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Home  > Breaking News

Breaking News

Permalink Webinar Series Focuses on Cropping Strategies for Managing Soil Health

Penn State Extension's 2017 Sustainable Agriculture Webinar Series addresses topics related to soil health in three one-hour sessions each featuring two speakers. Recordings are available from the February 6 session featuring "Fungal Endophytes: Fungi that Facilitate Farming" and "Understanding Biological Seed Treatments" and the February 13 session that addressed "Impacts of Grazing Management on Soil Health" and "No-Till and Grazing Integration to Improve Soil." The final session, on February 20, covers "Double Cropping with Fall Manure" and "Crediting N Supply from Cover Crops and Soil Organic Matter." There is no fee; however, pre-registration is requested.

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Permalink Fourth Edition of Annotated Bibliography on Racism in the Food System Released

Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems has released An Annotated Bibliography on Structural Racism Present in the U.S. Food System: Fourth Edition. This resource identifies literature that links the social construction of whiteness and its intentional or consequential impact on structural racism within the United States' local food movement. This fourth edition contains more than 50 new citations.

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Permalink Leopold Center Awards Sustainable Agriculture and Local Food Grants

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has awarded grants for 21 new research and demonstration projects that will aid in the advancement of sustainable agriculture while protecting Iowa’s soil and water and help Iowa citizens increase the availability of locally grown foods. The new grants, totaling $1.4 million, are awarded through the Leopold Center’s four research initiatives: Ecology, Marketing and Food Systems, Policy, and Cross-Cutting. Topics in the Ecology Initiative include nitrogen in prairie potholes on farmland, integrating rye seed production and red clover into corn systems, improving soil health and water quality through better phosphorus management, exploring whether cover crops increase soil resistance to climate change, and scaling up the use of perennial vegetation for water quality and landscape diversity. Cross-cutting topics include education of beginning beekeepers, precision cover crop seeding, nutrient management for hop production, enhancing cover crop value with beef stocker cattle, comparison of perennial and annual cropping systems on soil health and nitrogen fertilization treatments, and others.

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Permalink USDA Seeks Local Food Grant Reviewers

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking reviewers to evaluate grant applications for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). All interested agricultural professionals are invited to apply by March 20, 2017, to become a grant reviewer. Reviewers will apply their knowledge and expertise to score the grant applications. FMLFPP reviewers are expected to have operational knowledge of local food direct-to-consumer marketing and background in agriculture, retail, or farm-to-table marketing. FSMIP reviewers can include individuals from the federal government, state universities and colleges, state departments of agriculture and other appropriate state agencies. Reviewers are expected to have general knowledge of agricultural marketing, applied economics or marketing experience for farmers and ranchers. Also, FSMIP reviewers should have specialized knowledge on topics such as food safety, consumer economics, foreign market development, labeling, post-harvest handling and/or transportation. Non-federal reviewers for both programs will be compensated for their service.

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Permalink Texas Small Producers Invited to Participate in Needs Assessment

Researchers from Texas State University are collaborating with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), Johnny’s Selected Seed, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA), and the Texas Young Farmers Coalition in an assessment of the needs of small producers. Farmers are invited to participate in a 15-minute online survey to assess the community's challenges, training, and further educational needs. Responses are highly valued and the identity of survey participants will remain confidential.

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Permalink AMS Extends Comment Period for Sunset Amendments to National List

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is extending the comment period for the Sunset 2017 Amendments to the National List proposed rule by 30 days to April 19, 2017. The proposed rule would remove eleven substances from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for use in organic production and handling. AMS is also extending the comment period for the draft guidance on Calculating the Percentage of Organic Ingredients in Multi-Ingredient Products by 60 days to April 7, 2017.

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Permalink Organic Agriculture Research Symposium Abstracts and Poster Summaries Online

The Organic Farming Research Foundation hosted the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS) in Kentucky on January 25-26, 2017. The event featured presentations and discussion on organic agriculture topics ranging from soil health and pest management to social science and organic transition. Abstracts and summaries of poster presentations are available online. They include sessions on soil health, pest management, biodegradable mulches, organic farming systems, social science, organic crop breeding, and organic economic trends.

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Permalink Reminder: Participate in National Young Farmers Coalition Survey

The National Young Farmers Coalition's (NYFC) 2017 online survey is open until February 28. The survey is conducted every five years by NYFC in order to understand and elevate the issues that matter most to young farmers and aspiring farmers. Farmers and ranchers are invited to take part in this confidential, aggregate survey that will help guide the work of NYFC, craft its next policy platform, and help break down the barriers facing young people looking to enter agriculture. It is crucial to NYFC that the survey results represent all young farmers and aspiring farmers, no matter where they live or what they grow, so take the survey today and share it broadly.

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Permalink Free Webinar Series Addresses Food Hub Finances

National Good Food Network is presenting a five-part webinar series, "Financial Fundamentals for Food Hubs," beginning February 21 and held weekly on Tuesdays. Participants in this beginner-friendly, multi-part financial webinar series, led by representatives from Farm Credit, will learn how to manage, format and attribute financial reports, including the common chart of accounts, balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements. Each 20- to 30-minute Tuesday webinar will be followed later in the week by a one-hour follow-up "office hours" session where attendees may ask specific questions. This free webinar series is intended to be a complete web course on the fundamentals of food hub financial recordkeeping.

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Permalink Fungi Play Important Role in Soil-Community Relationships

A European research team led by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology found that although former agricultural soils have all major groups of soil life, these groups lack relationships at first. Fungi play a key role in establishing connections between groups, over time. As those connections form, the soil is capable of supporting a more diverse plant community. "Fungi turn out to play a very important role in nature restoration, appearing to drive the development of new networks in the soil," said the team. Plowing in particular reduces thready fungal hyphae, giving soil bacteria an advantage in agricultural soils. Over long term restoration, fungi become more prevalent and soil networks re-establish. Researchers believe that they could perhaps speed the soil restoration process by helping fungi develop network connections.

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Permalink Demand for Organic and Non-GMO Grain Outstripping U.S. Production

A new report from CoBank notes that although U.S. production of non-GMO crops has risen, domestic production of organic corn and soybeans remains well short of demand. This led to a sharp rise in organic grain imports in 2016. According to the report, organic corn imports more than doubled from 2015 to 2016 and accounted for nearly one-half of the U.S. organic corn supply. The domestic shortfall for organic soybeans was even greater, with roughly 80% of soybeans supplying the U.S. organic market imported in 2016. The report also notes that some leading food manufacturers are finding new and innovative ways to incentivize growers for transitioning to organic production, such as free agronomic services and premiums for products grown on transitional acres. A synopsis of the report, Organic and Non-GMO Specialty Grains: Assessing the Impact and Opportunity for Growers, is available online.

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Permalink Loan Fund for Small-Scale, Sustainable Farmers Launched in Minnesota

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), along with its partners through the FEAST Local Foods Network, including Renewing the Countryside and Slow Money Minnesota, have announced the launch of a new loan fund for small-scale, sustainable farmers. The Grow a Farmer Fund is a revolving loan fund managed by SMIF that offers lower-interest loans up to $15,000 to individuals in SMIF's 20-county region of southern Minnesota for inventory, supplies, working capital, or machinery/equipment. Fundraising for the Grow a Farmer Fund kicked off last May, and the fund has since grown to nearly $100,000 with donations from more than 250 organizations and individuals. Donations to the fund are still being accepted. Loan applications for farmers are available online.

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Permalink International Year of Pulses Closes

The International Year of Pulses (IYP) drew to a close February 10 with an official ceremony in Burkina Faso. With the slogan 'Nutritious Seeds for a Sustainable Future', IYP was launched in November 2015, and the UN General Assembly nominated its Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to lead implementation. Since then, connections have been fostered among key actors from farmers' organizations to the private sector to facilitate information exchange and policy dialogue on the production, trade, and consumption of pulses. A technical pulses database was created, a cookbook featuring recipes from international chefs was published, and the official multilingual IYP website provided information on pulses. Though the IYP has now officially closed, there has been a sound call to keep the momentum alive and continue activities beyond 2016. FAO will carry on working with stakeholders from governments to family farmers to champion pulses as small but powerful allies in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Permalink Publications on On-Farm Solar Electric Energy Released

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has released Farm Energy: Solar photovoltaic energy for agricultural operations. The new publication, available free online, discusses usage and installation of solar arrays, as well as economic considerations. As they become more affordable, solar arrays are becoming a viable source of energy for farmers, especially farmers who have large barns to ventilate in the summer or fans on grain bins. The publication provides step-by-step instructions for evaluating potential energy generation. This will allow the reader to take the first steps in determining if solar energy may be the right decision for their operation. A companion publication, Farm Energy: Case Studies – Adding solar electrical generation to a farm with grain drying and electrical heating is also available.

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Permalink FamilyFarmed Seeking Growing Young Farmers Stories

FamilyFarmed is launching a Growing Young Farmers series on the Good Food on Every Table website and is crowdsourcing stories from across the United States. Stories can cover any part(s) of the wide range of issues facing farmers who are seeking to start up or scale up: land access, financing, production issues, product selection and mix, deciding how to market (farmers markets, CSAs, farmstands, online, direct to restaurant, wholesale, etc.), marketing strategies, etc. They can be about rural farming, urban farming, suburban farming, community gardening, growing food for sale in your backyard or on your rooftop — basically everything that young farmers do. The stories can focus on successes and trials, pathways and obstacles… whatever you or your favorite farmer are facing. If you are interested in participating in or providing story ideas for the Growing Young Farmers series, contact

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Permalink Birch Syrup Production Opportunities Assessed in Report

The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted the results of a project exploring opportunities for regional maple sugarmakers to produce birch syrup. The 10-page PDF report available online concludes that birch syrup production has the potential to be a profitable enterprise for existing maple producers in Northern New York, given the high price of the syrup. However, several prerequisites are required, including enough birch trees to produce a sufficient amount of sap to support efficient use of commercial-scale maple processing equipment. The report suggests that smaller producers could pool their birch sap to make processing feasible. Researchers also found that using 5/16-inch spouts provided considerably more sap than smaller spouts.

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Permalink Georgia Plant Breeder Exploring Tea for U.S. South

University of Georgia professor of horticulture Donglin Zhang began working with tea, Camellia sinensis (L.) Kuntze, as an ornamental plant for use in yards, but he then realized it might be a viable large-scale crop for the South. With tea consumption increasing, mechanical harvesting methods improving, and a strong consumer interest in local foods, Zhang thought there could be a market for commercial tea production locally. In 2016, he toured China's tea-producing regions with plant breeders from other Southeastern land-grant universities as part of a program organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture in China. The team identified several dozen varieties of tea that they feel will grow well in Georgia and throughout the South, and Zhang hopes to add those to his breeding program in the future.

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Permalink WNC AgOptions Awards Small-Farm Diversification Grants

WNC Agricultural Options recently awarded 35 farm businesses a total of $201,000 in $3,000 and $6,000 grants to diversify operations. The N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission is the exclusive financial supporter of WNC AgOptions, which aims to build sustainable farming communities in the mountain region by providing resources directly to farmers. Half of the awarded farms are already full-fledged businesses supporting at least one full-time farmer, in some cases due to past WNC AgOptions grants. At least three additional farmers expect to be full-time by the end of the season. Many of the farms anticipate hiring additional workers due to this year's grant. Awarded projects often have high potential for demonstration to other diversifying growers in the region. Recipients have diverse projects planned, ranging from goat cheese and orchard expansion to sale of sorghum syrup and pawpaws.

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Permalink Olives Offer Specialty Crop for Oregon Growers

Today there are at least 15 olive growers in Oregon, reports Oregon Department of Agriculture, and with demand for extra virgin olive oil growing rapidly in the United States, growers and producers see an opportunity. "Oregon olive growers and producers are following a path similar to that taken by pinot noir winemakers 40 years ago," says Bogdan Caceu of the Willamette Valley's La Creole Orchards and Executive Director of Olive Growers of Oregon. Caceu believes in Oregon's potential to become a producer of ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil, locally sourced from small growers. Olives grown in Oregon's cooler climate may offer unique flavor characteristics. Freezing temperatures are the biggest threat to Oregon olive trees, but varieties grown in Northern Italy and higher altitudes in France may also work well in Oregon. Approximately 15 varietals are currently grown over 50 acres.

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Permalink California Invites Public Comment on Healthy Soils Program

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) appropriated $7.5 million in FY 2016-17 to develop and administer a new incentive and demonstration program on the CA Healthy Soils Initiative from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The objective of this new Healthy Soils Program is to build soil carbon and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. In partnership with the Environmental Farming Act Science Advisory Panel, CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation is seeking comments on the Healthy Soils Program framework. CDFA will accept comment letters until March 1, 2017.

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Permalink Southern Cover Crop Conference Fact Sheets Available Online

The Southern Cover Crop Conference was held in North Carolina during the summer of 2016. A series of 20 fact sheets was generated from the workshops presented and field demonstrations exhibited during the conference, and these fact sheets are being made available online by Southern SARE. The PDF fact sheets explore economics of cover crops, grazing cover crops, cover crops in vegetable production and high tunnels, and other topics.

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Permalink Quinoa Genome Sequencing Could Improve Food Potential

Research published in Nature reports completion of the first high-quality sequence of the Chenopodium quinoa genome. Although quinoa was a staple food of ancient civilizations, it has never been fully domesticated or bred to its full potential. Scientists say the genome sequencing could help in breeding of plants without saponins to make the seeds taste sweeter. Target breeding could also help in making plants sturdier and less likely to fall over. "We already know that the quinoa plant family is incredibly resilient," said the project leader, KAUST Professor of Plant Science Mark Tester. "It can grow in poor soils, salty soils and at high altitudes. It really is a very tough plant. Quinoa could provide a healthy, nutritious food source for the world using land and water that currently cannot be used, and our new genome takes us one step closer to that goal."

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Permalink Online Agroecology Certificate Program Debuts

MESA Farm Centered Learning Network is launching a new online Certificate in Applied Agroecology Program. The Certificate in Applied Agroecology Program is open-sourced, community-based, and provides deeper context to support hands-on training. It provides participants with the technical and theoretical toolkit needed to face an increasingly globalized food system. The program can support both farmers and interns. Curriculum was developed by experts in the field, including Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at UC Berkeley, Laura Murray from California Certified Organic Farmers, and Steve Gliessman, Professor of Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz. This certificate course combines academic, scientific, socio-political and traditional knowledge in seven lessons, giving learners a holistic understanding and application of Agroecology. The material is presented in video, audio, visuals, and readings to allow learners to develop their own perspective, and be able to apply theoretical knowledge through interactive on-farm activities. The certificate is available through a sliding scale donation to the nonprofit MESA.

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Permalink AMS Delays Effective Date of Final Rule on Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

USDA logoUSDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is delaying the effective date of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule by 60 days, to May 19, 2017. These actions are being taken in accordance with guidance issued January 20, 2017, to ensure the new policy team has an opportunity to review the rules. A notice appears in the February 9, 2017, Federal Register.

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Permalink Annual CSA Day Set for February 24

February 24, the last Friday in February, marks the third annual CSA Day, an entire day dedicated to the celebration of community-supported agriculture. This national event created by Small Farm Central helps CSA farmers enjoy an influx of sign-ups from members, which gives them revenue when they need it most for the growing season. If you believe in the value of the work your local farmer does and would like to help that farm be successful, sign up for a CSA on February 24, and use the hashtag #CSAday to join the online conversation. To find a CSA in your area, you can search an online directory at

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Permalink Fact Sheet Helps Maine Farmers Adapt to Changing Climate

The University of Maine Climate and Agriculture Network has published a fact sheet that outlines observations of how Maine's current weather differs from the past, what may lie ahead, and examples of farmer choices and actions that can minimize risk and help ensure productivity. The publication, available in PDF, discusses plant hardiness zone shifts, early spring warm-up, heat waves, more intense downpours, and longer and more frequent dry spells.

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Permalink Pennsylvania Awards Farm to School Grants

Pennsylvania Department of Education has awarded 30 Farm to School grants of up to $1,000 to implement farm to school activities. The Farm to School Grant Program allows schools to offer local product taste-testing, farm-related field trips, school garden activities, and the inclusion of local products in school meals. "Promoting healthy eating habits and providing access to fresh, local foods to students will not only benefit students, but farms as well," said Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera.

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Permalink Multi-State Study Surveys How Health Insurance Affects Farmers and Ranchers

A four-year national project exploring how health insurance options impact the farm and ranch population in the United States is beginning a survey to help researchers understand how health-insurance policy affects farmers' and ranchers' decisions to invest, expand, and grow their enterprises. The survey questions are based on interviews conducted in 2016 with smaller groups of farmers and ranchers in the 10 states being researched. States included in the study are California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. This survey is a chance for farmers and ranchers to make their voices heard about their experiences with health insurance and how that affects both their economic development and family's quality of life.

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Permalink Wisconsin Research Shows Oganic Farmers Applying Agroecological Practices

A study published by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers in Sustainability assessed the degree to which organic vegetable farms in Wisconsin are integrating agroecological concepts into their farm management, using cover cropping as a model ecological practice. The survey data demonstrates varying degrees of complexity and diversity in cover cropping practices, potentially illustrating the desire of organic farmers to promote a high degree of agroecosystem services. In this study, farmers' integration of cover crop diversity and complexity was not correlated to farm size or revenue, offering preliminary evidence that Wisconsin's organic vegetable farmers are integrating agroecological practices on their farms, even as the organic market continues to grow.

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Permalink California Accepting Public Comments on Dairy Digester Grant Program

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is accepting public comments on the Draft Request for Grant Applications for the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program. An estimated $29-36 million in competitive grant funding will be awarded to provide financial assistance for the installation of dairy digesters that result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions from California dairy operations. Those interested must submit their comments via email to by 5:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

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