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Pacific Northwest Climate Hub Gets “Information to People in the Right Way”

This is an image of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Portland, OR. USDA photo.

This is an image of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest near Portland, OR. USDA photo.

The lands of the Pacific Northwest produce a bounty of grains, dairy, beef, fish, vegetables, and wild game that feed the people of the region and the rest of the country.  Many of those who work directly with the land have been doing so for generations.  Two of my own great uncles helped to bring irrigation to the Rogue River Valley near the turn of the 20th century, and my cousins have been farming there ever since.

Over time, farmers, ranchers, fishers, and private forest owners have accumulated knowledge and wisdom from family, local communities, and agricultural universities.  These individuals have supported a technically progressive agricultural industry that supplies most of the nation’s potato crop and a good share of its wheat and milk.  Agricultural producers are used to working with many sources of information about weather, water, climate, soils and fertility, pests, and disease and then making important decisions and investments about what they will do on the land.  Their decisions about investments of time, money, and materials have daily, seasonal, annual, and multi-year implications.  Selections of fruit, nut, grape, or forest tree varieties and capital investments in machinery, irrigation, and processing are made with today’s best information in anticipation of several decades or more.  Doing this right requires both technical savvy and the wisdom to integrate many different kinds of information. Read more »

Strengthening the Modern Farm Safety Net for Specialty Crop Growers

Beginning in 2014, crop insurance will be available as a pilot insurance program for cucumbers in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.

Beginning in 2014, crop insurance will be available as a pilot insurance program for cucumbers in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.

As consumer demand for fresh fruit and vegetables increases, so do the production risks for the nation’s farmers as they grow these crops.  To meet this challenge, the Risk Management Agency (RMA) pays close attention to the changing agriculture sector to ensure that crop insurance is made available where feasible.

A tremendous amount of work goes into offering a new insurance product, making sure that the product provides the coverage needed by growers at a reasonable premium without distorting the market or affecting a grower’s management decisions for the crop. New insurance products must have written policy, underwriting and loss procedures, as well as an actuarially-sound premium rate. The ability to innovate with new and expanded insurance offerings to reflect modern and changing farming practices is central to how the Federal Crop Insurance Program works. Read more »

USDA Invites Schools to Celebrate International School Meals Day on March 6

This photo shows a first grader at Reavis Elementary School in Chicago eating breakfast in the classroom. With International School Meals Day and National School Breakfast Week coming up it’s a perfect time to talk about how to get more children to eat a nutritious breakfast.

This photo shows a first grader at Reavis Elementary School in Chicago eating breakfast in the classroom. With International School Meals Day and National School Breakfast Week coming up it’s a perfect time to talk about how to get more children to eat a nutritious breakfast.

Last year, the first International School Meals Day was held on March 8. It was a great success and brought teachers and students in both the United States and United Kingdom together to connect on one of the most critical issues facing the world today – child nutrition. This year, International School Meals Day will be held on March 6 and we’re looking for even more schools to participate.

The fact is that good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are as important to a child’s overall success as the curriculum that our schools teach every day. Schools are essential to early nutrition education and helping young children build healthy habits that last a lifetime. That’s why I’m so proud that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act set the wheels in motion for us to raise the standards for school meals in the U.S. This year’s theme for International School Meals Day is “Food Stories” which is a great topic to get kids talking about their favorite nutritious foods they enjoy at school and at home. Read more »

A Firsthand Account: California Farmers Working to Weather Drought

Dairyman Bob Giacomini (center) discusses his dairy operations and the critical need for more rainfall to Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and other participants.

Dairyman Bob Giacomini (center) discusses his dairy operations and the critical need for more rainfall to Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and other participants.

On a recent trip to California, I had the pleasure meeting several farm families who are impacted by the state’s worsening drought. Both stops gave me a first-hand view of the challenges these farmers face. We discussed how USDA can further help them with available resources. While the discussion centered on concerns over water supply, I was heartened to see that the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) recommended conservation practices have helped them better prepare for the state’s historic water shortage.

During the first stop, I visited with a distinguished dairyman and conservationist in Marin County, Bob Giacomini, and his four daughters, who operate the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. Driving over the hill towards Bob’s milking complex, I could see the pastures had little, if any, grass. In talking to Bob, he said that typically the grass would be at least two feet tall by now. He has real concerns about having enough forage for his cows. I also spoke with Paul Bianchi, who had joined us.  Paul owns a dairy operation in neighboring Sonoma County and, like Bob, is very concerned about his ability to feed his cows. Both discussed the real possibility that they may have to sell some of their herd. Read more »

The President Signs the Farm Bill: “A Jobs Bill, an Innovation Bill, a Research Bill, and a Conservation Bill”

Take a look at five ways the Farm Bill strengthens our economy -- and if you learn something new, pass it on. (Click to enlarge)

Take a look at five ways the Farm Bill strengthens our economy -- and if you learn something new, pass it on. (Click to enlarge)

Cross posted from the White House blog:

Today, President Obama traveled to Michigan State University’s equine performance center in East Lansing to deliver remarks on and sign into law the Agriculture Act of 2014 — also known as the Farm Bill, which Congress passed earlier this week.

It’s a bill whose reach extends far beyond our farms — it includes smart reforms to reduce our deficit, and the investments it makes in our rural communities will help strengthen our economy across the board. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Innovation for a Stronger Rural America

Innovation is at the heart of the American agriculture success story. As a matter of course, today’s farmers and ranchers must constantly prepare and adapt to get ahead of tomorrow’s challenges.

At USDA, we have a long history of fostering research and innovation that help agricultural production thrive. I am pleased that the 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law today by President Obama, includes new support for agricultural research and, through a new research foundation, recommits to innovation for years to come. Read more »