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Oregon

Seeing is Believing: Soil Health Practices and No-Till Farming Transform Landscapes and Produce Nutritious Food

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and the future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources, but soil health is our foundation. And it’s the first conservation gift that we’re going to highlight. And without soil, we couldn’t celebrate with food. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

Curbing Soil Erosion

Soil is the foundation for a healthy environment. If you need proof that no-till farming works, look no further than the rolling hills of north-central Oregon.

For decades, this region was dominated by winter wheat farms that used extensive tillage to control weeds during fallow years. It was the conventional way of farming in the area, from the early 1900’s through the 1980’s.

Sagebrush Songbirds under the Sage Grouse Umbrella

The charismatic sage grouse is often in the spotlight as the flagship species in the sagebrush ecosystem. The smaller songbirds that live alongside the grouse don't always attract as much attention, but they are also good indicators of how the sagebrush range is faring.

Recently, in a project funded by the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Intermountain West Joint Venture (IMJV), scientists set out to evaluate whether investments in sage grouse conservation serve as an “umbrella” that extends benefits to other sagebrush-dependent wildlife, too. These findings are summarized in a new Science to Solutions report by SGI, a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

NRCS Helps to Keep Native American Traditions Alive

The 567 federally-recognized Native American Tribes are unique in their own way—from their languages and family structure, to their clothing and food. Tribes are working hard to revive their roots to help reconnect their heritage to the land, rekindle their spiritual bonds and cultural traditions, and raise awareness amongst future generations; especially tribal youth in line to inherit the land.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with the tribes like the Choctaw Indians, comprised of nearly 10,000 members across the United States, to farm and harvest hickory king corn and other heirloom white varieties, and process them to make hominy. Hominy is made from dried corn kernels, but it is expensive to purchase. NRCS provides the tribe with technical assistance to help transform idle land into a hominy-making enterprise–enabling the tribe to provide their own locally-grown, fresh produce, and cut their expenses by growing the corn.

Small Steps for Using the USDA Farm to School Census

Cross-posted from the National Farm to School Network website:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released final results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, showing that more than 42,000 schools across the country are operating farm to school programs and another 10,000 have plans to start in the future. During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased nearly $800 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers – a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year – and tended to more than 7,101 school gardens.

The Farm to School Census establishes a national baseline of farm to school activities happening across the country. Whether you’re interested in learning about the national landscape, what’s happening in your state or how your school district participates in farm to school, there are many ways that this information can be used to support your farm to school efforts. Here are three small steps you can take for using Census data to strengthen farm to school activities in your community:

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.

The Bio-Based Economy and Renewable Energy: USDA's Record of Success

One of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration has been our commitment to economic growth through an expanding bio-based economy.  Nowhere is that transformation more pronounced than the success of renewable energy.   And USDA Rural Development has been a leader in that effort.

The proof is in the numbers: Domestic energy-related emissions have fallen to their lowest level in 20 years.  Our dependence on foreign oil is at a 40-year low and declining. In the last eight years, USDA has helped lead an effort to promote the domestic production and use of advanced biofuels and biobased products, supporting millions of jobs and pumping hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars into the U.S. economy.

Growing Local Food Means Growing Opportunities

With sales of over $11 billion in 2014 and projected growth of 10 percent annually, local and regionally-produced food is the fastest growing sector of American agriculture. At USDA, we hear a lot from communities interested in strengthening the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s why we’re investing in projects across the country to help farm and food businesses tap into this growing market.

Yesterday, USDA announced more than $56 million in grants to support local and community food projects, including a program administered by my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program awarded over $26 million in competitive grants, divided equally between the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

USDA Proudly Supports the LGBT Community in Oregon and Nationwide

I recently had the privilege of representing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development at the Eugene/Springfield Pride Festival in southwestern Oregon. We stood side-by-side with our counterparts at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service. When this festival began 25 years ago, the idea of a government agency participating was unthinkable. At that time, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals had no assurance of equal treatment when requesting government services or financial assistance. In fact, it was not so long ago that federal employees suspected of being gay were fired from their jobs. This sad chapter in our history saw careers destroyed and lives irreparably damaged.

I am deeply proud of the tremendous progress we have made nationally and at home here in Oregon to correct those past mistakes. USDA has been among the first federal departments to participate in Pride festivals across Oregon, and we have been leading the way nationally in the arena of LGBT civil rights. We were one of the first federal departments to enact protections specifically on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. USDA has instituted training for our employees, and we have been making a concerted effort to reach out to our LGBT customers, partners, and potential future employees. As I handed out information on the financial programs in Rural Development and the career opportunities available with USDA in a park festooned with rainbows, I experienced first-hand the incredible strides we have made in recent years toward a new era of civil rights.

Measuring Hazelnuts in Oregon

Few realize that Oregon produces 99 percent of the hazelnuts in the United States. That means that an accurate forecast of hazelnut production in the Beaver state assists the industry in determining marketing plans and price. To do that, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service runs a joint project with the Hazelnut Marketing Board of Oregon, which allows us to measure the most accurate production yields and forecasts for hazelnut production possible. This project is called the Oregon Hazelnut Objective Yield Survey.

When it comes to forecasting production of a particular commodity, there are various methods we can use. Predominantly we survey growers to get their estimate of their own farm production. We combine the farmers’ responses with objective yield measurements. In brief, we use the objective yield survey to count and measure the crop prior to harvest so that we can see what kind of crop we can truly expect by the end of the growing season.

Cleaner Air through Cleaner Burning

"The burn box lets us burn during the summer months, when normally there’s a ban. It’s a useful tool. It burns really clean.” -- Cindy Collins

See more photos from the Hood River Air Quality Project on Flickr.

When Cindy Collins wakes up in Oregon and looks out at her 46-acre orchard—with Mt. Adams towering in the background—she feels like she’s at summer camp.