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Join us for a Google+ Hangout on May 28th: What the Farm Bill Means for New Farmers

The Google+ Hangout with D/S Harden today has been temporarily postponed — stay tuned.

In February 2014, President Obama signed the new Farm Bill into law. But what does that mean for you as a new farmer or rancher?  What’s new about this Farm Bill and what programs can you use? What questions should you be asking?

USDA is here to answer your questions.

On Wednesday, May 28th at 3 p.m. EDT Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden will host a Google+ Hangout to discuss what the farm bill means for new farmers. Read more »

Partnerships and Volunteers Bring a Midwest Wetland to Life

The wetland in bloom with a more than 100-year-old oak tree standing prominently in the prairie. Natural Land Institute photo.

The wetland in bloom with a more than 100-year-old oak tree standing prominently in the prairie. Natural Land Institute photo.

Now, when you look at the Nygren Wetland Preserve in Illinois, a menagerie of wildlife can be seen –  ducks and geese paddling about, white pelicans lounging, otters swimming and a pair of sandhill cranes huddling in a nest. There was talk of the endangered blanding turtles living in the wetland, too. It’s a wonderful scene, but it was much different 14 years ago.

The land, located along Raccoon Creek at the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers, was once forests and crops. The Natural Land Institute purchased the land in 1999, and that’s when transformation began. Read more »

The Cost of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

Marsh grasses in Maryland  provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

Marsh grasses in Maryland provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

The Chesapeake Bay is a valuable resource. The Bay is home to a variety of species, such as blue crab and striped bass, provides jobs for local fishing communities, and serves as a place to interact with nature. About a quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agriculture. The crops and livestock produced in this region provide food and fiber for millions of Americans. But these agricultural lands do more than produce food—they can play a role in improving the Bay’s water quality.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with the Bay states to set water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to develop Watershed Improvement Plans, or “WIPs,” for each of the states. Read more »

USDA Relies on Feedback to Help Schools, Children Adapt to New Meal Standards

Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

As many schools wind down for the year, USDA is gearing up for exciting new improvements designed to make the 2014-2015 school year even healthier for our nation’s future leaders.  It’s a commitment rooted in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  In that legislation, USDA is directed to update the school meals to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The new school meal requirements are intended to ensure children get the nutrition they need for academic performance and overall health.  That’s a mission USDA takes seriously. Feeding kids, and feeding them well, can be a challenge.  I understand that as a former school nutrition director, mother, and now grandmother.   Plus, we know that change, in general, can be difficult. That is why we are working closely with schools to make sure the transition to the updated standards runs as smoothly as possible.  We are listening to what school nutritional professionals, teachers, parents and students are telling us.  These partners are the heart and soul of the school community and we have provided flexibilities based on their important feedback. Read more »

Agriculture Remains Key to the Garden State

New Jersey really is the Garden State –  the state doubled its square footage for nursery stock crops in between the 2007 and the 2012 Census of Agriculture.  Check back next Thursday for another state profile.

New Jersey really is the Garden State – the state doubled its square footage for nursery stock crops in between the 2007 and the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Check back next Thursday for another state profile.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results are out and New Jersey remains true to its name. The Garden State greenhouse industry keeps blossoming. There are more than 1,560 farms in New Jersey that focus on greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production. In the five year period since the last census, square footage for nursery stock crops in New Jersey more than doubled from 7.8 million square feet to 16 million.  And greenhouse tomatoes went from 162,000 square feet to 275,000.

Speaking of vegetables, that’s another sector of New Jersey agriculture that bears mentioning. With more than 50,000 acres of farmland dedicated to vegetables, our farmers grow nearly every vegetable included in the census. Tomatoes, New Jersey’s state vegetable, lead this charge, with 688 vegetable farms, more than half of the total, growing this crop. Other key crops grown locally include bell peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, and snap peas. Read more »

A New Weapon in the Fight to Protect America’s Ash Trees is Under Evaluation

Photo of S. galinae by Jian Duan, Research Entomologist, USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit

Photo of S. galinae by Jian Duan, Research Entomologist, USDA ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit

May 18-24, 2014 is Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week

In our efforts to preserve and protect American ash trees from the damaging and invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) beetle, APHIS is working diligently to find and implement solutions that have the potential to successfully conserve this beautiful natural resource. Spathius galinae (S. galinae) just could be that newest weapon in the arsenal.

The tiny stingless wasp, about the size of a typical mosquito, targets and attacks EAB larvae living under the bark of ash trees.  Crawling along the bark ridges and furrows, S. galinae somehow senses EAB larvae hidden below.  The wasp not only accurately locates its target, but also is able to determine relative size—showing preference for large EAB larvae.  Once a suitable larva is detected, the female wasp uses its long egg-laying organ (ovipositor) like a hydraulic drill to bore down through the layers of bark and deposit between 5 and 15 eggs on its host.  After the eggs hatch, the wasp offspring feed on the EAB larva, eventually killing it.  A new generation of S. galinae emerges in about 35 days. Read more »