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Category: Technology and Broadband

USDA Then and Now

For over a century and a half, USDA has worked alongside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to ensure USDA programs put forward the most innovative thinking to meet the changing needs of a modern agricultural landscape. Mission areas across USDA, from agricultural research to forest management to nutrition programs and more, also look forward to create a stronger rural America, better prepared to meet 21st century challenges.

To illustrate some of the major innovations in our recent history to continuously serve communities across the nation – and in honor of Throwback Thursday – we’ve collected several historic photos and paired them with their modern counterparts. This photo series features USDA programs and services, Then and Now, and shows the impact of creative and innovative investments for a brighter future for rural Americans.

Food Stamps to SNAP: Converting from paper coupons to Electronic Benefit Transfer has allowed USDA to increase access to fresh healthy food, including farmers markets, while reducing fraud, waste and abuse within the SNAP program.

A book of paper food stamps used in 1941

This electronic card reader using a wireless connection allows consumers to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefits Transfer cards

 

Rural Infrastructure: Rural broadband creates educational, health and economic benefits for rural America, and provides access to new opportunities that may not have been available before.

Rural Electrification Administration workers erect telephone lines in rural areas.

Family Nurse Practitioner and patient using telemedicine equipment to meet virtually with doctors.

 

On the Farm Technology: Modern technology allows agriculture to be more productive than ever before, leading to the strongest 5 years of agriculture exports in our history. Modern tractors and farm equipment often utilize GPS for precision planting or harvesting, and are able to perform tasks like measuring moisture content and weight in real time, and can update yield per acres on the fly during harvest time.

Man planting corn with a team of horses in 1940

A tractor turns the cover crop into the soil in preparation for planting.

 

Conservation: Conservation and risk management practices have helped to bring us into a 21st century of land stewardship, promoting soil health and healthy land management that help to ensure that the dust bowl of the 1930′s is history. Making reliable, effective risk management tools available for producers to make sound decisions that benefit the land is just one way USDA helps farmers and ranchers help the land.

Dust blown by the wind from an Iowa field that was not planted to grass to prevent soil erosion in 1890.

View of farmland and mountain range.

These are the first of many Then and Now images we’ll share, but we’d love to hear from you. We know some of agriculture’s most compelling innovation stories are the ones seldom told. Use #AgInnovates to add your voice to our shared story and tell us how your family or community has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century.

#AgInnovates: Modern Solutions for a 21st Century Rural America

In the 151 years since the U.S. Department of Agriculture was founded, America’s oldest industry has evolved to meet the changing needs of our modern agricultural landscape. From growing overseas markets, building a 21st century rural infrastructure, and finding ways to address the challenges of climate change, USDA has worked beside farmers, businesses, and community leaders to streamline programs and spur innovative solutions for today’s challenges.

For USDA, that also means looking inward and changing the way we do business. We have done this by designing initiatives that collectively utilize the full scope of our mission, better focusing resources and staff across the Department to meet the needs of the communities we serve using modern tools, technology, and processes.

USDA’s recently expanded StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative illustrates this trend with a broad commitment to rally available tools and technical assistance to combat persistent poverty in rural communities in 20 states.

Our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative aims to support the rapidly expanding local and regional food market with new products and services, as well as tailored cross-agency web resources and data that illustrate opportunities and promote local and regional food systems.

And finally, through the Blueprint for Stronger Service, USDA responded to the uncertain fiscal environment by streamlining mission critical work and taking a close look at operations to find ways to cut costs and modernize processes to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars – with great results.

Over the next month we’ll share more about the ways that USDA has evolved to meet the needs of modern agriculture in America. We’ll use hashtag #AgInnovates on social media to share these stories, but we want to hear from you too. In the video above, Secretary Vilsack asked you to lend your voice to our collective story of how YOUR community has evolved to meet the needs of the 21st century. A new hospital? Technology enhanced planning, harvest, or conservation practices? A better transportation infrastructure? Education programs to meet the needs of today’s high tech ag sector?

Use #AgInnovates to let us know. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Safety Datapalooza: Opening Up Data To Better Protect Public Health

An estimated 1 million illnesses can be attributed to Salmonella every year. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently announced its Salmonella Action Plan to help reduce the number of illnesses associated with FSIS-regulated products using new standards, strategies and innovation. When the Agency learned of the upcoming Safety Datapalooza on January 14, Chief Information Officer Janet Stevens knew they wanted in. “As lead of our Agency’s innovation Strategic Goal, I knew the value of leveraging the public through challenges, unconferences and datapaloozas,” said Stevens, “This was a wonderful opportunity to bring together data scientists, technologists and practitioners to generate ideas to help save lives.” Read more »

Dive Deeper Into USDA Data with New APIs

Data consumers can now more easily leverage several of the most popular offerings from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS)!

To meet the needs of a growing community of data users, including application developers and researchers, ERS has just released seven new APIs (Application Programming Interface), enriched with shared services provided by other Federal agencies.  The APIs offer dynamic access to ERS’s atlases, traditional data sets, and indicators in machine-readable formats.  ERS has developed rigorous standards for data products; users will note the extensive metadata and full documentation and transparency provided for each of the data sets via APIs.

Experienced users may want to dive into the thorough documentation available on ERS’s Developer page; while those seeking a simpler path can leverage pre-built widgets and starter-code snippets available in jQuery, Python, and Ruby.  The geospatial APIs provide access to map layers via ESRI (or other mapping services, such as Mapbox and Google Maps).  The newly released APIs supplement the following data sets: Read more »

Join us for a Google+ Hangout: The Growing Biobased Market — Influencers, Insight, and Impacts

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (right) tours Domtar Inc. in Plymouth, NC on Friday, Aug. 15, 2013. Domtar produces lignin, a biobased material with the potential to create advanced new products and energy. Domtar is working with a number of partners, including the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, on development of lignin applications that includes fuel additives, solid fuels, high performance adhesives and more.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (right) tours Domtar Inc. in Plymouth, NC on Friday, Aug. 15, 2013. Domtar produces lignin, a biobased material with the potential to create advanced new products and energy. Domtar is working with a number of partners, including the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, on development of lignin applications that includes fuel additives, solid fuels, high performance adhesives and more.

Did you know USDA is the federal leader in helping to advance the U.S. bioeconomy through the use of renewable agricultural (plant), marine and forestry raw materials? By using agricultural feed stocks to make everyday finished products like biolubricants, bioplastics, construction materials and cleaners these products, we add value to the agricultural industry and up and down supply chains.  That is, jobs are not created just on the farm or near the farm gate, but throughout the manufacturing process on sales of these biobased products.

Please join me Thursday, December 12, 2 p.m. eastern, as I host a #MyFarmBill Google+ Hangout about the BioPreferred program. We’ll hear from some of the industry standouts working with USDA to create new markets for biobased products.  The Hangout will also include YOUR questions and comments. Read more »

From Data to Decisions: Using Data to Improve Public Access and Knowledge

There are many companies that are currently using USDA data. Mercaris is a new company filling in the gap in offerings with reliable market data and an online trading tool tailored to the organic and non-GMO production, processing, and retail industries. Their reports present current and archived market condition information to assist in pricing decisions. FarmLogs provides comprehensive farm management software-as-a-service to farmers managing farms ranging from small-scale to over 30k acres. Their platform supports a hybrid of government and farmer-generated data that is analyzed and incorporated into their decisionmaking tools.

USDA wants to continue to encourage additional innovations and solutions by providing the data and statistics necessary that will offer improved agricultural production, global food security, poverty, nutrition and human health, natural resources and environmental issues, rural development, local and regional food systems, and many other issues. Read more »