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A Word about the Importance of Work/Life from Deputy Secretary Merrigan

Last month, Hurricane Sandy prevented Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan from addressing USDA employees and guests at the Open House planned for National Work & Family Month.  However, she wanted to be sure to take the time to emphasize the importance of USDA’s Work/Life & Wellness programs and what they mean for employees, supervisors and managers at the Department. Read more »

Pueblo of Acoma Tribal Youth Connect to the Land Through Science

Pueblo of Acomo students measure and record plant heights and crown diameters.

Pueblo of Acoma students measure and record plant heights and crown diameters.

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 profile.

Known for its vibrant culture, distinctive art, and customary traditions rooted in Native American pottery and connection to the land, historians consider the Pueblo of Acoma to be one of the oldest and continuously inhabited communities in North America dating back to 1150 A.D.  Determined to foster that connection to the land with today’s generation, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station Albuquerque lab scientists partnered with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Los Lunas Plant Materials Center to host a minority outreach natural resources science day camp for the Pueblo of Acoma tribal youth. Read more »

From Futile to Fertile: Midwest Farmers, Federal Partners Address Drought

Farmer Doug Goyings examines the drought-damaged corn on his farm in Paulding County, OH on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. USDA photo by Christina Reed.

Farmer Doug Goyings examines the drought-damaged corn on his farm in Paulding County, OH on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. USDA photo by Christina Reed.

The 2012 drought dried up more than just crops. For many U.S. farmers, it also dried up savings, material resources, and perhaps saddest of all, hope.

“The drought of course impacted our crop yields tremendously,” said veteran Ohio dairy farmer Leon Weaver. “Corn yields were about 50 percent of normal. Dairymen are exiting this business in droves.”

But for Weaver and nearly one hundred other Ohio, Michigan and Indiana farmers who gathered recently in rural Henry County, Ohio, hope was a commodity worth trading as they shared, in roundtable fashion, their ideas on how to access resources and rise from the dust. Read more »

USDA’s 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum – Feb. 21-22, 2013

USDA’s 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum, “Managing Risk in the 21st Century,” will be held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on Feb. 21-23.  Speakers will include USDA policymakers and 85 distinguished experts in the fields of international trade, insurance, forestry, conservation, risk management, transportation, energy, nutrition, local foods, and food safety. The Forum continues to feature the traditional USDA commodity supply and demand and food price outlooks. Read more »

A USDA Broadband Grant Connects a Bering Sea Island to the World

Saint Paul Harbor in the Pribilof Islands. The Native community will soon receive improved broadband service thanks to USDA funding support. Photo courtesy of Scott Schuette and used with permission of TDX.

Saint Paul Harbor in the Pribilof Islands. The Native community will soon receive improved broadband service thanks to USDA funding support. Photo courtesy of Scott Schuette and used with permission of TDX.

The significance of a recently awarded USDA Community Connect Broadband grant to the predominantly Native town of Saint Paul, Alaska, can’t really be appreciated until you know about this isolated community on one of the Pribilof Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea.  It is not served by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system and the major shipping routes are 250 miles to the south.  The island is too far from the closest urban centers (more than 700 miles) to reach by light aircraft.  No commercial jet service is available.   Most supplies arrive by charter or flying service while freight arrives by barge, seasonally when the Bering Sea is ice-free.  Winter travel in the Bering Sea can be extreme with violent seas and high winds.  Air travel throughout the remaining months is often disrupted by heavy fog and ice fog.  To say this is a remote area is an understatement.

The Community Connect project is desperately needed on Saint Paul Island.  Available 2010 Census statistics show the community in distress.  In 1990 the population was 763; by 2010 it was 479.  This is at a time when Alaska’s less remote non-Native rural population is growing.  With few available natural resources on this treeless island, Internet Connectivity is the core foundation for economic and demographic turn around. Read more »

Wheat Genome Sequenced in Breakthrough for Global Food Security

Researchers in Njoro, Kenya, evaluating wheat for resistance to Ug99 in October 2005.

Researchers in Njoro, Kenya, evaluating wheat for resistance to Ug99 in October 2005.

The Journal Nature today published a paper reporting that scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), as part of an international team, have completed a shotgun sequencing of the wheat genome. The achievement is expected to increase wheat yields, help feed the world and speed up development of wheat varieties with enhanced nutritional value. Wheat is one of the world’s “big three” crops, along with rice and corn, upon which the world’s growing population depends for nutrition.

Sequencing the genome of wheat was unusually daunting because the wheat genome is five times the size of the human genome, and has 94,000 to 96,000 genes.  This sequencing effort involved the identification of essentially all of those genes and mapping their relationship to other genes.  Previously, the size and complexity of the wheat genome had been significant barriers to performing a complete analysis, but the scientists overcame that problem by developing a new strategy that compared wheat genetic sequences to known grass genes, such as from rice and barley. Read more »