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Breaking News



Permalink Soil Health Guide Series Helps Organic Producers

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has released a new series of educational guides designed to help organic farmers and ranchers enhance the soil health and overall resilience of their operations. Each guide begins with tools and practices set in the context of the challenges and opportunities identified by organic producers in OFRF's 2016 National Organic Research Agenda. The guides also include reviews of USDA-funded organic research, future research priorities, and scientific literature references. The first three guides in the series are now available to download free, with four more to be released in coming weeks. Available titles include Soil Health and Organic Farming: Building Organic Matter for Healthy Soils: An Overview, Soil Health and Organic Farming Weed Management: An Ecological Approach, and Soil Health and Organic Farming: Practical Conservation Tillage.

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Permalink Tennessee Research Finds Fall Calving More Profitable

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture assessed the potential trade-offs in risk and return of using a fall calving season rather than a spring calving season, while considering the seasonality of cattle and feed prices for least-cost feed rations. Using simulation models based on 19 years of data, researchers determined that calving between mid-September and mid-November was most profitable and had the smallest amount of variation in profits, meaning fall calving was less risky. The increased profitability of fall-season calving is due to the higher prices the calves can bring at weaning and an increase in calves weaned per cow. Additional information can be found in the associated 13-page Extension publication Fall Versus Spring Calving: Considerations and Profitability Comparison​, available free online.

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Permalink Research Identifies Potential Alternative to Antibiotics in Agriculture

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have combined metals and organic acids to create an alternative to antibiotics. American Technion Society reports that "the combination is extremely effective in eradicating pathogenic bacteria such as cholera, salmonella, and pseudomonas, as well as eliminating bacteria that attack agricultural crops such as tomatoes, melons, and apples." Researchers report that the combination of the two materials is more potent than using each one separately, making it possible to use an extremely low concentration for preserving food or spraying crops.

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Permalink Livestock Guardian Dog Study Shows Promising Results

A three-year Texas study on protecting sheep and goats from predators by using guardian dogs showed promising results, reports Texas A&M AgriLife. The experiment paired 18 inexperienced livestock guardian dogs with novice handlers on six ranches in West Texas. Study leaders say cooperating ranches reported that the livestock guardian dogs improved lamb crops by an estimated 25%, and game cameras revealed a reduction in predator traffic through pastures where dogs patrolled. However, a significant number of the dogs had problems with preying upon livestock or with neighbor conflicts. The study tracked the dogs with GPS collars and found that they traveled an average of 2.5 miles a day and had home ranges that averaged 600 acres.

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Permalink Mechanical Blossom Thinning Offers Alternative for Apple Growers

A three-year study by New York apple producers, CCE educators, and Cornell researchers examined mechanical blossom-thinning as an alternative to the commonly used chemical carbaryl. The trial used a Darwin string thinner that was described as "a large weed whacker crossed with a feather duster" to remove one-third to one-half of a tree's blossoms as it travels down a wall of apple trees. The trials focused on finding optimal speeds for the Darwin spindle and for the tractor, as well as preventing the potential spread of fire blight. Project leader Mario Miranda Sazo, with Cornell Cooperative Extension, believes mechanical thinning could become a game-changer for apple growers in New York and the Northeast.

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Permalink Indiana Farmers Union Forms Hemp Chapter and Healthy Food Access Chapter

Two new chapters have formed under the Indiana Farmers Union (INFU) to promote Indiana family farms, healthy food access, and industrial hemp production, with other chapter formations in the works. Approximately 10 Indiana Farmers Union members formed a chapter based out of Morgan County to focus on issues related to the legalization of industrial hemp production throughout Indiana. Meanwhile, approximately 12 Indiana Farmers Union members have formed a healthy food access chapter to work within Shelby County to promote Indiana family farms, while creating sustainable programs that bring fresh, locally grown foods to county residents living in food deserts. Other Indiana Farmers Union chapters are in formation, including a chapter focused on organic farming and a chapter that will promote the use of locally grown herbs for healing purposes. INFU is encouraging local farmers and food advocates to join the union, form chapters, and obtain assistance from the state organization to kick off programs, projects, and cooperative businesses in support of local food systems, farmers markets, and the state’s many family farmers.

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Permalink Historical Cornell Agricultural Research Available Online

Cornell University has announced that it has released copyright restrictions and made more than 1,700 agriculture documents published between 1880 and 1996 available online. The materials can now be searched, downloaded, and read on HathiTrust. The documents include materials produced by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, including the Cornell University and New York State Agricultural Experiment Stations, as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension. The texts were released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license that allows users to distribute, tweak, and build upon the work, as long as it is credited to Cornell.

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Permalink UC Davis Looks at Ways to Store Carbon in Soil

A feature published by The Washington Post highlights research at the University of California Davis into how agricultural soils can store carbon, helping remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Soil microbes play an important role in sequestering carbon, and a new initiative is underway in California to help farmers and ranchers implement practices that will encourage microbial communities to flourish so that they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Changing grazing management and applying compost to land are helping increase its carbon storage ability.

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Permalink Silvopasture Benefits Animal Welfare and Productivity

A study in Virginia, reported in Temperate Agroforester, showed that silvopasture delivered equivalent weight gains in sheep while improving animal welfare. Although the black walnut and honeylocust silvopasture system had 30% less forage availability compared to treeless systems, lambs had equivalent weight gains. Researchers believe that greater animal comfort provided by shade contributed to the productivity of the silvopasture system. Lambs in silvopasture actively followed and utilized shade, and spent more time lying down, using less energy. The researchers are beginning a related study that will compare heifer performance and development in thinned loblolly pine and hardwood stands to heifer performance in open pastures and newly planted loblolly pine silvopastures.

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Permalink Protecting Farmland Can Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Says Report

Greener Fields: Combating Climate Change by Keeping Land in Farming in New York is a new report from American Farmland Trust on the role that protecting farmland can have in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report found that an acre of farmland produces 66 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than an acre of developed land in New York. Consequently, if the rate of farmland conversion--5,800 acres annually--was reduced by 80% by 2050, it could reduce emissions equivalent to taking one million cars off the road. Greener Fields recommends protecting agricultural land while encouraging new real estate development in cities, villages, and developed areas as a key strategy for New York to achieve its climate objectives. The report includes actionable steps for farmers, interested citizens, public officials, planners, land trusts, policymakers, and researchers.

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Permalink Profiles Highlight Conservation by California Specialty Crop Growers

American Farmland Trust has released a new interactive Web page with more than 60 profiles of specialty crop growers in California who are implementing exemplary conservation practices on their farms. The profiles are searchable by crop(s) grown, conservation practices used, and geography. The intention of these profiles is to inform and inspire other specialty crop growers to pursue environmental quality as an integral and prominent feature of their operations. All interested California farmers are encouraged to reach out to the growers profiled in order to learn more about the practices they have undertaken.

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Permalink Study Reveals California Groundwater Loss

Researchers from UCLA and the University of Houston have published a study in Geophysical Research Letters that reveals significant groundwater loss in California's Central Valley from 2002 to 2016, and particularly during the two droughts in that period. The losses occurred even as the total amount of irrigated land decreased, indicating a transition from row crops to more water-intensive tree crops. "Pumping groundwater during a drought is not an unreasonable strategy," study leader Dennis Lettenmaier, UCLA professor of geography, said. "But the problem is that to have a sustainable system you have got to replenish it at some point, and there essentially is no plan to do that."

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Permalink Apply Now for August Armed to Farm Veteran Training in Maine

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is partnering with United Farmer Veterans of Maine (UFVM) to bring its Armed to Farm (ATF) training to the Northeast. Veterans who want to attend the week-long training August 21-25, 2017, in Bangor, Maine, can apply online by July 12, 2017. ATF allows veterans and their spouses to experience sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and explore career opportunities in agriculture. At ATF, participants learn about business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, livestock production, fruit and vegetable production, and more. Participants gain a strong foundation in the basic principles of operating a sustainable farm. In addition, ATF attendees join a nationwide network of supportive farmer-veterans and agricultural advisors. This training is for veterans in the Northeast, with preference given to those in Maine. The number of participants will be limited.

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Permalink Penn State Researchers Explore Extending Berry Season

Penn State researchers are examining how the use of high and low tunnels and plastic coverings extend the growing season for strawberries and raspberries, and as a result, increase yields while also reducing pesticide use and improving berry quality and shelf-life. Midway through a five-year project, the researchers have found that with a combination of the right cultivars and season-extension technologies, they can extend the strawberry production season from four weeks to at least five months, and the raspberry harvest season from three-to-four weeks to four months. In testing, yield of strawberries doubled, and yields of raspberries doubled, tripled or quadrupled compared to the field, depending on production methods. In addition, the group eliminated the use of pesticides, relying totally on natural enemies for pest control, while improving the quality and shelf-life of both strawberries and raspberries. The researchers now are improving their strategies by studying the effects of various tunnel coverings infused with ultraviolet (UV) light blockers and stabilizers and infrared (IR) light blockers.

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Permalink Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program Funding Announced

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture has announced 47 grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, totaling nearly $17.5 million to improve sustainable agriculture and help rural communities thrive. The AFRI program area of Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities (AERC) supports projects that improve agricultural sustainability, protect the environment, enhance quality of life for rural communities, and alleviate poverty. In FY16, AFRI AERC supported projects in five program areas: 1) economics, markets, and trade; 2) environmental and natural resource economics; 3) behavioral economics; 4) small and medium-sized farms; and 5) rural entrepreneurship. A list of grant recipients is available online.

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Permalink Plant Image Gallery Now Includes Aquatic Plants

The Noble Research Institute has expanded its Plant Image Gallery to include aquatic plants. The plants featured in the aquatics category are from the Noble Research Institute's newest pictorial guidebook, Common Aquatic Vegetation in the Southern Great Plains. The Plant Image Gallery is designed to assist farmers and ranchers, botanists, ecologists, natural resource managers, educators, and hobbyists to identify plants commonly found in the Southern Great Plains. The Plant Image Gallery includes numerous images grasses and grasslikes; forbs; and trees, shrubs and woody vines, as well as the aquatic vegetation.

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Permalink NC State University Tests Fertilizer for Organic Tobacco

North Carolina State University researchers are helping organic tobacco growers find the best way to fertilize seedlings to make them healthy enough for transplant into the field. The researchers found that by using a combination of seabird guano, sodium nitrate and gypsum and by using fish-tank pumps to aerate the float beds, they could achieve levels of seedling success comparable to those seen in conventional tobacco production with synthetic fertilizers. The aeration was key to making the nutrients available to the plants. Details on the fertilizer blends will be made available in the annual tobacco production guide published by NC State.

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Permalink Iowa Commercial Horticulture Survey Reveals Vibrant Industry

The Iowa Commercial Horticulture Survey Results released by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa State University Extension shows that 882 horticulture farmers generated over $48 million in sales and $32 million value-added activity in 2015. The survey shows that the majority of Iowa's horticulture farmers are relatively new to this agriculture sector, having grown commercial horticulture crops for 10 years or fewer. The average horticulture farm size is approximately eight acres in size. Most survey respondents use horticulture crop production as means to supplement family income as opposed to deriving their main income from this type of agriculture. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey points out that it has been more than a decade since this type of information was collected. "The Local Foods Program team at Iowa State University is excited about the findings of the survey," said Dr. Craig Chase, program manager. "In particular, it illustrates that horticultural producers are an important sector in Iowa's agricultural landscape." A full digital version of the document along with additional detailed data appendices is available online.

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Permalink Grant Guide for Farmers Available Online

Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) has published Get Your Farm Funded, a free, 20-page guide that offers tips and insights for farmers looking for grant funding. The guide, available online in PDF, covers strategies for finding funding opportunities, discusses how to systematize your writing process to save time, and offers tips for creating a more successful proposal.

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Permalink International Heritage Breeds Week Observed May 21-27

The third annual International Heritage Breeds Week will be held 21-27 May, 2017. International Heritage Breeds Week aims to raise global awareness about endangered heritage breeds of livestock and poultry. The Livestock Conservancy has partnered with a consortium of livestock conservation organizations from around the world to host International Heritage Breeds Week and International Heritage Breeds Day on the ending Saturday of that week. Worldwide, about one domesticated livestock breed every month is lost to extinction. Heritage breed farmers, enthusiasts, and the public are encouraged to spread the word and hold local events to raise awareness in their communities.

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Permalink South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award Winners Protect Prairie

South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award winners Bev and Herb Hamann of Blue Bell Ranch have used permanent conservation easements to protect most of their 5,000 prairie acres, reports Tri-State Neighbor. The Hamanns use biocontrols and prescribed burning to control weeds, practice rotational grazing, and calve in late spring, as part of their philosophy of working with nature, rather than against it. Their efforts are preserving native plant species and wildlife. The award is presented by the Sand County Foundation, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

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Permalink Scientists Look at Landscape Drivers of Insecticide Use

A new study by UC Santa Barbara scientists looked at data from roughly 13,000 California fields to find the different effects of landscape characteristics such as crop diversity, field size, and cropland extent on insecticide use. Although the study demonstrated potentially valuable benefits to crop diversity and to smaller fields, these benefits were highly dependent on crop type. The research showed that while crop diversity reduced insecticide use, its impact was small in comparison to the differences in insecticide use between different crops. For example, as surrounding crop diversity increased, insecticide use on table grapes fell by nearly 8 kilograms per hectare. Other crops did not show the same reduction. "If we are to minimize the negative effects of insecticides on human and environmental health, it is critical to understand if and how we can leverage landscape features to reduce insecticide use," said lead author and assistant professor Ashley Larsen.

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Permalink UMass Extension Says Farmer Mentors Help IPM Program Succeed

University of Massachusetts Extension reports that its strategy of working with mentor farms is helping spread IPM information and best practices in the region. UMass Extension professionals work with nine to ten mentor farms each year during the growing season, to meet the farmers' top IPM goals using science-based strategies. These farms commit to working with Extension for one to three seasons to solve their most challenging crop and pest management issues and to share what they learn with employees, apprentices, and their farming communities. After growers develop an IPM plan, they meet individually with Extension staff to receive individual training. At the end of the season, techniques and success are evaluated. Mentor farmers may also host a field walk or twilight meeting on their farm so other area growers can learn more about IPM techniques. Scouting results from Mentor farms are used in preparing Pest Alerts for Vegetable Notes, extending timely information to more than 2,500 growers all over New England. Participating farmers shared their enthusiasm for the program in a spotlight website posting.

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Permalink On-Farm Podcast Series Introduced by Practical Farmers of Iowa

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) has introduced a new podcast, "On-Farm: Conversations with Practical Farmers." Each week, PFI staff member Nick Ohde will interview a different Practical Farmers member. Listeners will hear from new and experienced; young and old; small and large; horticulture, livestock and row-crop farmers. The series will talk with farmers about the issues most relevant to the farming community: the nitty gritty of growing and raising all sorts of plants and animals; on-farm research; protecting and improving soil and water quality; farm profitability; the challenges facing beginning farmers; building community in rural areas; and of course, food. The first episode features Jill Beebout of Blue Gate Farm, talking about an upcoming field day, vegetable production in general and some of the ways she builds community with farmers and non-farmers alike.

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Permalink Study Says Diversified Crop Rotations Benefit Farmers, Soil, and Water

A study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that modified three- and four-crop farming systems could be scaled up and adopted widely in Corn Belt states to increase yields, slash erosion, and preserve water quality. Rotating Crops, Turning Profits: How Diversified Farming Systems Can Help Farmers While Protecting Soil and Preventing Pollution builds on a long-term study at Iowa State University, known as the Marsden Farm study, which demonstrated that adding combinations of alfalfa, cover crops, and small grains such as oats to a typical corn-soy rotation can increase farmers' yields and maintain profits while reducing herbicide and fertilizer use. The UCS analysis shows that pairing these longer rotations with soil-conserving "no-till" practices and scaling the system up strategically would have dramatic results. For example, adoption of the no-till three-year or four-year rotation system in the 25 Iowa counties with the most erodible soils would slash erosion by as much as 91%. "Diversifying crop rotations is a win-win-win solution for farmer profits, the long-term health of their soil, and clean water for communities," said Kranti Mulik, author of the report and senior economist at UCS. "If we want to multiply the benefits, though, we need to be able to scale these practices up across the region."

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Permalink Remember to Sign Up to Receive Census of Agriculture Report Form

USDA logoThe 2017 Census of Agriculture, a complete count of all U.S. farms, ranches, and those who operate them, will be mailed at the end of this year. The Census is conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Producers who are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 should sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture report form by visiting www.agcensus.usda.gov and clicking on the 'Make Sure You Are Counted' button before the end of June. NASS defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year (2017).

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Permalink Montana Rancher Uses Vermiculture to Produce Soil Amendment

Montana rancher Steve Charter is testing vermiculture as a way to rebuild soil, reports The Prairie Star. Charter began in 2015 with a 40-pound box of worms. He feeds the worms, screens off their castings, and mixes the castings with water, molasses, and fish emollients to produce a spray treatment for his land. So far, he's made three applications of the spray to about 100 acres. He's eager to see the difference in soil health quantified, which could happen starting this year if a USDA Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative proposal, Widening Interest in New Soil Organic Matter Experiments, is funded. The proposal would involve MSU undergraduate research assistants visiting grazing lands to obtain soil samples and soil respiration measurements and estimate soil carbon residence times. This would help stakeholders learn which soil treatments yield the greatest amount of carbon-rich soil organic matter.

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Permalink National Sustainable Agriculture Oral History Archive Publishes Interviews

Through a series of video-recorded interviews, an online oral history project is documenting the formation and evolution of what today is known as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), including the federal policy reforms NSAC and its allies have achieved over the last three decades. This Archive is a work in progress led by Ron Kroese, Garden Avenue Associates and Senior Fellow in the Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota. The first round of 21 interviews was published in April 2017, and includes video of National Center for Appropriate Technology DC Representative Bob Gray and Board Member Margaret Krome.

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Permalink Cherry Tomato and Vegetable Cover-Crop Trials Report Results

Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has announced the results of vegetable research providing market growers with an unexpected insight into the production challenges associated with the increasingly popular cherry-type tomatoes. The trial evaluated and compared the labor, efficiency, and yield of three different tomato training systems: an intensively pruned single leader, a standard double leader, and a less intensively pruned four-leader system. They found that the intensive system took less time to train and harvest. The project also included trials of brown leaf mold-resistant varieties for productivity and flavor. Additional research in 2016 evaluated 13 single or mixed summer cover crop options for weed suppression in field-planted vegetable crops, and results from this research are also available online.

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Permalink Directory of Funding Sources for Food-Related Businesses Updated

The Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University has released New Funding Sources for Food-Related Businesses: Third Edition. This directory provides an overview of various financing sources available to food-related businesses both in Michigan and across the United States. The guide contains nearly 60 resources including crowdfunding platforms, start-up accelerator funds, state and federal programs, and other miscellaneous funding opportunities. The 61-page PDF is available online.

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