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Home  > Breaking News

Breaking News

Permalink New Open-Pollinated Sweet Corn Varieties Becoming Available

Oregon farmer Jonathan Spero announces the commercial release of Top Hat and Tuxana, two open-pollinated, super-sweet corn varieties. The organic-friendly varieties whose seed can be saved by farmers will be available in limited quantities for the 2016 planting season. The Organic Farming Research Foundation, which provided Spero with a research grant, says that Spero expects his new varieties of white and yellow sweet corn to see additional improvements in coming years, as they are planted in new regions and the seed is saved and replanted by numerous farmers and gardeners. OFRF says both varieties were selected over 7 generations for sweetness, size and vigor, quick growth to outrace weeds, tightly-wrapped husk to deter pests, and ability to thrive in lower-fertility soils.

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Permalink Farm to School Lessons from Wisconsin Communities Shared in New Report

A new report from the Wisconsin Clearinghouse compiles the experiences of 14 organizations in Wisconsin that received U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding in 2011 to increase access to healthy food systems in their regions. Each chapter of Advancing Farm to School: Lessons from the Field contains grantee-focused case studies, a series of distilled "lessons learned," and a resource section that highlights those tools and resources that were highly recommended by both community members and experts in the field. The report is available online.

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Permalink "Innovation Challenge" Offers Prizes for Using USDA Data to Increase Food Resiliency

USDA is partnering with Microsoft to launch the "Innovation Challenge," a contest designed to explore how climate change will impact the United States' food system with the intent of achieving better food resiliency. The challenge invites entrants to develop and publish new applications and tools that can analyze multiple sources of information about the nation's food supply, including key USDA data sets on the cloud. The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for applications that make use of the USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists, or consumers.

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Permalink Oklahoma Healthy Soils Project to Establish Demonstration Farms

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) Healthy Soils Project is a voluntary effort to conserve the natural resources of Oklahoma by encouraging agriculture producers to participate in proven conservation practices. Though the Healthy Soils Project, OACD will establish 10 demonstration farms throughout five years with two farms in each of the five regions of the state. The farms will be 80 acres in size and will be selected through a competitive, transparent application process. Farmers will be provided with a conservation mentor, seed for planting cover crops, technical advice from agronomists, and testing and monitoring equipment. Each demonstration farm will host a field day for their neighbors, community members, elected officials, and industry partners to observe the results of implementing cover crops and soil health practices. OACD will begin accepting applications October 1 from individuals interested in establishing a demonstration farm, with an application deadline of January 15, 2016.

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Permalink Research Abstracts Sought for 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension (KARE) Center invite the submission of research abstracts for presentation at the 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS), taking place January 18–19, 2016, in Pacific Grove, Calilfornia, immediately before the Ecological Farming Association's annual EcoFarm Conference. The symposium will feature researchers from all disciplines related to organic farming and food systems, as well as other systems of sustainable agriculture that employ techniques compatible with organic standards.The intent of the symposium is to provide current information to farmers, ranchers, extensionists, educators, agricultural professionals, and others interested in organic agriculture. The deadline for submission of 500-word abstracts is August 31, 2015. Abstracts should be sent to Dr. Brian Baker at

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Permalink Good Food Business Accelerator Invites Applications for Fellowships

FamilyFarmed's Good Food Business Accelerator (GFBA) is accepting applications from food and farm entrepreneurs who want to participate in the program's second year. The Good Food Business Accelerator gets farm and food businesses located in and serving the greater Chicago foodshed ready for prime time, giving them the skills to launch or scale up. This fellowship program is based at 1871, Chicago's center of innovation. Fellows are paired with industry-leading mentors and are connected to potential customers and investors. This is the nation's first business accelerator focused on building supply chains for sustainable local food. The application period for this competitively selected program runs until September 18, with the program beginning in November.

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Permalink Crop Insurance Expanded to Cover Fresh Fruit and Nuts in 2016

USDA logoUSDA has announced that Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and the Actual Production History (APH) Yield Exclusion are now available to cover fresh fruit and nuts in select counties beginning with the 2016 crop year. SCO is an area-based policy endorsement that can be purchased to supplement an underlying crop insurance policy. It covers a portion of losses not covered by the underlying policy. For the 2016 crop year, SCO will be available in select counties for almonds, apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches, potatoes, prunes, safflower, tomatoes, and walnuts. Additional crops will be added in 2017. Meanwhile, the APH Yield Exclusion allows farmers with qualifying crops in eligible counties to exclude low yields in exceptionally bad years from their production history when calculating yields used to establish their crop insurance coverage. Producers of apples, blueberries, grapes, peaches, potatoes, prunes, safflower, tomatoes, and walnuts in select counties will have the option to utilize the APH Yield Exclusion for the 2016 crop year, with additional crops becoming eligible in 2017.

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Permalink California FarmLink Publishes Land Trust Case Studies

California FarmLink has published Conservation and Affordability of Working Lands: Nine Case Studies of Land Trusts Working With Next Generation Farmers, online in PDF. This book contains nine different examples of how land trusts and other conservation groups are working to help new farmers and ranchers achieve secure tenure on agricultural lands. Finding affordable land continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers. Land trusts, which have long preserved farmland from development, are in a unique position to help new farmers access land, and this publication offers examples of a variety of different arrangements from California, Massachusetts, and Washington.

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Permalink Cover Crop Bulletin Developed by SARE

The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program has developed a bulletin on cover crops as a companion to its Cover Crop Topic Room to educate farmers and ag professionals on the benefits of using cover crops in sustainable production practices. The PDF publication Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations covers such topics as selection and management, economics, establishment, soil and fertility management, crop rotations, and water management.

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Permalink National Agricultural Statistics Service Conducting Urban Agriculture Pilot Study

USDA logoUSDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is conducting an Urban Agriculture Pilot Study in Baltimore, Maryland. The 2015 Urban Agriculture Pilot Study is the first study of its kind being conducted by NASS. NASS produces official government statistics on nearly every part of U.S. agriculture, but has not previously collected statistics specifically on urban agriculture. This study will help NASS determine whether the U.S. Census of Agriculture can more accurately account for urban agriculture in the future and how best to collect the data. Information from the pilot study will not be released publicly, but will help NASS evaluate and plan next steps for the census of agriculture program and measuring urban agriculture.

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Permalink USDA Introduces Local Beef Market Report for Vermont

USDA logoUSDA’s Market News division has begun issuing a monthly local beef report for the state of Vermont. USDA Market News reporters gather price and volume data from a number of small producers throughout the state and publish price reports and commentary monthly. The report not only provides price information for farmers to use, says USDA in a blog post, but also increases market transparency and enables institutions to assess the value of small and mid-size farms that market their products locally. The Vermont report, and other regional reports, are available on USDA's Local & Regional Food Marketing Information website.

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Permalink Publication Features Case Study to Guide Start-Up Food Hubs

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Food Hub have released a new publication, Managing Cash Flow for a Low-Capital Food Hub Start-Up. The publication is part of the "Iowa Food Hub: Local Food System Toolkit" series designed to share knowledge gleaned from local foods work and research in Northeast Iowa. "The Iowa Food Hub experience gave us insight on how managers, who pay close attention to cash flow, can start a food hub with little capital," said co-author Nick McCann. The eight-page publication is available free, online.

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Permalink Specialty Crop Grant to Result in Growers Guides

A three-year, specialty crop grant awarded to the University of California Santa Cruz will result in organic growers guides for eight crops, including cut flowers, potatoes, peppers, and winter squash, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The forthcoming growers guides will be available free, online. They will be based on documented crops grown this year at the Alan Chadwick Garden at UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, and will cover topics such as seed selection, irrigation, and yield. "[The grant] provides the opportunity to more thoroughly document many of the organic production practices that we’ve been using for several decades and make that information more widely available to beginning farmers via the written Grower Guides," Martha Brown, principal editor for agroecology center, stated.

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Permalink West Virginia University Partners in Veterans to Agriculture Project

West Virginia University at Parkersburg and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture have partnered for the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture project. Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture will assist with recruiting veterans to the WVU Parkersburg's diversified agriculture program. The two entities will work together to track and mentor veterans enrolled in the program and establish training sites and opportunities for veterans in agriculture. Through WVU Parkersburg's diversified agriculture program, students can graduate with a one-year certificate or a two-year associate degree, gaining the knowledge to start an agricultural-related business or profitable farm or increase revenue on existing farms. WVU Parkersburg is the first college to participate in the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture project.

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Permalink Research Shows Ultraviolet Light Reduces Fruit Pathogens

Scientists at Washington State University have shown in a study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology that ultraviolet C (UVC) light is effective against foodborne pathogens on the surface of certain fruits. According to WSU, the findings are significant for organic fruit processors looking for alternatives to chemical sanitizers, particularly as they will need to comply with the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act. UVC light can be effective at sanitizing surfaces, but was found not to affect the chemical or physical quality of apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, and cantaloupe in the study. The light treatment was most effective on smooth-skinned fruit, but also inactivated 90% of the pathogens present on rough-surfaced fruit.

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Permalink Soil-Moisture Monitoring Project Enlists Citizen Scientists

Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists has announced a $50,000 grant to SciStarter ( to recruit, train, and equip teams in all 50 states to measure and report soil moisture measurements at regular intervals, reports The data that citizen scientists collect will be used to calibrate and validate NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission. Anyone who will commit to taking regular soil measurements can become part of this project, beginning by completing a brief, online form.

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Permalink New USDA Center of Excellence to Assist Small Farmers

USDA logoUSDA has announced that it is making a $1 million initial investment to support three Centers of Excellence with the Council of 1890 Colleges. These three new centers will serve as a consortium to increase coordination and collaboration between USDA and the 1890s schools. Each center will focus on a specific identified need, one of which is creating an integrated center to benefit Small Farms, Ranches, and Forest Landowners in high poverty areas.

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Permalink USDA Climate Hubs Release Tool Shed Resource

The USDA Climate Hubs have released the Climate Hubs Tool Shed, an online, searchable database of tools (data-driven, interactive websites, and mobile apps) that can assist land managers, land owners, and extension professionals in adapting working lands to the impacts of climate change. While many of the tools were developed specifically to address climate change, several were instead developed to aid in mitigating impacts of drought, pests, wildfire, and extreme weather. The Southeast Regional Climate Hub, serving nine southeastern states, is also offering SERCH LIGHTS, a monthly drought alert based on your location that comes direct to your inbox, and a land management feed, full of information on how to manage your land under a more variable climate.

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Permalink EPA Extends Comment on Proposed Rule to Mitigate Pesticides Toxic to Bees

EPA issued a notice in the Federal Register of May 29, 2015, concerning EPA's Proposal to Mitigate Exposure to Bees from Acutely Toxic Pesticide Products. EPA has now extended the comment period for 30 days, until July 29, 2015. EPA is seeking comment on a proposal to adopt mandatory pesticide label restrictions to protect managed bees under contract pollination services from foliar applications of pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees on a contact exposure basis. These label restrictions would prohibit applications of pesticide products, which are acutely toxic to bees, during bloom when bees are known to be present under contract. EPA is also seeking comment on a proposal to rely on efforts made by states and tribes to reduce pesticide exposures through development of locally based measures, specifically through managed pollinator protection plans.

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Permalink Group GAP Case Study Released

MSU Center for Regional Food Systems has released a case study from the Group Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) pilot project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The project goal was to test how a group-based farm-based food safety certification process could benefit small farmers. This case study provides an overview of the processes, challenges, benefits, and lessons learned. This pilot study confirms that good agricultural practices (GAP) certification can meet group needs at an affordable cost working with small and very small farms. The PDF report, Small Farmers Can Make Food Safety Work: The Group GAP Pilot Project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is available online.

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Permalink Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study Released

The National Good Food Network Food Hub Collaboration has released Counting Values: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study, an in-depth look at the growth—and growing pains—of food hubs. The study draws on financial and operational data from 48 regional food hubs and uses an established benchmarking practice for comparing results within particular sectors to develop baseline performance measures. The financial benchmarks are designed to help food hub operators generate sufficient revenue to achieve economic sustainability. The release of this report represents a significant advance in the business of moving local food into high-volume sales channels, by providing investors with reliable sector data.

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Permalink National Farmers Market Week Set for August 2-8

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has declared August 2-8, 2015, as "National Farmers Market Week." This year marks the 16th annual National Farmers Market Week in honor of the important role that farmers markets play in local economies. Farmers markets across the country have scheduled special events.

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Permalink Zeolite Studied as Organic Seed Treatment for Alfalfa

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Research Service scientists have found that a seed coating made from the mineral zeolite can protect alfalfa against some soilborne diseases. Zeolite comes from degraded volcanic rock, has antifungal activity, and qualifies as an organic soil treatment. Organic dairy farmers who want to expand their operations but are limited by a lack of organic feed may benefit from this seed treatment. The researchers found that zeolite mineral coating was as effective as mefenoxam in protecting seeds from most soil pathogens and also protected the seed from Aphanomyces root rot. This seed coating could prove useful in both conventional and organic alfalfa operations.

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Permalink Cover Crop Survey Shows Expanding Acreage and Improved Yield

For the third year in a row, a national survey of farmers has shown that cover crops improve corn and soybean yields while providing a host of other benefits. The survey was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) with funding from USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). The survey of more than 1,200 farmers revealed that cover crops boosted 2014 corn yields by an average of 3.7 bushels per acre (2.1%) and soybeans by 2.2 bushels per acre (4.2%). In addition, the survey found that cover crop acreage per farm more than doubled over the past five years. The three most-cited benefits of using cover crops were increased soil health, increased organic matter, and reduced soil erosion. Of those who completed the survey, 84% have planted cover crops and 16% had not yet used them.

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Permalink USDA Launches Technical Report Series on Running a Food Hub

USDA logoUSDA Rural Development has introduced a new technical report series called Running a Food Hub. The first report in the series, Running a Food Hub: Lessons Learned from the field, details best business practices for starting or expanding a food hub. The report includes operational profiles of eleven existing hubs in locations across the country. The 51-page publication is available online in PDF.

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Permalink CRP-Grasslands Initiative Announced by USDA

USDA logoUSDA has announced the CRP-Grasslands initiative, which will provide participants who establish long-term, resource-conserving covers with annual rental payments up to 75% of the grazing value of the land. Cost-share assistance also is available for up to 50% of the covers and other practices, such as cross fencing to support rotational grazing or improving pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife. Participants may still conduct common grazing practices, produce hay, mow, or harvest for seed production, conduct fire rehabilitation, and construct firebreaks and fences. Farm Service Agency will accept applications on an ongoing basis beginning September 1, 2015, with those applications scored against published ranking criteria, and approved based on the competiveness of the offer. The end of the first ranking period will be November 20, 2015.

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Permalink Intensive Rotational Grazing Used as Wildlife Habitat Management Tool

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is trying intensive rotational grazing as a wildlife habitat management tool at the Buena Vista Wildlife Area, reports The Country Today. The five-year project has cows grazing on a 320-acre section of grassland, to help prevent trees, brush and weeds from encroaching on prairie chicken habitat. The goal of the project is to not only improve wildlife habitat, but to achieve good performance from the grazing cow-calf pairs. The animals move to new ground daily, and are periodically confined to a smaller area for a day to increase pressure on target species.

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Permalink Food Tank Highlights Farming Incubators and Funding Resources

Food Tank has published a post highlighting 30 resources available for producers who are working to create food sovereignty and sustainable farm business models, ranging from food and farm incubators to sources of grant money and microloans. The posting offers short descriptions and links for incubator programs and a wide variety of funders in locations across the United States and around the world.

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Permalink Large-Scale Organic Farming Doesn't Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Says

Large-scale organic farming operations are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a review of almost a decade of data from 49 states, conducted by a University of Oregon researcher. Increasing numbers of commercialized organic operations appear to contribute to increased and more intense levels of greenhouse gases coming from each acre of farmland. Doctoral student Julius McGee says the trend in large-scale organic agriculture is for a focus on single rather than rotated crops, an increased use of organic pesticides and herbicides, and the importing of manure-based fertilizers from other locations, all of which lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions. "We need to pay close attention to what processes in organic farming operations make them the sustainable alternative that we want them to be, and we are going to need to more strictly follow those," says McGee.

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Permalink National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health Releases Recommendations

The National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health released a list of 10 recommendations for improving soil health and expanding the use of cover crops, reports the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The 19-member working group, which was created following the February 2014 National Conference on Cover Crop and Soil Health, presented its recommendations to USDA in June. The recommendations are available online. They include establishing a National Consortium on Cover Crops and Soil Health, incentivizing cover crops, funding research to develop improved cover crop cultivars, and funding multi-state projects on cover crops and soil health through AFRI.

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