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Category: Environment

On the Road with the Hypoxia Task Force

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

If you ever wonder about the future of agriculture, go no further than Brighton, Illinois.  Just 10 minutes with 15-year-old Adlai Schetter will reinforce that stewardship of private working lands is in good hands. It will also convince you that cover crops and second generation biofuels are a dynamic part of our agricultural future.  On the day I visited with Adlai at his parents’ farm, he summed up his vision in a professional PowerPoint presentation to an audience of more than 20 state and federal officials.

Adlai spends a lot of his free time researching the effectiveness of different cover crop seed mixes that include rye and radishes. After his formal presentation, we walked over to his test plots.  I asked him if he’s determining which cover crop work best and he responded that “they are like players on a football team, they each have important roles.”  Adlai understands how to make these cover crops work for him.  While other farmers may be looking at bare fields this winter and early next spring, Adlai and his parents get to watch their cover crops scavenge nutrients, improve soil porosity and suppress weeds. This frees up time for Adlai to spend on another passion – the second generation biofuel miscanthus.  Adlai puts his harvested miscanthus to work fueling a burner that heats a cavernous building that houses farm equipment and the farm’s office.  Ten bales a day of miscanthus and corn stover keep the building a comfortable 72 degrees throughout the cold Illinois winter.  This winter he will experiment with using even less fuel.  Asked if he gets any school credit for all this work, Adlai responds, “not really.” Read more »

USDA Extends Dairy Margin Protection Program Deadline

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses dairy producers at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Dallas, Texas on Oct. 29, 2014

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses dairy producers at the National Milk Producers Federation annual meeting in Dallas, Texas on Oct. 29, 2014

Over the past nine months, USDA staff in offices around the country have been hard at work implementing new initiatives under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Service Agency in particular has been tasked with getting a number of new safety net features off the ground for farmers and ranchers, including the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. Because these new programs are important to farmers’ and ranchers’ businesses, USDA also wants to make sure plenty of time and tools are available to help farmers and ranchers make the best decisions for their operations.

Last week, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that America’s milk producers have an extra week to enroll in the voluntary Dairy Margin Protection Program. The program provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer. The original sign up deadline was November 28, 2014, the day after Thanksgiving. The deadline has been moved to December 5, 2014, which allows both FSA staff and dairy producers to spend more time with their families over the holiday. Read more »

Illinois Farmers Have Plenty to Boast About

With more than 12,500 acres, Illinois growers account for more than three-fourths of all pumpkins harvested for processing in the United States. Check back next Thursday for more interesting information on another state from the 2012 Census of Agriculture!

With more than 12,500 acres, Illinois growers account for more than three-fourths of all pumpkins harvested for processing in the United States. Check back next Thursday for more interesting information on another state from the 2012 Census of Agriculture!

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Most people think of corn and soybeans when they imagine Illinois agriculture. That’s not surprising, considering that The Prairie State ranked second in the nation when it comes to harvested acres for both of these crops in 2012. Our farmers harvested more than 21 million acres of corn and soybeans in Illinois during 2012. That keeps a whole lot of combines rolling each fall.

However, Illinois agriculture achievements expand way beyond just corn and soybeans. Our farmers produce a wide variety of crops and livestock. For example, you can probably thank an Illinois farmer when you open that can of pumpkin pie filling this Thanksgiving. With more than 12,500 acres, Illinois growers account for more than three-fourths of all pumpkins harvested for processing in the United States. Read more »

Scientific Climate Info Now Available for Producers in the Northern Plains

The new Climate Hubs Northern Plains website provides producers with science-based information.

The new Climate Hubs Northern Plains website provides producers with science-based information.

This fall, ranchers, farmers, and land managers in the Northern Plains from Bartlett, Nebraska to the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming will be making decisions that will affect their operations in the coming year. Land managers often consider markets, weather and changing climatic conditions using data and information from various sources including newspapers and popular press publications, Cooperative Extension agents, State Climatologists, and the Internet.

With the recent launch of the USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub website, ranchers, farmers, and land managers have a new source for region-specific, science-based information, practical management and conservation strategies, and decision-support tools.  The national Hubs site features links to the latest climate news, events, thematic climate highlights (e.g. Croplands, Forestland, Grazing Lands and Livestock) as well as educational materials, factsheets, and regional contact information. Read more »

Mapping U.S. Agriculture

2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock.

2012 Ag Census Web Maps tool helps you create a visual overview of data for U.S. farm demographics, economics, crops, and livestock.

Agricultural data are valuable for analysis, and thanks to the Census of Agriculture and other surveys, NASS has plenty of data available. As a cartographer, however, I obviously prefer to present the data in map form. A map gives anyone a chance to visualize data for multiple geographic areas as a cohesive image, providing a graphic overview of the agricultural phenomena. It also allows map readers to visually compare regions, and discern patterns and relationships in the data across regions, topics, and time.

When it came to the ag census, for each of the past eight editions, NASS produced an atlas of thematic (statistical) maps illustrating various aspects of U.S. agriculture. While great for their time, with the evolution of digital technology, these paper maps are no longer sufficient on their own. The component missing from them is the data behind the maps, so what better way to depict and also convey a myriad of county-level statistics than through a web map application? Read more »

Opening Doors for #WomeninAg

Earlier this week, I hosted a White House Rural Council discussion with farmers, business owners, board members, commodity groups, youth leaders and academics to discuss opportunities for women in agriculture. The group included women and men, conventional farmers and organic producers and organizations like Food Corps, the Future Farmers of America Foundation and the American Farm Bureau.  There were major corporations including Coca Cola and Land O’ Lakes as well as smaller operations like Sandy Oaks Olive Orchards from Texas.

In preparation for the meeting, I asked the participants to use #womeninag to identify inspiring women in agriculture.  The overwhelming response on Twitter stimulated our discussion and motivated the group to identify what we can do to continue supporting women in agriculture. Read more »