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Posts tagged: Farm Bill

Updated USDA Program Enables Farmers and Ranchers to Help Monarch Butterflies

A monarch butterfly on a flower

NRCS has updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to enable farmers and ranchers to plant milkweed and other plants to help monarch butterflies. NRCS photo by Gene Barickman.

An update to one of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) key conservation programs will enable farmers and ranchers to aid the imperiled monarch butterfly. This year, NRCS updated its Conservation Stewardship Program to include incentives for farmers and ranchers who plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants favored by monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed to lay their eggs during their annual journey from Mexico to the United States to as far north as Canada. Data show that monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, in part because of the decrease in native plants, including milkweed, on which their caterpillars feed. Read more »

Wisconsin: Pollinator Week Highlights Addition of Bee-Friendly Prairie Habitat

Thriving prairie with black-eyed susans

Thriving prairie with pollinator-friendly flowering plants, such as black-eyed susans, blooming.

James MacDonald owns 120 acres of rural land in Green County, Wisconsin. Through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), James expanded relic prairie on his land, including planting 3 acres of native pollinator mix through EQIP financial assistance. His prairie is in blossom all summer, with plants blooming at different times. “There are hundreds of prairie plants and they sort of pass off who’s in bloom, so from the end of the snow until the snow falls again there’s always something in bloom,” said James.

MacDonald says between his neighbors, there are about 100 hives within two miles of his property, so many bees use his prairie for food. James had a good idea of what bee-friendly mixes he wanted to plant so NRCS provided financial assistance, as well as technical assistance in site visits and checking to ensure his seed mix was adequate. Read more »

Protecting Pollinators through Habitat Conservation is Critical to Preserving Food Supply

Honeybees leaving and returning to the hive after collecting pollen

Honeybees leaving and returning to the hive after collecting pollen. Photo: Ashton Ebarb.

“They’re in a happy mood today,” Jim Pratt, a local apiarist, said.

At a comfortable 62 degrees, honeybees buzz with a clear objective: collect nectar and pollen, for honey and pollination.

“Pollinators, like honeybees, support food crops,” Pratt said, explaining why for 20 years he’s raised honeybees.

Pratt’s Farm annually produces about 120 pounds of honey per colony. He maintains 100 colonies, collecting honey from them each spring, summer and fall. During the winter, the bees eat stored honey until warmer weather arrives. Read more »

Working Trees for Islands Showcases Power of Agroforestry

A breadfruit tree owner poses in her home garden with ornamental plants

A breadfruit tree owner poses in her home garden with ornamental plants (Photo by Diane Ragone, Breadfruit Institute)

Do you grow fruits and vegetables in your backyard or community garden? Do some of them come from trees?

Breadfruit, or ‘ulu, is an easy-to-grow, productive, nutritious, and starchy staple crop grown in many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. It can be roasted, baked, boiled, fried or pounded into poi. In the past, many people grew breadfruit at home and in community gardens. However, many breadfruit trees have been cut down, especially in urban areas. Products such as breadfruit can have a helpful impact on Pacific islands such as Hawaii, imports about 85 percent of its food. Read more »

Rancher Weathers Drought, Restores Prairie Chicken Habitat at Same Time

Christian Hagen, science adviser for LPCI, and Bill Barby (right), a Kansas rancher

Christian Hagen, science adviser for LPCI, and Bill Barby (right), a Kansas rancher, monitor growth of sand bluestem and other native grasses on his 4,000-acre ranch. NRCS photo.

By Sandra Murphy, Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with ranchers and partners to improve habitat for lesser prairie-chicken through the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI). Focusing on privately-owned lands, the initiative covers five western states. About 95 percent of lesser prairie-chicken habitat is located on private lands. Sandra Murphy is communications specialist for LPCI, a partnership led by NRCS. — Justin Fritscher, NRCS

On a late April morning in southwest Kansas, sand bluestem sways over rancher Bill Barby’s head. A medley of other native grasses — little bluestem, sand lovegrass, and prairie sandreed, and more — fill the pasture around him, providing food for his cattle as well as habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, a threatened species. Read more »

Behind the Scenes of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Jill Auburn

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program, is one of the original members of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Task Force which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems.

This month, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2) celebrates an important milestone: the sixth anniversary of the first convening of the KYF2 Task Force. Since 2009, the Task Force, a dedicated team of experts from across the Department, has been hard at work in support of USDA’s commitment to local and regional food systems. As we mark this important milestone, we wanted to recognize some of the outstanding USDA employees who have been at the core of this work.

Jill Auburn, National Program Leader at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and manager of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, has been part of the KYF2 Task Force since the beginning. Jill came to USDA in 1998 and has seen the Department’s work on local food evolve. Jill describes the launch of the Task Force as a recognition that “the world has been doing this [local food], and USDA needs to engage. We aren’t the lead on this – our work is being driven by what’s happening in communities around the country – but USDA has a lot of tools to assist.”  The 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills have given USDA many tools and authorities to support local and regional food systems. Read more »