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central america

CAFTA-DR: A Trade Partnership that Works

Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney is leading a USDA trade mission to Central America this week, making it a good time to review where we stand as far as CAFTA-DR, the United States’ free trade agreement with five Central America countries and the Dominican Republic. It’s been just over 10 years since we started cutting agricultural tariffs on both sides, and the deal has delivered exactly as trade agreements are supposed to. Going forward, a deal that has been a solid positive for U.S. agriculture has the potential to get even better as further market openings create more opportunities for U.S. exports.

Climate Change and Agriculture in the Americas

All this month we will be taking a look at what a changing climate means to Agriculture. The ten regional USDA Climate Hubs were established to synthesize and translate climate science and research into easily understood products and tools that land managers can use to make climate-informed decisions. The Hubs work at the regional level with an extensive network of trusted USDA agency partners, technical service providers, University collaborators, and private sector advisers to ensure they have the information they need to respond to producers that are dealing with the effects of a variable climate. USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

The effects of climate change are putting farmers throughout the Latin American Caribbean to the test.  From Guatemala to Puerto Rico, rising global temperatures and powerful El Niño oscillations have contributed to patterns of drought and intense rainfall, resulting in crop losses.

In response to these and future crises, the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub in Puerto Rico is helping build more resilient food systems by educating about climate change risks and adaptation and mitigation strategies.  Established in 2014, the Caribbean Hub was as a part of a nationwide U.S. network designed to help farmers and managers of working lands adapt to increasing climate risk by translating climate science into workable decision support tools and information for farmers and land managers.

Building the Bench for Agriculture in 2015 and Beyond

No matter where you're from, no matter what you look like, no matter your background, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is here for you. It has been an exciting year at USDA, filled with growth and opportunity.  This year, I have traveled the country and the world to meet with farmers, ranchers and agriculture leaders who love the land and want to help the next generation succeed.

As 2015 comes to a close, I would like to share the top five things USDA has done this year to build a more diverse future for agriculture:

Working Together to Address Global Food Insecurity

As a daughter of farmers, and as someone who has spent her career working on behalf of farmers, one of the things I care most deeply about is the future of agriculture –  both in the United States and around the world. That is why one of my highest priorities at USDA has been to help develop the next generation of farmers, ensuring that women, young people, and others have access to the programs and support they need to farm successfully. 

As Deputy Secretary, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa, Central and South America. I’ve met many inspirational farmers from around the world, and while the languages we speak, the crops we grow, and the production methods we use may differ, one thing rings true in every conversation: we share the same passions and the same challenges in feeding a growing world population.

The Poinsettia, in the Shadow of the Christmas Tree

The poinsettia – academic types may call it by its binomial name, and biologists might refer to its species. But how many of us are guilty of calling it that red flower with the pointy leaves used to decorate during the holidays?

In the world of holiday shrubbery, the poinsettia has always taken a backseat to the Christmas tree. With its lights and ornaments, the tree has become the icon of the holiday in contrast to the poinsettia, which is usually placed in a nearby corner.

West Coast Forests Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day

‘Tis the season for migratory birds to make their journey north. Forests along the Pacific Flyway, which stretches from Alaska to Central and South America, recently celebrated International Migratory Bird Day with educational activities, conservation efforts and birdwatching trips.

Staff from the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Forest Service’s International Programs hosted an educational event at Camp Casey in Coupeville, Wash., that attracted 120 people of all ages who participated in interactive activities where they learned about migratory birds. In one activity, attendees took on the role of migratory birds to learn about the difficulties the birds face during migration. Their goal? To safely reach their next stop along the migration route. The first round was easy, no obstacles. The second round, a hunter was introduced and with each ensuing round, migration became more difficult. Habitats started disappearing and predators started increasing, catching larger numbers of birds. Elders, teens and youngsters alike all participated in this lively, competitive game to learn just how hard it is for birds to migrate long distances.

Insects for Dinner? Potential Tool in the Toolkit to Achieve Global Food Security

As an entomologist, the notion of eating insects isn’t new to me. However, for most Americans, the thought can make their stomachs churn. And yet, maybe seeing insects on their dinner plates is something Americans should get used to seeing.

Yesterday, I delivered the keynote address at the Insects as Food Conference, which was hosted by the FAO and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. As director of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), my goal is to ensure that the science we invest in leads to solutions to today’s most pressing challenges. One of those challenges relates to our world’s growing population, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. We need to find new ways to feed all people while minimally impacting the environment. This “9 Billion Problem” has implications for how we grow and view food now and in the future.

New Mexico Farmers Supply Local Food to Community with Conservation

Everything that siblings Adán and Pilar Trujillo do on their Chimayó, New Mexico, farm connects with the community. Their lettuce and chile peppers feed students at local schools. And they sell their rhubarb, rainbow chard and red Russian kale at the community market just down the road in Española.

Conservation work helps the brother-and-sister duo make this possible. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is honoring contributions made by Hispanic Americans like the Trujillos to our nation during National Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual commemoration held Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Are Frogs on the Edge of Survival?

A lethal fungus is killing frogs and other water-dwelling amphibians all over the world, but a team of international scientists led by U.S. Forest Service scientist Deanna Olson is working to understand why.

Olson, who works at the agency’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, and her colleagues have the daunting task of tracking the disease, known as the amphibian chytrid fungus. Unlike the clearly visible white-nose syndrome killing bats in the U.S., the frog fungus cannot be seen except with a microscope. That makes scientists’ jobs that much more difficult.

Since the discovery of the malady is so recent, scientists still don’t understand a great deal about the fungus except that it affects the skin and ultimately leads to cardiac arrest in amphibians.

FAS Helps Small Biz Find 'Out of This World' Success

When the astronauts aboard the International Space Station received a shipment of food recently, it included jam from a company called Stonewall Kitchen. Jonathan King and Jim Stott started selling their homemade jams from a folding table at a local farmers’ market in Maine in 1991. Today, their company sells specialty food products that are enjoyed all over the world, literally.

Stonewall Kitchen participates in the Food Export USA – Northeast Branded Program, which is funded by the Foreign Agricultural Service’s Market Access Program. MAP helps U.S. producers, exporters and trade organizations finance promotional activities for U.S. agricultural products. Over the years, the financial assistance from the program has helped this small business successfully export its jams, condiments, sauces and baking mixes to more than 40 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia.