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Permalink Regional Conservation Partnership Program Announces Second-Round Selections

USDA logoUSDA has announced 84 projects selected for the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). USDA and partners across the nation together will direct up to $720 million towards conservation projects that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability. Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment. This round of awards includes the Mississippi Grazing Land Management project led by the National Center for Appropriate Technology, a five-year project that will focus on increasing the number of Mississippi livestock producers who use grazing techniques that improve the overall health of Mississippi grazing lands.

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Permalink Trial Report Available from Organic Seed Project

Organic Seed Alliance has published Greenbank Farm Organic Seed Project: 2015 Western Washington Trial Report, available for free download. This report is the result of on-farm variety trials conducted in 2014-2015 by organic farmers in Western Washington with technical-advising support from both Greenbank Farm and Organic Seed Alliance. The report includes descriptions of trial goals, trial methods, and trial result data of six on-farm variety trials conducted on four participating farms in Western Washington in 2015. Trials included varieties of tomatoes, dry pole beans, popcorn, radicchio, chicory, snap peas, and bush yellow snap beans.

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Permalink Survey Evaluating Soil Amendment Use in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture

A group of researchers, stakeholders, and extension faculty is seeking assistance to better understand the scope, needs, and current practices used by the organic agricultural industry, related to manure and compost use and rotational grazing, in order to identify potential food safety risks related to microbial contamination. This study led by Drs. Alda Pires (UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine) and Michele Jay-Russell (Western Center for Food Safety, UC Davis) is interested in conducting a needs assessment to gather information about the use of animal-based soil amendments, including rotational grazing of livestock and poultry, in organic and sustainable agriculture, with a focus on produce commodities covered under FDA's Produce Safety Rule. The group has constructed a survey that will provide critical information that can be incorporated into guidelines aimed toward developing research on risk mitigation of foodborne pathogens for organic and sustainable agriculture. The online survey will take about 30 minutes to complete.

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Permalink Oregano Studied for Potential to Reduce Cattle Methane Emissions

Aarhus University in Denmark has announced a four-year research project to examine whether the addition of organic oregano to cattle feed can reduce the production of methane in the rumen and thus emissions of methane gas by as much as 25%. The project will also investigate how best to grow organic oregano and whether to process the plant as hay or silage. Previous studies have indicated that oregano in dairy-cow diets can improve the milk's fatty acid composition, and the current project will research this aspect as well as affects on the milk's flavor that might result from the oregano diet.

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Permalink Research Helps Identify Unprofitable Farmland, Encouraging Other Uses

A new study from a multidisciplinary team led by Iowa State University agronomists shows that significant portions of Iowa farmland consistently lose money, based on the amount of input they require and the low yield they produce. Although crop insurance and high grain prices can obscure which acreage loses money, this study focused on identifying acreage that was a net loser. The findings of this study could influence many farmers to change how they use some of the acres they devote to corn and soybeans. An interactive map of Iowa subfield profitability is available online. Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy and co-author of the study, said the researchers hope their work will encourage farmers to consider alternate uses for unprofitable land. Converting some of those acres to perennial grasses, for instance, would have environmental benefits such as curtailing erosion and providing habitat for wildlife. Land owners and managers can work with ISU personnel to identify goals for their cropland and develop integration strategies tailored to individual operations, Heaton said.

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Permalink CRP Competitive Sign-Up Deadline February 26

USDA logoUSDA is reminding farmers and ranchers that the sign-up deadline for competitive enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is February 26, 2016. USDA predicts that his will be one of the most competitive general sign-up periods in history, in part due a statutory limit on the number of acres that can be enrolled in the program. They advise that the most competitive applications will be those that combine multiple conservation benefits, such as water quality and wildlife habitat. For the past thirty years, CRP has provided financial incentives to farmers and ranchers to remove environmentally sensitive agricultural land from production to be planted with certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat. For more information on Farm Service Agency (FSA) conservation programs, visit a local FSA office or www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation.

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Permalink New Farm Link Montana Tool Connects Prospective Interns to Montana Farms and Ranches

Farm Link Montana is a new, free online resource that connects prospective interns with Montana farms looking for an extra hand. The website features a map displaying farms with available internships, information about each farm, and a common application form, so that prospective interns only need to fill out a single application to apply to multiple farms. The site also includes resources to help start a farm or ranch in Montana, along with tools to connect beginners with mentors and find land. The intern application and the host farm application are available online.

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Permalink Penn State Cover Crop Cocktail Research Covered in Webinar, Photos

Penn State researchers studying the agronomic, environmental, and economic benefits and trade-offs of using cover crop mixtures in organic farming systems presented their research in an eOrganic webinar that is now available online. The research project is testing four different cover crop mixtures against six monoculture species in a corn-soy-wheat crop rotation at its research station. The team has also posted annotated photos of the project fieldwork on its website.

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Permalink Purdue Offers Livestock Budgeting Tools for Small-Scale Producers

Purdue Extension has developed a pair of Web-based, interactive resources to help new producers and anyone thinking about starting a small-scale livestock operation to make critical budgeting decisions. The Purdue Comparative Decision Support matrix, known as PCDS, includes a spreadsheet tool that allows users to create an operating budget based on their own fixed and variable costs, cash flow, and expected revenue. The PCDS2 profit/loss analysis function uses cost and price information to calculate potential earnings. The PCDS and PCDS2 budgeting tools were developed with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. They are available online. To help producers use the tools most effectively, Extension is offering a series of six companion publications focusing on different types of small-scale livestock operations, including cattle, goats, sheep, and turkeys. All publications in the Small-Scale Livestock Enterprises series are available for free download.

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Permalink Researchers Create Synthetic Biopathway for Transforming Agricultural Biomass to Manufacturing Chemicals

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have engineered a new synthetic biopathway that can more efficiently and cost-effectively turn agricultural waste into chemicals that can be used to manufacture a variety of products. The study was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology. In this study, researchers looked at using inedible biological byproducts, or lignocelluloslic biomass, to produce butanediol (BDO) that is used to produce spandex. The researchers examined the gene sequences from bacteria and fungi that turn the biomass into tricarboxylic acid (TCA) intermediates and identified a "nonphosphorylative metabolism," which enables the production of useful products from TCA in less than five steps. "We found that this new platform could be used to convert agricultural waste to chemicals that can be used for many other products ranging from chicken feed to flavor enhancers in food," said the study's lead researcher Kechun Zhang.

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Permalink Leopold Center Awards Research Grants for 2016

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has announced that it will provide grant funds for 17 new research and demonstration projects to begin this year. The grants will aid in the advancement of sustainable agriculture while protecting Iowa's soil and water and also help Iowa citizens increase the availability of nutritious and locally grown foods. The 17 new grants, totaling more than $1 million, fall under the Leopold Center's research initiatives: Ecology, Marketing and Food Systems, Policy, and Cross-Cutting. Some of the research project topics include soil health in crops grown for biofuels, antibacterial seed treatments, how swine manure affects antibiotic resistance in bacteria, work with regional food hubs, and grazing, grasslands, and cover crops. In addition to these new projects, work continues on other multi-year projects supported by the Leopold Center's long-running competitive grants program.

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Permalink Integrated Crop Pollination Project Issues Annual Newsletter

The USDA-SCRI Integrated Crop Pollination Project has released its annual newsletter for 2015, the third year of the project. This project's long-term goal is to develop and deliver context-specific Integrated Crop Pollination (ICP) recommendations on how to most effectively harness the potential of native bees for crop pollination. The 11-page newsletter notes that in 2015 the project produced workshops, videos, and publications, and worked with social scientists to measure the impact of the project and learn how information can best flow to growers. Meanwhile, the modeling and economics group has developed a national view of wild bee abundance and crop pollination mismatches.

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Permalink Cover Crops for Vegetable Production Topic of New Publication

A new Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication titled Short Duration Cover Crops for Vegetable Production Systems discusses techniques of proper planting and termination and advantages and challenges of specific crops and cover crop species. A short duration cover crop is one that is grown or managed for a short period of time, usually 45 to 60 days. "Cover crops allow growers to keep their production system sustainable for years to come," co-author Ajay Nair said. "Using the correct crop during these short periods helps to increase soil organic matter, improves soil structure and aggregate stability, enhances soil biology and prevents soil erosion." The eight-page publication is available free online.

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Permalink California Cost Studies for Romaine Hearts and Organic Spinach Available

Two new studies on the costs and returns of growing romaine hearts and organic spinach have been released by University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center. Sample costs to produce and harvest romaine hearts and organic spinach in the Central Coast Region are presented in these studies. These two studies can be downloaded for free from the UC Davis Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics website. Cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are also available.

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Permalink Noble Foundation to Study Moveable Hoop Houses

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation has announced that its research horticulturist Charles Rohla, Ph.D., received a two-year, $144,880 specialty crop block grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to conduct a research project with mobile hoop houses. The grant will support Rohla in evaluating the potential benefits of the moveable hoop houses compared to traditional field production and permanent hoop house structures. The long-term goal of the study is to evaluate the moveable houses and to educate interested growers on the benefits of using the houses in their cropping systems. The project will examine the length of the growing season and total production of selected vegetables produced in each system. It will provide the data to determine if these structures allow growers to maximize the growing season of chosen crops while still allowing growers to establish additional crops that can benefit from these structures. Beginning in 2017, field days will be conducted during the growing season to inform and educate producers about the technology being used.

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Permalink Sound and Sensible Initiative Releases Organic Outreach Resources

USDA logoThe Sound and Sensible Initiative of the National Organic Program has released a new collection of guides and resources that help organizations reach out to and educate potential organic farmers. Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program, announced the resources in a blog post, noting that they were "... produced by our partners in the organic community, all of whom have on-the-ground experience teaching producers about the organic option." The new tools include a Plain/Mennonite Farmer Outreach Package from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a Farm Walk Peer Education Program Instruction Guide from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Tilth Producers of Washington, and Tools from the Field: Organic Outreach Success in the Southeast from the National Center for Appropriate Technology's (NCAT) Gulf States Office. The outreach resources are available online.

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Permalink Vermont Nonprofit to Study Farm Food Loss

The Vermont nonprofit organization Salvation Farms is conducting a study to determine how much food is lost annually on Vermont farms, reports Stowe Today. The organization hopes to show that local food resources can help address food security and furnish food for emergency and institutional meal programs. The study will also collect information on how farmers would prefer to manage their unharvested crops and how programs to protect them from loss affect their businesses.

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Permalink Montana Rancher's Climate Adaptation Involves Water Capture

A High Country News feature describes Montana rancher Erik Kalsta's efforts to capture water on the family ranch that will help keep grazing the arid ranch viable even during times of low precipitation. Long-term family records of precipitation reveal earlier runoff and other weather trends that pose a concern. But those same records reveal the water-holding and grass-production potential of the land, which Kalsta is working to restore. He hopes that methods to slow runoff and aid infiltration will help the land act as a sponge and support greater grass growth during dry periods.

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Permalink Conservation Stewardship Program to Add Acreage, Renew Contracts

USDA logoUSDA has announced that $150 million in funding is available for agricultural producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to add an estimated 10 million acres to the rolls of CSP during fiscal 2016. NRCS accepts applications for CSP throughout the year, but producers should submit applications by March 31 to a USDA service centers to ensure they are considered for enrollment in 2016. Participants with existing CSP contracts that will expire in 2016 have the option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands. A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is compatible with their operations.

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Permalink Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Announces Plans for Regional Training Hubs

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) plans to open a number of watershed-based training hubs across the region it serves, reports Berks Country. The first two hubs will be in the Delaware Valley and the Three Rivers Watershed, with a hub in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to open later this year, and others over the next five years. The program is called "Building the SOIL," with SOIL an acronym for Strategic Outreach for Innovation and Leadership. Hubs will serve specific local needs, with projects that could range from continuing workshops for farmer training to apprenticeship programs, farmer-to-farmer network exchanges, and local farm-based research.

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Permalink Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Grants Fund Food Safety, Plant Health Research

USDA logoUSDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation's premier competitive, peer-reviewed grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences, is awarding $30.1 million in competitive grants to fund 80 research projects to improve food safety, reduce antibiotic resistance in food, and increase the resilience of plants in the face of climate change. AFRI grants are administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which is awarding $15.1 million to fund 35 projects in AFRI's Food Safety area, focused on enhancing food safety through improved processing technologies, effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance, improving food safety, and improving food quality. NIFA also awarded $15 million to universities, laboratories, and research organizations to fund 45 projects in AFRI's Plant Health and Production and Plant Products area. These grants focus on plant breeding for agricultural production; plant growth and development, composition, and stress tolerance; and photosynthesis and nutrient use in agricultural plants.

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Permalink Organic Farming Review Shows Sufficient Yields, Profit, and Environmental Protection Possible

A review study, "Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century," conducted by Washington State University researchers, provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment, and be safer for farm workers. The review analyzed 40 years of published studies comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment, and community well being. Based on their work, researchers concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. The authors stress, however, that they believe that no single type of farming can feed the world. Instead, they call for a balance of different systems: "a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems."

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Permalink Report Documents Increase in Glyphosate Herbicide Use

A report published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe says that 18.9 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used globally to date. According to the report, glyphosate use has risen almost 15-fold since “Roundup Ready” genetically engineered crops were introduced in 1996. The report notes that 74% of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s has been applied in just the last 10 years. Author Charles Benbrook, Ph.D says, "“My hope is that this paper will stimulate more research on glyphosate use and human and environmental exposure patterns to increase the chance that scientists will quickly detect any problems that might be triggered, or made worse, by glyphosate exposure.”

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Permalink EPA Assessment Shows Imidacloprid a Risk to Bees

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a preliminary pollinator risk assessment for the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid, which shows a threat to some pollinators. EPA's assessment, prepared in collaboration with California's Department of Pesticide Regulation, indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators. The preliminary risk assessment identified a residue level for imidacloprid of 25 ppb, which sets a threshold above which effects on pollinator hives are likely to be seen. Data show that citrus and cotton may have residues of the pesticide in pollen and nectar above the threshold level. The imidacloprid assessment is the first of four preliminary pollinator risk assessments for the neonicotinoid insecticides. Public comment on the assessment is being accepted for a 60-day period that began on January 6, 2016. EPA is also planning to hold a webinar on the imidacloprid assessment in early February.

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Permalink USDA Begins Organic Survey

USDA logoThe USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has begun conducting the 2015 Certified Organic Survey to gather up-to-date data on certified organic crops and livestock in the United States. NASS is mailing the survey to all known organic farms in the United States. The form asks farmers to provide information on acreage, production, and sales for a variety of certified organic crop and livestock commodities. In addition, NASS is gathering information about organic farmers' production and marketing practices. The agency urges all participants to respond by February 19. This special survey effort is critical to help determine the economic impact of certified organic agriculture production in the United States.

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Permalink Good Farm Fund Supports Local Food Producers in California

In California, the Good Farm Fund is focusing on increasing access to fresh and locally produced food, reports the Willits News. The Fund just awarded its first round of small grants to local farmers. Grants from $350 to $1,200 will assist local farmers improve their operations, including funding for irrigation equipment, seed supplies, chicken farming equipment, fence expansions, and more. Applicants had to demonstrate that they were using environmentally beneficial farming practices, maximizing food for local consumption, and providing affordable food for all people in the county. Applicants were required to have decision-making power, at least one year experience with local commercial food production, and be farming on less than ten acres. The recipients will help serve on the selection committee for future grant awards. The Fund is holding fundraisers to help support its next round of grants, as well as a Market Match program.

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Permalink California Discusses Amending State Organic Program

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture is bringing together federal and state officials as well as organic stakeholders to discuss California's state organic program (SOP) on February 2. Current discussions are underway within the organic community to consider amending California's organic laws. Under existing law, California's State Organic Program complements the federal National Organic Program with state and county officials verifying organic compliance from production to point of sale. "As an organic farmer, I am looking forward to hearing perspectives from organic farmers and government agencies on what defines and differentiates California’s organic program from the rest of the nation," said Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.

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Permalink Article Highlights Mexican Bean Beetle Pest Potential and Controls

Researchers from Virginia Tech have published an article on the Mexican bean beetle in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, says Entomology Today. The pest is present throughout most of the United States, and though it favors wax beans and green snap beans, will eat all types of legumes, including alfalfa. Researchers say changing weather and increasing organic crop demand could make the Mexican bean beetle a more significant pest in coming years. In addition to reporting on the life cycle and characteristics of the pest, this article suggests a number of cultural controls and discusses predators and parasitoids.

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Permalink Long-Term Study Looks at Agricultural Impact on Land and Its Consequences

Researchers from Arizona State University are reporting results of The Mediterranean Landscape Dynamics Project, a 10-year experimental socio-ecology project that looked at human interaction with the land in the Mediterranean region. The study focused on small-holder farmers or herders, and how they transform landscapes over long periods of time. The study identified the existence of thresholds at which land-use practices that once caused the land to thrive begin to destroy it. In addition, modeling experiments showed that farmers who try to divide their attention between herding and crops eventually fail, while those who focus on one activity or the other may succeed. In addition, the study showed how long-term small-scale farming practices affect large-scale environmental change in the Mediterranean. The researchers compiled data on farming practices, as well as soils, plant cover, climate, and other aspects of the environment, and then used these to create complex computer models of the impacts of different practices on landscapes. Researchers say the results could be applicable to any semi-arid landscapes.

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Permalink Partnership Between Louisville Farm to Table and Organic Association of Kentucky Announced

Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer has announced a new partnership between the Louisville Farm to Table program and the Organic Association of Kentucky. Louisville Farm to Table works with community partners to increase production, marketing, distribution, and sales of Kentucky edible agriculture products and to meet the demand of Louisville's market for local foods. Member-based Organic Association of Kentucky promotes organic production and consumption statewide. Through this collaboration, the organizations will work to foster a greater awareness of the value of sustainable agriculture benefiting consumer health, the environment, and economy, while also helping farmers identify market opportunities for organic meat, produce, and other products.

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