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Breaking News

Permalink University Offers Organic Livestock Course

Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania will begin offering a new Organic Livestock Management course starting in the fall 2017 semester. Rodale Institute Farm Manager Ross Duffield will be teaching the course. Students will examine feeding, healthcare, and grazing strategies affecting the growth and development of organically raised livestock including dairy cows, pigs, poultry, and more. Participants will gain hands-on experience with a variety of livestock and communicate with different farmers about the rewards and challenges of their operations. For each type of livestock studied, there will be an in-class lecture followed by a field trip to a farm that specializes in that type of livestock. The course will also cover the National Organic Standards, the organic certification process for livestock and alternative niche markets. The three-credit course, which begins August 30, 2017, is open to anyone with an interest in organic agriculture.

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Permalink Photovoice Project Helps Farmers Educate Decision-Makers on Resilience

In the Photovoice Project hosted by the Snohomish Conservation District and The Nature Conservancy in Washington, seven farms addressed the questions "Why is agriculture important to our community?" and "What are the major challenges facing agriculture?" through photos and discussion. Each farm chose three photos with captions that became part of a photographic exhibition designed to raise awareness of agricultural issues in the local community. The photos can be viewed online.

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Permalink Trials Test Compost Extract for Weed Suppression

BioCycle reported on Rodale Institute greenhouse and field trials of chemically and microbially designed compost extracts (CMD-CE) on weed expression and crop germination. Researchers found in greenhouse trials that varying the nitrate and nematode-to-protozoa ratios of the compost achieved significant germination controls for pigweed and lambsquarters. In field trials, the use of compost extracts significantly increased yields of test turnips and lettuce over no treatment and over hand-hoeing, but the compost extracts delivered no increase in cabbage yields. The results indicate promise for compost extracts to offer a low-labor weed-management alternative.

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Permalink Local Food Systems Help Build Bridges

A University of Kansas researcher found that development of local food systems helped disparate groups to bridge their gaps and find common ground. Doctoral candidate in Sociology Ruth Stamper interviewed Kansas and Missouri farmers seeking to develop sustainable agricultural practices as part of local food systems. She found a mix of mix of first-time farmers usually entering the arena for environmental reasons and traditional, multi-generation farmers who were looking to change their approach. Despite initial distrust, as these groups began to interact more with each other within the local food system and farming efforts, they became more accepting of those not like them. Research on how people began to work together could be key in helping develop local food systems and movements, Stamper said.

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Permalink Water Quality Slow to Recover from Agricultural Pollution

Time lags between implementation of agricultural conservation measures and real improvements in water quality are often on the order of decades, says a study by the University of Waterloo, in Canada. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, says it can take 30 to 40 years to see the impacts of pollution-reduction efforts. The researchers warn against making hasty judgments as to whether conservation and pollution-reduction efforts are effective.

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Permalink Research Demonstrates Oceans' Potential to Support Aquaculture

A study led by scientists from UC Santa Barbara, and including researchers from the Nature Conservancy, UCLA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that ocean aquaculture could produce 15 billion metric tons of finfish annually. The researchers say that using "hotspots" that represent less than 1% of the total ocean surface, ocean aquaculture could theoretically produce the same amount of seafood that the world's wild-caught fisheries currently produce globally. This could address food insecurity, yet help protect wild fisheries. Co-author Holly Froehlich emphasized that it will be crucial for science, conservation, policy and industry to work together to proactively ensure fish farms are not just well placed but also well managed, such as balancing nutrient inputs and outputs to avoid pollution and monitoring for diseases.

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Permalink Agriculture and Food Systems Planning Guide Published

American Farmland Trust and Growing Food Connections have announced the publication of GROWING LOCAL: A Community Guide to Planning for Agriculture and Food Systems. The national guide showcases ways communities can strengthen their food systems through planning, policy, and public investment. It includes a comprehensive collection of local policies to support local farms and ranches, improve access to healthy food, and develop needed distribution and infrastructure. Written for farmers, community residents, and food policy councils, as well as planners and local government officials, this practical guide highlights real-life examples of ways communities are growing food connections from field to fork. An electronic copy of the guide is available for free download at American Farmland Trust's Farmland Information Center, with print versions also available for sale.

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Permalink ATTRA Chat Service Provides Real-Time Access to Agriculture Experts

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has introduced a chat service on its ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture website. Visitors to the site have the opportunity to chat in real time with sustainable agriculture experts during weekday business hours. The same sustainable agriculture specialists who answer e-mail and telephone queries will be available at the website to respond to queries from site users.

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Permalink Research Explores Multifunctional Woody Polyculture

University of Illinois researchers are conducting long-term trials of berry- and nut-bearing shrubs and trees intercropped with hay or other row crops. The multifunctional woody polyculture is meant to mimic the habitat features, carbon storage, and nutrient-holding capacities of a natural system. Their trial consists of seven combinations of species in commercial-scale plots, from simple combinations of two tree species to highly diverse combinations including multiple species of trees, shrubs, and forage crops. The researchers will measure crop productivity, management strategies, and consider economic potential as the experiment gets established. Nut crops can take a long time to get established, and it requires specialized equipment harvest tree nuts, berries, and row crops. However, the system may hold promise of harvest and income from land that might otherwise be enrolled in CRP. The research team is also working with regional farmers to replicate small- and large-scale versions of their experimental setup on-farm.

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Permalink Drinking-Water-Safety Resources Offered Online

Environmental Working Group (EWG) has posted a drinking-water-safety guide on using private wells. The feature discusses the potential for contaminants in well water and suggests water testing. It provides resources for further information. In addition, EWG has released a new national Tap Water Database. The database aggregates and analyzes data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The database showed that nitrate, a chemical from animal waste or agricultural fertilizers, was detected at a level shown to increase the risk of cancer in more than 1,800 water systems in 2015, serving seven million people in 48 states.

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Permalink Report on Meat Processing in Michigan Available

Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems has released Developing Michigan Meat Processing, Part 1: Processing and Regulation. This report presents challenges and opportunities for small meat processors in Michigan, as well as suggestions to increase the volumes of meat that are moved within the Michigan value chain. A figure illustrating the complex regulatory routes to purchasing Michigan meat is provided, along with discussion around the potential benefits of network development among value chain, regulatory, and governmental players; specific market and regulatory research; and enhanced communication channels among all that participate in processing and regulation.

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Permalink Research Reveals Duration of Drought Recovery

A study from the University of Utah, published in Nature, shows that the length of recovery from drought varies according to climatic conditions following the drought and the region of the world. High-latitude Arctic regions and the tropics of South America and Southeast Asia need up to two years to recover from drought, which is of particular concern because these regions store large amounts of carbon. Researchers pointed to concerns that more frequent droughts increase the likelihood that ecosystems may be hit with new droughts before they have recovered from the previous one, leading to ecosystem collapse from permanent vegetation damage. Plants can be so damaged during drought that they take years to recover, and areas where vegetation dies from drought may be permanently changed.

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Permalink Healthy Soils Help Combat Flood and Drought, Says Study

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists performed a review of 150 field studies on practices that make soil more sponge-like and improve infiltration and porosity. These practices included no-till cropping; planting of cover crops between cash crop seasons; use of ecological livestock grazing systems; integration of crops and livestock; and use of perennial crops. This study found that the largest and most consistent improvements came from practices that keep roots in the soil throughout the year. A model showed that shifting to adoption of soil-improving practices on the most erodible or least profitable croplands in Iowa could result in less flood runoff and reduced flood frequency. The full report, Turning Soils into Sponges, is available online.

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Permalink Soil Health Indicators Recommended

The Soil Health Institute has announced the release of nationwide Tier 1 indicators of soil health. During the last three years, scientists from public and private sectors, farmers, field conservationists, soil test laboratories and many others provided input to develop the Tier 1 list of recommended soil health measures, considered effective indicators of soil health. These specific measurements are regionally defined, have known thresholds, and help define management strategies to improve soil function.

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Permalink Cornell Launches Revamped Fruit Resources Website

Cornell University has announced the launch of a revamped version of its Cornell Fruit Resources website. In addition to information on food safety, business management, and marketing, the site contains subsections for tree fruit, grape, and berry producers that offer information on production, IPM, and post-harvest handling. The site also offers references such as organic production guides, newsletters, and links to university diagnostic services and expertise.

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Permalink Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grants to Encourage Healthy Food Purchases

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture has announced the award of $16.8 million in grants through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. The grants are designed to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increase their purchases of fruits and vegetables. The awards under FINI represent a variety of projects, including projects under $100,000, multi-year community-based projects, and larger-scale multi-year projects. One of the large grants, for $3.9 million, goes to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to offer nutrition incentives to encourage CalFresh shoppers to purchase healthy food and empower them to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables.

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Permalink Research to Test Affordable Cover-Crop Termination Alternatives

Organic Farming Research Foundation reports that it has provided a grant for research to test cover-crop termination alternatives that don't require the use of expensive equipment. Justin Keay at Lincoln University in Missouri will lead the project, which will test four terminations on a fall-planted hairy vetch/rye mix: (1) crimper rolled, (2) solar killed, (3) flail mowed, (4) sickle bar mowed. Researchers intend to measure the effects of these methods on soil health, arthropod communities, weed suppression, and yield in a summer squash production system, and provide economic analyses to determine the viability of each production system. Results will be shared with the public.

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Permalink Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Diversity Higher in Organic Orchards

European research in conventional and organic orchards found that the diversity of Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) was significantly higher in organically managed orchards. AMF are beneficial microrganisms that help plants take up nutrients and resist stresses. The research was published in Applied Soil Ecology.

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Permalink Growers Invited to Take Survey of Attitudes about Crop Insurance

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is asking growers to take a new survey that explores their needs and opinions about crop insurance. The 2014 Farm Bill greatly increased access to crop insurance for organic, diversified, and specialty-crop growers. Most notably, the USDA was required to offer a new insurance product—Whole-Farm Revenue Protection—that allows farms to insure virtually any combination of commodities (including livestock) under a single policy. So far, however, only a small percentage of those who are eligible have taken advantage of the new opportunities. Confidential and anonymous, the survey takes just 20 to 30 minutes (on any computer, smart phone, or other mobile device) and is open to anyone who is farming or ranching commercially in the United States. Survey results will be used to plan educational efforts and make recommendations to the USDA. A $20 honorarium is offered to the initial group of respondents. (Funds are limited.) Growers may take the survey at, and are invited to share the link widely. For more information, e-mail

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Permalink North Central Hard-Cider Industry Survey Results Posted

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems surveyed hard-apple-cider businesses across 12 states in the North Central Region to better understand the industry's potential to contribute to local, sustainable food systems. A full report on the survey is available online. The majority of the cideries that responded were small startup companies that reported rapid growth. These cideries procured more than 90% of their apples locally or regionally, and they were willing to pay significantly more per bushel for cider-specific apple varieties compared with varieties grown for eating fresh. The greatest challenges and industry constraints identified through the survey revolved around financing, marketing and distribution.

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Permalink Plant-Disease Diagnosis Tools Win Apps for Ag Hackathon

At the Apps for Ag Hackathon in California, 12 teams pitched new ways to apply technology to improve the food system. The winners received a $10,000 grand prize and assistance from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to turn their ideas into commercial enterprises. Dr. Green, a mobile app to diagnose plant problems, took the top prize. The second-place Greener app also helps people diagnose and treat plant diseases. Farm Table, an app that promotes agritourism, came in third place. Other entrants included an app to match unemployed veterans with farm jobs, an online resource for bees, an app to simplify shipping logistics, an app for detecting mold on produce, and many more solutions for food-related problems.

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Permalink Community Food Innovation Website Showcases Projects, Encourages Involvement

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has announced the release of its Community Food Innovation website. The new interactive site showcases community-led projects increasing healthy food access, improving environmental sustainability, and building economic opportunities. The website includes feature stories and an interactive map, where you can learn about projects happening across the country. The site also includes information on ways to get involved with local food projects, which the foundation hopes will inspire people to join in creating a more equitable food system. The Community Food Innovation website is based on two reports commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation: From the Ground Up, a national scan conducted by the Wallace Center at Winrock in partnership with The Common Market and Changing Tastes, and Intertribal Food Systems, a scan of food projects in Indian Country, conducted by the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. Both reports are available for download.

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Permalink Laser-Weeding Technology to Be Commercialized

Researchers at the University of Bonn, in Germany, have developed a system that uses robot- or tractor-mounted multispectral sensors and computer vision algorithms to identify plants in a field, reports Photonics Media. Laser beams are then used to eliminate or damage unwanted weeds. The researchers say the system offers a non-herbicide solution to weed control that could make organic farming easier. The researchers have established a company to bring their technology to the market.

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Permalink USDA and SCORE Launch Mentorship Effort to Support New Farmers and Ranchers

USDA logoUSDA and SCORE, the nation's largest volunteer network of expert business mentors, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on support for new and beginning farmers. The agreement provides new resources to help beginning ranchers, veterans, women, socially disadvantaged Americans, and others. SCORE matches business professionals and entrepreneurs with new business owners to mentor them through the process of starting-up and maintaining a new business. USDA and partners are working with SCORE to support new farming and ranching operations, and identify and recruit mentors. SCORE mentors will partner with USDA and other groups that serve new and beginning farmers and ranchers, such as the FFA, 4-H, cooperative extension and land grant universities, nonprofits, legal aid groups, banks, and technical and farm advisors. These partnerships will expand and integrate outreach and technical assistance between current and retired farmers and agri-business experts and new farmers.

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Permalink Publication Explores the Power of Food System Investments to Boost Regional Economies

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, in partnership with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's offices of Rural Development and the Agricultural Marketing Service, has released Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities. The 306-page publication, available online for view or download, is a compilation of research, essays, and reports that explores the potential for the growing popularity of locally sourced food to be harnessed to boost economic opportunities for rural and urban communities. Regional food-system stakeholders have learned that appropriately targeted policies and support can advance the economic and financial security of low- and moderate-income households and communities. Harvesting Opportunity explores recent research findings, highlights models for collaboration between policymakers, practitioners, and the financial community, and discusses research, policy, and resource gaps that, if addressed, might contribute to the success of regional food-systems strategies.

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Permalink Nocturnal Pollinators Affected by Light Pollution

A study by researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, showed that nocturnal pollinators can be affected by artificial light, leading to a disruption of the pollination service they provide. The researchers found that flowers illuminated by artificial light experienced fewer visits from nocturnal pollinators, which resulted in lower fruit set for those plants. Furthermore, the study uncovered connections between the number of visits to plants by nocturnal pollinators and the number of visits by diurnal pollinators. "Urgent measures must be taken, to reduce the negative consequences of the annually increasing light emissions on the environment", says study leader Eva Knop.

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Permalink National Farmers Market Week August 6-12

USDA logoU.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has proclaimed August 6-12 to be National Farmers Market Week. The proclamation notes that farmers markets and other agricultural direct marketing outlets contribute approximately $9 billion each year to the U.S. economy and "serve as significant outlets by which small-to-medium, new and beginning, and veteran agricultural producers market agricultural products, generating revenue that supports the sustainability of family farms and the revitalization of rural communities nationwide." Throughout the week, thousands of U.S. farmers markets will highlight the range of produce, fruit, meat, dairy, and specialty products available from their local and regional farmers with a range of promotions and special events.

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Permalink House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Listening Sessions

The House Agriculture Committee is holding Farm Bill Listening Sessions in locations across the country to gather input from farmers, ranchers, and stakeholders as they begin to develop the next Farm Bill. Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) advises that sessions are scheduled for August 3 in Morgan, Minnesota; August 5 in Modesto, California; and August 10 in Salinas, California. OFRF encourages organic farmers, researchers, and advocates to attend and speak about the importance of organic agriculture programs. Opportunities to make a two-minute statement are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Permalink Dead Zone Study Calls for New Approaches in Agricultural Areas

A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that shrinking the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, the "Dead Zone," to an area the size of Delaware will require a 59% reduction in the amount of nitrogen runoff that flows down the Mississippi River. Researchers from the University of Michigan say this will require bold new approaches applied on a large scale in upstream agricultural areas to reduce both nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. Potential strategies for reducing levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus include altering fertilizer application rates, using cover crops (fast-growing crops planted to prevent soil erosion), improving overall nutrient management, and pursuing alternatives to corn-based biofuels.

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Permalink Elevated Carbon Dioxide Causes Decline in Nutritional Value of Crops, Says Harvard

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health projects that elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to a decline in the nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops. Populations of 18 countries may lose more than 5% of their dietary protein by 2050, according to the study, placing an additional 150 million people at risk of protein deficiency. Under elevated CO2 concentrations, the protein contents of rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes decreased by 7.6%, 7.8%, 14.1%, and 6.4%, respectively.

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