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USDA… Helping Produce Businesses Meet Consumer and Retailer Demand

Introducing the USDA Specialty Crops Inspection Division which highlights the various services that AMS provides the produce industry.

Introducing the USDA Specialty Crops Inspection Division which highlights the various services that AMS provides the produce industry.

Ensuring that its food meets the demands of its retailers and the consumers who eat it is essential to the success of any produce business. This builds consumer trust and helps retailers confidently supply the food we all eat. To help out on this front, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers audits through the USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) & Good Handling Practices (GHPs) Audit Verification Program.

A voluntary service provided by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), GAPs audits verify that fruits and vegetables are grown, packed, handled, and stored safely. The audits certify that operations are following guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and industry-recognized food safety practices that can minimize the risks of food-borne illnesses. AMS Specialty Crops Inspection (SCI) Division employees accomplish this through activities like evaluating food safety plans, walking the farm looking for food safety risks and performing unannounced visits to farms and facilities. The audits focus on waste management, such as animal manure; water quality; wildlife; and worker health and hygiene. Read more »

U.S. Farms, Large and Small

Small family farms dominate the total U.S. farm count and occupy more than half of U.S. farmland, but midsize and large-scale family farms account for the bulk of agricultural production. (ERS Family Farm Report, 2014 Edition)

Small family farms dominate the total U.S. farm count and occupy more than half of U.S. farmland, but midsize and large-scale family farms account for the bulk of agricultural production. (ERS Family Farm Report, 2014 Edition)

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.

Describing the structure of the U.S. farm sector is challenging, because farms vary widely in size and other characteristics.  Are they largely family businesses, or corporate operations?  U.S. farms range from very small retirement and residential holdings to businesses with sales in the millions of dollars. And descriptions based on U.S. averages hide much of the variation.

The Economic Research Service prepares periodic reports on family farms that provide detailed information for policy makers and others interested in farm policy and the farm sector.  The reports draw on data from a scientifically designed USDA survey, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, or ARMS.  The survey, conducted annually, covers all types of farms, and is designed to accurately represent farms and farm households, including financial conditions and production practices. Read more »

Partnership to Help Sage-Grouse Continues to Grow

Michael Brown shows the key places he and others at the NRCS work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. SGI photo by Deborah Richie.

Michael Brown shows the key places he and others at the NRCS work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. SGI photo by Deborah Richie.

When many different groups come together for a common goal, the impacts can be tremendous. That’s the case for the sage-grouse, an at-risk bird in the American West. Since 2010, over 1,100 ranches have teamed with the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) and conserved 4.4 million acres across 11 western states, an area equivalent of 2 Yellowstone National Parks. The diverse partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses that rally around a common vision of conserving wildlife through sustainable ranching.

SGI continues to grow and just over the weekend ConocoPhillips announced the company will invest $1 million to further strengthen the partnership. The contribution was made to the Intermountain West Joint Venture, one of the key partners of SGI. New funding will be used to extend the partnership through 2019 by providing $200,000 per year to support SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, or SWAT. This team provides field delivery, science, communications and partner development support to SGI. Read more »

Investing in the Future of Maine’s Great Outdoors with Renewable Energy

Standing in front of the solar array at Mt. Abram, Maine’s first solar-powered ski area are Solar Market Owner Naoto Inoue; Mt. Abram Owner Matthew Hancock; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Senator Angus King's representative, Ben Tucker; and Senator Susan Collins' representative, Carlene Tremblay.

Standing in front of the solar array at Mt. Abram, Maine’s first solar-powered ski area are Solar Market Owner Naoto Inoue; Mt. Abram Owner Matthew Hancock; USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel; Senator Angus King's representative, Ben Tucker; and Senator Susan Collins' representative, Carlene Tremblay.

Recently I had the privilege of joining Matthew Hancock and his team at Mt. Abram, a unique, sustainable ski area located in the mountains of Western Maine. An immense 803 panel solar photovoltaic system greeted gatherers as they drove in, the result of a Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) Grant awarded by Maine USDA Rural Development. The system in Greenwood is the second largest solar project in the country for a ski area, the first ever in Maine, and as a sign next to the solar panels boasts, it is also the “World’s Largest Snow Making Site.”

This important project was made possible in part by a USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program Grant, which provided $235,000 of the $940,000 total project cost. Matt’s business will benefit significantly, with 70 percent of operations at the ski area operating on solar generated power, while skiers and nature enthusiasts will appreciate its green, carbon emission-reducing features, making Mt. Abram truly “Maine’s Sustainable Mountain Playground.” In addition to its solar features, Mt. Abram heats the lodge with wood pellets and was the second ski area in North America to install electric vehicle chargers. Read more »

Archaeological Heritage of Colorado’s Ute Tribe Part of National Forests’ History in Rocky Mountain Region

Wickiups, conical-shape dwellings used by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado, are still in use for ceremonial purposes. This photo shows a leaner Ute tipi from the 1870-1880s. The U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region partnered with the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group as part of the Region’s mission focus on historic and cultural preservation goals. (Photo courtesy of Curtis Martin, Dominguez Archaeological Research Group)

Wickiups, conical-shape dwellings used by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado, are still in use for ceremonial purposes. This photo shows a leaner Ute tipi from the 1870-1880s. The U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region partnered with the Dominguez Archaeological Research Group as part of the Region’s mission focus on historic and cultural preservation goals. (Photo courtesy of Curtis Martin, Dominguez Archaeological Research Group)

There are small piles of fallen wooden timbers on national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region that tell a story of the area’s past. They are part of aboriginal wooden structures known as wickiups, a conical-shaped dwelling used by native people.

These relics are known to be part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado and are still in use for ceremonial purposes. The relics are part of the tribe’s legacy of living on these lands and are a part of the cultural history on the Grand Mesa – Uncompahgre – Gunnison, San Juan, White River and Rio Grande national forests. Read more »

A South Carolina Small Farmer Makes Big Impact on the Land and in Local Community

Ann Pringle Washington enjoys growing a variety of fresh vegetables on her farm. NRCS photo by Sabrenna Bryant.

Ann Pringle Washington enjoys growing a variety of fresh vegetables on her farm. NRCS photo by Sabrenna Bryant.

South Carolina small farmer and community leader Ann Pringle Washington wears many hats. Along with her husband Richard, they share a deep tie to the land on their 17-acre farm in Eastover and a true passion for improving the community where they live.

Ann’s desire to learn more about how to grow organic produce led her to attend outreach workshops hosted by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District. The district partners with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to promote local and sustainable organic agriculture at workshops, including the assistance that NRCS can provide to growers. Read more »