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1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Opportunity for All

Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Joyner on the Tom Joyner Morning Show to announce $35 million in grant support for high quality research, teaching and Extension activities at 1890 Historically Black Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. Tom, a graduate of Tuskegee University, and I discussed how these additional resources will help support exciting new opportunities and innovative research at 1890s institutions.

These grants are just a small piece of USDA’s nearly 125 year partnership with 1890s schools to support cutting edge research, innovation and student achievement. Since 2009 alone, USDA has awarded $647 million to 1890s schools.

In addition to highlighting the great work of these universities with Tom Joyner, I also joined Congresswoman Marcia Fudge—a champion of education and an extraordinary advocate for underserved Americans—to announce the designation of Central State University, a historically black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, as a land-grant institution. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Another Step Forward Towards a Healthier Next Generation

This week at USDA, we took several steps forward in the fight for a healthier future for our nation’s children.

On Tuesday, we rolled out new proposed guidelines that will make sure only healthy foods and beverages are allowed to be marketed to kids at school. The new guidelines will ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices. Read more »

USDA Then and Now: Part IV

Thanks for tuning in this month to our installments of USDA Then and Now photo series on the amazing innovations that have helped rural America grow and respond to a constantly evolving agricultural landscape. Here you can see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

In our fourth and final Then and Now, we look to some of our long-standing historical programs and missions then, versus how they look today in 2014.

Please keep your stories coming using #AgInnovates! Read more »

Conservation Programs Help Woman Rancher Realize a Dream

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

Beginning farmer Ann Whitehead on her 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo. NRCS photo.

When Ann Whitehead acquired 100 acres of agricultural land near Wellsville, Mo., it gave her the opportunity to fulfill her dream of raising cattle. Since then she has been taking advantage of technical and financial assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to ensure that the land will be productive for future generations of people who might share her dream.

“I grew up on a farm, but I was more in charge of the chickens,” Whitehead said. “Raising cattle is something I always wanted to do, so I told my kids ‘I’m not getting any younger, and I’m going to do it.’”

Whitehead took advantage of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provides funding for beginning farmers, ranchers and forest landowners associated with planning and implementing conservation measures. Read more »

It’s Said That No One can Predict the Weather, but Scientists at the Ag Outlook Forum Give it a Shot

This graphic shows past records and predictions based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Provided the by U.S. Forest Service.

This graphic shows past records and predictions based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI). Provided the by U.S. Forest Service.

Weather….  We all care about it. In many communities, local TV and radio weather forecasters are celebrities, and for good reason.  While we can’t do much about the weather, it affects us all every day.

During last week’s Agricultural Outlook Forum two sessions drew exceptionally large crowds.  One was the Friday afternoon “Weather and Agriculture” segment and another was the morning “Markets and Weather” presentation.  While no one can say for sure what the weather outlook will be for the 2014 summer growing season, Brad Rippey, agricultural meteorologist with USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), Eric Luebehusen, OCE ag. meteorologist and Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the Climate Protection Section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made some observations and predictions in the afternoon session.  The snowpack in the West’s Sierra Nevada is far below normal.  The Western winter wet season has been a bust, with winter precipitation less than 10 percent of average in some areas.  California, the Great Basin and southern Great Plains are in drought.  The meteorologists said California, the lower gulf coast and much of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas could see above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in March, April and May.  According to Rippey, “We need a miracle March in 2014 to avoid major problems in California.”  The most current information is available through NOAA’s Seasonal Drought Outlook map and the USDA drought monitor. Read more »

Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection.  Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection. Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Read more »