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Advocacy and Outreach – Keys to Success in Serving Farmers, Ranchers and the Future of Agriculture in Underserved Communities

Day in, day out, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) brings programs to many farmers and ranchers as well as opportunities to students. As I meet with farmers, ranchers and USDA interns, a sense of great appreciation and anticipation wells up for the future of agriculture. One of the USDA offices that serves these farmers and students is the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO). OAO staff connect with farmers, community organizers, veterans, educators and students to bring opportunities and services.

OAO works with community-based organizations to ensure access to USDA programs and services for underserved and limited-resource communities and farmers. A major program is the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program).  Forty-five projects from organizations representing 25 States were awarded $8.8 million in 2016. This included a second year of $400,000 for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University.

USDA Helps a Texas Rancher Reach His Dream of Operating a Successful Ranch

One central Texas rancher is fulfilling a childhood dream. Rickie Roddy bought his first cow when he was 14 years old. By the time he was 19, he had grown his herd to 13 head of cattle.

“I have always been fascinated by cattle,” Roddy said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to have any land, but I wanted to be a rancher since I was a little kid.”

Missouri Gardener Enjoys Fresh High Tunnel Produce

David Backus is reminded of the benefits of the seasonal high tunnel on his property in southeastern Missouri at nearly every meal – and sometimes between meals. 

“The food that I grow in my own garden is healthier than the food I can buy at the store, and it tastes so much better,” said Backus between bites of a just picked tomato. 

Decrease Wildfire Risks by Choosing the Right Plants

Traveling at speeds up to 14 mph, wildfires can quickly ravish landscapes and homesteads. Experts with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) are studying what plants can slow fire rather than fuel it.

NRCS’ Plant Materials Centers evaluate and study plants, including those that can reduce fire damage or losses, helping keep people, property and natural resources safe. These centers, located across the United States, can provide information on the type plant best suited for an area given factors such as geography and climate.

Producers get a New Revenue Source, Waterfowl Habitat is Preserved and Industry Benefits from Conservation Effort

Earlier this week, USDA highlighted the creation of a market for carbon credits generated on working grasslands. Landowners benefit because they receive compensation for the carbon credits generated on their lands. They get a new source of revenue, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change. Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, recently purchased almost 40,000 carbon dioxide reduction tons generated on working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota. It was the first purchase of its type. 

Robert Bonnie, USDA's under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, announced the purchase and USDA's involvement in the project at an event at USDA headquarters. He was joined by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Greg Martin, executive director for global public policy, General Motors; Sean Penrith, executive director of The Climate Trust and Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer of Ducks Unlimited. The under secretary thanked Senator Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, for her staunch support for the program, which she said is delivering “real world measurable results.” Bonnie said he hopes this purchase will set a pattern for future carbon credit sales.

Are You Curious About What Lies Beneath the Earth’s Surface? So Are We!

Those curious about what’s below the water’s surface don snorkeling gear and immerse themselves into the depths of the ocean. But what about discovering what lurks below the earth’s surface, under topsoil, trees, shrubs, rocks and plants? 

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) in Nevada is curious, too, and the agency’s soil scientists have finished unearthing what kind of soils lie beneath the surface in portions of central and eastern Nevada. Their findings are available to assist farmers, ranchers, land managers, homeowners or those just simply curious about what lies beneath.

USDA Pledges Support to Restore Water Quality in Vermont’s Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain has been plagued by blue-green algae blooms caused by a large amount of phosphorous and other nutrients in the New England lake. Recently, USDA launched a special initiative in the Lake Champlain basin, which is composed of New York and Vermont, to invest $45 million in protecting and improving soil and water quality over the next five years.

“Our work helps farmers prevent phosphorus laden runoff which leads to the blue green algae blooms,” said Vicky Drew, the state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Vermont. “NRCS conservationists work with farmers to ensure that manure is properly stored, and we provide assistance in the application of manure to their fields according to a nutrient management plan.” 

New Fences Keep Cattle In, But Allow Elk & Wildlife to Move Freely

Long-time rancher John Nunn’s land is near a route where pronghorn migrate. His ranch is surrounded by woven fences, and although the pronghorn can sometimes find a way through, he wanted to ease access for them.

 “We found they would go a certain path, and we didn’t want to jeopardize that,” Nunn said.

Northeast Climate Hub, University Partners, to Assist Producers and Land Managers Adapt to Climate and Weather Variability

As Director of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, I am pleased to announce new partnerships with 12 land grant universities. This partnership effort will give the region’s farmers, foresters, and land managers better access to information and tools for adapting to climate and weather variability.

The Northeast Climate Hub is one of seven hubs around the country formed to address increasing climate and weather related risks to agriculture such as devastating floods, crippling droughts, extreme storms, fires, and invasive pests.

Ohio Farmers Show Their Commitment to Protecting Lake Erie

In the wake of a water crisis that left 400,000 Toledo, Ohio-area residents without water to drink, bathe or cook, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took action.

USDA created an opportunity for farmers in Ohio’s portion of the Western Lake Erie Basin to apply for a special initiative of Environmental Quality Incentives Program that focuses on cover crops. Farmers had one week to apply for assistance to plant cover crops through this initiative, the deadline for which passed earlier this week.