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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What specialty crops can I grow in a cold climate without season-extension tools?

Answer: Farmers market customers, restaurants, institutions, and even grocery stores want to buy local foods. In northern latitudes and higher elevations, however, producing food locally for these kinds of markets has its challenges.

Here are a few ideas:

Specialty Vegetables
Specialty vegetables can be considered any variation from the typical market fare. This could be baby, heirloom, or ethnic products. Producing specialty vegetables is a way to set yourself apart in local markets and often command a higher price. Many upscale restaurants are also very interested in unusual and gourmet fruits and vegetables and are willing to pay a good price for these products.

Ethnic Vegetables
Ethnic vegetables are a way to set yourself apart at farmers markets, but it is important to research a market beforehand. What ethnic populations shop there? If you are already selling at a farmers market, ask your ethnic customers what kind of vegetable they would like you to produce. Many specialty ethnic vegetables happen to be warm-season crops, such as chili peppers, bitter melons, and eggplants; however, there are a host of Asian greens, ethnic herbs, and Italian vegetables that grow well without season-extension tools in cold climates.

Baby Vegetables
The baby vegetable craze began in Europe about 20 years ago. Many high-end restaurants in the United States have adopted the trend and look to local farmers to supply them. Baby vegetables are also very popular at higher-end farmers markets. The critical production strategy with baby vegetables is succession planting and timing of harvest. For lettuce and greens, you can use your hand as a measurement tool. A common measurement is to harvest baby lettuce greens smaller than your hand. Plant your produce every two to three weeks to ensure that the products stay young and succulent and the optimum size for harvest. For more information, see the ATTRA publication Scheduling Vegetable Plantings for Continuous Harvest.

You can learn much more by consulting the ATTRA publication Specialty Crops for Cold Climates. It discusses the challenges of growing specialty crops in cold climates, crops that grow well, and season-extension techniques to help mitigate the challenges of this type of production.

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Permalink How can I lease my land and retain some control of the grazing?

Answer: One way to do this is through contract grazing, which involves grazing a customer's livestock on your land for a fee. This approach allows you to control the stocking rate, recovery period, stocking density, and grazing residual.

There are different ways to charge for your service. Some graziers charge on the basis of animal gain. This is a good approach if the grazier knows the animals involved and what their potential rate of gain is. However, it can be a bad deal if the livestock don't have the genetics to gain well or if they have not been set up for compensatory gain. Other graziers charge by the day with the value of the forage, the animal's weight, and their dry matter intake being known.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Grazing Contracts for Livestock. It discusses some of the issues involved with contract grazing, including pasture and grazing, the various classes of livestock, equipment, a sample contract, some of the economics to consider, and other resources available on the subject.

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Permalink How can I remediate soils contaminated with acephate?

Answer: Acephate is a pesticide in the organophosphate family that is registered for use in the United States by the EPA. It has moderate persistence and has residual activity for approximately 15 days. It is used to control insect pests in agricultural and nursery crops by direct contact or ingestion.

Acephate has a half-life of three to six days and breaks down through microbial metabolism in the soil forming mostly CO2. However, another degradate is methamidophos, an organophosphate pesticide. Methamidophos is more toxic to mammals than is acephate, and breaks down to immobile compounds in about 20 days.

Both acephate and methamidophos are taken up and translocated in plants, from leaves to roots. Half-life disappearance in tobacco leaves, citrus fruit, greenhouse tomatoes, celery, and lettuce can range from 1 to 15 days. Produce sampled for residues has historically yielded 0.85 to 5.7% of samples having acephate residues, and 1.5 to 4.5% of samples having methamidophos residues. According to the Federal Registry, the acephate residue tolerance for most produce is between 0.1 to 0.3 ppm.

Studies by Chevron have shown that 14 to 18% of acephate remained in the soil after 20 days, and 0.27% was found in the soil during the whole 46-day test period. Leaching was seen to be the primary way acephate and methamidophos were removed from soil, with degradation happening 3 times faster in soils wetted to field capacity. These pesticides are very weakly adsorbed to soil particles, and has high mobility when the soils are subjected to heavy rainfall events.

Soil testing and testing labs

Two testing labs in California were identified from the ATTRA Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories database. Both of these labs have protocols for testing for pesticides:

Control Laboratories, Inc.
42 Hangar Way
Watsonville, CA 95076
Contact: Frank Shields, Mike Galloway
Phone: 831-724-5422
Control Laboratory, accumulated five decades of experience in analyzing and solving a wide spectrum of complex soil, soil-related, compost, and waterborne or effluent problems. Equipped with the finest state-of-the-art instrumentation and laboratory facilities, the company provides analytical services across the nation. These range anywhere from measurement and test of farm amendments and wastes to analysis of potential toxic substances.

2451 Eastman Ave. Suite 1
Oxnard, CA 93030
Contact: Jose Antonio Gomez
AGQ Labs USA is located in Oxnard California and specializes in two core sectors Agronomy and Food Safety. The lab is ISO/IEC 17025 accredited and provide following services Agronomy Services Soil Analysis Water Analysis Plant Tissue Analysis Agronomist/CCA Nutritional Monitoring GIS Mapping Golf Course Nutritional Management Food Safety Services Pesticide Residue Analysis MRL Compliance Mycotoxin Testing Heavy Metal Testing FDA Detentions Regulatory Assistance

Remediation strategies

Soils can be remediated by removing soil or adding clean soil and mixing it in with contaminated soil. This is often done on residential and industrial areas. However, for an agricultural field this is often neither feasible nor cost-effective. I recommend using an ecological method to remediate contaminated soils. Once you have a soil test and know the levels of acephate, you can plan a remediation method and monitor over time.

Bioremediation is a process of sequestering, destroying, or removing contaminants in soil using biological organisms. This can be done with plants (phytoremediation) or with microbes, or often a combination of both.

Most of the studies that have been done on specific plants and the fate of contaminants deal with heavy metals. However, some of the plants that are commonly used in phytoremediation of pesticides include annual mustards, brassicas, canola, willows, poplars, and warm season native grasses such as indiangrass. The ultimate fate of plant biomass grown on contaminated soil will depend on the mode of action (whether the contaminant is degraded or extracted into plant tissue). For instance, if contaminants are extracted, the plant biomass will need to be removed from the site.

The publication Phytoremediation: Protecting the Environment with Plants is one of the best treatments of the topic of all the resources available (see resources below). It provides information on phytoremediation and includes the various USDA-NRCS practice standards that can be used, with EQIP financial assistance, to establish plants for conservation purposes while also remediating contaminated soils. If you choose to plant a conservation cover crop or critical area planting (two of the many practice standards available), I recommend getting in contact with the NRCS conservationist in your area.
Resources for additional information

Phytoremediation: Protecting the Environment with Plants
Kansas State University

Acephate: Technical Fact Sheet
National Pesticide Information Center

Environmental Fate of Acetate
By Elizabeth Downing

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Permalink What is the environmental impact of a micro-hydro system?

Answer: The environmental impact of micro-hydro systems is usually small but by no means absent altogether. When water is diverted or dammed, or when structures installed in the stream channel interfere with the natural flow of the water, there is an environmental impact. However, compared to large hydropower dams, micro-hydro systems have a smaller footprint and generally lower environmental impacts. Even so, there are several local, state, and federal agencies that may want environmental impacts to be assessed for a micro-hydro project.

There are a number of environmental considerations for micro-hydro systems, including the following:

• Water-quality issues such as turbidity and sediment from the system’s construction and operation
• Diversion of streamflow creating lower flow conditions in the main stream channel
• Wildlife and migratory-fish impacts
• Historical significance and aesthetics
• Changes in and impacts on stream ecology (e.g., algal communities, changes in food chains, stranding of benthic invertebrates living on the bottom and banks of the stream, and loss of aquatic habitat)
• Changes in nutrient transport and cycling
• Changes in water temperature due to lower flow
• Changes in dissolved-oxygen levels

Micro-hydro systems that are nonconsumptive and "run of river"—meaning that the natural water flow and elevation drop is used to generate power and the water is directed back into the stream—generally have a small environmental impact. This is an important point to remember and communicate when local regulators ask about environmental impacts. However, diverting water out of the steam, even temporarily, affects the stream’s ecosystem. For example, diverting too much of the water for even a short distance can prevent the natural migration of aquatic organisms and raise the water temperature enough to kill aquatic life.

These effects can be compounded if other ecosystem changes also occur, such as the removal of streamside brush or timber that was providing stream shading and other ecological benefits. Not only will the immediate stream ecology be affected, but the downstream ecology is likely to change as well. This, of course, depends on your particular case—are you using a run-of-the-river system or stored pondage? Maybe your system is on a high-head stream and will have limited or no impact on fi sh or other aquatic organisms. Always carefully plan your system to prevent salamanders, snakes, crawdads, and other aquatic creatures from entering the pipeline and turbine or being otherwise harmed.

Projects should be designed to divert the minimum amount of water required. In many areas, streamflow fluctuates with drier and wetter periods of the season. Many sites will not always have a sufficient streamflow to both provide water to the turbine and maintain a low environmental impact. Therefore, the volume of water diverted to the turbine must be managed. In many areas of the U.S., including the Ozark Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, this may require that diversions and penstocks be shut off during dry periods of the year. Of course, this would affect your hydropower system's "design flow."

There are simple design considerations that can help mitigate a hydropower system’s environmental impacts. For example, an intake placed in the water channel should be located where it takes on characteristics of its environment.

To learn more about how your project will affect the environment, visit the biology department at your local university or talk to an aquatic biologist at your local fish-and-game department office. By doing such research in advance, you will be prepared to answer questions as you prepare to permit the project.

The relatively small environmental impact of a well-designed micro-hydro system means it can be a sustainable solution to energy needs. However, if your project is near public areas or a neighbor’s property, what it looks like can significantly affect the public’s opinion of that impact. In fact, thoughtfully integrating micro-hydro equipment into the natural landscape may help reduce its environmental impact. Remember, micro-hydro projects that produce renewable power and avoid visually disturbing the natural environment with the intake, pipe, cables, and other equipment demonstrate how to produce energy in a more sustainable manner.

You can learn much more about micro-hydro technology in these ATTRA publications:

Micro-Hydro Power: A Beginners Guide to Design and Installation

Micro-Hydro Power: Is It Right for My Farm?

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Permalink What herbicides are appropriate for organic small grains?

Answer: Biological and allowed synthetic substances can be used for weed control, but there must be evidence that the first- and second-tier strategies are already in place, as defined by the National Organic Program. Currently, most organic small grains producers do not use organic herbicides for field-scale weed control. However, these substances may have some application for weed control in localized areas such as along fence lines, on ditch banks, or in limited weed patches. As with any new purchased input, check with your certifier prior to using the substance.

All organic herbicides are very limited in their effectiveness. These substances are non-selective and kill only the portion of the plant they contact directly. Because they do not kill the entire plant, repeated treatments will be necessary to use up the energy reserves in the roots as the weeds re-sprout. Because they are non-selective and will also injure the cash crop, organic herbicides should not be used as a method of in-crop weed control.

Low-toxicity herbicides are available from several suppliers. Scythe, produced by Dow AgroSciences, is made from fatty acids. Scythe acts fast as a broad-spectrum herbicide, and results can often be seen in as little as five minutes. It is used as a post-emergent herbicide sprayed directly on the foliage. It has no residual activity and is not effective on non-green, woody portions of plants.

Vinegar is an ingredient in several organic herbicides. One example, Burnout II, is a post-emergent herbicide that is sprayed onto the plant to burn off top growth, but is not guaranteed to kill the entire plant. The label on Burnout II states that perennials may regenerate after a single application and require additional treatment. Burnout II is 23% acetic acid. In contrast, household vinegar is about 5% acetic acid. Vinegar is corrosive to metal sprayer parts—the higher the acidity, the more corrosive. Plastic equipment is recommended for applying vinegar.

AllDown is another organic herbicide containing acetic acid. It also contains citric acid, garlic, and yucca extract. One brief California study compared the effectiveness of several organic herbicides to Roundup Pro. In this instance, AllDown provided the best control of broadleaf weeds after Roundup. While Roundup controlled 100% of the broadleaf weeds, AllDown had about an 80% control rate. However, this same study estimated the cost of Roundup Pro at $81 per acre, while the cost of AllDown was $1,733 per acre. Regardless of its effectiveness, the cost of AllDown would be prohibitive except on the most difficult weed patches.

Learn more in the ATTRA publication Weed Management in Organic Small Grains. This publication introduces the multifaceted, comprehensive strategy of weed management used for organic small grain production, combining techniques including crop rotation, sanitation, cultural practices, variety and seed selection and planting, cover crops, tillage, use of organic herbicides, and others.

Mention of specific products is for educational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by NCAT, ATTRA, or USDA.

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Permalink What are some strategies for building healthy soils?

Answer: Let's consider the agricultural practices that help build healthy soil. In essence, we want to increase aggregation, contribute soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, buffer soil temperature, and minimize soil compaction and disturbance. Sounds like a lot, right?

Well, not really, if we break them down into six basic principles. Let's take a quick look at the principles that will define our soil management practices:

1. Minimizing tillage preserves soil structure, encourages aggregation, and keeps soil carbon in the soil profile where it belongs. Tillage brings a flush of oxygen into the soil that spurs microbes into a feeding frenzy on carbon molecules, resulting in CO2 release. We reduce tillage through the use of perennial pasture and minimum or no-till of cover crops.

2. Maintaining living roots in the soil for as much of the year as possible feeds soil microorganisms all year.

3. Also, by maintaining living roots and leaving grazing residual, we are covering the soil all year, forming an "armor" to protect it from loss of moisture and nutrients.

4. Maintaining species diversity is achieved with cover crop mixes and the use of diverse perennial-pasture mixes. Try to incorporate warm-season and cool-season plants, both grasses and broadleaf plants, in the same fields.

5. Managing grazing is accomplished by planning for an appropriate grazing-recovery period on your paddocks, keeping in mind that plants need various recovery periods depending on the species, the time of year, and the soil moisture content. Overgrazing (not allowing adequate recovery) reduces root mass, photosynthesis, and the amount of carbon sequestered into the soil, decreasing soil life. Proper grazing builds soil.

6. Finally, utilizing animal impact and grazing impact provides nutrient cycling in pastures, and contributes to soil organic matter. Additionally, the grazing action on forage plants encourages root growth and root exudation of plant sugars that feed soil microorganisms.

For livestock producers, this boils down to a combination of perennial pasture, cover crops in rotation on annual fields, and good grazing management. These simple concepts are described by ranchers Allen Williams, Gabe Brown, and Neil Dennis in a short video on how grazing management and cover crops can regenerate soils. View the video Soil Carbon Cowboys to get their take on soil health practices.

Learn more in the ATTRA publication Building Healthy Pasture Soils. It introduces properties of soil, discusses evaluation and monitoring of soil quality, and introduces grazing management principles and techniques that promote healthy soil.

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Permalink What criteria should I use to evaluate tools and equipment on the farm?

Answer: It is easy to start with simple/low cost/ non-mechanized tools, but depending on your goals, efficiency and scale of production should be evaluated. This includes understanding where the weak links are in a current system, as well as how much you are willing to invest in tools and equipment, which is often related to becoming mechanized and/or scaling up in equipment in order to increase sales.

It is important to keep in mind that the goal of a tool or equipment investment is to get a return on the investment, which may require some significant investments up-front. Farmers take a lot of pride in owning equipment, but we have to be honest with ourselves in making sure that our tool and equipment choices relate to being more efficient in our operations in order to be more profitable.

Some key considerations include:
• Does the investment fit within the context of your whole-farm plan?
• Is the investment scale appropriate; both in terms of current scales of production as well as future growth?
• How does a new tool or piece of equipment impact labor costs on your farm?
• What does it cost to own and operate? Think about costs beyond just the purchasing price, such as taxes, costs related to storing equipment, and maintenance costs.
• How durable is the tool/equipment?
• Is it easy to find parts, maintain and repair?
• Is the tool ergonomically designed to fit the body or is the machinery safe to operate?
• Who will be using it and how comfortable are you or your staff using it?
• Is the tool or equipment designed for your soils and terrain?
• What are your other options?

Doing research and talking with other farmers, especially if a farmer is using a tool or implement that you are considering, is important. Be specific in learning about how well a tool works in the field and its limitations. Think about how often you will be using the tool and whether or not you need to own it. Some tools are very specialized and are used on a limited basis. Have you looked in to what tools are available to rent through local organizations or county conservation districts? If you do decide to purchase a tool, tractor, or implement, consider adding a contingency line item to the budget to cover not only routine maintenance, but especially those unexpected costs. Finally, keep in mind that if you make a purchase and are not satisfied with it, you can always sell it.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Equipment & Tools for Small-Scale Intensive Crop Production. This publication details equipment and hand tools for soil preparation, planting, and weed management. The use of appropriate equipment and tools, both in terms of size and practicality, can increase production efficiency and profits while minimizing the disturbance to soil and to plant health.

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Permalink What can you tell me about aquaculture species compatibility?

Answer: Polyculture is growing two or more species together to take advantage of inherent trophic characteristics and increase marketing opportunities. Some species will grow well together, especially if they have similar (i.e., vegetarian) or different (i.e., fed species vs. filter feeders) feeding habits. Other characteristics to consider are optimum water temperature, methods of harvest, and marketing options. A good example of compatible species are catfish and bluegill, where catfish are bottom feeders and bluegill forage in the water column.

Fed species (i.e., finfish) combined with extractive species (i.e., shellfish) utilize different trophic levels and where wastes of one species becomes food for another. An example of this would be raising salmon with shellfish. For information on shellfish aquaculture, visit the ATTRA’s Ecological Seafood and Aquatic Plant Farming section of the ATTRA website.

Raising two fed species together can be done if there is little chance of depredation of one species on another, particularly during the fingerling stage. An example of this would be raising catfish with carp and tilapia. Carp and tilapia are plankton eaters, but will also eat catfish pellets. Another option is raising tilapia together with freshwater shrimp, if the tilapia are grown in cages.

It is usually not advised to raise tilapia with bass, as tilapia are a major prey of bass. However, they can be grown in a polyculture if the correct ratio of bass to tilapia is achieved. Stocking ponds with tilapia broodfish can supply some forage for bass, while allowing for a harvest of both bass and tilapia. A good paper to review on this topic is Polyculture of Largemouth Bass with Blue Tilapia: Using Blue Tilapia as Forage.

It’s best as a beginner to start small and with the tried and true species combinations, as discussed above. For more detailed information on specific species in your area, I recommend contacting a SeaGrant Educator, who will have experience with aquaculture methods, species, and markets in your area. Contact Virginia SeaGrant for more information.

To learn more about aquaculture, consult the following resources:

Southern Regional Aquaculture Center publications
See especially the publications on beginning aquaculture

Alabama Education in Aquatic Sciences, Aquaculture, Recreational Fisheries and Natural Resource Conservation

Northeastern Aquaculture Management Guide

The Purdue Sea Grant Aquaculture Small Business Startup Kit

Small Scale Aquaculture Marketing

Budget spreadsheets for recirculating, pond, and cage culture

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Permalink What are some potential markets for maple sugar?

Answer: Maple sugar producers should identify markets for their sap, syrup, and value-added products and develop a cohesive marketing plan even before they tap their first maple tree.

Marketing options available to producers include selling the raw sap to another producer, making the sap into syrup for wholesale or retail sales, using the syrup to create value-added products to sell, or bottling the raw sap to sell as a tonic. Each option has specific considerations:

• Selling the sap raw to another sugarmaker reduces the initial investment of production equipment, but will yield significantly lower revenue, since most of the profit is in the finished syrup. It does provide a new producer with some revenue during the process of establishing a sugarbush, offering the opportunity for learning proper tapping techniques, setting up collection lines (which can be somewhat complex to design properly), and assessing yield potential so the producer can more accurately develop data-informed business and financial plans.

• Wholesale sales of syrup and value-added maple products often reduce risks associated with retail sales by offering assured sales through established customers. Wholesale sales can help ensure that producers do not carry excess inventory. However, wholesale will yield lower revenues than retail sales, which offer more favorable margins.

• Retail markets that sell direct to consumers carry a higher return on investment through higher per-unit revenues. Selling retail requires additional time, eff ort, and added costs for items such as bottling equipment, bottles, labels, advertising, and promotion. Retail channels to explore include sugarhouse storefronts, direct-to-consumer Internet sales, farm stands, farmers markets, fairs, restaurants, health food stores, and others. Think outside the box to identify untapped markets, such as selling syrup to a business that sells specialty gift baskets, or maple treats as wedding favors. Open houses provide an excellent opportunity to introduce new customers to your maple sugar operation, entice people to try value-added confections, and increase sales of both syrup and other maple products.

• Pure, unprocessed maple sap is also gaining in popularity as a tonic that cleanses the body, and it offers another viable market option.

You can learn much more on this topic by consulting the ATTRA publication Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production. It provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control. It also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.

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Permalink How can I organically control Net Blotch in barley?

Answer: The blotch diseases are fungal leaf diseases similar to Tan Spot and Septoria, but they affect only barley. There are three blotch diseases to be aware of: Net Blotch, Spot Blotch, and the Spot Form of Net Blotch. Temperatures of 68° to 77°F and 100% relative humidity are ideal for spore production.

Spores are spread by wind and rain, with barley residue serving as the main source of infection for subsequent crops.
Organic control practices to prevent Net Blotch include the following:

• Use resistant cultivars.
• Bury crop residue and destroy volunteers.
• Use balanced applications of nitrogen and phosphorus. Heavy nitrogen applications create conditions favorable to outbreaks of this disease.
• Follow a crop rotation that includes at least two years of non-susceptible hosts. Barley should not follow barley, particularly if disease levels were high the previous year.
• If barley must be grown in two successive years, use a susceptible cultivar the first year and a resistant type the second.
• Use pathogen-free seed if possible.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Disease and Insect Management in Organic Small Grains. It outlines various strategies that make up a good organic disease and insect management plan, and describes some specific diseases and insects that affect small grain crops. Although this publication pertains to various regions of the country, the main focus is on the Plains states—where most organic small grains are grown.

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Permalink How can I manage a large grasshopper population in my buffer strip?

Answer: Grasshoppers are pests all over the world. They are voracious feeders that chew on just about anything. Some reach massive numbers if conditions are right, and they can strip fields of all vegetation in minutes. Grasshoppers leave large holes in many different crops. These holes not only make produce unsightly, but also rob the plant of surface area and resources that would otherwise be used for photosynthesis, thus reducing its growth potential.

Grasshoppers lay eggs in the fall in non-crop landscapes such as ditches, fencerows, and weedy areas and their eggs hatch in spring-summer. A grasshopper will only go through one lifecycle per year, but different species will hatch at different times during the year, which leads to a prolonged hatch period.

Because of this prolonged hatch period, I think it is best for you to repeat an application of Entrust within the next week or so to take care of the young grasshoppers you are seeing. By preventing these young grasshoppers (instars) from maturing and mating, you will reduce the number of eggs deposited in the ground this fall. I would spray at least once more and then monitor to see how many instars are present a week or so after the spray.

When it comes to tilling in the eggs, grasshoppers tend to lay eggs in undisturbed soil so most of the eggs will be deposited in untilled locations, such as you buffer strip. I am not sure you would want to till that grassy strip. The corn field itself is not an ideal location for a grasshopper to deposit eggs, so there are probably not many eggs in the field where you would be tilling (unless this is no-till production). Because of this I do not see cultivation as a very effective means of control for you.

I would focus efforts on spraying the grasshoppers in your buffer strip while they are in their instar stages and less than ½ inch long. This will reduce the number of eggs deposited this fall and reduce the hatch next year. You can then keep the buffer strip mowed in the spring so that when the new generation of grasshoppers hatch you can easily see them and begin to spray. Keeping your buffer strip mowed in the spring will also allow predators like birds to easily see the young grasshoppers and help you with the control.

ATTRA has produced a tip sheet titled Grasshoppers – Botanical Control Fomulations that should interest you. It discusses the use of neem, garlic, mint, and eucalyptus in managing grasshoppers.

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Permalink Where can I find funding for a project on my farm?

Answer: An excellent place to start is the USDA's Small Farm Funding Resources. This guide contains information about funding sources for beginning farmers, training, technical assistance contacts, organizations with resources and programs for beginning and experienced farmers, and more.

Additionally, USDA's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center has compiled a list of useful resources and contacts that you should explore.

Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities and NSAC's Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs both offer information on Federal grants and programs. These guides can help you find programs that may fit your project. The USDA FSA Microloans Program is a newer program that is typically easier to qualify for and access than some of the other grant and loan programs.

Two ATTRA publications should be especially helpful, as well. Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers lays out several financing options available to beginning farmers to start a farm, and illuminates the step-by-step process of applying for a loan. Small- and medium-scale sustainable farmers and those new to the world of finance are the target audience for this publication. The intention is to help these readers consider a range of options for raising capital and reducing expenses involved in starting a farm, with a bank or government loan as just one tool, albeit an important one, in a whole toolkit of creative possibilities.

Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching offers an overview of the major Federal conservation programs that provide resources for farmers and ranchers to enhance and maintain sustainable farming and ranching practices.

Finally, ATTRA posts funding opportunities daily on its website.

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Permalink Should I plant pawpaw seedlings or grafted trees?

Answer: There are a number of cultivars that produce superior fruit. An unbiased description of most of these cultivars is available at Kentucky State University’s pawpaw website. Grafted trees of these named cultivars can be relatively expensive—up to $35 for a single potted tree; wholesale quantities would presumably cost less per tree—so prospective growers might be tempted to plant ungrafted seedlings. Although seedlings are much cheaper than grafted trees, there is enough genetic variability in the pawpaw that commercial-scale growers will be taking a significant gamble if they plant ungrafted seedlings, and they will not know the outcome of their bet for around five to seven years because it can take that long for seedlings to begin bearing (grafted trees usually start bearing in three to four years).

If you live in an area where pawpaws grow wild, you might be tempted to transplant from the wild, but wild pawpaws have long taproots, which are very easily damaged. Often, pawpaw trees in wild patches are rootsuckers from a single original tree. With poorly developed root systems per individual shoot, these rootsuckers do not transplant well. Even nursery-grown pawpaws can be difficult to transplant. They have fleshy, brittle roots with very few fine root hairs, which inevitably get damaged when transplanting. Experimentation has shown that, to be successful, transplantation should be done in the spring, at the time when new growth commences or soon after. If many roots are lost, it may be desirable to prune the top to bring it into balance with the remaining roots.

To learn much more about pawpaw production, consult the ATTRA publication Pawpaw - A "Tropical" Fruit for Temperate Climates. It provides a good overview of pawpaw production, including overall culture, pests, harvest, postharvest handling, marketing, and research that seeks to advance the pawpaw’s potential for commercial development.

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Permalink I am new to pastured poultry egg production. Should I choose day-old chicks or started pullets?

Answer: In addition to traditional day-old chicks, many hatcheries are now selling started pullets. These are birds that have been raised at the hatchery up to 17 to 22 weeks of age, or the onset of lay. Since these birds spent more time at the hatchery, the price is higher to cover feed, housing, and shipping costs. A chick can cost anywhere from $1 to $3, but a pullet can cost $17 to $20. Buying day-old chicks and raising them until they start producing eggs provides several advantages: lower start-up costs, reduced financial risk, and greater adaptability.

Although every farm situation is different, raising chicks up to lay will usually be more cost-effective than buying started pullets. Feed costs at the hatchery will usually exceed farm feed costs, depending on the source. Furthermore, the added expense of a started pullet causes higher economic risk for a producer trying to make eggs a viable agricultural enterprise. Predator attacks and disease can become even more costly when the starting cost of stock is so high.

Furthermore, although some hatcheries start their pullets on pasture, most do not. The transition to a new, pastured environment is more difficult for an older bird whose habits have already formed. When birds are introduced to pasture at a young age, they can get comfortable with the conditions they will be living in for the long term. USDA's NOP organic regulations require that "Poultry or edible poultry products must be from poultry that has been under continuous organic management beginning no later than the second day of life." If a farm is looking to become certified, it must maintain organic conditions for new chicks, or buy from a pullet producer who maintains organic certification.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Pastured Poultry: Egg Production. This publication examines many of the risk factors that beginning poultry farmers should consider before acquiring a pastured laying flock. It addresses animal-management issues including breed selection, housing, nutrition, predator control, and natural-resource management. It also discusses processing and marketing of the end product, table eggs.

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Permalink What soap is safe to use on organic food crops for insect control?

Answer: Organic farming requires any pest management materials used be in compliance with USDA's National Organic Program regulations and must be used in the context of organic principles for farming and handling practices.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) provides an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production. After review, if substances are determined safe for organic use they are OMRI Listed.

Safer Soap is OMRI Listed and can be found at most farm supply stores. It can be mixed into solution with chili peppers and sprayed on plants to safely control insects on food crops.

ATTRA's Biorationals: Ecological Pest Management Database is a searchable tool that lists materials by brand name, distributor, and whether it is OMRI Listed. Because OMRI listings are frequently updated, organic growers should always check with their certifiers prior to applying any materials to their crops or livestock.

For more information on organic pest management, check out some of the resources on the Pest Management section of the ATTRA website.

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Permalink What rabbit breeds are best for meat production?

Answer: Two medium-size breeds, the New Zealand White (NZW) and the Californian, are the most important for meat production. They have white fur that is difficult to see if a few pieces are stuck to the carcass, and they have higher meat-to-bone ratios. The NZW is considered the best breed overall, considering mothering ability and carcass characteristics. However, crossing male Californians to female NZWs and then breeding the female from this cross back to male Californians results in larger litter sizes and heavier fryers than using straight NZWs.

Other meat breeds include Californian, Champagne d’ Argent, English Spot, and Flemish Giant, but these may not receive a premium price because of the colored fur. A relatively new hybrid breed developed from crosses of Flemish Giant, Champagne d’Argent, and Californian named the Altex (a combination of Alabama and Texas, as the breed was developed between Alabama and Texas A&M), has been bred for commercial viability. This breed is more heat-tolerant and gains more weight quicker than other breeds—reaching up to 10 to 20 pounds. For more information, visit The Rabbit Breeding & Teaching Program at TAMUK.

Breeds developed for fur include American Chinchilla, Checkered Giant, Silver Marten, and Rex. The Angora was developed for wool and meat. Laboratory breeds include Dutch, English Spot, Himalayan, and Polish. Pet breeds include Holland Lop, Polish, Dutch, and Mini Lop.

There are many other breeds of domestic rabbit that are raised for meat, show, laboratory use, and fur and wool production.
To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Small-Scale Sustainable Rabbit Production. This publication provides an introduction to small-scale rabbit production, focusing on meat rabbits and sustainable rabbit management.

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Permalink What recommendations do you have for forage diversity in a grass-finished beef operation?

Answer: Forage diversity is key to productive pastures from a soil perspective as well as from an animal productivity perspective. Select forages that are high in sugar content, including perennial grasses and legumes and annual forages such as sorghum-sudan and annual ryegrass. Brassicas and field peas are an excellent addition and are high in energy. Provide dry hay with brassicas and succulent pastures to give enough fiber to prevent acidosis and to increase rumen function. Select forages with a relative feed value of 150 and with low NDF (less than 45%). Forages that are vegetative, and not mature, have highest energy with lowest fiber. A good rule of thumb is to graze grasses before they get to the boot stage (prior to seed head emergence).

Consider developing a grazing plan to help partition the forage resource adequately to animal needs. A grazing system is just an organized, planned way of using the pasture resource to ensure that the animals receive the right amount of high quality forage while maintaining the productivity and vigor of the pasture and soil. A grazing system should result in the highest forage production and use per acre, have variable stocking rates based on the pasture plants’ need for recovery, provide an even distribution of manure, control weeds through grazing or trampling, and provide more grazing options while reducing the need for mechanically harvested forages for most of the year.

The best way to ensure this is to develop a grazing plan and schedule that rotates animals from paddock to paddock and allows adequate time for plant recovery. Consider the following principles in planning a grazing system:

• Managing recovery and grazing periods
• Using animal impact to benefit the pasture and soil
• Setting up the right size and number of paddocks
• Lengthening the grazing season for more time on pasture

Recovery period is all about plant regrowth and is fundamental to developing a grazing schedule. It is important to plan for increasing recovery time when grass growth slows down. Grazing period is the length of time animals are exposed to a paddock and is important in maintaining post-grazing residual. Be sure to allow adequate stubble height and enough leaf area for plant regrowth or you’ll slow the process down. Recovery periods should be from 15 to 20 days in the spring, from 30 to 60 days in the summer, and 20 to 30 days in the fall, depending on climate, plant species, and rainfall. Some things you can do to help you manage recovery and grazing periods are:

• Graze early-spring pasture to remove top growth and allow grasses to tiller and get more dense
• Machine-harvest excess early-spring growth to capture dry matter and allow grass to regrow for the next grazing cycle
• Follow high producing cows with dry cows, but make sure they don’t stay in the paddock too long
• Provide supplemental pastures when pasture growth is slow and decrease grazing period when growth is rapid, leaving some grass behind
• Reduce stocking rate by selling young stock or culling as needed; do not allow too many animals to degrade forage and soil resources
• Feed stored forages when necessary to protect resources, such as during drought
• Quicker paddock moves give animals fresh un-fouled (manured) ground, meaning better intake

The next principle to consider is paddock size and number. How big should they be, and how many should you have to ensure animals get enough dry matter intake and the forage base stays healthy? This is likely the most important, most fundamental question a grazer can ask. Everything else stems from this. Some recommended maximum grazing periods are one to two days for dairy and three to four days for all other classes of livestock.

Animals must remain in a paddock long enough for them to get their fill, but not so long that they begin to graze plant re-growth. Plants may have grazable re-growth after two to three days, and the shorter the period in the paddock, the better the plant and animal production per acre. Short grazing durations also foster increased animal intake and provide higher quality forages than if the animals are in the paddock for longer periods of time. In fact, as animals remain in a paddock (for more than a few days) their intake of protein decreases, as does availability of high quality digestible dry matter (energy). This is one reason dairy producers who graze high-producing cows will move animals to a new paddock daily, or even a few times a day.

The following ATTRA publications will help you get a handle on planning and matching animal demand to forage resources:

ATTRA Managed Grazing Tutorial

Grazing Calculator: Extended Cow Calf Pair

Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System That Works

Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management

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Permalink I purchased a farm that struggled with foot rot within their sheep flock. How long will it take the foot rot organism to leave the ground?

Answer: Sheep foot rot is a disease in which two species of bacteria work together to infect the foot. One, the "trigger" bacteria, predisposes the foot tissue to infection by the other. The trigger bacteria is gone out of the environment after two weeks once the sheep are removed. In muddy environments, it would be better to wait three weeks. The actual bacteria that cause infection are ubiquitous in the soil.

Before you repopulate the property with more purchased ewes, make sure that the premises (lambing jugs, mix pens, handling equipment, stock trailer) is steam cleaned or scrubbed down with a disinfectant solution such as Novasan (chlorihexadene).

When purchasing more ewes, walk through the seller's flock and check for any sign of animals limping. Ask the seller if he or she has ever had any foot rot cases. Once purchased, it would be best to quarantine them for one month, checking their hooves once a week for any sign of infection.

For more information, consult the following resources:

Contagious Foot Rot, Utah State University Extension

Foot Rot in Sheep and Goats, Purdue Extension

You will also find lots of useful resources in the Livestock and Pasture portion of ATTRA’s website.

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Permalink How can I identify the disease that is affecting my apples?

Answer: There are several key diseases that affect apple production, such as fire blight, apple scab, cedar apply rust, summer rots, sooty blotch, and fly speck. In order to properly treat these diseases, it's important to first correctly identify them. To this end, ATTRA created Apple Identification Sheet: Apple Diseases. It includes color photos of several diseases, provides helpful information on how and when the diseases occur, and offers organic and low-spray control recommendations.

For a more complete discussion, consult the ATTRA publication Apples: Organic Production Guide. This publication provides information on organic apple production from recent research and producer experience. Many aspects of apple production are the same whether the grower uses low-spray, organic, or conventional management. Accordingly, this publication focuses on the aspects that differ from nonorganic practices—primarily pest and disease control, marketing, and economics. It introduces the major apple insect pests and diseases and the most effective organic management methods. It also includes farmer profiles of working orchards and a section dealing with economic and marketing considerations. There is an extensive list of resources for information and supplies and an appendix on disease-resistant apple varieties.

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Permalink How can I build soil health in an organic hayfield?

Answer: Organic hayfields typically have problems because nutrients are removed from the fields and are not replaced. This doesn't occur as much in fields that are grazing because of the manure and urine from grazing livestock. And if you add a more diverse plant population to your fields, through cover cropping and complex perennial mixes, you add organic matter that builds soil health and resilience.

For example, you might consider rotating your hayfields to cover crops and livestock grazing periodically to maintain fertility levels, preferably every other year. This may necessitate managing the pastures as several separate units to ensure organic hay is produced each year while part of the land is in cover crops and grazing to build soil health.

Consider a crop rotation to build soil health. Three to four years of diverse perennial pasture can be converted to cover crops and grazed for a year. Consider overseeding small grains like annual rye into perennial pasture in the fall to build soil health and add organic matter. You’ll need to use no-till drill for this planting. Check with your local conservation district to see if they have a no-till drill loan program. Many districts have adopted no-till practices and have programs like this for area farmers.

The cover crop will provide loads of biomass and will return a lot of organic matter to the soil, keeping it covered and feeding soil organisms that provide nutrient availability to growing crops and pasture. You can graze the cover crop hard the next year to allow the perennial pasture or hayfield to emerge, or terminate the perennial field by plowing and plant a summer cover like sorghum sudan or buckwheat.

The more diversity you can get into the fields, the better it will be on soil life. It's a cycle—the soil organisms build soil structure and cycle nutrients, which feed the crops, and the crops provide carbon back to the microbes. Then you can go back to a fall cover crop, and then perennial pasture the following year. This kind of rotation provides cover, reduces erosion, conserves water, buffers soil temperature, and adds organic matter. With this, you can start to build a soil that will be productive and much more fertile.

Rotation considerations—consider multiple management units:

• Some units can be in perennial pasture (grazed)
• Some units can be in perennial hayfield (not grazed)
• Others can be in cover crops (grazed)

The rotation for any management unit would look like this:

Perennial pasture (hayed every other year) > cover crop (grazed) > perennial pasture

For the fallow ground: Consider a summer cover crop > fall cover crop > seed to perennial pasture. Graze the cover crop to add biology to the soil and trample in organic matter.

Perennial fields: frost seed or no-till legumes, such a red clover, crimson clover, or alfalfa. This adds diversity and nitrogen fixation. Also, grazing management for adequate recovery will help the stand improve. Develop a livestock grazing plan to manage pastures for optimum recovery period. Plants need time after grazing to fully recover and this is determined by season and moisture. ATTRA specialists can help you determine how many animals your pastures can support and how to rotate them according to recovery time to keep the grass productive.

The bottom line: If your goals are to raise organic hay and grassfed beef, develop a soil health plan first. Concentrate on building soils with cover crops and grazing, and rotate fields out for hay production so you always have several fields in this enterprise. The hay and beef can be thought of as benefits of your soil health plan.

To learn more, visit the Livestock and Pasture section of the ATTRA websiste, where you'll find a bounty of additional resources.

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Permalink How can I evaluate a food hub to see if it’s right for me?

Answer: As a producer interested in working with a food hub, it is important to evaluate several components of a hub to see if the operation meets your needs and the needs of your farm. Here are some factors to consider.

• Purpose/Mission – Food hubs target a particular customer base and are often oriented around a specific mission to help meet the economic, social, and environmental needs of a community. By looking at the purpose and mission of a food hub, a producer can determine whether or not the food hub is in line with the goals and values of the farm.

• Legal Structure – The legal business structure of a food hub influences how the food hub operates. Food hubs may be legally classified, for example, as a for-profit business, not-for-profit, or cooperative. Producers may be required to be involved in the operation or governance of the business and should be clear about what is expected of them.

• Types of Markets – Food hubs target specific types of markets that fit the purpose and infrastructure of the food hub. This includes larger wholesale markets as well as smaller retail outlets. The type of market plays a significant role in the products offered by the food hub.

• Products and Branding – Product selection and differentiation help ensure producers get a good price for their products. Food hubs utilize marketing strategies to differentiate products in order to help preserve the identity of the grower, their product(s), and their growing practices. When products are aggregated from different farms, it’s important to know whether the individual producer’s identity is preserved or whether aggregated products are branded under a single identity.

• Price – How is price determined? Is the price representative of any social, environmental, and community values? Is the food hub able to negotiate a price for products that don’t meet grading standards?

• Scale – Food hubs vary greatly in scale. Larger hubs typically work with more markets and in a wider geographical area than smaller food hubs. As a result, they tend to work with more producers and sell more types of products. Scale is important to consider in terms of variety selection, quantity, and price.

• Location – Where is the food hub located in relation to the producer? This is important to consider with regard to whether the producer has to deliver the product(s) to the food hub or the food hub provides on-farm pick-up services.

• Infrastructure – What type of infrastructure is available? Does the food hub have appropriately scaled equipment for processing, packing, storing, and distribution?

• Financing – How is the food hub able to operate financially? Does it have access to capital?

• Age – How long a food hub has been in business is important. Newer operations may not be as stable financially or in their daily operations as well-established food hubs.

• Contracts & Agreements – Does the food hub establish contracts with its producers and/or buyers to guarantee they will purchase from the producer at specified quantities, qualities, and price? What happens if the producer is unable to meet its obligation to the food hub?

• Logistical Support – What type of logistical support does the food hub provide? Do they offer assistance in crop planning? Do they furnish packing materials that are required?

• Insurance – Are there any specific types of insurance coverage required of the producer?

• Challenges – Food hubs face many challenges related to the viability of the business. As a producer working with a food hub, it is important to know what barriers the food hub is currently facing and how they impact the short- and long-term success of the food hub.

Learn more about how food hubs can provide new marketing outlets in the ATTRA publication Food Hubs: A Producer Guide.

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Permalink How do I choose the best site for persimmon production?

Answer: Persimmons generally bloom late enough in the spring to avoid spring frosts, so site selection does not have to emphasize air drainage to the same degree that other early blooming tree crops require (e.g., peaches). Persimmons grow well on a wide range of soils, although they grow best on loamy, well-drained soils. As with other fruit trees, a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is optimal for tree growth.

The American persimmon can be found growing wild in wet, droughty, clayey, rocky, and sandy soils. However, remember that such wild trees have had the advantage of being grown from seed and are, therefore, sporting a taproot and have not suffered the trauma of transplanting. Transplanted nursery-grown stock will not have the same advantage. Therefore, if planting a new orchard— rather than collecting fruit from wild, established trees—the prudent orchardist will pick a site with, at the very least, good soil drainage.

Rootstock selection is an important pre-planting consideration for Asian persimmons (but not so much for American types because all American persimmons are grafted onto American persimmon seedling rootstock). Asian persimmons for the eastern U.S. are generally grafted onto seedlings of the American persimmon Diospyros virginiana. In the West, Asian persimmons are usually grafted onto D. lotus rootstock.

The main advantage of using American seedling rootstock for the Asian persimmon when planting in the East is that they tolerate excessive moisture and drought quite well; however, they are prone to suckering, which needs to be pruned out annually. (Otherwise, the suckers from the rootstock could “overgrow” and out-compete the grafted tops.) Asian cultivars grafted onto D. virginiana rootstocks also show a lack of uniformity of tree vigor and size. Like all fruit trees, persimmons require full sun to assure good tree and fruit growth, as well as fruit bud development. Trees should be spaced 15 to 16 feet apart within the rows, and rows need to be far enough apart to accommodate mowing, harvesting, etc.

To learn more about persimmons production, including astringency, general culture, rootstocks, pests, and marketing, consult the ATTRA publication Persimmons, Asian and American.

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Permalink What is the best climate for plum production?

Answer: In the United States, nearly all of the commercially grown plums for fresh eating are hybrids of the Japanese plum introduced by a Berkley nurseryman in the 1870s and subsequently hybridized by Luther Burbank in the late 1800s. Today, 95% or more of them are grown in California. Burbank made many complex crosses between Japanese and American plums and was the first to cross the plum and apricot. Though the fresh plums in grocery stores today are essentially "Japanese," they might contain germplasm from many species, thanks to Burbank.

Prune plums are European, as are most canned plums. Again, most commercial production of plums is centered in California, but European plums are more cold-hardy than Japanese plums and bloom later, so the European plum can be grown further north.

In fact, plums are adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions; at least some cultivars can be grown in almost every state. Commercially, Japanese plums and prunes are grown where rainfall during the growing season is minimal and humidity low to prevent diseases; this is why most production is in California.

Cold hardiness is excellent for European plums, similar to apple and pear, but Japanese plums are less cold-hardy (similar to peach). Plums have chilling requirements ranging from 550 to 800 hours for Japanese, up to 1,000 hours for European. (A greater chilling requirement means that the plant will be slower to break dormancy, hence, less likely to bloom too early while frost is still a danger.) Rainfall during the growing season can reduce production by accentuating diseases and causing fruit cracking.

As with other Prunus species, deep, well-drained soils with pH 5.5 to 6.5 give best results. However, plum roots are the most tolerant of all the stone fruits with respect to heavy soils and waterlogging.

You can learn much more in the ATTRA publication Plums, Apricots, and Their Crosses: Organic and Low-Spray Production. It focuses on organic and reduced-spray management options for disease and pest problems of plums, apricots, and their crosses (pluots, apriums, etc.). It also relates progress in broadening the practical climatic adaptability of the apricot. The publication also discusses adding these fruits as specialty crops for small-scale, diversified farms and identifies marketing opportunities.

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Permalink Is organic raspberry production a profitable enterprise?

Answer: Brambles, including raspberries and blackberries, can be a very profitable crop, but how profitable they will be for you depends on several factors. To begin with, your market will determine the price you receive for your berries. You will get premium prices selling directly to consumers at farmers markets, roadside stands, or a pick-your-own (PYO) operation. Other options will allow you to sell larger volumes of berries, but at a lower profit margin. These outlets include wholesalers, cooperatives, and local retailers. Small-acreage growers usually find direct marketing a good fit because it can maximize the returns from their limited production. If you are a small-scale grower interested in expanding production, you may find that a mixed model including both retail and wholesale markets would be a good fit for you. For more information on marketing options, see ATTRA's series of Marketing Tip Sheets.

A 2008 survey of bramble growers conducted by the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association (NARBA) provides a good reference for average blackberry and raspberry prices. Thirty-four growers throughout the United States responded to the survey. The average reported price for PYO raspberries was $3.75 per pound ($3.15/pint), with PYO blackberries at $2.70 per pound. The average price reported for retail markets including farmers markets and farm stands was $4.75 per pint or $4.06 per half-pint for raspberries and $4.06 per pint or $6.50 per quart for blackberries. Wholesale prices were reported per flat, with a flat containing 12 half-pints of raspberries or 12 pints of blackberries. Raspberry wholesale prices averaged $27.50 per flat, or $2.29 per half-pint, and wholesale blackberry prices averaged $30 per flat or $2.50 per pint.

Marketing arrangements should be made before planting, because brambles are a high-investment crop. If you will be growing certified organic blackberries or raspberries, it is important to find a market that will offer premium prices for your berries to offset the additional costs that you will incur as an organic grower.

Researchers at North Carolina State University developed a budget for organic blackberry production in the Southeast that shows a break-even point three years after planting and a cumulative net profit of $46,203 per acre over six years. Assumptions for this budget include a peak yield of 10,000 pounds per acre in years three and four, a marketable harvest of 80%, and a retail sales price of $5.59 per pound for organic blackberries. A University of California conventional-blackberry budget also shows breakeven in year three with a net profit of $53,431 after six years. This budget is based on production levels of 3,500 trays per acre sold at $16.00 per tray, with each tray holding five pounds of blackberries.

The largest expense categories for the North Carolina budget include material expenses for the trellis in the establishment year, annual harvest labor, and annual production labor. The budget projects a net cost of $15,232 before the berries come into production, showing that a grower will need to have the capital to support the operation for at least three years before a positive cash flow occurs.

In some areas of the United States, raspberries can be a more profitable enterprise than blackberries. A University of California primocane-fruiting raspberry budget shows net returns of $39,235 per acre three years after planting, and break-even in year two. The budget assumes that production levels will reach 5,000 trays per acre (4.5 pounds per tray) in year three with raspberries sold for $15 per tray. Because of ideal growing conditions in California’s Central Coast Region, the production levels in this budget are higher than can be expected in other regions.

For more information, consult the ATTRA publication Brambles: Organic Production. This publication focuses on organic practices for blackberry and raspberry production. It discusses cultural considerations including site selection, establishment, pruning and trellising, and it introduces organic practices for fertility, weed, disease, and insect management. It also provides new information on greenhouse production and season extension and addresses economics and marketing.

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Permalink How can I control tadpole shrimp in rice production?

Answer: Because tadpole shrimp do not hatch from eggs until exposed to water, rice that is grown in dry-seeded systems and not flooded until rice is at the 4–5 leaf stage should be safe from tadpole shrimp injury. This practice promotes large plants with adequate root systems when the field is flooded. However, heavy rainfall or flooding shortly after seeding can cause drill seeded rice to mimic a water-seeded rice production system if the field is not able to be drained; this situation can lead to tadpole shrimp damaging rice in a dry-seeded system.

The number one control option for tadpole shrimp is to avoid water-seeding rice and to flood a field after the rice has an established root system. However, in fields that are water-seeded, the field should be seeded as soon as possible after the flood is established because tadpole shrimp hatch once a field is flooded. This will minimize the amount of time that tadpole shrimp grow and maximize the growth of rice plants while tadpole shrimp are still small. The idea is that the rice will grow out of the vulnerable stage before tadpole shrimp can damage the rice.

Draining a field can be useful in killing tadpole shrimp, but rainfall can prevent this from being effective. However, greater input costs (i.e., additional applications of herbicide, fertilizer, or both; pumping costs; and other expenses) are associated with draining.

Here are to resources on this topic that you should find useful:

Shrimp Pest Control in Sight
California Agricultural Technology Institute

UC Pest Management Guidelines: Tadpole Shrimp
University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources

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Permalink How can I manage nematodes in potatoes?

Answer: Nematodes are microscopic roundworms found in many habitats. Nematodes are the most abundant multicellular organisms on Earth. Most are beneficial members of their ecosystems, but a few are economic parasites of plants. The Columbia, Stubby, and Northern Root Knot nematodes are common in Western organic potato systems and are the leading cause of soil fumigation in commercial potato production in the Northwest.

Root knot nematode feeding reduces the vigor of plants and causes blemishes on tubers. Infection of tubers by the Columbia and stubby root knot nematode often results in the formation of galls that appear as knobs or swellings on the tuber surface and affect marketability. Root knot nematode larvae invade roots or tubers, establish feeding sites and develop into the adult stage. Adult females are swollen, sedentary and lay eggs in a gelatinous matrix on or just below the root surface. These eggs hatch and larvae invade other roots and tubers. Feeding by root knot nematode eliminates the possibility of exportation since infected potatoes are banned in many countries.

There are recent promising developments with biofumigation using brassica mustard cover crops in a rotation before potatoes. Brassica crops such as rapeseed and mustard contain active chemicals called glucosinolates. The breakdown of these chemicals has been shown to suppress some soilborne diseases, nematodes and weed seeds. The best strategy for the ultimate suppression of soilborne diseases and nematodes is selecting a species of mustard that produces large amounts of biomass and glucosinolates.

Also, before incorporating, chop the green manure with a rotary mower or a high-speed flail chopper. The breakdown of the biofumigant seems to be better in moist soils, so irrigate following incorporation or time incorporation to occur with a rain. Jack Brown, a plant breeder specializing in brassicas at the University of Idaho, has released two biofumigant varieties: Humus rapeseed and IdaGold mustard. Each variety contains elevated levels of glucosinolates. For more information on these varieties, see the ATTRA publication Nematodes: Alternative Controls.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Potatoes: Organic Production and Marketing. This publication outlines approaches to organic and sustainable potato production. Practices include fertility and nutrient management; organic and biorational pest management for insects, diseases and weeds; and storage and marketing.

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Permalink Should I deworm my sheep on a schedule?

Answer: No. Internal parasites, especially Haemonchus contortus, have developed drug resistance. Drug treatment gets rid of the worms that are susceptible to that particular drug; resistant parasites survive and pass on “resistant” genes. No dewormer is 100% effective, and we know that worms that survive a dose of dewormer are resistant to that dewormer. Therefore, each time you deworm, the proportion of resistant worms increases, and consequently, frequent deworming greatly increases the rate at which resistance develops.

Each time animals are dewormed, the susceptible worms are killed. The resistant ones survive and will reproduce, thus leading to a population of very resistant worms. Meanwhile, under-dosing causes larger numbers of the intermediate-strength worms to survive. The weakest, most susceptible worms are killed. But because of the weak dose, more of the stronger worms will be able to survive and reproduce, creating a population of stronger worms in the next generation. Once an animal has been treated (if dosed properly), only resistant worms remain. If the animals are moved to a clean pasture they deposit only resistant worms on the pasture, and there are no susceptible worms to dilute the worm population.

Because of this drug resistance, deworming on a schedule may lead to trouble down the road. Instead, pay close attention to pasture management and nutrition, and to your animals' condition. Take fecal samples and use the FAMACHA technique to monitor your animals. Only treat the ones that need it, and only when they actually need it.

Learn more about techniques to manage parasites and to prolong the efficacy of dewormers in the ATTRA publication Managing Internal Parasites in Sheep and Goats. It includes a section on Dewormer Assessment, and also discusses the FAMACHA technique.

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Permalink What can you tell me about soil fertility for garlic production?

Answer: Cultivated garlic, Allium sativum, is a member of the lily family. It can be divided into two subspecies: Allium ophioscorodon (bolting or hard-neck cultivars) and Allium sativum (non-bolting or soft-neck cultivars). Allium ophioscorodon produces elongated flower stalks, often referred to as scapes, and flower-like bulbils at the top of the stalk. Soft-neck garlic does not produce bulbils except in times of stress. While both bulbils and individual cloves can be propagated vegetatively, bulbils take longer—up to two seasons—to produce mature bulbs, and require special care because the young plants are very small and fragile.

As with all crops, soil fertility management is essential for garlic production. It is a good idea to get a soil test before you begin field preparation. Request recommendations for nutrient requirements for onions when you send a soil sample to a soil-testing laboratory. To find a laboratory, consult ATTRA's searchable Alternative Soil Testing Laboratories database. For additional information on organic fertility management in vegetable crops, see the ATTRA publication Sustainable Soil Management.

Since garlic is a high-value crop and a heavy feeder, it deserves your best ground. It needs full sun and a full range of available nutrients. A pH of 6.8 to 7.2 is ideal; many nutrients are tied up in soils that are more alkaline or more acidic than this. Garlic will grow in almost any well-drained, friable (easily crumbled in the hand) soil, preferably with high organic matter content. High organic matter aids in soil water-holding capacity and drainage. If possible, begin soil preparation the year before planting. In his book Growing Great Garlic, Ron Engeland recommends building up the soil over a period of one to two years using animal and green manures before the garlic is planted. See the ATTRA publication Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures for information on building soils with cover crops.

Provide additional nitrogen, if needed, through supplemental use of organic fertilizers. Nitrogen can be applied in the fall at planting if a slow-release fertilizer such as soybean meal is used. Avoid applying any form of soluble nitrogen fertilizer in the fall to prevent contamination of ground water as well as loss of nitrogen to leaching. Do not apply nitrogen when the bulbs are beginning to enlarge, since it will encourage excessive leaf growth and reduce bulb size. Another way to add fertility is to sidedress with compost after leaf emergence in the fall, then apply fertilizer again in the spring. Avoid fertilizing beyond May, since high nitrogen levels at this stage may actually decrease bulb size. Some organic growers apply foliar sprays of liquid fish and seaweed fertilizer, several times in the spring.

If foliar feeding is used to supply nutrients, it should be done prior to the 4th or 5th leaf stage. A good surfactant (or spreadersticker) is essential to hold the solution on the garlic's waxy leaves. There are a limited number of spreader-stickers that are approved by the USDA National Organic Program. If you are certified organic, see the OMRI list of approved products or check with your certification agency to ensure that you are using an allowed product.

The ATTRA publication Garlic: Organic Production provides much more useful information. It addresses most aspects of organic garlic production, including seed sources, organic fertility management, pest management and harvesting and storage. Marketing and economic considerations, including enterprise budgets for organic garlic production, are also discussed.

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Permalink How can I prevent coccidiosis in sheep?

Answer: Coccidiosis is a parasite infection caused by the protozoan organism coccidia (also known as cocci or by the scientific name, Eimeria), which causes damage to the animal’s intestinal tract so that food is not absorbed well. Recognizing coccidiosis and understanding how to manage livestock to prevent or minimize illness is important for the health and well-being of your animals.

The importance of prevention cannot be understated. Make every effort to reduce stress on the animals and improve sanitation and living conditions. Dry bedding (replenished often with additional fresh, dry bedding) is helpful. This allows the mothers to lie down on clean places, keeping udders and teats cleaner, which helps reduce mastitis and lower the risk of coccidiosis. Gravel or wood chips added to lots promotes dry areas. Provide shelter if weather is cold and rainy, handle animals calmly, and be aware that as the season progresses, numbers of coccidia are building. Clean water and feed troughs, and disinfect feed troughs if possible, to lessen exposure to cocci. Exposure to small numbers of cocci is actually beneficial, as it encourages the building of immunity. On the other hand, exposure to large numbers increases risk of infection.

Once you have an infection, it is necessary to consult with your veterinarian to devise a treatment plan. The plan may include the feeding of ionophores, treatment with sulfa drugs or amprolium, and/or using alternative treatments. Note that livestock that are treated with ionophores or other medications that are not approved for use in organic production systems cannot be certified organic. If it becomes necessary to use these medicines on a certified-organic animal to achieve effective treatment, that individual animal will lose its organic certification. Note also that most medications are not labeled for sheep or goats and, therefore, consulting your veterinarian is essential. Be sure to follow instructions carefully when using any treatment. Using medications in the wrong way will waste money and time and not solve the problem. For example, medications designed to act on early stages of the life cycle to disrupt the parasite (prevention) will not cure established infection. Also, preventive medications must be used at least 30 days before kidding or lambing to prevent the mothers from infecting the young. To be effective, preventive medications must also be used well before weaning to protect the young stock during that stressful event. Again, follow label instructions. Failure to follow all directions will greatly reduce the impact of the drugs. And keep in mind that using medications improperly can lead to residues in the animal. Be sure to follow dosage instructions and withdrawal times.

To learn more about both prevention and treatment options, consult the ATTRA publication Coccidiosis: Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment in Sheep, Goats, and Calves.

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Permalink How do I go about setting prices for my organic crops?

Answer: The number-one factor in effective pricing is quantifying your costs and selling above those costs. It can be difficult to quantify production costs accurately and estimate profits from sales, but knowing production costs is key to staying in business. You must make sure that you’re making more than you're spending and also know whether your investment in time and money is providing an adequate return.

Organic pricing strategies vary between farmers. Some farmers quantify production costs and add a price margin to assure a reasonable profit margin. Some price according to local market prices. Most farmers likely use a combination of both approaches. Pricing also depends on what market outlet you use—whether you're selling directly at a farmers market or to a retailer like a grocery store or restaurant.

Several factors should be considered when developing your pricing strategy

• Operations, overhead, equipment, depreciation, and marketing costs
• Labor wages
• Profit desired
• Competitors’ production costs and prices
• Demand, customer motivation, and priorities
• Brand, image, quality, and reputation of your products

Don Hofstrand, retired agriculture specialist for the Ag Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University Extension, stresses three factors to consider when deciding on a pricing strategy. First, consider the cost of producing and marketing your product, which is the minimum price you should set for your product. Second, consider what the buyer is willing to pay. For instance, if you’re direct marketing sides of beef or CSA shares, talk to consumers about what they’re getting and what they will pay, while explaining your costs. Try and negotiate what is reasonable for both parties. Finally, consider competitors’ prices by looking at market prices at venues similar to those you’ll use.

Mary Peabody, from the University of Vermont Extension and Director of the Women’s Agricultural Network, presented a webinar titled Pricing for Profit. The webinar offers information on identifying costs, factors that affect pricing, and pricing survival tips. Peabody's advice is to record costs consistently over time so that you know your expenses and how they change, and also to record all time put in by keeping a labor log. Peabody feels that operating expenses and overhead should be the biggest determinant of pricing if you want to be successful. "Don’t set prices based on others’ prices!" Peabody says. Thinking you have to price competitively with, for example, the price in a co-op isn’t realistic; a small, beginning farmer cannot compete with large producers who have paid off start-up costs. Instead, find different markets or find ways to capture greater value for your products using marketing tactics that aren’t obvious. One example is to use different packaging or bundling.

There are other factors that Peabody says impact pricing:

• Harvesting costs
• Quality and selection of products
• Location and market
• Customer income/demographic
• Sales volume offered
• Supply and demand in your market
• Market price in your area

Your pricing strategy speaks volumes about your business. You will quickly earn a reputation as fair and ethical if you have a good pricing strategy. The alternative is to be known as cheap, dishonest, and desperate among consumers and competitors. Your pricing strategy should be consistent, accurate, and reliable. Many people want farmers to have a good quality of life and are willing to pay a fair price for quality products, so price according to what you are spending and add a reasonable markup.

There are some pricing strategies that may help if you are charging a fair price but not making enough profit:

• Produce more
• Focus on the products that are generating the most profit
• Decrease expenses
• Redefine your niche, customers, or marketing (repackage products in different sizes or by the bunch to get away from the same volume as competitors)

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Understanding Organic Pricing and Costs of Production. This publication provides resources to compare organic and conventional agricultural prices, discusses organic production costs, and offers tips on how to set organic crop prices. Several case studies are included that summarize insights gained from successful organic farmers and ranchers.

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