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Permalink Land Access Challenges Young Farmers

Access to affordable land is a chief barrier across the country for young farmers, according to a feature posted by Pew Charitable Trusts. Although the farm population is aging, young farmers face a disadvantage in entering the profession because land prices are high and farming is a capital-intensive industry. Young farmers who don't inherit family land and grow up with agriculture face difficulties accessing the land and knowledge they need to get started. However, the new Farm Bill contains some provisions that may help young farmers get the training they need to succeed. There are also federal, state, and local efforts underway to help young farmers access land, ranging from the Conservation Reserve Program's Transition Incentives Program to Maryland's Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program.

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Permalink Midwest Agriculture Increasingly Vulnerable to Climate Change

A Cornell-led study published in Science Advances took a big-picture look at regional agricultural vulnerability to climate change, and found the Midwest increasingly at risk. A study of how agricultural inputs converted to outputs over the past 50 years, when combined with climate data, showed that rising summer temperatures are causing productivity to drop. The Midwest is especially sensitive to temperature rises that are occurring with increasing frequency because of its dependence on rainfall-fed crops and the increasing specialization of producers in the region. "[T]hey're basically putting all their eggs in one basket, and that basket is getting more sensitive," noted study leader Ariel Ortiz-Bobea.

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Permalink Riparian Buffers Touted as Water Quality Solution

Penn State researchers recently led a workshop to identify ways to accelerate the planting of riparian buffers to reduce farm runoff from Pennsylvania flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Riparian buffers have been identified as a way to keep nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from flowing into the Bay and other waterways worldwide. Workshop participants identified ways to make buffers more workable and economically viable for landowners and communities. For example, buffers planted with willows can not only prevent crop losses, but can also generate farm income.

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Permalink Grant Helps Researchers Tackle Perennial Weeds in Organic Systems

Montana State University and co-investigators at Washington State University, Oregon State University, North Dakota State University, and the USDA Agricultural Research Station in Sidney, Montana, have received a $2 million Organic Research and Extension Initiative grant to find control methods for field bindweed and creeping thistle in organic farming systems. These two weeds have been identified by Montana organic farmers as their top challenges, and they also challenge conventional farmers. Montana organic farmers will be included in the project consortium and will conduct in-field research trials. The project will take a multi-faceted approach to weed control that includes experiments with livestock grazing, cropping rotations, soil microbiology, tillage, and plant genetics.

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Permalink National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Analyzes 2018 Farm Bill

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is releasing a five-part series of blog posts analyzing different aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill that has been passed by Congress. The posts explore the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill with respect to research and seed breeding, conservation and crop insurance and commodity subsidies, local and regional food systems and rural development, organic agriculture, and beginning/socially disadvantaged farmers.

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Permalink Maple and Birch Tapping Results to Help Determine Optimal Timing

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted a research update with data to help maple and birch syrup producers respond to variable climate conditions. The project has established baseline data for continuing efforts to determine the optimal time to begin tapping birch trees in conjunction with maple production. The trials conducted in January through May of 2018 included the tapping of paper and yellow birch trees immediately after finishing the tapping of maple trees, during mid-maple season, and post-maple production season. Research results are available online.

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Permalink Mastitis-Reduction Project Begins with Survey of Vermont Organic Dairy Farmers

University of Vermont researchers engaged in a project to reduce mastitis are exploring how bedding and housing management can impact mastitis risk. The researchers invite organic dairy farmers in Vermont to participate in a five-minute online survey designed to assess current practices for bedding management, mastitis incidence, and animal lameness. The project will go on to collect monthly samples from farms with different types of bedding systems, so that researchers can learn and share the effect of bedding management on mastitis risk and milk quality. Project Co-Director Deb Neher says, "Our preliminary research shows that bedded pack housing systems may support conditions that promote udder health and milk quality. So now we're seeking to gather information from certified commercial organic farms and get a closer look to compare how different systems impact animal health and milk yield."

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Permalink Free Yearlong Training Program Offered for Beginning Farmers in Louisiana

LSU AgCenter begins Grow Louisiana, a free yearlong training program for beginning Louisiana farmers, in January in New Orleans. Grow Louisiana provides whole-farm planning, horticulture and business training, online resources, support and mentoring. Classes are held weekly for eight weeks in the spring and eight weeks in the fall. Participation is free, and travel to the annual Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Convention is included. Applications to participate are due by December 14, 2018.

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Permalink Farm Bill Conference Committee Delivers Final Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee has released a final bill for Congress to vote on. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) notes that the bill provides permanent, baseline funding for significant programs such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as “Section 2501”), Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The National Young Farmers Coalition says the bill includes significant portions of its Young Farmer Agenda. American Farmland Trust praised the bill for protecting farmland, promoting environmentally sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land. NSAC pointed out, however, that the bill contains significant budget cuts for the Conservation Stewardship Program over time, as well as loopholes in the nation's farm safety net programs.

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Permalink Wisconsin Awards Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced that 24 groups of farmers who will work with conservation agencies and organizations to address soil and water issues tailored to their local conditions will receive $750,000 through the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants. Grants range from just over $7,500 to $40,000, for activities that most often include incentives for farmers to plant cover crops and undertake other conservation practices and technologies. All include farmer-to-farmer education via field days, conferences, and similar activities. Some projects include on-farm demonstration trials to gather local data for various practices. Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants are intended to give financial support to farmers willing to lead conservation efforts tailored to their own watersheds. The emphasis is on innovation and practices not already covered by other state and federal programs, and the intent is that participating farmers will reach out to other farmers to help them adopt conservation practices. A list of funded projects is available online.

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Permalink Minnesota Announces State-Specific Dicamba Restriction

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced a state-specific restriction for the use of the herbicide dicamba in Minnesota for the 2019 growing season, in addition to those established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The decision follows MDA's ongoing investigations and informal surveys into reports of crop damage from alleged dicamba off-target movement over the past two growing seasons. Minnesota will not allow dicamba application after June 20, 2019.

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Permalink Role of Animals in Carbon Storage Explored in Research

Research published in Science explored the role of animals in an ecosystem's ability to store carbon. An interdisciplinary international team of researchers found that the presence of wild animals in a landscape could increase or decrease rates of biogeochemical processes by 15% to 250% or more, by triggering feedback effects that relate to the landscape's capacity to absorb, release, or transport carbon. This research indicated a need to account for the role of animals in carbon-cycle modeling and efforts to predict and mange carbon cycling on a landscape scale.

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Permalink North Central Region SARE Seeks Administrative Council Members

North Central Region SARE is seeking nominees for two seats on its Administrative Council: a farmer or rancher representative and a non-profit organization representative. Council members must live and work in one of the 12 states that comprise the North Central SARE region. The term for each of these SARE Administrative Council slots is three years. Nominees should have a basic understanding of sustainable agriculture and be comfortable with reviewing grant proposals and participating in a group decision-making process. To nominate yourself for a seat on the NCR-SARE Administrative Council, submit information online by December 31, 2018.

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Permalink Fund Offers Low-Interest Loans to Carolina Farmers for Hurricane Recovery

The Natural Capital Investment Fund has launched the RESEED Recovery Fund, a $250,000 program that will provide low-interest, easily accessible loans to North Carolina and South Carolina farmers and value-added producers who sustained damages from Hurricanes Florence or Michael. Loans will range from $2,500 to $10,000 and will be offered at 1% interest with a maximum term of one year. NCIFund is partnering with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), and a range of public, non-profit, and private-sector entities to reach farmers across the Carolinas. Details about eligibility and the application for RESEED loans are available online.

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Permalink Organic Grower Summit Selects Thaddeus Barsotti as Grower of the Year

CCOF and the Organic Produce Network (OPN) have announced long-time organic grower Thaddeus Barsotti of Capay Organic and Farm Fresh To You as the recipient of the Organic Grower Summit's Grower of the Year. Barsotti was selected based on his ongoing commitment and dedication to excellence in organic production and organic industry leadership and innovation. "Thaddeus Barsotti exemplifies the energy and innovation of a next generation of organic producers who now lead American agriculture. His family legacy is part of our legacy, and his hard work and accomplishments pave the way to our future," said Cathy Calfo, CEO of CCOF.

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Permalink Farm Financing Course Offered Free Online

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) partnered with the farm business management staff of Western Technical College to create a series of free online webinars designed to help farmers develop the systems and knowledge they need to understand and manage their farms' finances. The Fearless Farm Finances webinars cover subjects ranging from goal-setting and recordkeeping systems to developing statements of income and cash flow for bankers and tax purposes. Watch the videos and complete the companion worksheets at your own pace.

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Permalink Rice Shows Promise for Phytoremediation of Agricultural Pesticides

The American Society of Agronomy reports that rice plants could help remove chemicals from agricultural runoff before it reaches surface water. USDA Agricultural Research Service tests showed that in fields of rice plants flooded with a mix of water and three kinds of pesticide, the rice was able to remove 85% to 97% of pesticides from the water. USDA research ecologist Matt Moore says that this means rice could be planted in existing drainage ditches to clean water, and deliberately planted fields of rice could achieve higher levels of pesticide remediation. The next step for the researchers is to investigate whether contaminants end up in the rice grains, or whether rice grown for water cleaning could also be a food source.

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Permalink California Rangeland Stewards Showcased on World Soils Day

In honor of World Soil Day on December 5, California Rangeland Trust posted a feature on Scott and Karen Stone of Yolo Land & Cattle Company and their approach to soil health. Yolo Land & Cattle Company uses rotational grazing and composting to store carbon and promote soil health. The Stones are collaborating with researchers and educators to learn more about healthy soil and spread their knowledge to others.

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Permalink Purdue Study Identifies Hot Spots for New American Farmers

Purdue University environmental anthropologist Andrew Flachs has published a paper in Rural Sociology that identifies hot spots where younger people new to agricultural work are taking up farming. Many of these hot spots are on the peripheries of hip cities on the West Coast, in central Texas and Oklahoma, in central Florida, and in the Great Lakes region. Flachs also notes that east Texas and the southern Midwest are becoming increasingly important for this kind of agriculture. According to this paper, New American farmers occupy an important intersection of niche marketing strategies, environmental politics, and rural demographic change that could have a significant impact on food production and social life in agrarian landscapes. Flachs also collaborated with Matthew Abel, an anthropologist at Washington University, in modeling counties with traits associated with new American agrarianism. The findings of this effort show that newer farmers appear to thrive on the outskirts of cities that provide high demand and purchasing power, a large population, and a healthy number of farmers markets.

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Permalink USDA Offers Assistance for GAP Audits in 16 States

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it will provide $3.7 million to help defray the costs of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits for fruit and vegetable growers in 16 states. Beginning January 2, 2019, USDA Risk Management Agency will provide Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) funds to cover up to 100% of the cost of the Harmonized GAP audit and the Harmonized GAP Plus+ audit for farmers in states authorized by Congress to receive financial assistance for conservation and financial risk mitigation. Those states are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The audits focus on best agricultural practices to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of food safety hazards.

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Permalink Guide Explains How Organic Farming Practices Mitigate Climate Change

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has released the eighth guidebook in their Soil Health and Organic Farming Series, Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Carbon Sequestration. This guide examines research related to the capacity of sustainable organic systems and practices to sequester soil carbon and minimize nitrous oxide and methane emissions. The guide includes practical advice for reducing an organic farm's "carbon footprint" and adapting to climate disruptions already underway. The entire Soil Health and Organic Farming series is available free online.

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Permalink USDA Encourages Market-Based and Other Approaches to Reducing Excess Nutrients in Waterways

USDA logoThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have issued a letter to state and tribal co-regulators that encourages increased engagement and a reinvigoration of state, tribal, and federal efforts to reduce excess nutrients in waterways, with a focus on market-based and other collaborative approaches. EPA and USDA indicated that they are committed to working with states, tribes, and stakeholders to identify watersheds and basins where market-based approaches can supplement traditional regulatory programs to promote meaningful reductions in excess nutrients and improved water quality. According to a press release, this could include providing technical and financial support and participating in problem-solving at the local level to explore approaches including water quality credit trading, public-private partnerships, pay-for success, supply chain programs, and more.

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Permalink Montana Summit on Agricultural Finance Offers Early Bird Discount, Farmer Scholarships

The Montana Summit on Agricultural Finance, scheduled for February 6-7, 2019, in Chico Hot Springs, is offering early-bird registration discounts until December 15, 2018. The Summit will be a gathering of people who share a common interest in helping Montana farmers and ranchers access financing for their land and agricultural businesses. The goal is for participants to leave the summit with new professional contacts, a working understanding of existing agricultural financing tools, an introduction to exciting new tools, and a plan for filling the gaps in agricultural financing going forward. Farmer and rancher scholarships are available through December 15, 2018.

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Permalink Study Looks at Barriers to Conservation on Rented Land

A study by Purdue University and The Nature Conservancy explored barriers to implementing conservation practices on the roughly 39% of U.S. farmland that is rented. Through in-depth interviews, the researchers identified five types of barriers to conservation that existed in the landowner-farm operator relationship: barriers pertaining to cash-rent lease terms; barriers pertaining to the rental market dynamics; information deficit/asymmetry barriers; cognitive/interpersonal barriers; and barriers pertaining to NOL financial motivations. The Nature Conservancy is involved in work to design and test solutions to these barriers, beginning with better communication between landowners and operators who lease farms. One challenge is that while lease agreements are often year-to-year, conservation practices can take three to five years to implement fully.

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Permalink Pennsylvania Permitting Industrial Hemp Research; New Mexico Approves Industrial Hemp Regulations

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is offering 60 permits for industrial hemp research in 2019. The Department of Agriculture will select projects based on a complete program application and merit of the proposed research. Under the program, the department can issue research permits to institutions of higher education or to persons contracted with the department to grow industrial hemp for research purposes. The deadline to apply for the 2019 PDA Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program is December 17, 2018. Applications will be reviewed and tentatively approved applicants will be notified by January 4, 2019. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, the New Mexico State University Board of Regents has approved regulations for growing industrial hemp, clearing the way for state farmers to grow the crop in 2019. Growers must have a hemp production license and follow other guidelines. Their crop must also be tested to ensure the THC level is below 0.3%.

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Permalink The Fruit Guys Community Fund Seeks Small-Farm Grant Reviewer Volunteers

The Fruit Guys Community Fund is seeking volunteers to join its annual small-farm grant review committee. Volunteers to donate eight to 10 hours as part of the farm grant application review process. The participation is mostly virtual, and takes place in spring 2019. Volunteers review and score proposals and collaborate with other committee members in making award recommendations. Apply online by completing a Volunteer Questionnaire.

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Permalink NRCS Announces Extended Renewal Opportunity for Expiring CSP Contracts

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that producers with existing Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contracts will be given the opportunity to renew their contracts in 2019. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition explained the administrative change in a blog post: "NRCS announced that 2014 CSP contract holders could extend the life of their original contract up to the full five-year statutory limit. None of the expiring contracts were signed prior to June 2014, so this provides at least until June of 2019 for NRCS to finalize the renewals for those who have already applied. Contract holders must sign contract modifications by the end of the year [December 31, 2018] to be eligible." The administrative change means that CSP participants won't lose their opportunity to renew and have to re-apply from scratch, even though the program is not currently authorized under a farm bill, as long as they sign contracts by December 31, 2018.

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Permalink Diversity Helps Sustain Kansas Farm

The final installment in a series of five farmer profiles distributed by the Kansas Rural Center features Nina and Jeter Isely of Y Knot Farm in Bird City, Kansas. The couple runs a diversified organic operation that raises heritage Belted Galloway cattle, organic hard red winter wheat, and organic vegetables. Although the produce wasn't part of the operational plan, growing their own food led to a viable farm income stream that now includes two hoop houses and two garden plots. Y Knot Farm sells locally, sells through the High Plains Food Co-op to the Denver market, and sells online to customers on both coasts. The feature highlights the Isely's reliance on diversity to sustain the operation, and showcases their innovative management practices, such as planting extensive windbreaks. The Isely's also discuss the support they have received from state and federal programs.

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Permalink Wild Bees Produce Better Blueberries, Vermont Study Shows

A study led by University of Vermont scientists found that wild bees improve not only blueberry quantities, but also size, size consistency, and earliness of harvest. Researchers studied nine farms across Vermont and calculated that wild bees could boost production 6% on average and as much as 36% on one particular farm, compared with painstaking hand pollination. The researchers also noted that bumblebees are better at pollinating blueberries than are honeybees that farmers could bring in to help with pollination. The results of this study highlight the importance of another recent study by some of the same scientists, showing that wild bees declined in abundance across the United States by 23% between 2008 and 2013. "Many farmers don’t realize they can be limited by not enough pollinators just like they can be limited by water or nutrients," said study leader Charles Nicholson.

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Permalink Select Sessions to Livestream from Young Farmers Conference

A number of sessions from the Young Farmers Conference being held December 5-7, 2018, will be streamed live on the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Facebook page. The Young Farmers Conference at Stone Barns is a skill-building conference for farmers with less than 10 years of experience to deepen their understanding of agroecological farming practices. Sessions on the livestream schedule will address seed, pollination, climate change, farmer retirement, and more. Watch on your own or sign up to host a watch party.

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