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Permalink Research Explores Using Natural Soil Compounds to Trap Pollutants and Protect Crops

South Dakota State University Fulbright Postdoctoral Scholar Mohamed Elsayed's research seeks to increase the ability of humic acid to adsorb or trap pollutants in the soil in combination with either of two clay minerals—kaolinite or montmorillonite. This prevents plants from absorbing soil contaminants such as heavy metals and organic pollutants and transferring them to the humans who consume the crop. "The idea is to use natural materials to reduce the pollutants," Elsayed explained. By breaking humic acid into smaller molecules, a process called fractionation, Elsayed hopes to improve the interaction between humic acid and clay minerals and, therefore, their ability to trap pollutants. Elsayed will present his work at the American Chemical Society National Meeting March 22-26 in Denver.

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Permalink National Soil Moisture Network Announced

USDA logoDr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA's National Water and Climate Center, recently outlined plans for a coordinated National Soil Moisture Network. The planned system combines models and remote sensing, including satellite data. A regional pilot project proving the concept of near-real time soil monitoring is taking place in North Texas and Oklahoma. The pilot is demonstrating the usefulness and benefits of such a system to a broad range of users, including producers. Eventually with this system, farmers and landowners should be able to access data on soil moisture related to their specific location from a home computer and get answers in real time.

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Permalink Organic Dairy Discussion Series Planned in New York

The New York Organic Dairy Initiative, in collaboration with the New York Farm Viability Institute and host farmers across New York State, will hold discussion meetings for dairy farmers, reports New York Ag Connection. Cornell Cooperative Extension organic dairy extension educator Fay Benson will show video trainings produced by Jerry Brunetti for the New York Organic Dairy Initiative. The discussions are an opportunity for farmers to share what they have tried and learned in the past year, and to make plans and identify goals for 2015. Farmers who are currently certified as well as those thinking of transitioning to organic production are welcome. The free 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. meetings include lunch, and are scheduled at five local farm sites between March 19 and April 1.

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Permalink USDA Market News Retail Report Covers Local and Organic Products

USDA logoUSDA Market News is now issuing weekly National Retail Report covering local and organic products. This report represents average prices for products based on online advertisement surveys highlighting local or organic foods from about 350 major grocery retailers and 28,000 stores nationwide. The report features advertised price ranges and averages for fruits and vegetables, livestock, poultry, and dairy products.

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Permalink Wisconsin Seeks Organic Council Nominations; Organic Status Report Issued

The Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council has four openings for individuals interested in shaping the future of organic farming in Wisconsin. Nominations are being accepted until March 27. The four openings include one seat for a representative of each of the following industry sectors: an organic farm, an organic business, an organic certifying agency, and an at-large seat. Members serve three-year terms, and the council meets quarterly.
Meanwhile, UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have issued Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2015 Status Report. The 40-page publication, available free online, provides data on organic production, markets, and farmer demographics. This report also includes a special section on organic grain, including possible strategies to increase organic grain production in Wisconsin.

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Permalink FruitGuys Community Fund Offers Reports on 2014 Funded Projects

The FruitGuys Community Fund, a nonprofit fiscally sponsored project of Community Initiatives, awarded small farms and agricultural nonprofits $30,000 in 2014 for sustainability projects intended to have a positive impact on the environment, local food systems, and farm diversity. The recipients were chosen based on their proposed project’s scores in the Community Fund’s 2014 areas of focus: pollination, pest control, soil health, and low income food access. The grantees' final reports on their funded projects are available online. The 2015 Grantees will be announced in April 2015 and FruitGuys Community Fund is inviting volunteers to join its Grant Review Committee.

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Permalink National Survey on Cover Crops Seeks Farmer Participation

The Conservation Technology Information Center is conducting its third national survey on cover crops. Farmers nationwide are invited to share their thoughts on cover crops, whether or not they use cover crops themselves. The results of the online survey, which will be released this summer, will help growers, researchers, agricultural advisors, ag retailers, and policymakers more effectively address questions about cover crops and learn about best practices. The survey is sponsored by USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), and Corn+Soybean Digest. Farmers who complete the questionnaire are eligible for a drawing for one of two $100 Visa gift cards.

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Permalink APHIS Announces Withdrawal of 2008 Proposed Rule for Biotechnology Regulations

USDA logoUSDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced that it is withdrawing its 2008 proposed rule that would have amended the regulations regarding the introduction (importation, interstate movement, and environmental release) of certain genetically engineered organisms. APHIS received over 88,300 comments on the proposed rule. APHIS has announced that it will withdraw the rule and begin fresh stakeholder engagement aimed at exploring alternative policy approaches, beginning with a series of webinars.

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Permalink California Organic Wingrape Producers Battle Virginia Creeper Leafhopper

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension reports that organic winegrape producers in California are battling a destructive pest, the Virginia creeper leafhopper. The recently arrived pest has defoliated vineyards, and in the absence of a specific organic control, organic growers are using expensive pesticides that can harm beneficial insects and that don't provide very good leafhopper control. University of California scientists are involved in developing a biological control for the pest. Their plan involves releasing natural enemies of Virginia creeper leafhopper and implementing an area-wide integrated pest management program in Mendocino and Lake counties.

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Permalink Cleanest and Most Pesticide-Contaminated Produce Varieties Announced in Report

Using USDA and FDA testing results, the Environmental Working Group has compiled its annual listing of the 12 most frequently pesticide-contaminated types of produce and the 15 types of produce that showed the least pesticide contamination. In total, EWG's 2015 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ ranked 48 different fruits and vegetables by the total number of pesticides found on them. EWG analysts use six metrics to rank produce, including the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides. The full report, as well as the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™ summaries, appears online.

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Permalink The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops and The Sustainability Consortium Announce Partnership

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) and The Sustainability Consortium® (TSC) have announced a partnership on an aligned approach to measure and communicate on-farm sustainability in specialty crops (all fruits, nuts, and vegetables). TSC and SISC have agreed to work toward harmonization of on-farm performance metrics and collaborate together on implementation and innovation projects to encourage stewardship across specialty crop supply chains.

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Permalink Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Internship Program Expands

Rogue Farm Corps is expanding its sustainable agriculture internship program to Central Oregon this year, reports The Bulletin. The program will place interns this year on 16 host farms spread over four regions in Oregon. Participants will each log as many as 1,500 hours of work with a mentor farmer over nine months, as well as 75 hours of classroom learning, workshops, and tours of other area farms and ranches. Participants pay a tuition fee that covers lodging and are paid a monthly stipend during the program. The Corps also runs a more intensive two-year apprenticeship program titled FarmsNow as part of its effort to equip young farmers with the skills they need to go into the business.

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Permalink Penn State Issues Organic Crop Production Guide

Penn State has released the Penn State Organic Crop Production Guide, a 243- page organic field-crop production guide tailored to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. The guide provides science-based information on organic practices and ecological processes, and it features case studies from farmers and firsthand producer experience. It also includes Penn State research results on topics such as weed management, environmental quality and profitability in organic feed and forage production; multifunctional cover-crop cocktails for organic systems; reduced-tillage organic feed-grains production; and organic production of heritage small grains. The guide contains sections covering soil health and management, soil fertility, cover crops, insect and disease management, marketing organic crops, planning crop rotations, organic field-crop budgets and other topics. The guide is available in print or PDF format.

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Permalink Kansas Agricultural Experiment Stations Make Research Reports Available Online

The Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service has unveiled a new, online publishing platform for preliminary research reports from Agricultural Experiment Station researchers. "KAES Research Reports” is a new online publication hosted by New Prairie Press at the Kansas State University Libraries. The new format makes research results widely available at no cost to viewers. Reports dedicated to projects from the Southeast Agricultural Research Center (beef cattle, forage crops, soil and water management, and cropping systems), Southwest Research-Extension Center (cropping and tillage systems, soil fertility, weed science, and irrigation), Agricultural Research Center–Hays (beef cattle), and K-State turfgrass, swine, and dairy teams are posted on a continuing basis as they become available for issues throughout the year.

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Permalink National CSA Sign-up Day is February 28

Farms from around the country are celebrating National CSA Sign-Up Day on February 28. The day encourages food consumers to buy a share of their local farm’s harvest for the 2015 season. February 28th was chosen as National CSA Sign-up Day because this day is the most popular day to sign up for CSA shares according to the 2014 CSA Farming Report. Buying a CSA share in late winter is important because farmers are making the capital investments for this year’s harvest now and the CSA model means they do not need to finance these costs with costly credit.

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Permalink Integrating Sheep with Wheat Operation Diversifies Income, Enhances Sustainability

A Washington State University soil science doctoral student is working with Eastern Washington wheat farmers to document how integrated livestock farming can contribute to sustainability goals. These include increasing and retaining soil nutrients, adding biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing soil erosion. Farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison have added sheep grazing alfalfa to their crop rotation on 100 acres of their family wheat farm. The sheep added an income stream and diversified the operation, protecting it from grain market risks. This particular study compared three different production systems, including an organic treatment. Over the three-year study, the organic treatment has been most profitable and has increased soil carbon.

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Permalink USDA Accepting Comments on Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

USDA logoUSDA is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), designed to help producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. ACEP is a voluntary program created in the 2014 Farm bill to protect and restore critical wetlands on private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component. ACEP also encourages farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners to keep their private and tribal land in agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component. ACEP also conserves grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland, and shrubland. The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule can be found in the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted electronically or mailed during the 60-day comment period.

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Permalink Grafting Helps Protect Crops from Verticillium Wilt

Researchers at Washington State University are developing a way to protect the state's watermelon crop from Verticillium wilt by grafting watermelon plants onto pumpkin, squash, and bottle gourd rootstock. The researchers are looking for grafting combinations that are disease resistant and have equivalent fruit yield and quality to ungrafted plants grown in healthy soil. The fungus also affects tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and many other crops and plants, for which grafting may prove a viable solution and an alternative to fumigants.

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Permalink USDA Announces Grants Awarded Through AFRI Foundational Program

USDA logoUSDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the award of nearly $14 million in grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative's (AFRI) Foundational Program. The four program areas in which grants were announced were Rural Communities and Regional Development; Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities – Environment; Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities – Economics, Markets and Trade; and Small and Medium-Sized Farms. The Small and Medium-sized Farm program provides farmers and ranchers assistance in their decision making with respect to management strategies, new technologies, sustainability, competitiveness, and viability. The eight projects at major universities that were funded under this program area focus on developing new disciplinary or multidisciplinary models to assist agricultural landowners' decision-making in scale management strategies and technologies to enhance economic efficiency and sustainability.

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Permalink Organic Farming Found to Support Diversity of Beneficial Insects

The Organic Center reports that a recent study published in the journal Landscape Ecology found greater diversity and amount of beneficial predator insects on organic farms. Researchers sampled and modeled organic and conventional winter wheat fields and found that whether or not farms were organic played a more important role in beneficial insect populations than did landscape composition. The researchers noted that the assemblage of practices used on organic farms contributed to high habitat quality for beneficial insects.

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Permalink Adding Carbon Helps Remediate Pesticide-Contaminated Soil and Water

The Finnish Environmental Institute reports that addition of carbon was found to be the most promising remediation method in the remediation of soil and groundwater contaminated with the pesticide atrazine. The conclusion was presented in research for a doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki. The study compared four bioremediation methods that were used for reducing the amount of atrazine in soil or groundwater. Factors that must be taken into consideration when choosing the most suitable bioremediation method include land use, the geographic origin of the soil, treatment history, and the amount of organic matter. This study compared bioremediation methods in tropical farmland in active agriculture with the subsoil of northern coniferous forests. The degradation of atrazine was enhanced by the addition of decomposer microorganisms or the nutrients they need, i.e. carbon, to the soil.

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Permalink USDA Creates Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network

USDA logoUSDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden has announced the creation of the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. This newly established network is designed to support and engage women across all areas of agriculture and to foster professional partnerships between women with shared backgrounds, interests, and professional goals. USDA is inviting participants to share suggestions, stories, and other snippets on how the country can build a new generation of women leaders in agriculture. E-mail agwomenlead@usda.gov to be added to the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network and share stories using #womeninag.

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Permalink Website Offers Vegetable Grafting Research Information

A project supported by the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of USDA NIFA has introduced an online Vegetable Grafting Research-Based Information Portal. The portal offers updates on results of research into vegetable grafting, a vegetable grafting listserv, a directory of vegetable-grafting researchers and professionals, and other online resources. Both solinaceae and cucurbit grafting are addressed by resources on the site.

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Permalink Fact Sheets on Bird Damage to Fruit Crops Issued

A multi-university Specialty Crop Research Initiative Project on limiting bird damage to fruit crops has released a set of fact sheets on the regional costs of bird damage to fruit crops and the benefits of bird management. There are five fact sheets related to specific crops: blueberries, Honeycrisp apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries, and wine grapes. The sheets include an evaluation of the effectiveness of different bird-damage control measures. There are also five fact sheets addressing the economic impact of bird damage to fruit crops in specific states: California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Washington. The fact sheets are available online in PDF.

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Permalink Sign-up Period for Conservation Stewardship Program Extended to March 13

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the sign-up period for the 2015 edition of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) until March 13, reports the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Farmers and ranchers interested in enrolling in the program for 2015 now have two additional weeks to go to their local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and complete an initial application. CSP participants will receive an annual land use payment for operation-level environmental benefits they produce. CSP is available on Tribal and private agricultural lands and non-industrial private forest land in all 50 States and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands Areas.

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Permalink Technical Bulletin Focuses on Ecological Control of Insect Pests of Apples in Northeast

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has released a new online technical bulletin titled Ecological Management of Key Arthropod Pests in Northeast Apple Orchards. The free bulletin highlights SARE-funded research that demonstrated viable ecological management strategies for plum curculio, apple maggot, codling moth, and other key apple pests. Successful strategies included mating disruption and selective pesticide applications that greatly enhanced the effectiveness of beneficial organisms. This technical bulletin outlines strategies developed from projects in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, including biologically based pest control, orchard architecture, and development of materials approved for organic production.

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Permalink Preliminary Analysis Explores USDA Investment in Organic Agriculture Research

Since 2002, USDA has invested more than $142 million into 188 organic farming studies, successfully targeting issues of vital concern to organic farmers, according to a preliminary analysis conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Despite this, research funding for livestock issues has lagged, and a number of important organic crops including rice, cotton, tree nuts, medicinal herbs, cut flowers, and peanuts were either under-represented or entirely overlooked in research funding. These preliminary findings represent the first phase of a two-year analysis of USDA's investments in organic farming research, examining abstracts of 124 projects funded by OREI and 64 funded by the Organic Transitions project. The analysis aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency's organic research program, gauge its alignment with farmer priorities, and help set priorities for future research. Additional preliminary results will be distributed later this year, with the final report expected to be released in 2016. The project is a collaboration between OFRF and partners including Oregon Tilth, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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Permalink USGS Study Shows Variance in Plant Vulnerability to Drought

A new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study shows how plants' vulnerability to drought varies across the landscape; factors such as plant structure and soil type where the plant is growing can either make them more vulnerable or protect them from declines. USGS scientists developed a model to evaluate how plant species will respond to increases in temperature and drought. The model integrates knowledge about how plant responses are modified by landscape, soil, and plant attributes that are integral to water availability and use. For example, the study showed that deep-rooted plants were not as vulnerable to drought on soils that allowed for deep-water flow. Also, shallow-rooted plants were better buffered from drought on soils that promoted water retention near the surface. This information may be helpful for resource managers to minimize disturbance in areas that are likely vulnerable to water shortages.

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Permalink Study Explores How to Utilize Pasture Nutrition for Poultry

A USDA-ARS Arkansas study funded by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) looked at the various ways pasture can be used as a resource in ecological poultry production. The results of the study, "Integrating Free Range Poultry with Ruminant and Agroforestry Production in a Systems Approach," are available online from SSARE. Lead researcher Anne Fanatico and colleagues found that high-quality forage can be an important source of nutrients for pastured poultry, but the birds also need a concentrated source of feed. The study investigated free-choice feed and fully formulated feed for pastured poultry. Birds on a fully formulated diet gained more weight than those on a choice-feeding diet. However, feed efficiency in the choice-feeding diet was greater, and this diet was less expensive. The research also looked at the enrichment of outdoor areas in pasture and agroforestry systems to encourage birds to more actively obtain nutrients, spread manure, and reduce heavy use around the poultry house. Overall, the SSARE-funded study showed benefits of using the pasture resource and farm-raised feeds for free-range poultry production and integration with grazing animals.

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Permalink Natural Plant Chemicals Found to Reduce Bee Parasites

University of Massachusetts Amherst and Dartmouth College researchers report that in recent experiments, bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite had reduced parasite levels in their guts after seven days if the bees also consumed natural toxins present in plant nectar. They found that toxic chemicals in nectar reduced infection levels of a common bumblebee parasite by as much as 81% over a week. The principal investigator at UMass Amherst, Lynn Adler, says the results of this study may have implications for growers who depend on pollinators. Growers may want to think about planting pollinator-friendly hedgerows and gardens containing plants that produce natural herbal remedies for some of the common parasites and diseases that ail bees and other pollinating insects. The eight chemicals tested in this study were nicotine and anabasine found in nectar of flowers in the tobacco family, caffeine from coffee and citrus nectar, amygdalin from almond nectar, aucubin and catalpol from turtlehead flowers, gallic acid from buckwheat nectar, and thymol from basswood tree nectar.

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