The new map of U.S. climate zones shows warming. See the interactive version of the map to take your region's gardening temperature.

[imgcontainer] [img:plant-hardiness-530.jpg] [source]USDA[/source] The new map of U.S. climate zones shows warming. See the interactive version of the map to take your region’s gardening temperature. [/imgcontainer]

The USDA updates its plant hardiness zones for the first time since 1990: this  means a shift in gardening schedules, potential for growing new varieties in your region – and yet more evidence of global warming.

The 26 hardiness zones are based on the average coldest temperature over the 30-year span 1976 to 2005. Seed packets and gardening guides note hardiness zones so that South Texas gardeners won’t waste their money on peonies and Vermonters skip aloes.

The Des Moines Register writes, “Previously, most of Iowa was rated 5a, which mean a lowest winter temperature of minus 15 degrees to minus 20 degrees. Now significant swaths of the state in southern and southeastern Iowa and portions of central Iowa, including the Des Moines metro, are rated 5b, with average lows between minus 10 degrees and minus 15.”

Here’s an interactive version of the new map.

* The New York Times’ Erica Goode reports on the ongoing controversy about tagging v. cattle branding, what some call “the heraldry of the range.”

*There’s big money involved when requirements for public school meals change. Bloomberg reports that the Obama administration’s push for more fruits, vegetables and grains (and less meat and potatoes) “marked a victory for ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG), maker of Hunt’s tomato products based in Omaha, Nebraska, and Schwan Food Co., which holds 70 percent of the market for pizza in the $9.5 billion school food-service industry.”

Let’s hope the health benefits of the changes are as compelling.

*The New York Times runs an editorial today about the economic benefits of funding public education to make sure more students graduate from high school.

The Rural School and Community Trust reports that South Carolina has the nation’s highest rural dropout rate – 52.3%. The lowest is Nevada’s.

* Joe Belden of the Housing Assistance Council says that USDA’s plan to close 43 field offices will make it harder for rural Americans to buy homes.

“USDA Rural Development has historically been ‘the lender of last resort,’” noted Belden. “People who don’t have access to traditional financing, because of their low incomes or their rural locations or both, have relied on the availability of this agency. We are dismayed to see it becoming ever less available.”

* General Electric’s mobile mammogram van will soon hit the road in Wyoming, reports the Laramie Boomerang. In March, the customized van will travel to rural areas and offer mammograms to women age 40 and older. The screening mammograms aren’t free but a spokesperson from GE said the company “is working on a program to help uninsured women pay the cost of the screening.”

* Iowa Farmer Today reports on a new extension service survey of farmers and their use of the Internet. “Sixty percent of Farm Poll participants reported that they use high-speed Internet service. When we accounted for multiple forms of access, 70 percent of farmers reported that they use the Internet.”

14% of those surveyed said they had no access to high-speed service.

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