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Farm Bill

USDA Works to Deliver Broadband to Rural Communities

Thanks to USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service funding and Home Communications, Inc., those who live and work in a rural Kansas community don’t have to travel miles for broadband service. High school and college students can upload, research, and complete homework assignments online. Employees can work remotely, farmers can monitor operations, and businesses can successfully market and promote their products and services.

Home Communications, Inc. (HCI), based in Gypsum, Kan., is one example of how rural telecommunication service providers are investing in the future of their communities. Since they opened doors as a rural telephone company in 1933, HCI has transitioned to a broadband service provider focused on growth by expanding their customer base and service territory.

USDA Unveils Landmark New Rules to Protect Farmers

Cross-posted from the White House blog:

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking some major steps forward to protect farmers – including swine, beef cattle, and especially poultry growers – from unfair treatment by the often much larger processors who purchase their fully grown hogs, cattle, and chickens. These three rules are another step forward in response to the President’s Competition Initiative announced in April, which has the goal of enhancing competition to help consumers, workers, and small businesses get a fair shake in the economy.

Harvest Time: Celebrating Native American Heritage and Traditional Foods in FDPIR

Autumn is a time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, as we enjoy the harvest of nature’s bounty during gatherings with family and friends. In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors, and participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) have access to more traditional foods than ever this year. November, Native American Heritage Month, is an especially fitting time to celebrate the addition to FDPIR of bison, blue cornmeal, wild rice, and wild salmon – foods that not only nourish a body but sustain a culture.

In collaboration with the FDPIR community, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service have been working to identify culturally relevant foods to procure and offer through FDPIR, a program that provides healthy food and nutrition education to an average of 92,500 income-eligible individuals living on or near reservations across the United States each month. The food package offers more than 100 domestically sourced, nutritious foods, including a variety of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grains, and fruits and vegetables. In both fiscal year 2015 and 2016, USDA received an additional allocation of $5 million dedicated to traditional and locally-grown foods. This fund, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and subject to the availability of appropriations, has allowed the exploration of new culinary opportunities for FDPIR.

Environmental Markets Help Improve Water Quality

Environmental trading markets are springing up across the nation with goals of facilitating the buying and selling of ecosystem services and helping more private landowners get conservation on the ground.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy joined Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in December 2014 to announce the state’s first trade under its nutrient trading program for stormwater.

Pennsylvania Landowners Helping Indiana Bat through 'Spooky' Declines

When most people think of bats, images of dark caves, vampires and Halloween come to mind. But actually, bats get a bad rap, and we often don’t know how important they are for controlling insects, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and improving biodiversity.

Many of our nation’s bats are facing population declines to near-extinction levels, primarily because of disease and loss of habitat. One of those species is the Indiana bat, an endangered species that has experienced rapid declines since the 1960s.

RCPP Benefits Longleaf Ecosystem in Alabama

It takes time, patience and a committed partnership, but seeing thriving forests of longleaf pine trees return to Alabama’s Gulf Coast is well-worth the wait.

Longleaf pine forests once dominated the American Southeast, stretching across 90 million acres. A stronghold of the region’s environment and economy, longleaf was an essential building material used during the American Industrial Revolution. Today, only four percent of the original forests remain standing.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Alabama is working with groups to revive this strong and resilient wood, while also providing environmental benefits for the Gulf Coastal Plain’s wildlife and water.

NIFA Programs Key to Reducing U.S. Household Food Insecurity

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) opened its doors on Oct. 1, 2009, created by the 2008 Farm Bill.  NIFA begins its eighth year as USDA’s premier extramural agricultural science agency by examining its role in helping reduce hunger in the United States.

As a nation, we are making great strides in combating food insecurity—the limited access to adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources. A recent household food security report issued by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) shows the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children.

Funding and leadership from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) support many food and nutrition assistance programs that provide low-income households access to food, a healthful diet and nutrition education. Three such programs are the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), Community Food Projects (CFP), and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

Restored Wetlands Provide Critical Habitat for Migratory Birds, Many Other Species

Wetlands and wildlife – they’re made for each other. Wetlands provide critical habitat, shelter food and places to raise young.

Landowners across the country are voluntarily restoring and protecting wetlands on private lands. This not only provides high-value wildlife habitat but provides many other benefits, such as cleaner water (wetlands act as filters!) and reduced flooding risk (they store water!).

This Isn't Farming Like Grandpa Used to Do

Samantha Whitter represents the fifth generation at Whittier Farms in Sutton, Massachusetts. Her family’s 500-acre, 100-head dairy farm is one of the largest in this small town 10 miles south of Worcester—the second largest city in New England, after Boston.

Samantha’s dad, Wayne Whittier, signed up for aerial cover crop seeding offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The conservation practice involves a helicopter swooping over corn fields, releasing winter rye seed from a hopper swinging beneath the chopper. To a bystander, it might look like an air show or a crime scene investigation, but it’s actually a very controlled seed application that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed.

Farmers Market Managers: Innovative Entrepreneurs Meeting Community Needs

The demand for local food is strong and growing. To meet the growing demand, farmers market managers are becoming creative entrepreneurs who connect rural America to urban and suburban businesses.

Last week, during National Farmers Market Week, I had the pleasure of visiting Crofton Farmers Market in Crofton, Maryland, to recognize state and local efforts to bring fresh foods and economic growth into their community. During my visit, I was given a tour of the market by market managers, Chad Houck and Scott Hariton, who are business partners with a passion for their community.