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Introducing www.usda.gov/newfarmers: A One-Stop Shop for the Farmers of Tomorrow

Growing up on a farm in Camilla, Ga., I developed a passion for agriculture early. Being a farmer’s daughter helped me understand the challenges farmers and ranchers face over time and the need for common-sense policies and programs to create and expand opportunities for the farmers of the future. Now, as the Deputy Secretary of the USDA, my highest priority is to ensure that beginning farmers and ranchers – women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees – have access to the programs and support they need to succeed.

Today, we’re announcing a new resource: USDA.gov/newfarmers.  This new website is a one-stop shop to connect new farmers and ranchers with USDA resources, programs and support.  On www.usda.gov/newfarmers, new farmers can find information about accessing land and capital, managing risk, finding education, outreach and technical assistance, growing businesses and markets, and investing in the land and environment. Read more »

USDA, Habitat for Humanity Collaborate to Help Rural Virginians Find a Place to Call Home

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Hanover Habitat Executive Director Tim Bowring, Rural Development State Director Basil Gooden, Rural Development Housing Director for Virginia Anne Herring tour energy efficient homes constructed through a new partnership between USDA and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, Hanover Habitat Executive Director Tim Bowring, Rural Development State Director Basil Gooden, Rural Development Housing Director for Virginia Anne Herring tour energy efficient homes constructed through a new partnership between USDA and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

USDA Rural Development and The Hanover County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity are thinking outside of the box with their new partnership in Virginia. By working together, USDA Rural Development and Habitat for Humanity are able to provide mortgage assistance to low and very low-income rural families. Earlier this month, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visited Bailey Woods, the first-ever Habitat Development in this area, as part of USDA’s celebration of National Homeownership Month.

Every year, rural families rely on USDA Rural Development’s direct and guaranteed home loans to provide an affordable opportunity to become homeowners. Bailey Woods will provide building lots for eight new houses and a renovation of one. These homes range from 1,500 to 1,700 square feet and feature many energy efficient features, such as ceiling fans, high insulation, and high efficiency heat pumps. These cost reducing systems will provide families in rural areas such as Hanover County the opportunity to purchase a home, while maintaining low operating costs. Read more »

US – EU Organic Equivalence Trade Arrangement Opens New Markets

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Two years ago this month, the United States and the European Union (EU) implemented an organic equivalence arrangement, meaning products that are certified as organic in the U.S. can also be sold as organic in the EU, and vice versa. This arrangement broke down many of the barriers that organic producers, especially small and medium-sized farmers, were facing in exporting their goods to one of their largest markets. It has also proved to be a good example of how we can recognize each others’ systems and work together across borders to arrive at beneficial agreements.

The U.S. and EU have some of the strongest regulatory protections in the world, and the organic equivalence arrangement recognizes these standards and uses them for everyone’s benefit. Before the agreement, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two different standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. Now, if a product is certified organic by one party, it can bear both the USDA organic seal and the EU organic logo, without going through that second certification process. This is possible because the EU and the U.S. have recognized that though our regulatory systems are different, they both produce high quality organic food and agricultural products under rigorous programs. Secretary Vilsack, while addressing the EU agricultural ministers earlier this week, had the same message of cooperation in regards to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Read more »

Homeownership Becomes Reality at Zuni Pueblo

Reyanna Nastarcio’s grandchildren hold the American flag that was presented to her by Rural Development Housing Administrator Tony Hernandez and State Director Terry Brunner.

Reyanna Nastarcio’s grandchildren hold the American flag that was presented to her by Rural Development Housing Administrator Tony Hernandez and State Director Terry Brunner.

By mid-morning the wind was howling and blowing the auburn colored sand across Zuni Pueblo located in western New Mexico.

But this was the last thing on the minds of Kay Panteah, Reyanna Nastarcio and Martha Sheche tribal members of Zuni Pueblo. This is the day they celebrate the completion of construction of their new homes—the homes they built with their own hands with the help of family and friends.

At last, this day has finally arrived—after all of those days of hanging drywall, driving nails, and painting walls. After a year of hard work they are being honored by an age-old tradition where their community comes together and celebrates a special feast day.  A celebration that includes a blessing of thanks, song and dance by the Zuni Olla Maidens where they rejoice in the ‘homecoming’ for these three women who have worked hard to attain the title of ‘homeowner’ and to create a home for their families. Read more »

The Buzz about Bees

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

An alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, on an alfalfa flower. This bee is widely used for pollination by alfalfa seed growers.

There’s a lot of buzz right now about honey bees—their health and their future.

The good news, where honey bees are concerned, is that there is good news.  Just last month, the results of the annual winter bee loss survey were released, and losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent for the past winter—a significant drop from the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-13.

But the really good news is that when it comes to pollination, honey bees aren’t the only game in town. Read more »

Memphis Girl Wins National Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell talks about a drawing by Joyce Qin, the 11-year-old Memphis-area girl who became the 2014 Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest winner. Looking on from left to right is Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl and Renee Green-Smith, National Information Center manager. (U.S. Forest Service/Dominic Cumberland)

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell talks about a drawing by Joyce Qin, the 11-year-old Memphis-area girl who became the 2014 Smokey Bear & Woodsy Owl Poster Contest winner. Looking on from left to right is Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl and Renee Green-Smith, National Information Center manager. (U.S. Forest Service/Dominic Cumberland)

Joyce Qin has some pretty proud grandparents. They made their first trip from China to Washington, D.C., to watch U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell honor the 11-year-old Memphis-area student as the national winner of the 2014 Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl Poster Contest.

“Joyce competed against 30,000 contestants. This is quite an accomplishment,” Tidwell said as Qin’s grandparents, parents, brother and a host of Forest Service employees looked on. “We use this contest as a tool to convey our messages about preventing wildfires and caring for the land. Through artistry, we have another way to connect people to the importance of water, air and wildlife.” Read more »