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Secretary’s Column: Protecting Our Pollinators

This week, USDA and its partners released the results of the eight annual national survey of honey bee losses. The survey shows good news—fewer honey bee colonies were lost this winter than in previous years. According to survey results, total losses of managed honey bee colonies from all causes were 23.2 percent nationwide.

That figure is a significant improvement over the 30.5 percent loss reported last winter, but it is still higher than the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent and still far above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers say is acceptable for their economic sustainability.

While we’re pleased to see improvement this year, these losses are still too high. Read more »

Organic 101: Understanding the “Made with Organic***” Label

Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.  If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.”  A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices. If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.” A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

This is the sixteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be a challenge for the average consumer.  Companies use production and handling claims as a way to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.

USDA certified organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.  The U.S. organic industry is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  Certified organic products are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances. Read more »

USDA Nevada Agencies Join Forces to Provide Farm Bill Information

Clint Koble, Nevada Farm Service Agency State Executive Dir., addresses the public in a Farm Bill Road Show meeting in Gardnerville, Nev. NRCS photo.

Clint Koble, Nevada Farm Service Agency State Executive Dir., addresses the public in a Farm Bill Road Show meeting in Gardnerville, Nev. NRCS photo.

Not long after the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted, staff members from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) hit the road, visiting with farmers and ranchers across Nevada to share information on changes to conservation programs and to highlight other opportunities through USDA.

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and a number of other partners joined NRCS for the Farm Bill Road Show, which consisted of information sessions held at various sites across the state, meeting with hundreds of farmers and ranchers and several tribes. One of those stops along the way was with the Ft. McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

The Farm Bill consolidated several programs and gave life to a few others. Additionally, these sessions gave NRCS conservationists a chance to talk about other opportunities, including StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity. Read more »

Beef Up Your Knowledge: Meat Marbling 101

An infographic illustrating beef marbling. Selecting the right USDA grade of beef for your dish will help guarantee culinary success. Click to see a larger version.

An infographic illustrating beef marbling. Selecting the right USDA grade of beef for your dish will help guarantee culinary success. Click to see a larger version.

Grilling season is upon us.  It’s time to enjoy that wonderful smell of meat cooking across neighborhood backyards. With so many choices available at your store and meat counter, choosing the best cut of meat for your dish can be overwhelming. With a bit of beef knowledge, you can avoid that problem, and be the king or queen of the barbeque.

We’ve covered the basics of USDA beef grades, explaining the difference between USDA Prime, Choice or Select. This time around, we’re going to look at the marbling – or fine threads of fat – within different grades of meat.  Marbling is what gives beef its flavor, juiciness and tenderness.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) employs 200 highly-skilled beef graders who, sometimes with the help of electronic monitoring, evaluate several factors that determine the grade, including the amount and distribution of marbling. Read more »

Innovative Approach to Feeding At-Risk Children during Summer Shines in Florida

Mobile unit programs in Florida feed thousands of summer meals to children in need.

Mobile unit programs in Florida feed thousands of summer meals to children in need.

With summer approaching, many of our nation’s students will soon be out of school enjoying their break.  However, too many of these children may miss out on a meal they normally would receive through USDA’s school meals programs.  Thanks to an innovative approach, Florida’s at-risk children can now have meals brought to them through the Summer Food Service Program, by way of a very creative partnership.

Florida’s Mobile Summer BreakSpot Program (a collaboration of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the childhood hunger group Florida Impact) has developed a way to renovate school buses to transport summer meals to neighborhood children in need. Read more »

See Honeybees at Work: USDA Launches BeeWatch

Click to visit the USDA's 24/7 bee watch camera.

Click to visit the USDA's 24/7 bee watch camera.

At the ribbon cutting of the USDA Headquarters People’s Garden in April 2010 plans were already in place to install a beehive on the roof of the Whitten Building as well as a “bee-cam” so anyone anywhere could learn about bee activity. USDA’s newest ‘buzzing’ residents were welcomed on Earth Day but the bee cam was put on hold. 18 gallons of honey later, that idea has finally come to bee. You can now #USDABeeWatch 24/7 at www.usda.gov/beewatch.

So what will you see on our bee cam? This time of year, the camera – placed several feet from the entrance of the hive – shows female worker bees entering and exiting the hive gathering nectar and pollen (both collected from flowers) to convert into honey. Be on the lookout for bees carrying a load of pollen on their hind legs. As bees groom, they’ll move the pollen onto their back legs creating a pellet of pollen. A small amount of nectar is used to stick the dry pollen together. Read more »