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A Giant Christmas Tree’s 4000 Mile Journey from Alaska to Capitol Hill

Lutz spruce below the white crane arm in front of mountains and beside trees

Center, just below the white crane arm, is the towering Lutz spruce which will soon adorn the West Lawn of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Chugach National Forest, U.S. Forest Service)

For over 90 years the majestic Lutz spruce stood silently in the Chugach National Forest near Seward, Alaska.

Hidden from most tourists, except intrepid hikers, the spruce, as high as a seven story building, would have aged in obscurity but for a stroke of luck: this Lutz spruce was chosen among the more than five million acres of the Chugach’s wooded forests to be the proverbial “People’s Tree” and grace the slope of the West Lawn on Capitol Hill just beneath the soaring white dome that unites both wings of Congress. Read more »

Volunteers Put Down Roots to Keep Kenai Peninsula Stream Banks Healthy

Fishermen on a backwater channel of the Kenai River

The Stream Watch Volunteer Program reaches out to many fishermen who congregate on the Kenai Peninsula each summer season for the annual salmon runs. These enthusiasts are fishing on a backwater channel of the Kenai River just downstream of the Kenai/Russian Rivers confluence. (Photo courtesy of Ron Neibrugge)

The river banks of the Upper Kenai and Russian Rivers in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula are known to attract some of the most avid fishermen. In the last couple decades, they have also lured a growing number of citizen volunteers who are equally passionate about an environmental stewardship mission to protect them.

The diverse system of plants that grow along the two rivers and their stream beds control erosion and help filter and keep those waters clean. But over decades of use, the numbers of anglers visiting these special places have left their mark. Read more »

USDA California Regional Climate Hub – Champions of Change

Jesse Sanchez evaluating soil

Jesse Sanchez evaluating soil.

The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, today featuring California’s Jesus “Jesse” Sanchez.

California is the nation’s number one agricultural production state with revenues of over $46 billion in 2013. State farmers and ranchers produce a diverse array of specialty crops, field crops, and livestock products. The top five by value in 2013 were milk, almonds, grapes, cattle and calves, and strawberries.

California is also home to more than 30 million acres of forested land, including many ecologically unique and economically important forest types as well as more than 40 million acres of rangeland. The state’s forests and grasslands, like those of other Western states, have long been shaped by fire and drought. California’s precipitation is highly variable from year to year and ranges from 60” on the North Coast to just a few inches in the southern deserts. Read more »

Creating Opportunities for Georgia’s Produce Industry

Matt Jardina talking about the company’s cold storage capabilities while leading a tour

Matt Jardina talks about the company’s cold storage capabilities while leading a tour.

A solid vision combined with an innovative approach to reach new markets can yield success in the ag industry. During a recent trip to Atlanta, Ga., I got a chance to talk to state and industry leaders who are using both to solidify the future of their respective organizations.   

I joined a team of employees from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for a tour of the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, Ga. Supporting truck, rail, and air access, the market is considered to be one of the premier terminal markets in the southeast. It includes more than 150 acres of retail, wholesale, and garden center space. We toured the historic market with the Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and his staff. Read more »

USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub – Champions of Change

Three generations of farmers at sundown on a South Dakota farm

Three generations of farmers at sundown on a South Dakota farm.

The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, today featuring the Northern Plains’ Keith Berns, Larry Cundall and Martin Kleinschmit.

Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska comprise the Northern Plains Region. The region accounts for a quarter of irrigated lands in the U.S. and more than a third of the pasture/rangelands. The Northern Plains has an extensive precipitation and temperature gradient moving from east to west, which provides a diverse array of environmental conditions for agriculture throughout the region.

The region faces longer and warmer growing seasons, earlier arrival of spring, and altered distribution of seasonal precipitation. These changes can affect agriculture production in a number of ways such as the timing of snowmelt for irrigation and changes in pest and weed pressure. Additionally, extreme weather events such as drought are occurring at greater frequency, duration, and intensity. The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub (NPRCH) produced a vulnerability assessment of key agriculture enterprises in the six-state area that highlights a number of adaption and mitigation strategies available to producers. Read more »

Investing in Opportunity in Indian Country

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack presented with a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is presented a blanket from the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., from left to right, Kye Wientjes, Cheyenne River Sioux, Nitara Cheykaychi, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Jess Begaye Oldham, Navajo Nation, at the “Better the Future” An Indian Agriculture Symposium, hosted by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and the Indian Nations Conservation Alliance (INCA), in Las Vegas, NV, on Wednesday, December 7, 2011. USDA photo.

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

Earlier today, I met with leaders from the 566 federally-recognized Native nations who participated in the White House Tribal Nations Conference. This was the seventh of such conferences hosted by the Obama Administration, and built upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, with an emphasis on increasing opportunity for Native youth.

All told, over the course of the Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alone has invested nearly $3 billion in rural development projects that have helped Tribal members achieve the dream of homeownership; improved community facilities in Tribal communities; made critical upgrades to electric, water and telecommunications infrastructure that serve Tribal communities and members; and invested in the Tribal businesses and entrepreneurs who drive economic growth in Indian Country. Read more »