2015 is the International Year of Soils

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun 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 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.

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USDA surveys organic agriculture

Tom Karst

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting a new survey of organic agriculture.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will mail the survey in January to all known organic producers in the U.S., according to a news release from the agency.

The survey ask about organic production during 2014, as well as marketing practices, income and expenses, according to the release. The survey will be targeted at organic farms and farms that are making the transition to organic agriculture, according to the release.

“The organic survey comes in direct response to the continued interest in organics among consumers, producers, businesses, and others,” Vic Tolomeo, director of the NASS Pacific Regional Field Office, said in the release. “This is an opportunity for organic producers to provide more detailed data to help provide the industry with a reliable source of information to use in justifying research projects and fund requests for the continued growth and sustainability of organic farming and ranching in the United States.”

Tolomeo said in the release that the results of the survey will help shape future agency decisions regarding farm policy, funding allocations, availability of goods and services. He said the information from the survey will help growers make informed decisions about their operations.

Producers can fill out the survey online, Recipients are required to respond by mail by Feb. 13 or online by April 3.

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USDA plans new organic database

Tom Karst

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a 20-page document about the development of what it calls the Organic Integrity Database.

The report features slides and participant comments from a Web seminar Dec. 9 by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program and Information Technology Service, according to a news release.

The Web seminar drew 125 participants, according to the release, and shared about the scope and plan for the development effort, and invited feedback from participants in the seminar.

USDA officials said the Organic Integrity Database is designed as a modernized certified organic operations database. Some of the goals for the project are to:

  • Contain up-to-date and accurate information;
  • Increase supply chain transparency;
  • Promote market visibility for organic operations;
  • Deter fraud by providing real-time accurate information about operations licensed to use the USDA organic seal;
  • Enable market research and supply chain connections between buyers and sellers;
  • Support international trading partner data needs: and
  • Increase pressure on suspended and revoked operations to stop marketing as organic, and increase NOP’s oversight reach over these operations.

USDA officials sought input during the Web seminar about what participants thought to be the most important features of the database, and also asked what other initiatives the agency should pursue related to the project, according to the release.

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