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Permalink Neonicotinoids Found to Reduce Populations of Predatory Insects

Researchers at Penn State have found that neonicotinoids significantly reduce populations of predatory insects when used as seed coatings--perhaps as much as broadcast applications of commonly used pyrethroid insecticides. "Predatory insects contribute billions of dollars a year to agriculture through the elimination of crop pest insects," said Margaret Douglas, postdoctoral researcher in entomology, Penn State. "We have found that neonicotinoid seed coatings reduce populations of these natural enemies 10 to 20 percent." The team used meta-analysis to combine the results of more than 1,000 observations from 20 field studies across North America and Europe that tested the effects of seed-applied neonicotinoids on predatory insects. Though individual observations varied, the meta-analysis revealed the overall influence of neonicotinoids on predator-insect populations.

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Permalink Redesigning Agroecosystems Can Build Soil Resilience

A feature in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation discusses how the specialization of agriculture has led to declines in soil resilience to climate fluctuations. Authors from the University of Nebraska say that by redesigning agricultural systems, soil and agroecosystem resiliency can be increased. Among the practices that they say would improve resilience are integrating perennial species with food crops, intensifying cover crop use, redesigning no-till cropping systems, using temporally and spatially diverse cropping systems, and integrating livestock with diversified cropping systems.

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Permalink Reminder: CSP Sign-Up Cutoff Approaching

USDA logoUSDA is currently accepting initial applications for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a national program that rewards farmers for protecting and enhancing natural resources on their working lands. The newly revised CSP includes expanded options for conservation activities and an increased minimum payment to help smaller-scale producers. Contracts may include cover crops, rotational grazing, and/or ecologically based pest management, among other options. Interested farmers should visit their local NRCS office and fill out a short form by February 3, 2017, to have their application considered in 2017.

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Permalink Conservation Reserve Program Offers New Opportunities to Improve Water Quality and Restore Wildlife Habitat

USDA logoUSDA has announced new CRP practices to protect water quality and the addition of 1.1 million acres targeted to benefit wildlife, pollinators, and wetlands. A new conservation initiative known as Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) will assist landowners with the cost of building bioreactors and saturated buffers that filter nitrates and other nutrients from tile-drained cropland. CLEAR may cover up to 90% of the cost to install these new practices through incentives and cost-share. USDA will also add an additional 1.1 million acres to a number of key CRP practices that are critically important to wildlife and conservation. These include 700,000 acres for State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) efforts, 300,000 acres for target wetlands restoration, and 100,000 acres for pollinator habitat. There are additional changes to the program, as well. Signing incentives are being reduced by $25 per acre on certain practices for fiscal year 2018 enrollments, and a cap on the maximum soil-rental rate is being instituted for Continuous CRP at $300 per acre.

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Permalink National Water Quality Initiative Invests in High-Priority Watersheds

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it will invest more than $33 million in 197 high-priority watersheds across the country to help landowners improve water quality through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI). The NWQI helps farmers and ranchers implement voluntary conservation practices, such as nutrient management, cover crops, conservation cropping systems, filter strips, terraces and buffers, which protect and improve water quality where it is needed most. This year, NRCS added 42 new watersheds to the NWQI and selected 21 watersheds for new assessment projects. NRCS works closely with conservation partners and State water-quality agencies to select watersheds where on-farm conservation can deliver the greatest benefits for clean water.

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Permalink Pesticide Worker Protection Standard Compliance Manual Released

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative (PERC), is making available a guide to help users of agricultural pesticides comply with the requirements of the 2015 revised federal Worker Protection Standard. The manual is for anyone who employs agricultural workers or handlers, is involved in the production of agricultural plants as an owner/manager of an agricultural establishment or a commercial (for-hire) pesticide handling establishment, or works as a crop advisor. The manual includes information on how to comply with the WPS requirements, including exceptions, restrictions, exemptions, options, and examples. The 146-page manual is available online in PDF.

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Permalink Report Details Economic Benefits of Using Cover Crops as Forage

Practical Farmers of Iowa has released a four-page livestock research report titled Economic Benefits from Utilizing Cover Crops as Forage. Four cattle and row crop farmers in Iowa are participating in a demonstration project of forage grazing that continues until 2018. Early results indicate that planting cover crops, then grazing or harvesting them, is a practical way to effectively reduce nutrient pollution, plus provide economic benefits to cattle owners. The four cooperating farmers reported that in the fall and winter of 2015, cover crops provided 0.07 to 3.74 tons of dry matter per acre. Grazing this cover saved the farmers $1,306 to $22,801 in hay and stored feed costs. The cover-crop mixes, planting dates, and biomass yield are detailed in the online report.

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Permalink Organic Farming Apprenticeships Offered Through Montana Registered Apprenticeship Program

Montana Department of Agriculture has announced that Vilicus Farms recently launched two new organic agriculture apprenticeship programs in collaboration with the Montana Registered Apprenticeship program administered by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. The Agrarian Immersion Experience apprenticeship is an intensive, immersive day-to-day program focusing on the day-to-day operations organic farming operations. This eight-month apprenticeship is offered through a partnership with the Quivira Coalition. The second apprenticeship is a structured two-year paid occupational training in dryland organic farming operations. Once graduates complete 4,000 hours of on-the-job training and 288 hours of related instruction, they will receive an industry-recognized credential from the Montana Registered Apprenticeship program.

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Permalink All-Electric Tractor Prototype Demonstrated by John Deere

John Deere is showcasing a new all-electric tractor prototype, reports Electrek. The tractor is fully powered by battery packs with 130 kWh of capacity, in a system called Sustainable Energy Supply for Agricultural Machinery. The vehicle is equipped with two 150 kW electric motors for a total power output of up to 300kW (402hp). John Deere also announced a new development group focused on the electrification of its machinery.

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Permalink New SARE Handbook Explains Systems Research for Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) has released Systems Research for Agriculture, a handbook that provides the theories and tools that researchers and producers need to design and conduct interdisciplinary systems research projects that advance sustainable agroecosystems. Systems Research for Agriculture outlines both the theory and practice of agricultural systems research, helping agricultural professionals to study, understand, and develop economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable production systems. This handbook begins with a brief introduction to the theoretical basis for agricultural systems research. It then delivers guidance on how to form effective interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder teams, which include farmers and ranchers, and how to plan, implement, and analyze systems experiments. The publication is available free online or for sale in print.

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Permalink USDA Issues Guidance on Materials for Organic Crop Production

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has published final guidance on the Classification of Materials, and a list of Materials for Organic Crop Production. The guidance on Classification of Materials implements recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, and clarifies existing practices used to classify materials as synthetic or nonsynthetic and as agricultural or nonagricultural. The guidance includes decision trees to help classify substances substances used in organic production and handling. Meanwhile, the guidance on Materials for Organic Crop Production includes tools for organic producers to understand which input materials are allowed in organic crop production, and a list of materials that are specifically prohibited in organic crop production.

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Permalink PFI Research Reports on Variety Trials of Tomatoes in High Tunnels

Practical Farmers of Iowa has issued a four-page research report titled Determinate Tomato in High Tunnel, Variety Trial. The report focuses on replicated variety trials in high tunnels of two determinate tomato varieties, Mountain Fresh Plus and Rebelski, as conducted by farmers Tim Landgraf at One Step at a Time Gardens and Mark Quee at Scattergood Friends School. Although yield at both farms was lower than yields reported in other published high tunnel variety trials, both farms obtained higher yield from Rebelski.

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Permalink NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Adding 11 New Projects

USDA logoUSDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is adding 11 new projects to Working Lands for Wildlife, the agency's targeted, science-based effort to help producers restore and protect habitat for declining species on farms, ranches, and working forests. Projects focus on declining species that have needs compatible with agricultural practices and rural land management and that can benefit from conservation on private lands. Some of the new projects focus on one target species; others focus on a group of species. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help producers adopt a variety of conservation practices on their land. NRCS staff help producers with a conservation plan and provide funding to cover part of the costs for adopting the practices. These practices are designed to benefit both the species and the agricultural operation. A map showing the new project species and areas is available online.

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Permalink Online Survey Development Tool Helps with Local Food System Evaluation

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Local Foods Program has developed Question Keeper, an online tool that allows users to quickly sort through a large database of field-tested local food system survey questions to build their own questionnaires and other evaluation tools. This tool is available for free during its first year of implementation. A video tutorial on using the tool is posted online. The surveys and questions were developed by Local Foods Program staff and partners, and users can modify them to fit their own situations.

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Permalink CRP Grasslands to Protect More Than 500,000 Acres

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it will accept more than 2,100 offers for the CRP Grasslands program, totaling more than 504,000 acres across 34 states. Through this program, grasslands threatened by development or conversion to row crops are maintained as livestock grazing areas, while providing important conservation benefits. CRP Grasslands participants can use the land for livestock production (e.g. grazing or producing hay), while following their conservation and grazing plans in order to maintain the cover. USDA is also reminding producers that it is still accepting additional offers for CRP Grasslands. The current ranking period that closes on December 16 includes a new CRP Grasslands practice specifically tailored for small-scale livestock grazing operations. Operations with 100 or fewer head of grazing dairy cows (or the equivalent) can submit applications to enroll up to 200 acres of grasslands per farm. USDA's goal is to enroll up to 200,000 additional acres.

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Permalink Study Validates Compost Use for Growing Substrate

The authors of a study in the September 2016 issue of HortScience studied the pH buffering capacity of substrates produced with compost and found that compost can be used to establish growing-substrate pH similar to limestone. Lead author of the research Matthew Taylor noted, "Compost can provide supplemental nutrition, may suppress disease-causing organisms, and can be used as a limestone substitute for pH establishment. Because of the high pH of most composts, limestone rates can be reduced or even eliminated when compost is used as a component of substrate or as a peatmoss replacement." Experiments with differing compost rates indicated that compost with properties similar to the material used in the study can be used in the same fashion as lime. However, the researchers noted that compost can vary in composition and quality, and that testing will be important to ensure proper use.

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Permalink Lamb Productivity Best Practices Fact Sheet Series Available Online

The United States Lamb Resource Center has posted a series of fact sheets identifying best practices for U.S. producers to increase their lamb crops. A set of 12 Productivity Best Practices were identified early in 2016 in Best Practices to Increase Your Lamb Crop, and over the course of the year a detailed online fact sheet was developed for each practice. The four-page fact sheets are available free online in PDF. Recent titles include Select for Productive Genetics, Optimal Nutrition, Match Reproduction to Mangement, Cull Underperforming Ewes, and Disease Prevention and Treatment.

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Permalink Borderlands 'Restoration Economy' Project Protects Pollinators and Creates Jobs

A feature in Scientific American describes how Borderlands Restoration is creating a restoration economy in the Patagonia, Arizona, area. The low-profit limited liability company works with private landowners and federal land managers to assess missing native flora and bring back those plants. A youth employment program involves local youth in the process of collecting native seeds and raising and establishing plants from them. In turn, these plants provide critical pollinator habitat, stabilize erosion-prone soils, and restore grazing land. "When we started Borderlands, one of the things we wanted to do was to tie the ideas of conservation, restoration, and biological diversity to the ideas of training people and creating jobs. We wanted to create what we call a 'restoration economy'--one that doesn’t ignore the reality of the people who are struggling to make a living here. You can bring back the pollinators, you can restore the hydrological systems that support them, but it won't last unless the people who live here really care about it," says Ronald Pulliam, one of the company's founders.

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Permalink Climate Warming Predicted to Accelerate Soil Carbon Loss

A new study published in the journal Nature, based on 49 climate change experiments worldwide, found that warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, adding an additional 17% on top of the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. Researchers found that carbon losses will be greatest in the world's colder places, at high latitudes, where massive stocks of carbon have built up over thousands of years and slow microbial activity has kept them relatively secure. The study predicts that for one degree of warming, about 30 petagrams of soil carbon will be released into the atmosphere.

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Permalink California State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program Awards Latest Round of Grant Funding

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has selected 167 projects, totaling $22 million, to receive grants from the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). The program's objective is to provide financial incentives for California agricultural operations to invest in irrigation systems and practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save water. The funding will support a wide variety of projects including the installation of drip and micro-sprinkler systems, energy-efficient water pumps and renewable energy, and soil moisture sensors and irrigation scheduling programs that can assist farmers in applying water based on crop needs.

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Permalink EPA Finalizes Increase in Renewable Fuel Volumes

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized increases in renewable fuel volume requirements across all categories of biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. This action finalizes the volume requirements and associated percentage standards for cellulosic biofuel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel for 2017, and for biomass-based diesel for 2018. The standard for biomass-based biodiesel--which must achieve at least 50% lifecycle greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to petroleum-based diesel--grows by 100 million gallons. Cellulosic biofuel--which must achieve at least 60% lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions--grows 35% over the 2016 standard. The advanced biofuel standard--comprised of biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, and other biofuel that achieves at least 50% lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reductions-- increases 19% over the 2016 standard.

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Permalink NSAC Releases New Tools to Aid Farmers with CSP Signup

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has published updated resources designed to support farmers considering an application to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year. Farmers and ranchers will have until February 3, 2017, to submit the initial CSP application. Although farmers can sign up for CSP anytime throughout the year, those who miss the February 3 deadline will not be considered for the program until 2018. USDA significantly redesigned the CSP program this year, but the complete release of the reinvention details is still pending. NSAC's CSP 2017 Information Alert and Farmers' Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program are tools to help farmers determine if CSP is right for them. This year's Information Alert includes step-by-step sign-up and enrollment details. Both publications are available free online.

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Permalink USDA Awards Grants to Support Healthy Agroecosystems

USDA logoUSDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the award of 18 grants through the Bioenergy and Natural Resources Program, Agroecosystem priority area of the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Grants totaling more than $6.7 million will support research to discover how components of the agroecosystem from soil, water, and sun to plants, animals, and people interact with and affect food production. Among this year's projects, the National Academy of Sciences will host a free, livestreamed workshop that will bring together policy makers, foundations and scientists to discuss how soil affects food security, water quality, and ecosystem health and identify policy solutions and research decisions to preserve this critical resource. Also, Archbold Expeditions will compare different grassland management systems to see which offer the most effective ecosystem benefits, such as greenhouse gas management and water use efficiency. Descriptions of the funded projects are available from the NIFA website.

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Permalink NOSB Spring Meeting Set for Denver, Colorado

USDA logoThe National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet April 19-21, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. During meetings, the NOSB listens to public comments, discusses agenda items, and then votes in a public forum. Detailed meeting information including agendas, locations, recommendations, and public comments will be posted online as it becomes available.

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Permalink Elderberry Production Manual Available Online

The University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture has published Growing Elderberries: A Production Manual and Enterprise Viability Guide for Vermont and the Northeast. The guide offers detailed information on how to select, cultivate, harvest, and process elderberries, as well as economic models to help growers determine the potential for profitability in their particular situation. The guide is available for free download. Project coordinator Ginger Nickerson says, "This guide is directed towards people with an interest in growing elderberry for profit, and is intended to help them determine if elderberry is the right commercial crop for them." However, she notes, "there is also much information that will be of use to backyard gardeners and people who want to make elderberry-based products for their friends and family."

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Permalink USDA Announces New Food LINC Partnerships to Support Regional Food Supply Chains

USDA logoUSDA has announced three new Food LINC partnerships that will help community leaders and private philanthropic partners develop regional food supply chains that drive job growth and increase farm income while helping to meet consumer demand for regionally produced food. The Texas Center for Local Food will help farmers in the Elgin, Texas region receive more for their products, support good jobs in rural communities and improve access to locally produced food. In addition, Food Commons Fresno will incubate a community food hub and grocery store in South Fresno, a community education space and a processing and distribution facility to develop markets for agricultural producers in California's San Joaquin Valley. Also, FamilyFarmed will help producers from the Midwest take advantage of Chicago's growing demand for regionally sourced, sustainably-grown specialty grains.

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Permalink ARS Study Explores How to Optimize Oats as Dairy Forage

USDA logoResearchers at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center have been testing the use of oats as fall dairy forage, to help producers determine when to graze and what varieties to plant for optimum performance. Test results showed that it's better to put the cattle out early in the fall rather than later, and it often is better to use late-maturing oat cultivars. The heifers put out to graze early gained twice as much weight per day as the heifers put out later. Meanwhile, they also found that the late-maturing oat variety produced higher quality forage, with greater energy density in the plant stems and leaves, and greater concentrations of water-soluble carbohydrates that support cattle growth.

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Permalink Northeastern Project Evaluates Root Crops for Season Extension

Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program has been conducting a root-crop trial at Hudson Valley Farm Hub. The project is evaluating thirty-one types of carrots, eighteen beets, and seven parsnips for yield, appearance, color, taste, and storage ability, as part of an effort to find products that area farmers could sell year-round. Preliminary results of the trials identified significant differences between varieties in terms of appearance, which is critical to marketing. Further testing will track Brix content and taste of the vegetables during storage. Results of the trials are being shared at regional producer conferences.

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Permalink Grasslands Conversion Documented in Plowprint Report

Since 2009, 53 million acres of grassland—an area the size of Kansas—have been converted to cropland across the Great Plains, having a significant impact on wildlife and the ecosystem services that grasslands provide. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has released the first edition of a new annual publication called the Plowprint Report, whose purpose is to track annual grassland conversion to cropland across the Great Plains, and to provide a consistent way to measure the loss of this important habitat type. Two versions of the Plowprint Report are available online—both a general information and a technical edition.

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Permalink Scientists Propose Policies to Protect Pollinators

An international team of researchers writing in the journal Science has proposed ten clear ways in which governments can protect and secure vital pollination services. The independent scientists made their suggestions as a follow-up to a recent global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that confirmed that large-scale declines in wild pollinators are happening in northern Europe and North America. Specifically, the researchers propose that governments raise pesticide regulatory standards, promote integrated pest management (IPM), include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop-risk assessments, and regulate movement of managed pollinators. In addition, they recommend that leaders develop incentivesto help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals, recognize pollination as an agricultural input, and support diversified farming systems. Additionally, they call for governments to conserve and restore green infrastructure, develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination, and fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified, and ecologically intensified farming.

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