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“The Last Frontier” is on the Cutting Edge of On-Farm Technology

Alaska may called The Last Frontier, but their farmers are on the leading edge of technology.  Check back next Thursday for more fun facts as we spotlight another state and the 2012 Census of Agriculture results.

Alaska may called The Last Frontier, but their farmers are on the leading edge of technology. Check back next Thursday for more fun facts as we spotlight another state and the 2012 Census of Agriculture results.

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

Alaska may be the largest state in the United States, but due to our geographic location, our farmers have an extremely short growing season. On average, Alaskan farmers only have about 105 growing days in a year according to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which limits what types of crops we can grow, in comparison with about 198 days in northwestern Missouri, according to NOAA.

Despite the length of our growing season, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, there are 762 farms in Alaska, up 11 percent from the last Census, conducted in 2007. Nearly 834,000 acres of our land is dedicated to farming and ranching. In 2012, Alaskan farms produced nearly $59 million worth of agriculture products. By the way, nearly a third of all of the farms in Alaska are run by women, significantly outpacing the national percentage. Read more »

Working Together to Improve Water Quality Along the Lake Erie Shore

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer Kevin King (right) explains an edge of field water quality monitoring station to Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby, farm owners Joe and Clint Nester in the Western Lake Erie Basin near Bryan, Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The device allows tracking of both surface and underground water moving thru field tile. Monitoring stations results help determine what may be best farming practices on different types of soil in the watershed. USDA photo by Garth Clark.

USDA has a long history of investment in water quality and quantity issues.  Still, Toledo, Ohio Mayor Michael Collins issued an emergency water advisory leaving about 500,000 people without clean tap water to drink or cook with from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4.  The reason for the advisory: toxins produced by algae in Lake Erie got into the city’s water supply.  Residents were forced to rely on bottled and trucked-in water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.  The Lake Erie algae bloom incident shows we all have a lot more work to do to ensure adequate water supplies for now and into the future.

In response to the algae bloom incident, USDA leadership, represented by Terry Cosby, NRCS state conservationist,  joined Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Marcy Kaptur, this week to immediately announce $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Read more »

Chicago Charter School Focuses on Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds

Allison Slade of Namaste Charter School in Chicago is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Dominic Arizona

Allison Slade of Namaste Charter School in Chicago is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Dominic Arizona

As part of our Cafeteria Stories series, Allison Slade, Founder and Executive Director of the Namaste Charter School in Chicago, shares thoughts on why good nutrition is an integral component of a child’s education.  She credits the academic achievements of Namaste’s students not only to the academic structure itself, but also to the fresh, healthy meals that are a pillar of the school’s structure.  Thank you, Allison, for sharing your story.

Guest Blog By: Allison Slade, Founder and Executive Director of Namaste Charter School

I’ve worn many hats in many schools—I have been a Teach for America Corps member, a Kindergarten teacher, a mentor, a curriculum designer, a literacy specialist, and now at Namaste Charter School, a Founder and Executive Director. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of reasons why schools should or should not make their students’ health a priority on campus.

When I was a teacher, I watched my students come to school with orange fingers from their cheesy snack food breakfast. By 10:00 a.m., my students were crashing; they couldn’t focus and they certainly couldn’t reach their highest potential, which is every teacher’s mission. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Skyrocketing Fire Costs

Spiraling firefighting costs have shrunk the budget for critical forest and rangeland priorities, including investing in Forest Service programs designed to mitigate the impacts of wildfire.

Spiraling firefighting costs have shrunk the budget for critical forest and rangeland priorities, including investing in Forest Service programs designed to mitigate the impacts of wildfire.

Over the past twenty years, a changing climate, population growth near forests and rangelands, and the buildup of brush and other fuels have dramatically increased the severity of wildfires and the damage that they cause to our natural lands and communities. Year after year, fire seasons grow longer and longer, destroying homes, threatening critical infrastructure and the watersheds that provide clean drinking water to millions of people. Between 1980 and 2011, the average annual number of fires on Federal land more than doubled, and the total area burned annually tripled. Even as fire seasons have grown, the way we pay to fight these fires remains unchanged – and fundamentally broken.

The Forest Service’s firefighting appropriation has rapidly increased as a proportion of the Forest Service’s overall budget, increasing from 16 percent in 1995 to 42 percent today. As the costs of wildfires have spiraled out of control, it has shrunk the budget of other Forest Service programs, taking millions of dollars from other critical forest health and land management priorities in order to pay for them. What’s more, often the programs we are forced to divert funds from are the very programs which help to mitigate the impact of wildfires. Read more »

Forest Service to Live-Stream Cradle of Wilderness Commemoration Event

The Overlook features prime views of Trappers Lake and the rock formation known as the Amphitheatre because it forms a stage-like backdrop to the wilderness scenery of Trappers Lake on the White River National Forest. The idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development started with a Forest Service employee who inspired the agency to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas.  (U.S. Forest Service/Lynn Lockwood)

The Overlook features prime views of Trappers Lake and the rock formation known as the Amphitheatre because it forms a stage-like backdrop to the wilderness scenery of Trappers Lake on the White River National Forest. The idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development started with a Forest Service employee who inspired the agency to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas. (U.S. Forest Service/Lynn Lockwood)

In the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado, there is a grand rock formation named the Amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the overlook to Trappers Lake known as the Cradle of Wilderness.

The area forms a sort of natural amphitheater of majestic volcanic cliffs, 320 surface acres of pristine lake and majestic volcanic rock cliffs and an expansive sky. The area holds a sacred place in history for those who cherish the values and spirit of wilderness.

It will also be the site of a panel discussion on the “Wilderness Idea” on Aug. 22 from 10 a.m. to noon MST as the White River National Forest commemorates the Cradle of Wilderness area as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964.  The public is invited to tune in to this live stream event. Read more »

Evening Primrose by any Other Name is a Moth Plant

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Evening primrose flower (Onagraceae). (US Forest Service)

Plants provide us with many things that we use on a daily basis – from the buildings in which we live and work, to our clothing and food. For flowering plants to thrive and reproduce, they often rely on pollinators to transport pollen between flowers.

Pollination ultimately results in fruits and seeds, ranging from the strawberries and almonds in your breakfast to the tomatoes in your pasta sauce. While scientists know a lot about honeybees, very little is known about many other pollinators – bats, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, etc. – that are essential to pollinating wildflowers and native plants. Read more »