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Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies

A monarch butterfly on a flower

NRCS has updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to enable farmers and ranchers to plant milkweed and other plants to help monarch butterflies. NRCS photo by Gene Barickman.

An update to one of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) key conservation programs will enable farmers and ranchers to aid the imperiled monarch butterfly. This year, NRCS updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to include incentives for farmers and ranchers who plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants favored by monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during their annual journey from Mexico to the United States to as far north as Canada. Data show that monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed. Read more »

Wisconsin: Pollinator Week Highlights Addition of Bee-Friendly Prairie Habitat

Thriving prairie with black-eyed susans

Thriving prairie with pollinator-friendly flowering plants, such as black-eyed susans, blooming.

James MacDonald owns 120 acres of rural land in Green County, Wisconsin. Through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), James expanded relic prairie on his land, including planting 3 acres of native pollinator mix through EQIP financial assistance. His prairie is in blossom all summer, with plants blooming at different times. “There are hundreds of prairie plants and they sort of pass off who’s in bloom, so from the end of the snow until the snow falls again there’s always something in bloom,” said James.

MacDonald says between his neighbors, there are about 100 hives within two miles of his property, so many bees use his prairie for food. James had a good idea of what bee-friendly mixes he wanted to plant so NRCS provided financial assistance, as well as technical assistance in site visits and checking to ensure his seed mix was adequate. Read more »

Experiencing the Hope, Surprise and Joy of Homeownership in Delaware

United States Senator Chris Coons (center) joining USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development (RD) Vernita Dore, RD’s Delaware State Director Bill McGowan and dozens of RD and community volunteers to help build a home

United States Senator Chris Coons (center) joins USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development (RD) Vernita Dore, RD’s Delaware State Director Bill McGowan and dozens of RD and community volunteers to help build a home as part of USDA’s Mutual and Self-Help Program.

I wake up every day excited to work for an agency that gives rural American families three intangible gifts through homeownership: hope, surprise and joy.

They experience a sense of hope when they find there are affordable options to become homeowners. They surprise themselves by doing the incredible amount of work it takes to literally build the dream, and they experience unbounded joy when they move into their own home. Read more »

Wisconsin: Pollinator Week Highlights Buzzing Success of Local Beekeeper

A honey bee on a plant

Implementing conservation practices on lands will help provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees, like the one pictured.

Pam Gasper, of Chaseburg, Wisconsin, has been a bee keeper for the past three years. She recently restored 2 acres on her property to include natural habitat for bees through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). A dry summer and harsh winter in 2014 caused Pam to lose two of her three honey bee hives. She’s done her research, received technical and financial assistance from NRCS, and made some proactive changes for 2015. Pam is expecting a good harvest and “sweet reward” due to financial and technical assistance through EQIP from NRCS. She’s a strong advocate for the program and said the sign-up process was smooth and worth it.

NRCS staff provided financial assistance through EQIP and also the technical assistance Pam needed, including, site visits, a planting plan, providing options for obtaining seeds, and completing the final inspection of the successful planting just last week. Technical and financial assistance from agencies such as USDA−NRCS and programs like EQIP work to assist land users in accomplishing their goals. Read more »

Celebrating a Long History of Ingenuity at the National Maker Faire

SBIR grant recipients Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger with SBIR program coordinator Charles Cleland

SBIR grant recipients Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger with SBIR program coordinator Charles Cleland

For hundreds of years, agriculture has fostered a community of “makers” – people who have engineered the tools that ensure a steady, abundant supply of food and fiber under a wide variety of conditions. From the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, Mason jars in 1858, the gasoline tractor in 1892, to the current use of “big data” and genetic tools, the agriculture industry has made huge leaps and bounds in technology and engineering.

On June 12th and 13th, USDA joined other Federal agencies and a wide variety of public and private-sector organizations to celebrate the culture of “making” at the first-ever National Maker Faire. Held on the University of District Columbia campus in Washington, D.C., the National Maker Faire is part of a broad network of Maker Faires across the country that celebrate the spirit of curiosity, invention, and do-it-yourself determination. Read more »

USDA Federal Marketing Orders Help Reduce Food Waste

Oranges at the Seald Sweet processing plant in Vero Beach, Florida

When products do not meet a marketing order’s quality standards but are still edible, they can be diverted to secondary markets to minimize food waste while increasing producer returns. USDA photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.

USDA’s Food Waste Challenge is underway and federal marketing orders for fruits and vegetables continue to help out in the food donation effort. Under these industry self-help programs that are overseen by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), groups decide minimum quality standards that benefit the entire industry. When products do not meet a marketing order’s quality standards but are still edible, they can be diverted to secondary markets to minimize food waste while increasing producer returns.

When this occurs, businesses have a couple of options: send the food to the processed market, donate the food to charities and food banks, or process the food into livestock feed. Nearly half of the active fruit and vegetable marketing orders also include comparable import regulations to ensure foreign products meet the same quality standards as those produced domestically. Read more »