—to develop their own action plans and to pledge their own resources to the project. Local organizations are in the driver’s seat, setting priorities and developing conservation projects that make sense for their communities. Read more »

South Carolina Features Supreme Chicken Sandwich in School Lunch

According to Food Service Director, Todd Bedenbaugh, “since the cafeterias begun promoting Supreme Chicken, sales for this ‘local protein source’ have increased by 25 percent.”

According to Food Service Director, Todd Bedenbaugh, “since the cafeterias begun promoting Supreme Chicken, sales for this ‘local protein source’ have increased by 25 percent.”

It’s not surprising that chicken, the most popular meat for kids, is being served in school cafeterias across the nation.  However, in Columbia, S.C., locally sourced chicken has taken center stage on school meal trays in an effort to increase the state’s Farm to School programming.

South Carolina’s District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties Schools are piloting a poultry project to expand local products offered to students.  In partnership with Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, the school district is offering a variety of locally produced products to their students.

This particular Farm to School Program is made possible through the collaboration of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina Department of Agriculture, South Carolina Department of Education, and Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute.

By Holly Godwin, South Carolina Farm to Institution Program Director

During the 2013-2014 academic school year, 20 District Five schools of Lexington and Richland Counties (South Carolina) participated in the Supreme Chicken project.  This included all 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, and four high schools. Read more »

Managing Waste for an Expanding Dairy Herd

Jonathan and Jessica Gaskin and children operate a dairy farm in Adair County, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Jonathan and Jessica Gaskin and children operate a dairy farm in Adair County, Kentucky. Photo courtesy Kentucky Farm Bureau.

Jonathan Gaskin grew up on a beef cattle and grain farm in Adair County, Kentucky. And at 12, Gaskin was milking cows for the farm next door. The neighbor sold their farm when he was 18, and at that time, he always knew he wanted to have a dairy farm – he just didn’t realize he would buy that same farm a few years later.

He bought the farm in 2006 and started working with his soon-to-be wife, Jessica, to build a dairy operation together. They married in 2008 and started growing the 110-acre place.

“We started with 30 heifers and calved them one cow at a time,” Gaskin said. Read more »

USDA… Helping Produce Businesses Meet Consumer and Retailer Demand

Introducing the USDA Specialty Crops Inspection Division which highlights the various services that AMS provides the produce industry.

Introducing the USDA Specialty Crops Inspection Division which highlights the various services that AMS provides the produce industry.

Ensuring that its food meets the demands of its retailers and the consumers who eat it is essential to the success of any produce business. This builds consumer trust and helps retailers confidently supply the food we all eat. To help out on this front, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers audits through the USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) & Good Handling Practices (GHPs) Audit Verification Program.

A voluntary service provided by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), GAPs audits verify that fruits and vegetables are grown, packed, handled, and stored safely. The audits certify that operations are following guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and industry-recognized food safety practices that can minimize the risks of food-borne illnesses. AMS Specialty Crops Inspection (SCI) Division employees accomplish this through activities like evaluating food safety plans, walking the farm looking for food safety risks and performing unannounced visits to farms and facilities. The audits focus on waste management, such as animal manure; water quality; wildlife; and worker health and hygiene. Read more »