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USDA/Microsoft “Innovation Challenge” Offers $60K in Prizes to Software Developers

Farmers have long looked to the clouds for signs of relief, but a new competition launched by USDA and Microsoft will tap the Internet cloud to help farmers and our food systems to adapt to climate change. The “Innovation Challenge” is asking software developers to create applications that will use more than 100 years of USDA data to explore how our food system can achieve better food resiliency.

Climate change will likely affect every aspect of the food system—whether it’s the ability to grow food, the reliability of food transportation and food safety efforts, or the dynamics of international trade in agricultural goods. Even so, we don’t yet fully know how to anticipate and mitigate any negative changes. Read more »

#WomeninAg: Want a Chance to Go to the White House?

From the classroom to the farm to the boardroom, young women in agriculture are helping to pave the way for a better future. They are breaking down barriers and creating opportunities that are inspiring positive change in our agricultural communities and beyond.

In September, the White House will recognize young women who are leading and inspiring their communities as advocates, peer-mentors, artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs as Champions of Change. I encourage our women in agriculture to put forth nominations for young leaders that you would like to see represented in the following categories: Read more »

Farmers Do a Lot More than Just Drive Tractors

Interactive wall at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History

Families interact with cutting edge technology on display outside of the new American Enterprise Exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The exhibit features American innovation and entrepreneurship through history, focusing on advancements in agriculture. The exhibit opened July 1, 2015.

This summer we were given the opportunity to intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and throughout our experiences we have learned a lot about the agricultural industry and rural America. Today, agriculture plays a huge role in driving the rural economy and the American economy at large, but we realized it is also important to know how far we have come and what it took for us to get here. To get a better understanding, we took a field trip across the National Mall to Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History American Enterprise exhibit, which launched on July 1st. We were excited to learn more about the role the USDA plays in people’s lives and the immense amount of history we are a part of.

The exhibit encompassed the history of American businesses from corporate companies to small farms and everything in between. We were pleased to see how much the exhibit focused on the journey of American agriculture, from the mid-1700s to present day.  We were able to interact with pieces of history that represented major successes as well as the setbacks that agriculture faced as we proceeded through a life-sized timeline of videos, pictures, historical trivia, and games. Read more »

Recognizing the Value of Cleaner Watersheds

A watershed in the Stanislaus National Forest, located in the Sierra Nevada region of California

A watershed in the Stanislaus National Forest, located in the Sierra Nevada region of California. Photo credit: US Forest Service

The mission of the Forest Service is to “sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” The provisioning of water resources – notably clean drinking water and flood control – is central to this. Growing demand for our water resources, spurred by population growth, and the effects of climate change further challenge the Forest Service to successfully meet the needs of present and future generations.

In the western United States – where water flowing from national forests makes up nearly two-thirds of public and commercial water supplies – water scarcity and wildfire threats have galvanized diverse stakeholders to invest in healthy headwaters. Local communities, public utility companies, businesses, non-governmental organizations and state and local agencies are investing in watershed restoration to avoid catastrophic economic losses. Read more »

Technology Enables Vermont Dairy Farmer to Measure Positive Impacts of Conservation

NRCS Soil Conservationist Danny Peet, left, with Vermont farmer Lorenzo Whitcomb

NRCS Soil Conservationist Danny Peet, left, worked with Vermont farmer Lorenzo Whitcomb to implement edge-of-field water quality monitoring in an effort to minimize impacts to water quality from agricultural runoff.

Stewardship and cutting-edge technology are nothing new to the North Williston Cattle Company, a Vermont dairy farm that uses solar energy and robotic milking machines. The latest advancement on the 800-acre, 224-head operation are edge-of-field water quality monitoring stations, which measure water quality and the benefits of using conservation practices on the dairy farm.

Lorenzo Whitcomb, one of the managers of the family-run dairy, worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to install the monitoring stations. NRCS has made technical and financial assistance available to farmers in key watersheds across the country.

“The results from this study will illustrate to farmers more precisely the real benefits that conservation practices have on water quality,” said Kip Potter, NRCS water quality specialist. Read more »

G20 Countries Join Together to Reduce Food Waste

This May, agricultural ministers from twenty of the world’s largest economies (G20) gathered in Istanbul, Turkey, to issue an Agricultural Communiqué outlining key actions to advance global food security and sustainable food systems. What topped the list of their priorities? Reducing food loss and waste worldwide.

The G20 is not the only international group to recognize the importance of reducing food loss and waste. High-levels of food loss and waste, which are currently estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organization of United Nations (FAO) at about 30 percent of the total global food supply, aggravate concerns about our ability to sustainably nourish the world’s growing population while safeguarding the earth’s natural resources.  As a result, reducing food loss and waste has become paramount for the FAO, the U.N. Environmental Program and a long list of international non-governmental organizations and international businesses. Read more »