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April 2013

Alaskan Forest Floors Sprout Array of Interesting Mushrooms

The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) sits on the forest floor in Alaska as if it is waiting to be cast in an Alice in Wonderland movie.

Its recognizable bright red cap dotted with white warts belies their toxic nature. Although the effects vary, experts warn against eating them. In Alaska, fly agaric is generally found around birch or spruce trees and loves the northwest environment.

Revolving Loan Funds Support Maine's Rural Small Businesses

Earlier this month, Revolving Loan Fund partners representing 13 Maine Intermediaries and 8 Microenterprise Development Organizations gathered at the USDA State Office in Bangor to listen to and share ideas for investing in rural Maine businesses. This meeting was one of dozens of Revolving Loan Fund Roundtables taking place around the country to assist USDA’s Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) and Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) providers share Best Practices and challenges encountered in financing business projects in rural areas. In Maine, there is approximately $9.3 million in existing revolving loan funds for credit-worthy businesses seeking capital.

Bringing Ag Data to Life through Satellite Imagery

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 USDA's rich science and research portfolio.

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. As part of this global event, every month this year USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will profile careers of individuals who are making significant contributions to improve agricultural statistics in the United States.

While most of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) statisticians studied mathematics, economics or agriculture in school, my career path started in a completely different place. I came to NASS in the 1990s as an IT specialist to help the agency evolve its use of geospatial technology and contribute to the remote sensing acreage estimation program. And so, while most of the agency staff learned about agriculture by visiting fields, my knowledge of this intricate subject came from studying and analyzing satellite imagery.

Feral Swine: Ripping and Rooting Their Way across America

Feral swine have been called the “rototillers” of nature. Their longs snouts and tusks allow them to rip and root their way across America in search of food.  Unfortunately, the path they leave behind impacts ranchers, farmers, land managers, conservationists, and suburbanites alike. April, Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, is a great time to learn about this serious threat to both plant and animal health.

Open Agricultural Data at Your Fingertips

Yesterday, Secretary Vilsack officially launched the U.S. Government’s new Food, Agriculture and Rural virtual community on This will serve as a single access point for our related datasets, databases, tools, apps and data resources discussed throughout the G-8 Open Data for Agriculture conference. This effort supports our USDA Digital Strategy efforts to ensure high-value services and systems are available anywhere, any time and on any device.

Using Data to Change The World One Goat at a Time

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 USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

USDA scientist Tad Sonstegard’s comparison of the World Food Programme’s “Hunger Map” to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s goat census statistics, reveals that 90 percent of all goats in the world are located in main ‘hunger zones’ of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.   What’s the connection?  Goats are a common animal of the poorest people, and they are an important part of the solution to global food security.   They are fairly low maintenance and easy to raise and farm.

Rescued Bobcat Chips Returns to Natural Habitat

Chips the bobcat, who was only four weeks old when she was rescued last August by U.S. Forest Service firefighter Tad Hair and his Mad River Hand hotshot crew, is now 8 months old and back in bobcat territory in Lassen County, Calif.

Because of early human handling to treat her second-degree burns, rescuers initially thought Chips acted a little too friendly towards humans raising concerns that she could not survive in the wild.

Open Data for Agriculture Offers Lift-Off for Global Food Security

The opening day of the G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture was action-packed and inspiring. From the moment the doors opened at 7:30 am, the air was punctuated with the sound of languages from across the globe. Scientists, policy makers, and leaders from the non-profit and development community all shared a day of discovery and connection around the unlimited opportunity in open data for agriculture.

Secretary Vilsack kicked off the proceedings with a speech that focused the day. “Data is quickly becoming one of the most important commodities in agriculture,” he told the attendees, and encouraged the sharing of data to magnify its power.  He also compared the digital revolution fueled by open data to the industrial revolution, in that data sharing has the same potential to accelerate development of new tools that will bolster the productivity of farmers around the world.

USDA Officials Highlight StrikeForce at South Dakota Indian Business Alliance Conference

South Dakota USDA officials recently highlighted the StrikeForce initiative at the bi-annual South Dakota Indian Business Alliance Conference held in Rapid City.  The conference with the theme of, “Building Opportunities in the New Native America,” was a perfect opportunity to announce South Dakota USDA’s focus on increasing partnerships and leveraging resources on South Dakota tribal lands.

Women Farmers: One Million Strong

In the four years I’ve served as Deputy Secretary, I’ve talked with thousands of women in agriculture – from young women thinking about entering farming to older women who have been tilling the soil for decades.  Each of their stories is powerful on its own.  But taken together, they have been an inspiration to the entire country. And today, we know that there are nearly one million of these stories around the country – nearly one million women farming and ranching on America’s working lands.

A study released today by USDA’s Economic Research Service, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms found that the number of women-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. When all women involved with farming are added up – including primary and secondary operators – they are nearly one million strong and account for 30% of U.S. farmers.