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June 2014

Employment and Mentoring Opportunities Support Youth and Veteran Programs Across the U.S.

Agnes Mukagasana, an eager, next-generation youth involved in conservation, paused for a moment to adjust her hat in the afternoon Colorado sun and assess her well-honed tree-planting technique.

She learned her skills as an employee of , an organization dedicated to the sustained improvement of the physical environment through community-based partnerships including federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service.

Mukagasana and other area youth recently took part in a ceremony where the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and joined representatives of the and several other partners at the . The ceremony announced $6.7 million in joint USDA, Department of Interior and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants to support conservation employment and mentoring opportunities for youth on public lands around the country as part of the President’s .

Eat It to Beat It - 2014 Garlic Mustard Challenge

Spring is often associated with ramps, rain, flowers and frogs, but on the , the season of rebirth is focused on protecting our woods from garlic mustard.

is a non-native invasive plant first brought to America by European settlers in the 1800s. They enjoyed eating it because of its zesty garlic-like flavor. They just had no idea that this plant would become one of the biggest threats to the diversity of plants and animals found in our eastern forests.

In an effort to fight the spread of this invasive species, the Monongahela, along with several partners, hosts an annual to increase public awareness about the threat of non-native invasive species and to achieve boots-on-the-ground results.  Last year, elementary school students in Grant County, West Virginia, removed more than 13,000 pounds of garlic mustard from the Monongahela.

APPlying New Strategies to Nip Invasive Species in the Bud in New Jersey

The is working to prevent the spread of emerging invasive species across New Jersey, and they’ve created a smartphone app to help.

Using part of a 2013 from USDA’s , the team has released an app that can help you identify and report sightings of new invasive species.

The new app, called , can help farmers, forest landowners and outdoor enthusiasts quickly identify newly discovered and localized invasive species and get information on how to combat them before they become a larger and more costly problem.

Florida Discovers the Cover and Grows Soil Workgroup

It started as an informal gathering of interested extension agents, agronomists, farmers and staff of USDA’s , who came to Gainesville, Fla. to attend an Internet-based conference sponsored as part of this year’s .

But much of the information was based on Midwestern experience.  Everyone knows Florida is different, with sandy soils and a longer growing season.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when the Gainesville group suggested taking the discussions further.  In a flurry of emails, the follow-up meeting evolved into a small tour of cover crop practitioner Kirk Brock’s farm, and then grew to include neighboring Fulford Farms.

Charles E. Bessey Nursery Showcases its 'Babies' - Seedlings That Will Become 'Forests of the Future'

Two million seedlings will grow up one day to become the forests of our future.

The vision for all of those trees is part of the mission of the , part of the , and the oldest federal seedling nursery in the nation.

Working with the Bessey Ranger District and the volunteer group Friends of the Nebraska National Forests, the nursery recently invited the public in for a rare opportunity to see the nursery in full production; growing, packing and shipping hundreds of thousands of seedlings to , Bureau of Land Management, conservation districts and other government agency locations. The seedlings are used for reforestation following fire and insect infestations, wildlife/habitat plantings, wind breaks, conservation plantings, and general planting.

USDA Rural Development Assistance Helps Massachusetts Family Afford Home

Recently, I visited the Habitat for Humanity homes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in celebration of , a time to recognize the important role that housing plays in the economy. The construction of these homes was made possible through loans from USDA Rural Development (RD).

The partnership between USDA Rural Development and continues to help provide numerous low-income families with safe, affordable, and well-built homes. USDA Rural Development and the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity first partnered in 2011. In FY 2013, USDA Rural Development financed four out of five of the Habitat homes built on Cape Cod, and they are currently on track to finance eight more Habitat homes being built on Cape Cod in FY 2014.

Secretary's Column: Record Trade Supports Strong Rural Economies

Agriculture is one of the brightest spots in our economy, and the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Trade and market access support good-paying jobs and drives economic growth. A strong rural economy is critical to the overall economic health of the United States.

The past five years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling $619 billion over five years. Agricultural exports in fiscal year 2013 alone reached $140.9 billion, the highest level on record, and supported nearly one million jobs here at home.

Tracing a Path Out of a Costly Trade Dispute

When we shop for items like orange juice at the grocery store, we often take for granted what goes on behind the scenes before we can enjoy these quality foods. Our nation’s producers and processors do not take it for granted. These products represent their livelihood, and the ability to reach new customers—especially through the export market—is critical to their businesses’ success. Recently, the USDA’s (AMS) helped four businesses from Florida avert a costly 54% tariff, enabling them to continue to export frozen concentrated orange juice duty free to South Korea.

The US – Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) exempts U.S. orange juice from a 54% tariff when exported to Korea. However, in March 2013 Korean officials questioned the domestic origin of orange juice exported from the Sunshine State to the East Asian country. Without proof that the juice came from the U.S., exporters faced the costly tariff and the volume of exports to South Korea decreased. It was a huge loss for the Florida citrus industry which creates 76,000 jobs and pumps $9 billion into its local economy.

Opening New Markets, Expanding Menu Choices

America's ag promotion groups work to educate consumers, as well as research and promote our nation’s agricultural products. Whether potatoes or pork, mangos or cotton, soybeans or almonds, ag promotion groups help consumers make informed choices and learn about new products.

Although all ag promotion groups do have a similar goal and purpose – to pool their resources to increase demand and long-term economic growth for their  industries – they all accomplish this in different ways, tailoring their efforts to apply strategies that work best for each commodity.

SNAP Achieves Record High Payment Accuracy Rate for Seventh Year in a Row

Each year, as required by the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, USDA issues the payment accuracy rate for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) nationally and state by state.

I’m happy to announce that the fiscal year (FY) 2013 SNAP payment accuracy rate is an impressive 96.8 percent.  This is an all-time high, and is the seventh year in a row with record-breaking accuracy rates.   Payment accuracy means providing the correct amount of SNAP benefits to eligible households. The aim is to make sure that no one gets too little or too much in benefits, but gets exactly the amount they are intended to receive under the law.  This historically high rate indicates that states are continuing to reduce improper payments in SNAP and are making sure that eligible citizens get the right amount of benefits.