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Permalink Research Finds Sustainable Agriculture Yield Gap at Field Scale

Research led by Michigan State University's Long-Term Ecological Research team at Kellogg Biological Station found that sustainable agriculture practices were more likely to have a yield gap compared with conventional practices at commercial field scale than in experimental plots. The study, published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, compared the yields of a crop rotation of wheat, corn, and soybeans under three different management practices: conventional, low-input, and organic, at experimental plot scale and at commercial field scale. The researchers found a significant gap between both low-input and organic practices at the field scale. The researchers attribute the gap to the difficulty of scaling up organic and low-input practices that require more time and care. For example, establishing cover crops successfully and evenly across an entire field is more difficult than achieving coverage in a small area.

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Permalink Soil Organic Carbon Decomposability Driven by Proximity to Microorganisms

A study by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry, showed that although the the complexity of soil carbon differs with the size of the pore that contains it, decomposability of soil carbon was driven by its proximity to microorganisms, rather than its chemistry. Saturated soils allowed movement of dissolved soil organic carbon to microbial-rich locations, increasing the likelihood of the carbon decomposing. The research will be important for the development of models that simulate soil carbon dynamics and composition.

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Permalink Wheat Virus Can Harm Perennial Native Grasses

A multi-year field study in Kansas by Michigan State University, University of Kansas, and University of Virginia has shown that barley yellow dwarf virus can affect switchgrass. Field results combined with a statistical model showed switchgrass vitality reduced by 30%, which has implications for biofuel producers. The study results also have implications as far as other crop diseases affecting native plants. "Crop fields were once considered tiny islands in a sea of wild vegetation, so farmers and scientists focused on protecting crops from wild pathogens," said Carolyn Malmstrom, MSU plant biologist and co-lead author of the study. "Now, around the world, the situation has reversed, and diseases from agricultural fields affect not only crops, but also substantially harm native plants, such as switchgrass."

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Permalink USDA Announces Organic Livestock and Poultry Final Rule

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service has announced a final rule that clarifies production requirements for organic livestock and poultry. The rule clarifies how producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and well-being throughout life, including transport and slaughter, specifies which physical alterations are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production, and establishes minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry.

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Permalink USDA Seeks Comments on Proposal to Establish a New Organic Research, Promotion, and Information Order

USDA logoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a proposal for a new industry-funded research and promotion program. The proposed Organic Research, Promotion, and Information Order would cover certified organic products and would include a range of agricultural commodities, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry, breads, grains, snack foods, condiments, beverages, and packaged and prepared foods. Like all USDA R&P programs, the proposed program would establish a framework to pool resources to develop new organic markets, strengthen existing markets, and conduct important research and promotion activities. Under the proposed framework, producers and handlers with gross organic sales greater than $250,000 for the prior marketing year would pay one-tenth of one percent of net organic sales. A 60-day public comment period on the proposed rule extends until March 20, 2017.

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Permalink Beef Breakdown Workshop Posted Online

Cooking Up a Story has posted a two-hour video, Beef Breakdown Workshop- Butchering a Forequarter Cow. The workshop was part of the 5th National Conference for Women In Sustainable Agriculture in Portland, Oregon, and was sponsored by Oregon State University and the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network (NMPAN). Included in the demonstration are discussions about the challenges of developing local meat-processing capabilities, involving a diverse audience of attendees in various parts of the supply chain.

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Permalink National Organic Program Announces 2017 Sunset Review Proposed Rule

USDA logoUSDA National Organic Program has announced the 2017 Sunset Proposed Rule. Based on the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), USDA is proposing to remove three synthetic substances and eight nonorganic agricultural products from the National List for use in organic production and handling: lignin sulfonate, furosemide, magnesium carbonate, Chia, dillweed oil, frozen galangal, inulin, frozen lemongrass, chipotle chile peppers, turkish bay leaves, and whey protein concentrate. The prohibitions would take effect on the sunset date of June 27, 2017. Public comments on the 2017 Sunset Review Proposed Rule must be received by March 20, 2017.

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Permalink Adjuvant Chemical Makes Bees More Susceptible to Virus

Researchers at Penn State and USDA report that organosilicone adjuvant, Sylgard 309, a chemical commonly used on almonds, wine grapes, and tree fruits, makes honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible to the Black Queen Cell Virus. Researchers say that use of organosilicone adjuvants on almonds in California has been increasing during the bloom period, when two-thirds of the U.S. honey bee colonies are present. Their findings suggest that exposure to organosilicone adjuvants negatively influences immunity to the virus in honey bee larvae, resulting in enhanced pathogenicity and mortality. The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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Permalink Penn State Extension Offers Home-Study Courses for Livestock Producers

Penn State Extension will offer home-study courses that cover profit-enhancing production principles for beginning beef, sheep, meat-goat, and swine producers. The courses begin February 1, 2017, and continue for either six or seven weeks. Lessons are available nationwide through conventional mail delivery or through e-mail and the Internet. Lesson topics include production basics, selection principles (beef), nutrition, health, reproduction, marketing, and financial issues.

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Permalink Community Alliance with Family Farmers and Farmers Guild to Merge

Two California organizations, Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and the Farmers Guild, have announced that they will merge. CAFF has been working with and advocating for California family farmers and sustainable agriculture for nearly 40 years. The Farmers Guild was founded five years ago and has seen dramatic community growth, particularly with new farmers. The Farmers Guild has connected a large group of crop growers and ranchers through its events, social media, and sharing of practical resources from farmer to farmer and guild to guild. Its 11 local guild chapters will continue after the merger with even more resources at their disposal. A Farmers Guild-Raising event on February 18, 2017, will serve as the official public celebration of this merger.

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Permalink Pilot Program to Accredit Certifiers for American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture

Leonardo Academy Inc has signed an agreement with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to accredit certifiers for ANSI/LEO-4000, the American National Standard for Sustainable Agriculture. ANSI has launched a Pilot Accreditation Program for certifiers and is accepting applications for this pilot from January 12 through March 10, 2017. ANSI/LEO-4000 provides buyers and sellers with reliable benchmarking through four levels of certification (bronze through platinum), a structure that provides a practical “on ramp” for new users and encourages continuous improvement. Eligible users of this standard include producers, investors, processors, manufacturers, distributors, food service providers, retailers, and everyday consumers.

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Permalink Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture Recipients Announced

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has announced that the winners of the annual Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture are David and Corrine Williams and Tom Kaspar. David and Corrine Williams are operating a sixth-generation Heritage farm near Villisca in Montgomery County with their son and grandson. Tom Kaspar is a plant physiologist with the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames. He has been researching the benefits of cover crops since 1990. The Spencer Award honors the beliefs, innovations and stewardship of Norman and Margaretha Spencer, who farmed near Sioux City for 40 years. It serves as a lasting memorial to the Spencers, who believed that it is the obligation of each generation to leave the world a better and healthier place for the next generation.

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Permalink CRP Grasslands Enrollment Meets Small-Scale Goal

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it will accept more than 300,000 acres in 43 states for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands enrollment ranking period that closed on December 16, 2016. This enrollment period included for the first time a CRP Grasslands practice specifically tailored for small-scale livestock grazing operations to encourage broader participation. Small-scale livestock operations with 100 or fewer head of grazing cows (or the equivalent) can submit applications to enroll up to 200 acres of grasslands per farm. Larger operations may still make offers through the normal process. USDA met its goal of 200,000 acres enrolled under this small-scale initiative during this ranking period. Small livestock operations or other farming and ranching operations interested in participating in CRP Grasslands should contact their local FSA office.

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Permalink Australian Research Predicts How Soil Organic Carbon to Be Altered by Climage Change

Australian researchers used 12 climate change models to predict how soil organic carbon levels vary with climate change, reports the American Society of Agronomy. Although a majority of the models showed a decline in soil carbon levels with climate change, the results were mixed. Results also varied greatly across soil types, current climates, and land-use regimes. While the projected average decline of soil organic carbon was less than one ton per hectare for sandy, low-fertility soils in dry conditions under cropping regimes, it was 15 times as much for clay-rich, fertile soils in wet conditions under native vegetation. The study's lead author says that although the study is most relevant to one area of Australia, key findings of the study are globally applicable.

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Permalink Practical Farmers of Iowa Announces Winter Farminar Line-up

Practical Farmers of Iowa has announced the schedule for its weekly series of webinars, beginning January 17 and running each Tuesday, from 7-8:30 p.m. CST, through March 14. Featured topics span a wide range of farming enterprises, and are geared toward beginning and established farmers alike. The interactive format allows attendees to listen in and ask questions using a chatbox. Each farminar is recorded and archived for later viewing. Featured speakers are experienced local producers.

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Permalink FSA Bridges to Opportunity Expands Nationwide

USDA logoUSDA Farm Service Agency is expanding its Bridges to Opportunity program nationwide. Bridges to Opportunity provides a one-stop shop that connects producers with resources, programs, and educational services offered across the department, as well as from other USDA partner organizations. Bridges to Opportunity allows FSA employees to search and obtain a list of all local, state, regional, and nation organizations that may be able assist local producers with their specific need. Through Bridges to Opportunity, FSA county office employees have the tools to connect farmers, ranchers and anyone interested in agriculture with customized expertise on topics ranging including organic production, beginning farmer resources, integrated pest management, disaster assistance, conservation practices, agricultural educational courses, loans, grants and other financial assistance that can start, grow or benefit farming and ranching operations. The program will be available nationwide by the end of January.

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Permalink USDA Reports on Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Balance of Ethanol

USDA logo A Life-Cycle Analysis of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn-Based Ethanol, a new report from USDA, finds that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with corn-based ethanol in the United States are about 43% lower than gasoline when measured on an energy equivalent basis. This report found greater lifecycle GHG benefits from corn ethanol than a number of earlier studies, with the increase driven by a variety of improvements in ethanol production. Farmers are producing corn more efficiently and using conservation practices that reduce GHG emissions, including reduced tillage, cover crops, and improved nitrogen management. U.S. corn yields are also improving--by more than 10% between 2005 and 2015.

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Permalink Montana Local Food Summit Action Plan Summary Posted

The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition has published an executive summary of the action plans developed by the five topical tracks at the Governor's Local Food and Agriculture Summit held in October 2016. Each track developed various action plans related to their topic with the overall goal of strengthening Montana's local food and agriculture economies. Multiple tracks expressed an interest in forming a statewide Food Policy Council, and referred to increasing farm to school/institution programs. Additionally, multiple action plans identified potential policies that would need to be implemented by the Montana Legislature or other policy-making bodies. Grow Montana's steering committee members will continue identifying people and organizations to take the lead in convening working groups to move forward the Summit’s action plans.

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Permalink Guide to Animal Welfare Certifications Offered

ASPCA partnered with Vermont Law School's Center for Agriculture and Food Systems to create a new tool for farmers, the Farm Animal Welfare Certification Guide. The guide is designed to help farmers raising animals--as well as food companies, restaurant owners and chefs sourcing animal products--understand the three most meaningful welfare certification programs: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane® and Global Animal Partnership. The guide provides detailed comparisons of the standards and processes required by each program, presents six candid farmer case studies, and outlines the funding options available to farmers who are investing in animal welfare. This tool will help farmers understand the value of certification programs and determine which certification might be right for their farm. The guide is available online or in hard copy.

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Permalink USDA Offers Accreditation Program for Transitional Organic Products

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is accepting applications from existing organic-accredited certifying agents (ACAs) to certify agricultural products as "Transitional." AMS will utilize a standard for transitional agricultural products that was developed by the Organic Trade Association. ACAs should submit their applications by February 28, 2017, for this National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP). AMS will conduct desk reviews of the applications to ensure the ACAs are able to apply the NCTP, and then publish a list of approved ACAs no later than March 17, 2017.

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Permalink Apply to Become a FoodCorps Service Member

The application for joining the FoodCorps cohort for the 2017-2018 school year is now open. Together with communities, FoodCorps serves to connect kids in seventeen states and Washington, D.C. to healthy food in school through food and nutrition education, hands-on gardening and cooking activities, and putting local food on cafeteria trays. FoodCorps recruits talented leaders for a year of paid public service building healthy school food environments in limited-resource communities. FoodCorps is committed to helping create the next generation of food system leaders, so all backgrounds and skill levels are welcome to apply. Applications are due by March 15, 2017.

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Permalink Online Resources Help New England Farmers with Employment Laws

Farm Commons has released a series of free online resources for farmers in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. Versions of each resource are available that are specially tailored to the laws and requirements of each of the three states. Managing Risks of Interns and Volunteers helps farmers better understand and manage the legal risks of having interns and volunteers working on farms. Another guide available for each state helps farmers determine if their farm workers are employees, interns, volunteers, or independent contractors in the eyes of state and federal law. Yet another resource, a tax and paperwork checklist for hiring an employee in each of the three states, helps employers understand the basic state and federal paperwork process for hiring a farm employee.

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Permalink Rodale Institute Reports on Weed Control Trials with Perennial Understory

The Rodale Institute has posted a report on its project "Plants Protecting Plants: Removing Weed Habitat and Improving Crop Health Through the Use of Permanent Weed-Competitive Plant Species and Maintenance of Beneficial Soil Organisms." The demonstration project involved plantings of perennial understory in grain crops, vegetable crops, apple orchard, and cattle pasture. Five perennial understory plants were selected as companion crops to assist in managing weeds and improve soil health in each of these systems. Established in late summer 2015, plots were observed through 2016. The project concluded that species selection for climate and management practices is key to successful understory establishment. They noted that some perennial understory plants are not palatable to livestock and reduced overall grazing. Additionally, getting the perennial understory plants well established was key to their ability to contribute to weed management.

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Permalink Protocol Helps Value-Added Producers Research Market Readiness

Oregon State University Food Innovation Center has posted a free Market Research for Market Readiness (MKTRD) Protocol designed to help entrepreneurial food makers and value-added farmers evaluate the products they are developing for market. The information gathered in a "Market Readiness" consumer test will help the entrepreneur discover whether their price expectations match consumer valuation of their product, and, if ready to market, its findings can also be used as the basis for a marketing pitch or business plan.The protocol includes a manual, an Excel workbook that creates the survey ballot and a report, and videos demonstrating ballot creation, data entry, and report creation.

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Permalink Participate in the 2017 National Young Farmers Survey

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has launched a national survey of beginning and aspiring farmers to assess their current needs and challenges. The survey's goal is to gather detailed data from thousands of young farmers and ranchers across the country--data not captured in the U.S. Census of Agriculture. The results will shape NYFC's 2018 Farm Bill priorities and allow it to adequately represent the interests of America's young farmers. The survey is being conducted in partnership with George Washington University and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Kathleen Merrigan. Responses are strictly confidential, and data will only be reported in the aggregate. The online survey should take five to 20 minutes, and is available until February 28, 2017.

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Permalink Rathmann Challenge Focuses on Mitigating Climate Change through Compost Use

Offered biennially, the Rathmann Challenge rotates through various funding areas: Arts and Culture; Education; Environment; Health; Human Services; International Aid; Public Affairs; Technology; and Science. The Rathmann Challenge recipient receives $100,000 for their past outstanding work and the exclusive invitation to apply for an Even Bigger Idea® grant of $200,000. In 2017, the Rathmann Challenge is focused on Mitigating Climate Change by Expanding the Use of Compost, seeking ideas to significantly expand the use of compost in the United States. Application submission opens on February 15, 2017 and closes on March 29, 2017 or when 200 qualified applications have been received, whichever comes first.

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Permalink Report Offers Evidence to Support Healthy Placemaking Initiatives

Project for Public Spaces has released The Case for Healthy Places: Improving Health through Placemaking. The report offers evidence-based guidance, recommendations, and numerous case studies to which health institutions, community organizations, and other partners can refer in order to create and support healthy placemaking initiatives. The projects and case studies highlighted in the study include several farmers markets and community gardens. The report shows how placemaking projects can address all kinds of health disparities, while also generating a host of other positive community outcomes such as increased social capital, opportunities for civic engagement, local economic development, and improved safety and crime reduction.

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Permalink Grazing Charts for 2017 Available Online

On Pasture is making available free grazing charts for 2017 from Troy Bishopp. Several versions of the charts are available, for operations with varying numbers of paddocks, and for either the calendar or grazing year. The charts can be used with Xcel or Numbers. There is also a printable grazing chart for use in a notebook. Examples of how to use the charts are available online from On Pasture.

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Permalink Agroforestry Webinar Series Available Online

A four-webinar series on Agroforestry, held during the past several months by Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Agroforestry, is now available for viewing online. The sessions include "Agroforestry Opportunities and Resources in the Northeast," "Design and Planning for Multi-functional Agroforestry Systems," "Multi-functional Buffers and the NTFP Calculator: Insight from Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD)," and "Silvopasture Practices and Perspectives in the Northeastern United States with Joe Orifice, PhD."

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Permalink Indiana Initiative to Help Landowners Develop Forests

A new forest wildlife habitat program will distribute almost $1 million in federal funding to private landowners in southern Indiana for the development of young forests. Similar to young-forest projects in the New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes areas, the Southern Indiana Young Forest Initiative is a multiple-agency partnership that will make available $960,000 in cost-share funding to landowners in 43 counties. The goal is to create 3,000 acres of young forest habitat on private land, to help enhance population recovery for early-successional-habitat bird species such as ruffed grouse, American woodcock, blue-winged warbler, yellow-breasted chat, and whip-poor-will. The DNR Division of Forestry will lead the five-year program, which expects to begin enrolling landowners in 2017.

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