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#AgStrong Innovation in Rural America

Almond growers are innovative in their water savings. This orchard uses micro-irrigation, which efficiently directs water. Photo courtesy of the Almond Board.

Almond growers are innovative in their water savings. This orchard uses micro-irrigation, which efficiently directs water. Photo courtesy of the Almond Board.

It takes a lot of hard work to make a living out of farming, to build a thriving agricultural business and it takes ingenuity. This is especially true in rural America, where dedicated farmers and ranchers rely on each other and the communities around them to fuel innovation and create opportunity. From nutritional research to competitions that promote sustainability and continued environmental care, ag promotion programs—with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—help American farmers make long-term investments that ensure a better future for everyone.

For more than 30 years, California almond growers have pooled their resources under the Almond Board, focusing on research and techniques to make the most of precious water resources.  Efficient water use and irrigation management are vital to the success of California’s Central Valley almond growers, ensuring that consumer demand for almonds can be met sustainably.  State-of-the-art farming and production developments over the past two decades have helped farmers reduce the amount of water they use per pound of almonds grown by 33 percent. Key strategies have included the wide adoption of micro-irrigation as well as advances in soil assessment and monitoring. Read more »

Conservation Program to Launch Bold Ideas, Accelerate Innovation

NRCS Chief Weller talks with partners, conservation agencies and landowners during a conservation tour in Illinois.

NRCS Chief Weller talks with partners, conservation agencies and landowners during a conservation tour in Illinois.

When USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, (RCPP) we envisioned a program that would help local and diverse organizations to accelerate innovation, bring new partners to the table, and demonstrate the value and effectiveness of voluntary, private lands conservation to a national audience.

The response was tremendous! More than 5,000 partners submitted nearly 600 pre-proposals from all 50 states and each critical conservation area. The total amount of NRCS funding requested was more than six times what was available. About $2.7 billion in federal assistance was requested, but incredibly these partnerships offered about $2.9 billion in leveraged conservation funding and in-kind support to deliver their projects. In the end, NRCS has about $394 million in total funding to co-invest in projects during this first signup. Read more »

New Program Helps Bringing Technology and Innovation to Market

An abundant blackberry crop that is easier to harvest on the Rotating Cross-Arm Trellis, which is on the market thanks to an SBIR loan. Photo Fumiomi Takeda, ARS.

An abundant blackberry crop that is easier to harvest on the Rotating Cross-Arm Trellis, which is on the market thanks to an SBIR loan. Photo Fumiomi Takeda, ARS.

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.

Research, even cutting edge research, is often only half the battle when it comes to solving an agricultural problem. You’ve got to get those results out of the laboratory and into the market place before people can use them.

But a new facet of USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture set up this summer will help make it a little easier for technologies from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to do just that.

USDA’s SBIR program makes grants to small businesses to help move agricultural research down the road to commercial products. Read more »

No Sour Grapes for a Nebraska Vinegar Crafter

A sampling of the signature 'Emilia' blend from George Paul Vinegars of Cody, Nebraska. (Photo Credit Alan J. Bartels / NebraskaLife)

A sampling of the signature 'Emilia' blend from George Paul Vinegars of Cody, Nebraska. (Photo Credit Alan J. Bartels / NebraskaLife)

Fifteen years ago, George Johnson and his daughter, Emily, began their first foray into winemaking, vinifying local wild grapes and other fruits in their home in rural Cody, Nebraska. At the suggestion of a family friend, they began to experiment with turning their uniquely flavored wines into vinegar, and today, Johnson operates one of the most successful independent vinegar businesses in the nation. With customers in every state and the loyalty of top chefs in Omaha, St. Louis, and Chicago, George Paul Vinegars offers a product ripe with old-world methodology and modern entrepreneurial spirit.

With the help of a $40,000 USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, the Johnsons conducted a feasibility study to gauge the likelihood of success for an independent vinegary in rural Nebraska, and were thrilled when the study indicated enormous potential for their unique product. With continued support from a Nebraska Agricultural Innovation Value-Added Agriculture grant from the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, George Paul Vinegars produces seven handcrafted varieties ranging from standards like apple cider and raspberry vinegars to more specialized flavors, including Johnson’s signature “Emilia” blend. Read more »

Schools Have Accepted the New Hampshire Breakfast Challenge

Lilly Ayotte, Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador, talks with student at Dr. Norman Crisp Elementary School in Nashua, N.H., for the "It Starts With School Breakfast" event.

Lilly Ayotte, Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador, talks with student at Dr. Norman Crisp Elementary School in Nashua, N.H., for the "It Starts With School Breakfast" event.

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories!

By Becca Story, Nutrition Specialist for New England Dairy & Food Council

More than 200 New Hampshire schools have something new to be proud of. They have started the journey to improve the health and well-being of their student body by accepting the New Hampshire School Breakfast Challenge.

In October 2013, the NH School Breakfast Challenge partners, New Hampshire Kids Count, School Nutrition Association of New Hampshire, New England Dairy & Food Council and the NH Department of Education, challenged NH schools to increase their breakfast program participation by 25 percent over two years. Read more »

Fighting Drought: Irrigation Improvements Make Believers out of Nevada Dairy Owners

Angela Mushrush, NRCS Nevada soil conservationist (right), talks to Ed Moreda (left) and Henry Moreda about their new manhole structure which was installed as part of an Environmental Quality Incentives Program irrigation pipeline project on their farm. The structure is used to regulate the flow of water. NRCS photo.

Angela Mushrush, NRCS Nevada soil conservationist (right), talks to Ed Moreda (left) and Henry Moreda about their new manhole structure which was installed as part of an Environmental Quality Incentives Program irrigation pipeline project on their farm. The structure is used to regulate the flow of water. NRCS photo.

Turn on any news station or open a newspaper in Nevada, and you’ll see the effects of the severe drought, now in its third year in the Silver State. It is leaving farmers and ranchers devastated.

Luckily, before the drought’s onslaught, the Moreda Dairy in Yerington, took advantage of a conservation program offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve their farm’s irrigation system, and its owners say they’re thankful they did.

Henry Moreda, his brother, Ed, and his mother, Janet, have run Moreda Dairy in Yerington, 80 miles southeast of Reno, since 1970. The Moredas no longer operate a dairy, but now focus on producing irrigated quality hay and beef cattle. Read more »