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Arizona 4-H Director Earns Awards for Leadership in Nepal

With more than 6.5 million American youth actively involved in 4-H, it’s not unusual to think of 4-H as an “All-American” tradition – and that’s OK, but there’s more to the story.  The fact is, it is estimated that more than 7 million youth in 80 countries around the world are 4-H’ers.  Now, thanks to the efforts of a man from Arizona, the mountainous Asian nation of Nepal has joined the 4-H family.

Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development program within University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, spent August and September 2014 in Nepal teaching local youth development professionals the finer points of creating a 4-H program and laying the groundwork for three members of the Nepal National Youth Federation to attend the 1st Global 4-H Summit in South Korea.  As a result, the group in January received official government recognition for the Nepal 4-H national organization.

Strengthening Produce Businesses, One Program at a Time

Successful businesses all seem to have a common bond – a commitment to quality, consistency, and integrity. During a recent trip with my colleagues, I saw firsthand the many ways that companies are turning to my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – to provide these factors to pave their path to success.

Our first stop was the packinghouse at West Coast Tomato LLC in Palmetto, Fla. Thanks to meeting USDA audit requirements, the high-volume packer can confidently sell its tomatoes to restaurants, grocery stores, and re-packing companies. The fascinating thing about West Coast Tomato LLC is that the facility is nearly completely automated. Almost all of the tomatoes are sized and sorted mechanically. “Our use of technology has significantly decreased our re-packing,” says plant director John Darling. “As a result, we’re better equipped to meet buyer requirements.”

New Farmers and Ranchers: Ever Thought About Exporting?

The first step in running a successful farm or ranch business is identifying a product to create and connecting that product to potential customers.  For some new and beginning farmers, it can be a challenge to connect to the right market opportunities and to build a business that fits.

At USDA, we are working to make sure that there is access to markets at all levels - so that whether a new or beginning farmer wants to sell locally, regionally, nationally, or globally, they have access to tools that support their business and business development.

World's Best Soil Judgers Visit Washington, Meet Secretary Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hosted the world’s eight best soil judges last week after they earned the top spots at the 1st International Soil Judging Contest in Jeju, South Korea, in June.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Science Division was actively involved in organizing the event and mentoring the winners. The first and second place teams, both from the U.S., along with their coaches, participated in a roundtable discussion with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller to talk about soil judging, the importance of soil health, and careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and The People’s Garden.

It was the first international soil judging contest, but soil judging in the United States dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification and interpretation of soil, with the main purpose of helping students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils. A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, entering a soil pit to examine the profile. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed.

Tracing a Path Out of a Costly Trade Dispute

When we shop for items like orange juice at the grocery store, we often take for granted what goes on behind the scenes before we can enjoy these quality foods. Our nation’s producers and processors do not take it for granted. These products represent their livelihood, and the ability to reach new customers—especially through the export market—is critical to their businesses’ success. Recently, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) helped four businesses from Florida avert a costly 54% tariff, enabling them to continue to export frozen concentrated orange juice duty free to South Korea.

The US – Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) exempts U.S. orange juice from a 54% tariff when exported to Korea. However, in March 2013 Korean officials questioned the domestic origin of orange juice exported from the Sunshine State to the East Asian country. Without proof that the juice came from the U.S., exporters faced the costly tariff and the volume of exports to South Korea decreased. It was a huge loss for the Florida citrus industry which creates 76,000 jobs and pumps $9 billion into its local economy.

USDA Export Development Program Helps Boost U.S. Blueberry Exports

Spring is here and brings with it many fresh healthy foods, including blueberries. Known for their antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, blueberries are a healthy option that is becoming more popular around the world and the U.S. blueberry industry is taking advantage of this demand with the help of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Market Access Program (MAP).

Through MAP, FAS partners with U.S. agricultural trade associations, cooperatives, state regional trade groups and small businesses to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities that help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products and commodities.

Made in Rural America: Helping Appalachian Business Sell to the World

When President Obama signed the Food Farm and Jobs Act on February 7th he directed his Administration, working through the White House Rural Council, to lead a new “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative. Specifically, the President has instructed his Rural Council – in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and other agencies – to commit to connecting more rural businesses of all types to export information and assistance.

One example of what USDA will do in support of the Made In Rural America export and investment initiative is host training sessions to equip local USDA Rural Development staff in all 50 states plus territories with the tools they need to counsel businesses on export opportunities and resources. The Department of Commerce, through the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, will cross-train USDA Rural Development staff so they can better deliver support or refer rural businesses to federal services.

The blog below, cross-posted from the White House Rural Council blog, highlights the impact that the Made In Rural America Initiative will have with our partners at the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Secretary's Column: A New Farm Bill to Carry On America's Record Agricultural Trade

Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen yet another banner year for U.S. agricultural exports. Exports of U.S. farm and ranch products reached a record $140.9 billion in 2013 and supported about a million U.S. jobs. In fact, compared to the previous five-year period from 2004-2008, U.S. agricultural exports from 2009-2013 increased by a total of nearly $230 billion.

All told, the past five years represent the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history for agricultural exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has focused on two key factors in recent years to help make this success possible. First, an unprecedented effort by USDA and our Federal partners to expand and grow markets around the world. Second, a commitment to make sure our farmers and ranchers have the tools to grow more, even in the face of uncertainty.

Highlighting Inclusion, Diversity and Human Rights at the Special Olympics World Winter Games

Cross posted from the White House blog:

During recent days we have had the honor as part of a U.S. Presidential Delegation to accompany more than 150 U.S. Special Olympians to the 2013 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. In addition to the Opening Ceremonies of the games on Tuesday, the Presidential Delegation had a unique chance to spend time with the athletes and view some of the events.

While we have made a special effort to cheer on the U.S. athletes on behalf of the President, the Special Olympics is about far more than winning – it’s about encouraging diversity, celebrating inclusion and recommitting to the human rights of persons with disabilities around the world.

People with disabilities come from all walks of life, genders, every social class, and all religious traditions. Most of us have a family member, friend or acquaintance with a disability. People with disabilities make tremendous contributions to our society, to our families, to our neighborhoods – adding to the diversity that makes America a unique and special place to call home.

Secretary's Column: An Update on Exports

The past four years have been tremendously positive for America’s efforts to export more agricultural goods and products around the world.

The brand of American agriculture is soaring worldwide. In fact, 2009 to 2012 represents the best four years in our nation’s history for agricultural exports. Exports have grown more than 50% over that period of time.

We have reason to believe that more good news is ahead. Recently, USDA economists forecast agricultural product exports for next year to exceed $145 billion. That would set yet another new record – and it would allow agricultural exports to continue supporting more than a million jobs.