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

‘Soil and Air’ – Where Crops Meet the Environment

A person holding soil in hands

Healthy soil. USDA-ARS photo by Peggy Greb

You probably know that climate change affects how we grow food, but you might not know that how food is grown also affects our climate. This interplay is at the heart of an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) project called “Soil and Air,” a concerted effort to feed the Earth’s 7.5 billion people while protecting the planet.

Farmers and ranchers produce food at the intersection of soil and air, which in turn impacts soil and air quality. For instance, warmer air creates warmer soil, leading to different compositions of bacteria and other microbes in the ecosystem and to increased moisture loss through evaporation. Read more »

Climate Change Intensifying Wildfire on National Forests

The Bogus Creek Fire

The Bogus Creek Fire burns in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska, June 7, 2015. Photo credit: Matt Snyder-Alaska Division of Forestry

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that wildfires are more common during hot, dry summers. The area burned in the United States in 2015, over 10 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, occurred during a record temperature year for the Earth, plus record low snowpack and rainfall in some areas of the West.

The sizzling weather of 2015 was similar to what global climate models project for the year 2060. Last year’s weather and fire may become the new normal later in the 21st century. Read more »

California’s Clean Energy Pioneers Come in Black and White

Cows

New recruits in the battle against climate change.

California has a pioneering spirit. Rural folks there have been on the frontier for generations. That frontier may have been gold mines and cattle grasslands in the past, but today that frontier is the very air, soil and water of California itself. Climate change is transforming California like it’s transforming our globe. But Californians are leading the pioneer charge to transform, with pragmatism, ingenuity and a commitment to rural communities.

Just recently, I visited a small dairy farm in Elk Grove, California, the site of an anaerobic digester. Case Van Steyn’s operation of around 700 cows produces manure, and the Maas Energy digester, secluded in an unobtrusive red shipping container, uses the manure to produce methane. That methane creates enough electricity to power 125 homes—and enough to sell electricity back to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, or SMUD. Read more »

Nutritional Security Through Sustainable Agriculture

Bertha Etsitty helping 4-H members make traditional blue corn mush

Bertha Etsitty helps 4-H members make traditional blue corn mush during a club activity. Photo by Leah Platero

Nutritional security is defined as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Achieving nutritional security in the context of the burgeoning population, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, environmental degradation, and changing incomes and diets will require not just approaches to sustainably producing more food, but also smarter ways of producing food, dealing with food waste, and promoting improved nutritional outcomes.  The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve these societal challenges. NIFA’s portfolio of support for nutritional security and sustainable agriculture includes literally thousands of impactful efforts across our nation; below are just a handful that speak to the transformative work transforming lives.  For example: Read more »

Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub Extension and Outreach Team Develop Regional Efforts

USDA NPRCH Extension and Outreach team

USDA NPRCH Extension and Outreach team at the June 2015 retreat. Photo from Pam Freeman, USDA, Rangeland Research Resource Unit

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub (NPRCH) partnered with the 1914 Cooperative Extension programs in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska to develop and deliver science-based, region specific information and technologies to agricultural and natural resource managers to enable them to make climate-informed decisions.  The team has met monthly since June 2015, and through their efforts and partnership with the NPRCH they reached out to Extension colleagues to develop relevant projects that meet stakeholder needs in the region.

Since becoming partners, the NPRCH Extension and Outreach participants have developed the following three efforts, which they will work on during the coming year. Read more »

A Huge Undertaking with Tremendous Benefit – USDA’s Integral Role in the National Beef Quality Audit

Chad Nelson with the University of Nebraska team

Chad Nelson takes a break from an audit with the University of Nebraska team. Pictured left to right: Kolin Scheele, Dr. Ty Schmidt, Chad Nelson, Laura Gorecki and Joe Buntyn.

About once every five years since 1991, the National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA) brings together producers, consumers, academia, and government in a collaborative research and data collection exercise that spans the entire U.S. beef industry.  Funded by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (the beef checkoff program), the NBQA assesses the current status of the industry regarding production processes and practices that ultimately affect consumer demand for beef.

The audit uses a multi-phase approach to identify the top challenges the fed-beef (cattle raised for meat production) industry faces.  The NBQA first gathers data to measure current quality and consistency of U.S fed-beef, and then quantifies the level to which cattle producers are applying common sense husbandry techniques, specifically the Beef Quality Assurance principles, to safeguard that quality.  The results are translated into practical guidance for continued improvement in the production of fed-beef and, in turn, consumers’ acceptance of the end products found in stores. Read more »