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Secretary's Column: An Update on Exports

The past four years have been tremendously positive for America’s efforts to export more agricultural goods and products around the world.

The brand of American agriculture is soaring worldwide. In fact, 2009 to 2012 represents the best four years in our nation’s history for agricultural exports. Exports have grown more than 50% over that period of time.

We have reason to believe that more good news is ahead. Recently, USDA economists forecast agricultural product exports for next year to exceed $145 billion. That would set yet another new record – and it would allow agricultural exports to continue supporting more than a million jobs.

The Smart Grid and Smart Growth

Two new smart grid projects in North Dakota and South Dakota will help improve electric service for consumers at Northern Electric Cooperative and West Central Electric Cooperative, Inc. by implementing advancements in communications technology.  A smarter electric grid can help improve service by increasing reliability and better managing costs.

Celebrating the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act Two Years Later

It’s been two years since President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law. The Act cleared the way for historic improvements to the child nutrition programs, such as school lunch and school breakfast, that serve millions of our nation’s children. We’ve already implemented many provisions of the Act, with many schools reporting success in meeting the new standards, and students finding the new school meals to be an improvement from the status quo. This coming year will be a busy one as we continue to make program updates that help us fight both child hunger and obesity.

Because of the Act, we’ve been able to improve standards for the content of school lunches—and soon school breakfasts— making them healthier than ever before. However, I know implementation is a process that takes time, and as the school year progresses we will continue listening and providing additional education, technical assistance, and flexibilities where appropriate. Throughout this first year, we are closely monitoring implementation and adapting the support we provide to States and schools based on challenges that arise.

We also made the first real reimbursement rate increase for those meals in 30 years to help schools adjust to the changes. Because we know how influential the school environment can be when it comes to encouraging kids to make healthy choices, USDA will propose new standards for other foods sold in schools including in vending machines.

Detallitos en inocuidad alimentaria para llenar las medias festivas de tus cocineros favoritos

Hoy en día, todo el mundo es un sabelotodo en alimentos, o proclama ser un experto en todo lo relacionado a la comida. Para agregar a la multitud de recomendaciones para regalos de cocina que muchas páginas cibernéticas han creado durante este mes, la Línea de Información sobre Carnes y Aves del USDA ha copilado una lista de productos de cocina que podrían ser my prácticos y esenciales, y muchos de ellos son lo suficientemente pequeños como para rellenar  medias festivas o canastas de regalo. Lo mejor es que estos aparatos aseguran que la persona le pueda devolver el detalle al cocinar esos asados (ahumados o merengues) adecuadamente durante las fiestas o por todo el año.

Five Times Fast: Food Safety Gifts for Festive Foodies

These days, it seems everyone knows (or is) a foodie, a self-proclaimed guru of all things edible.  To add to the myriad of “foodie gift guides” shopping sites have created this month, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline has put together a list of inexpensive kitchen essentials, most of which are small enough to fit inside a stocking or gourmet gift basket. The best part: these gadgets ensure the giftee will return the gesture with perfectly and safely roasted (or braised, smoked, flambéed…) treats this holiday season and year-round.

Make It Fun!

As fall was quickly turning into winter, we chose a brisk day in early November to close out gardening season with all of the students at Powell Elementary. Together, along with staff from the NHL’s Washington Capitals and USDA Executive Master Gardeners, we organized a harvest and “Salad Party” so all grades could pick ingredients for and create a salad with what they’d grown. We also used this day to maintain the Habitat Garden in the form of weeding, planting natives, mulching, and rebuilding paths. We were successful in both activities, putting the Habitat Garden “to bed” in celebration of Keep America Beautiful’s National Planting Day, and throwing one heck of a salad party.

USDA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Enter into Agreement to Improve Drought Weather Forecasting

USDA and other federal agencies continue to work to address the long term effects of last summer’s historic drought.

In the wake of a series of regional drought conferences with farmers, ranchers, business owners and other stakeholders, USDA is entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Commerce, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to improve sharing of data and expertise, monitoring networks, and drought forecasting efforts.  The MOU is a direct outcome of the regional conferences.

What’s Next for Agriculture? Secretary Vilsack Wants to Hear from You!

Last week we asked why young Americans should care about the Farm Bill by inviting you to use social media to help tell the story about what is at stake in your lives and communities. The response has been overwhelming! We read tweets from aspiring young scientists about the importance of the Farm Bill to their career. We received messages from business owners looking for ways to keep their family farms in the family for future generations. In fact, we were so struck by your feedback online, we thought that the best person to answer your questions and address your concerns would be Secretary Vilsack himself!

Rescue Dogs Sniff for Salamanders to Save Rare Species and Help People

Shelter dogs that are often rejected are getting a new lease on life. Plus they’re helping wildlife and people!  These conservation canines climbed the Jemez Mountains, clambering over rocks, running from smell to smell, to track where rare Jemez salamanders, a species found nowhere else in the world, are living in New Mexico.

Agriculture is Smart for Smart Growth

“Smart Growth” is a term we hear more and more often.  It is the idea that as communities plan for the future, they consider the highest and best use of every resource – land, infrastructure, organizations and people.    From housing to transportation to energy to food; community developers and planners are asking how Smart Growth principles can be applied to ensure a sustainable and dynamic future for their communities and their residents.