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September 2012

Secretary's Column: Investing in America's Rural Communities

As producers face an historic and ongoing drought today, President Obama and I are doing all we can to help farmers and ranchers mitigate its effects – while helping communities to overcome the economic challenges posed by the drought.

To carry out our work on behalf of communities and producers, USDA has relied on programs authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill. Parts of that law, including authorization of USDA disaster assistance for livestock producers, expired last year. Other aspects of the law expire on October 1st and over the next few months if Congress fails to act.

Ask a School Meals Expert: What do the New Calorie Standards Mean for my Child?

You may have heard this year’s back to school season is a little different than in past years. There is a new, healthier look for the school lunch menu.  These updates represent the first major changes to school meals in 15 years, and we know that these changes come with questions.  We’ve promised to keep the dialogue open, and we are working to ensure that we answer them all.

The vast majority of students, parents, teachers and school service professionals have had great positive feedback on the new, healthier lunches.  However, a few parents have expressed concerns that kids will come home from school hungry or not get enough to eat during the day because their kids have higher caloric needs – in particular, kids who are athletes. Schools and families have – and have always had – multiple options for addressing their needs.

Chef Corps to Help Build Bridges through "Culinary Engagement"

“Food isn’t traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool, but sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Some of the nation’s top chefs have signed on to help promote American food and culinary traditions around the world through the new American Chef Corps. The corps is part of the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative, launched earlier this month by the Department of State and the James Beard Foundation. USDA is delighted to support this initiative, which is an excellent complement to our ongoing work highlighting the quality, variety, safety and sustainability of U.S. food products to our customers around the world.

UPDATE: Drought Code Sprint Deadline Extended to October 24

After hearing from many of you, we are extending the deadline to submit your apps for the Drought Code Sprint to Wednesday, October 24 at 5 p.m. ET apps using this form.

Do you have any questions about our data or would you like to learn more about our drought assistance in general? Let us know, we'd love to help as you start coding!

Rocky Mountain Region Leads Effort to Address Watershed Health on White River National Forest

In the wake of the 2012 summer fires, Colorado’s most precious natural resource, water, is a top priority for state, municipal, and federal agencies. Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service are leaders in addressing water issues and growing concerns over watershed health. Just under two years ago, both partnered to combine approximately $33 million in funding to target specific areas for restoration and mitigation work to reduce potential fire impact in key watersheds that supply water to Front Range communities.

Two new projects of the Denver Water partnership are underway on the White River National Forest on the Dillon Ranger District near Breckenridge, Colo. These projects target “zones of concern” identified by the Blue River Watershed Assessment in collaboration with the Forest Service and Denver Water. Cary Green, the East Zone timber management assistant said, “The partnership is hugely beneficial to cost-sharing vegetative treatments in the Blue River Watershed. Together, we are able to improve forest health, forest vegetative diversity, and achieve substantial fuels reduction in and around high priority watersheds.”

Found a Problem With Your Food? USDA Wants To Know About It

Have you ever opened a package from the grocery store to find that something wasn’t right about it, and then wondered who to call to report a problem?  The company’s toll-free number? The grocery store that sold it? Or someone else? If that product involves meat, poultry, or a processed egg product, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service just made it easier consumers to alert the agency to food safety problems, any time of the day or night.

The Electronic Consumer Complaint Form (ECCF), which became available on FSIS’s website this morning, will allow consumers to submit the important information FSIS needs to begin an investigation in just six steps. Consumers will be requested to provide details on:

  • When and where the product was purchased;
  • When and how the problem was noticed;
  • And how the agency can contact you for more information. Personal information is optional and will be used solely for the agency’s investigative purposes and product tracking.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan Visits Common Ground Fair in Maine, Meets with Farmers, Growers and Area USDA Officials

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited the Common Ground Fair on Sunday as a part of her visit to Maine. While at the fair, the Deputy Secretary met with leaders from USDA agencies as well as numerous Maine farmers and gardeners.

During her keynote address at the fair, Merrigan discussed organic farming as well as the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Through this initiative, USDA integrates programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development; fosters new opportunities for farmers and ranchers; promotes locally and regionally produced and processed foods; cultivates healthy eating habits and educated, empowered consumers; expands access to affordable fresh and local food; and demonstrates the connection between food, agriculture, community and the environment.

Agricultural Weather and Drought Update – 9/26/12

Visit for the latest information regarding USDA’s Drought Disaster response and assistance.

Based on data since 1995, U.S. corn and soybean harvests are proceeding at a record pace.  By September 23, more than one-third (39%) of the corn had been harvested, three times the five-year average of 13%.  During the preceding 17 years, the record amount of U.S. corn harvested by September 23 had been 24% in 2000.  Similarly, more than one-fifth (22%) of the soybeans had been harvested by September 23.  Prior to this year, the record-setting soybean harvest pace by September 23 had been 18% in 2000.

US Forest Service Uses Old Land Deeds to See Forests of Long Ago

Forest restoration would be a lot easier if people who lived a couple of centuries ago could just tell us about the forest as they knew it.

For Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy, a U.S. Forest Service scientist, using original land deeds from colonial America is as close as you can get to actually being there. Based in Parsons, W.Va., Thomas-Van Gundy is using a unique digitized dataset built with original land deeds to determine what a West Virginia forest looked like before European settlement.