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 »
Often I am asked to participate in events in my role as a Deputy Undersecretary. Other times I participate based on my heritage, as a member of the Mescalero Apache Tribe. Sometimes, the lines blur, as they did recently when I addressed those attending the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign meeting here at USDA.
Pollinator health is tied closely to the overall health of ecosystems. Pollinators are important to producers of a wide variety of crops, and to forest health. Native Americans grasp how all things are interconnected. I told the audience that when I was a boy, my relatives would sing songs in Apache. These songs were about things in nature: evergreens, water, even the rocks. All things are tied to Mother Earth: all things work together. So it is with pollinators. Read more »
Poultry farmer Kao Her and former District Conservationist Lynn Jenkins look over a map of Her’s farm. Since beginning his poultry operation in 2005, Her has added two, 600-foot poultry houses to his property, as well as an updated stacking shed and composter, all with financial and technical assistance from NRCS. NRCS photo.
Kao Her is a self-taught poultry farmer. Everything he knows about poultry farming he learned over two weeks with the farm’s previous owner and nine years of on the job trial-and-error.
“I’ve learned a lot by mistake,” said Her, a member of the Hmong community. “My cousin always told me to do my research before getting into something new. But that’s never been my way of doing things.”
Her houses 235,000 broilers, or meat chickens, in six poultry houses in the small town of Noel, Missouri, located just six miles northeast of where Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma intersect. He walks three miles a day through his 500-foot and 600-foot houses checking on the chickens that help provide for his family. Since beginning his Class 1 poultry operation in 2005, Her has raised chickens for local commercial poultry operator, Simmons. Read more »
USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie (left), Chairwoman Lori Bear of the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute, and Deputy Under Secretary Ann Bartuska (right) discuss the impact of flooding on tribal lands. USDA photo.
A massive wildfire followed by heavy rains greatly damaged the landscape of a Utah valley, home to the Skull Valley Band of the Goshute Indian Tribe. The natural disasters broke water delivery systems and disrupted vital community infrastructure.
Recently, the band’s leadership met with USDA officials to find solutions on how they could recover and prevent future flooding events.
At a StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity meeting held in Tooele near the reservation, Tribal Chairwoman Lori Bear and Vice Chairwoman Kristen Bear-Stewart took the opportunity to share with USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie and Deputy Under Secretary Ann Bartuska some challenges they face on the reservation. The USDA officials also toured the flood-damaged area. Read more »
The Paiute Tribe headquarters in Cedar City, Utah.
As we prepare for annual Halloween celebrations across the nation, I was reminded of a trip I made to Cedar City, Utah earlier this month. StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity is an effort Secretary Vilsack launched in 2010 to address the distinct set of challenges America’s most rural areas face. This added effort also helps to fulfill USDA’s commitment to Native American tribes. Since StrikeForce began, I’ve had the honor of meeting with many Native American tribal members to identify where USDA Rural Development may serve their communities best.
The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah welcomed the USDA family around a great wooden table at their headquarters in Cedar City. Representatives from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Rural Development (RD) came together with the Utah Governor’s Office to show our combined support to the Paiute Tribe. More importantly, we were there to listen to what the Tribe and its five constituent bands could tell us about their plans for the future, as well as their needs. Read more »
Farmer David Brown poses next to one of his giant pumpkins. Healthy soil is key to the success of Mustard Seed Farms. Photo courtesy of NRCS.
Oregon organic farmer David Brown didn’t start off growing 400-pound pumpkins, but every fall they hold a prominent place on Brown’s Mustard Seed Farms. Starting out as a 26-acre farm in Marion County, Oregon, Brown has grown his diverse, organic operation to 80-acres while also achieving large gains in soil health.
“Our name, Mustard Seed Farms, comes from Scripture where faith is a grain of mustard seed that God will bless, and we will grow, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Brown said. He’s grown the size of his farm and giant pumpkins by first growing the health of his soil. Brown gathers his strength from above – but does have some help from below from groups like USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Read more »