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Remembering USDA’s Own

Fifteen years ago, USDA and all of America experienced a tragedy that shook us to the core and united us in ways that brought out the best in our country.  At 9:02 am Central Standard Time on April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded in the A.P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 innocent people.  Ninety-eight victims were Federal employees. 

 Seven of those were members of the USDA family.  In honor of these seven victims, the Riverdale, MD, conference center was renamed “The Oklahoma City Memorial Conference Center” and a portrait titled “Heroes of America’s Harvest” has been permanently displayed outside the center since 2005.

 This year, we will honor our lost colleagues in a moment of silence.  This remembrance fulfills a promise we made to the families of the fallen employees 15 years ago ─ to remember their loved ones and the spirit of unity that was born from their deaths and the deaths of others in Oklahoma City.  Please join me in remembering and honoring APHIS employees Olen Bloomer, Jim Boles, Peggy Clark, Dick Cummins, Adele Higginbottom, Carole Khalil, and Rheta Long. 

I think each of us remembers that day and its effect on America.  Many of our current employees have been working for USDA for 15 years or more and can recall the effect that the tragedy had on our Agency.   Let the memories of our loss inspire us to become better people and better public servants.  I welcome you to share your thoughts, reflections and memories

Earth Day in Alaska-A time to Mark Progress on Improving the Quality of Rural Health

As America marks the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, it’s good to reflect on the real, positive affect USDA’s water program and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) is having on rural Alaska.  Our Department, working with other Federal departments and the State, continues to fund projects to improve water quality across Alaska.  Here’s an example: Read more »

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Dedicates Animal Health Research Facility in Ames, Iowa

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other USDA officials today dedicated the final component of the National Centers for Animal Health (NCAH). The cutting-edge center provides laboratories, offices, animal space and administrative space for some of the nation’s top animal health scientists and researchers.

The dedication marks the completion of long-term project to consolidate three USDA units previously operated separately at Ames, resulting in better cost savings for America’s taxpayers and employing about 700 people. The NCAH is a cutting-edge center operating from a single campus with laboratories, offices, animal space and administrative space for some of the nation’s top animal health scientists and researchers.

The facility includes: the National Animal Disease Center, operated by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the National Veterinary Services Laboratory and the Center for Veterinary Biologics, operated by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The crowd listens as officials dedicate the National Centers for Animal Health.
The crowd listens as officials dedicate the National Centers for Animal Health.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the large crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony in Ames, Iowa.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the large crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony in Ames, Iowa.

Agricultural Research Service Administrator Ed Knipling, Research, Education and Economics Under Secretary Molly Jahns, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services John Clifford, APHIS Associate Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services Jose Diaz, and Marketing and Research Programs Under Secretary John Ferrell pose by the Ames, Iowa building dedication plaque at the end of the ceremony.
Agricultural Research Service Administrator Ed Knipling, Research, Education and Economics Under Secretary Molly Jahns, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services John Clifford, APHIS Associate Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services Jose Diaz, and Marketing and Research Programs Under Secretary John Ferrell pose by the Ames, Iowa building dedication plaque at the end of the ceremony.

USDA Joins the Effort to Help Americans Get Outdoors

By Phil Sammon, Forest Service, Public Affairs Specialist

Today, President Barack Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, hosted the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, a gathering of leaders from communities across the country who are working to protect their outdoor spaces.

 The USDA Forest Service is proud to join the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other USDA agencies in supporting the Get Outdoors Initiative to motivate healthy lifestyles and activities.

 The goals of this Presidential Initiative coincide with one of the Forest Service’s primary missions – to actively support, promote, and fund numerous related programs, projects, and initiatives with wide-ranging missions and goals.  In fact, just this week, the Forest Service has made a few announcements in this area.

 On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced the availability of Forest Legacy Program grants to protect sensitive lands in 33 states and territories. These local projects can provide the background for local conservation education and interpretive programs associated with local, state and federal programs aimed whose goals and missions are closely related to healthy lifestyles, conservation education, and the challenge of reconnecting Americans and American families to the outdoors.

 Also this week, the Forest Service announced major challenge cost-sharing opportunities for the More Kids in the Woods program, whose mission is to provide more natural resource and nature experiences to children across the country. These future leaders will be better able to make sound environmental and natural resource decisions if they have developed an understanding and an ownership of the public lands this agency manages.

 In speaking about the More Kids in the Woods initiative, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell commented that this and related programs are vital in opening doors to urban and rural kids and their families through projects that promote healthier lifestyles while preparing them to cope with conservation issues of the 21st century: climate change, water quality and sustainable management of natural and cultural resources.

 We look forward to hearing from people around the country over the coming weeks and months as part of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, and to continuing our work with our state, local, and private partners help us to raise environmental and conservation awareness, and to help prepare future leaders for this agency, and for our country.

 President Obama speaks at the America's Great Outdoors Event 

Listening to President Barack Obama’s remarks are  (L to R) Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson (standing behind Ms. Sutley), Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Department of Defense representative, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and Housing and Urban Development representative

Innovative Sage-Grouse Protection Agreement Takes Flight

By Brad Fisher, Natural Resources Conservation Service Public Affairs Division

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and Rowan Gould, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed on April 13 a first-of-its-kind agreement that combines protection of sage grouse and sagebrush habitats with the business interests of ranchers in 11 Western states.

What makes this agreement unique?

“It lets NRCS and the Fish and Wildlife Service work together to provide certainty to ranchers,” said White. “By certainty, I mean that it lets them address threats to sage grouse and sage grouse habitat in ways that benefit the natural resources on their operations while allowing them to operate at the same time.  This is a win-win for ranchers and for sage grouse.”

The technical assistance that NRCS is going to provide is absolutely vital to the success of this effort, White said. “Ranchers who work with us will have access to our rangeland conservationists, soil scientists and biologists. Our Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program will be there to help them install practices.”

For its part, the Fish and Wildlife Service will use the authorities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to provide participants with reasonable assurances that what they do to protect sage grouse and sage grouse habitat will be consistent with the ESA should the sage grouse later be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

Nearly 44 percent of sage grouse habitat has in recent years been lost due to agriculture, urban development, energy production and transmission, invasive weeds and wildfire. The human footprint across the area where greater sage-grouse live is becoming larger as the country strives for energy independence, agriculture, development and other, often competing uses.

“I want to thank the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking this step in working with agriculture,” White said. “It’s going to give ranchers opportunities to protect the sage grouse and, at the same time, let them raise their cattle, pay their rent, send their kids to school, buy their groceries, while letting them be ranchers.”

This year represents the 75th year of NRCS helping people help the land.

Dave White (left), Chief, Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Servce and Rowan Gould (right), Acting Director, Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service sign a partnership agreement to promote and preserve greater sage-grouse habitat and sagebrush ecosystems in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 13.
NRCS Chief Dave White (left) and Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Rowan Gould. USDA image.

Merrigan Challenges Dairy Committee to Use Past to Move Forward

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan challenged members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee on Wednesday to look beyond declining prices and seek an answer to the ailing dairy industry that will have a lasting impact.

“I’m asking that you start thinking in long-term solutions,” said Merrigan during a welcome address on day two of the advisory committee meeting. “I’m challenging you to not only be good advisers but good historians.”

Dairy farmers have been suffering from a decrease in milk prices for nearly two years. Since January 2009, prices have dropped by nearly half of what they were in 2008. Price declines coupled with an increase in feed prices have caused many operations to close or take on a large amount of debt.

Yet, this down cycle is nothing new to the industry.

“The boom-and-bust cycle of farm-level milk prices has repeated itself over the past three decades,” said Merrigan. She referenced a book, “Thinking in Time” that discusses the importance of history and how to use it to one’s advantage in the policy world.

“As you work to meet the industry’s needs, keep in mind that the dairy industry is often taught to be an immediate problem, not always a reflection of the bigger picture or an attempt to make decisions based on the lessons of history,” said Merrigan. “As you go about your reviews and recommendations I ask that you look ahead by looking back.”

The three-day public meeting — held at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. — will give the 17-member Dairy Industry Advisory Committee a chance to review farm milk price volatility and dairy farmer profitability, and make recommendations on how USDA can best address the needs of the dairy industry.

“With this appointment you have a great opportunity not just to know dairy history, but to understand its story, to use it, discuss it, analyze it,” said Merrigan. “Drawing on the lessons of the timeline you can help shape the future of dairy policies and programs that may in the end be a part of your legacy.”

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee that looking at the industry’s history will help develop long-lasting solutions.
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told members of the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee that looking at the industry’s history will help develop long-lasting solutions.