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People behind Scientific Innovation at USDA

The past eight years have been an extraordinary time for agricultural science, and for the application of new insights from other fields to enhance agricultural productivity and the overall agricultural economy. As the final days of this administration are approaching, it gives me a great deal of pride to look back at what USDA has accomplished in the areas of research and innovation.

Scientific research is a fundamental part of our mission at USDA. But, ultimately, what's behind all the science is people – people who do the research and people who are affected by it. As USDA's Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, I've met and worked with both as I've traveled across the country and around the world.

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.

US Forest Service Every Kid in a Park Program Offers Field Trip Idea, Educational Resources - and a Free Holiday Tree Permit

For the second year, the U.S. Forest Service is part of the administration’s Every Kid in a Park program, an initiative to provide American fourth graders with a free pass to more than 2,000 federal land and water sites for them, their siblings and up to three adults.

The pass includes access to 153 national forests, 20 grasslands and one tall grass prairie managed for the public by the Forest Service and other lands and waters managed by six other federal agencies. Some state parks also honor the pass.

Ranchers Using NRCS Conservation Practices Boost Prairie Chicken Occupancy

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That's the finding of a recent scientific study – the first part of a multi-year study – described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat have been restored on working lands.

European Grapevine Moth Cooperative Eradication Program: A Model for Fighting Future Invasive Species Threats

I was thrilled to celebrate with key partners and contributors in Napa County, California, recently at an event to recognize the critical safeguarding accomplishment we achieved together, that of eradicating the invasive European grapevine moth (EGVM) from the United States.

Leaders from the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and the California County Agricultural Commissioners came together with growers and industry representatives, who found and implemented the right tools to safeguard California grapes. In front of these critical partners, I was proud to recognize the extraordinary individual and group contributions that made the eradication of EGVM possible.

Biosecurity Education and Compliance are Critical in Preventing Avian Influenza Outbreaks

The December 2014 to June 2015 avian influenza outbreak was the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. The virus contributed to the death of more than 48 million birds, either due to infection with the virus or depopulation to prevent additional spread.  The virus was introduced into the U.S. by wild migratory waterfowl and then spread from farm to farm in a number of ways.  This included farms sharing equipment, vehicles moving between farms without being cleaned or disinfected, employees moving between infected and non-infected farms, rodents and small wild birds reported inside some poultry houses, and feed stored outside or without appropriate biosecurity measures. The virus spread was also assisted by instances of noncompliance with industry-recommended biosecurity practices.

Fortunately, avian influenza poses little threat to human health and food safety. Human infections with avian influenza are rare and most often occur after direct contact with an infected bird. Avian influenza does, however, adversely affect food availability and the economy. If a single bird became infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus during the 2014-15 outbreak, every bird in the same commercial poultry house – which contains an average of 30,000 birds – was depopulated.

Do It Yourself: Expert Help for Improving Bobwhite Habitat on Your Land

If you’re looking to save money around the house, you can find hundreds of helpful videos on a wide variety of “do it yourself” repair and remodeling projects. Social media and other online networking tools can put you in touch with experts to answer your questions along the way.

Well, wildlife habitat can be DIY, too. As a partner biologist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), I work one-on-one with landowners in Virginia to help them make wildlife-friendly improvements to their property, specifically improvements that benefit the northern bobwhite and associated species.

Looking to the Future and Learning from the Past in our National Forests

Forests are changing in ways they’ve never experienced before because today’s growing conditions are different from anything in the past. The climate is changing at an unprecedented rate, exotic diseases and pests are present, and landscapes are fragmented by human activity often occurring at the same time and place.

The current drought in California serves as a reminder and example that forests of the 21st century may not resemble those from the 20th century. When replanting a forest after disturbances, does it make sense to try to reestablish what was there before? Or, should we find re-plant material that might be more appropriate to current and future conditions of a changing environment?

Military Family Makes Healthy Eating a Priority: Meet Rocio and Her Family

Making healthy meal choices for your family, especially when you’re on the go like Rocio and her military family, can be rewarding and fun if you have the right tools.  The MyPlate, MyWins video: Meet Rocio features a real-life military family sharing their tips for success. Rocio shows how she and her husband teach their four boys the value of nutrition by preparing meals that feed their sons’ minds and bodies.

Rocio plans ahead and gets the kids involved in the dinner process.  Not only do they enjoy being involved in the meal preparation, but it helps them to know what they are eating, and teaches them the value of nutrition and eating together.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Katina Hanson

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from USDA’s own Katina Hanson, Chief of Staff to the Associate Administrator for Policy and Programs at the Farm Service Agency (FSA).  In addition to her duties as Chief of Staff, Katina led the successful implementation of the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP), a multimillion dollar investment to make renewable fuels more available to consumers across the country. She is also an active member of USDA’s Women in Ag network, serving as co-chair of the FSA chapter and on the USDA Women in Ag Executive Committee. She has a Bachelor of Science in Rangeland Ecology & Management from Texas A&M University and a Master of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Katina grew up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, living on a sailboat until she was 6 and later in a house located between two bayous.