An Earthworm’s Perspective.

This soil tunnel was a big hit for kids of all ages at the annual NaturePalooza event hosted on the east campus of the University of Nebraska.

Staff from NSSC Kellogg Laboratory built a large scale model of the soil, using donated materials and their own artistic talent. Stretching almost eight feet, the soil tunnel allowed children and adults to crawl through and see a realistic representation of what’s underfoot.

Learning and fun go together like soil and earthworms.

The Song of a Lost Art

The crosscut saw, once a symbol for conquering the wild forests of the West in order to provide lumber for America’s cities, now endures as a symbol of wilderness preservation in our national forests.

The crosscut saw reached prominence in the United States between 1880 and 1930, but quickly became obsolete when power saws started being mass produced. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 has helped restore the dying art of primitive tool use by requiring it in wilderness trail maintenance.

In contrast to the cacophony produced by a chainsaw, a well-tuned crosscut saw operated by experienced sawyers creates a harmony that is more attuned to a wilderness setting. The sound a crosscut saw produces when slicing through a piece of timber is akin to a metallic hum, which is why they are often referred to as the “saws that sing.” This is no accident, and depends just as much on a well-maintained saw as it does on the training of the operators.

Unlike chainsaws that require ear protection during use, crosscut saws allow users the ability to communicate while sawing to ensure the process runs smoothly. Good communication and planning, combined with a properly tuned saw, work in concert to create a clean cut. And when it’s really running smoothly the blade sings against the grain.

Saw sharpening and maintenance is an art – so specialized that only a handful of individuals exist on the Olympic Peninsula that are capable of properly tuning the old saws that keep Wilderness trails open and safe for all users.

This article was written by Alex Weinberg and Lisa Romano of the U.S. Forest Service. The full article is available at the USDA Blog.

Seeing Is Believing.

When it comes to soil health, results speak for themselves. Last week NRCS hosted a public soil health demonstration at USDA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Experts conducted various experiments and demonstrations to answer one very important question: How does healthy soil compare to unhealthy soil when put under stress?

The results are pictured above. Healthy soil remains cohesive and productive; it allows water to infiltrate without releasing sediment; it is the engine of a productive farm. Unhealthy soil is the opposite.

Take care of your soil and the rest will follow.

Taking Care of Business

Since he was a boy, Jonathan Gaskin dreamed of owning a dairy operation. His dream came true, but success brought challenges - how do you manage manure from an increasing herd?

NRCS helped Jonathan develop a nutrient management plan, then provided financial assistance for a manure stack pad. Now Jonathan can store manure in an environmentally safe location, let it dry and apply it to his pasture as fertilizer.

Conservation produces optimal solutions for you, animals and the environment. Get Started today!

Volunteers and Texas Farmers Help Feed Hungry Kids

More than 250 volunteers helped harvest corn for Snack Pak 4 Kids, a program that aims to end weekend hunger for children living in the Amarillo area by providing a backpack filled with food each Friday of the school year.

This harvest was generously donated by farmer David Cleavinger and his wife, Jackie, as well as Bill Gruhlkey and his wife, Timma. They each grew sweet corn on one-acre of their land. Watch the video to learn more.

Team USA Wins International Soil Judging Contest

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and NRCS Chief Weller personally congratulated the winners on August 18th.

The International Soil Judging Contest was hosted in Jeju, Korea, this June. NRCS’ Soil Science Division (SSD) hosted the two winning teams and their coaches at NRCS headquarters in Washington, DC, for a meeting with the Secretary and a reception in their honor.  

The students and coaches met with Secretary Vilsack and Chief Weller to discuss the highlights of soil judging, the importance of soil health, and pursuing careers in soil science. In addition, NRCS’ Landscape Architect, Bob Snieckus, led the students and coaches on a tour of USDA’s green projects, including the rooftop garden and the People’s Garden. 

NRCS’ National Leader for Soil Interpretations Maxine Levin was also recognized for her efforts to organize the inaugural international competition. A  35-year employee of NRCS, Levin has been involved with NRCS outreach to U.S. collegiate soil judging contests for the past ten years. She said the impact of the international competition is huge. “It has prompted a permanent change in the curriculum for soil science across the globe,” she explained. “Soil judging is an important part of understanding soil, and it’s critical for students to have this hands-on experience in the field, as well as in the lab.”

Soil judging contests in the United States are nothing new - the practice dates back to at least 1960. The events involve the description, classification, and interpretation of soil. The main purpose is to help students recognize important soil and landscape properties and to consider these characteristics when deciding how to use soils.

A contest involves “judgers,” or students interested in soil science, who enter a soil pit to examine the profile. Students range in age from middle school to college and include all disciplines including agriculture, engineering, and environmental science. The judgers then determine where the different horizons are and describe each one, looking at factors such as soil type, color, depth, consistency, shape, structure, and other features. The soil is classified, and site and soil interpretations are performed. 

The U.S. win in Korea transpires just in time for what promises to be a grand occasion for soil and soil science. The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. NRCS will seize this opportunity to emphasize the importance of soil health and conservation. 

Stay tuned for a wealth of resources, information, and materials related to the year of soil!

Conservation and the Great Lakes

Containing about 21 percent of the world’s surface fresh water, the Great Lakes are an incredibly important national and international asset. In addition to fresh water, they provide many economic and recreational opportunities, as well as habitat for diverse species.

That is why NRCS has made major conservation investments in the Great Lakes region, including:

  • Since 2009, providing more than $45 million in conservation assistance to agricultural producers on more than 1.8 million acres in the Western Lake Erie Basin Watershed. 
  • Focusing that conservation investment on reducing sediment and nutrient runoff.
  • Reducing runoff into the Lake Erie Watershed by an estimated 6 million pounds of nitrogen, 1 million pounds of phosphorous and 400,000 tons of sediment each year.

NRCS will continue to make conservation investments in the Great Lakes region through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

By applying conservation practices - such as cover crops and riparian buffers - we will prevent nutrients and sediment from contaminating our Great Lakes.

Click here to read a personal account of the positive impact conservation has already had on Lake Erie. 

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear

“Remember … Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.”

For more than 50 years, that iconic catch phrase grabbed the hearts and minds of generations of children, spurred a series of books, games and gifts, helped to change the face of wildland firefighting and prompted more than one child to grow up to be a forester.

“On Saturday morning’s, I would watch the ‘Farm Report’ just waiting for ‘Lassie’ to come on,” said Glenn Casamassa, a Long Island, New York, native who grew up to become a forester. “Right after the Farm Report I saw this bear talking about forest fires, and it got me thinking about the woods. As a kid, Smokey and his message really stuck in my head.”

In 1984, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Smokey Bear stamp. The stamp is no longer in production, but Smokey still gets fan letters at Smokey Headquarters, Washington, D.C., 20252. U.S. Forest Service photo.

On Saturday, Smokey Bear turns 70 and, after all those years of watching Saturday morning shows featuring a forest ranger as Lassie’s owner, Casamassa is forest supervisor on the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado.

Rudy Wendelin’s paintings of Smokey Bear spanned his career with the U.S. Forest Service from 1949 to 1973 and continued into his retirement. Wendelin softened and humanized Smokey’s features, making the character more appealing to children, to whom much of the fire prevention campaign was directed. National Agricultural Library Special Collections.

That bear has made lasting impressions on a lot of people. Over the years, his message has changed only slightly. Rather than preventing forest fires we now prevent wildfires. And his looks have gone from cuddly bear to a more humanized rendering to a hard-looking drill sergeant-like persona. In one brief moment in the 1980s, he even appeared as a rap artist.

In his 70th year, Smokey Bear is back to his most popular fashion sporting a pair of blue jeans and wearing his signature hat – a style he adopted long before music producer Pharrell Williams made a similar hat popular this year. His die-hard friendliness and caring persona went towards warm and fuzzy with this year’s series of ad campaigns showing Smokey giving and getting bear hugs.

Smokey Bear’s first public appearance came in 1944 as part of the newly designed wildfire prevention campaign sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters and Advertising Council. It is now the longest-running public service campaign in Ad Council’s history and Smokey Bear remains a highly recognizable figure.

The character morphed into real-life in 1950 when a devastating fire on the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico left a bear cub alone and seriously burned. Initially called Hotfoot Teddy by his rescuers, Little Smokey became the living symbol of wildfire prevention and later lived out his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. His rescue and first years at the zoo are documented in a 12-minute film narrated by Hopalong Cassidy, a Western hero portrayed on television and in movies by William Boyd.

Smokey Bear began as a drawing, but the plight of a bear cub on the Lincoln National Forest brought the campaign to life. The cub, alone and burned from 1950 fire on the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico, was rehabilitated and later taken to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Forest Service archives)

In the 1960s, Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” storytelling gives the public service campaign an eerie twist. The ad portrays a family driving home from a cabin. “They’ve driven this road a dozen times and nothing ever happened. But today is different,” Serling says in the video. “Today, Ed will become a killer, and here’s his weapon.” The ad cuts to Ed as he throws a cigarette, which lands in dry grass and starts a fire.

Another vintage ad sadly animates what used to be until “man came and got careless with fire … Think before you strike. Put the life out of your campfires before the campfires put the life out of the forests.”

Smokey Bear is the longest running public service campaign in the country. This year, the Ad Council helped develop the “Bring it in for a hug” series, which shows Smokey hugging someone after they did a good deed that prevented a wildfire. (Advertising Council)

Today’s public service campaigns are similar with a bit of storytelling and a simple message from Smokey Bear. In the bear hug series of 15- and 30-second videos, Smokey Bear surprises a person with a hug after they completed an act that prevented a wildfire.

The Ad Council also worked with the Forest Service and FireAdapted.org on the wildfire preparedness campaign. One video shows an ember floating from a wildland fire and eventually landing near the front step of a home. “You can’t control where that ember will land. Only what happens when it does. Get fire adapted now.” And honorary Forest Ranger Betty White helped spread the wildfire prevention message side-by-side with Smokey Bear in the One Less Spark campaign.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will host a Smokey Bear birthday celebration on Aug. 8 and forests and grasslands have planned events during August.

This post was written by Kathryn Sosbe at U.S. Forest Service. It’s also available on the USDA blog.

Planning Makes Perfect
People make plans for everything from vacations to retirements, so they can be prepared and get the results they desire. 
Whether you own hundreds of acres or just a few, USDA can help you develop a conservation plan to better manage the natural resources on your farm. 
We all have dreams, but turning words into action must be more than a desire, it has to be an achievable goal. 
On a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley, I met with a dairyman who had just installed a new pack barn to improve collection and distribution of waste from his cows. 
The surrounding hills had alternating strips of green and gold crops, fenced paddocks around lush pastures, and trees lining stream banks. I asked him why all the conservation and he replied, “I don’t do it because it’s the right thing to do; I do it because it makes economic sense.” 
Whether you grow cash crops, produce vegetables or raise poultry or livestock, it starts with a plan.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service can provide feet on the ground assistance to help inventory your natural resources, point out areas that may need improvements, offer solutions, work with you to develop a plan of action and assist you in your search for funding to help implement your conservation plan. 
This assistance is free and voluntary. It’s up to you whether to do a conservation plan or not. 
There are many benefits to having a plan. Here are my top 10:
Save money as your land becomes more productive;
Increase sustainability by protecting the natural resources that support your business;
Increase the value of your property;
Create open space and improve habitat for wildlife;
Conserve soil and water for periods of drought and future use;
Prevent off-site impacts and comply with environmental regulations;
Save time, money, and labor;
Promote health and safety for your family;
Make your land more attractive and promote good stewardship; and
Help you become eligible for most USDA programs, including crop insurance.
A conservation plan combines your farming experience with the science-based knowledge of the conservation planner. 
It includes selected conservation practices and lays out a reasonable schedule for installing these practices that fits your schedule. 
Conservation planners provide the technical assistance needed to develop and implement your plan. 
We can customize the plan to meet your goals which might include lowering production costs, increasing crop yields, improving soil health and water quality, conserving soil, increasing forage production, or providing water for livestock. 
You choose which options best fit your farm. The plan becomes a written record of your decisions. 
Creating a conservation plan does not provide public access to your property. You control all rights of entry and use. The information in your conservation plan is confidential and is not released to other agencies, groups or individuals. All of the information you develop belongs to you.
Getting started is easy. Just visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

by Pat Paul, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, VA.

Planning Makes Perfect

People make plans for everything from vacations to retirements, so they can be prepared and get the results they desire. 

Whether you own hundreds of acres or just a few, USDA can help you develop a conservation plan to better manage the natural resources on your farm. 

We all have dreams, but turning words into action must be more than a desire, it has to be an achievable goal. 

On a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley, I met with a dairyman who had just installed a new pack barn to improve collection and distribution of waste from his cows. 

The surrounding hills had alternating strips of green and gold crops, fenced paddocks around lush pastures, and trees lining stream banks. I asked him why all the conservation and he replied, “I don’t do it because it’s the right thing to do; I do it because it makes economic sense.” 

Whether you grow cash crops, produce vegetables or raise poultry or livestock, it starts with a plan.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service can provide feet on the ground assistance to help inventory your natural resources, point out areas that may need improvements, offer solutions, work with you to develop a plan of action and assist you in your search for funding to help implement your conservation plan. 

This assistance is free and voluntary. It’s up to you whether to do a conservation plan or not. 

There are many benefits to having a plan. Here are my top 10:

  1. Save money as your land becomes more productive;
  2. Increase sustainability by protecting the natural resources that support your business;
  3. Increase the value of your property;
  4. Create open space and improve habitat for wildlife;
  5. Conserve soil and water for periods of drought and future use;
  6. Prevent off-site impacts and comply with environmental regulations;
  7. Save time, money, and labor;
  8. Promote health and safety for your family;
  9. Make your land more attractive and promote good stewardship; and
  10. Help you become eligible for most USDA programs, including crop insurance.

A conservation plan combines your farming experience with the science-based knowledge of the conservation planner. 

It includes selected conservation practices and lays out a reasonable schedule for installing these practices that fits your schedule. 

Conservation planners provide the technical assistance needed to develop and implement your plan. 

We can customize the plan to meet your goals which might include lowering production costs, increasing crop yields, improving soil health and water quality, conserving soil, increasing forage production, or providing water for livestock. 

You choose which options best fit your farm. The plan becomes a written record of your decisions. 

Creating a conservation plan does not provide public access to your property. You control all rights of entry and use. The information in your conservation plan is confidential and is not released to other agencies, groups or individuals. All of the information you develop belongs to you.

Getting started is easy. Just visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

by Pat Paul, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist in Richmond, VA.

Fighting Germs With Germs

Healthy soil contains rhizobacteria, a germ beneficial for some plants, increasing their resistance to insects and disease. 

Soil is the foundation of the food cycle and human health. You can equip your plants with strong natural defenses by focusing on the ground they grow in. Improving the health of your soil has a positive impact everywhere else.

Learn more from our Science of Soil Health series.

Soil Survey, Then and Now

As the Dust Bowl blew away thousands of tons of topsoil, NRCS founder Hugh Hammond Bennett recognized that the first step to protecting a resource is to know what you have. Until then, there was no comprehensive record of soil’s properties or its erosion. From that realization and Bennett’s further efforts, soil survey was born.

Then. The initial survey teams mapped and inventoried soil across the country, mostly for agricultural uses. By knowing the type and quality of soil, conservationists could recommend best uses and conservation practices.

Now. Soil survey data is used by farmers and also by many others. This data informs land managers, city planners and climate scientists. Access to web soil survey is conveniently available via a smartphone app.

Soil scientists have already mapped more than 95 percent of the contiguous United States and the inventory will soon be complete.

Visit NRCS’ Web Soil Survey.