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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What are some considerations for selling fresh or frozen poultry?

New Jersey

Answer: Thank you for your request to ATTRA regarding fresh vs. frozen poultry.

The advantage of fresh over frozen poultry to the consumer is that of convenience since there is no need for the product to be thawed before cooking. It is also may convey the impression of a "fresher" product, or not one that has been stored for a period of time. According to the numbers in the Small-Scale Poultry Processing publication, 80% of poultry sold in the US is sold as fresh. More consumers are accustomed to buying fresh poultry, so they may turn away from frozen poultry just by habit which may create an obstacle in reaching a wider customer base. The main disadvantage of selling fresh over frozen poultry is the shorter shelf-life. You can keep frozen poultry for a longer period of time, but you also must take into account the cost of storing a frozen product. I am unaware of differences in taste qualities between fresh and frozen poultry, but if you are interested in research in this area I would advise contacting Dr. Casey Owens-Hanning of the University of Arkansas. She specializes in poultry processing and products and her research includes evaluating processing factors affecting poultry meat qualities.
Her contact information follows:
Dr. Casey Owens-Hanning
Center of Excellence for Poultry Science
POSC 0-114
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: (479) 575-4281

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Permalink What information can you give me on estimating labor needs for a CSA?


Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information on estimating the labor hours needed for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm based on the number acres or amount of sales. Following are a few resources that should help you estimate your labor needs.

There are several variables to consider when estimating labor hours, including crop mix, degree of mechanization (vs. hand labor), post-harvest handling and distribution systems, and other factors. As you can see from this Colorado State University article, your enterprise mix will affect your labor hours.

A good place to start is the labor planning section of “Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses” (, see Planning Task 4, pp. 145-148, along with Worksheet 4.18 in the Planning Task 4 Worksheets link). Note, too, a chart in the appendices section on “Direct Labor Requirements for Traditional Crop and Livestock Enterprises” – probably not the crops you’re interested in for a CSA farm, but the framework may be useful.

In addition, “Using Vegetable Budgets to Make Decisions,” presents a good overview of the budgeting process; embedded in this article are sample enterprise budgets for specific vegetable crops, which include estimated labor hours. See: These estimates are based on vegetable bed production, where the only machinery used is for tilling in the spring and the rest of the labor is by hand. For larger scale vegetable production budgets, see Michigan State University’s Web site at: A few additional enterprise budgets (including labor hour considerations) are at:

Other farmers (especially those who keep good records) may be the ones best able to help you estimate labor hours for different enterprises.

Finally, let me refer to a couple of ATTRA pubs that may inform your process of estimating labor hour needs.
Market Gardening: A Start Up Guide
Community Supported Agriculture

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Permalink What information can you give me on estimating yields of greenhouse lettuce?



Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information regarding greenhouse lettuce and winter crop production and profitability.


You mentioned wanting to have yield estimates for these crops. While this really depends on your planting scenario, the following information will help you come to a rough estimate of yields.

If you are planting mixed greens for baby salad mix, generally growers report yields of one pound of salad mix per 5 square feet of growing space this is if seeded in rows, but that is assuming lettuce is planted thickly in rows, rather than broadcast. I think the yields would be higher if the lettuce was broadcast, assuming there are little weed problems.

Below is a link to a yield estimate excerpt from the Johnny’s selected seed catalog. I find this handy for determining yield and seed budgeting. This chart is based on yields for field planted vegetables such as head lettuce, radishes, spinach, etc. –it would be higher for greenhouse planted crops.

Marketing and economics:

Greenhouse greens through the winter are an increasingly popular and profitable crop for farmers in northern climates such as Connecticut. The issue with winter production is to insure that you will have a market to sell them at. If you already have winter markets with your other products this may not be a factor, if not I would suggest doing some “leg work” in this area. Some winter marketing considerations are:

* Are their farmers markets that go through the winter?
* Are there restaurants that would be willing to take your product through the winter? This is highly likely in your town as there are multiple restaurants that feature local food.

I would suggest looking at a few of the ATTRA publications that are relevant to this topic. I have listed links to “Selling to Restaurants” and “Specialty Lettuce and Greens Production” under further resources below.

Below, under Further resources, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension publication “Leafy Greens” describes marketing and economic information associated with greens production.

It is a good practice to do an enterprise budget if you are considering a new enterprise on your farm, which it sounds like you are moving towards. Below are links to some enterprise budget templates for lettuce and agricultural crops. You will have to adjust the typical costs and yield estimates for the specific crops you are interested in growing.

For Lettuce:

Rutgers Enterprise Budget Template: Costs of Production for Leaf Lettuce-Per Acre (1996)

Loose Leaf Lettuce Production: Sample costs and Profitability Analysis; University of California Extension (Based on Southern California, so some of the yields may be different.

General Production:

North Carolina State University Extension has extensive enterprise budget templates gathered from national resources.

Also, I would recommend looking at ATTRA’s Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production publication which has links and economic considerations for greenhouse vegetable production in general. It also includes yield information. This publication is listed below under Further resources.

Suggested further resources:

ATTRA Publications:

Diver, Steve. 2000. Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production. ATTRA Publication #IP078.

Bachmann, J. 2004.Selling to Restaurants. ATTRA Publication #IP 255

Kuepper, G. et al. 2002. Specialty Lettuce & Greens: Organic Production. ATTRA Publication #CT117.

Non-ATTRA resources:

New Crop Opportunities Center. 2006. Greenhouse-grown Lettuce and Greens. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension.

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Permalink How can I organically control cutworms?


Answer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information about cutworm and organic/ biorational control methods.

Cutworms wreak havoc during seedling and transplant establishment. Problem areas are usually found near field borders and in weedier areas. Serious losses are often associated with wet springs that have caused a delay in planting.

Cutworm species include the variegated cutworm, Peridroma saucia; black cutworm, Agrotis ipsilon; granulate cutworm, Feltia subterranea; army cutworm, Euxoa auxiliaries, and claybacked cutworm, Agrotis gladiaria. They are active at night, feeding and chewing through the stems of the seedlings. In the day they burrow underground or under clods to avoid detection. To inspect for cutworms, dig around the damaged areas during the day or come out at night with a flashlight to catch the culprits in the act. Under resources you will see a link to the Purdue University IPM web site. It has close-up color pictures of each type of cut worm. This will give you an idea of the different species and help you correctly identify them. In controlling and preventing cutworm, it is only important to know whether or not the larvae over winter (see cultural control measures below) so that you know when to time cultural and control measures.

Most overwinter as larvae in “cells” in the soil, in crop residues, or in clumps of grass. Feeding begins in spring and continues to early summer when the larvae burrow more deeply into the soil to pupate. Adults emerge from the soil one to eight weeks later, or sometimes overwinter. Most species deposit eggs on stems or behind the leaf sheaths of grasses and weeds. Eggs hatch from two days to two weeks later.

In some crops, cutworms can be extremely damaging where transplants are planted through plastic. It has been reported that the increased heat radiating out at night, particularly around the bases of the plants, attracts the larvae to the plants. Once underneath the plastic, the larvae are very difficult to control.

Cutworms have many predators and parasites that can help control their numbers. Some of these parasites and predators can be purchased or harnessed naturally through planting or conserving habitat for them.

The potential for cutworm infestations is governed in large part by the following factors:
• Planting time
• low-damp areas of the field that drain poorly,
• fall and early season weed growth, and
• the amount of surface residue.

Cultural Controls
Cutworms are a particular problem in crops that follow sods, pastures, or weedy fields in rotation. Because infestations often begin on weeds, cultivation and other weed-control programs implemented directly before planting time may increase cutworm feeding on seedling crops. Clean tillage to remove all weedy vegetation, at least ten days prior to planting, reduces the number of cutworm larvae. Control of weedy vegetation, at this same time, at field borders also reduces the number of invading larvae.

To control cutworms that overwinter as partially grown larvae (claybacked and variegated) land should be kept weed-free, particularly of broadleaf weeds, during the fall months to reduce egg-laying by cutworm moths. A small grain cover crop, such as oats that winter kill, may cut weed competition and is more in line with the principles of organic production. Crops planted on sod are prone to cutworm damage unless the land is plowed in early fall and kept weed-free for the rest of the season.

Biological Controls
Cutworm larvae have a number of natural enemies. Predators include several species of ground beetles. Parasitoids include tachinid flies and braconid wasps. Cutworms may also be attacked by fungi, bacteria, and nematodes. Understanding the biology of beneficial organisms is imperative in order to use them effectively as pest control agents. For example, insect parasitic nematodes like Steinerema carpocapsae or insect-infecting fungi like Beauveria bassiana require adequate humidity to be effective. Other predators include spiders, minute pirate bugs, damsel bugs, and lacewing larvae. Birds also prey on cutworms, so do not assume that the birds in the field are causing the seedling damage. As with other pests discussed, farmscaping is a recommended means of increasing the numbers of beneficial predators and parasites that help to keep cutworms under control. In the resources section I have listed an ATTRA publication that is a good starting point for biointensive IPM, titled Biointensive Integrated Pest Management. There is a direct link to this publication.

Alternative Pesticides & Applications
Scout for the presence of cutworm larvae early in the season, and after destruction of adjacent habitats. Cutworms are best scouted at night, when they are most active, using a flashlight. Look for cut-off or damaged seedlings and dig around the base of the plant to locate the larvae.

Bait formulations, sometimes using bran or applying rolled oats with molasses, containing Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki have been known to effectively control cutworm species when applied to the soil. Sprayed formulations may have variable results with cutworms, as the worms may not ingest enough of the toxin for it to be effective. Nightime spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis has shown to be more effective.

Research on the parasitic nematode species, Steinernematidae carpocapsae, has shown it to be a very successful control agent for cutworms, but make sure that the soil is sufficiently moist to support nematode populations (see above). I have attached to this letter a publication titled Integrated Pest Management of Greenhouse crops. While this publication is not relevant to cutworm specifically, it does list suppliers of beneficial organisms in its appendix section.

If natural pesticide applications are necessary, choose one that is least disruptive to the natural enemies. Early detection and application during the early developmental stages of the larvae (first and second instar) make these biorational pesticides more effective. For cutworm species that overwinter as larvae, this would happen in the early spring when the soil is warming. Pheromone traps will indicate when mating flights are occurring, and through degree-day calculations one can estimate egg laying and hatching. For information on degree-day calculations contact your local Extension agent. If you are truly sure that you have the black cutworm then you will want to time the Pheromone traps in the early spring to monitor when they migrate to your region. It is at this time you will be able to determine when they are in the 1st and second instar stages for most effective control with Bt and nematodes. Work with your local extension agent to determine the degree day calculations for cutworm in your area. Below under resources there is a link to places to purchase pheromone traps.


Ruth Hazzard, Brian Caldwell, Eric Sideman, Vern Grubinger. June 17, 2004. Cutworm Management. Excerpted from University of VT Cooperative Extension Newsletter Vegetable and Berry News.

Anon. Purdue University IPM Guide. Cutworm: Multiple Species. 2006

Sources of Pheromone Traps:
Great Lakes IPM:
10220 Church Road NE, Vestaburg MI 48891
phone (517) 268-5693 or (517) 268-5911; fax (517) 268-5311

P.O. Box 270, Belleville WI 53508
phone 800-382-8473; fax 800-551-1128

Dufour, Rex. Biointensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM)- Part One of Two
ATTRA Publication #IP049 . July 2001.

Kuepper, George. Organic Field Corn Production. ATTRA Publication # CT113. January 2002.

Bessin, Ricardo. Cutworm Management in Corn. Publication # ENT-59. University of Kentucky Extension.

Advisory Service. September 2002.

Flint, Mary Louise. 1990. Pests of the Garden and Small Farm. University Of California, Oakland, CA. 276 p

Buhler, W.G. and T.J. Gibb. 1994. Persistence of Steinernema carpocapsae and S. glaseri (Rhabditida: Steinernematidae) as measured by their control of black cutworm (Lepi- doptera: Noctuidae) larvae in bentgrass. Journal of Economic Entomology. Vol. 87, No. 3. p. 638-642.

Ellis, Barbara W. and Fern Marshall Bradley. 1992. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. 534 p.

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Permalink What are some sources of information on dryland gardening?

Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA, I am pleased to provide you with information on systems for dryland gardening. This case letter will address information and resources for dryland gardening. Your experience with the three sisters planting is an example of a Permaculture-based system. Permaculture originally developed in the drylands of Australia. One of the main principles is to work with nature rather than against it. The founders of Permaculture developed the Permaculture Dryland Institute as an education and research facility for dryland farming. The Institute is now named the Permaculture Institute of Austrailia and their mission has spread throughout the world, including the Permaculture Institute in New Mexico. This organization is based on promoting and developing Permaculture principles for the Southwest. Their web site contains information, links, and references to growing crops in the desert, including newsletter articles from the Permaculture Institute of Australia. For information on the Permaculture Institute and Permaculture growing techniques, please visit their web site at: A 387-page book was published in 1991 on the topic: Food From Dryland Gardens by David A. Cleveland and Daniela Soleri. Unfortunately, it is out of print, and it may be hard to find a copy. You can find articles by the same authors, however, at the website: The University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture has a program to support the farming communities of Central America and Mexico. Instructor V. Ernesto Méndez, Ph. D., is a native of El Salvador and has devoted years of research and teaching to supporting the farming communities of Central America and Mexico. For more information on his work and publications visit: ECHO is a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) Christian organization headquartered in North Fort Myers, Florida. Its mission is "to network with community leaders in developing countries to seek hunger solutions for families growing food under difficult conditions." ECHO has several publications and fact sheets on dryland farming which are available on their web site: Below is a list of further resources for water conservation and dryland farming. Further Resources: Water conservation resources: Rainwater Catchment guide: This is a commercial resource that outlines some of the consideration in developing a rainwater catchment system on your property. Kujawinski. 1978. The Homestead Cistern. Mother Earth News. May/ June 1978 Edition. This is an archived article from Mother Earth News that includes digital images. Oasis Design is the most reputable source of grey water recycling systems. They have a book and web site that should be helpful to you. The description on their web site is, “All about all aspects of grey water systems. Why to use them, how to choose, build and use them, regulations, studies, and examples. Includes grey water irrigation, grey water treatment, grey water filters, and indoor grey water reuse.” Suarez, Donald. 2008. Salinity Management in Agriculture. March/ April 2008 Edition of Southwest Hydrology This publication can be viewed in PDF format at the following link: Regional Resources: Arcosanti An experiment in sustainable design and agriculture initiated by Paul Soleri. It is located in Verde Valley Arizona. They offer tours of their gardens and facilities. There web site is at: The New Mexico Permaculture Institute might be able to refer you to some resources. They have many resources for practicing Permacuture agriculture in the arid southwest. The Sonoran Permaculture Guild is a group of highly committed individuals who share a common vision of making our Southwest Drylands region more sustainable through Permaculture design and implementation. They offer classes and a list of resources on rainwater harvesting, gardening and soil amendments. Books/ articles: Broobank, George. 1991. Desert Gardening: Fruits and Vegetables. Fisher Books, Inc. ISBN# 1-55561-002-1 Bainbridge, David. 1994. Agroforestry in the Southwest: A Rich Past and Promising Future. Presented at the Symposium, Agroforestry and Sustainable Systems (Ft. Collins, CO, August 7-10, 1994). Ebeling, Walter. Handbook of Indian Foods and Fibers of Arid America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. 971 pp. Nabhan, Gary. 1989. Enduring Seeds. University of Arizona Press. Enduring Seeds, 1989 In a series of essays about Native American agriculture and wild plant conservation, which address the importance of conserving wild plants, the difficulties Native American peoples have had in preserving their agricultural traditions and current wild plant conservation efforts in North America.
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