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Category: Plant and Animal Health

Invasive Pest Invades a National Comic Strip

EAB Comic strip

Photo credit: Mark Trail via @ComicsKingdom

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Awareness week is May 17-23 and my tenure in a nationally syndicated comic strip is coming to an end, so it’s a good time to tell you how a new USDA employee wound up cartoon-ized.

The Mark Trail strip—known for its environmental themes—just finished a six-week long storyline about the invasive EAB.  The EAB, a small metallic green wood-boring beetle, destroys ash trees and is now found in 25 U.S. States.  The Mark Trail strip features “Agent Abbey Powell from the USDA” and shares information about the EAB. To view the comic—beginning with my debut—visit Mark Trail. Read more »

Dogs Help Protect Livestock Against Predators

Two livestock protection dogs

Working dogs like these two livestock protection dogs help drive off predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes, and offer sheep ranchers an alternative to reducing livestock losses.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is helping to provide livestock producers in the western United States with livestock guard dogs that offer greater protection against predators.

Generally large and white with shaggy hair, livestock protection dogs are trained to respond aggressively to predators such as wolves, bears, and coyotes. Guard dogs are often used in the sheep industry as a method of non-lethal predator management because of their perceived effectiveness and low cost to producers. According to a 2010 American Sheep Industry survey, guard dog use is only second to shed lambing at effectively reducing depredation. Shed lambing, that is, raising lambs exclusively indoors, however is more than 9 times the annual cost of using a dog for lamb protection. Owing to the low cost of using livestock protection dogs, they are extremely valuable to the sheep industry. According to Michael Marlow, resource management specialist for APHIS’ Wildlife Services program, many producers are certain they’d be out of business without them. Read more »

Announcing New Steps to Promote Pollinator Health

Cross-posted from the White House blog:

Pollinators are critical to the Nation’s economy, food security, and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and helps ensure that our diets include ample fruits, nuts, and vegetables. This tremendously valuable service is provided to society by honey bees, native bees and other insect pollinators, birds, and bats.

But pollinators are struggling. Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of honey bee colonies, threatening the viability of their livelihoods and the essential pollination services their bees provide to agriculture. Monarch butterflies, too, are in jeopardy. The number of overwintering Monarchs in Mexico’s forests has declined by 90% or more over the past two decades, placing the iconic annual North American Monarch migration at risk. Read more »

USDA Celebrates the Public Service of 12 Unsung Heroes

USDA colleagues and teams honored at Unsung Hero Award Ceremony

As part of Public Service Recognition Week, outstanding USDA colleagues and teams from around the country were honored at the Department’s 31st Annual Unsung Hero Award Ceremony in Washington, DC. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Every day, USDA employees are hard at work providing safe, nutritious food for our families and children; conserving our land and natural resources; supporting our nation’s farmers and ranchers; expanding market opportunities for American agriculture at home and abroad; and investing in our rural economies.  Recently, Secretary Vilsack penned a moving essay as to why he dedicates his life to public service at the USDA.

Nearly 100,000 USDA employees serve our country with pride and dedication. As part of Public Service Recognition Week, I joined the Organization of Professional Employees at the Department of Agriculture to honor 12 outstanding colleagues and teams from around the country in our 31st Annual Unsung Hero Award Ceremony.  I invite you to congratulate these extraordinary public servants for their dedication to their jobs and their communities. Read more »

Enhancing the Flavor of Food through Plant Breeding

Butternut squash

Plant breeding can lead to new varieties that taste great and are easier to grow, giving you choices if you are growing them or getting them from a farmers market or grocery store.

Vegetables are becoming more flavorful and sustainable through plant breeding. Plant breeding is at the core of the seed-to-table movement—using selective breeding to develop plant varieties that possess exceptional culinary properties and the ability to thrive in a sustainable production system.

One plant variety leading the way in this movement is a series of mini-butternut squash developed by a Cornell University researcher, Michael Mazourek. He began the project as part of a $2.5 million Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant awarded to Oregon State University, which resulted in a national network of organic plant breeders, the Northern Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). The grant is funded by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Read more »

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from the Summit: How REE is Using New Strategies to Reach Even Newer Poultry Handlers

USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki, Dr. Fidelis (Fidel) Hegngi, with the APHIS National Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) Program, and Dr. Denise Brinson Director of APHIS National Poultry Improvement Plan

(Left to right): USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki, Dr. Fidelis (Fidel) Hegngi, with the APHIS National Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) Program, and Dr. Denise Brinson Director of APHIS National Poultry Improvement Plan, pose wearing the latest in functional and fashionable wear before visiting a backyard chicken coop.

During a walk along tree-shading sidewalks in the “burbs”; you’re accustomed to seeing games of hopscotch, bike rides, and maybe even the occasional Golden Retriever. However, one residential backyard, nearly 6 miles from downtown Atlanta, calls into question whether this is suburbia at all. There were swings, a tree house, and even patio furniture. Yet one feature certified this was not your mother’s suburban home: over a dozen chickens living comfortably in a custom made “Coop de Ville.”   

The rise of “backyard poultry” is one of many agricultural phenomena tied to a growing food consciousness and increased urbanization. And while USDA’s fundamental job doesn’t change, the Department does because the challenges do.  The recent cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) at increasingly popular backyard chicken coops underscore this. While this concern was not clearly expressed in the 1862 Act of Congress that created the Department, the mandate was. USDA still works to “acquire and to diffuse…information” towards facilitating the protected growth of American agriculture. That service is what brought Research, Education, and Economics Undersecretary Dr. Catherine Woteki to this residence in Decatur, GA. Accompanied by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service officials and a man known best as the “Chicken Whisperer,” Dr. Woteki toured the site and helped to shed light on current HPAI research and important biosafety measures. Read more »