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Category: Conservation

Moldova’s Agriculture Minister Visits USDA for Round of ‘Conservation Talks’

Members of the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry listen to a USDA presentation on no-till and minimum-till management programs during a meeting at the Agriculture Department. NRCS photo.

Members of the Moldovan Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry listen to a USDA presentation on no-till and minimum-till management programs during a meeting at the Agriculture Department. NRCS photo.

Moldova’s minister of agriculture and food industry, Vasile Bumacov, recently visited with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to learn more about no-till and minimum-till systems – and how the agency supports farmers wanting to implement them.

NRCS briefed Minister Bumacov on technical and financial assistance programs that promote the use, by American farmers, of no-till and minimum-till systems, where crops are grown with little soil disturbance and the soil is kept covered with crop residue to conserve soil, water and energy. The assistance from NRCS provides U.S. farmers guidance and funding in putting these systems to work. Read more »

Get Back, Give Back: Federal Retiree Begins New ‘Career’ with US Forest Service

Bob Steelquist retired from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in May 2014 after a long public-service career that also included the National Park Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. He lives on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington State, and recently began his second career as a volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service. (Courtesy Bob Steelquist). Forest Service photo.

Bob Steelquist retired from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in May 2014 after a long public-service career that also included the National Park Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. He lives on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington State, and recently began his second career as a volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service. (Courtesy Bob Steelquist). Forest Service photo.

After nearly 32 years of combined federal and state natural resource management public service, I retired.

I have been blessed with a rewarding career. But before that final day working in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary arrived, I had already applied for and been accepted as a volunteer wilderness ranger in the Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State. It was the best promotion of my career. Read more »

World’s Best Soil Judgers Visit Washington, Meet Secretary Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks to winners of the 1st International Soil Judging Contest during their visit to USDA on Aug. 18. American college students took the top two places in the first ever international competition.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.

It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. Read more »

Puerto Rico’s First Lady Promotes Community Gardens, Starting with Her Backyard

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez and others plant seeds in People’s Garden.

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez and others plant seeds in People’s Garden.

Puerto Rico’s First Lady is a big fan of the home garden, and actually, the garden at the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza, is part of USDA’s national garden movement.

First Lady Wilma Pastrana Jiménez’s garden was the first People’s Garden at a Puerto Rico state government facility and the third on the island.

The garden joins more than 2,000 across the nation as part of the People’s Garden Initiative, started in 2009 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read more »

Working Together to Improve Water Quality Along the Lake Erie Shore

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

USDA has a long history of investment in water quality and quantity issues.  Still, Toledo, Ohio Mayor Michael Collins issued an emergency water advisory leaving about 500,000 people without clean tap water to drink or cook with from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.  The reason for the advisory: toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie got into the city’s water supply.  Residents were forced to rely on bottled and trucked-in water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.  The Lake Erie algae bloom incident shows we all have a lot more work to do to ensure adequate water supplies for now and into the future.

In response to the algae bloom incident, USDA leadership, represented by Terry Cosby, NRCS state conservationist,  joined Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Marcy Kaptur, this week to immediately announce $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Read more »

Sammy Soil Educates America on Soil Conservation for 40-plus Years

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Teaching people about soil conservation is one of our top goals at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and fortunately, we have a special helper.

Sammy Soil, everyone’s favorite little clump of earth, has managed to capture the public’s attention for more than 40 years. The little dirt clod, as he is sometimes called, was birthed through rock particles, water, air, leaves and the artistic mind of long-time employee Ernest “Howard” Whitaker.

Sammy Soil started as a water color drawing by Whitaker, who worked as a NRCS district conservationist in Tennessee. Read more »