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Posts tagged: Mississippi

On the Road with the Hypoxia Task Force

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo

If you ever wonder about the future of agriculture, go no further than Brighton, Illinois.  Just 10 minutes with 15-year-old Adlai Schetter will reinforce that stewardship of private working lands is in good hands. It will also convince you that cover crops and second generation biofuels are a dynamic part of our agricultural future.  On the day I visited with Adlai at his parents’ farm, he summed up his vision in a professional PowerPoint presentation to an audience of more than 20 state and federal officials.

Adlai spends a lot of his free time researching the effectiveness of different cover crop seed mixes that include rye and radishes. After his formal presentation, we walked over to his test plots.  I asked him if he’s determining which cover crop work best and he responded that “they are like players on a football team, they each have important roles.”  Adlai understands how to make these cover crops work for him.  While other farmers may be looking at bare fields this winter and early next spring, Adlai and his parents get to watch their cover crops scavenge nutrients, improve soil porosity and suppress weeds. This frees up time for Adlai to spend on another passion – the second generation biofuel miscanthus.  Adlai puts his harvested miscanthus to work fueling a burner that heats a cavernous building that houses farm equipment and the farm’s office.  Ten bales a day of miscanthus and corn stover keep the building a comfortable 72 degrees throughout the cold Illinois winter.  This winter he will experiment with using even less fuel.  Asked if he gets any school credit for all this work, Adlai responds, “not really.” Read more »

Continued Support for Local Food

USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.

USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.

Strong local food systems are one of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies.  On Monday, he announced the award of over $52 million to support local and regional food systems and the organic industry through five USDA grant programs. Most of the grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.

As part of that announcement, my agency—the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing through the new Farmers Market and Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, as well as over $1 million in matching grants through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). For years, AMS has led USDA efforts to support local and regional food systems by awarding grants that give farmers and ranchers around the country tools to reach consumers, strengthen ties between urban and rural communities and help meet the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food. Read more »

Restoration Improves Aquatic Community in Mississippi Watershed

Ryan Witt, NRCS soil conservationist, Kelvin Burge, Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District conservation technician, and Johnny Williams, Hancock County rancher, discuss the benefits of the solar powered well. NRCS photo.

Ryan Witt, NRCS soil conservationist, Kelvin Burge, Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District conservation technician, and Johnny Williams, Hancock County rancher, discuss the benefits of the solar powered well. NRCS photo.

A creek in coastal Mississippi was once listed as an impaired waterway, void of a healthy aquatic ecosystem. But with the help of environmental agencies and conservation-minded farmers, the creek was removed from the “bad” list.

Orphan Creek in Hancock County, Mississippi was listed in 1998 as a Clean Water Act impaired waterway. The creek and its tributaries, including Dead Tiger Creek, form a watershed of about 25,000 acres and push their waters to the Jourdan River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality monitors water quality on Orphan Creek. Using data retrieved from 2001 and 2003 in the Mississippi Index of Stream Quality, or MISQ, Orphan Creek scored 53.2 and 51.5, respectively and failed to support its designated aquatic life use. Read more »

Reap What You Sow: Choctaw Children Learn about Gardening and Cooking

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

“How many of you like vegetables?”  The question posed to a gathering of Choctaw children in a garden in rural Mississippi elicits skeptical responses.  But upon sampling the fresh produce harvested with their own hands, however, the children’s stereotypes of disgust turn to surprises of delight.  A young boy taking a giant bite out of a juicy tomato could be the poster child for the vibrant red fruit.  A pair of sisters declares cucumbers as their favorite.  The newly adventurous children are even willing to taste raw eggplant…Now that’s impressive.

Through a summer program made possible by a Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) Grant from the Food and Nutrition Service, 150 children from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians were able to get up close and personal with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Twice a week, children ages 6-18 from the Boys and Girls Club and the Tribal Youth Court participated in the lifecycle of planting, picking, and preparing produce.  The week my colleagues and I visited the Choctaw Indian Reservation, the children scattered seed for iron clay peas, witnessed the hustle and bustle of a farmers market, and learned how to dice vegetables for a salsa recipe. Read more »

Sammy Soil Educates America on Soil Conservation for 40-plus Years

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Sammy Soil is NRCS' mascot and was created by a district conservationist back in the 1970s. NRCS photo.

Teaching people about soil conservation is one of our top goals at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and fortunately, we have a special helper.

Sammy Soil, everyone’s favorite little clump of earth, has managed to capture the public’s attention for more than 40 years. The little dirt clod, as he is sometimes called, was birthed through rock particles, water, air, leaves and the artistic mind of long-time employee Ernest “Howard” Whitaker.

Sammy Soil started as a water color drawing by Whitaker, who worked as a NRCS district conservationist in Tennessee. Read more »

Why is Cogongrass So Successful at Invading the South?

Widely used in landscaping, the cold-tolerant cogongrass Red Baron variety does not produce viable seed, but its pollen could present problems in the future. (Auburn University/David Teem, Bugwood.org). Photo used with permission.

Widely used in landscaping, the cold-tolerant cogongrass Red Baron variety does not produce viable seed, but its pollen could present problems in the future. (Auburn University/David Teem, Bugwood.org). Photo used with permission.

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 portfolio.

Cogongrass makes kudzu look like a lightweight. A perennial grass, it grows on every continent except Antarctica and has earned a reputation as one of the worst weeds on Earth. In the South, cogongrass ranks among the top 10 plant marauders, invading forests, rights-of-way, and agricultural fields, literally taking over the landscape and altering ecosystems.

Native to Southeast Asia, the weed first arrived in the United States in 1912 as packing material in orange crates imported to Grand Bay, Alabama.  A few years later, farmers planted cogongrass in Mississippi as a possible forage crop. Since then, it’s spread to more than 66,000 acres throughout the South, its progress limited only by winter cold. Landowners and agencies have fought this weed for years with limited success. Read more »