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Category: Environment

National Network on Water Quality Trading Document Aims to Help New Program Development

The cover of the new document, “Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations”

The cover of the new document, “Building a Water Quality Trading Program: Options and Considerations”

USDA is committed to protecting streams, rivers and lakes through agricultural conservation, and has a long history of working with partners to implement the practices and policies needed to meet water quality goals. One of these policies, water quality trading, can help communities develop innovative, practical solutions for improving water quality, while generating environmental benefits at lower cost and increasing investment in rural America. At least twelve states have established one or more water quality trading programs—but creating the trading rules, working with stakeholders, and running a trading program can be difficult.

In 2013, The National Network on Water Quality Trading began as a dialogue between 18 organizations to tackle the challenges involved with establishing water quality markets. The Network represents a variety of perspectives, including farmers, utilities, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, and others interested in water quality trading. USDA participated in the process as a technical advisor. Read more »

Deal Gives Back

Here at USDA, we believe in the power of community to make a difference. So when Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, DC, reached out to the USDA Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to come visit for their annual day of service, we were eager to welcome over 100 seventh graders to our headquarters to talk about the importance of environmental awareness and conservation practices, their theme for this year. With seventy percent of the nation’s land under private ownership, the success of USDA’s partnership with landowners to clean the air we breathe, conserve and clean the water we drink, prevent soil erosion, and create and protect wildlife habitat will depend on developing a strong next generation of conservation leaders like the Alice Deal students. So too, will our ability to manage the public lands and waters, including our national forests and grasslands that we hold in trust for the American people.

After a day with these bright young students, we’ve learned that we’re in pretty good hands. Read more »

Study Finds Increasing Wood Pellet Demand Boosts Forest Growth, Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Creates Jobs

A truck is filled with wood chips.

A truck is filled with wood chips as part of the process of turning wood into energy.

An industry that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase forest growth, and create jobs sounds too good to be true.  But that is the reality of the emerging wood pellets market in the Southern U.S.  That conclusion is supported by independent economic assessments of wood bioenergy, including a recent study that specifically focused on European pellet demand conducted by researchers at Duke and North Carolina State Universities.  Those researchers found that increasing demand for wood pellets resulted in more forest area, more forest investment, large greenhouse gas reductions, and little change in forest carbon inventories.

So, why is there concern?

Some critics have recently argued that land used to produce biomass for energy should instead be permanently protected as forests. They say that harvesting biomass from forests reduces forest carbon stocks. Instead, they claim that the best way to increase carbon storage is to reduce demand for renewable products that come from the land. Read more »

Preserving a Way of Life for the Yakama Nation

Deputy Under Secretary Mills joining members of the Tribe in releasing lamprey into the Toppenish Creek

Lamprey, or Asum in the native language, are a culturally significant food source to the Yakama Tribe. Here, Deputy Under Secretary Mills joins members of the Tribe in releasing lamprey into the Toppenish Creek as part of the tribe's reintroduction program. NRCS photo.

Recently, I visited the 1.1 million acre Yakama Nation reservation located in southwestern Washington State. Touring the reservation, I was able to see first hand how funds from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) will help the over 10,000 members of the Yakama tribe.

Through RCPP, NRCS is working with the tribe to accelerate the recovery of fish stocks, including the Middle Columbia Steelhead, reconnect floodplains and improve irrigation water conservation. Read more »

Keeping an Eye on the Nation’s Chemical Climate to Protect Water Resources

Getting from Point A to Point B is sometimes a difficult task; that’s why we have maps.  However, making maps is not always easy, either, especially when the image you’re trying to capture is carried on the wind.

For nearly 40 years a coalition of government, education, industry, and other organizations has worked to monitor “precipitation chemistry” – in other words, tracking the makeup and whereabouts of acid rain.  Their latest efforts have resulted in maps that indicate how nitrogen deposition in the United States threatens aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico. Read more »

Technology Helping us Follow the Food Path

Cattle at a farm

A 2011 FSMIP grant awarded Michigan State University matching funds to develop a pilot project to explore ways to improve local and regional beef production and marketing systems. Photo courtesy of Michigan State University.

It is amazing to see such an array of meats available in today’s grocery stores. Traveling across the country in my role at USDA, I hear from so many folks that want to know where their beef comes from, what the animal was fed or how was it raised.  I also know farmers have a real commitment to their crops and animals and are happy to share their stories with customers.

Farmers markets are one way for small producers to tell consumers directly where their products were grown or raised.  However, mid-sized farms face unique challenges as they are too large to dedicate the time and resources to participate in farmers markets, but too small to compete effectively in large commercial markets.  New technology could make connecting consumers to mid-sized farmers easier no matter where meat is purchased. Read more »