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Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Funding for Research on Food Security in Northeast

By Sandy Miller Hays
September 17, 2009

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2009—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $230,000 in funding for studies to assess the capacity of the northeastern United States to produce enough food locally to meet market demands, rather than relying on food transported long distances to feed the burgeoning East Coast population. These studies will be conducted as part of the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative launched this week by USDA to connect people more closely with the farmers who supply their food, and to increase the production, marketing and consumption of fresh, nutritious food that is grown locally in a sustainable manner.

"This research project will help identify and quantify the capacity to produce food locally that meets the needs of large urban populations in different seasons of the year," said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. "The lessons that we learn and the information that we glean from this project also will give us important insights into how we build and sustain local production systems elsewhere in the United States and abroad."

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, will provide $200,000 in additional funding to its laboratories in Orono, Maine, and Beltsville, Md., to hire two scientists to model and determine the suitability of East Coast soils for agricultural production, as well as land availability in the Northeast for local production of fruit and vegetables.

ARS is also providing $30,000 to Tufts University in Boston, Mass., for a new cooperative agreement to conduct an assessment of marketing and processing options for local food production, and also to determine how land-use policies could further encourage such production.

Although low fuel prices have contributed to the globalization of the U.S. food system, with food transported to market over long distances, the ARS scientists contend that relying more on the strategic production of locally grown food can counter the challenges of rising transport costs, growing population demands and vanishing farmlands.

ARS scientists at the Orono and Beltsville laboratories are mapping an array of county-level data from Maine to Virginia on factors such as weather, soil, land use, and water availability, which they will use to model potential crop production along the Eastern Seaboard to find out where local food production could meet current and projected demand, and where it might fall short.

In addition to the work conducted at the Orono and Beltsville laboratories, ARS' laboratory at University Park, Pa., is participating in the research. Two other USDA agencies—the Economic Research Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service—will also participate in this project. The team is modeling actual crop production practices and the flow of agricultural products into supply chains, including all the associated handling and transportation costs, from farm field to market. This will help identify how the costs and benefits of locally grown produce compared with product transported over long distances to the Eastern Seaboard market.

ARS funded cooperative research agreements in 2008 totaling $47,000 with university partners at Tufts University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop databases on local production and consumption of 130 agricultural products, and to assess cost-effectiveness of government conservation programs on organic dairy production. Other research partners in this work include Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University and Iowa State University.