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environment

A Farewell Message from Secretary Tom Vilsack to Employees

Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sent the following message to all USDA employees:

I want to take this opportunity on my final day at USDA to express my profound gratitude to the people who work at USDA. Every day, nearly 90,000 people leave their families and the comfort of their home to do the people's work in the People's Department. What an amazing job you do each day for the country.

Conservation and Biological Diversity in Organic Production

The National Organic Program (NOP) – part of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – protects the integrity of certified organic products by developing clear standards, overseeing the certification of organic farms and businesses, and ensuring compliance with the USDA organic regulations.

Organic is a labeling term that means the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices. These practices foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Certified organic crop and livestock producers manage their farms according to the USDA organic regulations. This means using materials that are approved for use in organic production, and maintaining or improving the natural resources of their operation, including soil and water quality.

There's Something Fishy Going on in Petersburg's Food Desert

Money’s tight in Petersburg, Va., and sometimes it’s difficult to put nutritious food on the table.  Like many other cities in America, Petersburg has found its way onto USDA’s list of food deserts – meaning that residents have limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.

Virginia State University has found a way to fill the void with a hands-on program that teaches students how to successfully sustain urban farming operations and helps put affordable nutritious food on the tables of community residents.

With 20 Years of Leadership and Vision, Tribal Water Project Heralds New Opportunities for Prosperity

Over 20 years ago, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council Member, Marcella Le Beau had a vision for her community. She was part of the initial planning process to bring abundant, safe drinking water to her tribe in north central South Dakota. It has been a multi-year undertaking beginning with a new water intake on the Missouri River. Today, the second phase is underway to increase the undersized water treatment plant. On Earth Day last week, I had the honor of gathering with Marcella, Senator Tim Johnson, and others on the ground where the new plant and trunk line from the Missouri River will be built.

“It is a momentous day for our Cheyenne River Sioux family,” Marcella told me, “We have worked a very long time, with many dedicated people involved, to make this happen.”

It’s Said That No One can Predict the Weather, but Scientists at the Ag Outlook Forum Give it a Shot

Weather….  We all care about it. In many communities, local TV and radio weather forecasters are celebrities, and for good reason.  While we can’t do much about the weather, it affects us all every day.

During last week’s Agricultural Outlook Forum two sessions drew exceptionally large crowds.  One was the Friday afternoon “Weather and Agriculture” segment and another was the morning “Markets and Weather” presentation.  While no one can say for sure what the weather outlook will be for the 2014 summer growing season, Brad Rippey, agricultural meteorologist with USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), Eric Luebehusen, OCE ag. meteorologist and Anthony Artusa, meteorologist with the Climate Protection Section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made some observations and predictions in the afternoon session.  The snowpack in the West’s Sierra Nevada is far below normal.  The Western winter wet season has been a bust, with winter precipitation less than 10 percent of average in some areas.  California, the Great Basin and southern Great Plains are in drought.  The meteorologists said California, the lower gulf coast and much of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas could see above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in March, April and May.  According to Rippey, “We need a miracle March in 2014 to avoid major problems in California.”  The most current information is available through NOAA’s Seasonal Drought Outlook map and the USDA drought monitor.

U.S. Forest Service Hosts Visitors from the Jewish National Fund to Discuss Resource Management

In the late 1980s, Israel experienced one of its worst fire seasons ever. Devastating blazes ravaged the forested corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The U.S. Forest Service responded by sending a technical team to assess the damage and subsequently recommended future mitigation and management strategies. Thus, a cooperative exchange program between the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF-KKL) and the U.S. Forest Service was born.

Earlier this fall, a team from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, headed by Deputy Regional Forester Maribeth Gustafson, hosted a small group of guests from Israel. They included Minister of the Environment Amir Peretz; David Leffler, director general from the Ministry of Environmental Protection; Efi Stenzler, the JNF-KKL World Chairman; David Brand, the KKL Chief Forester, and four other staff members.

How Millennials are Reducing Food Waste

Today’s college students and young professionals are particularly attuned to the environmental issues that face our nation. Universities across the United States are often stuck with excess food left over from dining halls, sporting events, and other social gatherings that more often than not goes directly into the dumpsters.  While many young adults across the country are working their way through school and loan payments, they are also becoming increasingly cognizant of the efforts underway at their Universities to reduce food waste.

In a recent study conducted by The Princeton Review, 69 percent of college applicants claim that a University’s environmental commitment would contribute to their decision to apply or attend the school. Fortunately for college students, there are several innovative and environmentally friendly ways to deal with excess food waste on-campus.

Going Green by Reducing Food Waste

At this very moment, an underappreciated tool for combating climate change may be hiding in your chiller drawer or at the back of your pantry.  By keeping that limp carrot or dusty box of pasta out of our nation’s landfills, you can help reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates that food is the single largest component of municipal solid waste going to landfills (accounting for over 20% by weight) and that that landfills are the third largest source of methane (16% of national total).  By reducing the amount of food we toss into the trash, we can help reduce these potent greenhouse gas emissions.

The benefits do not stop there, however.

Pennsylvania Lakeside Community Sewer Extension Has Minimal Impact

As a sewer extension project winds through the lakeside community portion of Nuangola, Pennsylvania, residents are experiencing minimal impact.  Last year, Nuangola Borough received $4.4 million in USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Program (WEP) loans and $3.9 million in WEP grants to fund the installation of a low pressure wastewater collection system for the borough. Treatment of the wastewater collected will be done by the neighboring authority’s existing sewage treatment facility. The system will serve an estimated 420 homes.