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August Reports Look into Farm Economy

2015 Value of Agricultural Land Per Acre map

In 2015, U.S. farmland value averaged $3,020 per acre, a 2.4 increase from previous year’s values.

If you are interested in the farm economy, August is a great time of the year. Here at NASS, we start the month by putting out an analysis of farm production expenditures. In other words, how much does it cost to produce our foods, fuels, and fabrics. On the next day, we publish a report on the value of farmland in the United States and how much it costs farmers and ranchers to rent an acre of cropland or pastureland. This year, each one of the reports told a unique story. 

While the nearly $400 billion that U.S. farmers spend to produce food and fabric in 2014 is already staggering, it is even more interesting to see what is happening in the livestock sector. While feed has been the leading expense for farmers for a while now, the rest of the livestock expenses stayed on par with the other farm-related costs. For example, in 2010, U.S. farmers spent $24.4 billion on livestock, poultry, and related expenses, which was less than total rent costs and comparable to the $21 billion spent on fertilizer. Read more »

USDA Training Benefits Child Nutrition Program, Increases Access to Healthy Meals

Students eating breakfast in classroom

The Breakfast in the Classroom Program provides students a healthy start to their day.

The following guest blog highlights the important work of one of our nation’s many hardworking child nutrition professionals.  As a recent participant in USDA’s Team Up for School Nutrition Success Initiative, Thomas J. Smith learned about best practices, strategies and resources to ensure healthy meals are provided to his schools’ most needy students.

By Thomas J. Smith, Director of Child Nutrition, Archdiocese of New York – Department of Education

The primary mission of The Child Nutrition Program, at the Archdiocese of New York-Department of Education, is to ensure that healthy and nutritious meals are provided to our most needy students. Over 20,000 meals are served on a daily basis. Meals are served to our recipient agency schools throughout the Archdiocese of New York. As a result, we serve over 4-million meals between breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack and fresh fruits and vegetables each year. Read more »

Blending Up New Ways for Kids to Enjoy School Meals

A sloppy joe with vegetables

The Mushroom Council website has information to help schools incorporate mushrooms in popular meals like beef hamburgers and sloppy joes. Photo courtesy of the Mushroom Council.

Sometimes the right blend can change your perception. One of our industry research and promotion programs is remixing school meal items to help change students’ preconceptions and get them to eat healthy foods.

The Mushroom Council helped out on this front in a number of ways. The Council, which is overseen by our agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – encouraged schools to use recipes that added mushrooms to their beef burgers. By reducing some of the beef and adding the hearty texture of mushrooms, schools were able to increase student consumption of healthy meals without compromising taste. Read more »

USDA Participated in a “First of Its Kind” Camp for DC-Area Teens Focused Specifically on Open Data and Agriculture

Picture of the second session of the Open Data STEAM Summer Camp with 14-16 year olds

Picture of the second session of the Open Data STEAM Summer Camp with 14-16 year olds.

Summer has arrived and young people all over the country are enjoying their time spent in summer camps. And while many camps involve athletics or camping out, others are meant to keep kids’ brains moving.  Today’s camps are anything but boring. Science Technology Engineering, Agriculture and Math (STEAM) camps can be exciting.

In an era increasingly defined by the challenge of using an unprecedented flow of information to solve problems and govern better, USDA provides national leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition and related issues. To support USDA’s mission, the GovLab Academy designed and executed a dual pilot of a two-week open data summer program, in July 2015, for Washington, DC-area teenagers. The camp’s goal was to help the leaders of tomorrow learn more about data, the tools of data science, and the ways they might be leveraged to improve innovation and security in the nation’s food supply. The camp also provided an opportunity for USDA employees to support the goal of strengthening STEAM education in this country by piloting an initiative that can be scaled and replicated across agencies and across levels of government. Read more »

Greater Sage-Grouse Population on the Rise

Greater sage grouse

The population of the greater sage-grouse has grown by nearly two-thirds since 2013, according to a new survey. USDA NRCS photo.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designated greater sage-grouse in 2010 as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Later this year, the FWS will determine whether to list the species or remove it from consideration based on the conservation actions implemented to remove threats across the range. However, a recent survey points towards an optimistic outlook for sage grouse. 

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been working for the past five years through the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) to proactively conserve sage grouse and sustain the working rangelands that support western ranching economies. During this time, this innovative partnership led by NRCS has joined forces with 1,100 ranchers who have conserved 6,000 square miles of habitat, an area of working lands twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. Partnership investment of more than $424 million has been highly targeted to areas of high bird abundance to maximize benefits to populations. Read more »

Back to School, Back to Healthier School Meals

Children eating school meals

Nutritious school meals keep students healthy and ready to learn.

It’s hard to believe the start of the school year is right around the corner. It feels like just yesterday the final bell rang, and students exchanged their pens and pencils for swim trunks and sunglasses. But it’s time for students, teachers and other school staff to get ready for the year ahead, and that includes school nutrition professionals who will soon be tasked with serving healthy school meals to over 30 million students nationwide.

This past year, America’s school nutrition professionals did some phenomenal work, and I look forward to picking up right where we left off. Today, more than 96 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated meal standards, serving healthy meals approved by nutritionists and students alike. A recent study found that kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at school — not to mention more whole grains, low-fat dairy, and  lean protein, than they were before the new meal standards.  I’m certain that through continued collaboration with our partners and food professionals, this school year will bring even more progress toward a healthier, hunger-free generation. Read more »