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People behind Scientific Innovation at USDA

Dr. Woteki working with 4-H members

Dr. Woteki works with 4-H members.

The past eight years have been an extraordinary time for agricultural science, and for the application of new insights from other fields to enhance agricultural productivity and the overall agricultural economy. As the final days of this administration are approaching, it gives me a great deal of pride to look back at what USDA has accomplished in the areas of research and innovation.

Scientific research is a fundamental part of our mission at USDA. But, ultimately, what’s behind all the science is people – people who do the research and people who are affected by it. As USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, I’ve met and worked with both as I’ve traveled across the country and around the world. Read more »

NRCS Helps to Keep Native American Traditions Alive

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Mississippi soil conservation technician Allen Hughes displays baskets made from Southeastern longleaf pine needles in Poplarville, MS

NRCS Soil Conservation Technician Allen Hughes mailed longleaf pine needles from his backyard to Oregon to be used to weave baskets, a Native American tradition across the U.S. Photo: Justin Fritscher, NRCS.

The 567 federally-recognized Native American Tribes are unique in their own way—from their languages and family structure, to their clothing and food. Tribes are working hard to revive their roots to help reconnect their heritage to the land, rekindle their spiritual bonds and cultural traditions, and raise awareness amongst future generations; especially tribal youth in line to inherit the land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with the tribes like the Choctaw Indians, comprised of nearly 10,000 members across the United States, to farm and harvest hickory king corn and other heirloom white varieties, and process them to make hominy. Hominy is made from dried corn kernels, but it is expensive to purchase. NRCS provides the tribe with technical assistance to help transform idle land into a hominy-making enterprise–enabling the tribe to provide their own locally-grown, fresh produce, and cut their expenses by growing the corn. Read more »

US Forest Service Every Kid in a Park Program Offers Field Trip Idea, Educational Resources – and a Free Holiday Tree Permit

A member of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American Northwest talking to fourth graders

A member of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American Northwest talk to fourth graders about the importance and contribution of black soldiers in the 1800s. Education about natural resources and history is an important part of U.S. Forest Service Every Kid in a Park field trips and events. (Photo courtesy National Parks Trust)

For the second year, the U.S. Forest Service is part of the administration’s Every Kid in a Park program, an initiative to provide American fourth graders with a free pass to more than 2,000 federal land and water sites for them, their siblings and up to three adults.

The pass includes access to 153 national forests, 20 grasslands and one tall grass prairie managed for the public by the Forest Service and other lands and waters managed by six other federal agencies. Some state parks also honor the pass. Read more »

Ranchers Using NRCS Conservation Practices Boost Prairie Chicken Occupancy

Lesser prairie-chickens

Lesser prairie-chickens benefit from lands where a rancher is using prescribed grazing, according to a new report. Photo courtesy of Nick Richter.

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That’s the finding of a recent scientific study – the first part of a multi-year study – described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat have been restored on working lands. Read more »

European Grapevine Moth Cooperative Eradication Program: A Model for Fighting Future Invasive Species Threats

EGVM outreach sign in Napa County

EGVM outreach sign used in Napa County that they can happily now retire, since the invasive pest has been eradicated. Photo by Nelly Castro, Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

I was thrilled to celebrate with key partners and contributors in Napa County, California, recently at an event to recognize the critical safeguarding accomplishment we achieved together, that of eradicating the invasive European grapevine moth (EGVM) from the United States.

Leaders from the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and the California County Agricultural Commissioners came together with growers and industry representatives, who found and implemented the right tools to safeguard California grapes. In front of these critical partners, I was proud to recognize the extraordinary individual and group contributions that made the eradication of EGVM possible. Read more »

Biosecurity Education and Compliance are Critical in Preventing Avian Influenza Outbreaks

Chicken infected with low pathogenic avian influenza

A chicken infected with low pathogenic avian influenza. Photo courtesy of Dr. Nathaniel Tablante

The December 2014 to June 2015 avian influenza outbreak was the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. The virus contributed to the death of more than 48 million birds, either due to infection with the virus or depopulation to prevent additional spread.  The virus was introduced into the U.S. by wild migratory waterfowl and then spread from farm to farm in a number of ways.  This included farms sharing equipment, vehicles moving between farms without being cleaned or disinfected, employees moving between infected and non-infected farms, rodents and small wild birds reported inside some poultry houses, and feed stored outside or without appropriate biosecurity measures. The virus spread was also assisted by instances of noncompliance with industry-recommended biosecurity practices.

Fortunately, avian influenza poses little threat to human health and food safety. Human infections with avian influenza are rare and most often occur after direct contact with an infected bird. Avian influenza does, however, adversely affect food availability and the economy. If a single bird became infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus during the 2014-15 outbreak, every bird in the same commercial poultry house – which contains an average of 30,000 birds – was depopulated. Read more »