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The Grass is Cleaner on the Other Side

Research suggests that sorghum can be beneficial as both a fuel source and as a sinkhole for greenhouse gas. (iStock image)

Research suggests that sorghum can be beneficial as both a fuel source and as a sinkhole for greenhouse gas. (iStock image)

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.

Liquid fuel, charcoal, and electric power are all possible byproducts of biomass feedstocks. But what if there was a feedstock that not only produced bioenergy, but acted as a greenhouse gas “sink” as well? According to Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research, there is: bioenergy sorghum.

Each region contains locally generated biomass feedstocks, ranging from grains to animal byproducts. Sorghum is a group of grasses with about 30 species, which can be used in a variety of bioenergy production processes, like starch-to-ethanol, sugar-to-ethanol, and plants-to-bioenergy. Read more »

USDA and Habitat for Humanity to Build Homes and Ladders of Opportunity

USDA Rural Development Pennsylvania State Director Thomas Williams helped future homeowner Judy Aguero put the first nails into the doorway of her new home.

USDA Rural Development Pennsylvania State Director Thomas Williams helped future homeowner Judy Aguero put the first nails into the doorway of her new home.

On a blustery cold November morning, it was heartwarming to help Judy Aguero put the first nails into the doorway of her new home. Ms. Aguero, a single mom, was born in New York City and moved to Pennsylvania when she was 15 years old. When her mother was deported back to Santo Domingo, Judy lived with members of her church. By 19, she was expecting a child and living at a homeless shelter. Overcoming all odds, Judy was determined to make a better life for herself and her child. She is currently employed as a Certified Nursing Assistant and is working on an associate’s degree in social work. Through York Habitat for Humanity, she will be moving into a new three bedroom, one bath two-story duplex in the spring of 2015 with her daughter, Yudelka.

USDA Rural Development’s Pennsylvania housing staff recently met with York Habitat for Humanity (York Habitat) to partner our resources to help bring homeownership to reality for rural Pennsylvanians. York Habitat will be working as a packager to help hardworking potential homeowners like Judy complete applications for the USDA 502 Direct Home Loan Program.  Through the program, direct homeownership loans are available to lower income individuals and families. Payments are based on income, with no down payment required. It’s just another way Rural Development is creating ladders of opportunity to help people have the tools they need to climb into the middle class. Read more »

Surveys Help with Land Rental Negotiation

Shiela Corley is a statistician now, but her farming roots are deep. Corley's family has been farming for generations now and even today, her parents run a farm in her native Kentucky. Photo Credit: Shiela Corley

Shiela Corley is a statistician now, but her farming roots are deep. Corley's family has been farming for generations now and even today, her parents run a farm in her native Kentucky. Photo Credit: Shiela Corley

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.

Farmland is one of the biggest assets in U.S. agriculture.  According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, American farmers own more than half of all U.S. farmland—however, more than 350 million acres are rented or leased.  This means that hundreds of thousands of farmers are affected by rising farmland values and have to negotiate their land rental agreements regularly.

That’s where data comes in. Every year, we reach out to thousands of farmers across the nation to determine accurate estimates for farmland values. After all, to negotiate a fair deal, it helps to know the actual value of the land you already rent or hope to rent in the future. That’s also how we at USDA and other key policymakers know that U.S. farmland values have been increasing pretty steadily over the past decade. Read more »

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Read more »

Communities Connect with Nature on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Crewmember Steve McCurdy and Forest Service employees Ariel Cummings and Jessica Davila collect salmon from the fish traps on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Goodrich)

Crewmember Steve McCurdy and Forest Service employees Ariel Cummings and Jessica Davila collect salmon from the fish traps on Twelvemile Creek on Prince of Wales Island. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Goodrich)

Scott Harris, the conservation science director for the Sitka Conservation Society, is on a mission. He’s dedicated to connecting the communities of Southeast Alaska to the stunning, natural world that surrounds them including the Tongass National Forest.

Sitka Conservation Society’s charge is to protect the forest’s natural environment while supporting sustainable development of surrounding Southeast Alaska communities. As director, Harris has worked for the last seven years to bring these communities together with those responsible for managing the landscape. The society and the forest partner together for work focused on ecological monitoring projects. For the past five years, they have worked with the Sitka Ranger District and local young students to monitor the effects of stream restoration projects. Harris has focused on increasing the number of interns in resource management during the past several years. Read more »

The Pham Family Farm, Immigrants Making a Good Life in Mississippi

Nancy and Hung Pham stand in front of one of their many fruit trees with branches so full they almost hit the ground. NRCS photo by Judi Craddock.

Nancy and Hung Pham stand in front of one of their many fruit trees with branches so full they almost hit the ground. NRCS photo by Judi Craddock.

Just outside Hazlehurst, Mississippi, a community of 4,000 about 30 miles south of Jackson, lies a poultry farm owned by a Vietnamese farm family whose lives are an amazing story of survival and determination.

Hung and Nancy Pham are refugees who fled the former South Vietnam as teenagers in a shrimp boat during the fall of Saigon in 1975. They were rescued by the U.S. Navy and brought to America. Years after arriving in the United States, the two were reunited through family friends and soon married. Today, the Phams attribute their journey through hardships, their work ethic and positive attitude to the happiness and success they’ve enjoyed as poultry farmers. Read more »