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Category: Conservation

USDA Unites with Partners to Improve Water Quality in Lake Champlain

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vermont was able to upgrade the city's water treatment plant with support from USDA. The Department is working through several agencies to help improve water quality in the lake. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vermont was able to upgrade the city's water treatment plant with support from USDA. The Department is working through several agencies to help improve water quality in the lake. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

In recent years, blue-green algae blooms have frequented Lake Champlain, impairing the lake’s water quality. Through a new partnership with USDA, nearly 20 organizations in the area will work together with farmers and ranchers to help improve water quality of the lake and reduce algae blooms.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources are uniting partners to engage and support farmers and forest landowners who use voluntary conservation practices that lead to cleaner water. Called the “Accelerated Implementation of Agricultural and Forestry Conservation Practices in the Lake Champlain Watershed of Vermont and New York,” this project will provide outreach to farmers throughout the watershed and help connect them with innovative conservation solutions for their land. Read more »

Cover Crops Provide Multiple Benefits, Higher Yields

USDA employees, Paul Youngstrum and Eric McTaggart, examine a cover crop radish. NRCS photo by Jody Christiansen.

USDA employees, Paul Youngstrum and Eric McTaggart, examine a cover crop radish. NRCS photo by Jody Christiansen.

Corn and soybean farmers across the nation saw an increase in yields last year thanks in part to soil health-building cover crops.

More than 1,900 farmers responded last winter to a survey about cover crops conducted by the USDA’s North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program and the Conservation Technology Information Center. The results to the survey were released in late fall.

Farmers who planted corn in a field following a cover crop had a 3.1 percent increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields increased 4.3 percent following cover crops, according to the survey. Read more »

An Iowa Couple Grows Food, Family and a Community on an Organic Farm

Andy and Melissa Dunham, seen here with daughter Leonora, own and operate Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell, Iowa. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.

Andy and Melissa Dunham, seen here with daughter Leonora, own and operate Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell, Iowa. NRCS photo by Ron Nichols.

Some people are born to farm. Others grow to love it. In Melissa Dunham’s case, she fell in love with a farmer — and now she loves both the farmer and the farm.

“I was happily employed in the Twin Cities, but then I fell in love with this wonderful man who told me he was an organic vegetable farmer,” Melissa said. “I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’ We got married within seven months.”

It was an unexpected career and life change. “Everybody thought I was nuts moving down here to central Iowa to be a farmer,” she said. But now she’s growing food she believes in — and in a way that will leave the land in better condition for the generations to follow. Read more »

RCPP to Help Improve Water Quality in Lake Erie, Other American Waterbodies

The Maumee River (shown here) flows into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie at the city of Toledo, OH. USDA photo.

The Maumee River (shown here) flows into the Maumee Bay of Lake Erie at the city of Toledo, OH. USDA photo.

In the first wave of funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), 70 percent of the 100-plus projects focused on providing for clean and abundant water. Of these many projects, one in the Great Lakes region is poised to do an excellent job in engaging and empowering an army of partners.  The Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorous Reduction Initiative is a multi-state project that brings together more than 40 partnering organizations from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to reduce the runoff of phosphorous into the waterways in the western basin of Lake Erie.

The lake has suffered from nutrient pollution for years, including last year’s water crisis that left 400,000 residents in the Toledo, Ohio area without water to drink, bathe or cook. Today, Michigan Senator and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Debbie Stabenow and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown visited with the many diverse organizations making this project possible. From providing clean drinking water to employing thousands of people in the tourism industry, the health of Lake Erie affects nearly every aspect of life in the region. Read more »

Early-Season Forecast Shows Rain – Not Snow – Keeping Pacific Northwest Wet

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Wind rearranges the early season snowpack on Mount Hood, Oregon. NRCS photo by Spencer Miller.

Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well…maybe.

To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: New Approach to Conservation Creates New Partnerships, New Jobs

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix.

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix. The Secretary announced that 115 projects across all 50 states, will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program. NRCS photo.

When USDA unveiled the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, I said that this effort would pioneer a new era of conservation. As of today, the program is doing just that—leveraging an unprecedented three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar investment in projects to preserve clean land and water and create new jobs across the country.

One of the innovative programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program brings a wide variety of new partners together—from private businesses, to universities, to local and Tribal governments, to non-profit organizations and more—to develop their own action plans and to pledge their own resources to the project. Local organizations are in the driver’s seat, setting priorities and developing conservation projects that make sense for their communities. Read more »