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Safeguarding the Food Supply and Protecting Human Health

Chili peppers

Specialty crops, such as chili peppers, is one of four program areas for IR-4. (Cristi Palmer, IR-4 Project, Rutgers University)

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.

What began as a program to ensure the safe production of a diverse food supply is now providing a value-added application of its core expertise: protecting honeybees from parasites and people from vector-borne diseases.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funds the IR-4 Program (“Inter-Regional Project #4”), which was established more than 50 years ago and is headquartered at Rutgers University. The IR-4 funds laboratories that test pesticides intended to protect specialty crops. That testing generates data that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires for pesticide registration. Without the help of IR-4, the cost of the research required for pesticide registration for specialty crops would be prohibitive. Read more »

How the Biggest Changes in Our Nation’s Nutrition Programs in a Generation Came to Be, Part I

Academy for Global Citizenship students enjoying a healthy lunch

Growing a Healthier Future: Improving Nutrition and Access to Healthy Food for Americans

Cross posted from Secretary Vilsack’s Medium page:

More than seven years ago, in one of my very first conversations with newly-elected President Obama, his charge to me was simple: “feed the children and feed them well.”  Today, I’m proud to say that feeding children and supporting families in a time of great need is not only among the greatest domestic policy achievements of USDA under the Obama Administration, it is among my proudest accomplishments as Secretary. Read more »

Ohio Farmer Continues Life-Long Drive to Improve Environment

Gail Dunlap's restored wetland

Gail Dunlap used the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to implement many conservation practices on her land, including restoring nearly seven acres of wetlands on one of her Ohio farms.

Since she was a teenager some 60 years ago, Gail Dunlap has played an active role in her family’s seventh generation Ohio farming operation by focusing on ways to continually improve conservation practices and establish a natural and sustainable way of life.

“Back then, we were not that many years past the Dust Bowl times and farmers in the area were doing a wonderful job of resting the soil with long rotations,” said Dunlap. “I remember even the weeds seemed to be as beautiful as wildflowers.” Read more »

Conservation and Biological Diversity in Organic Production

Rows of crops

Organic practices foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

The National Organic Program (NOP) – part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – protects the integrity of certified organic products by developing clear standards, overseeing the certification of organic farms and businesses, and ensuring compliance with the USDA organic regulations.

Organic is a labeling term that means the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices. These practices foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Certified organic crop and livestock producers manage their farms according to the USDA organic regulations. This means using materials that are approved for use in organic production, and maintaining or improving the natural resources of their operation, including soil and water quality. Read more »

Tribal Conservation Partnership Provides Aquaculture Ponds for Walleye

Chris Borden, NRCS soil conservationist; Celie Borndal, NRCS soil conservationist; Larry Wawronowicz, Lac du Flambeau Tribe natural resources director; and Tom Melnarik, NRCS soil conservation technician

(Left to right) Chris Borden, NRCS soil conservationist; Celie Borndal, NRCS soil conservationist; Larry Wawronowicz, Lac du Flambeau Tribe natural resources director; and Tom Melnarik, NRCS soil conservation technician; view the new aquaculture pond site.

“The Tribe wants to provide a sustainable supply of walleye for tribal and non-tribal fishing in reservation waters,” said Lac du Flambeau Tribe Natural Resources Director Larry Wawronowicz. “Raising the fish larger is necessary now due to shoreline development, increased competition from in aquatic invasives like zebra mussels, and climate change.”

Sustainable conservation and protection of natural resources has always been a goal of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe since inhabiting parts of Wisconsin in 1745. The Tribe acquired the name from its gathering practices of harvesting fish by torchlight at night. Their focus is to protect pristine areas, restore degraded natural and wildlife resources, and help build strong communities. Read more »

Bioreactors Form a Last Line of Defense against Nitrate Runoff

Illustration of how a denitrifying bioreactor fits in with drainage water management (DWM). Image by John Peterson.

Illustration of how a denitrifying bioreactor fits in with drainage water management

NOTE: This year, we’ll be highlighting some of 2015’s conservation practice innovations in a monthly series. NRCS supports science-based conservation by offering technical and financial assistance for nearly 170 conservation practice standards. As conservation science and technology advances, NRCS reevaluates each standard every five years and incorporates new advancements into conservation practice standards.

Walk to the edge of certain crop fields in Iowa and look down. You might not notice anything unusual, but just beneath the surface hordes of woodchip-dwelling microorganisms are busy removing excess nitrates from water before it leaves the field. By filtering nitrates, this organic gauntlet safeguards local streams and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. Read more »