Forest Service Helps Farming Trees as Fuel Source

forestserviceIn honor of Earth Day today, the U.S. Forest Service is seeking proposals that expand wood energy use and support responsible forest management. This news release says the service is also offering a Wood Energy Financial App to help business leaders see a positive bottom line for these efforts.

“USDA through the Forest Service is supporting development of wood energy projects that promote sound forest management, expand regional economies, and create new jobs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These efforts, part of the Obama Administration’s ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, create opportunities for wood energy products to enter the marketplace.”

“Building stronger markets for innovative wood products supports sustainable forestry, reduces wildfire risk, and creates energy savings for rural America,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Under the Forest Service’s Wood-to-Energy Grant program, about $2.8 million will be made available to help successful applicants complete the engineering design work needed to apply for public or private loans for construction and long-term financing of wood energy facilities. Another $1.7 million from the Statewide Wood Energy Team cooperative agreement program will help public-private teams make advancements in wood energy.

The Wood Energy Financial App that allows users to do a simple and quick analysis to see if wood energy is a viable alternative for their community or small business. You can dowmload the app here.

Census of Agriculture Report Coming Soon

nama14-nassThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) announced it will publish the 2012 Census of Agriculture full report on May 2. The announcement was made last week as NASS Census and Survey Division Director Renee Picanso was attending the National Agri-Marketing Association conference in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Agribusinesses are highly represented here and they are definitely big users of the data,” she said during an interview. The complete data series will be available in multiple formats, including Quick Stats 2.0 – an online database to retrieve customized tables with Census data at the national, state and county levels.

Picanso says the census data is being released a little later than normal this time around. “Usually we release in early February, but with the government shut down last fall, we got a little bit behind,” she said. Interview with Renee Picanso, USDA-NASS

NCGA Joins REAP Initiative as Founding Partner

ncgaAt the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), the ATIP Foundation (Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership) has established a public-private partnership to enhance research on sustainable soil health for multiple land uses in agriculture. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has joined USDA and ATIP along with four other founding partners of the Resilient Economic Agricultural Practices (REAP) public-private partnership to support and strengthen soil health research that addresses the needs of U.S. farmers.

“We live in a nation that can easily satisfy all of its food needs thanks to the extraordinary productivity of our farmers and their careful management of our soil resources,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Through this public-private partnership, led by the ATIP Foundation, the agriculture sector has created a model of leveraging public and private resources to address sustainability and economic prosperity by enhancing research on land management practices.”

“NCGA and the other six founding participants of REAP that comprise the Technical Review Council, met recently with ARS scientists to broaden outreach to private, non-governmental and agriculture sectors that would benefit from ARS research,” said Don Glenn, Chair of NCGA’s Production and Stewardship Action Team Chair. “We feel that REAP research will not only identify important soil management practices, but will also contribute to the field work of the Soil Health Partnership launched earlier this year by NCGA with support from Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation.”

The REAP initiative consists of nine multi-state USDA ARS locations and their university partners who will pair regionally significant soil data sets with local practices. The focus of this research will be to identify the production and sustainable advantages of different soil management strategies.

Ag Day Celebration in DC Features Policy

The National Agriculture Day celebration in Washington DC has events spread across three days – and really it should be more because it is officially National Agriculture Week.

ag-day-14-sara-harden1Official events to celebrate agriculture kicked off Monday with the Farm to Fork politics session sponsored by Agri-Pulse. With a live audience of nearly 400, USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden sat down with Sara Wyant to discuss what they have been doing to implement the new farm bill. “Congress did give us a long time to plan, I’ll have to say that,” said Harden, who said the process really started when she took over the office last August, and continued as they waited and waited for Congress to finally get the bill passed.

Harden discussed the conservation title of the bill, which she says she is especially excited about. “Our goal is to really make sure that producers know all the opportunities they have as soon as possible,” she said. “I think farmers and ranchers will see it’s a good title with a lot of opportunities there.”

Listen to the conversation here: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden and Sara Wyant of Agri-Pulse

Agri-Pulse Ag Day Photo Album

Coverage of National Ag Day is sponsored by BCS Communications

USDA Helps Landowners in Conservation Practices

nrcsUSDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide $3.6 million in financial assistance for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota farmers and ranchers to help conserve wetlands and improve habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, control flooding and strengthen rural economies. The finding is available through the Water Bank Program (WBP). NRCS will accept applications from now until April 18, 2014.

“The Water Bank Program provides a unique opportunity to keep water on the land for the benefit of wildlife, such as waterfowl, while also contributing to flood control, water quality and rural economies,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Through WBP, landowners receive annual payments through a 10-year rental agreement for conserving and protecting wetlands and adjacent lands that may otherwise be used for annual crop production or other activities that require drainage. The program also helps restore upland habitat for more
than 300 species of migratory birds that rely on the Prairie Pothole region for breeding, nesting and resting.

Severe flooding of agriculture land has been a problem in this region and has affected hundreds of farmers. In 2012, landowners enrolled more than 15,000 acres into the Water Bank Program. Eligible land for this year’s WBP included flooded agricultural land, flooded hay, pasture or rangeland and
flooded private forestland.

Find out more here.

Secretary Vilsack Attends 5th Commodity Classic

classic14-vilsack-stageHe’s been a regular fixture at Commodity Classic, with this year his fifth appearance at the annual gathering of corn, wheat, soybean and sorghum growers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s message to those gathered in San Antonio at this morning’s general session was how thankful he is for many things.

“It is awfully nice to come here today to talk about the PASSAGE of a Farm Bill, as opposed the need for a Farm Bill,” adding that commodity groups, such as those gathered in front of him, made the new law a reality. Vilsack said we don’t thank farmers enough for the work they do, especially considering how vital they are in the food, energy and economic security America enjoys. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with making sure the implementation of the Farm Bill translates into hope for all farmers, old and new alike. “Our Farm Bill, which you helped pass, for me creates a hopeful set of opportunities and rewards, and will invest in innovation.”

Looking forward, Vilsack said they want to continue the new trend of more young farmers coming back to rural America, especially encouraging minorities, women and returning military veterans to take up what has become again a strong industry. He also outlined how USDA would approach some of the new programs in the Farm Bill and how his agency would provide knowledge and flexibility to producers so they can get the most out of it and manage risks responsibly.

Transcript of speech

Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

Vilsack Classic Press Conference

2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Coverage is sponsored by John Deere

USDA Updates CropScape Data Tool

cropscapeBetter information on cropland will be at the fingertips of farmers across the country, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated its online geospatial exploring tool, CropScape. This National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) news release says CropScape has added Cropland Data Layers from crop year 2013 that gives the public an easy access to interactive data, without having to download specialized software.

These new Cropland Data Layer products, which are derived from satellite image observations at 30-meter (0.22 acres per pixel) resolution, help users visualize U. S. crop planted area during the last calendar year. Three earth observing satellites were used for the production of this product, including; the newly launched Landsat 8, and Disaster Monitoring Constellation’s Deimos-1 and UK2.

NASS developed CropScape in cooperation with the Center for Spatial Information Science and Systems at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

You can check out the online tool here.

Grant Applications for Conservation Innovation Efforts

The U.S. Department of Agricultureusda-logo (USDA) is accepting applications for competitive grants to develop and accelerate conservation approaches and technologies on private agricultural and forest lands.

“Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) have contributed to some of the most pioneering conservation work on America’s agricultural and forest lands,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “It’s an excellent investment in new conservation technologies and approaches that farmers, ranchers and forest landowners can use to achieve their production and conservation goals.”

About $15 million will be made available nationwide by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). State and local governments, federally recognized Indian tribes, non-governmental and educational organizations, private businesses and individuals are eligible to apply.

Vilsack said priority will be given to applications that relate to nutrient management, energy conservation, soil health, air quality, climate change, wildlife, economics, sociology, environmental markets, food safety, historically underserved groups, or assessments of past CIG projects.

NRCS and Forest Service Partner for Forest Health

NRCSUSDA has announced a multi-year partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health forest ecosystems across the nation. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie made the announcement this week in Helena, Montana, near the site of the Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir, one of the first areas to be addressed through the partnership. Another area to be targeted is the San Bernardino/Riverside County area of California which experienced catastrophic wildfires a decade ago.

“NRCS and the Forest Service have the same goal in this partnership – working across traditional boundaries and restoring the health of our forests and watersheds whether they’re on public or private lands,” said Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie.

WSS Update Improves Data Delivery, Customer Service

12306461954_6bf4bc69a9Data on soils on the nation’s 3,265 soil survey areas are now updated and available free online from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

This update, the first since the Web Soil Survey went online in 2005, features:

  • Soils data for the Continental U.S. that flows seamlessly, without gaps, across county lines and other political boundaries;
  • A full complement of national soil survey interpretations that let users analyze interpretations nationally, regionally and in several states at one time;
  • The first set of soil survey Major Land Resource Area update projects; and
  • A subscription feature that forwards updates for specific soil survey areas directly to customers via email.

The NRCS Web Soil Survey now serves more than 180,000 users a month, attracting a large audience that includes landscape architects, community planners, real estate developers, engineers, as well as researchers in universities. Everyday, people in agriculture reference the survey, as do NRCS employees as they help customers with a host of issues and questions, and putting together conservation plans.

Conservation Measures to Help California

USDA-LogoAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced USDA is making $20 million available for agricultural water conservation efforts throughout California to combat the effects of drought.

calif-drought“This $20 million will be directed to drought mitigation, focused on improving irrigation efficiency, providing producers resources to stabilize fallow ground and to assist with watering facilities and grazing distribution,” said Vilsack during a press conference Tuesday with Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “We expect this is the first of a number of announcements that will be made this week and in the future to provide assistance.”

“We in California are facing a disaster that has the potential to devastate our economy,” said Costa. “We have not had this dry a time period in all of California’s recorded history, that’s how bad it is.”

Interested landowners and managers have until March 3, 2014 to apply for available funds.USDA media call on California drought

National Resources Inventory Report Summary

header_nrcsFindings in the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) 2010 National Resources Inventory (NRI) Report shows a boom in growing certain specialty crops, in agricultural land, stable erosion rates and notable land use changes.

The report is designed to show a summary on the status, condition and trends of land, soil, water and related resources on the nation’s private lands from 1982 through 2010. Data from 800,000 sample locations from across the country is included in the report.

“The NRI summary report is the only report of its kind and is one of our most comprehensive tools to understanding what’s actually happening on the country’s landscape,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “As a science-based organization, this information is an invaluable resource to help us understand where conservation is working and where we need to focus more effort.”

The NRCS has begun to increase the frequency of these reports because of the dynamic changes in the agricultural and related land use.

Highlights from report include:

  • Land dedicated for fruits, nuts and flowers increased from 124,800 in 2007 to 273,800 in 2010;
  • Cropland acreage increased by about 2 million acres from 2007 to 2010 after a steady decline over the previous 25 years;
  • Acres in pastureland increased by 847,000 acres;
  • Developed land increased two percent from 111.1 to 113.3 million acres;
  • Palustrine wetlands, such as swamps or marshes, and estuarine wetlands, such as a river flowing into the ocean, saw a small increase from 1997 to 2010;
  • Cropland erosion rates remained stable despite a growth in agricultural land use and more extreme weather events, such as drought and floods.

“We’re excited that more farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have chosen to voluntarily install conservation practices on their operations,” Weller said. “Because of their hard work and dedication, cropland erosion rates have remained stable even though more land is in production.”

Download the complete report here. For more information, contact the NRI Help Desk at nri@wdc.usda.gov.

Attention Farming Entrepreneurs

afbf-14-ladanThe American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and The Georgetown University McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) recently announced a partnership to help strengthen rural America. The multi-year collaboration will address solutions to building greater economic opportunity and security for those who live in rural communities, starting with a program involving the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative to advance rural entrepreneurship.

Chuck spoke with Ladan Manteghi, Executive Director of Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University, about the collaboration.

“The purpose of the Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative is really to help provide resources to anyone who has an idea for a new business or who have a entrepreneurial spirit and be able to strengthen the economic security of rural America.”

“Farmers are considered the original entrepreneurs and we believe that is the case. But often times there are two components to this. Farmers have ideas beyond whats in the farm gate. We want to be able to provide the tools and resources necessary to bring those ideas to market. Second, there are a lot of people in rural America who aren’t farmers and want the opportunity to build economic security and financial opportunity and need these resources as well.”

Ladan also shared hopes for a future collaboration with USDA. During the AFBF Convention Sec. of Agriculture Vilsack said, “It creates a sense of entrepreneurship so that you have investors and entrepreneurs looking for opportunities to start businesses in rural areas. The program dovetails with what we are doing at USDA– trying to educate investment banks and investors about the opportunities to invest in rural opportunities.”

AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “Our partnership with Georgetown is dedicated to giving them and other leaders in rural communities nationwide both a forum and the practical means to brainstorm, strategize and bring their inspirations to fruition and, ultimately, strengthen their communities.”

Listen to Chuck’s interview with Ladan here: Interview with Ladan Manteghi

2014 AFBF Convention Photos

Deadline Extended for Conservation Stewardship

header_nrcsThe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the deadline for new enrollments in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) for fiscal year 2014. Producers interested in participating in the program can now submit applications to NRCS through Feb. 7, 2014.

“Extending the enrollment deadline will make it possible for more farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to apply for this important Farm Bill conservation program,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Through their conservation actions, these good stewards are ensuring that their operations are more productive and sustainable over the long run and CSP can help them take their operations to the next level of natural resource management.”

Weller said today’s announcement is another example of USDA’s comprehensive focus on promoting environmental conservation and strengthening the rural economy, and it is a reminder that a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is pivotal to continue these efforts. CSP is now in its fifth year and so far, NRCS has partnered with producers to enroll more than 59 million acres across the nation.

Producers earn higher payments for higher performance. In CSP, producers install conservation enhancements to make positive changes in soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, animal resources and energy use.

Eligible landowners and operators in all states and territories can enroll in CSP through Feb. 7 to be eligible during fiscal 2014. While local NRCS offices accept CSP applications year round, NRCS evaluates applications during announced ranking periods. To be eligible for this year’s enrollment, producers must have their applications submitted to NRCS by the closing date.

A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. The checklist highlights basic information about CSP eligibility requirements, stewardship threshold requirements and payment types.

Learn more about CSP by visiting the NRCS website or any local USDA service center.

Former NRCS Chief on Conservation Program Future

bruce-knightA former chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service says both the House and Senate farm bills are similar when it comes to reduced funding and consolidation of conservation programs. Bruce Knight, who served as NRCS chief in the Bush administration, gave a synopsis at a Farm Foundation forum on conservation last week.

“The largest difference is whether or not to link conservation compliance to the farm bill,” he said, but he notes that compliance already is linked to shallow loss and marketing loans in both bills.

Knight thinks consolidating conservation programs is a big positive and he believes linking compliance to crop insurance may also be positive in the long run. “That linkage to crop insurance is vitally important long term for being able to defend both crop insurance and farm programs and conservation benefits,” said Knight.

Listen to Knight’s comments here: Former NRCS Chief Bruce Knight at Farm Foundation Forum