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Organic Study Uses Domestic Sheep to Facilitate Sustainable Farming

Sheep grazing on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study

Sheep graze on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study. Photo courtesy of Montana State University.

Environmental and economic management of weeds and pests is a priority for organic farmers and they typically use tillage to address these issues. However, frequent mechanical tillage can reduce soil integrity, which increases costs for farmers and negatively impacts future crop growth. Now, Montana State University (MSU) researchers are studying an alternate technique to manage these issues—domestic sheep.

Instead of using traditional tilling machinery or herbicides, MSU’s project features domestic sheep that graze farmland to eliminate the cover crop and control weeds. The study will determine if an integrated animal and crop production system is an economically feasible way to reduce tillage for certified organic farms. Read more »

Our Land. Our Water. Our Future. – Earth Day 2016

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vergennes, VT

The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vergennes, VT was able to upgrade the city's water treatment plant through a Water and Environmental Programs (WEP) loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) on Sep. 18, 2013. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

This Friday marks the forty-sixth observance of Earth Day, and our USDA Rural Development family is celebrating with a week of project dedications and groundbreakings across the nation – projects that have a direct and positive impact on the ecology and environment of our rural communities.

This week, Secretary Vilsack announced sixty projects that will improve water quality and safety in 33 states across the country, and what he said in his announcement deserves special emphasis; building and maintaining water infrastructure creates jobs, boosts the economy, and provides rural families with safe, reliable water and wastewater facilities that improve the environment. Read more »

Partnership Protects Public Access in a Landscape Fit for a King

Castle Valley near Lake Tahoe on Tahoe National Forest

Castle Valley near Lake Tahoe on Tahoe National Forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service

A stunning landscape called Castle Valley, near Lake Tahoe, is the heart of one of the most heavily-used backcountry recreation areas in the northern Sierra Nevada region of California. The 400-plus acre valley is also a primary access point to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail that winds its way through the Sierra’s, providing picturesque vistas and some solitude.

Because of its key location, many felt Castle Valley was a perfect fit to be added to the Tahoe National Forest, an area known for world class skiing, outdoor recreation and natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors a year. So last month the U.S. Forest Service acquired the land with funding for the acquisition provided by The Land and Water Conservation Fund. Read more »

Welcoming the U.S. Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jack Shere

Dr. Jack Shere, USDA's Chief Veterinary Officer

The new face of USDA/APHIS Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Jack Shere, is also a familiar one.

Dr. Jack Shere, a long-time employee of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), was recently named USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer leading APHIS’s Veterinary Services program.

Dr. Shere joined APHIS in 1990 and has held a variety of field and leadership positions – serving as the area commander during the exotic Newcastle disease outbreak in 2003 and spending many weeks in Iowa during the 2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak where he represented USDA and Secretary Vilsack.  Dr. Shere also spent several years in private veterinary practice prior to joining APHIS. Read more »

Protecting Organic Integrity through Enforcement

Organic carrots

Compliance and enforcement activities are key to maintaining organic integrity, and the NOP continues to strengthen enforcement efforts to ensure a fair market for all organic products.

The mission of the National Organic Program (NOP) – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service – is to protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal.  Consumers look for and trust the organic seal because they know that USDA stands behind the standards that it represents.  In addition to setting robust, meaningful standards that organic businesses are required to follow, the NOP also defends the organic seal by taking appropriate enforcement actions if there are violations of the USDA organic standards.

The NOP reviews all complaints alleging violations of the USDA organic regulations and takes enforcement actions, as needed, to bring businesses into compliance.  Anyone can file a complaint by following the process at How to File a Complaint about Violations of the Organic Standards.  In addition to investigating alleged violations by uncertified operations, the NOP works with certifiers and international organic trade partners to investigate alleged violations by certified operations. Read more »

Refugee Farmers Set Down Roots, Honor Traditions in Vermont

A beginning farmer, Janine Ndagijimana (left), leasing land from Vermont farmer Gene Button (center), and working with NRCS Soil Conservationist Danny Peet (far right) to improve soil health

A beginning farmer, Janine Ndagijimana (left), leases land from Vermont farmer Gene Button (center), and works with NRCS Soil Conservationist Danny Peet (far right) to improve soil health and protect water quality through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Photo: Amy Overstreet

Rwanda native Janine Ndagijimana, her husband Faustine and their children moved to Burlington, Vermont in 2007 after living in a refugee camp in Tanzania for 13 years. Now a U.S. citizen, she works closely with Ben Waterman, the New American Farmer Program coordinator at the University of Vermont Extension Service (UVM) Center for Sustainable Agriculture. He manages the Land Access and Assessment Program that helps Vermont’s resettled refugee and immigrant farmers obtain access to the resources they need to pursue their goals as farmers and to link common threads between their new home in America the culture of their homelands.

Janine was one of several farmers who recently attended a meeting of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont to learn about USDA programs and services. Farmers from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo learned about land acquisition, insurance programs, loans to support farming, and technical and financial assistance for implementing conservation farming practices. Read more »