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Category: Environment

Woodland Buffers Protect Amphibians, Ecosystems

Red-backed salamander

Red-backed salamanders and other amphibians are key players in ecosystem health. (iStock photo)

Forested areas that border wetlands help protect wildlife, but until recently their efficacy has been untested for most amphibian species.  Now, recently published results of a six-year study explore how the loss or reduction of amphibians could affect the ecosystem.

At the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Kimberly Babbitt and a team of graduate students conducted landscape-scale experiments that tested the impacts of forest buffer width vernal pools on population size and structure, body size and condition and population genetics of two amphibian species in the northeastern United States. A grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supported the project. Read more »

Outdoor Laboratories Provide Unique Opportunity for Environmentally-Responsible Food Production

Grassland-shrub savanna characteristic of the northern Chihuahuan Desert on the 193,000-acre Jornada Experimental Range

Grassland-shrub savanna characteristic of the northern Chihuahuan Desert on the 193,000-acre Jornada Experimental Range. Photo by Peggy Greb, USDA-ARS

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Some of the world’s most unique cacti, reptiles and plants reside right here in the United States among our nation’s lush watersheds and rangelands. Their ability to survive and thrive provide clues to preserving a diverse, sustainable habitat well into the future. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are the stewards of some of the agricultural lands that these fascinating creatures live on.

One such place, ARS’s Jornada Rangeland Research Facility in Las Cruces, NM, is a treasure trove for observing and gathering long-term information about how these species, environmental factors and agricultural practices intertwine and impact one another. Read more »

Public-Private Partnerships: A Forum Focus

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California

Matt McCue and Lily Schneider of Shooting Star CSA, an organic farm in California. Their operation is chemical and pesticide free and they rely on practices that reduce impact on the environment.

Teamwork can improve virtually any endeavor, from partnering with a neighbor by exchanging butchered meat for hay to feed the rest of the herd or simply sharing a ride to save on gas.  The result is usually savings and efficiency.

At USDA, that notion is taken to another level with public-private partnerships that improve economic stability for producers, the financial sector, and a nation that leans heavily on the shoulders of its farmers and ranchers. Read more »

New Statistics Help Guide New Farmer Programs

Farmland infographic

National Agricultural Statistics Service data released today (Feb. 18) shows there are now 2.07 million farms in the United States and the average farm size is up 3 acres from the previous year, to 441 acres.

Farmland is one of the most precious resources we have in this country. After all, it’s what we rely on for our food, fuel, and fiber. Unfortunately farmland is also a finite resource, and getting access to it is one of the major challenges new and beginning farmers and ranchers face. This is also why USDA analyzes many aspects of farms and farmland distribution.

Since 2007 we have seen the American agricultural industry reshape itself. Each year, the number of farms has declined while the average farm size keeps getting larger. According to the new numbers we released earlier today the trend is continuing. There are now 2.07 million farms in the United States, down 1 percent from a year before, with the average farm size of 441 acres, up 3 acres from the previous year. Read more »

The Surprise in Latest Forecast: Net Farm Income Down; but Farm Businesses and Farm Households Show Improvement

Debt-to-asset ratio and debt-to-equity ratio chart

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released its Farm Income forecast for 2016. This year the debt-to-asset ratio ratio is forecast to be 13.2%, compared to 12.7% in 2015. The same trends hold for debt-to-equity ratios.

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released its Farm Income forecast for 2016.  Net cash income and net farm income (which includes the value and costs of items like depreciation, home consumption of farm goods, and unsold inventory) are both expected to fall slightly compared to 2015, but by much less than last year. Net cash income is expected to fall by 2.5%, or about $2.3 billion, and net farm income by 3%, or about $1.6 billion. Last year net cash income fell by 27% and net farm income by 38%.

A large portion of the forecast decline is from lower livestock receipts, expected to be down by about $7.9 billion. Crop receipts are also forecast to be lower by $1.6 billion. On the other hand, input costs are forecast to be down by $3.8 billion, and government payments are expected to be $3.3 billion higher. Read more »

Local Food Systems at Work in the Driftless Area

Acting Administrator Elanor Starmer at Dubuque Food Co-op

Everybody is welcome at the Dubuque Food Cooperative, which features local, organic, and sustainably produced food. USDA photo by Bill Menner.

So called because it was left untouched by retreating glaciers that flattened much of the Midwest, the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin, and bits of Minnesota and Illinois is home to more than just beautiful rolling hills. It’s also the site of inspiring efforts to develop a strong regional food economy. I had the honor of visiting the region in my first trip as Acting Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

With Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has put local and regional food front and center over the last seven years. We realize that consumer demand for local food can create economic opportunities, help develop systems that bring healthy food to underserved communities, and better connect consumers with agriculture. Building these systems often brings together unlikely partners – farmers, economic development experts, local government, school officials and supply-chain businesses – in the pursuit of shared goals. Read more »