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January 2016

Earned Income Tax Credit Can Help Rural Families

Thanks to the hard work of Rural Americans, along with record investments in infrastructure under the Recovery Act and the 2014 Farm Bill, over the last seven years America was able to pull itself out of one of the deepest economic recessions since the Great Depression.  While we’ve seen wages rise and unemployment fall in rural areas over the last several years, workers in rural America still receive less hours and earn less pay than those in urban areas. Fortunately, for those who need help making ends meet, the Earned Income Tax Credit can help.

For the last 40 years, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has made life better for millions of workers across the United States. The average amount of EITC received by families last year was more than $2,400. These are dollars for working families and individuals that can make all the difference in helping pay for transportation, housing, school supplies or other critical needs.  If your family or someone you know earned less than $53,267 from wages, running a business or farm, or from Form 1099 MISC, check out the IRS EITC website or talk to your tax preparer to determine whether you are eligible.

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

50 Years of Super Bowl and Food Safety Changes

The Super Bowl is a very popular food “holiday” in the United States, and this year’s game marks a milestone. Super Bowl 50, dubbed the “Golden Super Bowl,” will be played on February 7, 2016.

Help set the gold standard and ensure that you and your guests remain free of foodborne illness by following four steps to food safety.

A Community for Agricultores in Puerto Rico

In the municipality of Lares, Puerto Rico, lies Alturas de Castañer, a small, mountainous community that is home to 24 agricultores and their families. The agricultores - or farm workers - work hard year-round to produce coffee, bananas, root vegetables and citrus fruits that are then sold in local markets and to area restaurants.

Before coming to the community of Alturas de Castañer, many families lived in cramped conditions, sometimes with two or three other families.  Conditions were unsanitary and children were constantly sick.  Some homes did not even have roofs, and residents suffered dangerous exposure to the natural elements, including torrential rains during hurricane season.

Una Comunidad Para Agricultores en Puerto Rico

En el municipio de Lares, Puerto Rico, se encuentra Alturas de Castañer, una comunidad en las montañas donde viven 24 agricultores y sus familias. Los agricultores trabajan arduamente durante todo el año para producir café, plátanos, viandas y frutas cítricas que luego se venden en los mercados locales y a los restaurantes en la zona.

Antes de llegar a la comunidad de Alturas de Castañer, muchas familias vivían en espacios estrechos, a veces con dos o tres otras familias. Las condiciones eran insalubres y los niños estaban constantemente enfermos. Algunos hogares ni siquiera tenían techo y los residentes estaban peligrosamente expuestos a los elementos de la naturaleza, como las lluvias torrenciales durante la temporada de huracanes.

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 (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 and the .  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, – part of USDA’s (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 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.”