NRCS Caribbean Area April 2014 Newsletter

The Caribbean

Director's Corner

As we wrap up this quarter and start preparing for end-of-year activities, I am amazed to see the variety of achievements our staff have accomplished! In this edition of "The Caribbean," we capture some of the many activities NRCS is involved with throughout the Caribbean Area.

So please, enjoy and share the wonderful articles. Keep up the good work and enjoy our wonderful summer.

Your in Conservation,

Edwin Almodóvar, Caribbean Area Director

Soil, Water, Air, Plants, Animals, Humans, Energy

Upcoming Activities

May 5, 2014, SBA 10th Annual Government Contracting Matchmaking Event, 8:00 am – 3:30 pm, Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores de PR, Hato Rey.

May 8, 2014, El Yunque National Forest Assessment Report Public Meeting, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, Environmental Agencies Building, Cruz A. Matos, Rio Piedras

May 12-16, 2014, Regional Conservationist, James Tillman, visits the Caribbean Area

May 14, 2014, SUCCEED “Expanding Capacity in Cultural Organizations” Seminar, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, St. Croix, USVI.

May 20-21, 2014, Rural Development Presents: Rural Energy of America Programs, 6:00-9:00 pm, SBDC Sion Farm Shopping Center, St. Croix & SBDC Nisky Center, St. Thomas, respectively.

May 21, 2014, 75th Anniversary Science & Conservation Symposium of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Fundación Luis Muñoz Marin, San Juan, PR.

May 25, 2014, St. Croix Reef Jam, Rhythm’s at Rainbow Beach, St. Croix, USVI

May 26-30, 2014, Caribbean Beekeeping Conference & Bee College, UVI St. Croix Campus, USVI

Personnel Actions

New Employee

Alberto Atienza, Civil Engineer, Arecibo FO, February 2014.

In This Issue

Conserve the Caribbean: 2014 Conservation Innovation Grants Now Available!

USDA-NRCS Caribbean Area Director, Edwin Almodóvar, announces the availability of the 2014 Caribbean Area Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. Applications will be accepted from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and will be awarded on a competitive basis.

CIG projects are expected to lead to the transfer of conservation technologies, management systems, and innovative approaches into NRCS policy, technical manuals, guides, and references, or to the private sector. CIG does not fund research projects. CIG is used to apply or demonstrate new or previously-proven technology with a new approach. CIG funds projects targeting innovative, on-the-ground conservation, including pilot projects and field demonstrations.

For Fiscal Year 2014, CIG is focusing on the following topics – one or more may be selected for proposals (proposals for hydroponics will not be accepted):

  • Soil Erosion: Validate the life span for existing hillside ditch in twenty farms in the humid mountains and valleys for the Caribbean MRLA used in various crops and soil types;
  • Soil Health: Demonstrate, validate and quantify the impacts of cover crops, other than known local cover crops (Canavalia, Mucuna, Crotalaria and Cowpea), in steep and mountainous farming areas on slopes 15º (25% slope) or higher in the Caribbean Area;
  • Water Quality & Quantity:
  • Validate the efficiency and effective performance of the infiltration ditch NRCS Conservation Practice code 753 as waste disposal methods and observe and record the differences in operation and maintenance processes on different soils types in the Caribbean Area;
  • Assess, evaluate and validate the life span for existing different fence types, NRCS Conservation Practice code 382, and it components along humid and dry areas in the Caribbean Area;
  • Plants:
  • Evaluate and recommend alternative native tree species other than the existing shade coffee multi-story model (379) developed by Fish and Wildlife Service;
  • Evaluate, demonstrate and recommend different systems, species and management practices to establish, improve and implement successful intercropping system;
  • Energy: Obtain data comparing conventional coffee processing system versus the established coffee processing ecological devices to obtain the energy reduction data and validate the reduction in water consumption.

The Caribbean Area NRCS will have approximately $190,000 available in FY 2014 to be distributed among selected projects. Applications will be accepted from eligible government agencies, non-governmental organizations or individuals for projects between 1 and 3 years in duration. Applications must be received by NRCS before COB 4:30 p.m. on May 30, 2014. NRCS anticipates announcing selected proposal applications by July 30, 2014. Late applications will not be considered.

The complete request for proposals may be found online at: For more information, please contact Jaime Valentín at 787-766-5206 x121 or

Mayagüez Field Office Celebrates National Volunteer Week

Mayaguez 2014 Volunteer Week event

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, the NRCS Mayagüez Service Center held a luncheon on April 9th to recognize eight Earth Team volunteers who contributed over 180 hours of their time to help put conservation on the ground. Assistant State Conservationist (ASTC) for Operations, Fernando Arroyo, presented the 4 volunteers who were present (the other 4 were in class) with certificates of accomplishment (from left to right: ASTC Arroyo, volunteers Melissa Del Mar Negrón, Micha Vargas, Rosario Zamora & José Zamora, DC Zulma García, and MLRA Leader Manuel Matos). Field office staff also expressed their gratitude to the volunteers and all enjoyed pizza & cake.

Young PR Farmers Plan Ahead with Cover Crops

Cover crops, an old agricultural conservation practice, are part of the new vision of young farmers in the Caribbean Area who are planting diverse species to maintain soil health. Cover crops can benefit the environment by:

  • Improving the natural biological processes in the soil,
  • Reducing soil erosion,
  • Increasing organic matter,
  • Recycling nutrients,
  • Maintaining and improving water quantity and quality, and
  • Reducing soil compaction

Cover crops have been used in the Caribbean Area since the early 1900’s, but recently their on-farm application has gained in popularity and importance.

José V. Fabre showing Canavalia ensiformis, on his banana plantation in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico.

José V. Fabre has been growing cover crops on his banana, citrus and vegetable farm for the past two years.  On his 30 acres of bananas, José grows Canavalia ensiformis—an herbaceous, erect to viny legume. Its vigorous growth inhibits most weed development, and in favorable conditions it can produce up to 80,000 pounds of green material and 231 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  Since he began using cover crops on his farm, José has reduced his use of glyphosate herbicide by 83%. He has also reduced sediment deposition to his drainage canals so much that he only needs to maintain them twice a year, compared to his previous quarterly maintenance schedule. His irrigation cycles have also dropped by 50%, dramatically reducing his energy use. All this, while maintaining the same banana yields as when he used conventional farming practices. He also uses Geophila macropoda, a well-known soil-improver, in his banana fields, and is planning to establish Crotalaria juncea (Sunn hemp) in his pineapple fields.

Crotalaria juncea, or Sunn hemp, is an annual erect legume with fibrous stems up to 8 feet high. It can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, and produces abundant organic matter. In Puerto Rico, yields after 120 days average 1,651 pounds per acre biomass and 54 pounds per acre of nitrogen. Crotalaria juncea produces an allelopathic substance that is toxic to many nematodes, reducing their populations in the soil. The plants are ready to incorporate into the soil when flowering, about 60 days after planting. Sunn hemp also attracts pollinators, mainly bumblebees.

Duamed Colón has a small plantain farm in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, where he has been planting cover crops for two years.  Duamed also produces Canavalia seed as part of his agricultural enterprise. He began by planting just Canavalia, but now he is mixing Canavalia with Crotalaria. Some of Duamed’s results are:

  • Reduced fungicide use for Black Sigatoka by 78%;
  • Reduced nematicide use by 50%; and
  • Reduced herbicide use by 72%.

For more information on cover crops in the Caribbean Area, contact Plant Materials Specialist, Edwin Más, at 787-831-3416 x.106  or

Duamed Colon in his plantain plantation with Crotalaria juncea.

St. Croix Farmers "Discover the Cover"

USVI Cover Crops & Soil Health Workshop panorama of participants-April 3, 2014

April 3-4, 2014, University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix Campus

Over 30 farmers, residents, University of the Virgin Islands employees & NRCS staff members participated in the evening training session of April’s Cover Crops and Soil Health Workshop. The workshop was sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) and Cooperative Extension Service (CES), in partnership with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and the NRCS St. Croix Field Office. Three integrated cover crop systems were discussed:

  • Cover crop to vegetable crop rotation systems,
  • Cover crop apiculture systems, and
  • Cover crop livestock systems.
Stuart Weiss, UVI-AES Specialist, slake test video thumbnail.

However, the highlight of the workshop was Stuart Weiss's soil stability (slake-test) demonstration comparing the structural stability and water-holding capacity of conventionally-tilled soils to no-till soils (see video below). It was an eye-opener for everyone present!

For more information on the USVI Cover Crops & Soil Health Workshop, contact UVI-AES Agronomy Specialist, Stuart Weiss, at 340-692-4020 or For information on cover crops in the Caribbean Area, contact Edwin Más, NRCS Plant Materials Specialist, at 787-831-3416 x.106 or or your local field office.

Jayuya Elementary School Students Learn About Healthy Soils

Manuel Matos (left), MLRA Soil Survey Leader and Samuel Rios (right), Soil Scientist, engage school students in a healthy soils discussion.

Manuel Matos (left), MLRA Soil Survey Leader and Samuel Rios (right), Soil Scientist, engage school students in a healthy soils discussion.

As part of the NRCS Caribbean Area’s conservation outreach and education efforts, NRCS employees from the Mayagüez MLRA (Major Land Resource Area) Soil Survey Office and the Utuado Field Office delivered a Soil Health presentation to a group of 4th, 5th and 6th grade students from the Miguel A. Sastre Elementary School in Jayuya, Puerto Rico.

The activity was held on March 21, 2014 during the school’s 3rd annual “Muévete y Gana Salud” (Move and Win Health) event, which teaches children about the importance of a healthy lifestyle including exercise and eating well. The event was sponsored by the Extension Service 4-H program, and this year’s highlight was the inauguration of a People’s Garden at the school.

NRCS staff presented a profile display of the 10 soil orders found on Puerto Rico, teaching the students about the diversity of the islands’ soils, their formation and origin, the importance of having healthy soils, and how to protect this natural resource using conservation practices. The students were also able to create their own soil mini-profiles and feel the difference between sand, silt & clay soil textures. Teachers and students found this classroom activity very fun, interactive and educational!  For more information, contact Utuado DC, Israel Vega, at 787-894-1480 x.111 or, or Soil Scientist, Samuel Rios, at 787-831-3416 x.109 or

Soil Health: Potential Benefits for Climate Change

Salud del Suelo: Beneficios Potenciales al Cambio Climático

This spring, NRCS was invited to participate in the University of Puerto Rico’s “Coloquio Agro-ambiental” (Agro-environmental colloquium). This semester’s theme is Climate Change: Impact and Adaptation in Agriculture.  On March 25, 2014, NRCS State Soil Scientist, Carmen L. Santiago, spoke to 15 professors and students at the colloquium about soil health and potential benefits for climate change. She presented valuable information on soil health and how it is closely related to climate change and described the agency’s Soil Health Initiative “Unlock the Secrets in the Soil.”

Some of the benefits associated with healthy soils that impact climate change include: increased soil organic carbon (carbon sequestration), water conservation, improved plant health (transforming more carbon dioxide to oxygen), improved soil fertility, improved water quality, and energy conservation, while reducing diseases, pest problems and the amounts of pesticides and fertilizers used (reducing fossil fuel usage).

NRCS formally announced the Soil Health Initiative in August 2012 in response to the nation’s need to produce food sustainably while conserving and enhancing our natural resources, including soils. Through this initiative, NRCS seeks to educate and provide support to help farmers – and the general public – to establish soil health management systems that ensure healthier soils, healthier crops and better yields for present and future generations.  For more information about Soil Health, visit For details about previous presentations, visit

NRCS-EnSave Partner to Save Energy in the Caribbean Area

During the week of March 17-21, representatives from national technical service provider, EnSave, Inc., visited Puerto Rico to tour agriculture facilities, meet with the State Technical Committee, and discuss the AgEMPs and the Farmstead Energy Improvement practices with NRCS staff, partners and clients. Following their visit with NRCS, EnSave also met with the PR Department of Agriculture to explore additional ways we can all work together to help Puerto Rico agriculture.

The following day EnSave met with Guillermo Cardona and his wife Maria, who own a very successful coffee operation located on 6 acres in Ajuntas. They also met with Juan Meléndez and his wife Naomy, who own Hacienda Tres Angeles, appropriately named after their three beautiful girls. Their operation is approximately 90 acres of coffee, plantain and oranges, in Adjuntas Both of these operations are example of how Puerto Rico’s coffee industry can take advantage of technologies to make energy efficiency improvements and process changes to ensure the quality of their coffee.

We enjoyed our visit to Puerto Rico,” said EnSave President and CEO, Craig Metz. “Thank you all for your wonderful hospitality. As conservationists you can all be very proud of the work you have accomplished under the energy initiative and we are proud to provide our services on behalf of the Caribbean Area NRCS.For more information on the NRCS EQIP Energy Initiative, contact José Castro, ASTC Programs, at 787-766-5206 x.117 or or visit

NRCS Signs Agreement with Local Government and Farmers’ Group to Boost VI Agriculture


From left to right: Future Farmers of America St. Croix Chapter President, Jonathon Garcia, looks on as VIDOA Commissioner Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr., VICD Chair, Mr. Dale Browne, and NRCS-CB Assistant State Conservationist for Operations, Mr. Fernando Arroyo, sign a Memorandum of Understanding to provide irrigation infrastructure assistance to VI farmers.

A new era for Virgin Islands’ agriculture began March 28 when Caribbean Area NRCS (CB) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) and the newly-reactivated Virgin Islands Conservation District (VICD or “the District”) to help improve water supplies for local farmers.

The partnership between the Department of Agriculture, NRCS and the SWCD will have a great impact on the development of agricultural businesses in the Virgin Islands," said Fernando Arroyo, ASTC for Operations. “Public lands, like the community garden in St. Croix, that need infrastructure development and implementation of conservation measures, will receive assistance.”

Dr. Petersen discusses water management with ASTC Arroyo, VICD member Grantley Samuel, and VIDOA employee.

The objectives of the MOU between NRCS, VIDOA & the District are to:

  1. Develop 402 acres of cropland and pastureland with adequate infrastructure to support sustainable agricultural operations.
  2. Build three water supply tanks: a 50,000-gallon tank in St. Croix and 50,000-gallon and 20,000-gallon tanks in St. Thomas.
  3. Install irrigation pipelines to supply water to the Community Gardens in St. Croix and Estates Bordeaux and Dorothea in St. Thomas.
  4. Install drip irrigation systems for crop producers on farm plots in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.
  5. Build a sediment retention pond in Estate Bordeaux on St. Thomas.

The re-activation of the District has been a long time coming – they were inactive for more than 8 years! The purpose of the District is to represent the farmers in the VI agricultural community, as well as other land users. Back in the 1970’s & 80’s, the District played a vital role in the USVI, helping farmers and residents conserve soil and water on both agricultural and non-agricultural lands (for example, they reviewed & issued earth change permits).

The District represents farmers in the U.S. Virgin Islands agricultural community, as well as other land users. They are the grassroots organization that provides feedback to NRCS about local farmers’ needs.

NRCS uses this information to develop its annual business plans to target assistance to producers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The district can also develop and establish cooperative agreements with NRCS and other entities to implement conservation projects. The District is established under VI Law, with members named by the Commissioner of Agriculture.

The District is relatively new and there are going to be many more meetings to define short and long term goals, as there is a lot of catching up to do. According to Dale Browne, District Chair, “My greatest expectation is that we will make a difference by improving our territory’s agricultural industry.”

The newly-elected District officers are:

  • Chairperson -- Mr. Dale Browne
  • Vice Chairperson -- Mr. Charles Barry
  • Recording Secretary -- Mr. Carlos Robles
  • Treasurer -- Ms. Monique Samuel

For details on the Virgin Islands MOU or Conservation District, contact Fernando Arroyo, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Operations, at 787-766-5206 x. 120 or; VICD Chair, Dale Browne, at; or VIDOA Deputy Commissioner, Errol Chichester, at 340-778-0991 or For more information regarding NRCS programs and projects in the Caribbean Area, visit

5 Días con Nuestra Tierra (5 Days with Our Land)

NRCS staff and their spouses stroll down the parade route to open the 2014 5 Dias celebration.

Engineer Rolando Collazo, José L. Zamora (Esperanza’s husband), District Conservationist, Zulma García, Soil Conservation Technician Yadira Feliciano, and Soil Conservationist Esperanza Avilés stroll down the parade route.

NRCS coworkers participated in the “5 Días con Nuestra Tierra” (5 Days with Our Land) Agricultural Fair at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez campus (RUM) last month. The Fair was held March 11 – 15, 2014, and is the largest Agriculture Fair in Puerto Rico. It is a very important outreach activity, with over 75,000 people from across the island visiting the animal and plant exhibits, educational forums and agency information booths. The NRCS Mayagüez Field Office coordinated the participation of NRCS employees from other field offices, and distributed conservation literature to students from all grade levels, teachers, farmers, college students and general public. For more info on 5 Dias con Nuestra Tierra please visit:

5 Dias con Nuestra Tierra - parade, staff at NRCS booth, Samuel Rios introducing kids to soils.

Photo 1 - NRCS Posse: Staff & family members participate in the Fair kick-off parade. (Celis, Rolando Collazo’s wife, and José Zamora, Esperanza’s husband, joined in the parade). Photo 2: NRCS staff pose at their booth during 5 Días con Nuestra Tierra (left to right) District Conservationist, Zulma García; Soil Conservationist, Esperanza Avilés; Soil Conservation Technician, Yadira Feliciano; Veterans Special Emphasis Program Manager, Luis García; Soil Scientist, Samuel Ríos; and Engineer, Rolando Collazo. Photo 3: Soil Scientist, Samuel Ríos, describes the different soil series found in Puerto Rico to elementary school students.

NRCS Reaches Out to Underserved Clients with Sweet Conservation Incentives

Puerto Rican pineapple farm.

Pineapples are emerging again as a popular farming enterprise in Puerto Rico due to the development of a new pineapple variety, Ananas commosus vra MD2.  The variety has dramatically increased yields per acre, and has proven to be very sweet.  But some traditional pineapple farming practices are contributing to resource concerns such as:

  • Water Quality Degradation – excess nutrients and organics in surface water,
  • Insufficient Water – water management and irrigation, and
  • Soil Quality Degradation – soil erosion rates above soil loss tolerance (T) limits

To address these resource concerns, Caribbean Area NRCS is helping pineapple farmers develop conservation plans to reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff, conserve water for crop use and conserve soils through the new Specialty Crop Initiative for Puerto Rico.  The agency has also set aside $100,000 in EQIP FY 2014 funds for this initiative to help farmers implement recommended practices, including:

NRCS staff (DC Zulma García, left; SC Esperanza Avilés, 2nd from right; ASTC Programs, José Castro, right) visit with Puerto Rico pineapple farmers.

  • Row Arrangement (557)
  • Contour Planting (330)
  • Residue Management (345)
  • Cover Crops (340)
  • Grassed Waterway (412)
  • Irrigation System (Drip 441 or Sprinkler 442)
  • Nutrient management (590)
  • Pesticides Management (595)
  • Heavy use area protection (561)
  • Diversion (362)
  • Water Control Structure (587)
  • Irrigation Reservoir (436)
  • Land Clearing (460)
  • Land Smoothing (466)
  • Critical Area Planting (342)
  • Filter Strips (393)
  • Riparian Forest Buffer (391)
  • Vegetative Barriers (601)
  • Clearing and Snagging (326)
AES Fruit Specialist, José L. Zamora, discusses new pineapple variety with local farmer.

Many farmers in the southwest pineapple-growing area of Puerto Rico were unaware that NRCS could help them save money by conserving resources. To reach more limited-resource and underserved clients, Assistant State Conservationist (ASTC) - Programs, José Castro; Soil Conservationist (SC) Esperanza Avilés; District Conservationist (DC), Zulma García; and Agricultural Extension Service (AES) Fruit Specialist, José L. Zamora; met with pineapple growers from Lajas, San Germán and Sabana Grande counties on January 31, 2014 to explain the benefits of the EQIP program. Staff also described the many conservation practices recommended for pineapple farms, and helped each farmer complete a conservation program application.

Said AES Fruit Specialist José L. Zamora, “Now we can complete the re-birth of the pineapple industry because NRCS will provide the right technical assistance growers need.” For more information, please contact José Castro, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs, at 787-766-5206 x. 117 or or visit the Mayagüez Field Office.

Getting to know Puerto Rico’s Soil Diversity – SSSA Soils Tour 2014

2014 PR Soils Tour at Corozal Agricultural Experiment Station.

Soil Tour participants listen as agronomist, Agenol González, explains the details of the banana investigation at the Corozal Agricultural Experiment Station. (Photo: Erin Segar).

Caribbean Area NRCS soil scientists and University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez (UPRM) Soils’ professors hosted 16 Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) members, their companions, and NRCS’ Major Land Resources Area (MLRA) Region 3 (MO-3) representative, Debbie Anderson (now MO-3 Leader) and 15 UPRM students during the week of February 18-21, for the 2014 PR Soils Tour.

The 2014 PR Soils Tour featured 5 of the 10 recognized soil orders in Puerto Rico (Oxisols, Ultisols, Mollisols, Vertisols, and Inceptisols) – the US Soil Classification System has established 12 Soil Orders, which distinguishes our island of Puerto Rico as a very diverse area in terms of soils. 

The tour began the afternoon of February 18th with a welcome and tour overview from Dr. David Sotomayor and an overview of the soils of Puerto Rico by Dr. Victor Snyder, both RUM professors. The following day, the participants visited El Yunque National Forest visitor center at Río Grande, where NRCS State Soil Scientist, Carmen L. Santiago briefly described the history of Soil Surveys in Puerto Rico, including the recent SSURGO certification process for El Yunque National Forest Soil Survey and its inclusion on the Web Soil Survey. Throughout the tour Manuel Matos, MLRA leader, and Samuel Ríos, MLRA soil scientist, described the soil pits visited, explaining their soil classification and soil factors formation processes.  In the Dwarf Forest area, they described the Dwarf and Guayabota Soil Series.

On Thursday, the group toured the central part of the island, visiting the Corozal Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) where Agronomist Agenol González welcomed them and briefly introduced the different investigations taking place. NRCS soil scientists also described the Corozal Soil Series for the group. From there, they visited the Atenas pineapple farm in Barceloneta, where the farm’s agronomist explained the characteristics and agronomic management of the pineapples. The Bayamón Soil Series, the representative soil of Puerto Rico, was described and shown to the group. The Isabela Agricultural Experiment Station was the next stop, where Soil Scientists described the Coto Soil Series. The days’ tour ended on the west end of the island, with a visit to the RUM Alzamora farm, with descriptions of the Humatas and Consumo Soil Series. 

PR Soils Tour 2014 participants pose at the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. (Photo: Arthur Allen)

On their final day, the group visited the Nipe Soil Series at a road cut on Route 100 near Cabo Rojo.  Then they travelled to the Cabo Rojo lighthouse and explored the area’s cliffs, beaches and salt flats with guidance from UPR SEA Grant staff. The group later visited the Lajas Valley Agricultural Reserve, where the irrigation system and drainage infrastructure was explained by UPRM professor, Dr. Pérez Alegría, and Manuel Matos and Samuel Ríos described the factors forming the Guánica and Aguirre Soil Series.  The trip ended with a visit to Carlos González’ vegetable farm in Guánica to describe the Pozo Blanco Soil Series.

2014 PR Soils Tour Hosts Samuel Rios, Dr. Victor Snyder, Agenol Gonzalez, Dr. David Sotomayer, Carmen Santiago & Manuel Matos.

The 2014 PR Soils Tour was dedicated to Dr. Fred Beinroth, retired UPRM Soils’ professor, who is recognized as a World Tropical Soils authority for his more than 30 years of leadership, academic and scientific contributions to the soil science profession.

The NRCS Caribbean Area Soils’ staff want to thank the following individuals for their contributions that made this event such a great success: the UPRM professors; Pablo Cruz and Pedro Ríos, El Yunque USDA-Forest Service; Juan Ortiz, Agenol González, Pedro Marquez and Angel Bosques from UPR-AEE; the Atenas Pineapple Farm administrator and agronomist; the UPR-Mayagüez Alzamora Farm administrator; Cabo Rojo municipality and Lilliam Ramirez, UPR Sea Grant; Puerto Rico Land Authority staff; Carlos González, Guánica vegetable farm owner; and all the SSSA members who participated. The Soils Tour was coordinated by Bob Kendall from SSSA, sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez, and assisted by the Caribbean Area NRCS Soils Division.

USDA Awards Grants for New School Food Service Equipment to Help Schools Dish

On April 18, 2014, Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced that the USDA is awarding $25 million in grants to help schools purchase needed kitchen equipment as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. These new grants provide additional support to schools to help them prepare meals that meet those standards.

"We know that there is still a significant unmet need for kitchen equipment in schools, and outdated equipment can make it more difficult to prepare healthy meals," said Vilsack. "With these grants, schools will be able to get the tools they need to make the healthy choice the easy choice for America's youngsters."

Under this program, Puerto Rico was awarded $413, 960 and the U.S. Virgin Islands was awarded $54,654 to competitively grant funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, giving priority to high-need schools where 50 percent or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. 

Since 2009, USDA has provided $160 million in kitchen equipment funding to states and schools. Schools that are interested in applying for these grants should contact their state agency for further information. For more information on USDA’s Farm to School program, visit

USDA Announces Funding to Train Next Generation of Farmers & Ranchers

On April 11, 2014, Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced the availability of more than $19 million in grants to help train, educate and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of agricultural producers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).

"USDA is committed to the next generation of America's farmers and ranchers because they represent the future of agriculture and are the backbone of our rural economy. As the average age of farmers continues to rise, we have no time to lose in getting more new farmers and ranchers established." said Secretary Vilsack. "Reauthorizing and expanding the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is one of the many resources the 2014 Farm Bill gave us to build America's agricultural future. Through this program, we can build a diverse next generation of farmers and ranchers."

BFRDP is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help farmers, ranchers and managers of non-industrial private forest land – specifically those aiming to start farming and those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or less. It is managed by the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NIFA will competitively award grants to organizations conducting programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers. Learn more about eligibility and how to apply (applications are due June 12, 2014).

Priority will be given to projects that are partnerships and collaborations led by or including non-governmental, community-based, or school-based agricultural educational organizations. All applicants must provide a minimum 25 percent match in funds or in-kind supp2ort from non-federal sources. By law, at least five percent of available funding will be allocated to programs and services for limited-resource and socially-disadvantaged beginning farmers and ranchers and farmworkers. Additionally, another five percent of available funding will be allocated for programming and services for military veteran farmers and ranchers.

NIFA is hosting two upcoming webinars for interested applicants on April 30 and May 6 at 2:00 p.m. EST. The first webinar will focus on general guidelines for the program, while the second webinar will focus on the funding allocations for socially-disadvantaged and military veteran farmers and ranchers. Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at: