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Breaking News

Permalink Living Mulch Saves Money and Improves Soil, Says Research

Scientists at the University of Georgia tested the performance of a living mulch of white clover between row crops, reports the American Society of Agronomy. The clover helps supply nitrogen to the cash crop. It also makes it possible for farmers to use less herbicide, because the clover out-competes weeds. This study found that although corn yields were slightly lower due to the competition crops experience from a living mulch, overall performance from these fields was good, with less fertilizer applied and significantly less herbicide used. The researchers concluded that the farmer can end up making more money in a system that uses a living mulch. By saving on inputs, the farmer can end up making more money by using a living mulch.

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Permalink Study Says Land Management Can Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A peer-reviewed study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that natural climate solutions could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes per year by 2030, or a third of what is needed to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. The researchers found that trees have the greatest potential to cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions. However, this study also calculated that changing the way we farm could cost-effectively deliver 22% of emissions reductions, equivalent to taking 522 million gasoline cars off the road. For example, smarter application of chemical fertilizers can improve crop yields while reducing emissions of nitrous oxide. Other effective interventions in the agriculture realm include planting trees among croplands and improved management of livestock.

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Permalink University of Illinois' Organic Corn Breeding Project Receives Funding

The University of Illinois has received funding from USDA for a project that will allow farmers, researchers, and consumers to participate in breeding corn optimized for organic production. The university reports that farmers from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New York will help test maize germplasm developed at U of I and the Mandaamin Institute in Wisconsin. The researchers will also evaluate the influence of soil health on yield and grain quality and processing characteristics. Corn will be processed into several different types of food products, such as corn bread or tortilla chips, at the Pilot Processing Plant on the U of I campus and then tested by consumers and researchers. Consumers will give their opinions on the quality of the grain and products made with each line of organic corn.

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Permalink Beginning Farmer Training Program Impact Assessed in New Report

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has released Cultivating the Next Generation, a report on the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2008, BFRDP has invested nearly $150 million in more than 250 new-farmer training projects across the country, involving more than 60,000 beginning farmers. The report finds that BFRDP funded projects are showing real outcomes: surveyed project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture following program completion. The report also includes recommendations on opportunities for improvement in the program, including the following: continuing long-term investments in new farmer training and evaluation, deepening farmer engagement in program development, and improving the grant reporting process to ensure consistency in outcome data. The full report is available online.

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Permalink Video Addresses Management of Striped Cucumber Beetles on Organic Farms

Eastern Sustainable Organic Cucurbit Project, funded through a NIFA OREI grant, has produced a nine-minute video on striped cucumber beetle management on organic farms. The video is available on the project website. It discusses management options such as organically approved chemicals, less-susceptible cultivars, physical exclusions, and trap crops.

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Permalink eOrganic Article Explains Benefits of Dung Beetles

Dung Beetles: How to Identify and Benefit from Nature’s Pooper Scoopers is an article posted on eOrganic by Matthew Jones and William Snyder of Washington State University. The article focuses on the benefits of dung beetles to vegetable and pasture production, the beetles' feeding behaviors, and how to recognize a few key species likely to be seen on West Coast farms. The article highlights the role that dung beetles can play in pathogen suppression and food safety.

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Permalink Online Financial-Education Tool Helps Farmers Buying Land

National Young Farmers Coalition has introduced a beta version of Finding Farmland, an online financial-education tool for farmers buying land. The tool includes a Land Affordability Calculator that can be used to compare financing costs for two different farm properties or to compare different financing scenarios for a single property. There is also a case study that illustrates how one farmer navigated the path to secure land access. The site is in beta mode, and National Young Farmers Coalition is requesting farmers' feedback on the tool, especially from those who are actively seeking land.

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Permalink Warm-Season Annual Grasses Can Improve Pasture for Northern Horses

Research at the University of Minnesota found that warm-season grasses grown as annuals could improve the quality of horse pasture in northern climates, reports the American Society of Agronomy. Perennial cool-season annuals dominate northern pastures, where they easily survive winters and produce well in spring and fall, but these species experience a summer growth slump that reduces forage quantity and quality. Researchers tested warm-season forages including teff, sudangrass, sorghum sudangrass, and both Japanese and Siberian millet, grown as annuals. All of the grasses were found to supply adequate nutrition for horses, with sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass showing the greatest yields. However, most of the forages had high nitrates, leading researchers to warn that nitrate levels should be closely monitored in these forages. They suggest that northern growers may want to plant an area with warm-season grasses managed as annuals for summer grazing.

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Permalink How an Iowa Farm is Transitioning to Organic Row Crops

Keota, Iowa, father-son farmers Trent and Levi Lyle are transitioning a 40-acre field to organic production, reports Ag Update. The Lyles discussed the price premium available for organic crops, the cost-share programs that can help support the transition to organic production, and their desire to reduce the family's chemical exposure. They also discussed their approach to weed management, which involves a roller-crimper to kill cover crops, longer crop rotations with a small grain in the rotation, and use of historic weed-control methods. Livestock can also play a role in consuming cover crops and adding fertility to a field. Levi Lyle, a certified organic inspector, is familiar with the record-keeping requirements for organic certification, and has experience marketing non-commodity crops from his eight years producing aronia berries.

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Permalink Stanford Research Explores Soil Carbon-Storage Potential

Stanford University scientists have recently published their work on soil carbon-storage potential. The researchers found that agricultural management practices like reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage, and compost application could increase soil's carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost. In the course of their work, the team found that about 70% of all sequestered carbon in the top meter of soil is in lands directly affected by agriculture, grazing, or forest management, so management changes have the potential to lead to significantly more carbon storage. The study also found that plant roots are five times more likely than leaves to turn into soil organic matter, indicating that perennial crops with their deep root systems could store more carbon than annual crops. The scientists call for a renewed push to gather significantly more data on carbon in the soil and learn more about the role it plays in sequestering carbon.

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Permalink Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant Awards Announced by USDA

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service has announced the award of more than $13 million in Farmers Market Promotion Program Grants. Fifty-two projects in 33 states received funding for projects that would increase consumption of locally and regionally produced agricultural products and develop new market opportunities for farmers and ranchers. Brief descriptions of the projects selected for funding are available online.

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Permalink National Institute of Food and Agriculture Announces Organic Farming and Ranching Grants

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced grants through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transitions Program (ORG). In FY 2017, 24 new grants totaling $20.15 million were made through these two programs. Among the projects, Oregon State University researchers will develop and test a breed of naked barley as an economically viable alternative crop with multiple uses in brewing, livestock feed, and human diets. A Lincoln University project will determine the economic viability of different types of cover crop-based, no-till systems for small- and mid-size organic producers. A complete list of recipients is available online.

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Permalink Study Finds Insect Resistance to Transgenic Crops Surging

An analysis of global data on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)-modified crop use and pest responses by University of Arizona researchers found that cases of pest resistance to genetically engineered crops increased by more than fivefold in the past decade. The study also noted that in other cases, pests have not evolved resistance to Bt crops. The scientists credit use of refuges as a significant factor in delaying resistance in these cases. However, the study also revealed that pest resistance to Bt crops is evolving faster now than before.

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Permalink Food Safety Survey Deadline Extended to October 31

The Local Food Safety Collaborative (LFSC), which provides specialized training, education, and outreach to local farmers and processors, wants to know how it can best help with food safety. Produce growers, farmers, and food hubs are invited to take an online needs assessment survey before October 31, 2017, to help LFSC enhance fundamental food-safety knowledge and support local farmers and processors to comply with applicable Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. After completing the survey, you may elect to enter your personal information to be entered in a raffle for a $100 gift card (20 available).

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Permalink Organic Grain Projects to Aid Producers in Transitioning

Two new Extension projects will help grain producers transition to organic production. In one project a team from Texas A&M AgriLife will compare transitional organic and conventional systems for wheat production alone and combined with cover-crop grazing. The "Introducing Organic to Producers of Grain-Only and Dual-Purpose Wheat Cropping Systems of Northern Texas" project received funding from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the Organic Transition Program. Cropping system research will begin with a cover crop in spring 2018. The project also includes Extension and education components. Meanwhile, Purdue University Extension received funding from North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for another project, "Organic Transition and Certification: Supporting Indiana Grain Farmers' Capacity to Meet Market Demand." The three-year program will include surveys of farmers who have made the transition from conventional to organic grain production, farmers currently making the transition, and those who are interested in addressing and exploring potential roadblocks to organic farming. Researchers will also talk to grain buyers about standards for grain, pricing tiers, and other factors that are important for growers entering the market. Extension specialists will spread what they learn through publications, workshops, field days, regional farmer meetings, and other venues.

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Permalink California Farm Academy Accepting Applications for Beginning Farmer Training and Apprenticeships

The California Farm Academy is accepting applications for both its Beginning Farmer Training Program and its Apprenticeship Program. The Beginning Farmer Training Program provides aspiring farmers a strong foundation from which to launch their agricultural careers. During the seven-month program, lessons focus on crop production, business planning, and marketing, and they culminate in a personal business plan or farm-career plan. In addition to the classes, hands-on field experience and farm visits expose students to topics critical for a future in farming. Classes are designed to accommodate work schedules, meeting on Tuesdays and Thursday in the early evenings, as well as two Saturdays per month. The application deadline is November 27, 2017 and classes begin in February 2018. Meanwhile, the Apprenticeship Program provides aspiring farmers with a combination of coursework and hands-on training that is intended to set them on a path to earn management positions with established farms, or to be successful in starting & sustaining their own farm. The program requires a two-year commitment. Apprentices are paid for 3,000 hours of hands-on training and are enrolled in the CFA Training Program as part of their curriculum. Applications will be accepted until February 1, 2018, with a program start date in mid-March.

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Permalink Apple Pollinizers Affect Fruit Set and Quality

Researchers at Purdue University found that the type of tree used for a pollinator in apple orchards can affect the amount of fruit that sets on trees. Orchardists frequently plant crab apple trees as pollen sources in orchards, because of their prolific blooms. However this research showed that using Red Delicious as a pollinator for Honeycrisp doubled the fruit set compared to using crab apple pollinators. This research found that, overall, the Red Delicious was the best pollinizer, followed by Golden Delicious and then the crab apple varieties. The researchers suggest planting Red Delicious near high-value apple crops to promote good fruit set.

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Permalink Analysis Considers Tipping Point of Chemical Weed Control

Adam Davis, ecologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois and USDA Agricultural Research Service, worked with George Frisvold, an economist at the University of Arizona, to explore whether we are at a tipping point regarding ability to control agricultural weeds with herbicides currently on the market. Their analysis was published in Pest Management Science. Davis and Frisvold say that with agricultural weeds developing resistance to herbicides, and no new herbicide modes of action on the horizon, herbicide susceptibility is a finite resource. They conclude that as herbicide control of weeds is lost, food prices will rise. Davis says an over-reliance on herbicide for weed control has contributed to the problem, and he recommends returning to more diversified methods of weed control, such as crop rotation and management practices including weed-suppressive cultivars, banded herbicides, row spacing, cultivation, and harvest weed seed control. "We've shown you can reduce herbicide use by 90% in diversified systems and get the same amount of weed control," says Davis.

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Permalink USDA Suspends CRP Enrollment Acceptance Temporarily

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it is accepting all pending continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) enrollment offers that were made from May 4, 2017, through September 30, 2017, but it will suspend acceptance of most new offers until later in the 2018 fiscal year to review CRP allocation levels and to avoid exceeding the statutory cap of 24 million acres. Meanwhile, USDA is declining Pollinator Habitat Initiative offers because the program has met its acreage enrollment goal. USDA will continue to accept eligible offers for state-specific Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and CRP Grasslands enrollment. For more information about CRP, contact your local FSA office or visit

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Permalink California Governor Signs Farmer Equity Act

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed legislation that requires California officials to focus on and address the challenges facing farmers of color in the state by making access to state and federal resources more equitable. The Farmer Equity Act, AB 1348, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), directs the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to better provide resources, outreach, technical assistance, and decision-making power to "socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers," so called because they have been subjected to historic racial discrimination. These groups include people who are African American, American Indian, Alaskan native, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander. The California bill will take a holistic perspective across the CDFA, including how it creates new rules, forms governance committees, and manages grantmaking programs. AB 1348 will add the federal definition of "Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers" and "Socially Disadvantaged Group" to the California Food and Agriculture Code. This legislation will also increase access to "climate smart" technical assistance among small and mid-size farms.

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Permalink National Farm to School Network Seeks Advisory Board Nominees

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) invites you to nominate members to its Advisory Board for three-year terms starting January 2018. There are currently five open positions for the Advisory Board, with nominations due by October 16, 2017. Self-nominations and peer nominations that fit at least one of a list of target criteria will be accepted. NFSN Core and Supporting Partners are encouraged to apply.

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Permalink University of Minnesota Conducting Organic Swine Survey

The University of Minnesota's Alternative Swine Research Group is launching its NIFA-funded Organic Swine Planning Project with a survey to identify key issues that need to be addressed in organic swine production. The online survey takes less than five minutes, and is designed to identify people who are involved or interested in organic swine production, processing, marketing, research, and extension. This survey will be used to identify potential speakers for seminars and focus group members to discuss the key issues in organic swine production.

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Permalink Appalachian Beekeeping Collective Helps Coal Country Transition to Beekeeping

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is helping the coal-mining country of southern West Virginia seize a new economic opportunity, reports Ohio Ag Connection. The collective is breeding regionally suited, mite-resistant bees and constructing a honey-processing facility. They're also training their first class of 35 displaced miners as beekeepers, and planning for 85 more next year. The beekeepers will obtain bees from the collective and maintain their own apiaries, but bring their honey to a central location for extraction, bottling, and marketing. The project leader, non-profit organization Appalachian Headwaters, is trying to reduce risk and expense for beginning beekeepers. Project organizers expect high-quality forage in the area to contribute to productive hives.

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Permalink Neonicotinoid Insecticides Found in 75% of Global Honey Samples

A project by University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, tested honey samples contributed by citizen scientists from around the world for pesticide contamination. The Guardian reports that nearly 200 samples were analyzed for neonicotinoid insecticides and 75% contained the chemicals, with most contaminated with multiple types. Results of the testing were published in Science and showed that contamination rates were highest in North America, with 86% of samples containing one or more neonicotinoid. Although the contamination levels were almost all below the thresholds established for human consumption, 48% of the samples showed contamination levels above those determined to be harmful to bees.

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Permalink National Good Food Network Conference Accepting Session Proposals

The National Good Food Network Conference is seeking sessions that offer stories, tools, strategies, and lessons learned that will make for interactive and innovative presentations, workshops, panels, and trainings. Sessions should build participant capacity for the development and expansion of viable and equitable food value chains and the food hubs within those chains. Sessions can be 90-minute breakouts, half-day trainings, or full-day trainings. Session proposals must be submitted online by November 13, 2017. The conference will be held March 27-30, 2018, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Permalink Video Highlights Carbon Storage Potential of Organic Soils

The Organic Center has announced a new video that explains the findings of a new study in conjunction with Northeastern University. The study found that organic soils have significantly higher levels of humic substances. This means that not only is organic better at sequestering carbon, but it is effectively locking away carbon in long-term reserves that would otherwise be in the atmosphere. Cool Science for a Cool Planet is a one-minute video highlighting the study findings.

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Permalink Reminder to Complete Crop Insurance Survey by October 31

The National Center for Appropriate Technology is studying attitudes about crop insurance, in order to plan educational efforts and make recommendations to the USDA. Anyone farming or ranching commercially in the United States is invited to take a confidential 20-minute survey (on a computer, smart phone, or other mobile device). A $20 honorarium is offered to early responders. The results of this survey will help NCAT and project partners make recommendations to the USDA on further improvements to crop insurance for organic, diversified, and specialty-crop growers. The deadline for taking the survey is October 31, 2017.

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Permalink Fearless Farm Finances Course Offered Online

MOSES and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College are offering a a 16-week online course based on the book Fearless Farm Finances. The course runs October 23, 2017 – Februrary 25, 2018. Registration closes October 17, 2017. This course provides modules to help farmers understand and manage farm finances. A cohort of students will focus on the same topic each week while working at their own pace. They will interact through an online discussion board. Work will be graded and returned to students.

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Permalink Farmers' Voluntary Conservation Efforts Have Positive Impact on Western Lake Erie Basin

USDA logoA report by USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) shows that voluntary conservation practices adopted by farmers reduce sediment losses from fields by an estimated 80% and reduce the amount of sediment being delivered to Lake Erie by an estimated 40%. CEAP uses a sampling and modeling technique that quantifies the impacts of conservation practices adopted across the region. These analyses provide scientifically based direction for future conservation-planning efforts targeting specific management goals. Farmers use a variety of conservation practices to reduce losses of nutrients and sediment. The practices evaluated by CEAP include strategies like nutrient management, cover crops, and structural erosion control.

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Permalink NIFA Schedules Opportunities for Stakeholder Input

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is accepting input from stakeholders regarding research, extension, and education priorities in food and agriculture. A series of four in-person listening sessions hosted in different regions across the country and submission of written comments will offer two ways to share thoughts and ideas. This listening opportunity allows stakeholders to provide feedback on the following questions: What is your top priority in food and agricultural research, extension, or education that NIFA should address? What are the most promising science opportunities for advancement of food and agricultural sciences? Individuals wishing to attend in-person listening sessions must complete an online RSVP no later than October 12, 2017. The day-long listening sessions will be livestreamed. In-person listening sessions are scheduled for October 19, 2017, in Kansas City, Missouri; October 26, 2017, in Atlanta, Georgia; November 2, 2017, in Sacramento, California; and November 8, 2017, in Greenbelt, Maryland. Submissions of written comments will be accepted through December 1, 2017.

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