USDA Observes Kick Off of the International Year of Soils

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began its celebration of the International Year of Soils to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions and resilient farms and ranches.

“Healthy soil is the foundation that ensures working farms and ranches become more productive, resilient to climate change and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during an event today at USDA headquarters. “We join the world in celebrating this living and life-giving resource.”

With an increasing global population, a shrinking agricultural land base, climate change and extreme weather events, the nations of the world are focusing their collective attention to the primary resource essential to food production-the soil. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), working within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, spearheaded the adoption of a resolution by the UN General Assembly designating 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The year of awareness aims to increase global understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.

“Most people don’t realize that just beneath our feet lies a diverse, complex, life-giving ecosystem that sustains our entire existence,” said Jason Weller, chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “We are helping producers unlock the power of soil health as part of an important and very successful national campaign. Our campaign demonstrates our renewed commitment to soil conservation and soil health.”

NRCS is coordinating activities to mark USDA’s involvement in the International Year of Soils. Nearly 80 years ago, NRCS, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, was created to improve the health and sustainability of our nation’s soils. The agency’s original mission continues to this day – providing assistance to producers looking to improve the health of the soil on their land.

Conservation that works to improve soil health is one of the best tools NRCS has to help landowners face these impending challenges – and maintain and improve their productivity with the use of soil management systems that includes cover crops, conservation tillage and no-till and crop rotations. These systems reduce sediment loss from farms and ranches, buffer the effects of drought, flood and other severe weather; sequester carbon and create biodiversity in our rural landscape.

“International Year of Soils provides an opportunity for us to learn about the critical role soil conservation and improved soil health play in the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture,” Weller said.

Working with the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and other partners, NRCS will be showcasing the importance of soil with monthly themes created by SSSA:

January: Soils Sustain Life

February: Soils Support Urban Life

March: Soils Support Agriculture

April: Soils Clean and Capture Water

May: Soils Support Buildings/Infrastructure

June: Soils Support Recreation

July: Soils Are Living

August: Soils Support Health

September: Soils Protect the Natural Environment

October: Soils and Products We Use

November: Soils and Climate

December: Soils, Culture and People

For more information, visit NRCS’s soil health webpage or the International Year of Soils webpage.

Greater Crop Insurance Protection Now Offered for Fruit, Vegetable and Specialty Crop Growers

Greater crop insurance protection is now available for crops that traditionally have been ineligible for federal crop insurance. New provisions under Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program will provide greater coverage for losses when natural disasters affect specialty crops such as vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, floriculture, ornamental nursery, aquaculture, turf grass, ginseng, honey, syrup and energy crops.

“For years, commodity crop farmers have had the ability to purchase insurance to keep their crops protected, and it only makes sense that fruit and vegetable, and other specialty crop growers, should be able to purchase similar levels of protection,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Previously, the program offered coverage at 55 percent of the average market price for crop losses that exceed 50 percent of expected production. Producers can now choose higher levels of crop insurance coverage, up to 65 percent of their expected production at 100 percent of the average market price.

Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Historic New Course for U.S.-Cuba Relations

The following was written by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: 

“Throughout history, agriculture has served as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas among people. I have no doubt that agriculture will continue to play that powerful role as we expand our relationship with the Cuban people in the coming years.

“Today’s announcement expands opportunity for U.S. farmers and ranchers to do business in Cuba. It removes technical barriers between U.S. and Cuban companies and creates a more efficient, less burdensome opportunity for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products. It also makes those products far more price competitive, which will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at the grocery store and create a new customer base for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

USDA Disaster Assistance to Help Thousands of Honeybee, Livestock and Farm-Raised Fish Producers

The USDA announced that nearly 2,500 applicants will receive disaster assistance through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) for losses suffered from October 1, 2011, through September  30, 2013.

The program, re-authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides disaster relief to livestock, honeybee, and farm-raised fish producers not covered by other agricultural disaster assistance programs. Eligible losses may include excessive heat or winds, flooding, blizzards, hail, wildfires, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions, and diseases, or in the case of honeybees, losses due to colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers, most of whom suffered honeybee colony losses, represent more than half of ELAP recipients.

“As promised, we’re making sure that thousands of producers who suffered through two and a half difficult years without Farm Bill assistance, are getting some relief,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Once the Farm Bill was restored, not only did we implement the disaster assistance programs in record time, we’re issuing payments less than three months after the enrollment deadline. The funds will hopefully help producers with some of the financial losses they sustained during that time.”

The Farm Bill caps ELAP disaster funding at $20 million per federal fiscal year. To accommodate the number of requests, which exceeded funds available for each of the affected years, payments will be reduced to ensure that all eligible applicants receive a prorated share of assistance.

ELAP was made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit  www.usda.gov/farmbill.

To learn more about USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster assistance programs, visit the FSA factsheet page at  www.fsa.usda.gov/factsheets or contact your local FSA office at http://go.usa.gov/pYV3.

USDA Helps Open and Expand Export Markets for U.S. Agriculture

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service has awarded funding to more than 60 U.S. agricultural organizations to help expand commercial export markets for American products.

“The Market Access and Foreign Market Development Programs help agricultural organizations representing thousands of producers and businesses open and grow markets for American products around the world,” Vilsack said. “Exports create jobs and foster growth that is critically important for rural communities and our entire nation’s economy.”

Through the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Agricultural Service 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. The program, which focuses on consumer promotion, including brand promotion for small companies and cooperatives, is used extensively by organizations promoting fruits, vegetables, nuts, processed products, and bulk and intermediate commodities. Through MAP, the Foreign Agricultural Service will provide $173.2 million to 62 nonprofit organizations and cooperatives. Participants contribute an average 214 percent match for generic marketing and promotion activities and a dollar-for-dollar match for promotion of branded products by small businesses and cooperatives.

The Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program focuses on trade servicing and trade capacity building by helping to create, expand and maintain long-term export markets for U.S. agricultural products. Under FMD, also known as the Cooperator Program, the Foreign Agricultural Service will allocate $26.7 million to 22 trade organizations that represent U.S. agricultural producers. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service partners with U.S. agricultural producers and processors, who are represented by non-profit commodity or trade associations called cooperators. The organizations, which on average contribute nearly triple the amount they receive in federal resources, will conduct activities that help maintain or increase the demand for U.S. agricultural commodities overseas.

USDA’s international market development programs have had a significant and positive impact on U.S. agricultural exports. An independent study released in 2010 found that trade promotion programs like MAP and FMD provide $35 in economic benefits for every dollar spent by government and industry on market development.

The past six years represent the strongest period for U.S. agricultural exports in the history of the United States. Farm exports in fiscal year 2014 reached a record $152.5 billion and supported 1 million jobs in the United States.

Veterans and Youth Projects Announced as part of Veterans Day Observance

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Today, as part of the observance of Veterans Day, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) announced the partners and projects that will be funded in this fiscal year to provide job and training opportunities to veterans and youth.

“Our continuing work to support the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps  (21CSC) is not only in concert with the Obama Administration’s goal of reconnecting Americans to the outdoors, it also furthers crucial projects that improve forest health, watershed restoration and recreational opportunities,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This landmark partnership with AmeriCorps to jointly support service opportunities for youth and veterans is an all-around win for our young people and our public lands.”Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 10.12.02 PM

“This is a great example of an innovative partnership that expands economic opportunity for young people, taps the leadership skills of veterans, improves our national forests, and puts a new generation on a lifelong path of service,” said Wendy Spencer, chief executive officer for CNCS. “Young people and veterans bring extraordinary skill and passion to conservation service, and we are thrilled to join with USDA to expand service opportunities that strengthen our environment and build economic opportunity for those who serve.”

The projects will create opportunities for 300 youth and veterans who will serve through AmeriCorps and as part of the 21CSC, working to restore and conserve natural and historic resources on National Forests and Grasslands in more than 10 states. The $3.7 million in joint funding for this effort was announced earlier this year.

USDA partnered with CNCS to identify and jointly fund high-quality projects. In addition, funding was allocated to partner organizations whose work helps accomplish key Forest Service priorities, including hazardous fuels management, watershed protection, trail maintenance, and recreation and facilities management. The new partnership also reflects the spirit of the Presidential Task Force on Expanding National Service, which is charged with addressing national challenges by expanding national service opportunities through interagency and public-private partnerships.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Social Innovation Fund, and other programs, and leads President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. For more information, visit  NationalService.gov.

USDA to provide $4 million for honey bee habitat

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees.

“The future of America’s food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

An estimated $15 billion worth of crops is pollinated by honey bees, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. This announcement renews and expands a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest.

From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.

The assistance announced will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, and providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators.

This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida.

 

New Farm Bill Program to Help Provide Relief to Farmers Affected by Severe Weather

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the implementation of a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. The Actual Production History (APH) Yield Exclusion, available nationwide for farmers of select crops starting next spring, allows eligible producers who have been hit with severe weather to receive a higher approved yield on their insurance policies through the federal crop insurance program.

Spring crops eligible for APH Yield Exclusion include corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, barley, canola, sunflowers, peanuts, and popcorn. Nearly three-fourths of all acres and liability in the federal crop insurance program will be covered under APH Yield Exclusion.

“Key programs launched or extended as part of the 2014 Farm Bill are essential to USDA’s commitment to help rural communities grow. These efforts give farmers, ranchers and their families better security as they work to ensure Americans have safe and affordable food,” said Vilsack. “By getting other 2014 Farm Bill programs implemented efficiently, we are now able to offer yield exclusion for Spring 2015 crops, providing relief to farmers impacted by severe weather.”

The APH Yield Exclusion allows farmers to exclude yields in exceptionally bad years (such as a year in which a natural disaster or other extreme weather occurs) from their production history when calculating yields used to establish their crop insurance coverage.

The level of insurance coverage available to a farmer is based on the farmer’s average recent yields. By excluding unusually bad years, farmers will not have to worry that a natural disaster will reduce their insurance coverage for years to come.

Under the new Farm Bill program, yields can be excluded from farm actual production history when the county average yield for that crop year is at least 50 percent below the 10 previous consecutive crop years’ average yield.

Federal crop insurance, which is sold through private crop insurance agents, offers a variety of options that may impact coverage and premium costs. Producers are encouraged to work with their crop insurance agent to determine the coverage that best meets their risk management needs. Farmers can find a crop insurance agent in their area at: www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html.

 

USDA to Help Farmers Diversify Weed Control Efforts

USDA Addresses Herbicide Resistant Weed Control

Edited by California Ag Today

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced TODAY the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking steps to address the increase of herbicide resistant weeds in the country’s agricultural systems.

In California, glyphosate resistant weeds are found throughout the state, and growers are warned to minimize using the material back-to-back during weed control. More information can be found http://info.ucanr.org/weed_sept/.

“Weed control in major crops is almost entirely accomplished with herbicides today,” said Vilsack. “USDA, working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, must continue to identify ways to encourage producers to adopt diverse tactics for weed management in addition to herbicide control. The actions we are taking today are part of this effort.”

To help farmers manage their herbicide-resistant weeds more holistically and sustainably:

  • USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will offer financial assistance under its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for herbicide resistant weed control practices that utilize Integrated Pest Management plans and practices.
  • Later this year NRCS will be soliciting proposals under the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program for innovative conservation systems that address herbicide resistant weeds.
  • USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will actively promote use of best management practices (BMPs) in design protocols for regulated authorized releases of genetically engineered (GE) crops and will include recommendations for BMPs with the authorization of field trials of HR crops.
  • USDA is partnering with the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) and is providing funds to develop education and outreach materials for various stakeholders on managing herbicide resistant weeds. The Secretary has directed Dr. Sheryl Kunickis, Director of the USDA Office of Pest Management Policy, as the point person leading this effort with the USDA.

 

USDA works with the EPA

The issue of herbicide resistant weeds has become one of increasing importance for agriculture. When herbicides are repeatedly used to control weeds, the weeds that survive herbicide treatment can multiply and spread.

With EPA’s announcement TODAY on the registration of new uses for herbicide mixtures containing the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate (in the Enlist® formulation) in conjunction with new genetically-engineered crop varieties, farmers have more tools for improved management of emerging populations of herbicide-resistant weeds in corn and soybeans crops. In its decision for 2,4-D use on genetically modified corn and soybean, EPA has outlined new requirements for registrants as part of a product stewardship program.

The USDA Office of Pest Management Policy worked with EPA to address the issue of herbicide resistance through appropriate label language that will require registrants to develop a stewardship program for the herbicide, develop training and education on proper use of the product that includes diversifying weed management, investigate and report nonperformance, and develop and implement a remediation plan for suspected herbicide resistant weeds.

EPA intends to require the same stewardship plans for all new applications for product registration on genetically modified crops with the goal being to encourage effective resistance management while maintaining needed flexibility for growers.

USDA recognizes that the problem of herbicide resistant weed control will not be solved solely through the application of new herbicides. USDA has worked with the Weed Science Society of America for a number of years on identifying best management practices for farmers and on addressing impediments to adoption of those practices.

USDA will continue to work to ensure that growers have the diverse tools they need to address the management of herbicide resistant weeds.

Sources: USDA, CDFA

USDA report outlines opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy

Source: Monique Bienvenue – Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a comprehensive report synthesizing current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging bioeconomy. The report, entitled Why Biobased?, was created as a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study to be released in the coming months by the USDA BioPreferred program on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.

“This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy,” said Vilsack. “The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.”

Synthesizing findings from existing government, academia, and non-governmental organizations, the new report explores how government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy. The report further demonstrates that the biobased economy is, in fact, growing and it offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S.

For instance, one report cited concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

On the heels of this completed study, the USDA BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally-sponsored economic report of its kind targeting the biobased products industry in the U.S. Congress mandated the upcoming study in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The USDA BioPreferred program works to increase the purchase and use of designated biobased products through a preferred procurement initiative for federal agencies. Designated products may also carry the voluntary consumer label.

The voluntary “USDA Certified Biobased Product” label is designed to promote the broad-scale marketing of biobased products to consumers. As of September 2014, USDA has certified over 1,940 biobased products in more than 187 product categories for the label. Certified and designated products include construction, janitorial, and grounds keeping products purchased by Federal agencies, to personal care and packaging products used by consumers every day.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has estimated that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3%-4% of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20% of total chemical sales.