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USDA Hosts Stakeholder Forum on the Benefits and Opportunities of the New Farm Bill Program Designed to Expand the Market for Bio-based Products

The Three Rivers Energy biorefinery in Coshocton, OH

USDA Rural Development's investment in the Three Rivers Energy biorefinery in Coshocton, OH brought it back online after eight years of sitting idle. It now produces corn-based ethanol and employs 30 people in the mid-Ohio region. Photo courtesy Three Rivers Energy.

This Thursday, July 16, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and I, along with staff from my Rural Business Energy Division, will have the honor to host a national stakeholder forum on the improvements to, and opportunities available, under the new Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (Section 9003), formerly the Biorefinery Assistance Program.

The forum begins at 12:30 Eastern Time. While seating is limited, you can participate via a webinar, which can be accessed at: https://www.webcaster4.com/Webcast/Page/789/9401. Read more »

Lessons from the Field: A New Series for Food Hub Development

Lilian Salerno, Administrator, Rural Development Rural Business-Cooperative Services in California

Lilian Salerno, Administrator, Rural Development Rural Business-Cooperative Services (third from right), met with the Sacramento County of Governments and other partners to discuss food hubs in the greater Sacramento area. Rural Development’s new report Running a Food Hub: Lessons Learned From the Field, is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to food hub development and other local food enterprises.

Since 2009, USDA has invested in 29,100 local food opportunities, including food hubs, small scale processing and farmers markets across all 50 states and the US territories. These investments include over 12,000 loans and micro-loans to small-scale producers who often sell products locally and over 13,000 high tunnels (low-cost covered structures that extend the growing season and make locally-grown products available later in the year).

However, as with any investment, the success of a business depends not just on an infusion of capital, but also on good planning.  Technical assistance services such as feasibility studies, business planning, financing strategies, supply chain logistics, marketing, and guidance with the policy and regulatory environment are equally important. Read more »

Financing for Development Conference Boosts Support for Open Data

At the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, leaders across the globe, in the public, non-governmental, and private sectors, committed to sharing and using data and to investing in the capacity to collect and analyze this data for sustainable development. Open data, particularly open data relevant to agriculture and nutrition, is a powerful tool for long-term sustainable development, improving the economic opportunities for farmers and contributing to the health of all consumers.  Making open data work for agriculture and nutrition requires a shared agenda to increase the supply, quality, and interoperability of data, alongside action to build capacity for the use of data by all stakeholders.

The United States made several pledges at FfD including increasing support for global efforts to make agricultural and nutritionally relevant data available, accessible, and usable for unrestricted use worldwide.  As a cornerstone of this support, the United States will expand and deepen its commitment to the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative. This commitment will encourage collaboration and cooperation among existing agriculture and open data activities, without duplication, and will bring together stakeholders to solve long-standing global problems with a priority toward improving global food security. Specifically, the United States will provide $4 million in support of the GODAN Secretariat, matching the contribution provided by the United Kingdom. Read more »

Natural Building – of Homes and Partnerships in Utah

Heather Gallagher inside her new home

Heather Gallagher stands in the living room of her new home that she helped build through USDA and Community Rebuilds of Moab, UT. The earthen walls and floor create a warm glow throughout the house in the afternoon sun.

Though National Homeownership Month has ended, the stories of people in rural America achieving that American dream never do. Last month I had the good fortune to visit the homes of two such people in Moab, Utah: Heather Gallagher and Lynn Chenard.

Both women live and work in the town of Moab, Utah, adjacent to Arches National Park. They were drawn there by many of the same things that call to me: rock climbing, mountain biking, river rafting, and wilderness exploration. The one thing that might have forced them out, however, is the community’s lack of affordable housing and limited seasonal work. Read more »

Cultivating Native Leaders in Conservation

Sierra Ezrre, Tlingit high school student from Juneau, Alaska, and Carrie Sykes, Haida Cultural Educator from Kasaan, Alaska

Sierra Ezrre, Tlingit high school student from Juneau, Alaska, and Carrie Sykes, Haida Cultural Educator from Kasaan, Alaska, participate in the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Change Leadership Congress, July, 2015.

Recently, ninety Alaska Native, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian high school students came together at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for a week of intensive education and peer-to-peer training about the impact of climate change on tribal communities. Organized by the Inter-Tribal Youth Climate Leaders Congress and supported by a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the gathering included Jadelynn Akamu, Ylliana Hanato, Alisha Keli’i, and Aaron Knell from Honolulu’s Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps and Forest Service partner KUPU, as well as a team from Juneau, Alaska, including Alaska Native student Sierra Ezrre and her mentor and culture keeper Carrie Sykes. Read more »

Training the Next Generation of Watershed Managers to Fight Drought

Student interns from the California State University System working on a watershed management project

Student interns from the California State University System work on a watershed management project. A NIFA-administered grant has funded nearly 220 interns who worked more than 77,000 hours on projects that provide them real-world experience so they will be better prepared for careers in natural resources. (Photo courtesy of Michele Penilla)

With drought reaching historic proportions in Western states, America needs people with both knowledge and experience in water management to help ensure that forests and working lands stay ahead of the effects of climate change.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is partnering with land-grant universities, minority-serving institutions, federal agencies, and other organizations to get qualified students out of their classrooms and into the field where they can pick up real, hands-on experience in natural resource protection. Read more »