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Permalink Iowans Asked to Participate in Developing Identity Standard for Aronia Berry Products

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach food safety specialists have asked for Iowans' help in acquiring samples of aronia berry jam and jelly for an upcoming ISU Extension and Outreach research project titled "Establishing a Standard of Identity for Jams and Jellies Made from Aronia Berries." Currently, aronia berries are not among the fruits approved for making jams or jellies under the Food and Drug Administration Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Part 150 Section 150.160, and cannot be sold to any market without validation that the recipe meets the standard of identity for fruit preserves, jams or jellies. The ISU Extension and Outreach research team wants to collect samples with the goal of providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with guidance related to the aronia berry being added to the approved fruit list. ISU is asking for jam and jelly samples, along with recipes and a sample of the berry from which the product was made. Participants will receive a cost and shipping stipend. This research project is funded by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Services Specialty Crop Block Grant Program through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

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Permalink Research Links Economic Health with Organic Agriculture

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has released research that links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture, and shows that organic food and crop production creates real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities. A White Paper titled "U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies," was prepared for OTA by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke. It found that organic hotspots--counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity--boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points. The White Paper identifies 225 counties across the United States as organic hotspots, then looks at how these organic hotspots impact two key county-level economic indicators: the county poverty rate and median household income. It also identifies what factors create organic hotspots, how the effect of organic agricultural hotspots compare with those of general agriculture (combined organic and conventional agriculture), and finally recommends specific policies to foster more organic economic hotspots throughout the nation.

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Permalink Organic Farming Research Foundation Awards Research Grants

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has announced the award of six research grants for 2016. Grantees were selected based on the relevance of their proposed research project to fostering the improvement or adoption of organic farming systems, as well as ways in which organic farmers or ranchers can utilize proposed results in their operations. The projects funded this year will explore irrigation management for organic tomato processing, peach production in the Southeast, using flowering plants in strawberry fields to improve pest control and fruit quality, enhancing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi associations, nutrient budgeting in organic grain production, and compost extracts for organic weed suppression.

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Permalink Cornell's "Farm Ops" Helps Veterans Learn Agriculture

Cornell University's "Farm Ops" initiative gives returning veterans the opportunity to learn agriculture via their G.I. Bill benefits. Cornell Chronicle explains that the program allows earned military benefits to be deployed in agriculture training. Through the program, veterans receive six to 24 months of on-the-job training experience at approved pilot farm sites across the state. The veterans learn all aspects of a particular farm enterprise, such as dairy or orchard management. In this program, veterans can use their military housing allowances to support their on-the-job training. This initiative is part of Cornell's efforts to train returning veterans in agriculture, which include short-term educational opportunities such as the week-long Armed to Farm training offered in partnership with the National Center for Appropriate Technology in August.

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Permalink Researchers Find Cover Crops Can Aid in Pest Control

Research led by USDA-ARS under a grant from Southern SARE shows that cover crops used as refuges in vegetable plantings can help control insect pests by hosting enemies and competitors. Specifically, the study looked at whether bidens and blue lupine can control Western flower thrips and tobacco thrips in tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Results were mixed depending on the specific trial year and crop combinations and are available online in the project report. "Results indicate that cover and companion crops could promote sustainability in vegetable farmscapes by enhancing biotic resistance," said research entomologist and project leader Stephen Hight.

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Permalink New York Schools to Purchase More than $2 Million in Local Fruits and Vegetables

New York State Office of General Services has announced that school districts across the state have made a commitment to dedicate at least $2.1 million in USDA funds toward the federal agency's Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables during the 2016-17 school year. New York was one of eight states selected for a USDA pilot program that began in 2014, for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables by schools. Now, in the third year of the pilot, at least 134 districts have made commitments to spend from $107 to $500,000, to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables in 2016-17. Efforts are ongoing to grow interest in the pilot and get more schools and food vendors to participate. There are currently 18 vendors on the USDA-approved vendor list that are eligible to participate in the pilot in New York State. Those vendors include farmers, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors.

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Permalink Investment Potential of Organic Agriculture Highlighted

A feature in Wall Street Daily explores why organic agriculture may be attractive to investors, and describes the approach of companies that base their investment approach on supporting ecological farming or investing in organic farmland and supporting organic crop development. Some investors have benefited from price premiums on organic products, lower input costs for organic production, and consumer demand for non-GMO products.

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Permalink EU Investigates Ecological Intensification of Agriculture

A European Union research project called "LIBERATION" is exploring how to use services provided by nature to benefit farmers, reports Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine. For example farmers can plant semi-natural wildflower habitats on their farms to attract beneficial insects such as pollinators. LIBERATION aims to provide facts that can be used to convince farmers to adopt ecological intensification measures. A related project, OSCAR, also EU-funded, had a team of economists who explored the profitability of farmers switching to ecological intensification. This project showed farmers that switching to minimum tillage and cover crops had a positive economic effect. More information and results from both projects are available online.

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Permalink Biomass Crop Assistance Program Offering Incentives

USDA logoUSDA Farm Service Agency has announced the availability of incentive funds through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Facilities seeking to be qualified by USDA to accept biomass can enroll until June 6, 2016. BCAP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who establish and maintain new crops of energy biomass, or who harvest and deliver forest or agricultural residues to a USDA-approved facility that creates energy or biobased products. Between June 15 and August 4, 2016, USDA will accept applications from foresters and farmers seeking incentives to remove biomass residues from fields or national forests for delivery to energy generation facilities. The retrieval payments are provided at match of $1 for $1, up to $20 per dry ton. Eligible crops include corn residue, diseased or insect-infested wood materials, or orchard waste.

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Permalink Schools in Each State Honored for "One in a Melon" Farm to School Programs

USDA logoUSDA Food and Nutrition Service has announced the schools in each state that received the "One in a Melon" award for innovative farm to school programs. Parents, teachers, community stakeholders, students, and others nominated and voted for school districts with noteworthy programs. The winners included schools with gardens that involve students and families, cafeterias that serve a range of local foods, and even a school district that issues "farmer trading cards" from local farms that provide its produce.

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Permalink OFRF Publishes Soil Educational Guide

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has published a new educational guide titled Soil Microbial Interactions and Organic Farming. This resource explores the role of microorganisms, like bacteria, in creating healthy soil ecosystems that benefit organic farms. Microorganisms help create healthy soil, remove soil contaminants through bioremediation, and improve plant health by controlling weeds and plant disease. This guide, available online in PDF, provides information for organic farmers on how to build healthy soils through incorporating the benefits of a diverse soil microbiome.

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Permalink Survey Assessing Animal Health Needs of Small-Scale and Urban Livestock and Poultry Producers

Researchers from University of California, Washington State University, and Colorado State University are conducting a needs assessment regarding animal health concerns on small-scale farms and urban agriculture operations in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state. The 15-minute online survey aims to identify the needs of livestock and poultry owners related to animal health, animal husbandry, and food safety, and the role that veterinarians play on small farms. This study will serve as a benchmark for designing effective educational programs to train farmers, backyard producers, and veterinarians working within this sector.

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Permalink European Study Shows Benefits from Crop Diversification into Legumes

Research carried out as part of the European Union project Legume Futures shows environmental and economic benefits from introducing legumes into agricultural cropping systems dependent upon small grains. The research was published in Frontiers in Plant Science. Tests in five case study areas in Europe confirmed the environmental benefits of introducing legumes: overall nitrous oxide emissions reduced by approximately 20-30% and fertilizer use was down by 25% to almost 40% in some cases. Furthermore, gross margins increased in all of the forage agriculture systems modelled, and in two out of the five arable systems, demonstrating economic benefits, as well. "The introduction of legumes such as clovers, lupins, lucerne and faba beans can increase the sustainability of agriculture and the supply of protein in Europe," stated Moritz Reckling of the Leibniz Centre for Agriculture Research (ZALF) in Germany and lead author of this study.

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Permalink Results of National Food Hub Survey Available Online

MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and the Wallace Center at Winrock International have released Findings of the 2015 National Food Hub Survey. The report on this second national survey details findings on topics such as the financial state of food hubs, the numbers and types of farmers and ranchers that they work with, and the types of customers they serve. Overall, the survey indicates that the food hub model can be financially successful across a variety of legal structures and geographic or customer markets. The 67-page report on findings of the survey is available online in PDF.

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Permalink University of Kentucky Develops Mechanized System for Organic Vegetable Production

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) reports that University of Kentucky researchers have designed, built, and tested a low-cost, mechanized system for organic vegetable production to help small-scale growers reduce their labor costs, increase their scale of operations, reduce input costs, and increase production. Under an On-Farm Research Grant, researchers retrofitted an old three-wheeled tobacco harvesting aid with furrow guidance. The machine allows for precision guidance of various vegetable production operations throughout the growing season: laying drip tape, planting seed, transplanting crops. The design plans for the machine, along with a parts spreadsheet and costs for materials and parts, are available online for growers interested in building the machine themselves.

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Permalink Organic Industry Survey Shows Record Organic Sales

The Organic Trade Association's 2016 Organic Industry Survey reveals that total organic product sales hit a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up 11% from the previous year's record level. The industry saw its largest annual dollar gain ever in 2015, adding $4.2 billion in sales. Nearly 5% of all the food sold in the United States in 2015 was organic. The survey also reported that supply issues challenged the industry as demand outstripped organic production, particularly for dairy and grains, but that the organic industry came together in creative and proactive ways to address the supply challenge, to improve and develop infrastructure, and to advocate for policy to advance the sector. There is also growth in the non-food organic market, such as for organic fiber and supplements.

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Permalink FamilyFarmed Seeking Partners for Farmer Training Workshops

FamilyFarmed is seeking partners to join its grant application for funding of farmer training workshops including new Direct Market Success training and On-Farm Food Safety training, as well as its well-known Wholesale Success training. The customized, one- to two-day training workshops are led by Atina Diffley. Workshop activities may include presentations, farmer and/or buyer panel, activities and small group work, group assessments and discussion, beginning food safety plans, making farm site maps, facility tours and site visits, and reception/Meet the Buyers networking event. To bring farmer training to your farmer network or for more information about the workshops, including financing/grant options, contact James Pirovano at james@familyfarmed.org, 312.874.7360 no later than June 10. Partners can be food hubs, producer cooperatives, farmers markets, nonprofits, or others.

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Permalink Minnesota Awards Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grants

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's (MDA) Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant program has just awarded grants to 11 new projects across the state. Topics include cover cropping, controlling invasive species with goats, bee health, novel rootstock for pear production, integrating livestock into orchards, evaluating the palatability and nutrition of corn varieties for poultry production, and more. There’s even an urban agriculture project exploring whether worm composting is an economical way to make a potting medium for greenhouse production. The results of the projects are summarized in the annual Greenbook, available online.

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Permalink Kentucky Launches Food to Fork Program

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is accepting applications from community organizations interested in hosting Kentucky Proud dinners now through fall of 2016. The Kentucky Proud Food to Fork Program will provide funding to qualifying applicants for dinners that showcase local food products. The program will also promote local agritourism businesses and provide educational background on locally produced agricultural food and products. Applicants must agree to display the Kentucky Proud logo in all graphics and promotional materials for the event. Successful applicants will agree to make every effort to source local agricultural products from area farms and producers. Applicants must designate a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization as the beneficiary of the dinner. The department will provide a 50-50 match for eligible expenses. Funding limit will be based on attendance. Applications must be submitted by September 2, and dinners held by November 30.

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Permalink Hop Production Guide Available

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has published the first in a series of publications on all aspects of hop production. The two-page PDF publication, available free online, is titled Hop Production 101: Site selection and planting. This publication discusses the best practices for selecting a site to grow hops and how to plant the crop. Interest in hop production in Iowa has grown over the past few years with a rise in craft brewing.

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Permalink Rural Enterprise Development Resources Offered

NOFA-VT has recently released a collection of resources for farmers and communities about land use issues for rural enterprises. Rural enterprises are businesses, often on farms, that are suited to a rural area because they are supportive of agriculture or forestry activities and provide employment opportunities. The four free online publications include an overview document for farmers that outlines a myriad of the land use topics and resources they should be aware of when making business decisions related to their business' land use. Additionally, two case studies of farms that have dealt with these questions are provided to share how two different farms and communities have addressed these challenges. There is also a document primarily for municipalities, which provides steps that can be taken to support and manage rural enterprises within their communities.

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Permalink Non-GMO Project Accepting Comments on Standard

The Non-GMO Project is currently accepting comments on the Non-GMO Project Standard, Version 13. The Standard is a consensus-based document that has been crafted with the insight and expertise of dozens of individuals, reflecting a dynamic range of perspectives. Public comment on Version 13 will be accepted online until June 24, 2016.

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Permalink Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series Announced

Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, in partnership with The Ohio State University Extension Sustainable Agriculture Team, Advancing Eco Agriculture, Ashtabula Local Food Council, Columbus Agrarian Society, and Our Harvest Research and Education Institute, has announced its 2016 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series. In total, the series features 32 farm tours and 10 educational workshops over the course of the summer. All tours and workshops are free and open to the public. The first tour is June 7, and the series extends through November 13. A PDF brochure on the series is available online.

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Permalink Nominations Invited for Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is accepting nominations for the Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture. The Spencer Award honors the beliefs, innovations and stewardship of Norman and Margaretha Spencer, who farmed near Sioux City, Iowa, for 40 years. Any Iowan who has made significant contributions to the advancement of ecological and economic practices that will make agriculture sustainable and the family farm secure for the future is eligible. Self-nominations or nominations by others are welcomed. Nominations are due by June 15, 2016.

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Permalink Farm to School Toolkit Offered by Minneapolis Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has released the MPS Farm to School Toolkit, a case study of how MPS buys fresh, sustainably grown produce from small and medium-sized local farmers. The toolkit offers an easy-to-read summary of MPS' farm to school procurement process with pictures and links to useful documents and templates. The primary audience for this toolkit is food service directors and staff at schools or other institutions who wish to serve locally grown foods, as well as partners who serve to support or fund farm to school programs. However, authors note that anyone interested in farm to school will learn something from this tangible example of how a school district serves farm-fresh produce in school meals. The 24-page publication is available online in PDF.

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Permalink U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award Winners Announced

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® has announced the nine winners of its fifth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards. The program recognizes dairy farms, businesses and partnerships whose sustainable practices positively impact the health and well-being of consumers, communities, animals, and the environment. Judges evaluated the nominees' sustainability practices based on their economic, environmental and community impact. In the category of Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability, winners were Bateman's Mosida Farms in Elberta, Utah; Jer-Lindy Farms LLC, Brooten, Minnesota; and Siemers Holsteins, Newton, Wisconsin. Other categories included Outstanding Dairy Processing & Manufacturing Sustainability and Outstanding Achievement in Resource Stewardship. Short descriptions of the winners' achievements are available online.

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Permalink FDA Issues Preventive Controls Rules Draft Guidance

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the publication of draft guidance to assist qualified facilities, such as very small businesses, in complying with the Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule or the Preventive Controls for Animal Food Rule under the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). A business that meets the definition of a "qualified facility" is subject to modified requirements of the preventive controls rules. These modified requirements can be met by submitting a form to FDA, attesting to the business’s status as a qualified facility and attesting that the facility is implementing preventive controls to address hazards associated with its food or is in compliance with non-Federal food safety laws and regulations. The draft guidance that was published, "Qualified Facility Attestation Using Form FDA 3942a (for Human Food) or Form FDA 3942b (for Animal Food) " explains how to determine whether a business meets the definition of "qualified facility" and how to submit the FDA form attesting to its status as a qualified facility. The draft guidance will be available for public comment for 180 days starting May 16, 2016.

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Permalink Allium Leafminer a New Insect Pest in Pennsylvania

Penn State University reports that the allium leafminer, an invasive insect pest native to Germany and Poland, has been found in five counties of Pennsylvania. This is the first time the insect has been found in the Western Hemisphere. It poses a threat to crop plants in the genus Allium, such as onion, leek, garlic, chive, shallot, and green onion. "[L]iterature from other countries suggests that organic and market-garden production systems and home gardens tend to experience more damage than conventional production systems," Shelby Fleischer, professor of entomology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, said. "Conventional growers may have fewer problems due to the insecticidal controls they are likely to use and to shorter time windows in which host plants are available." The insect causes leaf punctures when feeding and laying eggs, then larvae migrate from leaves into bulbs, where they pupate. The leaf punctures and mines serve as entry routes for bacterial and fungal pathogens. Levels of crop infestation as high as 100% have been reported. Fleischer and state agriculture officials ask that Pennsylvania growers or home gardeners who are not in one of the five affected counties and who think they might have observed damage or a life stage of the allium leafminer to contact a plant inspector in the regional Department of Agriculture office or the nearest Penn State Extension office.

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Permalink Farmers' Guide Helps Organic Producers Apply for New Buffer Initiative

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has announced the publication of Organic Farmers' Guide to the Conservation Reserve Program Field Border Buffer Initiative, a guide intended to assist organic farmers in accessing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Organic Buffer Initiative. NSAC's guide includes eligibility and application information, program basics, detailed descriptions of key conservation practices and associated payments, as well as two producer profiles and resources for additional information. Through the Organic Buffer Initiative, FSA provides farmers with rental payments, cost-share payments, and in many cases incentive payments for land that is set-aside for conservation buffers for a period of 10-15 years. The initiative helps organic producers limit the impacts of pesticide drift, enhance their conservation systems, and meet National Organic Program (NOP) certification requirements for natural resource and biodiversity conservation. The full guide is available online.

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Permalink On-Demand Tutorial on Farming Implements Posted

USDA logoUSDA NRCS Science and Technology has posted a tutorial titled Farming Implements in Action: Impacts on the Soil, Erosion Potential of Tillage Systems, and Economics. This tutorial, which includes videos, provides an opportunity to learn about the types of soil disturbances that tillage implements have on soil and the effects of disturbance on soil loss. The effects of different tillage types are demonstrated and discussed in a comparison between a conventional, reduced-till, and no-till corn/soybean rotation. Finally, the webinar ends with a very brief discussion of the economic factors that one should consider in making the move from a conventional to reduced-till or no-till system.

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