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A European Take on Food Security

U.S. Pavilion at ExpoMilano

The 35,000 square foot U.S. Pavilion at ExpoMilano includes a massive vertical farm that will be harvested daily (photo courtesy of U.S. State Department).

Just like America, Europe is trying to address the challenge of how to feed the 9 billion people who will populate the world by the year 2050. In fact, the theme of ExpoMilano2015 – the world’s fair being held in Milan, Italy, this year – is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” On May 1, the European Union kicked off the Expo with a series of meetings, lectures and discussions surrounding that theme, and I was invited to take part.

The agricultural sector in the EU must produce food for more than 500 million consumers. At the meeting I attended, discussion focused largely on what research priorities should be established to inform the EU’s centralized agricultural policy, specifically on how to achieve three goals: Read more »

Mobile Farms Move into Urban Settings

Thomas Lashmit and Megan Pierce

Urban farmers like Lashmit and Pierce avoid high land prices by storing their unit in a portion of a parking lot they rent in Marlborough County.

In the traditional sense, farming has always involved purchasing or leasing land to plow, plant, fertilize and harvest. As world population and land prices grow however, urban boundaries continue to expand, pushing farms and ranches farther away from the center of growing cities.

At the same time, many consumers are more aware of where their food is produced, preferring to purchase food grown locally in their communities. This trend pulls agriculture back into the heart of the city, with many agriculture enthusiasts stepping up to support the demand. 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 »

USDA Agencies, Suppliers and Vendors Taking Steps to Improve USDA Foods Purchase Process

Fresh vegetable cups at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Just after the ACDA event concluded, we met in California with producers and processors about our fruit and vegetable purchases for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). These meetings are another example of the steps we take to learn from our stakeholders and improve USDA Foods products. USDA Photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) commodity purchases play an important role in supporting American agriculture.  One commodity purchasing effort – the USDA Foods Program – purchases about 2 billion pounds of nutritious, domestically produced foods each year and supplies this food to families, schools, food banks, and communities nationwide, also serving as a key tool for combatting hunger.

Together, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Food and Nutrition Service and Farm Service Agency manage the USDA Foods Program. And together, we have launched the USDA Foods Business Management Improvement project, a broad effort to review and re-engineer USDA’s food procurement practices to improve the program for our customers and stakeholders. Read more »

USDA-Brazil Team Examines Biodegradable Food Packaging

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

A taste of Brazilian culture is presenting a favorable research environment for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Atanu Biswas, who just returned from one of three trips he will be taking to Fortaleza, Brazil.

Biswas was awarded the “Science without Borders” fellowship, sponsored by the Brazilian government’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), to lead a collaborative research team investigating new food packaging based on natural biodegradable plastics. He is the first ARS scientist selected to participate in the competitive program. 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 »