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Category: Technology and Broadband

Surf’s High for a Desert Plant

Guayule, a desert shrub

Guayule is a desert shrub. USDA-ARS photo.

When you hear “surf’s up,” the last thing you might think of is a desert shrub called “guayule” (pronounced “why-oo-lee”). But technology that began with a partnership between USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and a small Arizona-based company, Yulex Corporation, recently put wetsuits made with this daisy relative on the market that are more elastic and more comfortable than those made with conventional, petroleum-based neoprene.

The wetsuits were created with Yulex’s guayule natural rubber by Patagonia, a high-end outdoor clothing company, which currently produces and sells the wetsuits.  They are also available from other retailers. The wetsuit—with its 60/40 guayule and petroleum-based neoprene blend—is proving to be popular. Surfer Magazine said: “It’s the cashmere of wetsuit material.” Read more »

Using Open Data in Creative Ways to Solve Problems

Want to make better use of forest, park and trail datasets? Try a hackathon. A hackthon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects. Hackathons typically last between a day and a week. Some hackathons are intended simply for educational or social purposes, although in many cases the goal is to create usable software. This popular forum for collaborative innovation has become an important method for developing modern solutions for government interactions.  This particular hackathon occurred on April 11-12 in Washington, D.C., and involved the USDA and the Department of Interior (DOI) for the myAmerica Developers Summit. The summit is an initiative supporting the National Travel and Tourism Strategy by improving access to information about federal lands and waters so it’s easier for people to discover and experience America’s natural and national treasures. 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 »

How 80 Years of Rural Electrification Will Help Bring Broadband to Rural America

We’re celebrating the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration this month. The REA was created because in 1935, rural areas had no electricity—no lights or power to transform their hard work and efforts into efficiency and productivity. With the creation of the REA, and the subsequent Congressional action through the Rural Electrification Act, REA was able to empower rural America, changing lives and livelihoods for the better.

Rural Electrification Administration (REA) erects telephone lines in rural areas.

Rural Electrification Administration (REA) erects telephone lines in rural areas. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

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$1 Billion Invested in Rural Health Care Across 13 States

In late 2011, the President announced a White House Rural Council initiative lead by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in rural health and link rural doctors and hospitals to financing for health IT. The initiative was designed to address the need for financing to support the adoption of health IT systems in rural communities.  Financing has been cited as one of the top challenges for rural doctors and hospitals serving remote and poor communities.

Between 2012 and 2014, the HHS and USDA led initiative generated approximately $1 Billion in rural health care financing across 13 states. These investments, funded by USDA, included grants and loans to help rural clinics and hospitals transition from paper to electronic health records (EHRs), encourage exchange of health information with health care providers and patients, and offer telehealth services. Read more »

NIFA Debuts New Redesigned Public Website for Ease of Users

Recently, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) launched its redesigned website.  The agency’s web team has worked for the past year to design a site that will make access to information about NIFA’s grants and programs easier than ever.  The new website is compatible with a variety of mobile devices so today’s busy users can get their information on-the-go.

“This web revision comes at a time when most Americans, including farmers and other agricultural professionals, find resources online.  The new website is user-friendly and offers excellent search tools, thus, making information easily accessible,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. Read more »