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Conservation as a Peace Offering to Vietnam War Veteran

Conservation is giving Vietnam War veteran Gilbert Harrison a peace offering of healing, helping to balance the stresses of war. For Harrison, conserving the natural resources on his farm is an important outdoor activity. And who better to care for the land than the veterans who fought to protect it?

Harrison has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) since 2012, when he received funding and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help him install an improved irrigation system to help develop alfalfa production on his land.

The Farmers Screen

Nobody wants fish to get stuck in irrigation pipes. Not the public; not the farmers; especially not the fish. But with more than 70,000 irrigation diversions tapping into Oregon’s rivers and streams, the concern is real.

Irrigation diversions channel stream water through a series of narrowing pipes, eventually reaching fields through irrigation devices. Until recently, there’s not been an adequate selection of screens to prevent high-gravity and sediment diversions from getting clogged. Diversions on wooded hills required daily maintenance during certain times of the year.

Helping an Urban Farmer Connect People with Food

When Amanda Barker arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2009 to start graduate school at Clark University she knew that she wanted to grow food and build community. “My hope was to figure out a way to connect people with food, get people talking to each other,” said Barker.

Seven years later, she is one of the nation’s urban agriculture pioneers who raises crops on tiny patches of land wedged between city buildings, used car lots, highways and railroad tracks, and even on rooftops.

California Farmers Count Every Drop with Efficient Irrigation Technologies

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.

Despite hopes for a drenching from El Niño, California farmers are facing another drought year in 2016.  Even after four years of the worst drought on record, California farm output was a record $54 billion in 2015, accounting for more than half of the nation’s fresh produce. Groundwater has helped compensate for California’s lack of rainfall, but groundwater overdraft cannot be continued indefinitely.

California farmers have responded to the drought by fallowing land; switching to crops that yield higher value per unit of water; and switching irrigation technologies.  Almost all California cropland is irrigated, so continued improvements in irrigation efficiency are key to weathering this and future droughts.

Acequia de Las Joyas Blooms with Traditional Irrigation Methods

Spaniards built the Acequia de Las Joyas approximately 300 years ago. The acequia, a community irrigation watercourse or ditch, was the principal method of providing water to the farmers for their crop and rangelands in northern New Mexico. The parciantes (also known as acequia members) worked together to maintain the acequia and each member in return received a portion of the water.

Three centuries later, the practice is still key to making the land bloom. But, time and the elements have taken their toll on acequia and repair costs have escalated to the point that members can no longer shoulder the burden of maintaining the critical community resource alone.

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.

A Banner Year for Research: 5 Innovative Projects Aimed at Helping Growers

USDA scientists work 365 days to provide safe and sustainable food, water, and natural resources in the face of a changing climate and uncertain energy sources. To recognize the contribution that agricultural science and research makes in our daily lives, this week’s “Banner Year” series features stories from 2015 that show the successes that USDA science and statistical agencies made for us all.

Making a success in agriculture and rural communities in today’s competitive world requires a toolbox of cutting-edge knowledge and ways to put that information in people’s hands so they can put it to work. Whether it’s designing these tools, developing the data to prove them, or breeding a new crop variety to outwit a plant disease to avoid a harvest’s devastation, the scientists of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are always coming up with something new to enhance rural opportunities.

Here are five research highlights from 2015 you should read:

Winyan Toka Win Garden Evolves Into Micro Farm

USDA celebrates National Native American Heritage Month in November with a blog series focused on USDA’s support of Tribal Nations and highlighting a number of our efforts throughout Indian Country and Alaska. Follow along on the USDA blog.

When the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) first began its organic garden in 1999, staff members at the 26-year-old not-for-profit youth organization scarcely could have imagined where that little garden would take them. Now, 16 years later, the thriving two-acre Winyan Toka Win (“Leading Lady”) garden located in Eagle Butte, South Dakota is the beating heart of the youth project — and it’s quickly becoming a veritable micro farm.

Today, sustainable agriculture at CRYP supports nutritious meals and snacks at the main youth center for children four to twelve and at the Cokata Wiconi teen center.  It also provides fresh ingredients for the seasonal Leading Lady Farmers Market. To continue pursuing the long-term vision for the initiative, CRYP has invested in a new irrigation system, a composting system and a garden redesign.

South Florida Drought: Mobile Irrigation Labs to the Rescue

Widespread drought in California and other parts of the western United States has been widely covered, but earlier this year,  drought conditions in southeast Florida were  “extreme” and are still considered “abnormally dry” according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. This heavily populated area of Florida – which is home to more than eight million people and includes the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach – is also a major agricultural area.

Even though Florida is in its rainy season, lasting from May until October, the South Florida Water Management District reports that May and June rainfall totals were well below average across most of the region. District weather records show that this May and June period was the driest since 2004 and the ninth driest since recordkeeping began in 1932. Of course, a tropical disturbance or hurricane that contains significant rainfall, like the one experienced last month, can make up at least some of this deficit, but waiting for weather isn’t something to rely on to fix the problem.