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Permalink EPA Proposes Pesticide Restrictions to Protect Bees

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule that would place label restrictions on pesticides in order to protect bees. The label restrictions would prohibit bloom-time foliar application of pesticides acutely toxic to bees when managed bees are known to be present. EPA will accept comment on the proposed rule until June 29, 2015. In addition, EPA is also seeking comment on a proposal to rely on efforts made by states and tribes to reduce pesticide exposures through development of locally based measures, specifically through managed-pollinator protection plans.

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Permalink Mobile Phone Apps Aid in Land-Management Information

USDA logoAs part of a five-year, multi-organization project called the "Land Potential Knowledge System" (LandPKS), USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists have released two apps, dubbed "LandInfo" and "LandCover." LandInfo's primary objective is to make collecting soil data easier for non-soil scientists; the app does also provides useful feedback, including how much water the soil can store for plants to use, average monthly temperature and precipitation, and the length of the growing season based on the user's location. LandCover simplifies collecting data for land-cover inventories and monitoring. In combination with a notched meter stick, the app documents tree, grass, bare ground, and crop-residue cover and sends the data to servers, where it will be stored and accessible to users worldwide. A future app (LandPotential) will use the LandInfo information together with Internet cloud-based models and additional knowledge bases to help users identify and select management systems that increase production while reducing soil erosion. LandInfo and LandCover are currently available on Android and availability on other platforms is planned by the end of the year.

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Permalink In New Mexico, Hoop Houses Offer Season Extension for Winter Greens

A three-year winter greens production study by New Mexico State University, funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant program, looked at how hoop houses can extend the growing season. The study monitored air and soil temperatures in 18 hoop houses across northern New Mexico that featured three different designs: one with a single sheet of plastic, another with a double sheet of plastic with forced air between the two layers, and a third that built on the double-sheet design with the addition of black 55-gallon water barrels to absorb and re-radiate the day's heat. Though even a single layer of plastic was sufficient to produce a crop, researchers found that a secondary layer of row cover woven material over the crop provided a 5- to 10-degree temperature boost that offered additional protection and growth. During the study, the spinach and lettuce were planted in October and November, and harvested throughout the winter, with the last harvest in mid-March. The yield per hoop house was nearly 100 pounds harvested during the course of the study, which researchers say is enough to pay off the cost of the hoop house over just a couple seasons.

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Permalink Modeling Identifies Farm Management Practices that Prevent Runoff

South Dakota State University researchers used computer modeling to determine which farm management practices are most likely to reduce runoff. No-till farming, cover crops, and rotational grazing emerged as the management practices that reduced surface runoff. The research was done as part of a three-year, $482,000 research project led by Distinguished Professor Rattan Lal of the Ohio State School of Environment and Natural Resources. The goal is to determine which farm-management practices will improve soil and water quality on sloped land. The South Dakota researchers created a computer model that can be adapted to farmland anywhere.

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Permalink Lysozyme Studied as Antibiotic Alternative for Promoting Pig Growth

USDA logoScientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service are testing lysozyme, a naturally occurring antimicrobial enzyme, as an antibiotic alternative for improved feed efficiency and growth in pigs. In testing, piglets on either lysozyme- or antibiotics-treated feeds grew approximately 12% faster than untreated pigs—even in uncleaned pens, suggesting that the treatments successfully ameliorated the effects of indirect immune challenge in the animals.

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Permalink Research Explores Double-Cropping Bioenergy Feedstock and Vegetables

A University of Illinois crop scientist and ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service recently published his work on developing a bioenergy feedstock/vegetable double-cropping system. Marty Williams explored a cropping system using a large-seeded short-season vegetable crop (pumpkins) in combination with a fall-planted cereal rye as a bioenergy feedstock. Pumpkin yields in the double-cropping system were comparable to conventional pumpkin production and the biomass feedstock also yielded an average of 4.4 tons per acre. The system looks promising for producing energy without taking land out of food production, although Williams notes that other feedstock and vegetable crops might be more productive matches better suited to double-cropping.

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Permalink Feature Explores Symbiosis of Farms and Restaurants

A feature in SF Weekly takes a closer look at how the relationship between farmers and chefs can become a symbiosis, benefiting both. The article offers examples of how chefs are working with local farmers to obtain products and develop particular tastes, thereby attracting customers to their restaurants. Farmers, meanwhile, benefit from the steady custom of restaurants, having fewer deliveries to make, as well as the freedom to experiment with new crops. Long-term relationships between restaurants and farmers often involve long-term planning involving both parties.

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Permalink EPA Fact Sheet Explains Clean Water Rule Implications for Agriculture

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule, ensuring that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined. EPA has clarified that the rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions. EPA has issued a specific two-page fact sheet, The Clean Water Rule for Agriculture, which explains what the new rule does and does not do and describes how input from the agricultural community helped shape the new rule.

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Permalink Conservation Client Gateway Helps Farmers, Ranchers Work with NRCS Online

USDA logoUSDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has introduced a new online portal, the Conservation Client Gateway, that will help producers work with conservation planners online to access Farm Bill programs, request assistance, and track payments for their conservation activities. Conservation Client Gateway is entirely voluntary, giving producers a choice between conducting business online or traveling to a USDA service center. "Our goal is to make it easy and convenient for farmers and ranchers to work with USDA," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Customers can log in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to electronically sign documents, apply for conservation programs, access conservation plans, report practice completion or track the status of conservation payments."

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Permalink Grants Support Organic Dairy Farm Succession Initiative

Land For Good (LFG) has launched an initiative aimed at successfully transferring working organic dairy farms in New England to next-generation farmers. LFG received grants from Clif Bar Family Foundation and Organic Valley's Farms Advocating For Organics (FAFO) Fund to support the initiative. LFG will identify unique challenges and opportunities with the organic dairy sector to ensure that organic farm businesses, land, and expertise are passed on. The initiative will partner with the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Association (NODPA), and state organic farming groups, such as Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and Northeast Organic Farming Associations (NOFA). The project will conduct farmer focus groups and work with farms on transfer planning in western and eastern New England.

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Permalink Postharvest Publications Available Online

UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center is now offering online access to its free library of postharvest articles organized by topic. More than 1,900 articles on various topics are available in PDF. Topics include specific crops, organic produce, and handling processes.

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Permalink Researchers Seek Solutions for New Insect Pest Challenging Northeast Brassica Growers

The swede midge, a relatively new pest in the Northeast, is threatening brassica crops and posing a particular challenge for organic growers, reports Burlington Free Press. Yolanda Chen, an entomologist and professor at University of Vermont's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, is exploring ways to control the insect without using conventional neonicotinoid pesticides. Practices such as crop rotation can help, and researchers are also looking into botanical oils that might slow midge development enough for early brassica crops to make it to market.

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Permalink Broccoli Production Proving Viable on East Coast

Cornell's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management has released a study showing that new regional production of broccoli in the eastern United States is economically viable. The economic analysis considered the entire food network that currently delivers West-Coast broccoli to the East Coast and found that although production costs are higher in the east, transportation costs would be lower. The study considered East Coast locations that could contribute to the supply from spring through fall, including Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Maine. A challenge for eastern producers is finding broccoli varieties that withstand the region's heat and humidity. The Cornell project also includes testing to identify suitable varieties, and this summer there will be commercial-scale plantings of leading varieties emerging from testing, as well as the first tests of new hybrids made from university breeding programs and private companies.

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Permalink Walmart Adopts Animal Welfare and Antibiotic-Use Positions

Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have announced new positions around animal welfare and the responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals. Walmart has announced to suppliers that the company will not tolerate animal abuse, supports the globally recognized “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare, and is committed to working with supply chain partners to implement practices consistent with the Five Freedoms. Further, the company asks suppliers to find and implement solutions to address animal welfare concerns in housing systems, painful procedures and euthanasia or slaughter. In addition, Walmart is asking suppliers to adopt and implement the Judicious Use Principles of Antimicrobial Use from the American Veterinary Medical Association and Voluntary Guidance for Industry #209 from the Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, suppliers are directed to report to Walmart and the public regarding their animal welfare positions and antibiotic use.

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Permalink Field Study Shows How GM Crop Pest Resistance Diminishes

A new study from North Carolina State University and Clemson University finds that the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin in a widely used genetically modified (GM) crop is now having little impact on the crop pest called corn earworm. This result is consistent with predictions made almost 20 years ago regarding resistance development, and researchers say it may be a signal to pay closer attention to warning signs about the development of resistance in agricultural pests to GM crops. Lead study author Dominic Reisig acknowledges that the study findings are of limited economic impact at present, because agriculture companies have already developed new, more effective Bt toxins for use against this pest. However, researchers say the study is "a reminder that we need to pay attention to potential clues about developing resistance...We can’t expect there to always be a new GM toxin available to replace the old one.”

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Permalink Comment Period for GE Potato Draft Environmental Documents Currently Open

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is making available for public comment a draft environmental assessment (EA) and preliminary plant pest risk assessment (PPRA) following a petition received from the J.R. Simplot Company. The petition is seeking deregulation of a potato genetically engineered (GE) for late blight resistance, low acrylamide potential, reduced black spot bruising, and lowered reducing sugars. The draft PPRA was conducted to determine whether the potatoes are likely to pose a plant pest risk, and the draft EA evaluates the effects on the quality of the human environment that may result from deregulation. Comments must be received by June 4, 2015.

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Permalink Farmers Market Pricing Study Shows Competitive Prices

A comparison of farmers market and grocery store prices in West Central Minnesota found that farmers market prices during peak
growing season were highly competitive with regional grocery store prices. The average price of a produce-only market basket was less at farmers markets than at grocery stores, costing consumers $12.85 and $14.33 respectively. University of Minnesota Extension partnered with the Center for Small Towns at University of Minnesota Morris to collect price data for a market basket of goods at seven farmers markets, six mainline grocery stores, and two natural food stores during peak growing season in July and August 2014. The primary purpose of this research was to learn the extent to which farmers markets are price competitive, as well as to provide data to vendors and farmers market organizers to help guide pricing strategies. Information on how market vendors can apply the study findings is contained in the final report, available online in PDF.

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Permalink Yale-Led Study Says Healthy Soil Helps Buffer Impacts of Global Warming

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers showed that a healthy and diverse soil community can buffer natural ecosystems against the damaging impacts of global warming. Decomposition of dead plant and animal material by soil microorganisms releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times that of human activity, and global warming has the potential to accelerate this process and create a dangerous feedback cycle. This study showed that in healthy soils with a diversity of small soil animals, the animals fed on microorganisms, helping control the potential for increased carbon emissions and limiting feedback effects.

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Permalink USDA Begins Issuing Grass Fed Lamb and Goat Market Report

USDA logo USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service began releasing a new National Monthly Grass Fed Lamb and Goat Meat report through their USDA Market News service on May 13, 2015. Ed Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, noted in a blog post that this is one of the first reports of its kind, filling a significant data gap for the industry and increasing transparency in the marketplace. With this new market report and improved access to information, USDA aims to assist farmers and ranchers who are considering converting to grass fed operations and those who are already producing grass fed lamb and goat products. In addition to market commentary, the new report will include prices for both wholesale grass fed lamb and direct-to-consumer grass fed lamb and goat.

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Permalink Tree Fruit Pest and Beneficial Insect Search Tool Online

A new search engine for tree fruit diseases, insect and mite pests, and beneficials is now online at the Michigan State University Integrated Pest Management website. Use this search by name or category to identify diseases, insect and mite pests, and beneficials found in crops and landscapes, a critical step in any integrated pest management (IPM) plan. The search engine currently covers tree fruit crops and expansion to other crops is planned for the future.

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Permalink University of Wisconsin-Madison Studying How to Make Pastures Productive and Sustainable

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison are working with Organic Valley, the nation's largest organic farming cooperative, to study how to make pastures as productive, nutritious, and sustainable as possible. The university's Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Program began by conducting a survey of 20 Organic Valley farms to get a current snapshot of pasture health. Initial analysis showed a "significant degree of diversity with respect to pasture quality, as well as soil quality" on these farms. The findings have also revealed some expected and some unexpected connections between various pasture management practices and pasture health, says Logan Peterman, farm resource manager for Organic Valley. The results will soon be used by Peterman and Organic Valley field advisors to help the cooperative's dairy farmers get more out of their pastures in a sustainable way, with the goal of helping to improve the productivity of their dairy operations — and their bottom lines. The University's involvement will also help extend the results to organic dairy farmers across the state, and beyond.

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Permalink Task Force Releases Strategy to Promote Pollinator Health

The White House Pollinator Health Task Force has released its National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. In a blog post, the White House lists the three goals of the policy: reduce honey bee colony losses to economically sustainable levels; increase monarch butterfly numbers to protect the annual migration; and restore or enhance millions of acres of land for pollinators through combined public and private action. An accompanying science-based Pollinator Research Action Plan was also released. A major focus of the federal agency efforts will be increasing the quantity and quality of habitat for pollinators on federal land and supporting similar improvements on private land.

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Permalink Payment Options Increase Farmers Market Purchases, Says Study

A study by Washington State University Researchers showed that farmers markets could increase customer purchases by accepting credit or debit cards and electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. The study provided 12 farmers markets with electronic payment machines and then surveyed participating managers, vendors and customers. The payment options didn't attract more customers to the market, but showed that market shoppers would buy more if running out of cash wasn't an obstacle. In the study, market managers received an electronic payment machine paid for by a Washington State Department of Agriculture specialty crop block grant. Instead of customers using their credit cards at each vendor booth, they purchased tokens from the manager by credit, debit or EBT card. The vendors accepted the tokens and cashed them in with the manager at the end of the day. Since this study was conducted in 2011, new technology has introduced more payment options, so researchers hope to study how those will affect farmers market purchasing.

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Permalink Growers Find Ways to Make CSAs Stand Out

The number of farms offering produce through Community Supported Agriculture operations has boomed in recent years. Harvest Public Media reports on how some farmers are making their offerings stand out from the crowd to gain market share. Some CSAs offer meat, eggs, or dairy products in addition to vegetable produce. Others let customers make choices about what they will receive in their CSA box. One Iowa CSA has a chef creating recipes for everything in the box, to help customers use their CSA bounty. Another CSA is working with a health clinic to sign up patients. Mission-driven CSA operations may also line up customers based on their philosophies and practices.

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Permalink USDA Seeks Proposals on New Organic Promotion Order

USDA logoUSDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is inviting proposals or partial proposals from the public on a new industry-funded promotion, research and information order for organic products. On May 12, 2015, AMS received a proposal for an organic research and promotion program. AMS invites interested parties to submit alternative proposals or partial proposals to assist with the development of an organic promotion, research, and information program. Interested parties have until June 19, 2015, to submit other proposals or partial proposals. AMS will consider submissions before publishing a proposed Organic Promotion, Research and Information Order that would create an industry-funded research and promotion program for organic products under the 1996 Act.

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Permalink USDA Announces Investment in Water Conservation, Resilience for Drought-Stricken States

USDA logoUSDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that it will invest approximately $21 million in additional Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought. NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance through EQIP to target areas that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions, which includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. The EQIP funding will allow NRCS to help producers apply selected conservation practices to better deal with the effects of drought in their operations, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management, irrigation systems, and other water conservation practices. Producers and landowners are encouraged to visit the NRCS website or stop by their local NRCS office to find out if they are eligible for this new funding.

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Permalink Nomination Period for National Organic Standards Board Extended

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has announced an extension of the deadline for submitting nominations for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). NOSB is a Federal Advisory Committee that provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on the implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act. USDA seeks nominations for the following five positions to serve on the NOSB from January 2016 to January 2021: two organic farmers/producers; two public or consumer interest group representatives; and one USDA-accredited certifying agent. Nominations must be postmarked on or before June 17, 2015.

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Permalink Feature Explores How Perennial-Grass Agriculture Could Help Reduce Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia

A feature article in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation considers how 40 years of effort and investment in conservation have failed to achieve nutrient control to prevent hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. The authors suggest that agriculture that makes use of perennial grasses could help control nutrients in the Mississippi River watershed. Specifically, they contend that developing markets for perennial grass-based biofuels and bioproducts could provide the opportunity for farmers to integrate perennial grasses back into agricultural systems, at a landscape scale, particularly on land that is marginal for row crops or adjacent to waterways. Unlike current programs that pay farmers for conservation as an add-on, growing perennial grasses for bioenergy is a market-driven agricultural system that could have significant water quality and other environmental benefits.

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Permalink Southern SAWG Offering Food Hub Starter Kit Online

Southern SAWG is making available a new Food Hub Starter Kit for agricultural or business professionals, farmers or community members who are exploring the development of a food hub. The kit contains a short, annotated list of resources gathered from food hub projects around the country, as well as the National Good Food Network and USDA. The list leans toward resources that give guidance on feasibility studies and business planning. In addition, Southern SAWG facilitated a food hub learning network for the past two years. In this SARE-PDP funded project, 50 agricultural professionals and farmers from around the region shared information on successful strategies for food hub development through workshops, webinars and phone calls. Presentations and webinars from this project are available on the resources page of the Southern SAWG website.

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Permalink Vineyards Practicing Sustainable Pest Management See Increase in Butterflies

In a recent Washington State University study published in the Journal of Insect Conservation, researchers found that vineyards that create nearby natural habitats have three times the number of butterfly species and four times more butterflies than conventional vineyards. Growers planted native sage-steppe shrubbery in and around their vineyards in an effort to attract beneficial insects to prey on pests. As a side benefit, these vineyards are seeing increases in butterfly species and numbers. Though the butterflies have any direct economic benefit for vineyards, they are important pollinators and are an important part of healthy ecosystem, and may enhance the public appeal of agritourism-reliant vineyards.

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