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USDA/DOJ Workshop on Competition Issues – Important Step in the Right Direction

Today over 600 people packed the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny, Iowa to participate in the first ever USDA/DOJ workshop on competition issues in agriculture.

With FFA purple jackets helping direct the attendees (and selling boxed lunches), the hall was full nearly an hour before U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack and U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder began speaking to lead off the day.

The diverse audience included farmers and ranchers, union members, academics, representatives of both small and large businesses, lawmakers and federal officials, all eager to begin the series of 5 workshops that will be held over the next several months.

Many in the crowd expressed the opinion that this type of collaboration between USDA and DOJ was long overdue, and their appreciation that the Obama Administration was clearly taking their concerns about the market for agricultural products so seriously.

Once the program began, it became clear that AG Holder and Secretary Vilsack were not prejudging the results of these workshops, but were here to listen and engage in a discussion that would inform the efforts of both Departments over the coming months and years.

To underscore this point, Vilsack announced at the start of the second panel that public comments would be taken over the lunch hour to ensure that everyone had a chance to offer their comments.  It is clear that the issues are complex, but there was agreement that having today’s discussion was a critically important step in the right direction.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack at the USDA/DOJ Workshop on competition issues.

Caleb Weaver, Press Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture

A Tour of How Forest Service Job Corps Program Changes Lives

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to see first hand how the Forest Service Job Corps Program changes lives.  The motto of the Centennial Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (JCCCC) is “Creating brighter futures one individual at a time” and this motto is applicable to all 28 JCCCCs. My day at Centennial began with a tour of the center to observe many of the vocational trades that are being taught at our centers.

This was followed by a groundbreaking for a  ”People’s Garden,” part of an international effort where our employees create sustainable gardens at every USDA facility. The food produced in this garden will provide both Job Corps students and the local community with fresh, nutritious produce.

A “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” luncheon featuring food from local agriculture producers, including lamb, trout, and beef, was next on the agenda.  Honoring Secretary Vilsack’s vision, Centennial Culinary Arts students created a fabulous luncheon composed of food produced in Idaho.  In preparation for the luncheon, our students visited local producers so that they appreciate the nation’s vital agricultural resources, strengthening connections with the local agricultural community. The food was absolutely delicious and I sampled a unique dessert of Ice Cream Potatoes!

Next was a program in which I unveiled Job Corps’ new green curriculum and new interagency partnership between  Forest Service JCCCCs and other USDA agencies.  The new curriculum emphasizes the integration of green skills into traditional and new trades.

Our JCCCCs are perfectly positioned to lead the country in developing an effective green jobs program and USDA now is taking steps to position our JCCCCs as a foundation of America’s Green Job Corps!  The new interagency partnership will expand job training, internship and career opportunities for Job Corps students.

Centennial, thank you for your warm welcome Kudos to the Forest Service Job Corps Program.   It was an honor!

By Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment

--People's Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrel. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service
People’s Garden Groundbreaking L to R: Carl Powell, Business Community Liaison, Centennial JCCCC, Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester, Intermountain Region, Larry Dawson, Director, Forest Service Job Corps , Michael Rolfe, President, Student Government Association, Centennial JCCCC, Meryl L.R. Harrell. Special Assistant to the Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Harris Sherman, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, USDA, Safiya Samman, Director, Conservation Education, USDA Forest Service

Sign features the design and theme of the event--Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America's Youth for the New Green Economy
Sign features the design and theme of the event–Forest Service Job Corps and USDA: Training America’s Youth for the New Green Economy

Attention Techies! Apps for Healthy Kids Launched Yesterday!

Yesterday was a very exciting day here at USDA as we joined First Lady Michelle Obama in announcing our Apps for Healthy Kids competition! Apps for Healthy Kids is part of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity. Read more »

The 2010 Census: We Can’t Move Forward Until You Mail it Back

By taking just 10 minutes to answer just 10 questions, farmers and rural residents can help ensure a bright future for their local communities. The 2010 Census is now on its way to every household in the United States – and the results will have a major impact on rural America.

The U.S. Constitution requires a national census once every 10 years to count the population and determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In addition, the federal government uses census data to allocate more than $400 billion each year to state, local and tribal governments.

These funds support many of structures and services critical to the health and sustainability of rural areas, including hospitals, schools, senior centers, job training facilities, roads, bridges and telecommunications infrastructure.

I can think of few segments of the population that have more at stake in this census than rural America. In this economic climate, many rural communities are already struggling. And in recent years, many of them have suffered significant population losses. This makes it especially important that each and every rural resident be counted so their communities receive a fair share of representation and funding from the federal government.

Unlike the Census of Agriculture, which USDA conducts every five years to obtain in-depth information about the nation’s farms and ranches, the population census provides a quick snapshot of the entire nation. Both censuses are vital tools in ensuring the sustainability and prosperity of our rural communities.

So I urge you to please invest in your community’s future by taking 10 minutes to complete your 2010 Census form.

Cynthia Clark, Administrator, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

NASS is an agency of USDA’s Research, Education, and Extension Mission Area

Census workers have been busy visiting residents to increase awareness about the 2010 Census, verify addresses and answer questions. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office
Census workers have been busy visiting residents to increase awareness about the 2010 Census, verify addresses and answer questions. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office

Homes across the United States will receive a census packet this month. The package will include a census form and a privacy letter describing the confidentiality of the census data and how your privacy is protected. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office
Homes across the United States will receive a census packet this month. The package will include a census form and a privacy letter describing the confidentiality of the census data and how your privacy is protected. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office

An enumerator visits a farmer for the 1940 Census. One of the fifty questions Americans were asked in 1940 was, “Does the person’s household live on a farm?” Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-91199
An enumerator visits a farmer for the 1940 Census. One of the fifty questions Americans were asked in 1940 was, “Does the person’s household live on a farm?” Credit: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-91199

Overflow Crowd for Job and Economic Growth Forum in Montgomery, Alabama

Stormy, cold, unpleasant weather did not hinder more than 125 people from attending the Job and Economic Growth Forum in Montgomery, Alabama last month hosted by USDA Rural Development and the USDA Farm Service Agency, as a follow-up to the Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth that President Obama hosted at the White House on in December of last year. Read more »

Biofuel Trek – The Next Generation

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 the USDA’s rich science and research ipsportfolio.

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Looking down from 30,000 feet above, imagine seeing: alternating checker-squares of green colored wheat and yellow-flowered camelina fields across eastern Montana; fields with 15-foot-tall energycane plants weaving among stands of longleaf pines growing in the Florida panhandle, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi; tens of thousands of acres of Oklahoma rangeland cleared from invasive eastern red cedar so cattle and bison can once again graze freely; forests across the west freed of dense, diseased, and dead trees that otherwise stand waiting to feed wildfires whipped by dry autumn winds; and even expansive ponds in Hawaii where high-tech algae grow – these scenes and others across rural America will be the places where the feedstocks come from that are used to produce the next generation of biofuels that will fill the tanks of our flex-fuel cars, trucks, tractors, trains, airliners, and even our Navy’s ships and jet fighters.

Many people equate biofuels with ethanol made from corn grain or cellulose. But what isn’t as widely known is there are other kinds of biofuels that have many of the same properties as petroleum fuels, and are not made from corn or other food crops. Just as ethanol can be made from biomass, so can advanced biofuels be made from energycane, switchgrass, and other highly productive grasses, as well as from woody biomass. Using newly custom-designed microbes that feed on cellulose and sugars in plant biomass, scientist are not only developing more efficient ways to produce ethanol, but new ways to produce energy rich liquids such as butanol and diesel as well. By adapting older technologies for producing biofuels, engineers are designing ways to heat biomass until it becomes the energy-rich gas carbon monoxide or a bio-oil similar to crude oil, and then use these to produce diesel and jet fuel. These biofuels – as well as with ones made from plant oils produced by canola, camelina, guayule, and even algae – are drop-in ready to be used in the same engines as their petroleum-based fuel counterparts.

Our nation is giving a remarkable amount of attention to shifting away from petroleum and towards a renewable fuel future. Earlier this month, the White House released a report of the Biofuels Interagency Working Group – Growing America’s Fuel – as part of a broad program to secure America’s energy future and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The report envisions creation of a new agricultural business sector driven by demand for biofuels production and distribution, a sector that does not currently exist.  As this new agricultural business sector is built, there will be unprecedented opportunities to combine the best plant biology, engineering, and computational tools to address long-term questions about biofuels, and design the best ways to sustainably produce them. And never before has there been a government-wide commitment focus on efforts to create robust public-private partnerships that invent entirely new biofuel supply chains and accelerate the establishment of a commercial advanced biofuels industry.  And to make sure that industry helps to build wealth in rural America.

So, while there are no simple solutions and it will take time to meet all of our transportation needs with renewable fuels – one thing is certain, American farms and forests and rural communities can benefit and play a significant role in seeing to it that the next generation of biofuels are ready to move us to where we need to go – for generations to come.

ARS technicians Christine Odt (left) and Kim Darling dispense rumen fluid into sample vials containing biomass materials during a test to assess the potential of these materials as feedstocks for biofuels production.

ARS technicians Christine Odt (left) and Kim Darling dispense rumen fluid into sample vials containing biomass materials during a test to assess the potential of these materials as feedstocks for biofuels production.

Jeffrey Steiner
Senior Advisor for Bioenergy
Office of the Chief Scientist
USDA