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Category: Conservation

The Poinsettia, in the Shadow of the Christmas Tree

The beautiful poinsettia stands as a decoration on its own. NRCS photo by Analia Bertucci.

The beautiful poinsettia stands as a decoration on its own. NRCS photo by Analia Bertucci.

The poinsettia – academic types may call it by its binomial name, and biologists might refer to its species. But how many of us are guilty of calling it that red flower with the pointy leaves used to decorate during the holidays?

In the world of holiday shrubbery, the poinsettia has always taken a backseat to the Christmas tree. With its lights and ornaments, the tree has become the icon of the holiday in contrast to the poinsettia, which is usually placed in a nearby corner. Read more »

A New Revenue Source for Virginia Farmers Reduces Erosion and Improves Water Quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaking at a press conference in Fairfax, VA. USDA photo by David Kosling.

USDA has a long history of helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners maintain their bottom line while improving soil health and reducing runoff into streams and rivers.  For nearly 80 years, USDA has offered funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement conservation practices through the conservation title of the Farm Bill. In recent years, however, USDA has also supported new, innovative approaches to voluntary, private lands conservation.

An announcement today by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in northern Virginia highlights an innovative approach called water quality trading. Farmers like John Harrison of Appomattox County are taking advantage of private investments to implement conservation practices on their land. These practices help reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into local bodies of water, generating nutrient credits that can then be sold to regulated entities looking to offset nutrient losses for compliance purposes. Read more »

Strategic Conversations, a Crisis Response at the Grass Roots Level

From left to right, Hardin County farmer Jerry McBride, AgCredit CEO Brian Ricker and Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby place the first cover crop sign in McBride’s cover crop field which contains a mix of oilseed radish, hairy vetch, and cereal rye. NRCS photo by Dianne Johnson.

From left to right, Hardin County farmer Jerry McBride, AgCredit CEO Brian Ricker and Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby place the first cover crop sign in McBride’s cover crop field which contains a mix of oilseed radish, hairy vetch, and cereal rye. NRCS photo by Dianne Johnson.

As Mark Twain once said, “Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.” Recently, in Ohio, the staff of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), put that advice to work: rather than trying to communicate broadly, they took their message on the road, visiting with farmers face-to-face to talk about the importance of cover crops on improving water quality.

For two days this past summer, 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents dependent on safe drinking water from Lake Erie could not use their water for drinking, bathing or washing. Toxins from algae contaminated their water, exceeding the city’s water treatment facilities capacity to remove it.  Boiling the water only concentrated the toxin. No one knew how long this would last. Read more »

Conference Explores Ways to Value Resources, Improve the Environment and Put a Check into Producers’ Pockets

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell makes welcoming remarks at the"A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES)" conference in Crystal City, VA. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell makes welcoming remarks at the"A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES)" conference in Crystal City, VA. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

What is the monetary value of a supply of clean water?  Or the value of clean air or having places available to hike and fish?

For decades we have taken these resources for granted, or at least we have not put a monetary value on their benefits. That’s changing.  Participants from 30 nations met this week at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services; Linking Science, Practice and Decision Making conference to talk about just how we can value these benefits and include that in our decision-making and planning.  As the conference kicked off, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tidwell talked about the need to quantify the benefits of public lands, building consensus and support for a multi-generational outlook, moving away from short term objectives and toward “sustaining the health and diversity of our forests and grasslands.”

Participants included a number of other federal officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, and Jay Jensen of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Read more »

USDA Rebuilds Levee, Resident’s Peace of Mind

Damage was extensive in Scott County, Ark., after a flood tore through the area in May 2013. NRCS photo by Todd Stringer.

Damage was extensive in Scott County, Ark., after a flood tore through the area in May 2013. NRCS photo by Todd Stringer.

When flood waters tore through the levee along Mill Creek in western Arkansas in May 2013, the small unincorporated community of Y City in Scott County sustained massive damage. Mill Creek rose more than 19 feet destroying lives, homes, businesses and a levee.

Flood damage covered a five-mile area and killed five people. A month later, northwestern Arkansas was hit with record rainfall and subsequent flooding again threatened Y City since a 900-foot section of the previously damaged levee was still in need of repair. Read more »

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Under Secretary Robert Bonnie speaks during a celebration event marking the launch of The International Year of Soils at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Dec. 5, 2014. Friday is also the 1st World Soil Day. USDA photo by Zack Baddorf.

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture. Read more »