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Permalink USDA Equipment Loan Program Expanded to Help Small-Scale Farmers Get Products to Market

USDA logoUSDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) will provide a new financing option through the Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) program to help farmers purchase portable storage and handling equipment, such as mobile coolers or refrigerated trucks. Changes to the program also include a smaller microloan option with lower down payments. Applicants seeking less than $50,000 can qualify for a reduced down payment of 5% and no requirement to provide three years of production history. Farms and ranches of all sizes are eligible, and producers do not need to demonstrate the lack of commercial credit availability to apply. "Portable handling and storage equipment is vital to helping farmers get their products to market more quickly and better maintain product quality, bringing them greater returns. That’s why we’ve added this type of equipment as a new category for our Farm Storage Facility Loan program," says FSA Administrator Val Dolcini.

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Permalink Interactive Cover Crops Website Now Includes Kansas

The online Midwest Cover Crops Council Decision Tool has been expanded to include Kansas. This interactive tool helps farmers evaluate cover crop options for specific situations and locations. To use the tool, farmers enter their locations, soil type, cash crop, planting and harvesting dates, and then choose their top three cover-crop priorities from a list that includes soil building, good grazing, erosion fighting, weed fighting, nitrogen source, or lasting residue. The tool then generates a ranked list of cover crop options for that specific situation. The tool also provides information about planting the recommended cover crops, with considerations for using the cover crop in this location and potential advantages and disadvantages.

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Permalink Study Examines Lead Exposure in Urban Gardens

Researchers from the New York State Department of Health and Cornell University examined soil and vegetable samples from approximately 60 community gardens in New York City to determine the probabilities of adults and children being exposed to lead. Results of their study were published in the journal Environmental Geochemistry and Health. For adults, the estimated probability of lead exposure exceeding recommended levels is about 10%, while for children who play in urban gardens, the probability jumps to 40%, from ingesting and tracking contaminated soil. Researchers recommend that urban gardeners use clean soil and compost in raised garden beds and avoid use of treated wood. They also recommend taking steps to limit soil contact for children at play.

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Permalink New USDA Resource to Help Food Hubs Improve Financial Performance

USDA logoUSDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service has released a new resource to help food hubs improve their financial performance. The new report, Running a Food Hub: Assessing Financial Viability, provides modules and best practices for food hubs to maximize profits and control costs. Part of a multi-volume series published by USDA Rural Development, the report provides technical assistance for food hubs at different stages of development. For example, it gives beginning food hubs advice on writing sound business plans, and it includes guidance on how established food hubs can expand into financially viable long-term businesses.

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Permalink New Partnerships to Link Underserved Farmers to FSA Programs

USDA logoUSDA has announced cooperative agreements with 55 partners to educate farmers and other producers that have been underserved by USDA programs historically about Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs that provide financial, disaster, or technical support. Nearly $2.5 million will go to nonprofits, associations, universities, and foundations that will provide training and information on agricultural best practices, local networking opportunities, and more. Cooperative agreements, encompassing more than 28 states, will be between $20,000 and $75,000 each, and several involve multi-state or national efforts. A list of agreements awarded is available online. FSA is also accepting proposals until July 11, 2016, for consideration in the second evaluation period of the Outreach and Education initiative.

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Permalink On-Farm Research Explores Goat Mineral Supplement Alternatives

An on-farm study in Iowa showed that naturally mined minerals and organic supplements can be as effective as a synthetic mineral block for goat health, according to Practical Farmers of Iowa, a partner in the study. Meat-goat farmer Cheryl Hopkins tested three different mineral supplements--a standard mineral block, natural loose minerals alone, and a natural loose mineral-kelp mix--and how these affected goat health indicators such as parasite load, body condition, and hoof health. Goats eating all three supplements remained healthy throughout the trial, with no significant differences in any of those key indicators. The full report Alternative Free Choice Minerals in Goats is available online.

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Permalink Study Shows Most Retiring Farmers in New England Have No One to Take Over the Farm

A study released by American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Land For Good (LFG) says that nearly 30% of New England's farmers are likely to exit farming in the next 10+ years, and nine out of ten are farming without a young farmer alongside them. The year-long study sheds new light on what will be needed to facilitate the transition of farms and farmland in New England to a next generation of farmers. Based on focus groups with farmers, the study documents that older farmers are concerned about retirement; especially those farmers without a next generation farmer or owner to take over. Farmers are also unsure about how to find a younger farmer who can afford to buy their land. Many also want help to make sound transfer agreements. "Some senior farmers may have a plan for their farm's future," said Jesse Robertson-DuBois, New England Director for American Farmland Trust. "But we learned through this study that many do not. A large number of older farmers are worried about their ability to retire and to find a younger farmer who can afford to buy their land."

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Permalink NRCS Funding Available for Measuring Water-Quality Impacts of Conservation Efforts

USDA logoUSDA has announced the availability of $2 million to help farmers install edge-of-field stations that monitor water quality as it leaves their fields, providing data to evaluate the success of various conservation efforts. Experts will monitor one where a conservation practice, such as the use of cover crops in the off season, has been put in place, and a similar field where the conservation practice has not been applied. Conservation practices typically evaluated include cover crops, no-till farming, irrigation water management, and practices that reduce and trap nutrients and sediment. The funding is available to farmers located across key watersheds in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Vermont, and Washington. The financial assistance is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to install and maintain monitoring systems for up to nine years, giving time to measure the impact of conservation systems on water quality under different conditions.

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Permalink Interactive Map Highlights Illinois Farmers' Conservation Successes

The conservation success stories of more than 50 Illinois farmers are featured in a new, interactive online map funded by the Illinois Corn Growers Association, the Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program, the Illinois Farm Bureau, American Farmland Trust, the Soil Health Partnership, the Zea Mays Foundation, and the Illinois Council on Best Management Practices. The map highlights farmers who are implementing best management practices (BMPs), as well as local and regional programs that support their efforts. Examples of BMPs include cover crops, reduced tillage, bioreactors, and other sustainable farming and conservation practices. The conservation story map also lets farmers know about local and regional funding programs and about agriculture groups, conservation groups, and government agencies that support their sustainability efforts within their specific watershed.

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Permalink ATTRAGRAM Photo Contest Invites Entries

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, the National Center for Appropriate Technology is sponsoring a photo contest celebrating the sustainable stewardship of the land. The contest opened April 22 and will close at 12 a.m. EDT on June 15. Amateur photographers in adult and youth categories can enter up to three photos in each of three categories: Images of Small Farms and Livestock Operations; Portraits of Farmers and Farming Families; Marketing – Farmers Markets, Local Foods in Schools, etc. The winning photo in each category will be awarded $200, and runners up in each category will be awarded $50. All entries must be the property of, and submitted by, the photographer entering the contest. Entering your photograph could raise the profile of your operation if the image appears in a national publication or video.

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Permalink SARE Releases Report from the Field

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) has released its 2015/2016 Report from the Field. The 20-page publication illustrates SARE partnerships that strengthen and sustain agriculture--collaborations that draw together researchers, educators, farmers and ranchers, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations. In addition to stories of successful partnerships, the report includes updates on funding allocations and priority activities in each of SARE's four regions. The report is available free online in PDF or in print.

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Permalink The FruitGuys Community Fund Announces Small Farm Sustainability Grants

The FruitGuys Community Fund has announced the 10 recipients of its 2016 small farm sustainability grants. More than $40,000 was awarded to farm projects that will help save bees, conserve water and energy, improve soil health, train future farmers, and feed and nurture the hungry. The FruitGuys Community Fund, a non-profit fiscally sponsored project of Community Initiatives, supports farms, non-profits, and policies that practice and promote sustainable agriculture. The 2016 grant recipients will use the funds for projects ranging from organic cover crops and urban orchards to owl box and beehive installations. The winners include family-owned farms in Maryland, California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan that produce certified organic meat and crops and donate produce to low-income and homeless individuals. The FruitGuys Community Fund will issue its call for applicants for the 2017 grant cycle in December 2016.

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Permalink Wisconsin Develops Pollinator Protection Plan

Wisconsin's pollinator protection plan is now complete and available to gardeners, farmers, beekeepers, and open lands managers, announced Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). DATCP contracted with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Entomology Department to develop the plan. It describes scientific data on risks to pollinators, and recommends best management practices, or BMPs, to protect them. DATCP applied for and received a Specialty Crops Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop the plan. The completed plan is available online.

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Permalink Study Shows Growing Herbicide Resistance in Waterhemp

The invasive broadleaf weed waterhemp has spread across the Midwest during the past quarter century, causing yield losses of 40 to 70% in corn and soybeans. University of Illinois researchers studied the plant's resistance to herbicide and found that some populations are resistant to HPPD-inhibitors even when applied at a double dose. Some populations are also resistant to alternative herbicide classes, ALS-inhibitors and PSII-inhibitors. Researchers caution that if farmers switch herbicides to another class that is effective today, waterhemp is likely to develop resistance to that class of herbicides next. University of Illinois weed scientist Aaron Hager recommends that farmers address waterhemp problems at the seed stage by letting the seed germinate and then mechanically working the soil before planting a crop, for multiple years. He also stresses the need to pull surviving weeds before they go to seed.

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Permalink NASS Corrects 2014 Organic Survey Report

USDA logoUSDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) discovered a number of record-level errors in the 2014 Organic Survey. The errors impacted survey data originally released on September 17, 2015, for the following crops: apples, garlic, herbs, onions, peaches, bell peppers, spinach, and walnuts. NASS has re-posted the 11 impacted tables and corrected the online database (QuickStats).

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Permalink FamilyFarmed Announces Direct Market Success Initiative

FamilyFarmed has announced Direct Market Success as the latest expansion of the organization's effort to train farmers across the United States and help them achieve sustainable success. Direct Market Success is a reference guide for farms selling in direct market venues such as farmers markets, CSAs, and farm stands. Closely modeled after FamilyFarmed's Wholesale Success manual and training program, Direct Market Success is intended to be the definitive farmer’s guide to selling, food safety, postharvest handling, and logistics for farmers who are seeking to enter and grow in this burgeoning consumer sector, mainly composed of farmers markets, CSAs, online retail sales, and farm stands. The manual will become the core of a program to directly train farmers in workshops to be held across the nation, in a role parallel to that of Wholesale Success, which has been used by FamilyFarmed to directly train 7,000 farmers nationwide. FamilyFarmed has also announced an advisory board for the intiative, made up of 19 experts from across the direct marketing spectrum.

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Permalink Temple Grandin Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Colorado State University professor of animal sciences Temple Grandin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences among new members announced April 20. CSU notes that Grandin is an internationally recognized leader in animal handling innovations, and her expertise has been utilized by major corporations and USDA. Her approach to animal welfare is informed by Grandin's own experiences with autism and through her perspective as a "visual thinker."

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Permalink Pollinator Conservation Videos Online

The Pollinator Friendly Alliance and Pollinate Minnesota have posted a series of videos from the People for Pollinators symposium held in March. The video titles include Pesticides and Pollinators: Can We Co-Exist, Pollinator Habitat on Farms, America's Flyways: Challenges and Opportunities, Wild Bees: Wild in More Ways than One, and Rethinking Urban Habitats. Each session is approximately one hour long.

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Permalink Cornell Plans Stocker Cattle Initiative for Southern Tier of New York

Cornell University received grant funding through the Southern Tier Agricultural Industry Enhancement program for an initiative to bring stocker beef cattle to the Southern Tier of New York. Raising stocker cattle has been identified as an emerging industry appropriate for the region, with low starter costs accessible for beginning farmers and dairy farmers looking to diversify. Cornell plans to hold regional stocker cattle summits during the next few months and create a year-long training program for farmers, as well as conduct research and provide personnel to assist in grading and marketing. "This project is especially exciting to me, because the stocker cattle enterprise is one of the few agricultural businesses that beginning farmers can get involved in without a lot of overhead. What they do need is training, and this project will provide intensive training to increase their opportunity for success," senior extension associate and project leader Michael Baker said.

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Permalink FDA Extends Comment Period Regarding Information on Use of Raw Manure as Fertilizer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is extending the comment period for public input to assist FDA in its plan to develop a risk assessment evaluating the risk of human illness associated with the consumption of produce grown in fields on which raw manure (or other untreated biological soil amendments of animal origin) is used as fertilizer. The agency is extending the comment period by 60 days, to July 5, 2016. The risk assessment will be designed to evaluate the risk that the use of raw manure as fertilizer on produce crops may pose for consumer health. The risk assessment may inform a decision on the minimum time interval between the application of raw manure and the crop harvest when certain application methods are used. The extension will give interested persons additional time to develop and submit scientific data, information, and comments to help the FDA develop the model for this work.

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Permalink Natural Controls Keep Insect Pests in Check

Mexican researchers writing in Environmental Entomology reported on their study of a prickly pear field in Mexico where scale insects are controlled by natural predators. Coverage by Entomology Today says that the abundance of scale insects never reaches pest status because six known predators in the field increase in population to control the scale insect populations. The study concludes that if conditions are right, farmers could use natural predators for autonomous control rather than applying insecticides. However, researchers note that autonomous control is not a technology that can be applied, but rather a process that is established and maintained through ecosystem biodiversity. Study author Dr. J. A. Cruz-Rodríguez explains, "Intercropping, agroforestry systems, non-use of biocidal products (or its more rational application) — they all contribute to the formation of the biotic network that prevents the development of pests."

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Permalink Sheep Tested for Terminating Cover Crops

USDA logoThrough an Organic Transitions grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, scientists at Montana State University are studying how domestic sheep could help organic farmers terminate cover crops without tillage. The project is exploring whether sheep are an economically viable way for organic farmers to control weeds and eliminate cover crops while promoting soil health. The researchers have found that integrated systems hold the most promise for sustainability. "I think one of the major points we have learned is that there is a definite, strategic, environmentally sustainable and cost-effective use of all the methods (tillage, grazing, and herbicide). The most sustainable farming practices would probably include the strategic use of all these tools," said Patrick Hatfield, MSU animal and range sciences professor.

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Permalink More Intensive Farming in Tropics Would Require Vast Amounts of Phosphorus

A study led by the University of Vermont and published in Nature Plants says that if tropical countries turn to intensive agriculture to raise more food, they will require vast amounts of mined phosphorus fertilizer. "In some parts of the tropics, for every ton of phosphorus harvested in food, you have to donate one ton to the soil," said Eric Roy, a scientist at the University of Vermont who led the new study. "We call that the phosphorus tax." Tropical soils are not only naturally low in phosphorus, but they also tend to bind available phosphorus. The research shows that these binding soils could capture 1 to 4 million metric tons of fertilizer phosphorus annually, so maintaining crop yields would be tied to obtaining adequate supplies of phosphorus fertilizer.

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Permalink Organic Grain and Feedstuffs Market Report Published

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Livestock, Poultry, and Grain (LPG) Market News recently published the National Organic Grain and Feedstuffs report. Published bi-weekly, this report provides organic price information at the farm gate and on a delivered elevator basis. The report also highlights the market's spot trade and forward contract activity.

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Permalink Crowdfunding Helps Farmers Raise Money and Build Customer Base

Online crowdfunding campaigns are helping farmers access capital to expand and improve their businesses, reports The Guardian. Crowdfunding has helped farmers who weren't able to get traditional bank loans. What's more, using this strategy for raising money can also help farms build and cement links with a customer base that will continue to support the farm by purchasing products in the future. In fact, entrepreneur Mike Salguero used a Kickstarter campaign to test consumer support for his ButcherBox monthly meat subscription service. The overwhelming support on Kickstarter indicated to Salguero that he had found a marketing niche with a significant customer base.

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Permalink Climate Resilient Farming Grants Awarded in New York

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the award of $1.4 million for the Climate Resilient Farming Grant Program to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture-related activities and increase the resiliency of New York State farms. Grants will support 11 projects on farms across five regions and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote energy savings and mitigate water and soil quality concerns in the face of climate change. County Soil and Water Conservation Districts were awarded the grants on behalf of farmers for one of the following project categories: agricultural waste storage cover and flare; on-farm water management; and soil health systems. The 2016-17 New York State Budget includes additional funding to build on this first round and provide assistance to help agricultural producers prepare for and better manage the impacts of climate change like increased heavy rain storms and periods of drought.

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Permalink Tulane Expands Nitrogen Reduction Grand Challenge

The Tulane Nitrogen Reduction Challenge is seeking innovative in-field solutions that will reduce crop fertilizers and runoff, with the goal of combating hypoxia and global "Dead Zones" in the world's lakes and oceans. Tulane University continues to tap into the genius of worldwide entrepreneurs, researchers, and inventors by offering a new and expanded $1 million Grand Challenge. The registration deadline is June 30, 2016.

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Permalink Study Explores How Far Airborne Bacteria Travel from Manure Application Sites

Research from Clarkson University explored how far common bacteria—including Salmonella and E. coli—are likely to travel downwind from manure application sites, reports the American Society of Agronomy. Over the course of three years, researchers took samples at several distances from manure application sites and measured the presence of illness-causing bacteria. They also used computer models to enhance their understanding, and they considered the risk of illness developing from certain levels of bacteria being present. Their work was published in Journal of Environmental Quality. The team found that produce fields should be set back from areas of manure application by at least 160 meters, to lower the risk of foodborne illness to acceptable levels.

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Permalink Brazilian Study Finds Copper Sulfate Toxic to Native Bee Pollinators

A new study from the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil, reported by Entomology Today, found that copper sulfate, when used as a leaf fertilizer, is lethal to a native Brazilian bee that is the prevailing wild pollinator in the region. In the United States, copper sulfate is primarily used as a fungicide, including in organic agriculture. The researchers found that, under oral exposure, the copper sulfate fertilizer killed all the test bees within 72 hours, and was more lethal than the spinosad control. Simple contact with copper sulfate (such as brushing on legs) did not result in such severe effects, but did continue to increase food ingestion. "This could have implications for growers who use copper sulfate as a leaf fertilizer, and as a fungicide," study co-author Raul Narciso Guedes said.

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Permalink USDA Seeks Nominations for Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking nominations to fill 12 openings on the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee. This advisory committee examines the full spectrum of issues faced by the industry and advises USDA on how the department can better meet the industry's needs. USDA encourages nominees who reflect the full diversity of the produce sector in terms of size and scale of operation, industry role, demographic characteristics, geographic location, and production methods. Qualified candidates include active members in the fruit and vegetable industry: shippers; wholesalers; brokers; retailers; processors; fresh cut processors; foodservice suppliers; state agencies; state departments of agriculture; and trade associations. Nominations must be received on or before May 4, 2016.

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