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Looking Ahead: Adding Seats to the Table to Diversify the Agricultural Workforce

From the field to the fork, we need diversity in agriculture.  I’m proud to say that here at USDA, we are doing our part to make sure young people have access to the wide array of opportunities available. Over the next five years, we can expect to see an average of 57,900 jobs become available annually in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. However, only 35,400 students will graduate with the specialized degrees and expertise to fill those jobs, leaving 39 percent to be filled by young people with talent in other areas. We need to expand the talent pool and change the dialogue to show agriculture as an attractive, meaningful career path.

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a roundtable discussion with leaders from industry, higher education, and the nonprofit sector to share best practices on how we can come together to grow a diverse pipeline of talent for U.S. agriculture. Together, we were able to discuss what’s working, and where we can improve to create opportunities for young people of all backgrounds to ultimately strengthen the ag workforce.

Seeds Spur Growth in International Relations

The U.S. seed industry and the international market continue to grow to keep up with feeding the world’s population.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is helping to ensure the availability of products that start with seeds through the enforcement of laws and management of international programs that promote the interests of the U.S. seed industry.

AMS promotes the research and development of new plants and crops by protecting plant breeders’ rights through laws such as the Plant Variety Protection Act and the Federal Seed Act.  AMS also protects the interest of U.S. businesses – including the $1.5 billion U.S. seed industry – by representing them at international meetings, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Seed Schemes.

Creating Uniformity in a Diverse Industry

During its 100 years of serving the livestock industry, USDA Market News – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – has prided itself in creating transparency and clarity in the marketplace by allowing all industry stakeholders to have the same information about the market at the same time.  The entire agricultural supply chain relies on USDA Market News for timely, unbiased data.  Without this free service, information would not be available to everyone equally, making USDA Market News a vital lifeline for America’s agricultural economy.

Over the years, countless changes have occurred in the livestock industry – like the way that livestock standards are applied and the way market reporting is conducted.  To keep up with these changes, livestock correlations are held to assure the industry that all USDA market reporters are applying the USDA’s livestock grades and standards consistently and accurately.

Chicken Ranching Boosts Pasture Soil Health on Iowa Farm

When bison roamed the Great Plains, prairie chickens and other fowl played an important role as the clean-up crew. They would follow the herds feasting on the larvae in bison manure.

In Doug Darrow’s 160-acre mob grazing system near Oxford, Iowa, his 300 chickens have the same job, but they ride in style from paddock to paddock in an old school bus that doubles as a chicken coop. “This means there are fewer flies to pester the cows,” said Darrow. This natural form of pest control, improves herd health and rate of gain, while providing another income source from the eggs laid by the clean-up crew.

Envisioning a Stronger Economy for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Recently USDA Rural Development staff in South Dakota spent two days at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Sioux, where they met with Tribal leaders, educators and other Federal partners.  They made this trip as part of a broader administration effort to change the way the federal government works with communities. This approach values residents’ knowledge of their communities’ strengths and needs; it also includes local leaders as essential partners and collaborators.

Jennifer Irving, Director of Regional Equity for Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, a local non-profit intimately involved in one-such effort at Pine Ridge said, “It is important to coordinate engagement of the Promise Zone stakeholders to ensure that Tribal Leadership’s vision and priorities are being met while optimizing Tribal commitment of time and resources.”

USDA Investments Make Big Impact in Rural America

USDA Rural Development’s just released 2015 Progress Report highlights the many ways that the Agency’s investments in businesses and communities created jobs, provided economic opportunities and improved local infrastructure for millions of rural residents.

This report also presents the historic level of investment in rural communities since President Obama took office in 2009. Among the highlights, USDA:

Fun New eBooks Help Kids Discover MyPlate

The recently-released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 highlights how many Americans need to shift their dietary patterns to include more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, seafood, and oils and eat fewer refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.  Perhaps your family has also set some new year’s resolutions to try some new vegetables or whole grains or choose fruit as snacks.

To help your family embrace these small changes towards a healthier lifestyle, the Food and Nutrition Service provides a variety of recipes, tips, and materials for kids through its Team Nutrition initiative.  Our latest resource is a collection of eight eBooks that teach young children about MyPlate and the types of foods found in each food group.  It’s nutrition education that’s fun and easy to use right from your mobile device!

A Home for the Backbone of California Agriculture

California and agriculture go hand in hand; it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other. Similarly, we can’t talk about our farmers and ranchers and not mention the farm workers – the backbone of California’s agriculture industry.

Eduardo Jaramillo has spent much of his life working in the vineyards in Calistoga, part of California’s world-renowned Napa Valley wine region. “I love working with the earth, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else,” he explained. To afford housing, he and his wife shared a house with their adult son. But when an electrical malfunction caused a fire - destroying the house - they were devastated. They lost everything. With help from their church they were able to find new housing, but the high rent coupled with the added burden of replacing their furniture and other basic necessities proved too much. They faced the real possibility of being forced to leave Calistoga, and the vineyards Eduardo had spent his life cultivating.

Shiitake Mushrooms: A Commercial Forest Farming Enterprise

Helping landowners care for their forests and strengthen local economies is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service, USDA National Agroforestry Center and their partnering organizations.

According to Ken Mudge of Cornell University, any farmer with a woodlot and the drive to diversify should consider forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms. They are well suited to the increasing demand for locally produced, healthy foods.

With a retail price of $12 to $20 per pound, the demand for shiitakes is considerable throughout the Northeast. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms encourages landowners to learn more about managing their forests.

Future of Agriculture: Creating Change from the Ground Up

The face of agriculture is changing. At USDA, we want you to know that whether you come from a farming background or not, grew up in a rural, suburban or urban area, that there are opportunities for you to get involved in agriculture. It is my highest priority as Deputy Secretary to ensure that beginning farmers and the growing ranks of agriculture - women, young people, immigrants, minorities, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees - have access to the programs and support they need.

That is why yesterday, I joined Congresswoman Gwen Graham at Florida A&M University to talk about the importance of diversity in agriculture. There are a host of resources available at USDA and beyond, especially now that Florida has been named a StrikeForce state. I also announced that farmers can now use our popular microloans to gain access to land. These are just some of the tools that are helping new farmers succeed.