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Breaking News

Permalink Papers Explore Aspects of Northeast Food System

Researchers who cooperated in the Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast through Regional Food Systems (EFSNE) project have published three papers related to their work with the Northeast food system in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. The first paper, “Using a market basket to explore regional food systems,” discusses the findings from the project's production, distribution, and consumption research teams. This research identified opportunities that exist to enhance the production and distribution of eight foods. The second paper, "“Engaging multiple audiences: Challenges and strategies in complex food systems projects," describes the project's stakeholder-engagement framework. The third paper, "Between global and local: Exploring regional food systems from the perspectives of four communities in the U.S. Northeast," is an analysis of four focus groups that reveals a number of insights into how consumers define their region, their perceived value of regionally grown food, and their tendency to conflate "local" and "regional." The three papers and their introduction are the first of more than ten manuscripts planned to summarize findings from the EFSNE project.

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Permalink Online Tool Helps Monitor Weather-Induced Cattle Stress

The new National Cattle Comfort Advisor is an online tool that helps cattle producers monitor the severity of cold or hot weather events. The tool calculates heat and cold index values based on air temperature, wind speed, sunlight, and humidity and produces national maps on an hourly basis. These maps indicate areas experiencing weather in heat and cold caution and danger ranges. National maps are produced on an hourly basis. The National Cattle Comfort Maps were developed and are maintained by the Oklahoma Mesonet, supported by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant.

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Permalink Chemical-Free Crop Storage Bags Commercially Available Worldwide

A crop-storage bag designed by Purdue University scientists to prevent post-harvest, insect-caused losses is now commercially available worldwide. The Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) bag is a chemical-free, low-cost method of protecting crops. The triple-layer sealed plastic bag cuts off oxygen supply to create hermetic conditions that protect dry grain from insect damage in storage. PICS Global Inc. has licensed the technology and will be providing PICS bags to farmers all over the world by developing an efficient and effective supply chain.

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Permalink Increasing Precipitation Variability Limits Grazing Lands' Ability to Support Livestock

A study led by the University of Minnesota and published in Nature Climate Change shows that during the past century, year-to-year precipitation variability has increased significantly on 49% of the world’s grazing lands, affecting vegetation and constraining its ability to support livestock. Grazing lands are already typically marginal for agriculture, and even small changes in rainfall affect the most vulnerable lands that are typically home to smallholder farmers and pastoralists. The researchers found that global grazing lands already experience 25% more year-to-year variability in precipitation than the general land average. Although some grazing lands showed decreases in rainfall variability, the overall trend for grazing land is an increase in fluctuation, both within and between years.

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Permalink Diversity of Bees Needed for Widespread Pollination

A study led by Rutgers University documented more than 100 species of wild bees pollinating crop flowers on 48 farms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Researchers found that 55 of these bee species were needed to achieve pollination on one or more farms during at least one year of the multi-year study. This supported the principle that increasingly more species of bees are needed to accomplish pollination over an increasingly wider area. "When you require that all farms are pollinated, you need an order of magnitude more bee species than has been needed in experiments," says lead author and Rutgers professor Rachael Winfree. Winfree suggests that farmers who want to encourage wild pollinators can plant a diversity of blooming plants, reduce pesticide use, and avoid spraying during bloom time.

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Permalink Michigan Forage Variety Test Report Available Online

Michigan State University Extension has released the 2017 Michigan Forage Variety Test Report to assist producers in selecting well-adapted and productive forage varieties. The 39-page report includes results of 2017 yield trials for alfalfa, red clover, annual grasses and perennial forage grasses conducted in three different locations. In addition, long-term yield averages for alfalfa and annual and perennial forage-grass varieties are available dating back to 2006. Fall dormancy ratings, winter survival index, and disease-resistance ratings for alfalfa cultivars and planting recommendations for perennial grasses are included to guide hay and livestock producers. The PDF is available free online.

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Permalink "Our Farms, Our Future" Early Registration Discount Ends February 22

The early-bird registration discount price for the once-in-a-decade Our Farms, Our Future sustainable agriculture conference ends February 22, 2018. The conference, hosted by The national Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, takes place April 3-5, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. This unique conference will feature plenary sessions and workshops for grain, livestock, and specialty-crop producers, as well as material relevant to researchers, educators, agency leaders, and nonprofit representatives. Eight farm tours will feature sustainable models of rural and urban agricultural production within the vibrant St. Louis food system.

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Permalink Nominations Invited for "NCR-SARE Hero" Recognition

North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) is accepting nominations for the "NCR-SARE Hero" recognition that pays tribute to those who have made significant contributions to sustainable agriculture in the 12-state North Central region. Anyone may make a nomination of individuals (living or deceased) who have provided service to NCR-SARE and/or national SARE, shown leadership in sustainable agriculture locally and regionally, and made lasting impacts to sustainability in the North Central region. Nominations are due by April 1, 2018. The NCR-SARE Hero recognition will be announced in July 2018.

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Permalink Iowans Encouraged to Consider CSA Membership

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is encouraging Iowans to consider joining a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that will give them access to fresh, locally grown produce throughout the growing season. Through CSAs, farmers sell a certain number of subscriptions, or shares, and then provide a portion of their harvest to those members, typically on a weekly basis, throughout the growing season. Many CSAs also sell half shares for smaller households or unique share programs geared to different times of the growing season or deliveries based on bi-weekly or monthly schedules. CSA members typically receive a box or bag of fresh produce, but some farms may offer other products such as eggs, honey, baked goods, meat, herbs, or flowers. In recent years, Iowa has seen significant growth in the number of CSAs, from 50 in 2006 to more than 80 in 2018.

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Permalink Agroforestry Sequesters More Carbon than Conventional Agriculture, Study Shows

Researchers at Penn State analyzed 53 soil-carbon studies around the world that tracked soil carbon after land conversion from forest to crop cultivation and from grassland pasture to agroforestry. Although forests were found to sequester more carbon than any other land use, agroforestry increased soil organic carbon an average of 34% over cultivated agriculture and 10% over grassland pasture. Furthermore, notes study leader Michael Jacobson, "[A]groforestry offers a set of conservation and production technologies that can help to integrate forestry and agriculture efforts beyond carbon cycles, such as water quality and biological diversity."

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Permalink Red Door Family Farm Participates in CSA Apprentice Program

Agri-View featured organic farmers Tenzin and Stacey Botsford of Red Door Family Farm near Athens, Wisconsin. The Botsfords are first-generation farmers entering their fourth CSA season on their 36-acre farm. They have 130 members in their CSA and also sell to restaurants and grocers. In 2018, they will take on a full-time seasonal employee through a new apprentice program developed by FairShare CSA Coalition, modeled after the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program. Through the program, their employee will experience hands-on learning and course instruction.

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Permalink Michigan Project Offers Support to Latino Specialty-Fruit Farmers

Michigan State University and several collaborators have received a $600,000 grant to support the development of more new, small, Latino-owned specialty-fruit farms. Specifically, the project team will work with Latino blueberry farmers in southwest Michigan to improve operations and farming practices. Some of the resources they will provide include training in pest and nutrient management, crop diversification, worker safety, food safety, and farm business management. Another component of the project will focus on training the next generation of Latino farmers through educational programming.

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Permalink SARE National Office and Regional Host Partners Announced

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced partners to serve as the National Reporting, Coordination and Communications Office (NRCCO) and as the four regional Host Institutions for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE). The NRCCO and the four regional host institutions will serve for five years, from Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 through 2022. The selected NRCCO is University of Maryland. The selected four regional host institutions are Montana State University for Western SARE, University of Minnesota for North Central SARE, University of Vermont for Northeast SARE, and University of Georgia for Southern SARE.

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Permalink Oklahoma Market Garden School Begins March 6

Oklahoma State University is teaming up with Langston University and Noble Research Institute to host the spring 2018 Oklahoma Market Garden School. The eight-week course begins March 6, 2018, and meets weekly on Tuesday evenings through April 24, 2018, on the Langston University Campus. Each week's session will focus on a different area related to fruit and vegetable production, such as getting organized, soils and fertilizer management, crop establishment and irrigation, guidelines for producing fruit and vegetable crops, season extension, pest management, food safety, and marketing. "Those who are considering establishing a commercial fruit, nut, or vegetable farm, or are looking for ways to improve an existing operation, should take note," said Langston University Extension horticulture educator Micah Anderson. "Whether you’re already established in your business or just starting out, the course offers something for everyone." The class is limited to 50 participants and preregistration is required.

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Permalink Global Organic Market and Organic Farmland Continue to Grow

The 2018 edition of The World of Organic Agriculture, published by FiBL and IFOAM – Organics International, shows that consumer demand for organic products is increasing, more farmers cultivate organically, more land is certified organic, and 178 countries report organic farming activities. The market research company Ecovia Intelligence estimates that the global market for organic food reached $89.7 billion in 2016. Also in 2016, 2.7 million organic producers were reported, organically managing a total of 57.8 million hectares. In fifteen countries, 10% or more of all agricultural land is organic, a new record.

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Permalink Study Aids in Timing Cover-Crop Nitrogen Release

Understanding how quickly different cover crops release nutrients is key to matching them with the nutrient needs of specific cash crops, reports the American Society of Agronomy. A new study assessed the nutrient-release timing of hairy vetch and cereal rye. Hairy vetch released more nitrogen overall and released almost all its nitrogen in the four weeks after its growth was terminated. Cereal rye, on the other hand, releases nitrogen slowly over several weeks, with almost no nitrogen release in the first four weeks. Study co-author Rachel Cook says farmers "will be able to choose which cover crop works best for their farm and the specific cash crops they are planting.They will also know when to terminate the cover crop prior to planting the cash crop."

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Permalink Benefits of Nitrate Pollution Reduction Recognized

A study conducted by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University looked at the benefits of meeting the targets of Iowa's statewide strategy for reducing nutrient delivery to waterways. Reducing nitrates and improving water quality in rivers and lakes would increase recreation benefits, and may reduce adverse health outcomes for people exposed to high nitrates in drinking water, according to this study. Furthermore, having less nitrate in drinking water would reduce the cost of removing nitrates for public water utilities.

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Permalink USDA and Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Sign Environmental Sustainability Agreement

USDA logoUSDA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly promote and enhance environmental sustainability in the dairy industry. "USDA and the Innovation Center will continue to work together to accelerate the adoption of innovative technologies and increase energy efficiency improvements on U.S. dairy farms," Secretary Perdue said. USDA will continue to make it easier to apply and be approved for conservation programs and grants.

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Permalink Online Certification Program for Dairy Goat Producers Launched

The Kika de la Garza Institute for Goat Research at Langston University has launched an online certification program for dairy goat producers and has updated its online certification program for meat goat producers. Topics in the dairy goat certification course include basic information on management, reproduction, nutrition, and health, as well as information on topics needed by dairy goat producers, including legal issues of dairy goat farming, financial issues, marketing, and quality assurance. To qualify as a Certified Quality Dairy Producer you must successfully complete 18 core modules and seven of the 10 elective modules. The course takes 40 to 60 hours to complete. The instructional material is available online for free, but a fee of $25 will be required for processing the certification.

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Permalink Electronic Lamb-Grading System Receives USDA Approval

Superior Farms has received USDA approval to start grading lamb using an electronic grading system that utilizes a digital camera and algorithms for carcass measurements and yield grades, reports Meat + Poultry. The system will provide producers with a range of information about their lamb carcasses (USDA Yield Grade and Quality Grade, Ovine Cutability Calculation, and primal weights) that will help them make genetic and production changes. The American Lamb Board funded the electronic grading research conducted by Colorado State University.

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Permalink New York Farmers Can Receive Tax Credit for Charitable Food Donations

As of January 1, 2018, New York farmers are eligible to receive a tax credit for qualifying food donations made to food banks and other emergency food programs. The tax credit, a refundable credit equal to 25% of the fair market value of qualified donations up to $5,000, is expected to save farmers a total of $10 million annually. Eligible donations include fresh fruits and vegetables grown or produced in New York State and provided to emergency food programs that qualify for tax-exempt status.

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Permalink USDA Announces Funding for RCPP Projects

USDA logoUSDA has announced $220 million in funding for 91 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects in FY 2018. The full 38-page list of awards for RCPP projects is available online. RCPP encourages partners to join in efforts with producers to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales.

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Permalink Regenerative Supply Chain Verification Introduced

Savory Global has introduced Land to Market, a supply-chain system verification program for meat, dairy, wool, and leather. The program uses Ecological Outcome Verification, a science-backed regenerative verification process that measures trends in biodiversity, soil organic carbon, water infiltration, and ecosystem process function. In this system, producers receive training and verification from regional hubs and then obtain access to brands and retailers. These brands and retailers share the story with their consumer audiences to continue building demand for verified products.

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Permalink Corn Cropping-Systems Data Available Online

Five years of corn cropping-systems data from a NIFA-funded Sustainable Corn Coordinated Agricultural Project led by Iowa State University are now available online. The research included nine states, 11 institutions, and a 140-member team collecting data from 30 field research sites in the Midwest. The data includes plotting tools, plot maps, photographs, and weather data. Practices evaluated included corn-soybean rotation, cereal rye cover crops within a corn-soybean rotation, extended and diverse crop rotations, water drainage management, canopy nitrogen sensing, and tillage management. The team posted the data to the USDA National Ag Library Ag Data Commons,, which is a long-term repository and provides additional access to the data. Teams receiving USDA-NIFA funding are required to make data publicly available once a project has ended. The Sustainable Corn CAP team encourages others to use the data to generate added value for research applications and educational purposes.

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Permalink Montana State University to Host Western SARE

Montana State University has been selected as the next host institution of Western region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education. The Western SARE region encompasses 13 western states, as well as American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia, and Guam. Beginning in the fall of 2018, MSU will administer four of five grant programs through Western SARE: research and education grants, farmer-rancher grants, professional and producer grants, and graduate student grants. The University of Wyoming will administer Western SARE's professional development grant program. The Western SARE program at MSU will have an annual grant and operational budget of $5.5 million--totaling $27.5 million over five years. Fabian Menalled, professor of weed ecology and integrated pest management in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in MSU's College of Agriculture, has been named the Western SARE regional coordinator.

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Permalink Iowa Expands Farm to School Program

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced that it has received a $100,000 Farm to School Support Services Grant from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to host an Iowa Local Food Day on October 11, 2018, as part of National Farm to School month. Schools are invited to join in the celebration by serving local foods. With the grant funding, the Department is working on several other projects, as well: build a support network for schools interested in using local foods; aid food service directors in local procurement; work with growers interested in selling produce to schools; partner with Summer Food Service Programs as a starting point for farmers to work with schools; and allow Farm to School activities to expand beyond fruits and vegetables. The Department is also helping to host the 2018 Iowa Farm to School Conference June 29, 2018.

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Permalink Fertilized Soil Contributes to California's Nitrogen Oxide Pollution

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that heavily fertilized soils in California's Central Valley region are contributing 25 to 41% of the NOx emissions in the state. Meanwhile, NOx emissions from natural soils account for 5 to 9% of the state's total. However, if farmland in California were converted to other uses, such as housing, scientists estimate that greenhouse gas emissions from that land would be 70 times greater. This study, published in Science Advances, suggests potential solutions for reducing NOx soil emissions from agriculture, primarily through different forms of fertilizer management that help farmers identify right rate, timing, amount, and application method for nitrogen fertilizers. Conversion to perennial crops and use of efficient micro-irrigation technologies are also ways to reduce NOx emissions.

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Permalink Analysis Shows Profit in Converting Tobacco Fields to Solar Farms

Michigan Technological University researchers say that converting tobacco fields to solar farms could increase landowner profitability by thousands of dollars per acre and reduce health risks, all without removing arable land from food production. Using farmland for energy production is often controversial because it could reduce food supplies and raise costs. However, with tobacco demand in decline, tobacco fields could offer an energy-production opportunity. This research showed that solar energy production becomes increasingly more profitable as energy costs rise and solar-production cost drops. However, the researchers say they were "surprised to find that because the cost of solar has dropped so dramatically it is already economically advantageous for tobacco farmers to replace tobacco with solar in many situations." The solar panels are also more resistant to climate variation than are plant crops.

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Permalink Report Says Industrial Agriculture Risks Health and Environment

A report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group provides an analysis of the agricultural landscape and concludes that a combination of modern technologies, financial influences, and public policy have led to unintended negative consequences. Reaping What We Sow: How the Practices of Industrial Agriculture Put Our Health and Environment at Risk lays out a roadmap for how policymakers can set agriculture policy on the right course. The report's recommendations include the following: reforming existing crop insurance and renewable fuel programs that drive excessive production of commodity crops; requiring implementation of sustainable farming practices as a prerequisite for farm program benefits; increasing incentives for farm diversification; eliminating the routine use of antibiotics in food animal production; changing existing conservation program incentives regarding manure disposal; holding industrial farms accountable for water pollution; and increasing farm program support for sustainable agriculture practices.

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Permalink Nitrogen Balance Offers Simple Way to Track Conservation-Practice Success

Researchers from EDF, University of Nebraska and Cornell University tested the relationship between nitrogen (N) balance and nitrogen losses and found that N balance is an effective proxy measure of nitrogen losses to the environment. Improving N balance--through practices such as cover crops and crop rotation--reduces water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while using fertilizer more efficiently for crop yield. EDF notes that although N balance has been used in Europe and with livestock agriculture, it has yet to be widely applied to U.S. commodity-scale row-crop production. In 2018, EDF will collaborate with farmer, food industry, and research partners to conduct pilot projects to test the value of N balance for benchmarking improvements in nutrient runoff and greenhouse gas emissions--from the individual farm level to an entire supply-chain sourcing region.

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