Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

The Earth Day Confessions of a Soil Health Geek

Unlock the Secrets in the Soil graphic

Farmers throughout the country are growing a new hope in healthy soil, which is cause for celebration on Earth Day 2015. Illustration by Catherine Ulitsky, NRCS.

I am a soil health geek.

I didn’t seek to become a geek. But the more I learned about our living and life-giving soil, the more I became convinced this miracle under our feet holds the promise of our future.

We are all connected to the soil. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. However, for years it was believed that the best hope for our precious soil was to slow its rate of erosion—to retard its inevitable decline. Read more »

Food Waste Can Have a Large Impact on Your Nitrogen Footprint

Boy covering his mouth with his hand in front of a fountain

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture offers research grants to help respond to the world's water security issues. (iStock photo)

April 22 marks the 45th celebration of Earth Day, with its theme of “It’s our turn to lead.”  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is a leader in its support of cutting-edge sustainable and organic agricultural research.

The USDA estimated that 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten in the United States.  It’s not just people throwing away food after “super sizing;” food waste can begin at the farm, where crops are sometimes not harvested because they lack a perfect appearance.  Waste also occurs through spoilage or improper cooking.

As bad as this is in terms of not feeding the hungry, wasting food is also wasting energy, water, and everything else required to grow, process, transport, and prepare food. Improving resource efficiency would also decrease the amount of nitrogen released to the environment. Read more »

Bi-State Sage-Grouse Success Shows Importance of Voluntary Conservation Partnerships

Front view of a bi-state sage-grouse

Bi-State sage-grouse live at the California-Nevada border, and biologists estimate that between 1,800 and 7,400 of these ground-dwelling birds inhabit about 4.5 acres of sagebrush habitat. Bureau of Land Management photo.

We can achieve more when we voluntarily work together, and the decision today not to list the Bi-State sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act proves the power of partnerships. In this case, collectively, we were able to proactively conserve and restore habitat for this geographically distinct sage-grouse.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service works with conservation partners and ranchers in Nevada and California to take steps to benefit sage-grouse habitat while also helping ranchers improve their ranching operations. Meanwhile, this work helps connect public lands like national forests, where U.S. Forest Service is working to restore habitat, too. Read more »

Birds, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Bats

Jo Santiago, a U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Biologist with a red-tailed hawk

Jo Santiago, a U.S. Forest Service Wildlife Biologist who educates the public on birds through live demonstrations, shows off a Red-tailed Hawk during the “Wings Across America” event. (Photo by Sean Kelley)

When it comes to the U.S. Forest Service, it’s not always about trees.

Sometimes it’s all about the birds, the dragonflies and the butterflies. Oh, and the bats.  At least, that’s what it was all about during a ceremony last month recognizing some great contributions from U.S. Forest Service and partner organizations to the Wings Across the Americas program in the past year.

In a festive event held in Omaha, Nebraska, as part of the 80th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, U.S. Forest Service employees and agency partners received shout-outs for outstanding efforts supporting migratory species across the nation and beyond. Read more »

Smart Federal Partnerships Build Our Biofuels Future

Here at USDA, we believe collaboration is the key to helping us address our nation’s most pressing needs, like energy. Building on partnerships in both the public and private sphere, we are leveraging resources to achieve and impact far greater than USDA could ever achieve alone. During this year’s Agricultural Outlook Forum, one breakout session concerned the importance of the bioeconomy in the areas of national security, growth potential, job creation, reduced dependence on oil, and environmental benefits. The session also stressed the need for partnerships to contribute to a growing the bioeconomy as it moved to center stage during the 21st century.  One of the speakers at the session was Jonathan Male, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy.

Cross-posted from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy blog: Read more »

Technology to Help Us Deal with Drought

USDA-ARS agricultural engineers Susan O’Shaughnessy and Nolan Clark adjust the field of view for wireless infrared thermometers.

USDA-ARS agricultural engineers Susan O’Shaughnessy and Nolan Clark adjust the field of view for wireless infrared thermometers mounted on a center pivot irrigation system. The wireless sensors are used to measure crop canopy temperature for indications of water stress.

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.

With droughts becoming more severe, water tables getting lower and an increasing demand for water from growing suburbs and cities, farmers know they need to use water more sparingly. That’s why recently patented technology developed by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Texas is so important.

Steve Evett, Susan O’Shaughnessy, and their colleagues at the ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas have spent years trying to help growers maximize water in a region that depends on the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir under constant threat of overuse. They recently developed two complementary technologies that offer practical ways to ensure that crops get only as much water as they need. Read more »