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Looking Under the Hood of Michigan's Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.

When you think of Michigan, you may think of Detroit and the car industry, however our agriculture industry is also critical to our state’s economy. Agriculture’s economic impact on the Michigan economy recently surpassed the $100 billion mark. Traveling through Michigan, you can easily see just how diverse agriculture in our state truly is. In the latest Census of Agriculture, Michigan farmers reported growing many various types of fruits, vegetable and livestock commodities. In fact Michigan produces more than 300 different commodities.

While the Great Lakes provide our crop growers with an abundance of fertile lands and water, it is our dairy farmers that produce our most valuable commodity. According to the Census, in 2012, Michigan dairy farmers sold more than $1.5 billion worth of milk from their cows. And despite the decrease in the number of such farms, the number of dairy cows in Michigan keeps growing. As of 2012, there were more than 376,000 milk cows on 2,409 of our dairy farms.

Principles, Requirements and Guidelines - An Important Update that will benefit USDA Clients

When you take a drink of water in this country, chances are pretty good that it came from a reservoir or river that is managed, or that has been treated in a plant funded with support from the Federal government, or whose headwaters are on public land managed by the United States Forest Service or Department of Interior.  Every dollar the federal government spends supporting water quality and quantity impacts millions of Americans.  Interagency guidelines governing how investments, programs, and policies that affect water resources are evaluated at the Federal level have been updated for the first time since 1983, and published by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Given the importance of water to USDA programs and our customers, we understand that it makes sense to have the most complete and forward-thinking information available to inform our investment and implementation decisions.  That enhances our ability to develop programs and projects that conserve water resources while ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent.  USDA is confident that these new guidelines can enhance our decision-making without adversely affecting how we implement our many conservation programs.

You're Never Too Old to Play With Your Food

Who doesn’t want to have a little fun with their food? Especially if you have a picky eater at home, try adding a creative flair to the plate to boost a healthy meal’s fun factor. Our team of nutritionists has been having fun using cookie cutters to come up with creative, healthy ideas, but there are lots of easy ways to make healthy choices more appealing.

Earlier this week we shared a blog about making a snowman from all 5 of the MyPlate food groups. Below are some additional ideas. Have fun!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Do We Count Thee?

Just as millions of Americans venture out this time of year to purchase a fresh cut Christmas tree, I too am busy visiting and talking with Christmas tree growers. However for me, the visits are important outreach opportunities with producers to prepare for the 2014 Census of Horticulture, which we at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) just mailed this week.

This special study will help us do more than just count Christmas trees. It will look at the entire horticulture sector in the United States and gather a full count of this $14.5 billion industry. The Census of Horticulture will paint a detailed picture of U.S. producers nationwide – those who grow all those cherished holiday trimmings, from fresh cut Christmas trees, to poinsettias, holly and more.

It's all about the Sides

Main dishes may dominate most holiday tables, but the space on your plate will probably be filled with more sides than whatever holiday meat is served. Proper food handling and cooking will make sure these items come out just as safe and delicious as your main meat.

Making a safe side dish can be even harder than making a main dish safely because side dishes usually contain many ingredients. The more ingredients in the dish the greater the opportunity there is for cross-contamination. By keeping your side dish components separate, you can avoid cross-contamination.

The Future is Here ... and it's Made of Wood

It’s a good time for building with wood products. More architects and contractors are returning to this renewable, sturdy, all-purpose material after decades of what some might consider an undue reliance on concrete and steel.

In furthering that message, I was pleased to join WoodWorks, a nonprofit organization supported by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service, to host more than 350 architects and builders this year at the Wood Solutions Fair in the District of Columbia.

The fair promoted the use of wood in commercial buildings in helping maintain sustainable forest management, addressing wildfires, droughts, extreme storms and insect epidemics. Wood buildings store tremendous amounts of carbon and reduce the fossil energy needed for construction over alternatives like concrete, steel and aluminum.

A New Revenue Source for Virginia Farmers Reduces Erosion and Improves Water Quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

USDA has a long history of helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners maintain their bottom line while improving soil health and reducing runoff into streams and rivers.  For nearly 80 years, USDA has offered funding and technical assistance for farmers to implement conservation practices through the conservation title of the Farm Bill. In recent years, however, USDA has also supported new, innovative approaches to voluntary, private lands conservation.

An announcement today by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in northern Virginia highlights an innovative approach called water quality trading. Farmers like John Harrison of Appomattox County are taking advantage of private investments to implement conservation practices on their land. These practices help reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into local bodies of water, generating nutrient credits that can then be sold to regulated entities looking to offset nutrient losses for compliance purposes.

Winter Food Fun for Kids of All Ages

You’re never too old to play with your food! This winter, while the kids are home from school and family and friends gather together, you can experiment with ways to make healthy foods festive and fun. This blog shows how we created a snowy scene using foods from all five of the MyPlate food groups.

We will continue to share ideas throughout the season on the MyPlate Facebook page, @MyPlate Twitter, and, and we want you to join in the fun. Get creative in the kitchen and find ways to make healthy foods the main attraction at your winter celebrations!

Get the Most Out of Your Holiday Roast

The traditional centerpiece of many holiday meals served this time of year is the roast. Whether you use pork, beef, goose, turkey, or chicken, the most popular means to cook your meat of choice is in the oven.

The roasting recipe that was handed down to you from your great grandmother may need a little updating though. Whether it asks you to marinate at room temperature overnight, or cook until ‘the juices run clear,’ some instructions in heirloom recipes might be outdated. To help you make the dish your great grandmother intended, we pulled together a list of holiday roasting tips.

Rural America's Pace of Recovery

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.

In the recession of 2007-09 and its aftermath, some areas of the United States fared better than others. In rural America as a whole, the pace of economic recovery has been slow, with attendant impacts on rural residents. Each year, USDA’s Economic Research Service provides a snapshot of the rural economy in a brief report, Rural America at a Glance.

The 2014 report shows that in several major respects, recent trends in rural America parallel those in the Nation generally.