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Permalink Organic Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force Reports to NOSB

USDA logo In September of 2015, the AMS National Organic Program appointed 16 members to a task force to explore hydroponic and aquaponic production practices and their alignment with the USDA organic regulations and to prepare a report for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The Hydroponic and Aquaponic Task Force Report is now available online in PDF from USDA AMS. The public may provide comments on the report to NOSB in the form of public comment period for their November meeting.

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Permalink Rapid Heating and Cooling of Milk Reduces Bacteria

A Purdue University study found that rapid heating and cooling of milk can reduce the amount of bacteria present and increase cold milk's shelf life. The low-temperature, short-time (LTST) method in the Purdue study raised the temperature of droplets of pasteurized milk by 10 degrees for less than a second, using heat and pressure in a special chamber. The method could be used as an add-on to pasteurization, utilizing the heat already needed for that process. The process could also be tested without pasteurization to determine if it could stand alone as a treatment for eliminating harmful bacteria from milk.

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Permalink Winter Wheat Cover Crop Can Reduce Nutrient Runoff

Scientists with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture used a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to model the water-quality effects of Tennessee corn and soybean growers adding an unfertilized winter wheat crop to their rotations. The model showed significant reductions in nitrogen and total phosphorus lost from row crop fields, resulting in water-quality improvements as far away as the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone. Their model predicts that incorporation of an unfertilized winter wheat cover crop on all of the row crop fields in the Red River and South Fork of the Obion River watersheds would result in substantial upland loss reductions of total nitrogen (30-50%) and total phosphorus (12-32%). Planting winter wheat with no-till also adds an element of erosion protection.

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Permalink UC Santa Cruz to Host Sustainable Agriculture Education Association Conference

Nearly 400 agriculture educators, trainers, food system activists, farmers, cooks, and students of sustainable agriculture from around the country will gather at the University of California in Santa Cruz July 29-31 for the seventh national conference of the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association. "Ecology of Food Systems" will explore critical issues of how we teach and learn about social and food justice through activities and programs that integrate practice and theory. The program includes World Café, Open Space Technology, traditional presentations and workshops, and field trips to regional agriculture education projects. The conference is a project of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, and is co-hosted by UC Davis, UC Berkeley, University of Hawai’i, West O’Ahu, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Agriculture and Land-based Training (ALBA), Merritt College, and Stanford University.

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Permalink 'Made with Pulses' Seal Introduced

The Global Pulse Confederation has introduced the Pulse Brand and 'Made with Pulses' seal, offering an easy way to identify products made with pulse ingredients (dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas). The seal and brand are available to food manufacturers, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, and the foodservice industry to use on packages and in promotions. Packaged products that contain pulses in the top five ingredients by weight and a minimum of 5% of the final formulation are eligible to apply to use the 'Made with Pulses' seal.

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Permalink Australian Research Tracks Risk to Plants from Silver Nanoparticles in Soil

A study led by the University of Queensland in Australia has found that the risk to crops from silver nanoparticles in soil is higher in certain situations. Antimicrobial silver nanoparticles are used in a variety of household products and generally pose a low risk to agricultural food production, although they accumulate in biosolids at wastewater treatment plants, which are typically applied to agricultural soils. The study found that even when added at high concentrations, the silver nanoparticles are of low risk to the crop plants and do not accumulate in the plants. However, researchers found that the risk to food crops posed by silver nanoparticles increases substantially in saline soils and in soils irrigated with poor-quality water.

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Permalink Pushing the Definition of Community Supported Agriculture

A feature in The New York Times explored the nuances of companies using the term "Community Supported Agriculture." Some food subscription and delivery companies call themselves CSAs, though the products they supply to their members are not necessarily locally grown and may not provide income directly to farmers. According to the article, some traditional farm-based CSAs are experiencing drops in membership as customers move their business to food aggregating services that may offer a wider selection and greater convenience. The use of the term CSA is not regulated in most states, which can lead to customer confusion about exactly what they are buying and what they are supporting.

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Permalink Multispecies Pastures Studied for Forage Production

USDA-ARS researcher R. Howard Skinner has been studying ways to improve the amount of forage a pasture can grow. In a nine-year study, Skinner his team at Pennsylvania State University Hawbecker Farm compared paddocks planted with orchard grass and white clover to paddocks planted with a five-species mix of chicory, orchardgrass, tall fescue, white clover, and alfalfa. Over time, some of the species disappeared from the complex mix, yet those paddocks still produced more forage than the others, perhaps due to improved soil organic matter. The five-species mixture produced, on average over the nine years, 31% more forage than the two-species mixture.

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Permalink Cornell Studies Show Benefits of Cover Crops for Vineyards

A series of studies by Cornell University researchers have revealed the benefits of cover crops for vineyards. Vineyards typically apply herbicides to keep ground below the grapevines bare, but planting cover crops beneath vines in cool and humid climates can have several positive results. First, less herbicide is used, meaning less cost to the grower and less potential for harm to bees. Also, with cover crops there is less nutrient- and pesticide-contaminated runoff. In addition, competition for water and nutrients from the cover crop can prevent excessive vine growth that can impair fruit quality. The cover crop can be a means of managing vine vigor.

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Permalink Connecticut Guide on Planning for Agriculture Updated

American Farmland Trust has released an updated version of its educational guide, Planning for Agriculture: A Guide for Connecticut Municipalities. This publication, produced in partnership with Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, is a resource for municipalities interested in creating a friendly environment for farmers and farm businesses. The newly revised guide outlines ways town governments can plan for the future of agriculture and provide a supportive community atmosphere in which agriculture can thrive. The comprehensive booklet covers topics including the benefits of farms, planning and zoning tools, right-to-farm ordinances, subdivision regulations, financing local farmland protection, promoting local farm viability, and addressing common farming issues and concerns.

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Permalink Data on U.S. Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops Released

USDA logoUSDA Economic Research Service has released updated data that summarizes the adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops since their introduction in 1996. Tables with data for corn, cotton, and soybeans are available online, as well as a summary that illustrates recent trends in adoption of genetically engineered crops. This summary shows that adoption of "stacked" varieties of cotton and corn has accelerated in recent years, with stacked cotton reaching 80% of cotton plantings in 2016 and plantings of stacked corn making up 76% of corn acres in 2016.

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Permalink Report Explores Sustainable Farming and Forestry in Maryland

A report commissioned by the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. sheds light on the current state of Maryland's agriculture and forestry industries and examines where they are headed and why. The Future of Sustainable Farming and Forestry in Maryland found reason to be optimistic about both industries as important drivers of the state's economy and contributors to Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. According to the findings, Maryland's nationally known smart growth and land protection initiatives have slowed the loss of rural lands and supported continued farm production. The study also found that Maryland farmers are on track to meet clean water requirements. However, it notes that climate change will significantly impact both farming and forestry. The report also identifies five public policy priorities for increasing the odds of success for these industries.

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Permalink Study Says Increasing Perennial Bioenergy Grasses Could Reduce Gulf Dead Zone

An Iowa State University study published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy shows that an increase in perennial bioenergy grasses throughout the Corn Belt would lead to a significant reduction in nitrogen moving down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. The study used computer models to simulate how replacement of 5% to 40% of farmland with perennial grasses such as miscanthus and switchgrass might affect the level of nutrient runoff from Midwestern farmland. It found that perennials could reduce nitrogen runoff from farmland by more than 70%.

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Permalink Minnesota and Michigan Award Grants for Value Added Agriculture Projects

Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has announced that eight projects were awarded funds under the competitive Value Added and Regional Food System Grant Program. Projects will include expanding the Double Up Food Bucks program, conducting a feasibility study for a dairy processing facility, establishing a certified kitchen, and installing wine-processing equipment. Meanwhile, Minnesota Department of Agriculture has awarded Value Added Grants to 24 agricultural producers and processors. Awardees for the first round of 2016 Value Added Grants will use funds to purchase equipment and broaden their current markets or enter new ones. The Value Added Grant program supports projects that will increase the sales of Minnesota agricultural products through added processing, marketing, or manufacturing.

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Permalink Alternatives for Insecticide-Free Stink Bug Control Studied

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Research Service scientists have found three insecticide-free alternatives for native stink bug control in adjacent fields of peanuts and cotton. One option is to plant soybean and grain sorghum trap crops alongside the cotton, so that stink bugs move to these crops instead. Additionally, nectar-producing crops can attract beneficial insects that prey on stink bugs. Other options are use of pheromone-baited traps and the use of plastic barriers between peanut and cotton crops. This study found that physical barriers were the most effective tool, but that a multi-pronged approach combining other methods is also effective.

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Permalink Modeling Predicts Soil Carbon Storage for Bioenergy Crops

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory are using computational modeling to predict soil organic carbon increases from cultivation of biofuel crops. Researchers modeled soil carbon sequestration rates at 100 cm depth for five crops: corn and four energy-dense crops including switchgrass, poplar, willow and Miscanthus, a tall drought-resistant grass. The production of each species was modeled on four types of land, including cropland, cropland pasture (which fluctuates between producing crops and serving as pastureland), long-standing undisturbed grassland and forest. Researchers also considered changes to soil carbon stocks when 30% of the corn stover remaining after corn harvest is collected. County-by-county modeling results confirmed that grasslands and forests generally have richer soil with larger carbon stocks and will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions if transitioned to bioenergy crop production. On the other hand, converting some cropland or cropland-pasture to bioenergy crops like switchgrass and Miscanthus can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Permalink Report Evaluates Potential for U.S. Biomass Production

The U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have released the 2016 Billion-Ton Report, which concludes that the United States has the potential to sustainably produce at least 1 billion dry tons of nonfood biomass resources annually by 2040. Biomass sources considered in the study include agricultural, forestry, and algal biomass, as well as waste.The report findings show that under a base-case scenario, the United States could increase its use of dry biomass resources from a current 400 million tons to 1.57 billion tons under a high-yield scenario. According to the report, increasing production and use of biofuel, biopower, and bioproducts would substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the utility and transportation sectors and reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil as the domestic bioeconomy grows.

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Permalink Study Confirms that Buying Local Food Supports Local Economy

University of California Cooperative Extension has released a report on a study that measured the economic impact of local food marketing in the Sacramento Region. The study found that, for every dollar of sales, Sacramento Region producers engaged in direct marketing are generating twice as much economic activity within the region as producers who are not involved in direct marketing. This is due primarily to the fact that direct marketers source 89% of their inputs within the region. The study also found that direct marketers generate 31.8 jobs in the Sacramento Region for every $1 million of output they produce, which is attributed in part to the labor intensiveness of their operations.

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Permalink Agroforestry Lease Workbook Available Online

Farm Commons is offering a workbook for farmers and landowners who have a long-term vision for a piece of land and are willing to collaborate and commit to a lasting arrangement to make such a vision a reality. It offers an overview of legal considerations for long-term leases that address key particularities of agroforestry. While much of this Workbook is framed in the context of agroforestry, many of the issues raised are relevant for farmers and landowners who aspire to enter a long-term lease for annual crop or livestock farming.

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Permalink Workbook Helps Resolve CSA Legal Issues

Farm Commons is making the Building a Legally Resilient CSA Program Workbook available free online. This workbook helps resolve the varied and unqiue legal issues of CSA. The workbook explores a range of potential issues including making the sale, sharing risk, offering gift certificates, dealing with securities laws, managing drop sites, combining farm product, working with volunteers, hosting events, and managing food safety. Through a workbook-style that encourages farmers to reflect on their own priorities and risks, this resource empowers CSA farmers to move forward in creating a strong, resilient CSA program.

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Permalink Soil Inoculation Helps Restore Degraded Land

The Netherlands Institute of Ecology published research in Nature Plants on how degraded ecosystems can be restored to health by inoculating them with natural soil from healthy ecosystems. The research found that soil organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and roundworms, present in the donor soil determined the direction of ecosystem restoration. On a 160-hectare field that had been farmed for nearly 60 years, the researchers applied a thin (<1 cm) layer of soil inoculum from either grassland or heathland. Just six years later, they observed that the treated areas had responded differently, with the inoculated sites acquiring plants associated with grassland or heathland. Furthermore, they found that the plots had been colonized by the characteristic soil invertebrates, microbes, and fungi of each kind of ecosystem.

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Permalink FDA Issues Final Rule for FSMA Food Facility Registration

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued the Amendments to Registration of Food Facilities final rule as part of the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Food facilities that manufacture/process, pack or hold food for consumption in the United States are required to register with the FDA. Retail food establishments are not required to register with the FDA as food facilities, and the final rule amends the definition of a retail food establishment in a way that expands the number of establishments that qualify. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued a press release saying that FDA's clarification of the term "retail food establishments" means that farmers and small food enterprises primarily selling value-added products directly to consumers are not subject to food facility registration requirements or regulations.

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Permalink Agriculture Geocaching Series Launched in Washington State

Cascade Farmlands is launching a two-year geocaching series that will take participants to 12 scenic recreational and agricultural locations in North Central Washington, reports NCW Life Channel. The series will launch with a special promotion at a market on July 30. Participants will use GPS-enabled devices to navigate to specific coordinates where they will find a geocache container. Participants will stamp their passports at each geocache site, and can receive a special pathtag prize for completing the series.

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Permalink Organic Kudzu-Eradication System Tested

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Stoneville, Mississippi, combined different control programs to achieve a high rate of kudzu suppression and eradication. The methods tested included an herbicide-free organic system that involved a bioherbicide application, mowing, and revegetation. Researchers found that the organic treatment, which simultaneously established native vegetation, killed 91% of kudzu after one year and 95% after two years.

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Permalink Organic Agriculture Research Symposium Proceedings Available Online

Summaries of presentations at the 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS) held in Pacific Grove, California, on January 20 are now available online. The OARS featured researchers from all over the United States who presented their work on organic agriculture systems. The program consisted of nine workshops and 29 speakers, and a poster session. Scientists covered such topics as soil health, seeds and plant breeding, biological control, long-term and strategic research, biodiversity, economics, and livestock, all with a focus on organic production. Many of the workshops and the keynote presentations are available on the eOrganic YouTube channel. "We are making these presentations available free online to extend the reach of all the valuable information shared at the symposium," said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, co-sponsor of the symposium.

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Permalink Indiana Pastured Poultry Initiative Seeks Public Input

Organizers of Purdue Extension's Indiana Pastured Poultry Branding Initiative are looking for public input to help develop a set of common production, processing, and branding standards for producers. Consumers are asked to complete an online survey about their poultry buying habits and preferences. A separate online survey is gathering information from farmers about the current size, purpose, and methods of their operations. Both surveys are confidential, take about 10 minutes to complete, and will be open until July 29. Participation in the Pastured Poultry Branding Initiative, both during the planning stages and after the brand has been established, is open to poultry farmers of all experience levels who are serious about quality poultry production, good business practices, and collaboration.

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Permalink Assessment Shows Demand for Federal Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant Program

An assessment of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) was published by the Land Stewardship Project in collaboration with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: Progress Report on 2015 Awards analyzes the most recent round of project grants in the context of trends in recent years. The report finds that the nation's leading public training program for assisting beginning farmers and ranchers is more popular than ever and continues to be a critical public investment in community-based organizations that conduct beginning farmer education and training. In the most recent funding round, 212 applications were submitted and 34 were awarded funding. The full report and recommendations are available online.

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Permalink Cropping Systems Calculator Reveals Costs and Benefits of Conservation Cropping

The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) has developed a new online tool for farmers, ranchers, non-farm landowners, and natural resource professionals to assess the costs and benefits of planting cover crops or perennial grasses. The Cropping Systems Calculator was developed as part of the Chippewa 10% Project initiative, which is working to help farmers and other landowners develop profitable methods for protecting water quality in Minnesota's Chippewa River watershed. The Calculator is an Excel-based tool that allows the comparison of two crop rotations, each up to six years in length. It provides average yearly returns as well as a year-by-year breakdown for each rotation. Another feature of the Calculator is that it allows a comparison of various grazing systems on a per-acre basis. The Calculator's default figures were gathered from the University of Minnesota's farm financial and production benchmark database, but these can easily be changed by the users to more accurately reflect the realities of their own enterprises, thus allowing them to customize the Calculator.

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Permalink REAP Funding to Help with Energy Efficiency Improvements and Renewable Energy

USDA logoUSDA has announced Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funding for 821 projects that will help rural small businesses and agricultural producers make energy efficiency improvements and install renewable energy systems. USDA is providing $43.2 million in loan guarantees and $11.6 million in grants through REAP for projects in every state, as well as in the Virgin Islands, the Western Pacific and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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Permalink National Farmers Market Week Set for August 7-13

USDA logoAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has proclaimed August 7-13, 2016, as "National Farmers Market Week." This year marks the 17th annual National Farmers Market Week to honor and celebrate the important role that farmers markets play in local economies. Farmers markets across the country will mark the week with special events. To help farmers market managers across the country promote and celebrate National Farmers Market Week, USDA is sharing online free farmers market-related graphics that market managers and others can use to customize posters, emails, websites and other promotional materials. The graphics, along with a short demonstration video, can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/resources/NFMW.

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