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Category: Environment

Conservation as a Source of Innovative Partnerships for All

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden tours rice fields in the Sacramento Valley at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on Jun. 24, 2014. Rice grower Mike DeWit has a cooperative arrangement to provide habitat for wildlife while growing rice. Photo courtesy California Rice Commission.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden tours rice fields in the Sacramento Valley at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on Jun. 24, 2014. Rice grower Mike DeWit has a cooperative arrangement to provide habitat for wildlife while growing rice. Photo courtesy California Rice Commission.

This summer, USDA is highlighting partnerships to invest in the future of rural America. Our partners work with us year after year to leverage resources and grow economic opportunities. They are the key to ensuring our rural communities thrive. Follow more of our stories at #RuralPartners.

My passion and commitment for conservation started on the farm learning from our first and finest conservationists:  American farmers. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers care deeply about the land, which is why they are incredible environmental stewards. Earlier this month, I visited the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, a popular wildlife refuge just minutes from downtown Sacramento. Here, farmers like the DeWit family are growing rice and providing some of the best wildlife habitat in North America.

Mike DeWit and his father, Jack, brought me right into the middle of the Sacramento Valley rice fields, where more than a half million acres are used as a source of America’s sushi rice. Equally valuable is the role these rice fields play as a habitat for nearly 230 wildlife species, including providing nearly sixty percent of the winter diet for millions of migrating ducks and geese. It was a thrill to walk on the levee of a shallow-flooded, brilliantly green field and observe several pairs of nesting American Avocets all around. When I noticed a nest with four small eggs, I knew that it represented a part of the future generation of wildlife. Read more »

At World Cup in Brazil, USDA Grasses Score Big

University of Georgia-licensed TifGrand turfgrass is installed in Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, one of three World Cup stadiums to use the turf this year. TifGrand was bred by UGA/USDA-ARS plant breeder Wayne Hanna and UGA entomologist Kris Braman. Photo Credit: University of Georgia

University of Georgia-licensed TifGrand turfgrass is installed in Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil, one of three World Cup stadiums to use the turf this year. TifGrand was bred by UGA/USDA-ARS plant breeder Wayne Hanna and UGA entomologist Kris Braman. Photo Credit: University of Georgia

Here’s something to kick around: About half of the soccer matches at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil have been played on turfgrass bred jointly by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Georgia.

Turfgrass is a billion-dollar industry, creating jobs at nurseries, sod farms, golf courses and a variety of stadiums and other athletic facilities. ARS has been breeding warm-season turfgrasses since the 1950s, and has worked closely with scientists at the University of Georgia for decades. It’s been a particularly productive partnership and is responsible for producing turfgrasses that are used on some of the world’s top golf courses and athletic fields.

Of the 12 stadiums that are World Cup sites this year, three are using Tifway 419, a bermudagrass developed in Tifton, Ga., and released in 1960 by the late Glenn Burton, a pioneering ARS grass breeder. Three other stadiums are equipped with TifGrand, a shade-tolerant and extremely wear-resistant bermudagrass released jointly by ARS and the University of Georgia in 2008. Another Tifton-bred variety, TifSport, was used at the 2010 World Cup in Durban, South Africa. Read more »

Deputy Under Secretary Meets California Producers to Discuss Drought Resilience Measures

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills meets with producer Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California. USDA photo.

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills meets with producer Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California. USDA photo.

Recently I traveled to California to meet with farmers who are coping with the state’s historic drought.  This was my second trip to the Golden State in recent months to see first-hand how USDA’s disaster assistance and conservation programs are helping producers and rural communities, and to continue the conversation about how USDA and the federal government as a whole can support efforts to build long term resilience to drought.

My first visit was with Rick Martinez at his Triad Farm in Dixon, California.  Rick practices land stewardship on the 4,000 acres he farms and through his leadership as a member of the area Resource Conservation District.  While he doesn’t face the exact same set of water shortage pressures experienced by California’s Central Valley farmers, Rick recognizes that the state’s drought may well extend into the foreseeable future and has a long-term plan to build resilience for his operation.  As he has done over the past several years, he continues to install drip irrigation in his tomato fields and is experimenting with drip irrigation for his alfalfa and corn crops.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides cost share assistance for some of these investments – but Rick pays for 100 percent of other investments because it makes good business sense.  He is able to reduce water use and input costs while increasing yields. Read more »

Massachusetts Agriculture Defies National Trends

Farming keeps expanding in Massachusetts. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

Farming keeps expanding in Massachusetts. Check back next Thursday to learn more about the 2012 Census of Agriculture results as we highlight another state.

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.

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Massachusetts agriculture defies national trends in more ways than one. For example, while across the country the number of farms decreased four percent since the 2007 Census, Massachusetts was one of only 10 states that saw an increase in both the number of farms and land in farms in the same time period. In addition, while women make up 31 percent of all operators across the country, they make up 41 percent of all operators in the Bay State. Similarly, while the number of female principal operators decreased nationally since the last census, that number increased from 2,226 to 2,507 in our state. In fact, female principal operators compose 32 percent of all of our state’s principal operators, the highest percentage among the New England states and the third highest nationwide.

We also have a growing number of beginning farmers in Massachusetts. Although the proportion of all beginning farmers in our state is down slightly since 2007, it is still higher than in other parts of the country. In Massachusetts, 29 percent of all operators and 25 percent of principal operators began farming in the last decade, while nationwide, 26 percent of all operators and 22 percent of principal operators fall in that category. Read more »

Representing the Faces of Agriculture through Research and Promotion Board Diversity

At AMS, we are committed to ensuring that all research and promotion boards are as diverse as the members they serve. Photo courtesy of National Black Growers Council.

At AMS, we are committed to ensuring that all research and promotion boards are as diverse as the members they serve. Photo courtesy of National Black Growers Council.

U.S. agriculture is increasingly diverse, with farmers, ranchers, processors, distributors, vendors, and more from various backgrounds.  Just like their products, the operations and the men and women that run them are diverse – in gender, race, age, size, and production practices.  At USDA, we are committed to supporting all of American agriculture with our programs and services.

My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is in a unique position to encourage and promote diversity, particularly when it comes to industry leadership.  AMS oversees 22 industry-funded research and promotion programs that allow farmers and businesses to pool resources, set common goals, and make collective decisions about how to best develop new markets, strengthen current markets, and conduct important research and promotion activities covering a wide variety of topics from nutrition to sustainability.  These programs, which create opportunities for farms and businesses across the country, are led by industry board members appointed by the Secretary.  AMS has been working hard to ensure that research and promotion boards reflect the full diversity of American agriculture.  We know that the programs are stronger when the boards represent the diversity of the industries they represent and the consumers they serve. Read more »

The Spirit of Rural America: Farmers Show Strength in Tough Times

Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service Michael Scuse (left) and Cass County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committeeman and farmer Trent Smith discuss the impact of the drought on Missouri’s soybean crop.

Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service Michael Scuse (left) and Cass County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committeeman and farmer Trent Smith discuss the impact of the drought on Missouri’s soybean crop.

This is the final post of the weekly disaster assistance program feature series on the USDA blog.

For the past few weeks we’ve shared stories of how the farmers and ranchers across the country have been helped by disaster assistance programs restored by the 2014 Farm Bill. These USDA programs are helping thousands of producers and their families recover from natural disasters.

These amazing stories of strength and courage show the resilience of the men and women who feed and clothe more than 313 million Americans and billions of people worldwide. Despite uncontrollable setbacks caused by drought, snowstorms, tornadoes and other natural disasters, American farmers, ranchers and their children persevered beyond measure. I’m honored to be part of an agency that works for and with such amazing people. Read more »