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Permalink USDA Awards Grants to Increase Farmer and Rancher Opportunity through Five Programs

USDA logoUSDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has announced the award of $102.7 to increase opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and other growers across the country through five grant programs. These include the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, the Local Food Promotion Program, the Acer Access and Development Program, and the Federal State Marketing Improvement Program. Lists of grant recipients and total funding awarded for each program are available online.

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Permalink Food Innovation Team Aiding Minnesota Food Entrepreneurs with Safety, Licensing

Minnesota's new Food Innovation Team, a subcommittee of Minnesota's Food Safety and Defense Task Force, will help shepherd food entrepreneurs through the state's licensing process. The team will help resolve issues with new food licenses that are complex or unclear and will provide information on how the issues were resolved, to inform future license applicants. The Food Innovation Team was developed through a collaborative process that involved the food regulatory divisions of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Department of Health, community groups including the Minnesota Farmers' Market Association and Renewing the Countryside, as well as University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. The team's goal is to help state regulators accommodate new and innovative food business models while maintaining high food safety standards.

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Permalink Farm Safety Webinars Offered

In observance of National Farm Safety and Health Week, September 16-22, 2018, the AgriSafe Network is offering five free webinars that tie in with the theme, "Cultivating the Seeds of Safety." One webinar was introduced each day of the week, and the completed webinars are available for online viewing. Titles include New Immigrants in the Midwest and Agricultural Health Implications, Respiratory Health and Personal Protective Equipment for Ag Producers, Children and Tractors, Safe and Healthy Recovery After a Farm Flood, Confined Space - Grain Bin Entry, and Optimizing the Health of the Female Agricultural Producer.

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Permalink Report Values Ecosystem Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture

Delta Institute, Farmland LP, and Earth Economics have released a report that demonstrates $21.4 million in net ecosystem service value benefits using regenerative farm management practices at scale. USDA funded a study for the partners to generate a new, more comprehensive form of impact reporting for agriculture, encompassing biophysical and, for the first time, ecosystem service value metrics. In this study, Earth Economics and the Delta Institute summarized the social and environmental impacts of Farmland LP's two investment funds, Vital Farmland LP (Fund I) and Vital Farmland REIT, LLC (Fund II). Through these funds, Farmland LP purchases conventionally farmed land and introduces sustainable farmland-management practices to generate competitive financial returns and achieve positive environmental and social impacts. To conduct the valuation, Earth Economics expanded its Ecosystem Valuation Toolkit to include agricultural land use practices specific to Farmland LP, while Delta Institute populated and ran the USDA COMET-Farm tool with over a decade of detailed management practices. The study found a net benefit from regenerative management as compared to conventional practices of $21.4 million, or a 44.2% gain on the purchase value. This translates to a net annual benefit per year of $4.6 million, averaging 7.3% gain per year during the study period.

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Permalink California Announces Award of Specialty Crop Grants

California Department of Food and Agriculture announced that the state has received $22.6 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2018 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. CDFA will fund 83 projects, awarding grants ranging from $25,000 to $300,000, at non-profit and for-profit organizations, government entities, and colleges and universities. Selected through a competitive process, these projects focus on increasing sales of specialty crops by leveraging the California Grown identity; increasing consumption by expanding the specialty crop consumer market, improving availability, and providing nutritional education for consumers; training growers to equip them for current and future challenges; and conducting research on conservation and environmental outcomes, pest control and disease, and organic and sustainable production practices. The funding will also support assistance for California producers in adopting the requirements of and meeting the standards for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act. Abstracts of the funded projects are available online.

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Permalink Southeast Organic Partnership Offers Vegetable Production Information

The Southeast Organic Partnership has posted a series of eight "Lunchbox Meetings," virtual sessions with 36 farmers who are hosting organic research plots on their farms, collaborators on an Organic Research and Extension Initiative grant. Topics of the meetings included focus sessions on organic pest and disease management for the project crops: squash, tomato, sweet potato, and southern pea. Additional sessions addressed recovering from delayed planting, harvesting, and planting cover crops. Recordings of the sessions are available for online viewing.

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Permalink Nebraska Farm Bureau Creates Health Insurance Group for Farmers, Ranchers

Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) has announced that individual farm and ranch families in Nebraska will have the opportunity to join its new large group Association Health Plan (AHP) so that they can avoid the higher cost of premiums in the individual health-insurance market. Nearly 400 farmers and ranchers who took part in NEFB's listening sessions across the state this summer said the affordability of health care and health insurance, and access to both, was one of the highest issues--if not the highest issue---on their list of concerns. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Employee Insurance Consortium was created to sponsor and to manage the Nebraska Farm Bureau Member Health Plan and to help comply with state and federal laws for AHPs. Medica has developed coverage options, premiums, and other provisions for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Member Health Plan. Qualifying NEFB members can sign up for this more affordable health coverage during an open enrollment period from October 1 to December 1, 2018.

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Permalink Tarping Tested as Weed Control for Organic Vegetables

eOrganic has posted articles from students at the University of Maine and at Cornell University on the use of tarping to control weeds in organic vegetables. Both student projects considered the use of black tarps as an effective weed control in the Northeast. One study contrasted the performance of black tarps and clear plastic, which is used in solarization. The study from Cornell found that three weeks of tarping prior to planting were as effective as a longer period, and noted increased vegetable yields with tarping in some instances. Both studies concluded that use of tarps could play a significant role in weed control in a northern climate. Reusable Black Tarps Suppress Weeds and Make Organic Reduced Tillage More Viable and Solarization and Tarping for Weed Management on Organic Vegetable Farms in the Northeast USA are available online.

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Permalink Kansas Specialty-Crop Grower Finds Success with Diversity

The second installment in Kansas Rural Center's series of features on specialty-crop growers showcases Gieringer's Orchard and Berry Farm, in Edgerton, Kansas. The Gieringers raise tomatoes in five hoophouses and purple and cheddar cauliflower in a sixth. They sell vegetables at farmers markets and fruit--including peaches, strawberries, and apples--as a u-pick operation. The business is expanding its agritainment offerings, including farm-to-table dinners, a food truck, a bale maze, and pumpkin patch. They also continue to grow row crops, although the specialty-crop side of the business now generates more revenue. Frank Gieringer describes some of the challenges of expanding agritainment operations, such as initial outlay, labor and employment administration, and traffic flow for thousands of visitors.

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Permalink USDA Invites Public Comment on Standard Indicators and Laboratory Procedures to Assess Soil Health

USDA logoUSDA is releasing a set of standard indicators and associated laboratory procedures to assess soil health. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has posted a draft Technical Note detailing these soil health indicators and associated laboratory methods in the Federal Register for public review and comment. NRCS is accepting comments on this Technical Note through December 13, 2018. The proposed measures identify methods to assess six standard soil health indicators: organic matter recycling and carbon sequestration, soil structure stability, general microbial activity, carbon food source, bioavailable nitrogen, and microbial community diversity. NRCS says laboratory methods for assessing each indicator were chosen based on interpretability, ease of use, cost effectiveness, measurement repeatability, and ability to inform agricultural management decisions.

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Permalink Report Explores How Organic Agriculture Reduces Pesticide Exposure for Farmworkers

The Organic Center has released a new report, titled Organic Agriculture: Reducing occupational pesticide exposure in farmers and farmworkers. In its study, the Organic Center synthesized more than 120 research studies from around the world to understand the health impacts of occupational exposure to toxic synthetic pesticides on farmers and farmworkers and elucidate how organic farming methods and the regulations that govern USDA certified organic farming systems directly benefit this community. This study looks at how adult farmers and farmworkers are exposed to pesticides, the negative health consequences of those exposures, and the organic production practices and processes used by organic agriculture to protect farmers and farmworkers. It also provides a clear overview of pest management practices that can be implemented in any farming system to reduce the need for pesticides to fight pests and diseases. The 20-page report on the study is available online in PDF.

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Permalink Strauss Brands Expanding Network of Grass-Fed Beef Producers in Northeast

The all-natural meat company Strauss Brands has announced plans to expand its pre-certified network of 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef producers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Program-qualified cattle must be grass-fed and grass-finished, raised without the use of antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones, and have English-based genetics (with a preference for Angus, Red Angus and Hereford crosses). Market-ready cattle must be 30 months and younger. Strauss Brands is a bonded Packers and Stockyards buyer, and is currently seeking year-round deliveries for local processing in the northeast. Strauss has announced that the company is searching for like-minded family farmers and ranchers committed to raising their animals with the same passion and ethical standards.

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Permalink Organic Farming Can Help Halt Pollinator Decline

A three-year study by Lund University in Sweden found that organic farming can help contribute to halting pollinator population declines. This research looked at how well organic farms support bumblebee populations over time. The scientists found that the number of bumblebee species on organic farms was higher and more stable over time and space than at conventional farms. Researchers say the beneficial effect of organic farming is due to both the absence of insecticides and a higher provision of flower resources. This study also found that stable and abundant flower resources stabilize pollinator communities, even on conventional farms where insecticides are used.

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Permalink Soil Management Can Help Preserve Food Supply, Says Michigan Researcher

Crop yields and the global food supply chain can be preserved from the risks associated with climate change through better soil management, says research led by Michigan State University. "“The long-term sustainability of agricultural systems strongly depends on how we use soil," professor Bruno Basso said. "This research proves that with the application of innovation through better soil management, we’re one step closer to preserving our food supply and mitigating the effect that climate change and global warming has on our lives." This research, part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparing and Improvement Project, proposes that moving forward, soil be positioned as the center of the food production cycle. The researchers made recommendations including the use of cover crops, conservation tillage, adding organic carbon to soil, or increasing yields through advanced genetics and agronomy.

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Permalink Florida Study Evaluates Cover Crop Options

A University of Florida study, funded by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) program, is exploring new cover crop varieties that are more adapted to Florida growing conditions, and the Southeast in general. Different varieties of sunn hemp, cowpea, and rattlebox are cover crop alternatives being evaluated in the three-year project. They're being field tested at Frog Song Organics. On a separate farm, researchers are also evaluating hairy indigo. The researchers shared test results with farmers at a recent field day.

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Permalink New Mexico Invests in Fresh Local Produce for Students

The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) has announced a $425,000 investment under the New Mexico Grown Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant that will provide the opportunity for students to have fresh, local produce as part of their school meals. The statewide initiative provides school districts and charter schools funding to purchase fresh, local produce. To-date, 56 school districts and charters in the state have received funding to increase farm-to-school partnership programs that purchase local produce directly from local farmers for school meals; 27 districts will be creating these farm-to-school partnerships for the first time. "Farm-to-school partnerships are the future of school breakfast and lunch programs—they’re good for students' health, good for our local farmers, and good for our state's economy," said Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski.

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Permalink California Climate Summit Highlights Carbon Farming

An invitation-only gathering held as a prelude to the Global Climate Action Summit being held in California highlighted ways that farmers can put more carbon into the soil, reports The Press Democrat. The group of nearly nearly 100 farmers, nonprofit leaders, policy makers, and environmentalists toured Jackson Family Wines' five-year experiment to increase carbon in soils of a working vineyard and heard from Oklahoma farmer and rancher Jimmy Emmons about no-till farming. California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told the group that carbon sequestration by farmers is a key part of addressing climate change.

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Permalink Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator Expands into Sustainable Agriculture

The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), a technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is expanding its program to advance technologies that address the interconnection of food, water and energy. The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will be a strategic partner to help further develop and validate promising agriculture technologies addressing critical sustainability challenges. The Danforth Plant Science Center will focus on research and validation of innovative solutions that address how to use digital agriculture to produce food more sustainably, much like the way NREL leads the program's validation of technologies related to commercial buildings. Future IN2 activities under the food-water-energy nexus will include food system inefficiencies and water conservation to help meet IN2's goal of advancing smart, connected communities.

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Permalink Conservation Dairy Farming Key to Chesapeake Bay Water Quality

Penn State University researchers using modeling tools say that if the majority of dairy farms in Pennsylvania fully adopt conservation best-management practices, Pennsylvania may be able to achieve its total maximum daily load water-quality target for the Chesapeake Bay. Conservation dairy-farming systems that have been developed and tested by Penn State researchers over the last decade produce the majority of the feed and forage crops consumed by their cattle, use no-till planting, have continuous diversified plant cover, and have one system to employ manure injection. In simulations, compared to the "typical" 65-cow Pennsylvania dairy farm, the enhanced conservation dairy-cropping scenarios improved water quality by achieving significant pollution reductions. This study looked at the water-quality improvements that could result if the best-practice adoption were replicated by all farms at the watershed level. The researchers noted that "achieving such large-scale adoption of conservation dairy-farming practices will not be simple, easy, or cheap."

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Permalink Study Maps Food Supply-Chain Nutrient Loss

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have published a study that shows that although we produce more nutrients (energy, protein, fat and micronutrients) than are needed for the global population, supply-chain inefficiencies result in losses and wastage that leave hundreds of millions of people nutrient deficient. This study quantitatively mapped the global food system in terms of energy, protein, fat, essential amino acids, and micronutrients from “field-to-fork.” It also identified the key hotspots within the global food supply chain that could be targeted for improved efficiency, and highlighted the trade-offs that may arise in delivering a balanced nutritional system. For example, it found that the largest loss of energy and digestible protein occurs in the re-allocation of crops for animal feed. However, it also found that our current food system would be severely lysine-limited in the absence of meat and dairy products, without a major shift in overall agricultural production toward more protein-based crops such as pulses and legumes. The study also concluded that strategies focusing on improved storage and distribution management would improve both macronutrient and micronutrient availability.

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Permalink Texas A&M High-Tunnel Research Informs Producers

Researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Research shared the results of their work with high tunnels at a recent field day. Researchers are suggesting that growers look to high-tunnel systems as an option for increasing farm revenue given reductions in available irrigation water. The high tunnels offer producers a way to grow profitable crops using less water than they would in the field, as well as protecting crops from the weather, lengthening the growing season, and making it possible to grow crops not traditionally grown in the area. The researchers also discussed managing pests in high tunnels and marketing high tunnel crops. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension also offers publications on high-tunnel production, including High Tunnels for Crop Production in Texas and Specialty Crops for High Tunnel Production in Texas.

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Permalink High-Plains Vegetable Grower Meets Challenges and Successes

Kansas Rural Center is featuring five specialty-crop farmer profiles focusing on the rewards and benefits of growing vegetables on the high plains. The first showcases farmer Dave Svaty and his family near Kanopolis, Kansas. The family raises cattle, pigs, poultry, and sheep, as well as field and hoop-house vegetables. They market their produce with a custom-built farmers market trailer and an on-farm store. The feature describes the innovative solutions the family has devised for dealing with wind, starting plants, and avoiding plant disease. Their operation experiences challenges from spray drift, food-safety regulations, and the need for steady income and health insurance.

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Permalink Conservation Economically Valuable for Farmers

A new report, Farm Finance and Conservation: How stewardship generates value for farmers, lenders, insurers and landowners, says that conservation can deliver measurable economic value to farmers and their financial partners. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and K·Coe Isom AgKnowledge released the report, based on the experience of three corn, soy, and wheat farmers The report found that farmers who adopted no-till, cover crops, nutrient optimization, and crop rotation experienced a cascade of cost savings, including lower fertilizer, labor, fuel, and equipment costs. It also concluded that creating incentives for conservation is in the financial interest of businesses and individuals with ties to farmers. The report cautions that finding the right mix of practices and management adjustments can take time and effort, but says that the benefits for doing so can be substantial.

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Permalink NOSB Fall Meeting Materials Posted

USDA logoUSDA National Organic Program (NOP) has posted meeting materials for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Fall meeting, to be held in St. Paul, Minnesota, October 24-26, 2018. The posted materials include a tentative Meeting Agenda and Proposals and Discussion Documents. NOSB invites public comments that address topics on the Fall 2018 meeting agenda. To be considered during the Fall 2018 Meeting, written comments and requests for oral comment speaking slots must be received by October 4, 2018.

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Permalink Reduced-Tillage Information Available Online

A resource handbook from a field day on Reduced Tillage in Organic Systems held by Cornell Cooperative Extension is available online. The 108-page PDF publication includes links of related resources and information from the presentations at the field day. Topics include zone tillage systems for organic vegetables, controlling weeds, using a roller-crimper, soil compaction, and soil microbes.

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Permalink Trap Crops Tested for Wireworm Management in Vegetables

In Western Washington, vegetable growers trying to manage wireworms are testing the effectiveness of trap crops, reports Western IPM Center. Organic growers have tried crop scheduling and rotations to manage the pest, as well as planting and plowing under mustard cover crops. Now Washington State University Extension is working with growers on testing the effectiveness of wheat trap crops, both with and without organic spinosad bait.

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Permalink Publication Provides Guidance on Grazing Cereal Rye

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has released a new publication titled Grazing Opportunities with Cereal Rye that provides best management practices for producers to use when grazing cereal rye with stocker cattle. The publication includes nine steps for growing high-quality cereal rye. The publication notes that growing cereal rye can also provide added value for crop producers through selling excess feed, leasing crop acres to cattle producers to graze, or temporarily grazing stocker cattle themselves.

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Permalink Niman Ranch Announces Plans to Double Network of Farmers and Ranchers

Sustainable and humane livestock company Niman Ranch has announced plans to double its supplier network of independent family farmers and ranchers over the next ten years. Niman Ranch says it will add 750 independent family farmers and ranchers producing pork, beef, and lamb, and the company committed to supporting 1,500 sustainable family farms in the next decade. The announcement will be followed by a recruitment effort to add additional farmers, and the company is launching a Gilt and Boar Gift program to attract young farmers, recent college graduates, and military veterans interested in farming and ranching. In addition to these efforts, Niman Ranch is paying its independent suppliers approximately double the market price and the company offers the suppliers in its network added stability.

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Permalink USDA Invests in Rural Communities through Community Facilities Program

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it is investing $10.7 million in 85 projects in 22 states through the Community Facilities program. These partnerships with rural communities will support opportunities for opioid prevention, treatment, and recovery, addressing the opioid epidemic as an issue of rural prosperity. The projects receiving grants and loans include health care facilities and shelter and housing options. A full list of funded projects is available online in PDF.

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Permalink Guidelines Help Farmers Manage Nitrogen Loss under Climate Variability

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire, working with colleagues from the University of California-Davis and the National Center of Atmospheric Research, have created guidelines to help Midwest farmers manage nitrogen losses while dealing with the effects of climate variability. The research was presented in the journal Nature Sustainability. Researchers recognized that a variable climate with erratic rainfall and dry spells could increase nitrogen losses from soil, negatively impacting agriculture. The team analyzed nitrogen data in relation to precipitation patterns, agricultural methods, and ecological concerns and used this information to develop recommendations that are both environmentally friendly and farmer-friendly. Among the recommendations are combining improved practices within and adjacent to crop fields, such as utilizing cover cropping, crop rotations, strips of perennial plants, and restored wetlands. Researchers also recommend taking advantage of new cash crop varieties and emerging technologies that better synchronize fertilization to plants' nitrogen needs. "If an agricultural ecosystem’s overall resilience to fluctuating conditions is improved, farmers and the environment will both win. Crops will thrive, water quality will improve, and fewer greenhouse gasses will escape into the atmosphere," said lead author Tim Bowles.

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