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The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Real, and It’s More Than Just a Nuisance

Gypsy moth caterpillar

A gypsy moth caterpillar on a leaf in Massachusetts

While being outside in Massachusetts this June, I first noticed it.  A lot of leaves were falling from the trees, only these were chewed leaf parts, not whole leaves.

Similar to the children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar written by Eric Carle, some leaves didn’t just have chew marks but actual holes going straight through them.  Unlike the children’s book, this damage isn’t being caused by a friendly caterpillar who turns into a butterfly.  Instead it’s the result of ravenous gypsy moth caterpillars feeding…and feeding.  It’s so bad that in some areas, on walkways and roadways, it looks like fall.  Brown, dried up leaves are a contrast to summer’s lush greenery. Read more »

Happier than a Pig in Mud – Feral Swine Damage to Water Quality

Feral swine impact on water quality

An example of the damage feral swine can have on water quality.

How does the old saying go? That’s right, “Happier than a pig in mud!” Feral swine are no exception to this old farmer’s anecdote. Because they lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature. Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.

Excessive feral swine traffic around wallows and water sources causes erosion along stream banks and shorelines. Sounders, or family groups, of feral swine spend large amounts of their day around the wallow, especially in hot weather, which means they leave significant amounts of urine and feces in and around the water. The impacts to water quality go far beyond the immediate wallow site when silt, excrement, and potentially harmful pathogens, are washed down stream. Read more »

Investment in Novel Technologies Advances Food Safety, Quality

Seafood fettuccini after processing with microwave assisted pasteurization systems

Seafood fettuccini after processing with microwave assisted pasteurization systems (MAPS). Photo courtesy of Sylvia Kantor

July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports innovative research to address pressing issues. We are looking at the many ways USDA supports safe food this month, including this report from Sylvia Kantor at Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences:

Consumer demand for safe, high-quality, additive-free packaged foods is growing. Thanks to two recent investments in innovative food processing technology based on microwave energy, Washington State University (WSU) is advancing toward meeting this demand.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded WSU $4 million to establish a Center of Excellence that will accelerate the technology transfer to mainstream commercial markets. This is the first Center of Excellence on Food Safety Processing Technologies funded by NIFA’s flagship program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Read more »

NASS Data Fuel USDA Programs to Help Agriculture in America

Cassie Munsey with her bull on her cattle farm

Cassie Munsey, 31, Monticello, Ky., checks in on the bull on her 14-acre beef cattle farm she purchased in 2013. As a new farmer, Munsey appreciates the increased flexibility in USDA programs allowing her to get her operation up and running.

Farmers are unique in that they touch every single American every single day, because we all eat. Ensuring a continuity of agriculture is important to all of us. To take the pulse of U.S. agriculture, we conduct a Census of Agriculture every five years which gives us a comprehensive analysis of agriculture in America and supplements information from more than 400 other surveys we conduct each year.

Our last census was in 2012, and the resulting data showed a decline in the number of new and beginning farmers compared to the previous census in 2007. On top of that decline, we saw the average age of American farmers trending upward to 58 years old. The USDA took these two pieces of information and recognized the need to encourage new and beginning farmers. Read more »

USDA Grants Help Specialty Crop Industry Build Food Safety Partnerships

Young mother with baby selecting items in produce aisle of grocery store

Through a USDA-AMS grant, the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets will join Cornell University and Virginia Tech - Eastern Shore to look for ways to improve food safety practices in produce packing houses and processing facilities.

July is the height of summer grilling season and throughout the month USDA is highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of this Administration. For an interactive look at USDA’s work to ensure your food is safe, visit the USDA Results project on Medium.com and read Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence.

Its summer and specialty crops – fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits – fill our plates with color, taste and nutrition.  Consumers are finding their favorite fresh produce in the grocery store or their farmers market.  Other specialty crops like cut flowers and nursery crops lend beauty and interest to our homes and yards. And the growers responsible for the produce are making sure it is safe through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

USDA is working closely with FDA and the specialty crop industry to help address concerns and research needs as they work to implement the produce safety rule.  One resource to help growers address food safety issues is the new Specialty Crop Multi-State Program (SCMP), administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). This grant program brings together multi-state teams to research and develop solutions to practical problems that cross State boundaries within the specialty crop industry. Read more »

Alaska Beavers Entertain Web Cam Viewers Around the World

A busy beaver gathering a tree sprig

A busy beaver gathers a tree sprig to help build his lodge on Steep Creek on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Photo courtesy of Don Martin, Tongass National Forest

Two beavers sleep peacefully in their den on Steep Creek in Juneau, Alaska, never realizing they are being watched via a hidden infrared camera. Hundreds of viewers tune-in to a live video feed on the U.S. Forest Service YouTube Channel throughout the day to see the beavers come and go, breathing rhythmically as they nap and then stretch, chew and scratch an occasional itch.

Although the beaver cam is now an established fixture at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, it started out of simple curiosity according to Pete Schneider, a natural resource specialist for the Tongass National Forest. He and fisheries biologist Don Martin first experimented with a beaver cam in 2004 after they saw a cache of food in front of a beaver lodge on Steep Creek. It was a sure indication that beavers, who have a tendency to move around, were actually using the lodge at the time. They decided to run electricity through a conduit to that location in order to power an infrared camera. Read more »