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Breaking News

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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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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