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Breaking News

Permalink Leaf Sensors Could Guide Crop Watering

Researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences are working on plant-based sensors that measure the thickness and electrical capacitance of leaves to tell farmers when to irrigate. Technology that more accurately detects when plants need to be watered could increase water-use efficiency. In greenhouse tests, leaf clip sensors detected thickness changes in leaves as moisture declined below the wilting point. Researchers are progressing toward a system that would sense changes in plants and let farmers know when to water.

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Permalink Case Studies Show Soil Health Practices Deliver Economic Returns

The National Association of Conservation Districts and Datu Research, LLC have released a set of four case studies that show soil health practices can yield an economic return of more than $100 per acre. The case studies report on a three-year study period during which corn-soybean farmers in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri experimented with cover crops and/or no-till. Although participating farmers reported increases in planting costs, they noted significant declines in fertilizer costs and erosion-repair costs. Yields increased by up to $76 per acre, so net farm income increased by up to $110 per acre. The case studies are available online.

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Permalink Minnesota Requests Monitoring for Invasive Pest Damaging Vegetable Crops

The Swede midge is an invasive small fly that infests cruciferous crops such as broccoli, cabbage, or canola. It was first discovered in Minnesota in 2016 and is affecting crops in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will be working through the next year to confirm the extent of infestations. Anyone who suspects crop damage from Swede midge should contact the MDA’s Arrest the Pest line at 1-888-545-6684 or email: The U of M Extension IPM Program will work closely with the MDA to begin adapting IPM strategies for the affected crops as soon as possible.

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Permalink National Biodiesel Board Says Benefits of Biodiesel Underestimated

The National Biodiesel Board announced that new modeling by Purdue University revealed that previously used measures underestimated the carbon benefit of biodiesel by 10%. The new modeling refines the predicted indirect emissions estimates that are required to be included in the lifecycle estimated carbon emissions of biofuel.

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Permalink Power of Produce Club Gets Kids Excited about Farmers Market

University of Kentucky Extension in Hardin County implemented a Power of Produce (POP) club this summer in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, to get kids to try new foods and buy fresh produce. By completing an agriculture-related activity and trying a new food, kids could earn up to $4 to spend at the farmers market. The University and community provided grant funding that supported the project and the kids' purchases. The program was a hit among children and their parents, drawing steadily increasing attendance that grew beyond 100 participating kids per market day. Vendors noted increased foot traffic and revenue on club days.

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Permalink Leopold Center Visioning Task Force Holding Listening Sessions

A visioning task force is holding listening sessions around the state of Iowa to gather input on the future of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. This spring, the Iowa Legislature voted to defund and close the 30-year-old center at Iowa State University. Then-Governor Terry Branstad used a line-item veto to remove language that would have closed the center, but signed the bill that removed its state funding, approximately $1.7 million. As of July 1, the center's only new revenues come from earnings from an endowment established by private giving. Listening sessions are currently scheduled for September 19 at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and September 26 in Iowa City, Iowa. Comments also can be submitted online at

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Permalink Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Program in Pennsylvania Receives Funding

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has been awarded funding by USDA to continue its Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program for three more years, reports Lancaster Farming. Over the next three years, PASA anticipates certifying seven journey dairy graziers while enrolling 15 apprentices on master grazier dairy farms. The Pennsylvania program is part of a larger effort that spans 10 states and involves more than 100 master grazier farms and more than 200 apprentice candidates. It combines education with on-the-job training to graduate certified journey dairy graziers..

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Permalink Kansas State University Receives Land Donation for Sustainability Research Farm

North Central Kansas farmer Harold Lonsinger has donated 2,300 acres of farmland to Kansas State University to develop a research farm focusing on sustainable agricultural practices and soil conservation, reclamation, and protection. Lonsinger has stressed that his goal of donating the land is to learn how to best restore the soil to its historic quality. "Among our many agricultural experiment stations, Harold's gift of more than 2,000 acres of quality Kansas farm- and grassland will become a hallmark of sustainable farming research at K-State," said John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension.

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Permalink Long-Term Investigation Explores Restoring Native Prairie on Farmland

A longstanding study at the University of Kansas has improved researchers' grasp of how to restore native prairie grassland on abandoned farmlands and explored how restoration is influenced by residual agricultural inputs such as nitrogen. The researchers have found that excess nitrogen in the post-agricultural soil distorts the native prairie ecosystem, making restoration more difficult because it leads to a loss in plant diversity. That excess nitrogen comes not only from past fertilization, but from air and water pollution absorbed by abandoned farmland. The study has been going on at the University of Kansas Field Station since 2001, on plowed-bare soil and on an abandoned hayfield. Project leader Bryan Foster says the research has revealed the difficulty of restoring native prairie. "You can restore it in a superficial way — get the dominant grasses re-established. But it’s difficult to establish the level of diversity, the sheer number of species," says Foster.

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Permalink Video Discusses Field Peas as Dairy Feed

University of New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station has posted a 22-minute video in which André Brito, associate professor of dairy nutrition and management, and researcher with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, discusses his research project Feeding Field Peas to High-Producing Lactating Dairy Cows. Field peas (Pisum sativum) combine relatively high concentrations of protein and starch, making them a potential substitute for typical dairy protein and energy sources such as soybean meal, corn, and barley. In particular, field peas may be an alternative in organically certified dairies because they are not genetically modified. However, the soluble protein in field peas may decrease milk yield and nitrogen use efficiency in lactating dairy cows if fed at high levels.

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Permalink University of New Hampshire Re-Domesticating Quinoa for New England

Researchers with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station are investigating the potential use of a wild/weedy, locally adapted Chenopodium species as a breeding partner with quinoa in an effort to "re-domesticate" quinoa into a form suitable for crop production under Northern New England's growing conditions. Quinoa is adapted to regions with less humid fall weather, so existing varieties don't mature well in New England. However, researchers believe that by crossing quinoa with weedy relatives that are well-adapted in the region, they can develop a variety for commercial production. Quinoa commands a high market price as a novel and highly nutritious grain crop.

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Permalink Study Quantifies Soil Carbon Loss from Agriculture

Agriculture has removed 133 billion tons of carbon from the top 2 meters of soil, says a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Furthermore, the rate of loss has increased dramatically in the past 200 years. The study was led by Dr. Jonathan Sanderman of the Woods Hole Research Center and Tom Hengl of the soil data organization ISRIC. This large soil carbon debt can also be thought of as the maximum potential for soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere and act as a natural climate solution. Even realizing only a fraction of this potential would be an important climate-mitigation strategy, Sanderman said.

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Permalink McHenry County College to Develop Urban Ag Degree

An anonymous donor has given McHenry County College in Illinois $500,000 for the first phase of "Transforming Sustainable Agriculture Enterprises in McHenry County through the Delivery of Innovative Education." The project will provide experiential learning related to intensive, organic food production, business management, and marketing. During a two-year pilot program, the new funds will be used to research sustainable agricultural trends and practices, develop programming to support the needs of farmers, facilitate partnerships across the agricultural community, and promote the use of sustainable practices and food production in the region. The goal is for students to learn small-scale organic food production in a farm setting, year-round; learn how to develop and apply sustainable, profitable models for processing and marketing food with area restaurants, grocers, distributors, and farmers markets; apply economic, agronomic, environmental, and social aspects of farming operations; and learn how to incorporate entrepreneurship principles and practices into sustainable food systems.

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Permalink Screening System Helps Prevent Spread of Citrus Greening

University of Florida scientists are working to improve a screening system that prevents the Asian citrus psyllid from reaching citrus trees and infecting them with greening. "Citrus Under Protective Screens," or CUPS, is being used by some commercial growers already. University of Florida Extension has a new publication that summarizes UF/IFAS research into CUPS and explains the economics of the system. Success with the system depends on optimizing fertigation and improving planting density, as well as achieving high market prices for fresh fruit. Researchers are also exploring ways to reduce the cost of the screen-house systems from $1 to 50 cents or less per square foot.

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Permalink Minnesota CSAs Offered Opportunity to Measure Consumer Satisfaction

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Grown are offering a grant-funded opportunity for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations to measure customer satisfaction with their members. Participants must be members of Minnesota Grown. Participating CSAs will survey their members in mid-October and will then receive a confidential, individualized report about customers and feedback, as well as an aggregate report including CSA trends and highlights across Minnesota. Sign up to participate by August 30, 2017.

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Permalink NIFA Announces Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant Awards

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced 12 new grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, totaling $35 million. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative seeks to invest in long-term solutions that address problems in the overlapping systems of production, distribution and processing, and consumers and markets. These projects include a Texas A&M University effort to enhance the sustainability and profitability of melon production in the United States, emphasizing consumer preferences and industry-driven needs. The University of Arkansas is leading a multi-state and multi-agency collaboration to meet growing consumer demand for spinach by developing new, disease-resistant cultivars and conducting outreach to industry stakeholders. A complete list of recipients is available online.

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Permalink Heat-Abatement Systems for Dairy Cows Evaluated

The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program funded research by the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute to assess ways to help cows adjust to the hottest days of the year. The types of heat abatement systems evaluated included the use of fans, an evaporative cooling system with water nozzles attached to fans, and different bedding types. The cooling measures were applied in different settings, including barns, feed alleys, and milking parlors. The final report on different types of heat abatement systems for dairy cows is posted online.

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Permalink Report Predicts Growth in Biochar Market

Transparency Market Research has issued a report saying that the global biochar market was valued at US$ 444.2 thousand in 2016 and is likely to reach US$ 14,751.8 thousand by 2025. Biochar (Feedstock: Woody Biomass, Agricultural Waste, Animal Manure, and Other Feedstock); Application: Electricity Generation, Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Applications) Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2017-2025 says that growth in the biofuels sector, along with support from government policies, has been driving global demand for biochar, and that cheaper feedstock and a recognition of environmental benefits will continue to fuel demand growth.

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Permalink Farmers Union Launches Renewable Energy Initiative

National Farmers Union (NFU), in conjunction with state Farmers Union divisions, has began an initiative to advance federal policies that support homegrown and home-produced renewable energy sources. The Farmers Union initiative will promote legislative and regulatory solutions for expanding markets for higher blends of ethanol, like E30, and advanced biofuels. Anne Steckel, who will lead the effort, commented, "NFU will continue its avid support of the RFS and pursue innovative policy solutions that expand renewable energy demand, development, and infrastructure."

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Permalink Professor Identifies Agroecology as More Viable than GMOs for Feeding the Hungry

Macalester College professor of geography William G. Moseley writes in Geographical Review that GMO crops are a risky approach to hunger mitigation. Moseley suggests that GMO technology is sufficiently expensive that it is inaccessible to the poorest of the poor for whom food insecure is great issue. He also notes that investing in GMO-seed technology represents a significant financial risk for many small farmers in variable-rainfall environments and for farmers who must sell their crops to pay for input costs. Moseley concludes that agroecology represents a more viable approach to helping the poorest of the poor increase production and meet food needs while avoiding risk. He writes that "by smartly capitalizing on interactions within agroecosystems, farmers may be able to improve yields and manage pest problems through improved intercropping and agroforestry combinations, as well as more tightly integrated crop and livestock systems."

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Permalink Young Farmers Conference Registration Lottery to Begin

The 10th anniversary Young Farmers Conference will be held at Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York, from December 6-8, 2017. Registration for this popular conference will be by lottery. Beginning farmers (farming for more than one year and less than 10) will be given registration preference. Lottery applications will be available beginning September 6, 2017. Scholarship opportunities will also be available beginning on that date. In addition, select sessions from this year's Young Farmers Conference will be streamed live, and Stone Barns Center is seeking hosts for viewing parties.

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Permalink Adding Agricultural Waste Increases Biomass in Costa Rican Forest

Princeton University researchers surveyed a site in a Costa Rican national park where 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and orange pulp were deposited on a barren pasture 16 years ago. They found a 176% increase in aboveground biomass — or the wood in the trees — within the 7-acre site. The area fertilized by orange waste had richer soil, more tree biomass, greater tree-species richness and greater forest canopy closure. The study showed the power of agricultural waste to not only regenerate a forest but also to sequester a significant amount of carbon at no cost. The study was published in Restoration Ecology.

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Permalink Illinois Agricultural Advisory Council to Promote Humane Farming

The Humane Society of the United States announces the formation of the Illinois Agricultural Advisory Council, the twelfth state council. The Council will serve to promote farmers and ranchers that answer to higher animal welfare and environmental standards as the foundation of economic vibrancy in rural communities. "We are proud to work together with Illinois’ family farmers and environmental groups to achieve more humane and sustainable agricultural practices in our state," said Marc Ayers, Illinois State Director of the United States Humane Society. "Our goal is to promote practices that benefit not only the animals, but the consumer, our environment and the economic vitality and future of our traditional family farmers."

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Permalink OFRF Releases Priorities for Next Grant Cycle

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has released the priority areas for its next grant cycle, based on direct feedback from farmers and ranchers across the United States. Four main priorities were identified: soil health (topics of particular interest include nutrient balancing, crop rotations, and fertility management focused on reducing environmental impacts), innovative weed control (topics of particular interest include weed control related to climate change and changing weather patterns), management of emerging insect and disease issues, and livestock health (topics of particular interest include livestock and crop integration and best practices for grass based livestock production). The request for proposals and application instructions will be available on OFRF's website beginning September 12, 2017.

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Permalink Pennsylvania Veterans Join Homegrown By Heroes

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding recently honored two military veterans-turned-farmers as the newest members of Pennsylvania's Homegrown By Heroes program. Homegrown By Heroes is the official farmer veteran branding program of America. The Homegrown By Heroes logo serves to inform consumers about agricultural products produced by military veterans. The program is available to farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and value-added producers of all branches and eras of military service. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has officially partnered with Homegrown By Heroes, and has combined the that label with the PA Preferred logo to give farmer veterans a unique point-of-sale visibility.

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Permalink California to Increase Regulations on Chlorpyrifos Pesticide

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment are pursuing health protections on one of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the nation, chlorpyrifos. The Department of Pesticide Regulation has released an updated draft risk assessment for public comment. This action marks the start of a public and scientific review of the document, which could lead to increased restrictions on chlorpyrifos statewide. In addition, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is referring chlorpyrifos for potential listing as a developmental toxicant under Proposition 65. OEHHA will soon open a written public comment period on scientific materials that describe the evidence for the developmental toxicity of chlorpyrifos.

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Permalink NOFA Vermont Requests Workshop Proposals for Winter Conference

NOFA Vermont is requesting proposals for interactive workshops to be given at its annual winter conference, February 17-19, 2018, in Burlington, Vermont. Proposals for 1.25-hour workshops, 2.5-hour workshops, and intensive full-day workshops are being considered. All proposals will be reviewed by a committee. Proposals can be submitted online until September 13, 2017.

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Permalink Illinois Project Uses Mowed Right-of-Way for Biomass Energy

The Illinois Department of Transportation plans a renewable energy demonstration project using grasses collected from mowing 10 acres of highway right-of-way. The operation will produce standard operating procedures and a strategic plan to scale up production elsewhere in the state. A team from the Prairie Research Institute of the University of Illinois concluded that nearly $2 million in energy could be recouped by harvesting right-of-way for biofuel. The implementation plan also emphasizes including native pollinators and nectar plants on highway rights-of-way, areas which can serve as wildlife corridors for native species. The biomass in this demonstration will be used to provide heat at IDOT transportation garages and also the U of I Energy Farm's new biomass boiler.

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Permalink Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program Pilot Launched

The Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is accepting applications for its pilot program. Five to 10 farms will be accepted into the pilot program, which will inform the final parameters of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program, launching in 2019. To apply for the VESP Pilot, farmers must be in compliance with all State and Federal environmental regulations, and be actively farming their land. Applicants for the VESP Pilot will be selected for participation through a competitive application ranking process on a rolling basis; there is no fee to participate. VESP is a voluntary program that encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence. VESP applicants will be evaluated by a team of conservation planners and technical service providers to ascertain current land-use practices. Applicants must meet high environmental standards regarding nutrient management, sediment and erosion control, soil health, greenhouse-gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and pasture health. If the applicant meets the standards in each category, he or she will be awarded with a five-year certification, an on-farm sign designating the farm as meeting high levels of environmental stewardship, and other recognition-based incentives.

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Permalink Saline Aquifers Could Make Local Midwest Seafood Viable

A study by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant-funded researchers explored the possibility of producing marine fish in the Midwest using saltwater trapped underground. The study considered local saline water resources brought to the surface regularly in oil and gas drilling, as well as water generated from other industries. This study focused on production of striped bass, and found that Illinois could be an environmentally sustainable and economically viable producer of local seafood with water from saline aquifers. Researchers noted that the water may require pre-treatment to remove contaminants but also noted that the local fish would meet consumer demands for freshness.

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Permalink Mobile Drip Irrigation Offers Benefits of Two Systems

Some Idaho farmers are retrofitting center pivots with long hoses to ground level, ending in drip emitters, to create mobile drip irrigation, reports the Times-News. The systems combine the benefits of a center pivot with the savings of drip irrigation. Netafim, a drip irrigation company, is partnering with Butte Irrigation to bring the concept to the field. They have retrofitted approximately 25 center pivots in southern Idaho with a precision mobile drip irrigation package, and studies show a 10 to 25% increase in water-use efficiency and also a 10 to 20% increase in yields. Water filtration represents the largest share of the retrofit cost.

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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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Permalink WORMINFO Listserv Supplies Small Ruminant Parasite News

The American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (ACSRPC) has introduced a new listserv, WORMINFO. Subscribers will receive email when new information has been posted to the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control website. For example, NCAT's Linda Coffey wrote a Timely Topic on Organic Management of Internal Parasites that has just been posted to the site. To subscribe to the listserv, send an email to In the body of the message, write subscribe WORMINFO.

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Permalink USDA Accepting Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program Suggestions

USDA logoUSDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with implementing Section 10007 of the 2014 Farm Bill to prevent the introduction or spread of plant pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and the environment. Under Section 10007, APHIS provides funding to strengthen the nation's infrastructure for pest detection and surveillance, identification, and threat mitigation, while working to safeguard the nursery production system. APHIS has scheduled the fiscal year 2018 open period for submitting suggestions to implement Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Programs of the 2014 Farm Bill. The FY 2018 open period extends through August 18, 2017. Suggestions must be submitted electronically. There will be $75 million available with at least $5 million going to the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN).

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Permalink Montana Local Food Challenge Underway

Northern Plains Resource Council is hosting the second annual Montana Local Food Challenge. During all of August participants statewide will try to eat something local every day, plus participate in weekly challenges related to eating local. Go to to take the challenge and start working toward a better Montana today. The website provides helpful resources such as where to eat and grocery shop locally, where to source local ingredients, and why it all matters.

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Permalink Washington Farm Internship Project Expands

Washington State's Farm Internship Project, overseen by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, began in 2010 as a pilot project. Four years later, it grew to 16 counties. Now a new law has added three more counties and extends the project to December 31, 2019. Farms with annual sales of less than $250,000 per year may participate in the project. The benefits for farmers include receiving help from up to three interns per year; the interns being exempt from wage requirements and employment security; knowing and ensuring that vital knowledge is being passed on to a new generation of farmers. Under the project, interns have workers' compensation protection along with the opportunity for a valuable education and hands-on experience in farming activities. Applications and curriculum resources are available from the Department of Labor & Industries, which certifies participating farms

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Permalink Six Innovative Farmers for Today's Climate Featured

An onEarth posting features six farmers who have found innovative ways to grow plants in today's climate. They include Ouroboros Farms, an aquaponics operation in California; Tassinong Farms, an urban hydroponic operation in shipping containers in Colorado; Sawmill Hollow, an Iowa aronia-berry farm; Soul Fire Farm, a CSA farm focusing on environmental justice and supporting low-income communities of color; Fiber Flame, a kenaf fuel producer; and Santa Cruz Farm and Greenhouses, which grows a variety of vegetables using hoop houses and solar power.

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Permalink Phosphorus Filters Team with Woodchip Bioreactors to Reduce Water Pollution

Researchers from the University of Illinois have shown that woodchip bioreactors can remove nitrate from tile drainage water on Illinois croplands. Now the researchers are testing adding phosphorus-removing filters (P-filters) designed to trap excess phosphorus with industrial waste products. Phosphorous in the water binds to elements such as iron, calcium, and aluminum contained in acid mine drainage treatment residual (MDR) and steel slag. Researchers found the MDR far superior as a phosphorus filter. It removed 80-90% of phosphorus. However, steel slag is more widely available in the Midwest. The researchers note that paired bioreactors and P-filters have yet to be tested in real-world conditions, but say the combination is a promising way for farmers to help improve water quality.

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