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February 2015

Conservation Easements Protect a Special Place in Idaho for People and Nature

Stretching from Sun Valley to Arco, Idaho, the Pioneer Mountain region encompasses high mountain peaks, river valleys and sagebrush steppe that supports a rich variety of wildlife and some of the best remaining sage-grouse habitat in Idaho.

Sage-grouse inhabit the lower elevations of this relatively un-fragmented landscape. Covered with sagebrush, crossed by clear streams, and dotted with lush wet meadows, this area is key habitat for grouse.

Montana Agriculture Keeps Growing

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 Montana agriculture, wheat and cattle come to mind. And why shouldn’t they? After all, our state ranks third in wheat production and tenth in cattle and calves inventory, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. That year, the combined market value of ag products sold for grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas was $1,787,162,000 and cattle and calves was $1,783,908,000. Montana’s total market value of agricultural products sold per farm was $151,031; which was up 59 percent from the previous Census of Agriculture in 2007, while the U.S. average was up 39 percent.

We have 28,008 farms and ranches in our state with an average size of 2,134 acres, which is down 5 percent from 2007.  Female principal operators of farms and ranches account for 15 percent of the total principal operators in the state while American Indians account for just 5 percent. Like most other states, the average age of our producers continues to increase to 58.9 years, climbing 1.1 years from 2007.

At the Agricultural Outlook Forum: 2015 Outlook for Farm Income and Food Prices

Policy makers, economists, the farm and food industry, consumer advocates, and others rely on USDA’s food price outlook and farm sector income and finances data in their decision making and planning.  At this year’s Forum, two sessions focus on these closely watched USDA forecasts and present the latest analysis and projections.

A session on the Farm Income Outlook for 2015 focuses on general measures of the financial well-being of the farm economy. The analyses and data released by the Economic Research Service (ERS) and used by USDA and others in both the public and private sector provide insights about the financial health of the U.S. agricultural economy. Financial performance measures assess the farm sector's receipts and expenses; net income; variations in farm income by farm size and other categorizations; and changes in the sector's wealth holdings. ERS estimates and forecasts of farm income and wealth are based on information collected across USDA and other parts of government, as well as responses to USDA's annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) and other sector-level information.

What's Cooking with USDA Foods?

This is the second installment of the What’s Cooking? Blog Series. In honor of the Let’s Move 5th Anniversary, and the commitment USDA shares with Let’s Move to promote healthy eating and access to healthy foods, this month-long series will high­­light the various features of the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl recipe website.

Family gatherings and potlucks are traditional places to be on the lookout for new recipes to add to your collection.  With the recent launch of the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl, you now have hundreds of additional contenders for dishes to grace your table.  The new website features household recipes from the Food Distribution programs that serve food banks, soup kitchens, senior citizens, Indian Tribal Organizations, and disaster feeding organizations throughout the country.

Montana Organic Association Focuses on the Benefits of Organic Business

This is the twenty-third installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

According to a 2014 USDA Economic Research Service report, consumer demand for organically produced products continues to show double-digit growth.  This year, the Montana Organic Association’s (MOA) annual meeting highlighted the sector’s ongoing growth with its theme of Organic Business: Benefitting Producers and Consumers.  As USDA’s Organic Policy Advisor, I represented USDA at MOA’s conference and presented information about USDA’s support for the growing organic community.

MOA’s mission is to advocate for and promote organic agriculture for the highest good of the people, the environment and the state's economy. The conference brought in over 200 people, a large number in a rural state with just over 200 certified organic operations.  MOA President Nate Brown noted, "The Montana Organic Association annual conference is our biggest event of the year and has been the lifeblood of the organization for the past 12 years.  We feel the conference is a great way to bring together Montana's organic community every year for a weekend of learning and socializing in order to keep up with the growing organic market in our state."

The Girl with Grit

Jaclyn Moyer's got grit.

Somewhere between the 12 hour days Jaclyn spends on her 10 acre farm in Northern California plus her off-farm baking job, she somehow found time to pen a great piece in Salon about her experiences as a new farmer.  She describes how she and her partner are struggling to balance their love of the land and passion for farming with the financial challenges of starting a new business.  "Surely many farmers enjoy what they do, as I often find pleasure in my daily tasks, but ultimately farming is work, an occupation, a means of making a living that must fulfill the basic function of a job: to provide an income,” she writes.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Counting Colorado's Cattle Country

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.

Here in Colorado we take our farming seriously and the results of the last Census of Agriculture only reinforce that.

As of 2012, we now have almost 32 million acres of farmland, up slightly from the last census, conducted 5 years ago. Our farmers and ranchers sold nearly $7.8 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012. That’s an impressive 28 percent increase from the 2007 Census.

USDA Sage-Grouse Conservation Efforts to Continue and Grow


The Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) is one of our shining stars at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service – it’s become the model for voluntary, incentive-based conservation at its best. Through conservation science and partnerships at the federal, state and local levels, we’re making a huge impact for conservation and agriculture.

We launched SGI in 2010 to target efforts to protect sage-grouse and its habitat and to help sustain working rangelands for the long-term. Through SGI, we’re bringing back grouse populations, while at the same time, helping to improve ranching operations.

How Industries Create a Research and Promotion Program

We often talk about the many ways research and promotion (R&P) programs benefit both ag industries and the consumer. Our nation’s farmers and ranchers leverage these programs and the pooled resources they collect to help overcome marketing barriers and connect with consumers. R&P programs are self-help initiatives that are national in scope and funded by the industry to help these businesses continue to strengthen their rural economies and the communities they support.

To form a new R&P, there are specific steps that the industry and USDA follow:

Sunlight to the Seagrasses: U.S. Forest Service Research Shines Light on Threatened Coastal Plant

Just off Florida’s 8,000 miles of coastline and tidal areas, in shallow sunlit waters, over two million acres of seagrass meadows waft in the ocean currents.

Besides providing food and habitat for manatees, sea turtles, shellfish, and other animals, seagrasses protect coasts from erosion and store vast quantities of carbon dioxide.

“Seagrasses grow off the coast of many other U.S. states, including North Carolina and Virginia, as well as around the world,” said U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station scientist Zanethia Choice. “Globally, their economic value is nearly $4 trillion.”