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Breaking News

Permalink European Research to Explore Soil Fertility in Organic Systems Under Reduced Tillage

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) will lead a three-year, 13-country research project titled "Fertility building in organic cropping systems," or FertilCrop. The research will focus on reduced tillage cropping in organic systems. A range of different crop rotations, fertilizer use practices, and variations of soil cultivation will be tested on farms. The goals of this work include higher yields, greater soil fertility, improved soil structure, and fewer weeds. The FertilCrop project involves close cooperation of experts in the areas of weed control, soil physics and biology, plant nutrition, green manures, composting, climate change, and modelling. Improved cropping methods, new techniques, and decision-making aids will be developed for practitioners.

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Permalink Net Houses Help High Tunnel Growers Manage Pests

Southern SARE reports that a new technology is emerging across the Southeast that allows farmers to more effectively manage pests in high tunnels. A new bulletin, produced by Alabama Cooperative Extension and supported by Southern SARE, provides preliminary research data and field observations on shade cloths--a physical barrier that is designed to reduce pest pressure on vegetables and other crops. The shade cloths, also called net houses, are installed on the sidewalls and endwalls of a high tunnel and are designed to exclude pests while supporting beneficial insect populations. Southern SARE's bulletin High Tunnel Pest Exclusion System: A novel strategy for organic crop production in the South provides information on net house designs, cost effectiveness, and system recommendations and research results on net houses, both in the lab and in the field.

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Permalink Organic Industry Survey Shows Record Growth

The Organic Trade Association has released the results of its latest Organic Industry Survey. Sales of organic food and non-food products in the United States totaled a record-breaking $39.1 billion, up 11.3% from the previous year. Organic food sales in 2014, at $35.9 billion, posted an 11% rise, while organic non-food sales, at $3.2 billion, jumped almost 14% for the biggest annual increase in six years. Organic fruits and vegetables continued to be the biggest-selling organic category in 2014 with $13 billion in sales, while organic dairy jumped to $5.46 billion.

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Permalink Case Studies Highlight Local Government Support for Local Food

The Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Michigan and the International City/County Management Association's Center for Sustainable Communities have released Growing Local Food Systems: A Case Study Series on Local Governments. This report features four case studies highlighting various forms of local government support for food systems in Catawba County, North Carolina; Decatur, Georgia; Topsham, Maine and Washtenaw County-Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lessons learned and included in this report may be helpful to those interested in working within or with their local governments on marketing, coordination, policy, and funding for food-system activities.

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Permalink Insurance Available to Outdoor, Forest Mushroom Farmers

The Cornell Small Farms Program has worked with New York Farm Bureau and Nationwide Insurance to confirm that insurance policies are available immediately to outdoor, forest mushroom farmers in temperate regions of the United States. Would-be growers have sometimes found that insurance companies would deny or drop coverage upon learning the farm was planning on mushroom cultivation, mostly over fears of the liability incurred with wrongful identification of a mushroom species or with the sanitary conditions associated with cultivation. Cornell specialists met with insurance representatives to make them more familiar with forest mushroom cultivation and alleviate concerns about identification. The Cornell Small Farms Program plans to offer an online tutorial in 2015 to train growers in the basics of mushroom identification and sanitary cultivation, as a safety assurance.

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Permalink Visualizing Nutrients Challenge Competition Opens

The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) have announced the opening of the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge. This contest focuses on inventive ways to organize and analyze existing data of nutrient levels in water. Participants will tap open government data sources to create compelling visualizations that inform citizens, communities, and resource managers about conditions of nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation's waters. The First Place winner in this contest will receive $10,000, and a People’s Choice Award will receive $5,000. The competition is open through June 8, 2015.

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Permalink USDA Reports Record Number of Organic Producers

USDA logoUSDA has announced that the organic industry continues to show remarkable growth domestically and globally, with 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States and a total of 27,814 certified organic operations around the world. According to data released by the Agricultural Marketing Service's National Organic Program, the number of certified organic operations in the country increased by more than 5% over the last year. Since USDA began counting in 2002, the number of domestic organic operations has increased by more than 250%.

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Permalink Experience Farming Project Offers Farmers Land and Tool Access

The Experience Farming Project in Washington's Snoqualmie Valley is giving people with farming experience access to the tools they need to start their own businesses, reports the Snoqualmie Valley Record Reporter. Unlike other farm incubator programs that provide training, this one requires that participants already have college-level training in agricultural endeavors, farming experience, or large-garden market experience. The participating farmers each have access to up to two acres of cover cropped and tilled land, irrigation, a wash station, covered dry storage, an on-site tractor they can hire by the hour and a network of other participants for information exchange. The program is offered through Sno-Valley Tilth.

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Permalink University of Hawai'i Introduces Degree in Sustainable Community Food Systems

The University of Hawai'i–West O'ahu will offer a new bachelor of applied science degree in sustainable community food systems
beginning this fall. The new concentration incorporates problem-based and hands-on learning to develop food system professionals capable of solving real-world problems and transitioning Hawai'i's food and agriculture sector toward greater ecological sustainability and social equity. The UHWO Student Organic Garden serves as one of many "living laboratories" where students directly apply the theoretical knowledge taught in the classroom.

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Permalink Organic Farming Capitalizes on Nature's Services, Study Says

Scientists from Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted research on conventional and organic farms to arrive at dollar values for natural processes that aid farming. Their research, published in the journal PeerJ, found that organic farming systems do a better job of capitalizing on nature's services. The value of ecosystem service benefits is rarely quantified experimentally in agricultural studies. This study quantified the economic value of biological control of pests and the release of nitrogen from soil organic matter into plant-accessible forms. It found that the values of these services were greater for organic systems, averaging $146 per acre each year compared to $64 per acre each year in their conventional counterparts. Furthermore, the scientists calculated that the potential value of these two services could exceed the global costs of pesticides and fertilizers for growing similar crops, even if the two services were used in just 10% of the world's cropland.

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Permalink New Maine Program Focuses on Organic Dairy Training and Research

A new program at Maine nonprofit demonstration farm Wolfe’s Neck Farm will train new organic dairy farmers and conduct research on organic dairy farming methods, reports Bangor Daily News. The farm hopes the program will result in 15 new organic dairy farmers in Maine by 2020. The state is suited to small, organic dairy farms, say program organizers. The program's first trainees will begin an 18-month residential training with the farm's 60-cow herd this summer. The program will also conduct research on grazing management, forages, and pasture management, with an emphasis on practices that will maximize profitability.

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Permalink New York Supports Agricultural Research

New York State has designated $600,000 in its 2015-16 budget to support research and technical assistance through the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has 27 research projects underway in 2015. They include dairy, livestock and field crop production; crop and livestock pest and disease mapping and control; birch syrup production; and fruit and vegetable production, including cold-hardy grapes, apples, and juneberry. Research reports are posted on the program website.

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Permalink USDA Invites Nominations to National Organic Standards Board

USDA logoUSDA is seeking nominations to fill five vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB): two farmers, two consumer/public interest representatives, and one USDA-accredited certifying agent. Appointees will serve a 5-year term. The NOSB is an advisory committee that recommends whether substances should be allowed or prohibited in organic production or handling, assists in developing standards for substances to be used in organic production, and advises the Secretary of Agriculture on other aspects of the organic regulations. Written nominations, with cover letters, resumes, and a required form, must be postmarked on or before May 15, 2015.

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Permalink Locavore Index Announces States Most Committed to Locally Produced Food

According to the 2015 Locavore Index, the four states that do best in consuming locally-produced food are Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Oregon. These same states topped the 2014 Index, a ranking of all 50 states that is compiled annually by Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group. The Index uses information from the Census of Agriculture, along with the number of farmers markets, the number of CSAs, the number of food hubs, and the number of active farm to school programs in each state. The full ranking by state is available online.

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Permalink Organic Dairy Farmer Awards Presented at Organic Valley Annual Meeting

At the annual meeting of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers, awards were presented to organic dairy farmers. The young farmer Generation Organic™ (Gen-O) Award went to Emily and Tim Zweber of Zweber Farms in Elko, Minn., for their leadership, stewardship and continued commitment to organic farming. “Cream of the CROPP” awards for milk quality were given to dairy farmers with the best milk quality in each of Organic Valley’s six regions. This year’s new Organic Heroes Award was presented to dairy farmers Jack and Anne Lazor of Vermont, organic pioneers and leaders since the mid-1970s.

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Permalink New York Farm Stands to Participate in Federal WIC Program

Thanks to changes in federal regulations and a new Memorandum of Understanding between the New York State Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Markets, individual farm stands will be able to participate in the federal WIC program during the 2015 season. The State Department of Health is increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables that participants can purchase each month. At authorized farm stands, vouchers may be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers. Farmers operating farm stands who are interested in becoming authorized to participate can obtain information from the Department of Agriculture and Markets. "Hundreds of farmers at traditional farmers markets already participate in the WIC Vegetables and Fruits Check program, and this new innovation will allow individual farm stands to reach a new audience with world class, locally produced fruits and vegetables," said New York Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball. "Farm stands have flexible hours and can provide other opportunities such as 'pick your own' operations for WIC families."

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Permalink Farmers Should Consider Site-Specific Impacts of Corn Residue Removal

Farmers who are considering selling corn residue from their fields to produce cellulosic ethanol first should weigh a range of site-specific factors to their operations, according to new research from an Iowa State University agronomist. Variables such as topography, tillage system, nitrogen application, and the amount of organic matter present in the soil all have a role to play in residue removal, says professor Mahdi Al-Kaisi. Specifically, research recently published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal shows how a decrease in crop residue can lead to increases in greenhouse gas emissions from the soil. As residue is removed, black surface soil is exposed to direct sunlight and the dark surface absorbs heat, resulting in an increase in the oxidation of organic matter and the release of carbon dioxide. The research found a general increase in the emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from all residue removal plots as nitrogen application increased.

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Permalink EU Report Considers Ecosystem-Services Impact of Neonicotinoids

The National Science Academies of the EU Member States Science Advisory Committee (EASAC) has released a new report titled Ecosystem Services, Agriculture and Neonicotinoids. The report says that while attention has focused on the effect of neonicotinoid use on honeybees, its impact on many other species providing the ecosystem services of pollination, natural pest control, soil productivity, or the underpinning of biodiversity has not been adequately monitored. The report says that protecting honey bees alone is not enough to ensure sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, EASAC notes that some recent research has questioned the benefits of routine use of neonicotinoids as seed dressing against occasional or secondary pests. The report concludes that the balance between the desired effect of neonicotinoids on food production and the threat of damage to non-target species and the environment should be reassessed. The full report is available online.

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Permalink Online Video Series Focuses on Processing Local Meats

NC Choices, an initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems that promotes the advancement of local, niche, and pasture-based meat supply chains, has released a six-part video series on processing local meat products in North Carolina. The videos are intended to illustrate some of the services available at small-scale processing facilities that can add marketability to farmers selling local meat products. The videos include topics such as "How to Choose a Processor That's Right for You," "Meat Yield: How Much Am I Getting Back," and "What Packaging Should I Expect." The videos can be viewed on You Tube or the NC Choices website.

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Permalink Southern SARE Awards Professional Development and Research & Education Grants

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program has announced the award of four Professional Development Program Grants totaling $305,346. The projects deal with row crop irrigation management, sustainable agriculture programs for limited-resource farmers and ranchers, and university local food systems. Southern SARE also awarded more than $946,000 to further sustainable agriculture research across the Southern region through Research & Education Grants. Expanding markets for value-added products in Texas, jump starting new pawpaw varieties, and the sustainability of organic farms under the H2A Program are some of the projects funded. Applications for the next round of both of these grant programs are currently open.

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Permalink Proposed FDA Change to Food Facility Registration Would Exempt More Farms

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is issuing a proposed rule to amend and update its regulation on registration of food facilities. Under the current regulation, food facilities that manufacture/process, pack, or hold food for consumption in the United States must register with FDA. The proposed rule would amend the definition of a retail food establishment in a way that would expand the number of establishments that are considered retail food establishments, and that are therefore not required to register. The proposed rule would clarify that, in determining the primary function of an establishment, the sale of food directly to consumers from an on-farm establishment includes sales by the establishment at such direct sales platforms as roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Because the amended definition would exempt additional establishments from the requirement to register, the establishments would not be subject to the requirements of the FSMA preventive controls rulemakings, which apply to facilities that are required to register. The FDA is currently accepting public comments on the rule change.

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Permalink Case Studies Highlight Water and Energy Savings in Kansas Agriculture

Water + Energy Progress has posted nine case studies of its 2015 award winners online. The program identifies and spotlights innovations that save water and energy on Kansas farms and ranches. The case studies include crop and livestock operations that are using cover crops, improving energy efficiency, and using renewable energy. In addition to online profiles of the 2015 innovators, The Climate & Energy Project has a Vimeo page that features short videos of featured innovators. Additional case studies are scheduled to be posted in the coming months.

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Permalink CCOF Offers Organic Recordkeeping Tools Online

CCOF is now making recordkeeping tools for organic farmers available online. CCOF has recently developed Google template versions for all of its sample recordkeeping tools. These templates can be accessed with a free Google email account and provide options for free, mobile recordkeeping. Templates for equipment cleaning logs, planting stock records, and commercial availability search records are available. CCOF also offers recorded versions of its recordkeeping webinars.

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Permalink USDA to Invest in Mississippi River Basin Conservation Work

USDA logoThe United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $10 million in funding for projects this year through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). USDA will work with farmers and local organizations on cleaning waterways and strengthening agricultural operations. Funds are being awarded in 27 new high-priority watersheds and 13 existing projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Conservation systems implemented in these areas will reduce the amount of nutrients flowing from agricultural land into waterways, curb erosion and improve the resiliency of working lands in the face of droughts and floods. A full list of funded projects is available online.

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Permalink Input Requested for Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Survey

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is working with the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) to better understand agricultural producers' experiences with crop insurance and with a new crop insurance product called Whole-Farm Revenue Protection. As part of this project, RAFI and NCAT have created a brief online survey and are inviting farmers to participate by providing their input. By completing this survey on farmer interest in, and experiences with, crop insurance and Whole Farm Revenue Protection, participants will help RAFI, NCAT, and other organizations advocate for changes that improve Whole Farm Revenue Protection. All responses will be confidential.

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Permalink Herbivores Promote Grassland Biodiversity

An international study led by University of Minnesota researchers shows that herbivore grazing plays a role in the biodiversity of grasslands, according to results published in the journal Nature. In this study, scientists at 40 sites on six continents set up research plots with and without added fertilizer and with and without fences to keep out the local herbivores. When the researchers compared annual data across the 40 study sites, they found that fertilizing reduced the number of plant species in the plots as species less able to tolerate a lack of light were literally overshadowed by fast-growing neighbors. On both fertilized and unfertilized plots, where removal of vegetation by herbivores increased the amount of light that struck the ground, plant species diversity increased. And these results held true whether the grassland was in Minnesota, Argentina, or China, and whether the herbivores involved were rabbits, sheep, elephants, or something else. By showing how fertilization, grazing, and biodiversity are linked, the research moves us one step closer to understanding what we can do to help keep grassland ecosystems and all of the services they provide healthy and thriving in a changing world.

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Permalink Hydrolyzed Fish Fertilizer Shown as Economically Feasible Organic Nitrogen Source

The authors of a new study published in HortScience have found that hydrolyzed fish fertilizer holds promise as an "economically feasible" nitrogen source for growing organic vegetables. Charles Ogles and colleagues at Auburn University studied the effects of three different nitrogen sources during a 2-year crop sequence of yellow squash and collards. "Although yields were reduced in the crops grown in hydrolyzed fish fertilizer treatments, the premium price and resultant profit associated with organic products were enough to offset the reduced yield," the authors said.

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Permalink Scientists Find Prickly Lettuce Has Potential for Rubber Production

Washington State University scientists writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry say that the common weed prickly lettuce has potential as a new cash crop providing raw material for rubber production. Parts of the plant's genetic code are linked to rubber production and, with breeding for desired traits, the plant could become an economically viable source for sap used to make natural rubber. Early bolting plants with multiple stems, typical of prickly lettuce but not domestic lettuce, would allow for multiple harvests over the season and potentially maximize rubber yields. Furthermore, prickly lettuce could be selectively bred for water efficiency.

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Permalink Recyclers Tackling Challenge of Agricultural Plastics

Plastic has an increasing number of uses on farms, ranging from mulch film to hoophouse covers and packaging bags. Even a small farm can spend $6,000 a year on plastic, reports a feature on GreenBiz. After use, however, disposing of this plastic can be a challenge for both the farmer and for recyclers. Billions of pounds of plastic are used and discarded globally each year, with only about 10% of farm plastics being recycled. Contamination with dirt, pesticides, and organic materials pose particular challenges for recycling agricultural plastics. Several recyclers across the country are successfully collecting, cleaning, and recycling agricultural plastics, and this feature offers several examples of successful processors.

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Permalink Online Climate Pattern Tool Helps Growers Make Decisions

The Useful to Usable climate initiative based at Purdue University has released an online tool that will help farmers and their agricultural advisers better assess how climate patterns in other parts of the world can influence local conditions and corn yields across the Corn Belt. The Climate Patterns Viewer can help growers make more informed farm management decisions during different phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation. The tool can help growers and advisers predict potential periods of above- or below-average temperatures and identify locations where a growing season might be longer or shorter. Climate-pattern information from this tool can also help growers and their advisers plan for associated crop choices, seed purchases, irrigation needs, fertilizer application, or frost prevention measures.

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