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Permalink Niman Ranch Awards Next Generation Scholarships to Help Students Stay in Sustainable Agriculture

Niman Ranch, a national leader in sustainable agriculture and humane livestock practices, awarded 32 scholarships totaling $106,000 through its annual Next Generation Scholarship Fund. Scholarships were presented to students from Niman Ranch's network of independent farm families. The scholarships are designed to raise awareness around the loss of traditional farming and ranching practices, and to ultimately help maintain agriculture opportunities by providing funding for college. They are part of Niman Ranch initiatives to lower the average age of farmers in its network. Next Generation Scholarship recipients are from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and California. All will have a greater chance of returning to the farm after college with the funds awarded to help pay for their education. The Next Generation Scholarship is made possible by donations from Niman Ranch’s business partners.

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Permalink New Wheat Variety Introduced for Organic Growers

A new, hardy wheat variety for organic growers has been developed by the University of Illinois, reports Illinois Farmer Today. The Erisman soft red winter wheat variety is named after organic farmer and leader Jack Erisman. It is a taller variety of wheat designed to compete well with cover crops and be easier to harvest. In addition, it is disease resistant and has a short enough season to allow double cropping. The new variety was evaluated at four Illinois locations from 2012 to 2015, and is ready for planting on a small scale this fall. Developers hope to have it commercially available in 2018.

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Permalink Agrobiodiversity Makes Food Systems More Resilient, Sustainable, and Nutritious, Says Report

Bioversity International has released Mainstreaming Agrobiodiversity in Sustainable Food Systems, a 200-page scientific review of how agrobiodiversity can make our vulnerable food system more resilient, sustainable, and nutritious. Bioversity International says the guide provides solid evidence that investments in agrobiodiversity also play a critical yet overlooked role in tackling wider global targets such as reducing poverty and malnutrition, reversing environmental degradation, and combatting climate change. It demonstrates that agrobiodiversity can be a more mainstream approach to sustainable development. For example, the guide details a range of affordable, nutrient-rich foods that can alleviate the burden of malnutrition. It highlights the potential for heat- and drought-tolerant traits to be found in traditional crop varieties, at a time when climate change is expected to reduce the yield of major crops. Furthermore, it argues that biodiversity-based practices such as intercropping trees with vegetables and rotating crops can significantly boost carbon and nitrogen content in the soil. The complete book is available online.

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Permalink Agricultural Technical Assistance Providers Asked to Provide Input

Syracuse University, The Pennsylvania State University, New York University, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology are surveying agricultural technical assistance providers. The study seeks to examine local and regional agricultural production and intermediated markets, and will examine the opportunities and risks of four main marketing opportunities for farmers—direct-to-consumer, direct-to-institution, direct-to-retail, and selling to intermediaries (such as distributors or food hubs), who in turn sell the products as local food. The project is interested in hearing from organizations that offer technical assistance in these areas. At this time, researchers are particularly seeking survey responses providers outside of the Northeast, although Northeast providers are still welcome to participate. The online survey takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

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Permalink ARS Work with Heat-Tolerant Broccoli Progresses

USDA logoUSDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are working to develop varieties of broccoli that are heat tolerant, to expand the range of production and help meet growing demand for the vegetable. Eastern Seaboard land-grant universities are conducting field trials for heat-tolerant broccoli developed by ARS plant geneticists. Varieties that do well under testing for adverse conditions will become available for research purposes or for use by commercial seed companies and breeders.

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Permalink Research Explores Lavender as Natural Pesticide Source

Researchers at The University of British Columbia are exploring lavender as a potential source of natural pesticides. They are particularly interested in antimicrobial and insecticidal properties in lavender's essential oils. 'Aromatic plants like lavenders could provide suitable alternatives to chemical–based insecticides," suggests associate professor of biology Soheil Mahmoud. Mahmoud's research was recently published in Plant Molecular Biology.

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Permalink NIFA Announces Bioeconomy Grants

USDA logoUSDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced six grants totaling nearly $21.1 million to support the development of new jet fuel, biobased products, and biomaterials from renewable sources. These grants are awarded through the Sustainable Bioenergy and Bioproducts Challenge Area, which supports integrated public/private partnerships that lead to industrial production of biobased materials, products and fuels to create jobs, stimulate rural economic vitality, improve existing agricultural systems and contribute to our nation’s energy security. For example, the University of Florida project will identify and deploy regionally adapted carinata (an oilseed member of the mustard family) as the basis of a biofuel and bioproduct supply chain that will produce biobased jet fuel for civil and military aviation, industrial chemicals, and animal feed.

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Permalink Report Examines Whole Farm Revenue Protection Usage in Nebraska

The Center for Rural Affairs has published New Option for Farm Risk Management: Whole Farm Revenue Protection usage in Nebraska, a 20-page analysis of this new crop-insurance product. The report found that Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) usage in Nebraska is lower than in surrounding states, but that producers of a wide variety of crops and livestock in the state might benefit from purchasing WFRP policies. A survey of producers found that 72% of respondents had either never heard of WFRP or reported knowing little. The report concludes with recommendations to increase participation in WFRP.

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Permalink California Network Helps Food Hubs Succeed

UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is organizing a statewide network of food hubs in California to help regional food systems develop. The network, funded in part by the UC Global Food Initiative, brings together food hub mangers to learn from one another and collectively pave the way for successful food hubs in California. Collaborating with the competition is known as #collabatition. UC SAREP is coordinating resources to help the hubs navigate the rules and regulations of operating a food business and work through the visioning of their own businesses and the network collectively.

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Permalink Meijer Stores Offer Imperfect Produce Discounts

Meijer stores across the Midwest are offering "Misfits," a line of pre-packaged, cosmetically imperfect produce at prices reduced 20% to 40%, reports USAgNet. The fresh produce may be discolored, scarred or odd-sized. Produce provider Robinson Fresh is working with farms to repurpose fruits and vegetables that ordinarily wouldn't be sold in a grocery store due to their appearance. Meijer says that launching this program chain-wide complements the company's sustainability goals, including support of the USDA goal of reducing food waste by 50% by 2030. The company says customers have responded well to the Misfits product line.

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Permalink Video Blog Series Covers Small-Scale Urban Ag Production

University of Illinois Extension has announced the debut of a video blog (vlog) series by Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator Zack Grant. The series will cover small-scale urban ag production and home-scale food production. The first installment, a 16-minute video on Season Extension, is available online.

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Permalink No-Tillage Not Sufficient to Prevent Nitrate Water Pollution

Indiana University Scientists conducted a meta-analysis to compare runoff and leaching of nitrate from no-till and conventional tillage agricultural fields. They found that using no-tillage alone was not sufficient to prevent water pollution from nitrate. In fact, they found that using no-till caused increased nitrogen leaching. The study suggests that no-till needs to be complemented with other techniques, such as cover cropping and intercropping or rotation with perennial crops, to improve nitrate retention and water-quality benefits.

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Permalink Aquaculture Week Highlights Benefits, Opportunities

Aquaculture Week is September 25-29, 2017. NOAA Fisheries is highlighting fish and shellfish farming the vital role it plays in the seafood supply, jobs and opportunities in coastal communities, and species and habitat restoration. NOAA fisheries is offering videos and stories on aquaculture, addressing the economic opportunity it offers and case studies of diverse aquaculture operations.

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Permalink Research Explores Sustainability of Manure as Agricultural Input

The Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University is featuring a series of posts by Andrew McGuire, exploring whether manure can supply a sustainable level of nutrients and organic matter to soil. McGuire's calculations reveal that despite an overabundance of manure in some places, on a larger scale the nutrients in that manure are not enough to replace all the nutrients that went into producing it. Similarly, the organic matter in manure is only adequate to maintain soils that are particularly low in organic matter. McGuire concludes that distribution, tillage, and crop residue levels all play roles in determination of manure's sustainability as an input.

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Permalink Heart and Grain Video Series Releases Next Installment

The National Young Farmers Coalition has released another video in its Heart and Grain series featuring pioneering young grain farmers. Northern California farmer Mai Nguyen grows heritage grain varieties, markets her grain directly to customers and bakeries, and fights for policies to support young farmers and build a just food system. In addition to the new three-minute video, Heart and Grain features a series of blog posts from Mai in 2017.

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Permalink Farmers Market Celebration Recognizes Top Markets

American Farmland Trust's summer-long celebration of farmers markets has concluded, with recognition of the markets most endorsed by customers for values such as being a pillar of the community, focusing on farmers, providing health food for all, and being a champion of the environment. The final list of Top Endorsed Farmers Markets is available online. Winter Garden Farmers Market in Winter Garden, Florida, took top honors, followed by Charlottesville City Market and Williamsburg Farmers Market in Virginia, Clarksville Downtown Farmers Market in Tennessee, and Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola, also in Florida.

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Permalink Field Day Highlights Diverse, Sustainable Orchard

Sustainable Iowa Land Trust hosted a field day at Red Fern Farm in Iowa that highlighted the farm's transition from a soybean field to a productive and diverse orchard, reports the Muscatine Journal. Kathy Dice and Tom Wahl have planted trees such as chestnuts and pawpaws that are producing and drawing customers to the farm. "It takes a patient person, but trees are just wonderful," Dice said, and added they are also economical, requiring less land than traditional Iowa crops. "I've found that on 10 acres, you can make a $40,000 profit once (the trees) are mature," she said.

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Permalink Montana Climate Assessment Focuses on Climate Trends and Consequences for Agriculture, Water, and Forests

The Montana University System's Institute on Ecosystems, in collaboration with the Montana Climate Office, Montana Water Center, and Montana State University Extension, has released 2017 Montana Climate Assessment. The assessment, the first in a planned series, focuses on climate trends and their consequences for three of Montana's vital sectors: water, forests and agriculture. The report is the product of a two-year effort by university researchers and students, state and federal researchers, nonprofit organizations, tribal colleges and citizens across the state. One of the key findings of the assessment is that decreasing mountain snowpack will continue to lead to decreased streamflow and less reliable irrigation capacity during the late growing season. Additionally, although more frost-free days and longer growing seasons may enable greater crop diversity, more 90-degree-plus days will also increase water loss via evaporation and transpiration from plants. In addition, hotter days will increase water demand for most crops, limit grain development, and increase heat stress on livestock. The full assessment is available online.

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Permalink USDA Offers Extra Time, Special Procedures for Hurricane-Affected Farmers and Ranchers

USDA logoUSDA has announced special procedures to assist producers who lost crops or livestock or had other damage to their farms or ranches as a result of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) is authorizing emergency procedures on a case-by-case basis to assist borrowers, livestock owners, contract growers, and other producers in counties that have received a primary Presidential Disaster Declaration and contiguous counties. Financially stressed FSA farm loan borrowers affected by the hurricanes who have received primary loan servicing applications may be eligible for 60 day extensions. Emergency grazing may also be authorized under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for up to 60 days. The deadlines to file a loss for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) are extended, and special provisions are provided for "acceptable proof of livestock death and inventory for livestock losses." USDA encourages all farmers and ranchers to contact their crop insurance agents and their local FSA office, as applicable, to report damages to crops or livestock loss.

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Permalink Certified Organic Survey Results Show U.S. Organic Sales Up 23%

USDA logoUSDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released results of the 2016 Certified Organic Survey, showing that 2016 sales were up 23% from 2015, to $7.6 billion. Also, the number of certified organic farms in the country increased 11% to 14,217, and the number of certified acres increased 15% to 5 million. California continued to lead the nation in certified organic sales, accounting for 38% of the U.S. total. It also had the largest share of certified organic acres and farms. Three states had more than 1,000 certified farms: California (2,713), Wisconsin (1,276), and New York (1,059). The survey also showed that crops accounted for 56% of the sale of certified organic production, while livestock, poultry, and their products accounted for 44%.

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Permalink Organic Trade Audit Finds Controls Should Be Strengthened

USDA logoThe USDA Office of Inspector General has issued a report on its evaluation of the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) controls over the approval and oversight of NOP's agreements for international trade and the import of organic products. The report concluded that AMS process for determining equivalency of organic standards lacked transparency. In addition, it found that AMS was unable to provide reasonable assurance that NOP required documents were reviewed at U.S. ports of entry to verify that imported agricultural products labeled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms and businesses that produce and sell organic products. In addition, the audit revealed that imported agricultural products are sometimes fumigated at U.S. ports of entry to prevent prohibited pests from entering the United States, and that AMS has not established and implemented controls to identify, track, and ensure treated organic products are not sold, labeled, or represented as organic. The report contains auditor recommendations and the agency response.

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Permalink Value-Added Producer Grant Assistance Offered by AgMRC

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center is assisting producer groups gathering information to use in applying for USDA Rural Business and Cooperative Service Value-Added Producer Grants. Producers can investigate specific commodity information on many different niche opportunities and use the consultant database on the AgMRC website to locate specific laws, consultants, and individual contacts within their state to assist them in the grant-application process.

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Permalink NCR-SARE Announces Research & Education, Graduate Student, and Professional Development Awards

North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) has announced the projects recommended for funding for the Research and Education, Graduate Student, and Professional Development competitive grant programs in 2017. Through the three programs, 37 projects were awarded a total of more than $3 million. Projects will explore and promote environmentally sound, profitable, and socially responsible food and/or fiber systems. The recipients and project titles are posted online, and reports and results from the projects will also be posted on the NCR-SARE website.

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Permalink Simple Method Helps Monitor Spotted-Wing Drosophila Infestation

Research published in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management offers a simple and effective method for measuring the level of spotted-wing drosophila infestation in fruit. Entomology Today reported that researchers mixed crushed berries in a salt solution, let it rest for an hour, then poured the solution through a reusable coffee filter. The method allowed researchers to capture smaller, first-instar larvae, which could help in combatting infestations more quickly. "Growers can use this information to target insecticide sprays for curative control of small larvae, identify fields where the presence of larger larvae may indicate an unmarketable crop, or verify that no infestation exists," according to the researchers. "We expect this method to become an important component of rebuilding IPM programs in fruit crops affected by D. suzukii."

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Permalink Drought Stress Impacts Biofuel Feedstock Quality

The U.S. Department of Energy has released the results of a study showing that the 2012 Midwestern drought had consequences for biofuel production by changing the characteristics of plant feedstocks. Researchers compared switchgrass and corn stover harvested after a year of major drought with that harvested after two years of normal precipitation. They found that the drought-stressed plants produced more sugar, but the sugar changed during pretreatment and produced toxic compounds rather than the desired fuels. The study is the first linking changes in rainfall and other conditions during crop growth to potential detrimental effects on biofuels. It demonstrates that although there are benefits to growing bioenergy crops on marginal lands to avoid competition with food crops, the plants grown there may experience higher levels of stress, resulting in deleterious impacts on microbes during biofuel production.

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Permalink Report and Video on Governor's Local Food and Agriculture Summit Available

Students from the University of Montana's Environmental Studies Program attended the Montana Governor's Local Food & Agriculture Summit in October 2016 to observe and learn about the event's purpose, processes, and products. Their goals were to understand substantive ideas about the local food and agriculture system and to observe the processes by which these ideas were generated. Neva Hassanein, professor of environmental studies at the university, has compiled their reports in Resetting The Table, a report that's available online. The report includes the findings of a survey of summit participants, as well as a description of the process undertaken in each of the five tracks that were held during the two-day meeting. Students also made a six-minute video that looks at participants' visions for Montana food and agriculture. It is available online, as well.

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Permalink Solar Honey Brand Combines Renewable Energy with Pollinator Habitat

Minnesota State Fair visitors are among those trying a new brand of honey produced from beehives placed on pollinator-friendly solar panel sites. Solar Honey is certified nationwide by The Solar Honey Company, a public benefit corporation. The product is produced from hives co-located with solar arrays on sites planted with pollinator-friendly vegetation. Minnesota and Maryland have established standards defining a pollinator-friendly solar site, and other states are following suit. The certification includes a long-term contract to ensure that sites are properly managed to promote native plant growth and that they are not planted with invasive or detrimental species. The arrangement seems to be a win-win situation: plants that attract pollinators can benefit neighboring agricultural production, and the easy-to manage vegetation reduces costs for managing solar-array sites and helps panels perform more efficiently.

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Permalink Organic Grain Offers Potential and Risks, Says Industry Expert

Great Harvest Organics sales and operations manager Dave Ross sees potential for farmers in the U.S. organic grain market according to an Illinois Farmer Today report on Ag Update. The United States is currently importing 60% of organic soybeans and 40% of organic corn. There is also a strong snack-food market for organic soft red winter wheat. Price premiums for organic grain are strong in both the feed and food market, which can allow farmers to make more money off less acreage. However, Ross advises farmers to be aware of the risks and costs involved with organic production, and suggests that conventional growers begin by converting a small portion of their crop acres to organic production.

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Permalink Cover Crops Boost Yields and Weed Control, Says 2017 Survey

Following the use of cover crops, farmers reported increased yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat, and improved control of herbicide-resistant weeds, according to a nationwide survey. In addition, the survey of 2,012 farmers showed acreage planted in cover crops has nearly doubled over the past five years. The poll was conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) with help from Purdue University and funding support from SARE and the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the survey reported yield increases in corn and soybeans following cover crops. "In addition to yield increases, farmers reported other benefits to cover crops, ranging from improved soil health to better control of herbicide-resistant weeds," notes Rob Myers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for North Central SARE at the University of Missouri. "For instance, 85% of the farmers who used cover crops said they have seen improvements in soil health. That reflects long-term thinking and a growing understanding of the enduring value that cover crops deliver." A full summary and the complete 2017 Cover Crop Survey Report are available online.

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Permalink FAO to Focus on Orphan, Underutilized Crops

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is cooperating with partners to develop local capacity to produce seeds for orphan, or underutilized crops. FAO notes that of the 30,000 edible plant species, a mere 30 are used to feed the world. Many traditional, forgotten crops are uniquely adapted to local environments, and they offer the ability to better supply necessary nutrients and provide economic and environmental benefits. Alternative crops can add diversity to crop rotations that promotes soil health and can disrupt pest and disease infestations. The FAO efforts are aimed at expanding the portfolio of crops available to farmers.

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Permalink Smaller Cows Deliver Production Results

Long-term research at North Dakota State University's Dickinson Research Extension Center has been exploring whether smaller cows can be competitive with mainstream beef production. Researchers began breeding Aberdeen bulls with full-size heifers in the 1990s in an effort to reduce cow size by 300 pounds, to 1,100 pounds. Later, a herd of Aberdeen-influenced females was started, to further reduce cow size to around 1,000 pounds. This "range" herd has been maintained and documented since then. Although individual smaller cattle can't compete for meat production, on a herd scale the smaller cows allow a higher stocking rate of approximately 30% more cattle. Even though the individuals are smaller, the herd production weight for the smaller cows totals more than that for a conventional beef herd.

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Permalink Rodale Institute Announces Regenerative Organic Certification

Rodale Institute has introduced a new Regenerative Organic Certification, a cooperative effort among a coalition of farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists, and brands to establish a new, high-bar standard for regenerative organic agriculture. The standard will be administered by NSF International and is open to many certification partners. The standard encompasses guidelines for soil health and land management, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness. If you are interested in reviewing and commenting on the full Regenerative Organic Certification requirements, there is a 30-day comment period ending October 12, 2017. Rodale Institute stresses that this certification does not aim to supplant current organic standards but instead builds upon the standards set forth by USDA Organic and similar programs internationally, particularly in the areas of animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness.

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Permalink University of New Hampshire Identifies Seedless Table Grapes for Region

University of New Hampshire researchers have been evaluating eight varieties of seedless table grapes to see which grow best in Southern New Hampshire and New England. The research project, funded by the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station, is intended to benefit regional growers interested in growing table grapes for local markets. Researchers are evaluating the varieties Canadice, Concord Seedless, Lakemont, Marquis, Mars, Reliance, Thomcord, and Vanessa. All are bearing fruit, but Thomcord, Lakemont, and Marquis have experienced more winter mortality. Canadice and Concord Seedless remained relatively symptom-free when exposed to common grape diseases, such as anthracnose, downy mildew, and powdery mildew.

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Permalink Organic Canola Offers North Carolina Crop Alternative

Some organic growers in North Carolina have found canola to be a profitable alternative crop to wheat, according to NC State Extension, which identified buyers for organic canola. Minimal equipment investment is necessary to add canola into a crop rotation in place of winter wheat. NC State University Crop and Soil Sciences offers advice on planting, weed control, fertility, and harvesting for canola.

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Permalink High Tunnels Boost Yield, But Harbor Pests, Says Purdue Study

A Purdue University study published in Pest Management Science found that populations of pests such as tomato hornworm, cabbage looper, diamondback moth, and cucumber beetle can soar in high tunnels. The researchers believe that rolling up the sides of the tunnel for ventilation provides access for the pests, which are then prevented from escaping upward by the tunnel roof, so remain in the tunnel to damage crops. A postdoctoral researcher at Purdue is working to address the problem by using exclusion screens that allow ventilation but prevent pest entry, and is also testing adding flower crops to the high-tunnel planting mix to attract beneficial insects that are predators for pests.

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Permalink Tests Show Soil from Organic Farms Has More Carbon-Storage Potential

Civil Eats reported on a study by Northeastern University and The Organic Center to be published next month in Advances in Agronomy, which showed that soils from organic farms had 26% more potential for long-term carbon storage than soils from conventional farms, along with 13% more soil organic matter. The results were based on 659 organic soil samples collected by citizen-scientist farmers from 39 states. These results were contrasted with samples from more than 700 conventional farms in 48 states, which the researchers found contained little to no humic substances, a major component of healthy soil.

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Permalink Canadian Analysis Shows Eggs from Poultry Fed Vegan, Organic Diet Have Lower Environmental Impact

Research findings from ecological economist Nathan Pelletier at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus show that poultry given vegan organic feed can help to produce eggs with a smaller environmental footprint. A cradle-to-customer environmental life cycle assessment of Canadian egg and egg product supply chains showed that the type of feed and manure-management system had the greatest influence on environmental impacts. Organic feed derived from non-livestock sources required fewer resources and had lower emissions than conventional feed. This is the first national benchmark study of Canadian egg supply chains, and Pelletier believes that it offers important insights for improving the sustainability profile of the industry.

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Permalink Abrasive Weeding Fact Sheet and Video Available

eOrganic has a new fact sheet and video offering the latest research on abrasive weeding, a non-chemical weed management tool that uses compressed air and grit to abrade weeds. The materials are the result of a NIFA-funded research project that has been exploring the possibilities of abrasive weeding in organic farming. The fact sheet highlights the current state of abrasive weeding research and practice, including a summary of crops tested, applicator design considerations, expected weed control, possible grits, and economic feasibility.

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Permalink Arkansas Researchers Testing Blackberry Trellis System

Researchers with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture's Fruit Research Station are conducting a multi-year test of rotating cross-arm trellises for blackberries. The rotating cross-arm — or RCA — trellis makes it possible to grow berries on a nearly horizontal platform that can be covered to protect berries from cold weather, or rotated to keep berries in the protection of shade to prevent fruit diseases. The trellis systems could cost two to three times as much as traditional trellising, but could decrease input costs and may increase production. The five-year Arkansas project will be evaluating the economics of the system.

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Permalink Maine Farm Beginnings Program Accepting Applications

Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is accepting applications for its 2017-2018 Farm Beginnings course. MOFGA Farm Beginnings is a farmer-led program to help guide farmers with at least one year of production experience in developing a whole-farm plan. The course was originally developed to support participants in the MOFGA Journeyperson Program but enrollment is open to any farm looking to apply whole farm planning and financial management tools to their operation. The 2017-2018 Farm Beginnings course will consist of seven Sunday sessions of six hours each from mid-October through early March and several shorter workshops. The course will be offered in both Unity and Portland, Maine. Applications are due by September 30, 2017.

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Permalink Guide Helps Producers Applying for Value-Added Grant Program

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has updated its Farmers' Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. The online guide helps producers navigate the application process for USDA's Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG). USDA Rural Development, which administers the program, will issue at least $18 million in competitive grant funds this fiscal year. VAPG funds can be used for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and for marketing efforts to establish viable value-added businesses. Individual producers and groups of producers, as well as farmer coops and producer-controlled businesses, are eligible to apply for these grants.

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Permalink Study Shows Vegetable Production Increase from Intercropping

A two-year study of intercropping at the Texas A&M University Horticulture Farm showed that companion cropping for vegetables can increase production. The results appear in Harvest Gains from Intercropping, available in PDF on the AgriLife Extension website. The study tested five different intercropping strategies using peanuts, watermelon, okra, cowpea, and hot peppers, crops chosen for their different growth habits and functions. Test plots showed that arrangements with three or four species consistently had a higher yield per land-area unit than crops grown singly. The intercropping also allowed reduced utilization of herbicide and fertilizer inputs. However, the researchers found that using more than four crops caused productivity to decline again. The best productivity came from plant selections that included a combination of nitrogen fixing-legumes, tall plants, and smother crops.

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Permalink Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Accepting Applications for Leadership Development Workshop

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is offering a Leadership Development Workshop designed for farmers and food council members with an interest in taking on a leadership role in their communities. The Workshop will provide an introduction to fundamental leadership skills; describe local-level leadership opportunities; explain how others taking advantage of these opportunities are making decisions that have an impact on your farm; and connect participants to farmers and sustainable ag supporters who have or are currently serving in leadership roles. The Workshop will be offered on November 2-3, 2017, the two days leading up to CFSA's annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference. There is a competitive application process for up to 30 available spaces. Online applications are due by September 18, 2017.

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Permalink Publications on Prairie Strips Released

Iowa State University Extension has released five free publications on prairie strips, a conservation practice that involves converting 10% of a row-cropped field to prairie vegetation. The practice has been shown to keep soil in place, improve soil quality, reduce nitrogen and phosphorus entering water bodies, and enhance wildlife habitat. The publications, available online, include the following: A Landowner's Guide to Prairie Strips provides an introduction to prairie strips. Prairie Strips: Small Changes, Big Impacts summarizes the scientific research underpinning prairie strips. The Cost of Prairie Strips breaks down the establishment and maintenance costs of prairie strips. Farming with Prairie Strips provides an introduction for farmers. Finally, Installing Prairie Strips: Frequently Asked Questions provides a detailed review of factors farmers and landowners should consider when implementing prairie strips.

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Permalink Presentations from Small Grains Conference Available

Practical Farmers of Iowa held an August conference titled Rotationally Raised – Making Small Grains Work. Slides and handouts from 12 production and marketing presentations at the conference are now available online. In addition, video from several conference sessions will be available. The first video, a presentation by Pete Lammers on feeding small grains in livestock rations, is now online. Lammers covers current research on outcomes of feeding small grains to pigs, poultry, horses, and ruminant animals and optimal inclusion rates in rations.

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Permalink UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture Accepting Applications

The Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, a six-month, hands-on residential training program organized by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, is accepting applications for the 2018 program. This full-time education and training in organic gardening and small-scale sustainable farming includes formal instruction and hands-on practical skill building, with training in specialty crops, cut flowers, and small-scale orchards, as well as education in topics such as soil management, composting, pest and weed control, crop planning, irrigation, farm equipment, direct marketing techniques, and social issues within the food system. Applications are due by September 30, 2017 for the 2018 Apprenticeship program, which begins in mid-April 2018.

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Permalink Advocacy Training Offered for California Women Farmers and Ranchers

The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC) and California Climate Action Network (CalCAN) are hosting a four-day policy-advocacy training for California women farmers and ranchers, Forces of Natures: Advocacy Skills Training for Women Farmers and Ranchers. The will be held November 9-12, 2017, in Sonoma, California. The training will boost advocacy skills for women passionate about regenerative ranching and farming, enhance strategic thinking, and provide an environment ripe for networking and mentoring. Registration is limited to women in agriculture who are actively farming or ranching in California. Priority registration will be given to women of color and women farmers and ranchers from underrepresented parts of the state. The training, which includes meals and overnight accommodations, is free. A $100 deposit is required at registration to reserve your space, but will be refunded at the event.

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Permalink USDA Announces Realignment of Offices

USDA logoSecretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced the realignment of a number of offices within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Changes include creation of a Rural Development Innovation Center tasked with evaluating the impacts of the business, housing, and utilities programs. The Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) will be merged into the Agricultural Marketing Service. Also, USDA will create an Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement by grouping the following offices together: the Office of Advocacy and Outreach; the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships staff; the Office of Tribal Relations; and the Military Veterans Liaison. Several other changes were described by Secretary Perdue, as well.

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Permalink Fixed Nitrogen Increase Poses Environmental Threat

A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University says that the recent rapid increase in fixed nitrogen could pose as much of a danger to Earth's environment as the rapid increase in climate-warming atmospheric carbon dioxide. Human production of fixed nitrogen, used mostly to fertilize crops, is now five times higher than it was 60 years ago. "Too much nitrogen can affect human health, reduce biodiversity and amplify global warming," warns study author Viney Aneja, professor of marine, earth and atmospheric science at NC State. The study authors question whether Earth's current denitrification process can continue to keep up with the human production of fixed nitrogen and point out that denitrification itself can have negative atmospheric consequences through production of nitrous oxide that contributes to global warming.

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Permalink High Plains Farmers Diversify Cover Crops and Enterprises

High Plains farmers are turning to diverse cover crops and enterprises to improve their soils and revenue streams, reports Ag Journal. Some farmers are planting garden vegetables or seed mill floor sweepings among their cover crop mixes, in an attempt to mimic the beneficial effects on the soil of biodiversity in a natural system. This "chaos gardening" approach makes harvesting the vegetables a challenge, but some farmers work with gleaning programs or use livestock to capture the value of the crop. Others, meanwhile, are adding pastured chickens to their farms for the nitrogen that they produce. Capturing additional value from these poultry enterprises can present farmers with a marketing challenge, but also has the potential to provide a diversified revenue stream.

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Permalink Report Offers Roadmap for Reducing Antibiotic Use in Livestock

A new report authored by 12 antibiotic resistance experts from the fields of infectious disease medicine, veterinary medicine, microbiology, epidemiology, and public health outlines key steps for policymakers, food companies and food purchasers, and medical groups to help tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis. Combating Antibiotic Resistance: A Policy Roadmap to Reduce Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Livestock is the result of an eight-month collaboration to craft a roadmap, consisting of 11 core policy recommendations, to help move the United States forward in addressing the contribution of livestock antibiotic use to the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance. The recommendations are split into three key areas: decreasing livestock use of medically important antibiotics, monitoring livestock antibiotic use, and enhancing surveillance and data integration to inform antibiotic-resistance policy.

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Permalink Soil Solarization Helps Control Diseases and Weeds in Pacific Northwest

The Western IPM Center reported on research into soil solarization at Oregon State University. Anti-condensation horticultural films have made effective soil solarization possible in the Pacific Northwest. At 42 different nursery sites from Southern California to Northern Washington, the non-condensing film heated the ground about 10 degrees Celsius higher than non-solarized plots. The solarization was effective at killing the pathogen that causes sudden oak death, as well as controlling soilborne diseases and weeds in field nurseries. The research team is now exploring how soil solarization could help organic growers with weed control. They are developing recommendations for how long to solarize soil to control specific problem weeds and pathogens.

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Permalink Barnraiser Campaign to Provide Sustainable and Organic Farmers Aid after Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey had a devastating impact on farms and ranches in Texas and Louisiana. Although the full extent of damage will not be known for weeks, many relief efforts are getting underway. One rapid-response campaign that's already up and running on Barnraiser aims to raise $40,000 in 26 days to support 80 sustainable and organic farmers with emergency cash of $500 each to help them with immediate expenses such as gas, groceries, and building materials. Farmers impacted by the storm may submit applications here. Donations to the campaign can be made through the Barnraiser website.

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Permalink University of Vermont Receives Grant to Tell Stories of Diverse Farmers

A matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will help a consortium that includes the University of Vermont and three partners tell the stories of diverse Vermont farmers. The three-year project will select eight Vermont farmers from diverse geographic, gender, cultural, and racial backgrounds, different farming sectors, and varying ages, and invite them to document their stories through oral history. These stories will then be captured in comic books and multi-media digital stories that will form curriculum for Vermont middle schools. The project will help build community among project collaborators and for people who will better understand contemporary Vermont farmers.

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Permalink Montana Armed to Farm Helps Veterans Focus on Sustainable Agriculture

The week-long Armed to Farm program presented by the National Center for Appropriate Technology helps military veterans examine farming as a viable career, reports The Prairie Star. Participants in last year's training say the program provided a wealth of information and helped them launch and/or refine farming enterprises. This year the Montana training will be held in October in the Mission Valley. The application period for this training has closed, but another training will be offered in 2018. During the week of classroom and on-farm instruction, participants are taught business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, livestock production, vegetable production, and small-grain production by NCAT sustainable agriculture specialists, USDA staff, and experienced crop and livestock producers.

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Permalink Cornell's Online Small Farm Courses Open for Registration

Cornell University's Small Farms Program is accepting registration for its 2017-2018 season of Small Farm Online Courses. These six-week-long courses help to build the technical and business skills of farmers through a weekly evening webinar and follow-up readings, videos, and activities. Students and their instructors connect through online forums and live chat. Expert farmers and extension educators guide students through the latest research-based information to help improve efficiency and increase profit on small farms. A variety of courses are offered for beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Topics include business and financial planning, soil health, grazing, and specialty-crop production. Three courses begin September 23, 2017.

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Permalink Guide Helps Assess Food System Economics

Michigan State University's Center for Regional Food Systems has released Tools for Assessing Economic Impact: A Primer for Food System Practitioners. This guide summarizes tools that food systems practitioners can use to assess economic growth. It explores both standard commercial models and alternative, community-based approaches. The complete guide is available online in PDF. A corresponding webinar will be offered on September 19, 2017.

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Permalink Organic Milk Prices Dropping in Vermont

An article posted on VTDigger reports that organic dairy farmers in Vermont are struggling with falling prices. Organic milk companies blame the situation on an oversupply of organic milk, caused in part by conventional farmers switching to organic because of the price premiums that the organic market offers. Organic milk companies have been working with farmers to reduce supply in an effort to stabilize prices, but they are now cutting the price they pay for organic milk. Cooperatives are limiting the number of members who can join and have established quotas on the amount of milk they can provide, in an effort to maintain prices for their members.

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Permalink Massachusetts Farmers Receive Aerial Cover Crop Seeding Help from NRCS

USDA logoMore than 70 farms in 54 Massachusetts communities are participating voluntarily and are receiving financial and technical assistance for aerial cover crop seeding in cornfields. The conservation practice involves a helicopter flying over corn fields, releasing the seed from a hopper hanging beneath the chopper. By inter-seeding the cover crop seed into a crop such as corn, the cover crop is already established when the corn is harvested a few weeks later. In New England, if agricultural producers apply a cover crop after they harvest their crop in late September to early October, it can be too late in the season for it to establish well enough to provide full benefits. This is the third consecutive year that NRCS has offered help with aerial cover crop seeding to local farms. The GPS technology that they are using is a new enhancement that makes placement of the cover crop seed more efficient and effective.

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Permalink NRCS Publication Shows Reduction in Georgia Cropland

USDA logoUSDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has published Georgia’s Land: Its Use and Condition – 4th Edition. This publication is a product of the National Resources Inventory (NRI) program, an effort that tracks land use changes and resource condition trends. The publication reports that during the 30 years from 1982 to 2012 there was a net reduction of Georgia cropland by 2.6 million acres. Meanwhile, 2.4 million acres were developed into urban land and rural transportation. This represents a doubling of developed land in 30 years. The complete document is available online.

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