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USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the State of South Dakota have finalized a Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) agreement, which provides an opportunity for selected state-inspected meat and poultry processors to ship their products across state lines. Currently, nine states participate in the program to promote the expansion of business opportunities for state-inspected meat and poultry establishments: Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Vermont, Wisconsin, and now South Dakota. Under CIS, selected state-inspected establishments that comply with federal inspection requirements are permitted to ship their product in interstate commerce.




USDA has unveiled a new resource guide to help rural community leaders start and expand employment opportunities and access resources to train, recruit and create a sustainable rural workforce. The resource guide outlines programs and services available at USDA and other federal agencies that support workforce development in rural communities. It helps community leaders and other local entities access resources more easily to create jobs, train talent, expand educational opportunities and provide technical assistance. The guide also features examples of how customers have used USDA programs to support each of four key assistance types.




USDA announced that it is offering $41.8 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help agricultural producers in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Oregon alleviate the immediate impacts of drought and other natural resource challenges on working lands. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will set aside $11.8 million directly for drought-related practices. Funding will be available through a new EQIP option, Conservation Incentive Contracts, and applications will be accepted through July 12, 2021. Through five- to ten-year contracts, producers manage, maintain, and address important natural resource concerns and build on existing conservation efforts. Conservation Incentive Contracts offer conservation activities that producers implement to address resource concerns. Practices include forest management plans, tree/shrub establishment, brush management, prescribed grazing, pasture and hay planting, wildlife habitat, livestock watering systems, and cover crops. Although the Conservation Incentive Contracts are only available in selected states in fiscal year 2021, NRCS announced that will roll out nationwide in fiscal year 2022, using this pilot to refine implementation of this new option.




NCAT is scaling up its Soil for Water project to support livestock producers and farmers across seven southern states. The project builds on a successful peer-to-peer network of Texas ranchers who are implementing innovative grazing techniques to improve soil health and increase profitability. The effort combines appropriate technology, peer-to-peer learning, and on-farm monitoring to encourage regenerative agricultural practices. By late summer, the project will be available to ranchers and farmers in Texas, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia.




A new publication from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists covers how to manage burrowing rodents without the chemicals used on conventional farms. Burrowing Rodents: Developing a Management Plan for Organic Agriculture in California outlines management within organically acceptable methods using an integrated pest management approach. It is available free online.




The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a new report, "Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Food System: Building the Evidence Base," in which experts estimates that food-system emissions amounted to 16 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalents (CO2eq) in 2018, an 8% increase since 1990. The report found that agricultural activity now represent 33% of all human-caused GHG emissions. The ongoing study considers GHG emissions linked to farm-gate production, land use change at the boundary between farms and natural ecosystems, and supply chains including consumption and waste disposal, to offer a crisper and more granular assessment of trends at the global, regional, and country levels. One emergent theme identified by the study is that optimal GHG mitigation strategies require a focus on activities before and after farm production, ranging from the industrial production of fertilizers to refrigeration at the retail level,




The Pennsylvania Department of Education is encouraging schools, child care centers, and summer meal sites to participate in the Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month Program and other programs that connect farms with schools to get more fresh, locally grown food on students' plates. Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month provides tools and resources for promoting local products to help expand students' palates and understanding of food grown across the commonwealth. A Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month calendar identifies a Pennsylvania-grown agricultural product each month. The program also offers resources for finding Pennsylvania farms and growers, along with recipes that incorporate the designated item of the month.




Worsening soil pollution and waste proliferation threaten the future of global food production, human health, and the environment, and require an urgent global response, according to the new Global Assessment of Soil Pollution. The joint report was released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Program. According to a press release, the joint assessment found that widespread environmental degradation caused by soil pollution, due to the growing demands of agri-food and industrial systems and an increasing global population, is getting worse and is one of the world's major challenges for ecosystem restoration. Industrial and mining activities, poorly managed urban and industrial waste, fossil fuel extraction and processing, as well as unsustainable agricultural practices and transport, were identified as the main sources of soil pollution.




The Cornucopia Institute has released a report on organic beef production and a scorecard that help consumers understand the spectrum of beef production practices. Value Meal: The Benefits of Authentic Organic Beef Production takes a deep dive into beef production and also provides user-friendly summaries of the relative merits of organic beef for anyone interested in shifting their beef buying habits to prioritize quality over quantity. Meanwhile, the Organic Beef Scorecard ranks 175 brands of beef based on their production practices.




The Soil for Water Network run by the National Center for Appropriate Technology is a growing community of land managers who are trying regenerative practices, monitoring changes in their soils and vegetation, and learning together how to improve soil health so that it will catch and hold more water. Soil for Water invites land managers involved in commercial livestock agriculture in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, or California to join the free network. Members must be interested in regenerative land management practices, committed to monitoring changes in their soils and vegetation over a period of many years, and willing to share their results and stories with other members of the network.




USDA has announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. According to a press release, the new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain. Funding announcements under the Build Back Better initiative will include a mix of grants, loans, and innovative financing mechanisms to support priorities such as investing in food production workers, supporting regional processing capacity, investing in food system infrastructure for distribution and aggregation, and supporting new and expanded access to markets, as well as access to healthy foods.




With broad bipartisan support, Maine's legislature passed An Act To Establish the Maine Healthy Soils Program, reports the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). This legislation creates a one-stop-shop in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry for farmers seeking healthy soils information, technical support and funding opportunities to implement best practices for improving soil health. Maine joins 14 other states that have adopted healthy soils programs. "I'm proud of our state for recognizing the important role our farmers play in protecting one of our most valuable resources: the soil that nourishes us," said bill sponsor Sen. Stacy Brenner, who also serves as board president of MOFGA. "Once Governor Mills signs this into law, and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry sets up the program, all farmers in Maine will benefit from this investment in our future."




USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reopened the comment period on its April 28, 2015, proposed rule to amend the origin of livestock requirements for dairy animals under the USDA organic regulations. The proposed rule relates to whether AMS should prohibit the movement of transitioned cows in organic dairy production. In particular, AMS is seeking comment on rules for the movement of transitioned livestock and the updated economic analysis of the proposed rule. The comment period will be open until July 12, 2021. Previously submitted comments do not need to be resubmitted.




Researchers at the University of Illinois found that beneficial arthropods are nearly twice as abundant and diverse in uncultivated field edges in the spring as they are in areas that are cropped, if the edges offer plant diversity and not just mowed grass. The study findings were published in the Journal of Insect Science. The study focused on overwintering arthropods in organic farm fields and field edges in Illinois, because use of pesticides may wipe out many of these beneficial creatures. Researchers note that the overwintering predatory insects can play a key role in controlling pest infestations at the start of the growing season.




Researchers reporting in American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry have identified five strawberry cultivars that are best suited for hot, dry regions such as Texas. The researchers grew 10 common strawberry cultivars in northwest Texas, comparing seven spring-bearing and three day-neutral varieties. They evaluated the plants for survival, yield, and berry quality. The researchers concluded that five cultivars—Albion, Sweet Charlie, Camarosa, Camino Real and Chandler—can grow well in Texas' climate and have the best flavor and aroma.




Pennsylvania is highlighting its support of urban agriculture for food sovereignty. The 2019 and 2020 Pennsylvania Farm Bill Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program invested $1 million in building infrastructure for food sovereignty and security in urban areas of the commonwealth. In addition, $10 million of Pennsylvania's CARES Act dollars were dedicated to low-income, often urban, communities in a move to increase the availability, accessibility, safety, and affordability of nutritious foods and combat food apartheid through the COVID-19 Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI). "The pandemic has made one thing abundantly clear: hyper-local food production is key to addressing food insecurity, especially in urban areas of the commonwealth where food apartheids are a sad reality," said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "Access to affordable fresh and nutritious foods is key to building healthy communities and that was the impetus of both the Urban Ag Program and Fresh Food Financing Initiative."




A three-year project in Texas that was funded by a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program grant explored the best methods for soil carbon sequestration. NCAT was one of the collaborating organizations in a project that studied the results of management strategies on different soil types over time and also looked at incentives that can motivate producers to adopt management practices designed to sequester carbon in soils. The project included production of many documents and outreach activities across Texas to share results as it sought to identify conservation practices that were practical in the real-world but could also sequester carbon.




The Conservation Learning Group, a think tank organization based at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and dedicated to addressing conservation and environmental challenges, recently published a series of infographics that provide insight into water quality and conservation topics. Using a combination of visual elements and text, each of the new documents presents facts and figures that will help readers easily gain an understanding of key issues. For those interested in delving deeper into these topics, each infographic contains references to additional helpful resources. Six infographics are available: Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy—Aiming to Improve Water Quality, Iowa Nutrient Reductiondown Strategy—Frequently Asked Questions, and four A Closer Look publications: Harmful Algal Blooms, What Drives Conservation Decisions in Iowa?, Iowa Farmland Ownership and Water Quality, and Stream Delivery of Nitrogen and Phosphorus. The infographics are available online and are free to download and distribute.




Agricultural producers who have coverage under most crop insurance policies are eligible for a premium benefit from USDA if they planted cover crops during this crop year. The Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP), offered nationally by USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA), helps farmers maintain their cover crop systems, despite the financial challenges posed by the pandemic. The PCCP is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. PCCP provides premium support to producers who insured their spring crop with most insurance policies and planted a qualifying cover crop during the 2021 crop year. The premium support is $5 per acre, but no more than the full premium owed. All cover crops reportable to FSA are eligible, including cereals and other grasses, legumes, brassicas and other non-legume broadleaves, and mixtures of two or more cover crop species planted at the same time.




The Organic Center developed a calculator that totals the impact of choosing organic dairy in terms of avoiding chemical usage. The calculator and an accompanying report help illustrate for consumers the impact that their choices have on synthetic fertilizer use, synthetic pesticide use, and dairy drug use. It also highlights how organic dairy choices affect climate change, biodiversity, antibiotic resistance, and farmworker health.




Pasa Sustainable Agriculture in Pennsylvania has introduced a Diversified Vegetable Pre-Apprenticeship program to provide introductory hands-on training for people who want to explore sustainable farming as a career but have little to no prior farming experience. The curriculum is based on the core duties, skills, and qualifications for Pasa's two-season vegetable farming apprenticeship program. The program is hosted by local partner organizations with established farmer training programs focused on teaching sustainable growing practices.




Insects can help soybean yields by carrying out more effective pollination than the plants attain without them, according to a recently published study conducted by an international team of scientists. Researchers found that wild bees and honey bees can improve soybean yields upward of 20% when they help to pollinate the soybean plants. The study suggests that introducing pollinator habitat to soybean fields may lead to production benefits, in addition to environmental advantages. "This is another piece of the puzzle that suggests the trade-off between crop production and ecosystem services is not as large as many people think," said co-author and Iowa State University professor Lisa Schulte Moore. "There might be really nice synergies, especially in soybeans."




The fifth National Farm Viability Conference is seeking proposals for workshop sessions for the 2021 conference taking place virtually from October 1-29, 2021. The mission of the conference is to strengthen farm sustainability, build stronger and more resilient local food systems and support long term profitability of farming and agri-entrepreneurs from start-ups to generational businesses. The conference is geared towards professionals in the fields of farm and food business planning, financial planning, agricultural financing, farmland conservation, agricultural market development, and food hub management. A list of suggested workshop topics is available online. Workshop proposals are due June 18, 2021.




University of California scientists have completed a new publication, Herbicide Symptoms on Hemp. The eight-page publication is available free online in PDF. It looks at symptoms that could be expected in hemp that has been exposed to specific herbicides that are widely used in a range of crops during the summer hemp growing season. The authors note that as hemp becomes more popular as a crop, producers are eagerly seeking more information on how to produce and market it successfully.




Ethnographers from Penn State University studied ecological farmers in Taiwan to explore what technologists could learn from permaculture and eco farming. They learned how farmers are developing and choosing an approach to farming that is based on sustainable design principles. "The farmers seem to be prototyping an alternative way of doing food production. They have created an alternative economic system and an alternative set of values, alternative community relations, and an alternative practice for actual food growth and food distribution," explained researcher Jeffrey Bardzell.




A 15-year study of wild bees visiting blueberry fields in Michigan highlighted the impact of extreme weather on pollinators. The study was published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. This long-term study is one of few that utilize the same methods year after year, so its results are especially valuable. Researchers found that 2012 was a noteworthy year in the study period. A warm spring was followed by a late freeze and then a hot summer. This led to a 61% decline in bee numbers for the following study period. Although some wild bee populations recovered quickly from the event, others experienced years of slow recovery. Researchers say this study highlights the need to develop programs that monitor wild bees across the United States.




Practical Farmers of Iowa has posted results from on-farm trials of heat-tolerant cabbage varieties. In the 2020 trial, four cooperating farms each tested up to six different cabbage varieties for midsummer yield and quality. The varieties included Farao, Red Express, Tiara, Charmant, Red Jewel, and Famosa. The trials showed that Farao and Tiara generally performed best, but each farm had slight differences in which variety performed the best. Also, the red cabbage varieties in this trial failed to produce well in summer growing conditions.




Bloomberg Businessweek notes that the market for premium eggs is growing. Consumers have demonstrated willingness to pay considerably more for organic eggs and free-range eggs. Now, some companies are seeking to market premium eggs based on use of regenerative agriculture on the farms where the eggs were produced. They believe consumers will be willing to pay more for eggs produced with practices that could help combat climate change. The feature notes that being able to tell the story of the product will be crucial to convincing customers to pay the premium for eggs that look the same as conventional eggs.




USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has announced an initiative to quantify the climate benefits of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts. This multi-year effort will enable USDA to better target CRP toward climate outcomes and improve existing models and conservation planning tools. USDA is seeking proposals for projects to survey, sample, and measure the climate benefits of grassland, forest, and wetland enrolled in CRP. Projects should be for a three- to five-year term, with the potential for renewal. Projects should be a minimum of $1 million and not exceed $9 million. Applications are welcome from all types of organizations, including public, private, and nonprofit institutions. The deadline for proposals is July 2, 2021.




Researchers at Washington State University have identified a new, heat-resistant strain of the fungus Metarhizium that can survive inside honeybee hives. The fungus releases spores that germinate on varroa mites, killing them from the inside out. Bees, on the other hand, have high immunity against the spores, so the treatment is safe for them. The researchers will next seek Environmental Protection Agency approval and work on a delivery method. Steve Sheppard, corresponding author on the study published in Scientific Reports, says, "We hope in 10 years that, rather than chemical miticides, Metarhizium is widely used to control Varroa mites...And that the mite problem for beekeepers has been significantly reduced.”




Scientists at Cornell University have developed a new app that allows grape growers to predict their yields much earlier in the season and more accurately than costly traditional methods. Growers video grape vines while driving a tractor or walking through the vineyard at night, then upload the video for computer vision analysis. The method is less labor-intensive and more accurate than having workers count grapes in a sample section of the field and extrapolating the results to the entire vineyard. Researchers will field test the app this summer, and they intend the app to be open sourced.




The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance announced its transformation into Farmers for Sustainable Food, a nonprofit organization that provides resources, advocacy, support and empowerment for farmers who are innovating and demonstrating sustainable farming practices. The Dairy Business Association and The Nature Conservancy originally organized the alliance in Wisconsin around the goal of helping dairy farmers make tangible improvements to the environment and other aspects of their farms. Since then, additional partners have come aboard representing various parts of the food supply chain, from individual farms and agricultural groups to food processors and food companies. The group is now facilitating greater opportunities to achieve environmental goals and promote progress in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest.




The Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC) announced grant awards totaling $112,857 through the Multi-Business Agritourism Grant program. Six dairy farmers, processors, and organizations in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont will launch innovative agritourism projects through the NE-DBIC's first competitive grant round. The projects funded are designed to raise awareness, understanding, and consumption of Northeast produced dairy products through agritourism activities that impact multiple dairy businesses. Descriptions of the funded projects are available online.




Research by the University of California, published in Sustainability, showed that managed grazing by livestock can support conservation of threatened plant and animal species in California. Habitat loss due to land use change is a primary driver of species loss, so grazing as a land use helps preserve needed habitat. Furthermore, if the grazing is well managed, it can help control non-native species that threaten both endangered plants and endangered animals. Grazing can also help manage vegetation change to help preserve suitable habitat for threatened species, according to the study results. The researchers noted, "Livestock grazing is perhaps the only ongoing land use that can be feasibly manipulated to manage vegetation and habitats at the landscape scale."




The CEA Food Safety Coalition, comprised of leaders in the controlled environment agriculture industry, has introduced a food safety certification program specifically for CEA-grown leafy greens. Members of the Coalition can choose to be assessed for the CEA Leafy Greens Module, and upon successful completion will be allowed to use the CEA food-safe seal on certified product packaging. The Leafy Greens Module is measured against science-based criteria and is an add-on to existing compliance with an underlying Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized food safety standard.




Minnesota's Cropland Grazing Exchange matches cattle producers wishing to find grazing land with producers looking for cattle to graze their land, reports Ag Update. The exchange has been operating for several years and has become a model for similar exchanges in other states. Now, a Midwest Grazing Exchange covers a four-state region and gives producers more options.




Phase one of Organic Valley's dairy life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluated on-farm greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms in a diverse range of climates using different management practices. University of Wisconsin-Madison's assessment reveals that, on average, the dairy farms of Organic Valley's members have a smaller carbon footprint than average U.S. conventional and organic dairy overall. Including carbon sequestration from pasture in the LCA reduced the net farm emissions of the cooperative's dairy farms by an average of 15%. Organic Valley farmers report engaging in 50% more pasture grazing than required by the National Organic Program, and it explains that the LCA results are impacted by this significant difference.




The Global Farm Metric is set to become a new standard by which farmers and supermarkets measure and manage the environmental and social impact of food production, according to Fresh Produce Journal. Supporters hope to make the Global Farm Metric an international standard. Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust, explains that each participating farm would have an annual sustainability audit. "This involves the measurement of soil organic matter, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, energy and resources use, biodiversity, data on crop management, and of course social and cultural impact," he notes. "The data is combined to produce a score which can be used by supermarkts and food companies; by governments to broker new international agreements for trade; and to give consumers the power to identify sustainable products."




USDA published its first notice of funding availability (NOFA) announcing loan payments for eligible borrowers with qualifying direct farm loans under the American Rescue Plan Act Section 1005. The official NOFA will be published in the Federal Register and USDA expects payments to begin in early June and continue on a rolling basis. Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides funding and authorization for USDA Farm Service Agency to pay up to 120% of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as defined in Section 2501(a) of the Food, Agriculture Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. Qualifying loans under this announcement are certain direct loans under the Farm Loan Programs and Farm Storage Facility Loan Program.




A review paper published by the University of Maryland; University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of North Texas examined pollinators from both an economic and ecological perspective. This study revealed that pollination services are a more important income stream for beekeepers than honey, but it also notes that little is understood about how managed pollination services provided by imported bees affect native pollinators and the larger ecosystem.




The 4M Farms, an organic dryland grain and cow/calf operation in Montana, is featured in The Prairie Star. Anna and Cliff Merriman are growing organic mustard, safflower, spring wheat, and malting barley this spring. They purchased the farm in 2012, with a downpayment loan through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and an FSA loan for purchasing farm equipment. Their own land, as well as land they lease, is certified organic. The Merrimans participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program and are seeding cover crops for their cattle to graze. 4M Farms will host a Montana Organic Association tour this summer on July 6 2021.




The Soil Health Partnership, created by the National Corn Growers Association in 2014, grew to work with 200 farmers in 16 states over its seven-year program, advancing farmers' understanding of soil health, conservation, water quality, and carbon sequestration. Now Progressive Farmer reports that the program is shutting down because of financial challenges. The program was significant because it was led by a national commodity association and worked directly with farmers to explore, document, and share the economic and environmental benefits of employing a variety of soil health practices. Those involved note that the soil health topic area has become much more competitive recently, and they say that funding to support the program's testing and outreach efforts was lacking.




USDA has released Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry: 90-Day Progress Report, an 18-page PDF. The report describes how USDA has been collecting input from Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, firefighters, and other communities and organizations as part of its strategy development. It also makes recommendations on seven elements that a multi-pronged Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry strategy for USDA should contain. Finally, it outlines next steps in the process of developing the strategy.




The Center for Rural Affairs announced that Nebraska and Iowa lawmakers unanimously approved of bills to assist small meat processors and livestock producers as they work to clear obstacles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Nebraska Legislative Bill (LB) 324 and Iowa House File (HF) 857 received final round approval and now await signatures from the respective states' governors. LB 324 makes it easier for consumers to buy meat directly from producers or processors. It also creates the Independent Processor Assistance Program to help processors with expansion, modification, or construction of buildings; efficient packaging, processing, and storage equipment; technology to improve logistics or enable e-commerce; and educational or workforce training programs. Meanwhile, HF 857 will establish the Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund and Program to provide assistance to new and existing small meat lockers in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and forgivable loans to help them grow. Additionally, a task force to explore the feasibility of establishing a community college artisanal butchery program would be established.




USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) an investment of over $2.3 million as part of the USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program. NIFA recently awarded eight grants totaling $812,939 to small businesses to improve plant production and protection, eight awards totaling $797,602 for animal production and protection, and seven awards totaling $706,120 for conserving natural resources. Information on each of the funded projects is available online. They include projects related to domestic vanilla production, native pollinators, poultry vaccines, and chicken feed freshness testing.




USDA National Organic Program issued a reminder that nominations for the four open seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) are due by June 1, 2021. One seat is designated for an owner or employee of an organic farming operation. Each member of the board serves a five-year term. USDA encourages applications from traditionally underrepresented individuals, organizations, and businesses to reflect the diversity of this industry.




A new report from Vermont Law School's Center for Agriculture and Food Systems reveals dangerous gaps in labor protections that put the health of agricultural workers at risk. The report, Essentially Unprotected, draws from a comprehensive overview of state and federal laws, offering policy recommendations to prevent and treat two of farmworkers' most critical workplace hazards: pesticide exposure and heat-related illness. The report highlights preventive measures that some states have taken, and it calls on all policymakers and agencies to take action.




The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) is seeking nominations for its Sustainable Agriculture Leadership Program for summer 2021. This program recognizes the community leadership contributions of historically underserved farmers and ranchers and the community groups and NGOs who serve those audiences. It provides sponsorship funds (up to $3,000) to support education and training activities specifically targeted to historically underserved farmers and ranchers. The application deadline is June 1, 2021.




A new program led by University of Florida researchers, faculty and Extension agents is bringing small-scale growers up to speed on marketing options that connect them with e-commerce opportunities and direct-to-consumer accessibility. The program is available in English and Spanish. The program's curriculum consists of a series of seven workshops conducted in English and Spanish in three Florida counties. To reach a wider audience, each session will be recorded and accessible on-demand for interested growers.




Alabama Cooperative Extension's Mobile Farm Innovation Project brings information to socially disadvantaged and limited resource fruit and vegetable producers in educational trailers that travel though Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. This project shows profitable and practical ways to improve conservation practices on the farm while lowering financial and food safety risks. It combines hands-on activities and modern technology to increase farm viability with food safety and conservation practices. Farmers can learn how to construct a simple on-farm cooler or handwashing sink, sanitize surfaces, utilize vegetative buffers, and more.




Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA) announced 50 recipients of its 2021 Farmers of Color Network Infrastructure Fund grants. The fund awarded $369,200 across 10 states. The grant program provides grants of up to $10,000 for farm infrastructure, processing and refrigeration, or collaborative projects with multiple farmers. RAFI-USA's Farmers of Color Network Infrastructure Fund provides support to farmers for new and innovative agricultural projects that will increase farm viability, support community food sovereignty efforts, preserve traditional and cultural farming practices, as well as assist local food economies. Applications that were funded this year include projects to expand poultry and livestock operations, construct walk-in coolers for storage and processing, build solar-powered fencing for livestock grazing fields, and create mobile produce markets. Descriptions of the grantees and projects are available online.




The University of California, Davis, is testing grazing sheep for campus landscape maintenance. The university is conducting an experiment to see if sheep can provide mowing, fertilization, and pest-control services and provide economic and resource savings. A flock of four breeds of sheep made their first three-day foray onto campus lawns in early May. They were watched by student shepherds during the day and transported off-site at night. The grazing will continue intermittently throughout the summer. Landscape condition will be evaluated against a conventionally managed control area during the course of the experiment.




A European study published in Environmental Pollution reports on the results of testing for pesticide residues from historic use on both conventional and organic farms in three different countries. Soils from conventional farms presented mostly mixtures of pesticide residues, with a maximum of 16 residues per soil sample. Soils from organic farms had significantly fewer residues, with a maximum of five residues per soil sample. The residues with the highest frequency of detection and the highest content in soil were herbicides: glyphosate and pendimethalin. Organic soils presented 70–90% lower residue concentrations than the corresponding conventional soils. The scientists note that there is a severe knowledge gap concerning the effects of the accumulated and complex mixtures of pesticide residues found in soil on soil biota and soil health. They also recommend that the process of transitioning to organic farming should take into consideration the residue mixtures at the conversion time and their residence time in soil.




The Livestock Conservancy announced that Ayrshire cattle have graduated from its Conservation Priority List of endangered livestock and poultry breeds. The ranked list of rare breeds is based on the annual number of registrations in the United States and the breed's estimated global population size. Today, more than 3,000 Ayrshire cows are registered each year in the United States, and 5,000 to 6,000 are born annually in the United Kingdom. Worldwide, the population of Ayrshire cattle well exceeds the 25,000 animals needed for graduation. The Livestock Conservancy credits dedicated Ayrshire breeders and partners like the U.S. Ayrshire Breeders Association and other global conservation organizations with helping make this graduation possible. They characterize Ayrshire cattle as an excellent choice for small dairies, family farms, and mixed-breed dairy herds, noting that they are productive dairying animals for grass-based operations.




Wild Farm Alliance posted a case study of Serrano Family Farm that highlights how brother and sister Michael and Christine Serrano are bringing nature back to their family's farm with hedgerows in riparian areas. Hedgerows in riparian areas reduce erosion and stabilize the soil, and also attract beneficial insects, pollinators, and biodiversity.




North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) announced that 58 grant projects were selected to receive a total of more than $709,000 through its 2021 Farmer Rancher Grant Program. This is a competitive grants program for farmers and ranchers who want to explore sustainable solutions to problems through on-farm research, demonstration, and education projects. Descriptions of the funded projects are available online. They address topics including lasers for avian predator control, low-input cut-flower production, management-intensive grazing, value-added products, and many more.




Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and Michigan State University published a study on how tepary beans adapt to heat stress. They hope that crossing the tepary beans with common beans will help this important legume protein source become more tolerant of the increasingly harsh conditions brought on by a changing climate. Scientists predict that by 2050, the major regions growing common beans may be unsuitable and the overall nutritional quality of the crop will likely be reduced. While the tepary beans are resistant to temperature stress, they are not as disease resistant, so researchers are looking to combine desirable traits by crossing the two types of beans.




Meat that is USDA certified organic is less likely to be contaminated with bacteria that can sicken people, including dangerous, multidrug-resistant organisms, according to a study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The researchers found that, compared to conventionally processed meats, organic-certified meats were 56% less likely to be contaminated with multidrug-resistant bacteria. The study was based on nationwide testing of meats from 2012 to 2017 as part of the U.S. National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). The rate of contamination was 4% in the conventionally produced meat samples and just under 1% in those that were produced organically. The study also found that among conventional meats, those processed at facilities that exclusively handled conventional meats were contaminated with bacteria one-third of the time, while those handled at facilities that processed both conventional and organic meats were contaminated one-quarter of the time.




A new publication from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Pork Industry Center offers information on livestock mortality composting for beginners. The publication outlines how to set up the base for the compost, cover the carcass to shed rain, and choose the co-compost material that will act as a biofilter to stop any adverse odors. Field Tips for Successful Composting is available online at no charge.




A Virtual Resource Prosperity Summit is available online to Southwest Georgia farmers, community members, and community organizations through August 31, 2021. This is a joint summit hosted by the Charles Sherrod Community Development Corporation and Golden Triangle Resource and Development Council, and funded by USDA Office of Partnership and Public Engagement. The Prosperity Summit focuses on providing resources tailored toward healthy and affordable food, heirs property, broadband access, back-road infrastructure, economic development, and literacy in adults and children. Webinars are available for viewing at your convenience.




USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking both new and experienced grant reviewers for a variety of grant programs. Grant reviewers help AMS select the best programs from competitive groups of applicants. Reviewers are chosen for specific grant programs based on their knowledge, education, and experience. Grant review panels are selected to reflect diversity of ethnicity, gender, experience, and geography. Reviewers use their expertise to objectively evaluate and score applications against published evaluation criteria. Reviewers gain understanding of the grant-making process and have the opportunity to communicate with colleagues that often share common backgrounds and interests. AMS is currently seeking reviewers for the Acer Access and Development Program, Local Food Promotion Program, Regional Food System Partnerships, Farmers Market Promotion Program, Dairy Business Innovation, and other programs.




Fair Trade USA and Chobani, LLC have launched a groundbreaking certification program for U.S. dairy farms and cooperatives that provides financial premiums to dairy farmers and workers, which will help protect and empower them while raising sustainability standards. The fair trade certification program is available to milk producers throughout the United States. Fair Trade Certification provides farm owners and cooperatives with an opportunity to differentiate, increase engagement with consumers, and receive a financial premium for their investments. Certification also provides greater support for farm workers in an industry that can face challenges in workforce availability, working hours, and farm safety. Fair Trade USA plans to develop an environmental component to this program which will address the unique challenges of the dairy industry. The certification process typically takes six to nine months to complete, and, when certified, milk buyers are authorized to promote their products using the widely-recognized Fair Trade Certified seal.




Midwestern farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers have direct access to a new tool to help manage stress, anxiety, depression, or substance use issues. The newly launched website, farmstress.org, is aimed at providing the agricultural community with resources and support through the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center. The website lists resources by state and topic, including crisis numbers, telephone hotlines, and training resources. "This new tool will help those in agricultural communities connect with critical information to help themselves, their family members or people they work with," says Iowa project lead David Brown. "Having this information available online helps make mental health information more accessible."




The American Rescue Plan enacted this spring included $5 billion in direct aid for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers, explains the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NSAC reports that the USDA Farm Service Administration will be responsible for distributing the approximately $4 billion in farm debt relief payments for BIPOC producers who have farm loans made directly by FSA or through private lenders with USDA guarantees. All Black, Native American, Alaskan Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic/Latino farmers with specified loan types are eligible for relief. Debt relief payments will be made automatically and do not require farmers to apply for payment.




The Pennsylvania Farm Bill's Urban Agriculture Grant Program is awarding $500,000 in grant funding to 42 projects. The program funded 18 microgrants and 24 collaboration grants for projects that improve agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support for community development efforts. Microgrants provide funding up to $2,500 in matching funds for one-time projects or a single entity. Collaboration grants provide up to $50,000 in matching funds for projects that demonstrated cooperative or regional efforts to share resources, aggregate agricultural products or producers, promote the sharing of resources among agricultural entities, and support community development. The projects funded include everything from refrigeration equipment to agricultural infrastructure such as greenhouses, raised beds, irrigation, and tools.




More than 100 farmer veterans received the news that they are being awarded equipment through the 2021 Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, a grant that supports veterans in their early years of farming and ranching. Over 11 years, more than 700 veterans have benefited from $3.5 million in equipment grants. This year's recipients include 47 females, doubling the percentage of women awardees compared to prior years, and come from nearly 40 states. Grantees are receiving equipment including greenhouses and grow tents, walk-in coolers and cold storage units, milking systems, water filtration systems, and honey extractors.




Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota has posted a series of silvopasture case studies to help farmers learn from each other. These case studies feature farmers throughout Minnesota who have been using silvopasture practices for three or more years and whose stories offer tangible examples, support, and encouragement to others. A printable PDF version of the case studies is also available online. The Silvopasture Case Studies are made possible through a partnership among the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management at the University of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension, Great River Greening, and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.




Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists and collaborators explored the rural economic impacts of climate variability and identified potential future outcomes for beef cattle production in a research article, "Future climate variability will challenge rangeland beef cattle production in the Great Plains," recently published in the journal Rangelands. Lead author David Briske, Ph.D. noted that cattle operations, which rely on grassland forage for much of their animals' dietary intake, could be especially vulnerable to increased precipitation variability. The research indicates that beef producers will experience a greater number of years where annual forage production may vary by 50%. This increases the already difficult task of balancing forage production with cattle demand. Briske said this increasing weather variability could present sustainability problems for beef cattle operations and regions that have been successful historically.




A study by Mississippi scientists that was published in Soil Science Society of America Journal focused on documenting the impacts of poultry litter application on crop fields. After five years of soil treatments that applied either poultry litter or commercial chemical fertilizers, researchers grew soybeans for three years. They found that soils amended with poultry litter were less compacted and held significantly more water. However, soil carbon content didn't change much, as the hot and humid region caused carbon to evaporate as carbon dioxide. The soybean yields from the fields amended with poultry litter were higher than those that received other treatments. "These results are useful for development of management practices that improve soil health and function," noted lead author Gary Feng, a USDA soil scientist.




North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NCR-SARE) announced the 16 projects that will receive more than $638,000 in funding through its 2021 Partnership Grant Program. This grant program is intended to foster cooperation between agriculture professionals and small groups of farmers and ranchers to catalyze on-farm research, demonstration, and education activities related to sustainable agriculture. Brief descriptions of the funded projects are available online. They address topics such as collaboration between industrial hemp growers, local foods marketing, building meat processing capacity, and alternative processing and markets for small grains.




California State University Chico's Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems and 12 partners received a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant of nearly $7 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The grant will fund a five-year project called "Soil Health Management Systems for Northern California" that will help orchard and vineyard, rangeland, dairy, and row crop producers in Northern California build food and fiber-production resiliency to counter the challenges from climate change. The project is designed to help the partners combine their efforts and help regional producers learn best practices from each other.




A study by researchers at the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth U.S., and the University of Maryland found that pesticides widely used in American agriculture pose a grave threat to organisms that are critical to healthy soil, biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration to fight climate change. The researchers compiled data from nearly 400 studies, finding that pesticides harmed beneficial, soil-dwelling invertebrates including earthworms, ants, beetles, and ground-nesting bees in 71% of cases reviewed. This is the largest, most comprehensive review of the impacts of agricultural pesticides on soil organisms ever conducted. It was published in Frontiers in Environmental Science.




The National Grazing Lands Coalition has teamed up with On Pasture and Yvette Gibson, an online learning specialist in grazing science, to bring you the information you need to be a successful grazier. The free Grazing 101 e-book introduces the principles you need to manage for soil and pasture health; choose the right fencing, watering systems, handling facilities and livestock; and work smarter, not harder, and actually make a profit. A 43-lesson online course on Grazing 101 and a 24-lesson course on Recordkeeping are also available free.




The National Organic Program (NOP) launched a new web page that compiles resources available to Spanish speakers seeking information about organic certification in one place. The new resource repository includes Spanish translations of the Organic Foods Production Act, organic regulations, the NOP Handbook and a variety of other fact sheets, videos, and training resources.




A graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is collecting and preserving the history of organic/sustainable agriculture in the midwestern and northeastern United States. She is identifying key people, publications, and organizations that helped shape and promote organic/sustainable agriculture. You can help by filling out a brief online questionnaire about how you became interested in organic/sustainable farming. Any identifying/contact information that you provide will be kept confidential.




Fast Company reports that fashion companies such as Patagonia, Allbirds, Timberland, Mara Hoffman, Christy Dawn, and Kering are not just considering where their raw materials are sourced, but are investing in regenerative agriculture. Although the companies produce only a small amount of their materials on regenerative farms, support for the idea is growing. The article highlights examples of how forward-thinking fashion companies are leading the way, and explores what impact the "farm-to-closet" concept could have on the fashion industry and on agriculture.




National Public Radio's All Things Considered reported that a large organic farm in South Dakota is receiving criticism for soil management practices that lead to erosion. Gunsmoke Farms covers 53 square acres, and it is owned by investors that have hired a series of managers to run the operation. Farm owners intend to supply General Mills with organic wheat, peas, and other crops, which they first planted in 2020. Critics say the farm hasn't followed plans that were designed to protect the area's fragile soils and minimize erosion. In addition, 2020 was a dry and windy year that created conditions especially conducive to erosion. Some are concerned that the farm's scale, combined with the current condition of the soil, will make organic, regenerative farming unattainable.




The American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) has announced that it will collect and analyze data on the agricultural, economic, and environmental impacts of co-locating agricultural enterprises such as commercial beekeeping and sheep grazing on photovoltaic sites. The project is being funded by a $198,000 research grant from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority. ASGA has already begun recruiting beekeepers, shepherds, and solar sites and will continue enrollment throughout the 2021 growing season. The study will collect data from co-located sites, as well as conventional, stand-alone operations for comparison purposes. Data will be collected during the 2022 and 2023 grazing seasons. Results of the study will address questions about the quality and profitability of farm products from solar sites, trends in soil health on agriculturally managed solar sites, and the benefits to farmers of working with the solar industry. Apply online to be considered for participation in the study.




The Federal Communications Commission announced that it will begin enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12, 2021. This program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands. It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households. Under the law, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year. Eligible households can enroll through an approved provider or by visiting https://getemergencybroadband.org.




USDA announced a virtual listening session on May 6, 2021, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. ET, for beginning farmers and ranchers. USDA wants to learn how COVID-19 impacted beginning farmers' operations and get their feedback on USDA assistance. Registrants also have the optional opportunity to provide written feedback. This feedback will inform USDA preparations for outreach strategies, programmatic needs, technical assistance and accessible program delivery for beginning farmers and ranchers through Pandemic Assistance for Producers.




Future Harvest CASA, Fair Farms Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other founding partners introduced the Million Acre Challenge, an effort to achieve one million agricultural acres in Maryland using healthy soil techniques by 2030. The voluntary program is helping to connect farmers with each other and helping them find the best tools and management practices to address their unique challenges and set and achieve their soil health goals. The Million Acre Challenge website offers soil health information and research to help farmers build organic matter, reduce compaction, and create healthy soil biological communities.




One of the most successful beginning farmer training programs in the country is now accepting applications for its 2021-2022 course session. Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings classes will take place in an online setting December through March, with on-farm educational events to follow later in 2022. Applications that are accepted before August 15, 2021, will qualify for a $100 discount, and scholarships are available. Farm Beginnings provides community-based training that focuses on the goal setting, marketing, and financial skills needed to establish a successful and sustainable farm business in the Upper Midwest.




The National Farmers Union of Scotland announced that farmer Patrick Barbour won its Next Generation Climate Change competition that encouraged Scotland's farmers and crofters to record on video the many steps they are taking to reduce emissions and deliver wider environmental benefits. Barbour's three-minute video features his brother and sister and stunningly illustrates the benefits of tree planting, species-rich grassland, rotational grazing for cattle and sheep, and stitching nitrogen fixing crops into pastures on the family farm. The winning video is posted online.




Pasa Sustainable Agriculture is accepting session proposals for its 31st Sustainable Agriculture Conference until June 14, 2021. The 2022 conference is planned for February 10–12, 2022, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a virtual pre-conference taking place in January and early February. The goals of the conference are to provide training and education that promote the environmental, economic, and social wellbeing of farms, food systems, communities, and the environment; serve as an outlet for sharing cutting-edge research and science-based solutions, while preserving and passing on traditional farming knowledge and heritage; be a venue where people, businesses, and organizations from across the sustainable agriculture movement make meaningful connections; and embrace an inclusive definition of sustainability, which accepts a diversity of methods and philosophies of production.




Minnesota Department of Agriculture and project partners received a $3.5 million grant from USDA through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to implement conservation measures on irrigated lands. The five-year project will focus on 20 counties across the state of Minnesota. The MDA project, "Implementing Innovative Irrigation Practices to Protect Groundwater Quality and Quantity," will work directly with agricultural producers using irrigation to implement conservation practices that protect groundwater and promote expanded precision-irrigation practices.




The largest soil health program in New England history has received funding from USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The project will be led by NRCS and American Farmland Trust (AFT), working with numerous additional partners. It matches a $7.4 million award from NRCS with partner and donor contributions of more than $7.6 million to incentivize adoption of regenerative agriculture practices in western New England. Over the next five years, AFT's Western New England Regenerative Agriculture project will work closely with hundreds of farms, covering tens of thousands of acres of cropland, on soil conservation, including no-till farming, cover-crop usage, the creation of filter strips, converting marginal cropland to pasture, and other regenerative agriculture practices, while also seeking to increase wildlife habitat, improve overall soil health, and protect local water quality.




A new report from American Farmland Trust calls attention to the importance of speeding the implementation of conservation practices on rented farmland and ranchland. "Advancing Understanding of Conservation on Rented Land" was published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. The article notes that with nearly 40% of farmland in the United States rented or leased from agricultural landowners, understanding who these landowners are and how they think about conservation is key to getting more conservation practices implemented on rented agricultural lands.




USDA announced that it will hold the first-ever Food Loss and Waste Innovation Fair on May 26, to showcase USDA investments and business leadership in reducing food loss and waste throughout the food system. The free, virtual event will present businesses and research teams that have received USDA funding to research or commercialize cutting-edge food loss and waste solutions. USDA agencies will discuss their food loss and waste activities. Additionally, the event will feature several U.S. Food Loss and Waste 2030 Champions, businesses that have committed to reducing food loss and waste in their operations by 50% by 2030.




USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced the award of $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Projects will address climate change, improve the nation's water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability. The Department anticipates that these investments will generate at least $440 million in additional conservation funds by communities and other partners.




The University of California has released a new study that outlines costs and returns of establishing and producing organic alfalfa hay. The new study estimates the costs and returns of establishing and producing organic alfalfa using flood irrigation in the Sacramento Valley, north and south San Joaquin Valley, and the Intermountain Region. The 100 acres of organic alfalfa is rented for $345 per acre annually and the alfalfa stand life is four years after the establishment year. Demand for organic alfalfa is high in California as an organic dairy input. "This cost study provides information on how to grow alfalfa hay organically," notes study co-author Rachael Long.




Leading global certification program GlobalGAP c/o FoodPLUS GmbH has launched a new GGN label for consumers. Previous GGN labels were specific to aquaculture and floriculture products, but the new label applies to fruits and vegetables, as well. All products with the GGN label come from a farm whose production process has been independently certified according to international GlobalGAP standards or one of the standards that is recognized by GlobalGAP as equivalent. These standards are holistic in nature and cover food safety, sustainability, environmental protection, animal welfare, workers' health and safety, and supply chain transparency.




Researchers at Penn State University explored how using dairy manure and legume cover crops in corn crop rotations can increase emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. The increase was largely due to the typical timing of manure application, before planting the corn crop. This study found that farmers could reduce nitrous oxide emissions if they could apply manure after the crop is planted, closer to when the corn begins to take up nitrogen. In this study, better timing for nitrogen application allowed for a reduced total nitrogen application, including use of less inorganic nitrogen fertilizer.




FieldWatch, Inc., a non-profit company that promotes improved communication and stewardship among crop producers, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators, is expanding its SeedFieldCheck registry into Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan for the 2021 growing season. SeedFieldCheck integrates into the existing FieldWatch crop and apiary registry and enables seed companies to more effectively communicate the location and presence of seed field workers to pesticide applicators. SeedFieldCheck enables seed companies to register the locations of their field crews daily. Users mark registered fields as "planned" or "occupied" to alert pesticide applicators when there may be crews in the area. The free mapping program debuted in Iowa in 2020, joining FieldWatch's other registries, including DriftWatch Specialty Crop Site Registry, BeeCheck Apiary Registry, CropCheck Row Crop Registry, and FieldCheck.




New York Department of Agriculture, Cornell University New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, and Northeast Regional Climate Center announced the launch of the Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA) version 3.0. This represents a complete update of a popular online system that helps New York farmers protect their crops from insects and plant disease. NEWA 3.0 offers an improved user experience paired with any smart device, a secure user account system with customized preferences, and 17 completed fruit and vegetable insect pest and plant disease forecast models, with seven more lined up for release in coming months. NEWA users report annual cost savings of $33,048 from avoided crop losses, $4,329 from reduced sprays, and $2,060 in overall per acre annually, according to a 2017 survey. NEWA 3.0 (beta) is available for use immediately. There is no charge for access or account creation.




Oregon State University's Jim Myers has developed a purple processing tomato called Midnight Roma. The antioxidant-rich tomato resulted from a cross of the Oregon Star tomato with Indigo Rose, a dark purple tomato that contains anthocyanins. Both varieties were developed at Oregon State University. The Midnight Roma was developed for flavor and disease resistance. Its fruit ripens at about the same time, making it ideal for processing. Because the anthocyanins are contained in the dark skin, the skin must be included in processing to retain the health benefits of these antioxidants. Row 7 Seed Co. has exclusive rights to Midnight Roma and is selling seed online.




A study by Oregon State University researchers found that shade provided by solar panels increased the abundance of flowers under the panels and delayed the timing of their bloom, both findings that could aid the agricultural community. The researchers collected data from 48 species of plants and 65 different insect species, in full-sun, partial shade, and full shade situations. The study, believed to be the first that looked at the impact of solar panels on flowering plants and insects, has important implications for solar developers who manage the land under solar panels, as well as agriculture and pollinator health advocates who are seeking land for pollinator habitat restoration. The researchers explained that extending bloom times is important for pollinating insects because it provides them food later in the season. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.




The Sand County Foundation announced that state-level Leopold Conservation Award recipients have been selected for Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Sand County Foundation and local partners in the states present the awards in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, to recognize private landowners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water, and wildlife resources in their care. In South Dakota, Prairie Paradise Farms of Fort Pierre has been selected as the 2021 winner. Switzer Ranch of Loup County is the Nebraska winner, and May Ranch of Lamar is the Colorado recipient. More information on each of the recipients is available online.




Ceres Imaging released a study that uses aerial imaging to quantify the extent and impact of drip irrigation issues in agriculture. This new report finds that there is significant opportunity for growers to increase farm profits and conserve water by quickly detecting and correcting common issues like plugs, leaks, and pressure issues. This is the first publicly available report that uses aerial imagery to quantify the extent and impact of irrigation issues across a vast geography. Ceres Imaging reviewed anonymized data from more than 1 million acres of drip-irrigated specialty crops across California collected over the course of the 2020 growing season. The study found considerable opportunities to improve grower profits and increase agriculture resource efficiency by acting on irrigation issues quickly.




In March, NCAT hosted its inaugural Soil Health Innovations Conference. The conference offered a forum for leading experts and innovative farmers from around the U.S. sharing the latest in soil science, best practices in soil management, and the emerging technologies that will drive the future of sustainable and regenerative agriculture. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. If you missed the conference, you have another opportunity to access its content: NCAT is making session recordings available online to registered participants until September. Register today to gain access to all of the conference content.




USDA announced that it will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program's role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture. USDA's goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program. To target the program on climate change mitigation, FSA is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat, and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.




USDA is seeking comments on a Department-wide effort to improve and reimagine the supply chains for the production, processing and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products. USDA is taking this action in response to Executive Order 14017, America's Supply Chains. The comments received will help USDA assess the critical factors, risks, and strategies needed to support resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains. In particular, the request for comment seeks input on bolstering local and regional food systems, developing new market opportunities (including for value-added agriculture and products), creating fairer and more competitive markets, meeting the needs of the agricultural workforce, supporting and promoting consumers nutrition security addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged and small to mid-sized producers, and advancing efforts in other ways to transform the food system. The comment period will close on May 21, 2021.




National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced that it is awarding $21.7 million in several key programs to help agricultural producers manage the impacts of climate change on their lands and production. NIFA awarded $6.3 million for 14 Soil Health grants and $5.4 million for seven Signals in the Soil grants through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). NIFA also is investing at least $10 million this year in a new AFRI program area priority, "Extension, Education, and USDA Climate Hub Partnerships," to train the next generation of agriculturalists and foresters to incorporate climate change research into their management practices. Complete lists of funded projects are provided online.




USDA reminds agricultural producers that the Farm Service Agency is currently accepting new and modified Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) 2 applications. The CFAP 2 signup period has reopened as part of USDA's new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Producers of livestock and row or specialty crops who were directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for financial assistance through CFAP 2. To learn more, visit farmers.gov/CFAP, call 877-508-8364, or contact your local FSA office.




Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora, the hosts of American Public Media's popular sustainable agriculture podcast Field Work, produced a short video that explores the conservation culture that developed in Washington County, Iowa. The three-minute video reveals how farmers' willingness to share successes and failures and entrepreneurial problem-solving all played a big role in making Washington County a bastion of sustainable agriculture, and it outlines how other farm communities can replicate that success.




For the past 15 years, the Behavior, Energy & Climate Change (BECC) conference has presented behavioral research and practice to foster individual and organizational change. The theme for this year's virtual conference is Reimagining the Future. BECC invites you to present your work and learn from others about how to encourage behavior change that reduces energy consumption and carbon emissions, evaluate behavior-change programs, understand why individuals and groups change, and make transitions in fair and equitable ways. Submit your 300-word abstract by April 22, 2021.




University of California Cooperative Extension specialists have launched a research project to quantify the potential for chickens to be part of safe and sustainable commercial organic vegetable production. The California trial is part of a national effort to diversify organic vegetable farms with chickens. In the trials, chickens are introduced as part of a rotation that includes cover crops and a variety of vegetable crops. In California, chickens were placed on research plots in April, following a winter cover crop of vetch, peas, fava beans, and oat grass. The chickens themselves are part of a trial of meat quality for pastured chickens. Vegetable crops are subsequently planted on the ground where the chickens were, and soil quality and vegetable yield are being evaluated.




Scientists with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station evaluated eight varieties of seedless table grapes to determine which grow best in New Hampshire. The study team reports that 'Mars' has performed very well, with consistently high yields, high fruit quality, and relatively good disease resistance. "Seedless table grapes are typically grown in much warmer climates, although several newer varieties released since the 1970s promise increased winter hardiness," experiment station scientist Becky Sideman said. "Seedless table grapes offer potential for existing vineyards that focus primarily on wine grapes to diversify into additional markets. They also may be a new crop to consider for those who do not currently grow grapes. In particular, the crop management requirements and timing could be compatible with other orchard or berry crops."




The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry and Eggs introduced its multi-stakeholder sustainability reporting framework for the full U.S. supply chains for chicken,turkey, and eggs from producer to final customer. Three full U.S. supply chain pilots (broilers, eggs, and turkeys) have been completed with input from leading companies including Butterball, Cal-Maine Foods, Cargill, Darling Ingredients, Herbruck's Poultry Ranch,Iowa Turkey Federation, Kreher's Family Farms, McDonald's Corporation, Peco Foods, Sanderson Farms, Tyson Foods, and West Liberty Foods. The pilot companies tested the Framework's metrics to ensure they were effective and implementable ahead of the anticipated full launch to the industry early next year. Participants in the initiative cited a need for greater transparency in the poultry industry at the individual and supply chain level.




A study by University of Alberta biologists shows that adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing extracts methane gas from the atmosphere, locking it inside the soil through microbial activity. The study, "Adaptive Multi-paddock Grazing Lowers Soil Greenhouse Gas Emission Potential by Altering Extracellular Enzyme Activity," was published in Agronomy. Researchers compared the fluxes of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, from soils of AMP-grazed grasslands to paired neighboring non-AMP-grazed grasslands across a climatic gradient in Alberta, Canada. Among other results, the study found that methane uptake was 1.5 times greater in soils from AMP-grazed than non-AMP-grazed grasslands.




The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has released Organic Foods: Are They Safer? This 40-page publication notes that organic agriculture is not a guarantee of food safety. This report discusses organic agriculture and its ecological roles in sustaining farming practices and protecting the environment, as well as its economic aspects. This paper also discusses organic agriculture and food safety, and introduces the concept of agroecology.




Practical Farmers of Iowa has released a Farmer-Led Research report on the impact of pruning tomatoes in high tunnels. Iowa farmers Maja and Carmen Black and Natasha Hegmann were interested in learning the impact of double-leader pruning on tomato yield and labor-time in their high tunnels. In this study, cooperators documented labor for different tasks along with tomato weight and fruit count. They found that although time spent on labor was higher for the pruned tomatoes at the Blacks, at Hegmann's, time spent on labor was higher for un-pruned tomatoes. Additionally, at the Blacks' there was no difference in yield, while at Hegmann's the pruned plants produced larger fruits and the un-pruned plants produced more fruits. The full report is available online.




Scientists at Penn State University developed Beescape, an online decision-support tool that integrates multiple national databases to provide indices of bee resources across the United States. Now, a nearly $950,000 grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools grant program will enable the team to expand Beescape's functionality significantly. Penn State reports that Beescape NexGen will feature a tool to assess the economic value of pollination services for all crops dependent on insect pollination in a given area. It also will include a refined seasonal forage-quality index that integrates stakeholder perspectives and additional national data sets. In addition, the application will offer bee-support assessments at local and regional spatial scales and the ability to explore changes across multiple years.




The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has named Purdue University as the new host of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center (MRCC). There are six regional climate centers in the U.S., and the Midwestern center covers nine states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The centers serve as hubs for data collected from federal atmospheric observational sites. Staff use the data to develop tools beneficial to stakeholders across the region. Center director Beth Hall envisions developing tools that monitor plant evapotranspiration, the potential for flash droughts, and growing degree days.




A study led by Cornell University and Utah State University documented how ubiquitous microplastics have become. Plastics cycle through oceans and roadways, and as the pieces become small enough, they can become airborne and move through the atmosphere. Researchers examined the sources of atmospheric microplastics and found that, in the western United States, 84% of microscopic shards came from road dust, caused by cars and trucks agitating the plastic. About 11% entered the atmosphere from sea spray, and 5% was derived from agricultural soil dust. These atmospheric plastics can land and accumulate anywhere, the researchers point out.




USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is extending the deadline to April 22, 2021, for public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards. The original comment deadline was April 8, 2021. NRCS is encouraging agricultural producers, landowners, organizations, Tribes, and others that use its conservation practices to comment on these revised conservation practice standards. The 2018 Farm Bill required NRCS to review all 169 existing national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies to help the nation's farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners better protect natural resources on their working lands. In 2020, 57 conservation practice standards were updated after public review.




Pennsylvania has awarded its first Agricultural Product Promotion, Education and Export Promotion Matching Grants to encourage and maximize the promotion of Pennsylvania-produced agricultural products. A total of $300,000 in state matching funds was awarded to 16 projects aimed at increasing consumer awareness of Pennsylvania agriculture products and market opportunities for agriculture producers. The funded projects include educational activities, promotions for particular crops and markets (such as hardwoods and potatoes), and promotional programs such as destination events. Brief descriptions of the funded projects are available online.




The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) released a new guidebook, Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region. The goal of this new guidebook is to help the region's current and aspiring organic producers develop effective, site-specific soil health management strategies that support successful, resilient enterprises. The guidebook explores how to apply organic soil health principles to the region's soils through a series of practical steps and strategies, illustrated by innovative farmer stories and brief descriptions of underlying scientific concepts. The guidebook also includes a list of resources for additional reading, a description of the inherent properties of soil types commonly found in the South, and a summary of the latest soil health research being conducted in the region. The publication is available free online.




USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently awarded $9.44 million in funding for 19 Agricultural Workforce Training grants and 12 awards totaling $4.88 million for rural economic development projects. These grants are part of NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Lists of the awarded projects are available online. In addition, NIFA awarded $6.72 million in funding for 15 grants to enhance animal reproduction, and $4.05 million in funding for eight grants that will improve the welfare and well-being of agricultural animals. Information on the funded projects is available online.




USDA announced the availability of more than $330 million to help agricultural producers and organizations as part of the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative launched in March. This funding includes $169.9 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), the availability of $75 million for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program grantees, and approximately $80 million in payments to domestic users of upland and extra-long staple cotton. Funding for SCBGP includes $72.9 million available to states as part of the annual Farm Bill funding for the program and an additional $97 million available as emergency funding for applications. Meanwhile, active Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) and Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grantees may request funding to allow them to address critical food and nutrition security needs of low-income communities, enhance the resilience of food and healthcare systems impacted by the pandemic, and maximize funds reaching participants in communities in need.




The American Farm Bureau Federation, in partnership with Farm Credit, has opened online applications for the 2022 Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge. This national business competition showcases U.S. startup companies that are providing solutions to challenges faced by America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Farm Bureau will award $165,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, FMC Corporation, and John Deere. For this eighth year of the competition, Farm Bureau is seeking entrepreneurs who are addressing either traditional or new/emerging challenges, including challenges that surfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications must be received by August 20, 2021. Ten semi-finalist teams will be announced on ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­October 5, 2021 and awarded $10,000 each. These 10 teams will compete to advance to the final round where four teams will receive an additional $5,000 each and compete to win a total of $50,000.




The Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech and the Grow-NY program at Cornell's Center for Regional Economic Advancement collaborated to research and publish A Call for Agrifood Innovation in New York State, the state's first-ever report on innovation opportunities in its agrifood ecosystem. The report summarizes the current state of New York’s agrifood ecosystem and offers evidence-based recommendations and guidance to aspiring inventors, innovators, and startup founders, as well as investors looking for investment opportunities in the agriculture, processing, and distribution space. The report dives into the trends that could enable New York farmers and food producers to continue to produce and sell excellent-quality food, while reducing costs and environmental impacts, and responding to changes in land and labor availability. The complete report is available online.




Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) has awarded a $1 million Research and Education Grant to a regenerative grazing project led by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). NCAT leads an interdisciplinary team of six universities, three NGOs, and eight farmer cooperators, who will be identifying practical and regionally-appropriate methods of regenerative grazing that can be implemented across the Southeast. In this multi-year project, the team will identify more effective water management strategies, better ways to sequester carbon, and the best methods for improving soil health through regenerative grazing practices. The project builds on NCAT's successful Soil for Water project in Texas that it will expand to Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia, building a multi-state network of landowners conducting on-farm trials.




Farm Commons, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and University of California Cooperative Extension have released Demystifying the Food Safety Modernization Act's Preventive Controls Rule: Supplier Verification Requirements. The 32-page guide is available free online. The Food Safety Modernization Act's Preventive Controls Rule applies to facilities such as food hubs and farms that aggregate products. This guide provides information and a flow chart to help businesses that are subject to the PC Rule determine if they need to be in compliance with the supplier verification requirement and how they could go about doing that with the farmers they buy from.




Global agriculture company Corteva Agriscience announced that it has created a new Carbon and Ecosystems Services portfolio to develop innovative products and services. According to the company, the initial offering will enable the carbon sequestration process, ease farmer access to carbon credits, and create flexible solutions to help farmers increase profitability while contributing to a climate change solution. Additionally, Corteva has created the 2021 Climate Positive Leaders Program, which will recognize "early adopter" farmers and ranchers who have successfully implemented climate positive agriculture practices. The introductory launch of Corteva's Carbon Initiative will be targeted to row crop farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa this year, with the intent to expand to new geographies and crops for the 2022 growing season.




The Nature Conservancy and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced a five-year cooperative agreement to increase private land conservation in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Through this new agreement, The Nature Conservancy and NRCS will prioritize the geographies and natural resource issues where the two organizations can work together to have more impact delivering conservation assistance across the Great Plains.




Farmer-led research reported by Practical Farmers of Iowa explored the effect of having sheep graze cover crops on vegetable cropland. In the first year of this trial, Maja and Carmen Black were interested to see if there was a difference in the weight gain of lambs that grazed cover crops compared to those that grazed pasture. They found no difference in the average daily gain of the lambs. In the second year of the trial, Maja and Carmen were interested to see if there was a difference in yield of the summer squash between the plots that were grazed and the plots left ungrazed. They found no difference in marketable yield, but ungrazed plots produced more cull fruits. The complete report on the research trial is available online.




Cornell University researchers have received a $500,000 grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help improve the marketing returns for small- and medium-sized livestock farms in New York state. The Cornell Chronicle reports that the project will develop and deploy data, analysis, and feedback tools that give farm managers the ability to make better decisions as they select local markets, price meat, and market their products. The project is designed to both improve farm profitability and increase state capacity for meat production. The team is accepting applications to participate in the project from New York farms that sell meat-by-the-cut in direct-to-consumer channels. Participating farms will record sales data and will receive technical assistance with marketing and pricing.




In partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and Southeastern African American Farmers' Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is presenting scholarship awards to three students committed to working on issues that affect Black farmers and food and agriculture systems. Three students, Erniko Brown (Columbia College), Cyheim McRae (University of Mount Olive), and Kristen Dunning (University of Georgia) are each being presented with Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships in the amount of $3,000 to help further their work in sustainable agriculture and with communities of color. The scholarship program, now in its fourth year, aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS who are interested in doing work within sustainable agriculture and are committed to working on issues that impact Black farmers.




Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is beginning a three-year project to study the needs, challenges, and opportunities of women landowners. "Enhancing Conservation, Access and Generational Transition of Iowa Farmland through Women Landowners" is funded through a $300,000 grant by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In Iowa, women own 47% of all farmland acres. According to a press release, the first part of the project will consist of collecting data and analytics about women's farm ownership. From there, the team will assemble area meetings of women landowners and stakeholders, to discuss and gather concerns. Lastly, the team will hold online and face-to-face workshops to deliver information and resources that improve women's knowledge of land ownership. Specific goals include the use of equitable leases and other economic incentives to increase conservation and land access for beginning farmers, adoption of soil and water conservation practices, and the implementation of efficient plans to transition farmland to the next generation of owners.




The new California Pollinator Coalition, convened by Pollinator Partnership, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Almond Board of California, includes more than twenty organizations pledging to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. Together, their goal is to increase collaboration between agriculture and conservation groups for the benefit of biodiversity and food production. According to a press release, the result will be on-the-ground improvements, technical guidance, funded research, documentation of relevant case studies, and tracked progress toward increasing healthier pollinator habitats. "What we are doing in California is acknowledging the urgency to address the critical issue of protecting all pollinators, including native and managed species," said Laurie Davies Adams, President and CEO of Pollinator Partnership. "The outcome will not be a tidy report that sits on a shelf, but rather a metric of acres, projects, and species added to the landscape while agriculture continues to profitably feed the nation."




The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has released a draft report, Farmer-and Rancher-Led Climate Solutions, for public comment. The report documents the wide range of comments, ideas, and feedback provided to CDFA by farmers, ranchers, and stakeholders during six online listening sessions held in February. The public comment period closes on April 30, 2021. The draft report was prepared by California State University Sacramento's Consensus and Collaboration program in partnership with CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation. It is available online.




USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) unveiled new action-based frameworks to increase conservation work designed to benefit both agriculture and wildlife in sagebrush and grassland landscapes of the western United States. The new frameworks are designed to combat the most severe and large-scale threats faced by rangeland: woody encroachment, land-use conversion, exotic annual grass invasion, and riparian and wet meadow degradation. USDA explains that the frameworks will help guide voluntary conservation work over the next five years. Farmers, ranchers and private landowners in the sagebrush or Great Plains region can work with NRCS to implement conservation practices on their working lands, including those that further these conservation action plans. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance for prescribed grazing, prescribed burning, woody species removal and other key practices.




Colorado State University researchers evaluated 12 strategies for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of beef production. Their published study, Reducing Climate Impacts of Beef Production: A synthesis of life cycle assessments across management systems and global regions, showed that emissions could be reduced by as much as 50% in certain regions, with the most potential in the United States and Brazil. The study found that increased efficiency to produce more beef per unit of GHG emitted and enhanced land management strategies to increase soil and plant carbon sequestration on grazed lands offered significant means of emissions reduction. The research team found a 46% reduction in net GHG emissions per unit of beef was achieved at sites using carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, including using organic soil amendments and restoring trees and perennial vegetation to areas of degraded forests, woodlands and riverbanks. Additionally, researchers found an overall 8% reduction in net GHGs was achieved at sites using growth efficiency strategies. Net-zero emissions, however, were only achieved in 2% of studies.




University of Maine reports that some of its researchers are assisting in a multi-institutional effort to create new strategies for producing and marketing small grains, including emmer, einkorn, spelt, naked barley, hulless oats, rye, and others. The project is working to develop new small grain varieties, identify best management practices, evaluate new market opportunities, and strengthen supply chains. This work should help bolster small grain production and organic farms' sustainability and diversity. University of Maine's part of the project involves variety trials on test plots and on-farm, as well as nutritional analysis and baker evaluation of the flour produced.




A study by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the University of Arizona says that dry periods between rainstorms have become longer and annual rainfall has become more erratic across most of the western United States during the past 50 years. According to study authors, rain has been falling in fewer and sometimes larger storms, with longer dry intervals between. Total yearly rainfall has decreased by an average of four inches over the last half century, while the longest dry period in each year increased from 20 to 32 days across the West. The scientists did note that exceptions to these drought patterns were seen in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and the Northern Plains region of Montana, Wyoming, and the most western parts of North and South Dakota, where total rainfall has increased and drought intervals decreased. "Consistency of rainfall, or the lack of it, is often more important than the total amount of rain when it comes to forage continuing to grow for livestock and wildlife, for dryland farmers to produce crops, and for the mitigation of wildfire risks," co-senior author Joel Biederman said.




North Jersey RC&D has published A Practical Guide to No-Till and Cover Crops in the Northeast. The 182-page manual, available free online in PDF, was funded by a Northeast SARE Professional Development Grant. The manual is designed to help agricultural service providers and farmers as they strive to implement new practices. It is designed for individuals already convinced of the merits of no-till and cover crops, but unsure how to implement these practices. The manual contains precise instructions and equipment-configuration recommendations. It addresses cover crop species selection, planting, and termination, in addition to details on transitioning to no-till and a section on advanced soil health practices.




USDA Farm Service Agency announced the availability of $2 million to establish partnerships with organizations to provide outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The funding will be in the form of cooperative agreements from $20,000 to $99,999 that support participation in programs offered by FSA. Interested organizations have until May 5, 2021, to submit proposals. The funding was made possible by USDA's new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. As part of this same initiative, USDA is reopening Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) signup. Farmers and ranchers will have at least 60 days to apply or make modifications to existing CFAP 2 applications.




USDA is seeking nominations of qualified individuals for four open seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). NOSB is a 15-member volunteer advisory board that considers public comments and makes recommendations on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and other organic agriculture topics. Members serve five-year terms. USDA is looking for nominations for the following positions: an individual who owns or operates an organic farming operation or an employee of such individual, an individual with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation, an individual who represents public interest or consumer interest groups, and an individual with expertise in the fields of toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry. The deadline for nominations is June 1, 2021.




A study led by Cornell University revealed that global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change. This is the equivalent of losing seven years of agricultural productivity out of the past 60 years, say scientists. Stanford University's David Lobell, a study author, explains the impact of the study results, "By looking at the whole system—the animals, the workers, the specialty crops—we can see that the entire agricultural economy is quite sensitive to weather. It seems that in agriculture, practically everything gets harder when it's hotter."




Practical Farmers of Iowa has released a farmer-led research report on tests of potting soil for vegetable seedlings. Iowa farmers Hannah Breckbill, Emily Fagan, and Jon Yagla assessed how three potting soils performed in their farms' production systems. Study participants evaluated the quality of seedlings produced in each of three different companies' potting soil. At two farms, the media did not statistically differ from one another. At the third, gains in seedling quality were offset by declines in ease of work. The full report is available online.




USDA is requesting public input from interested parties, including potential customers and interested stakeholders, to help create a new Rural Renewable Energy Pilot Program. USDA is seeking written comments and will also host a public listening session on April 22, 2021. The new program will aim to support the Nation's critical energy needs and combat climate change while advancing environmental justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity through the use of distributed energy technologies, innovations, and/or solutions. Instructions on how to provide comments, and the particular topics upon which USDA seeks comment, are available online.




Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG) has released a new, free, online publication, Farmers' Guide to the 2021 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The new Guide explains the important recent changes to PPP that affect farmers. For example, PPP rules now allow farmers to receive two different PPP loans, what the program calls "first draw PPP loans" and "second draw PPP loans." In addition, farmers can use gross income, not net profit, as the basis of a loan. The Guide describes these and other rules, such as farmer eligibility for PPP loans, in detail. The Guide also explains how farmers can go about getting PPP loans forgiven, and how to go forward if a loan is denied or if loan forgiveness is denied. The deadline to sign up for PPP is now May 31, 2021, so it is not too late to apply.




California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has appointed a diverse group of experts to serve in its new Sustainable Pest Management (SPM) Work Group, reports CCOF. The SPM Work Group is tasked with guiding state agencies in creating alternatives to the use of highly toxic synthetic pesticides. The members of the Work Group include representatives from organic farms and businesses, from the University of California, and from environmental and environmental justice groups. A list of members and their affiliations is available online.




A meta-analysis of 118 studies conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and reported in Nature showed that small farms tend to be more productive and biodiverse than large ones, globally. The research revealed that small farms have higher yields than large ones, which may be attributable to availability of family labor. The small farms also have more crop diversity and a greater diversity of non-crop species. The researchers also noted that small farms were roughly as profitable and resource efficient as large ones.




A new nonprofit, the Kansas Soil Health Alliance, is a farmer- and rancher-led organization formed to provide practical information, resources, and events on soil improvement/soil health across the state. The organization's mission is to improve and protect Kansas soils. It welcomes all growers no matter the size of the operation or current farming and ranching practices to learn about soil improvement through its events and resources. Partners in the alliance include the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, Kansas Soybean, No-till on the Plains, and General Mills. The organization is currently exploring feasibility of creating a grazing exchange.




The nonprofit New Mexico Community Capital (NMCC) is introducing a new way to connect Native American farmers to Native consumers and larger non-Native markets. The Native Farmer in Residence program is a peer-to-peer based Native farmer training and support program based on delivering the tools and knowledge a farmer needs to enhance success. With funding from the Native American Agricultural Fund, the program is launching in 2021 with the selection of a cohort of 20 individuals engaged in farming practices, from micro-farms of less than nine acres to larger farms in the range of 40 to 60 acres. Training will take place over a one-year period at farms, in NMCC classrooms, and online. Each participant receives a Chromebook loaded with a suite of Google business tools tailored to farming. Additionally, each participant is funded with a stipend for the purpose of investing in the needs of their farm. Program curriculum includes enterprise resource analysis; developing a whole farm plan; budgeting, recordkeeping, accounting/bookkeeping; finding new markets; and building a business plan.




The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has launched a nationwide education, outreach, and enforcement initiative to ensure workplace protections for farmworkers. The initiative includes targeted outreach and education efforts to ensure that farmworkers and their advocates understand their rights and that they should contact the division to file a complaint if violations occur. The effort also focuses on educating growers, farm labor contractors, other agricultural employers, and industry stakeholders to ensure that they understand their responsibilities, and that the division is available to answer their questions. In addition to education and outreach, the initiative’s compliance component seeks to reduce agricultural industry violations through enforcement. Investigations in agriculture in 2020 found more than $7 million in back wages owed to more than 11,000 workers. In its investigations, the division assessed employers with more than $6 million in civil money penalties.




A study by the Minnesota State Agricultural Centers of Excellence revealed that farmers enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) had higher profits than non-certified farms. This marks the second year of data highlighting improved financial outcomes. The 64 MAWQCP farms in the study saw 2020 profits that were an average of $40,000 or 18% higher (median of $11,000) than non-certified farms. Other key financial metrics are also better for those enrolled in the MAWQCP, such as debt-to-asset ratios and operating expense ratios. The two years of data serve as an early indicator of a positive return on investment for whole-farm conservation management farmers implement in order to become certified.




USDA Agricultural Research Service has introduced a new Rangeland Restoration Research website that documents the performance of 37 check dams in the American Southwest from 2008 to 2019. The check dams are barricades made of loose rocks, made across minor channels that were experiencing erosion. The check dams slow runoff, trapping sediment that helps reverse the effects of erosion and allowing more water to infiltrate the soil. The low-cost check dams can not only halt erosion, but can result in minor channels refilling with sediment over the course of a few years. One key to making the dams work is maintaining them, the researchers note.




Sand County Foundation is working with four Wisconsin farmers to demonstrate the conservation and economic benefits of rotational grazing livestock on cover crops. The three-year project is supported by a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Program. Each of the participants involved in the study is a member of Sauk Soil & Water Improvement Group and farm within the Lower Wisconsin River Basin. "By gathering feedback from experienced graziers in an environmentally sensitive region, these case studies will help reduce the trial and error of grazing cover crops for farmers elsewhere," said Dr. Heidi Peterson of Sand County Foundation.




Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is offering a free, online course, "Risk Management Education for Farmers with On-Farm Visitors." Producers will learn practical management techniques to enhance the safety and health of their on-farm visitors. The course is expected to take approximately eight hours and enrolled participants will have three months to complete it. Topics include identifying hazards, legal risks, food safety best practices, and protecting animals and humans from biosecurity risks.




The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, a unique partnership between the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota Extension, and the Sustainers' Coalition, a group of individuals and community-based nonprofit organizations, is seeking nominations to fill vacancies on its Board of Directors. The purpose of MISA is to bring together the diverse interests of the agricultural community with interests from across the University community in a cooperative effort to develop and promote sustainable agriculture in Minnesota and beyond. A term on the MISA Board is three years. Nominations are sought by April 21, 2021, for a representative of the sustainable agriculture community, three representatives of the university community with a demonstrated interest in sustainable agriculture, and two representatives of the farming community with a demonstrated interest in sustainable agriculture.




The United States District Court for the Northern District issued a ruling in a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) challenging USDA's decision to allow soil-less hydroponic operations to be certified organic. Siding with the government, the Court ruled that USDA's decision to exempt hydroponic operations from the soil fertility requirement mandatory for all soil-based crop producers was permissible because the Organic Foods Production Act did not specifically prohibit hydroponic operations. The lawsuit claimed that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils, and asked the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label.




Cornell University has announced its new Lund Fellows Program for Regenerative Agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The program plans to select eight undergraduate students in its first year for an eight-week experience working on small-scale, agro-ecological, biodynamic and/or organic farms around Ithaca, the Hudson Valley, and New York City. The program is recruiting students and farmers from diverse backgrounds. Program funding will allow students to accept unpaid internships without financial loss, and will support farmers in providing mentoring and training. Applications are being accepted until April 21, 2021.




International research led by the University of Reading showed that fields and farms with more variety of insect pollinator species had more stable yearly pollination of nearby crops. According to a press release, areas with diverse communities of pollinators, and areas with stable populations of dominant species, suffered fewer year-to-year fluctuations in pollinator numbers and species richness. The findings could influence how agricultural land is managed, because land managers and farmers will need to consider interventions that support diversity in pollinators on their land to provide long-term benefits to food production. "This study has revealed that the secret to consistent crop harvests could be to encourage pollinator diversity on or near farmland. If we want pollinators to help us, first we need to help them, through land management decisions that preserve and increase the number of insect pollinator species," explained study leader Dr. Deepa Senapathi.




USDA has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, part of the organic regulations overseen by the National Organic Program. The proposed changes are based on October 2019 recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board. This proposed rule would allow fatty alcohols as plant growth regulators for sucker control in organic tobacco production, allow potassium hypochlorite as a pre-harvest sanitizer, and remove the redundant listing for dairy cultures from the list. These would continue to be allowed as ingredients in organic handling under the separate listing for microorganisms. USDA welcomes comments on the proposed amendments until May 24, 2021.




New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball has announced two new initiatives to strengthen New York State's Farm-to-School program, which provides new markets for New York farmers and improves access to locally grown and produced food in schools. Working with the Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) will establish a Farm-to-School Coordinator Program to increase local agricultural product procurement in schools on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and the North Country. Additionally, the State is providing performance-based awards to schools across the State that successfully participated in the 30% Initiative during the 2019-2020 school year.




The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Minnesota Grown program announced Retailer of the Year awards for grocers in six regions who promote locally grown products and farms. Judges' scores were based on several factors—including the number of Minnesota Grown products and the number of Minnesota Grown farmers that the grocer carried. Judges also looked at how the grocer used ads, displays, social media, and other events to promote Minnesota Grown items to customers. The retailers in their respective regions will receive a commemorative plaque and exclusive rights to use the "Minnesota Grown Retailer of the Year 2021" logo in their ads and displays. In addition, Cub Foods of Burnsville received the Minnesota Grown People's Choice Award for best display, as determined by an online social media voting contest.




Organic Seed Alliance and its Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI) partners have released a new guide to help growers produce organic tomato seed. The Tomato Seed Production Guide includes a background on the history of tomatoes, the various types and fruit colors, as well as the tomato lifecycle and biology. Readers will find details about growing tomato seed, including climatic requirements, maintaining genetics and population size, isolation requirements, and criteria for selecting desired traits. The guide walks growers through harvest techniques, cleaning methods, and how to store seed to keep it viable. Finally, this guide serves as a go-to resource for learning about important seedborne diseases of tomato seed crops, including bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases, and methods for treating them.




National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), set for March 25-31, 2021, is a week of action for communities and individuals to bring attention to farmworkers and honor them for the contributions they make to our daily lives. Student Actions with Farmworkers maintains an interactive map where you can find national events or an event near you.




USDA announced that it is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs. USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. The Department says it will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, and timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others. USDA notes that existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers.




USDA announced that it is investing $11.5 million in research to help ensure America's small and medium-sized farms become more profitable and improve the quality of life in American farm communities. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 24 grants to 20 universities and organizations through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The grants will support research efforts that focus on alternative crop enterprises, marketing, and scaling up fruit and vegetable production to overcome marketing constraints. Descriptions of the funded projects are available online.




USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is inviting public comments on the development, coordination, and implementation of grant programs to support food processing, distribution, seafood processing, farmers markets, and producers and other businesses identified in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. AMS also seeks comments on the development, coordination, and implementation of a food purchase and distribution program intended to provide additional aid to nonprofits serving Americans in need of nutrition assistance. Specifically, AMS is seeking input on questions of how to define and confirm designations of small to mid-size businesses, and what aspects of the current food purchase program worked and which ones didn't work. Comments should be submitted by March 31, 2021.




U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA) announced that more than 30 companies, organizations and individuals have joined the Decade of Ag movement. The shared Decade of Ag vision is for a resilient, restorative, economically viable, and climate-smart agricultural system that produces abundant and nutritious food, natural fiber, and clean energy for a sustainable, vibrant, and prosperous America. It is accompanied by principles for action and detailed desired outcomes. Those signing on include major agribusiness and foodservice companies, as well as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Native American Agriculture Fund, National Association of Wheat Growers, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, American Egg Board, Manna Fish Farms, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Dairy West, Maryland Grain Producers, Pennsylvania Soybean Board, Montana Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and Maryland Soybean Board.




The Livestock Conservancy has launched the 2021 Poultry Census, sponsored by Murray McMurray Hatchery. This critically important project will focus on breeding populations of domestic poultry (purebred breeds or landraces), including chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. The census will enable The Livestock Conservancy to understand how poultry populations are faring in North America and guide future conservation efforts. Anyone who manages breeding flocks, small or large, is invited to complete the 2021 Poultry Census online. The last poultry census, conducted in 2015, showed an overall improvement for most poultry breeds. More than half of all poultry breeds had more than 1,000 breeding birds, making them far more secure than when last censused. The Livestock Conservancy notes that greater participation in the survey will result in a more precise picture of poultry populations in North America.




The White House released the President's proclamation of National Agriculture Day on March 23, 2021. "I call upon all Americans to join me in recognizing and reaffirming our commitment to and appreciation for our country’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, farmworkers, and those who work in the agriculture sector across the Nation," wrote President Biden. In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack posted a video message that invites people to celebrate National Ag Day in the United States and to recognize the value of our farmers, ranchers, and producers and those who work in labor in our farm fields.




Rural Advancement Foundation International—USA's (RAFI-USA) Come to the Table program launched an 80-member community-supported agriculture (CSA) partnership between three local farmers of color and eight churches in Wake County, North Carolina. This pilot, part of RAFI-USA's Farm and Faith Partnerships Project, will run for eight weeks, with farmers beginning to plant in mid-February and deliveries taking place in April and May. RAFI-USA anticipates that the CSA will bring in $20,000 in produce sales for local farmers. Census data shows the average NC farmer runs a 168-acre farm whose market value exceeds $250,000 per year; for African American farmers, the average is 95 acres. RAFI-USA notes that for farmers of color, creating local partnerships through community-supported agriculture means a guaranteed source of income and market for their products. Meanwhile, for faith communities, forming a relationship with a local farmer helps increase access to fresh, healthy foods.




Vermont has joined the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program, allowing state-inspected meat and poultry processors to ship their products across state lines without a federal grant of inspection. The 2008 Farm Bill created the CIS program, an agreement between USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and participating state meat inspection programs. The program is open to states that have an established Meat and Poultry Inspection Program (MPI) that ensures state plant inspections follow the same guidelines as USDA FSIS inspections for official federal establishments. There are now 27 states participating in the program. "Vermont entered into the CIS program with the USDA FSIS to increase the business opportunities for the state's small meat and poultry processors, and expand available markets beyond Vermont's borders," said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.




Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to support access to fresh, healthy foods for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients while supporting Pennsylvania's agricultural economy. Interested market owners should apply to be an authorized SNAP retailer through FNS. Once authorized to accept SNAP, vendors can contact Pennsylvania's electronic benefit transfer (EBT) provider to request free wireless EBT processing equipment. The grant also covers set-up costs and one year of SNAP transaction fees. Although Pennsylvania is home to more nearly 1,000 farmers markets and on-farm markets, less than 5% of these are registered with FNS to accept SNAP benefits. Administration officials say this program that provides EBT equipment can help decrease food insecurity, increase consumption of healthy foods, and help build new markets for agricultural producers.




Community Alliance for Family Farmers has released Integrating Sheep into Walnuts: a case study on Sierra Orchards. In the five-page publication, Sean McNamara and Jeremy Shepherd share their experiences integrating sheep into walnut orchards in Winters, California, for cover crop grazing, weed management, soil health benefits, and more. The case study includes insights from the field, such as lessons learned, best management practices, and considerations around cover cropping with sheep in mind.




USDA published a notice in the Federal Register, inviting input from the public regarding a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy. Comments will be accepted until April 29, 2021. Specific questions on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry appear in the notice, such as "What new strategies should USDA explore to encourage voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices?" In addition, the notice seeks input regarding aspects of biofuels and renewable energy, catastrophic wildfire, and environmental justice.




Researchers at the University of California, Davis, published results of a long-term study in the journal PLOS ONE, showing that feeding beef cattle red seaweed could reduce methane emissions by as much as 82%. Scientists found that feeding cattle 80-gram (3-ounce) doses of seaweed daily for five months did not affect weight gain, but reduced methane emissions dramatically. Scientists found no drop-off in efficacy of the seaweed supplement over time. The next step for researchers is to find a way to farm the type of seaweed used in the tests, because there is not enough of it available in the wild to allow broad application to cattle diets.




A farmer-led research project report from Practical Farmers of Iowa compared landscape fabric with straw mulch in tomatoes. Jill Beebout compared the two types of mulch during the 2020 growing season in order to evaluate any difference in both yield and labor. She found that there was not a significant yield effect from the type of mulch used. The landscape fabric beds required less weeding time, but had a larger labor cost overall in this study because they required more labor for bed preparation and clean-up.




University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources published California Urban Agriculture Food Safety Guide: Laws and Standard Operating Procedures for Farming Safely in the City, available free online in PDF. The 72-page guide covers fresh produce safety, urban soils safety, as well as food safety considerations for eggs, poultry, and small livestock in the urban environment. The authors also point out which aspects of the Food Safety Modernization Act apply to urban farms, as well as California laws that apply, recordkeeping requirements, information on working with gleaners, how to register as a community supported agriculture (CSA) organization, permitting requirements, and how to develop a food safety plan. "There are a growing number of backyard and community producers who are scaling up to sell some of what they grow,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor based in Los Angeles County and co-author. “We hope this guide will help them navigate the regulations and learn best practices for keeping food safe for consumers."




Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) announced the projects selected for funding in 2021 through several of its grant programs. For Research and Education Grants, more than $3.4 million was awarded to 16 projects. SSARE also funded eight Professional Development Program, or train-the-trainer, projects for a total of $608,355. In addition, 10 On-Farm Research projects received funding that totaled $197,888. SSARE also funded nine Producer Grants totaling $105,176. Brief descriptions of all the funded projects are available online. They encompass research into specialty crops, plant disease control, livestock production, and market development.




Scientists at Penn State University are looking for potential predators among native species that could help provide control of the invasive spotted lanternfly, a pest found in 34 Pennsylvania counties and surrounding states. They asked citizen scientists to supply photos and observations of species feeding on the pest and received 660 submissions. Photographers supplied images of birds, insects, mammals, and fish consuming the spotted lanternfly. Scientists say the results are promising, although the spotted lanternfly doesn't have enough natural enemies ready in the United States to keep its population in check. "The overwhelming response to our request demonstrates what we suspected—that native predators may play a larger role in spotted lanternfly control than may have been assumed previously, perhaps giving us more biological options to help manage this pest," said one of the study leaders.




NCAT has collaborated with the University of California, Davis, for several years to work with and support beginning pastured poultry farmers. As part of these efforts, the partners have developed a short survey aimed at helping farmers better understand the economics of commercial pastured poultry production. This survey is designed to explore the overall profitability of commercial pastured and free-range poultry production in the United States, with a goal of providing farmers better information about capital and operating costs associated with this type of commercial poultry production. The anonymous online survey is approximately 25 questions and will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.




The Cornell Cooperative Extension Program, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, and the Agricultural Justice Project are collaborating on an effort to help farmers succeed through improved financial management and better understanding of crop insurance options. The new project is called "How Do You Know Your Pricing is Right and Your Investment is Protected?" It will help farmers gain knowledge about overhead costs, equipment depreciation, using crop budgets, the complexity of specialty crop insurance, how to apply for and use crop insurance, how to hire workers and how to provide a workplace that is legal, fair, and safe. The program will include five online or in-person trainings, with multiple individualized consultations, online resources, and ongoing technical assistance. Farmers who are interested in participating are asked to complete an online survey. The project is also seeking farmer advisory board members to provide feedback and assist with program evaluation.




The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP, revealed that 17% of total food available to consumers in 2019 was wasted. Most of this waste comes from households, which discard 11% of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain. Food services and retail outlets waste 5% and 2% respectively. On a global per capita-level, 121 kilograms of consumer-level food is wasted each year, with 74 kilograms of this happening in households. The study found that food waste is a global, not just developed world, problem. UNEP says the report "presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis, and modelling to date."




The new Mountain West Grazing Connection website is a place where livestock producers and landowners across the Intermountain West region can find and connect with each other. It was created through a collaborative effort between NCAT, Montana State University, and a WSARE research grant, and it's designed to encourage more grazing in the region, to promote healthy land and livestock. Users can add a listing for available grazing land or for livestock available to provide grazing services and can also explore listings in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah. The site is free to use.




Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) is introducing a new series of short animated videos that illustrate how producers can improve the success and health of their farms by implementing sustainable practices. SARE says the eight What is Sustainable Agriculture? videos are useful and engaging for audiences with a variety of educational backgrounds. "A Whole Farm Approach to Sustainability," the first video in the new series, explores what it means to be sustainable across an entire farm or ranch operation. The three-minute video is viewable online, as are following episodes on "Cover Crops and Soil Health," "Conservation Tillage and Soil Health," "Social Sustainability," and other topics.




USDA is investing $28 million in six new Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) projects and four ongoing ones, which enable conservation partners and producers to work together to return critical wetland functions to agricultural landscapes. Several of the projects represent new phases of successful existing projects. The funded projects include habitat restoration and protection in the Mississippi River basin, wetland habitat conservation in Texas for migratory birds, and playa wetland restoration in Nebraska.




The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a newly updated version of its Farmers' Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. This guide includes everything interested farmers and ranchers need to know about VAPG to determine if the program is a good fit for their operation, including program changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic and helpful tips to improve a producer's chances of obtaining funding from this highly competitive program. The revised guide is available free online




USDA is accepting Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) renewal applications through March 31, 2021, for more than 11,000 contracts set to end this year. Participants with existing CSP contracts that close on December 31, 2021, can benefit from recent program changes by renewing their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional conservation practices on their land. Changes in the 2018 Farm Bill authorize NRCS to accept new CSP enrollments through 2023 and make additional improvements to the program, including higher payment rates for specific conservation activities on working lands. USDA advises that producers interested in contract renewals or applying for CSP for the first time should visit the CSP webpage or contact their local USDA service center.




USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The revisions include standards that deal with stream crossing, waste treatment, energy efficient agricultural operation, and dry hydrants. The 2018 Farm Bill required NRCS to review all 169 existing national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies to help the nation's farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners better protect natural resources on their working lands. In 2020, a total of 57 standards were updated. Comments on the latest proposed revisions are due by April 8, 2021




The University of Minnesota Extension Women in Ag Network, American Agri-Women, Minnesota Agri-Women District 11, and Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center are collecting data to learn more about women in agriculture and resiliency to stress. The study's online questionnaire takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and anyone involved in agriculture and over the age of 18 may take the survey. The data that is being collected will help these groups to learn more about resiliency to stress by women in agriculture, which in turn informs continued online programming for the Cultivating Resiliency series and aids in developing new resources to help women in agriculture. The survey is open until April 30, 2021.




Texas researchers explored how applications of cattle manure could help improve the health of arid Texas soils, reports the American Society of Agronomy. This research project involved a one-time application of a low level of manure to grassland pastures. The manure helped increase soil organic carbon and the number of microbes in the soil, but the changes took nearly 18 months due to the dry climate. The researchers plan to explore whether more manure or multiple applications would get faster results and if irrigation or addition of nitrogen fertilizer would help incorporate the manure faster.




Crop Condition and Soil Moisture Analytics (Crop-CASMA) is a new tool developed by USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in collaboration with NASA and George Mason University. Crop-CASMA provides access to high-resolution data from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. The tool maps soil moisture across the United States, providing private users such as farmers and ranchers with free access to high-resolution data that can help plan spring planting, track damage after natural disasters, monitor crop health, and more. Data are from the topsoil and rootzone levels, or from the surface to roughly 3 feet underground, and are available at a 1-kilometer resolution.




The Organic Farming Research Foundation reported on results from a 2020 grant devoted to breeding varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the U.S. northeast. Grantee Sarah Hargreaves at the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and team have released a new early-yielding pepper variety called 'Renegade,' and are also working n an open pollinated broccoli that is heat tolerant and adapted to organic systems, and an open pollinated seedless English cucumber with excellent flavor and good yield that is adapted to organic greenhouse conditions.




USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service has amended the notice inviting applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. The amendment extends the application deadline to May 4, 2021, for hard-copy applications and April 29, 2021, for electronic applications. In addition, $35 million in COVID–19 relief funds has been added to the program, meaning that a total of $76 million in program funding is available. A reduced cost-share match requirement of 10% of the grant amount applies for the $35 million in COVID–19 relief funds. Relief funds will be awarded in application scoring rank order until exhausted. If your application for COVID–19 relief funds is not selected for funding through the competitive process, you will have the opportunity to compete for the additional $41 million in funds if your application scores 50 points or above. You will be contacted by the Agency and will be required to submit a revised budget and work plan that includes the standard cost-share match of at least $1 for every $1 in grant funds. Producers should note that this grant applies to "the use of a recognizably coherent set of agricultural production practices in the growing or raising of the raw commodity, such that a differentiated market identity is created for the resulting product. Examples of eligible products in this category include, but are not limited to, sustainably grown apples, eggs produced from free-range chickens, or organically grown carrots."




Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is celebrating National Farmworker Awareness Week by encouraging growers, agricultural associations, and consumers to share messages honoring farmworkers. National Farmworker Awareness Week is a designated week of action for communities to bring attention to the multiple challenges farmworkers face and honor their important and #AlwaysEssential contributions to the food supply chain. This commemorative week is observed March 25-31, 2021, and everyone in the supply chain can get involved by sharing the key messages and graphics provided in EFI's free communications toolkit.




Scientists at Michigan State University who are exploring how crops will perform under changing climatic conditions say that adapting to climate change through soil management is the best alternative for Midwest farmers. The researchers say that warming air temperatures will put crops at higher risk of drought, even if rainfall increases. However, instead of installing extensive and expensive irrigation systems that might only pay off under extreme droughts, ecosystems scientist Bruno Basso advises farmers to invest in technology and regenerative soil practices that make plants more resilient and adaptable to climate change.




The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Cargill partnered to assess the economics of soil health management systems. SHI researchers interviewed 100 farmers across nine states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee) who adopted soil health systems to acquire production information such as tillage practices, nutrient management, pest management, yield changes, and more. SHI found that soil health management systems increased net income for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybean. In addition, they reduced the average cost to grow corn by $24/acre and soybean by $17/acre, and they increased net farm income by an average of $52/acre for corn and $45/acre for soybean. "In addition, 97% of the farmers we interviewed reported their soil health management system increased crop resilience to extreme weather," noted Dr. John Shanahan, Project Manager for the study.




A new study, directed by the University of Maryland in collaboration with The Organic Center, analyzed more than 4,000 scientific articles to identify best management practices that organic growers can use to achieve significant boosts in the amounts of carbon captured in their soil. Specifically, the study looks at three best management practices: the use of organic soil amendments, conservation tillage, and cover crops. Although all three boost carbon sequestration, this study found that using best practices for organic soil amendments like compost and manure has the biggest impact in the shortest period of time. The study was published in the scientific journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, and The Organic Center developed a 15-page report titled Maximizing Carbon Sequestrations in Organic Systems that succinctly describes the findings and is available online.




American Farmland Trust has released a suite of new resources aimed to help farmers adopt or expand conservation practices that benefit the environment and their bottom line. The Genesee River Demonstration Farms Network showcases the impacts of practical and innovative conservation practices on real working farms in the Genesee River watershed. A new case study features the 650-acre organic dairy HaR-Go Farms. Also, a new video features two farms in the Genesee River Demonstration Farms Network sharing their experiences with cover crops, reduced tillage, no-till, and other soil health practices and how their farm operations have benefited from these practices over time.




Research at the University of Nevada, Reno, explored the potential of cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a a biofuel, food, and forage crop. Researchers say this drought- and heat-tolerant plant offers promise as a sustainable crop for arid regions. With dry areas predicted to become even drier with climate change, finding a productive crop species is key, as temperatures and lack of water will rule out increasing numbers of traditional crops. This five-year study focused on the use of spineless cactus pear as a high-temperature, low-water commercial crop. In addition to providing fuel, food, and forage, the plant also functions as a land-based carbon sink.




The School of Aquaculture and Aquatics Sciences at Kentucky State University released Aquaponics Production Manual: A Practical Handbook for Growers. This 75-page comprehensive manual covers the biological concepts of aquaponics, types of systems, suitable fish and plant species, systems management, water quality, diseases of plants and fish, controlled environments (greenhouse and indoors), marketing and economics, as well as information on certification and regulations. It is written as a practical resource for practicing (or potential) aquaponic producers. The complete manual is available free online in PDF.




A Graduate Student Grant from Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education funded research at Texas A&M that evaluated the suitability of cover crops for use in Southeast Texas. The research project tested 13 cover crops for summer and 13 for winter in different locations. The summer group was planted in late August following a corn crop while the winter group was planted in mid-October after harvesting cotton. The eight most-promising crops went on for further testing of planting time and termination dates. These were sorghum-sudangrass, buckwheat, cowpea, and sunn hemp for summer and Austrian winter pea, shield mustard, oat, and triticale for winter.