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Directions to a Prosperous Rural America

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.

If you’re like me, the holidays are a time to pack our bags and set off to visit family members and loved ones.  When my family goes on a road trip — with what seems like half the country doing the same thing — the driver is always asked helpful questions like, “Do you know where you’re going?” or “Are we there yet?” At USDA, we’re often revisiting the same questions and potential solutions as we develop plans to strengthen the rural economy.

Tackling the problems rural America faces is not unlike a family road trip.  Directions are needed to help steer USDA programs supporting rural America toward our goals:  “Do you know where you’re going?”  As it turns out, the answer to this question is an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Read more »

Hearing First-Hand How Diversity Matters

USDA is committed to bringing everyone to the table—people and organizations of different background, perspectives and opinions. Hear first-hand how important diversity is to rural America. (Click to play video)

USDA is committed to bringing everyone to the table—people and organizations of different background, perspectives and opinions. Hear first-hand how important diversity is to rural America. (Click to play video)

The men and women who own and operate our country’s farms and ranches are increasingly diverse. In fact, according to USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, all categories of minority-operated farms increased between 2007 and 2012.  The number of farms operated by Hispanics has increased by 21 percent in just five years.

My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), oversees all 22 industry-funded commodity research and promotion (R&P) programs.  Led by industry board members appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, these programs provide a framework for farmers and businesses to pool resources, set common goals and make collective decisions about how to best develop new markets, strengthen current markets and conduct important research and promotion activities. Read more »

Conference Explores Ways to Value Resources, Improve the Environment and Put a Check into Producers’ Pockets

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell makes welcoming remarks at the"A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES)" conference in Crystal City, VA. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell makes welcoming remarks at the"A Community on Ecosystem Services (ACES)" conference in Crystal City, VA. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

What is the monetary value of a supply of clean water?  Or the value of clean air or having places available to hike and fish?

For decades we have taken these resources for granted, or at least we have not put a monetary value on their benefits. That’s changing.  Participants from 30 nations met this week at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services; Linking Science, Practice and Decision Making conference to talk about just how we can value these benefits and include that in our decision-making and planning.  As the conference kicked off, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tidwell talked about the need to quantify the benefits of public lands, building consensus and support for a multi-generational outlook, moving away from short term objectives and toward “sustaining the health and diversity of our forests and grasslands.”

Participants included a number of other federal officials, including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie, and Jay Jensen of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Read more »

USDA Delivers on Ways to Prevent Food Waste

Researchers at USDA Agricultural Research Service help reduce food waste by developing new ways to extend food shelf life and by creating new food products, biobased plastics, and animal feed from food waste.  USDA photo by Stephen Ausmus.

Researchers at USDA Agricultural Research Service help reduce food waste by developing new ways to extend food shelf life and by creating new food products, biobased plastics, and animal feed from food waste. USDA photo by Stephen Ausmus.

Less than 2 years ago, the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, with the goal of reducing food waste in the United States.  We set an ambitious goal of having at least 400 businesses, schools, and/or organizations join the challenge by letting us know what they are doing to reduce food waste in their operations.  USDA also committed to finding ways in which its 33 agencies and offices could help reduce food waste through policy, partnerships, and research.

As of today, we have surpassed our membership goal by signing up 1,313 participants in the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

The number and diversity of participants joining the challenge are indicative of a growing movement to reduce food waste that is spreading across the country. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Deadline Approaching for Health Insurance Coverage that Begins January 1

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference in the lives of millions of rural Americans. Thanks to the ACA, families can choose from a variety of affordable insurance plans and many will qualify for financial assistance to help them pay for coverage.

The deadline is coming up to sign up for health insurance coverage that begins on January 1. To start the new year with coverage, you must sign up by December 15 at healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 if you need help signing up. Read more »

Providing the Gift of Water for Poinsettias and Other Ornamental Crops

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

How much do you know about this iconic plant that brightens lots of homes this time of year?

Happy Poinsettia Day!

Of the countless iconic holiday season images in American homes, perhaps the most popular and colorful of them started off as a humble bush from our neighbors to the south.

The poinsettia was introduced to this country in the late 1820s by Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, but only started on the path to holiday season superstardom in the early 1900s.  By 2013, poinsettias accounted for 23 percent of sales for flowering potted plants – to the tune of $146 million. Read more »