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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.

Challenge Competition Brings Together Designers, Coders and Government for Innovation

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) teamed up with techies across the nation to strengthen the integrity and improve the user experience of the National School Lunch Program application.  On December 1, 2015, we launched a public “hackathon” contest – the E.A.T. (Electronic Application Transformation) School Lunch U.X. Challenge – to tap into this country’s greatest resource: its people.

Designers and coders have been working furiously to develop a forward-thinking, web-based application for the school meal programs that would revolutionize the way households apply for free and reduced price meals.  Nearly 50 individuals, teams and organizations submitted electronic application prototypes, and a panel of five expert judges took to the task of selecting the winners.

A High Five for Innovative Conservation Projects

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program has an impressive track record of fostering innovative conservation tools and strategies,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as he announced $20 million in new funding for the program. “Successes in the program can translate into new opportunities for historically underserved landowners, help resolve pressing water conservation challenges and leverage new investments in conservation partnerships with farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders.”

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) fosters innovation in conservation tools and strategies to improve things like on-farm energy and fertilizer use as well as market-based strategies to improve water quality or mitigate climate change. Last year CIG began supporting the burgeoning field of conservation finance and impact investing to attract more private dollars to science-based solutions to benefit both producers and the environment.

Innovative Irrigation Saves Water, Boosts Yields in Ogallala Aquifer Region

In the Ogallala Aquifer region, each drop of water counts. A group of forward-thinking farmers in Texas are finding innovative ways to irrigate their crops to use water more efficiently.

These farmers are working with the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the panhandle to study use of water from the aquifer. The Ogallala is the nation’s largest aquifer and is being depreciated by water withdrawals at an unsustainable rate.

Innovation in Conservation - A New Slate of NRCS Environmental Markets Projects

Environmental markets—the buying and selling of ecosystem services like clean air and water, and wildlife habitat—help more private landowners get conservation on the ground. Markets attract non-Federal funding to conservation, complement USDA’s work with agricultural producers, and can yield natural resource improvement at a lower cost to other approaches.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a Federal leader in supporting the development of environmental markets, largely through its Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. Among CIG recipients are one of the earliest and most successful water quality trading programs in Ohio’s Great Miami River watershed and the Ohio River Basin water quality trading program, a recipient of the U.S. Water Prize this year. Also through CIG, USDA hosted an event in November 2014 celebrating a first-of-its-kind transaction—the purchase by Chevrolet of carbon credits generated on ranch lands in North Dakota.

An Update on the EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets

This week, I have the privilege of participating in the first ever EPA-USDA National Workshop on Water Quality Markets at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska.  More than 200 attendees from agriculture, utilities, industry, state agencies, and research institutions gathered at the University of Nebraska’s aptly named “Innovation Center” to think critically about how we can improve and expand water quality markets across the country.

As Secretary Vilsack noted in his introductory video remarks, water quality markets can be effective tools in helping communities improve the quality of their water at lower cost.  Markets create financial incentives for private landowners to manage their lands more sustainably to produce cleaner water while generating environmental benefits at lower cost.  They promote public awareness of the role sustainable private land management can play in protecting public health and natural ecosystems. They inject private dollars and innovation into efforts to improve water quality – leveraging finite federal funding.

Taking Note of Paper's Popularity

Kindle, iPad, and Surface—oh my! It’s fascinating to think about the increasing number of electronic tablets in the marketplace. However, a recent survey suggests that students and educators alike grab another notepad when it comes to comprehending what they’ve read. And that notepad is made of paper.

In fact, 74 percent of college educators surveyed in the 2015 Annual Back to School Report said that their students are more likely to stay focused when they are using a notebook and textbook rather than a laptop. Almost 80 percent of the K-12 teachers in this same survey also said that their students comprehend information better when they read on paper. As such, 63 percent of the teachers surveyed indicated that their courses involved paper-based learning.

Evolution of Agency Revealed in New Website

Over the last ten years, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has transformed as an agency.  Of course, the core mission is still there—facilitating the domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products—but how we accomplish that mission is an evolutionary process. 

Our agency serves many different stakeholders.  From consumers to industry councils, state inspectors to non-profits, we offer a broad range of services, information, grants, and regulatory oversight that are critical to the agricultural economy and the quality of our nation’s food supply.

USDA/Microsoft "Innovation Challenge" Offers $60K in Prizes to Software Developers

Farmers have long looked to the clouds for signs of relief, but a new competition launched by USDA and Microsoft will tap the Internet cloud to help farmers and our food systems to adapt to climate change. The “Innovation Challenge” is asking software developers to create applications that will use more than 100 years of USDA data to explore how our food system can achieve better food resiliency.

Climate change will likely affect every aspect of the food system—whether it’s the ability to grow food, the reliability of food transportation and food safety efforts, or the dynamics of international trade in agricultural goods. Even so, we don’t yet fully know how to anticipate and mitigate any negative changes.

#WomeninAg: Want a Chance to Go to the White House?

From the classroom to the farm to the boardroom, young women in agriculture are helping to pave the way for a better future. They are breaking down barriers and creating opportunities that are inspiring positive change in our agricultural communities and beyond.

In September, the White House will recognize young women who are leading and inspiring their communities as advocates, peer-mentors, artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs as Champions of Change. I encourage our women in agriculture to put forth nominations for young leaders that you would like to see represented in the following categories: