U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
A group of coders in hooded sweatshirts and big headphones stare intently at their computer screens.
In the corner, staff take a break at the foosball table, while a young woman in an oversized beanbag chair types away on her laptop.
You might be picturing the headquarters of a Silicon Valley startup, but the scene described above is over 2,000 miles away from San Francisco—in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Read more »
At USDA this month, we’re taking some time to focus on the work of farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to conserve our planet and our resources for the future. They know, like we do, that cleaner air, water, soil and habitat are not only good for our planet, but also contribute to healthy and productive working farmlands.
At USDA we have a wide range of tools and support available to help farmers voluntarily implement conservation practices to improve the health and productivity of private and Tribal working lands. Since 2009, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has provided more than $4 billion in assistance to farmers, ranchers and forest managers to enhance conservation on more than 70 million acres. And this year, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to add an estimated 10 million acres to the rolls. Read more »
Three generations of farmers at sundown on a South Dakota farm.
The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, today featuring the Northern Plains’ Keith Berns, Larry Cundall and Martin Kleinschmit.
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska comprise the Northern Plains Region. The region accounts for a quarter of irrigated lands in the U.S. and more than a third of the pasture/rangelands. The Northern Plains has an extensive precipitation and temperature gradient moving from east to west, which provides a diverse array of environmental conditions for agriculture throughout the region.
The region faces longer and warmer growing seasons, earlier arrival of spring, and altered distribution of seasonal precipitation. These changes can affect agriculture production in a number of ways such as the timing of snowmelt for irrigation and changes in pest and weed pressure. Additionally, extreme weather events such as drought are occurring at greater frequency, duration, and intensity. The USDA Northern Plains Regional Climate Hub (NPRCH) produced a vulnerability assessment of key agriculture enterprises in the six-state area that highlights a number of adaption and mitigation strategies available to producers. Read more »
Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Ann Mills addresses the audience at the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets.
This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska. More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.
As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost. Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost. They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding. Read more »
2015 USDA/EPA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets graphic. (Click for the registration link)
For most people, water quality markets are probably a new concept. They are not something you hear about on the news every day, even though reports frequently cover the need to clean up rivers and lakes. But to some—like states, utilities, and farmers—they represent an opportunity, and should be on the radar.
Water quality markets can reduce costs of cleaning up waterways by allowing sources with high costs of meeting water quality requirements to purchase credits from sources that have lower costs of making the same water quality improvement. Agricultural producers often have lower costs of improving water quality, which makes farmers and ranchers prime candidates to supply water quality credits. Read more »
A team of USDA officials and Nebraska congressional and state representatives participated in the first ever Local Foods for Local Tables conference. The group got together with the common goal of promoting local foods. USDA Photo.
I was thrilled to join USDA colleagues at the first-of-its-kind “Local Foods for Local Tables” conference in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. USDA Rural Development (RD) State Director Maxine Moul and the office of Congressman Brad Ashford led the effort to bring together groups and community members with the common goal of promoting local foods. Along with RD state leadership, the event featured Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Craig Derickson, all of whom serve on the Nebraska State Food and Agriculture Council (SFAC). They brought together a panel of public servants who are experts in their field, as well as community leaders who are on the front lines of bringing fresh, healthy food to the American table.
With more than 150 people in attendance, there was tremendous energy in the room. The discussions were lively and the ideas inspired! For everyone sitting in the room – whether a volunteer gardener or a state conservationist – it was a great opportunity to learn about programs and initiatives right in their backyard that are supporting local and regional food systems. I had the privilege of serving as the keynote speaker during the luncheon, which was prepared using delicious, locally-sourced foods. I shared how my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a key role in providing technical assistance, awarding grants, and conducting research that contribute to ongoing efforts in Nebraska and across the country to strengthen local and regional food systems. Elanor Starmer from the Office of the Secretary also attended and talked about the Department-wide Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local food. Read more »