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Rodale Institute has launched a new educational platform for farmers, researchers, and the public that offers online courses focused on regenerative organic topics. The first two courses on the Rodale Institute Virtual Campus are Transition to Certified Organic and Hobby Beekeeping. The virtual courses consist of a curriculum of videos, case studies, resources, and assessments created by Rodale Institute staff, scientists, partners, and farmers. Participants can view the modules at their own pace and as often as they like. In the future, Rodale Institute plans to expand their online courses to offer a comprehensive curriculum of regenerative organic topics, such as consumer education, organic gardening, and more.




The sustainability consulting firm Quantis has launched geoFootprint, a visualization tool that uses satellite imagery to portray the environmental impact of crops on an interactive world map. Developers say geoFootprint will allow for smarter, science-driven decision making on sustainability by companies and stakeholders because it fills an information gap regarding on-farm and upstream impacts. According to Quantis, users can easily understand a crop's geography-specific footprint, identify what contributes to it, and run simulations to see which interventions would have the most positive environmental impact on their supply chain. The crops included are barley, cotton, maize, oil palm, peanut, potato, rapeseed, rice, rye, sorghum, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane, sunflower, and wheat. The team also created an open-access version of geoFootprint that makes solid environmental data on key commodity crops accessible to non-expert audiences, students, or stakeholders.




First Nations Development Institute's Native Farm to School project produced a Native Farm to School Webinar Series that showcases best practices, shares available resources, and provides an open forum and Q&A sessions for discussing challenges. The series was designed to help individuals who have an existing model for a Native Farm to School initiative—or who are interested in starting one—connect with Native audiences. The six-part series began in December 2020 and concludes January 28, 2021. Recordings of the sessions are available online. Topics include soil health, program evaluation, community partners, and funding opportunities.




Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Southern SARE) has published Index 2020: Annual Report of SARE-funded Grant Projects in the Southern Region. The Index lists all on-going grant projects from across Southern SARE's grant programs: Research & Education, Professional Development Program, Graduate Student, Producer and On-Farm Research. Projects in the 24-page index are listed by state, with features that highlight a project from each state. SARE-funded projects are also searchable online in SARE's Projects Database.




The Xerces Society announced the results of the 24th annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Only 1,914 monarch butterflies were recorded overwintering on the California coast this year, a 99.9% fall from the number of monarchs in the 1980s. "In only a few decades, a migration of millions has been reduced to less than two thousand butterflies," said Stephanie McKnight, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society who helps coordinate the counting. According to the Xerces Society, the primary drivers of decline are loss of overwintering, breeding, and migratory habitat in California, and pesticide use. The Xerces Society, along with other researchers and partners, has developed a Western Monarch Call to Action that provides five key steps that, if implemented quickly, can help recover the population.




Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Outreach is inviting people to submit ideas for new or enhanced learning tools that advance the adoption of sustainable agriculture. Proposed products should achieve the following: Address a critical information gap for farmers, ranchers and/or agricultural educators; Extend SARE and/or SARE-funded research; and/or Support SARE's mission to advance innovations that improve profitability, stewardship, and quality of life. Submissions will be prioritized by the SARE Outreach Steering Committee for development based on alignment with SARE Outreach's selection criteria and capacities. Ideas should be submitted online by February 15, 2021.




Research at the University of Illinois showed that implementing no-till practices can reduce soil erosion rates by more than 70%, according to study results published in the Journal of Environmental Management. The study also showed that focusing implementation of no-till on just the areas most vulnerable to erosion provided nearly the same amount of erosion reduction as complete implementation of no-till. The modeling framework used in the study can help predict which areas will be most vulnerable, allowing farmers to make informed management decisions.




The land-management firm Peoples Company is partnering with the technology company CIBO to offer carbon credits on 20,000 acres of managed land. According to Iowa Ag Connection, Peoples Company has committed to initially enroll the acreage in the CIBO Impact platform, creating potentially $400,000 of new revenue for owners and operators in the first year when all credits are verified and sold. Through the program, customers can purchase credits directly from the voluntary CIBO marketplace, and farmers can receive incentive payments. CIBO uses ecosystem simulation and modeling to quantify the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, and uses advanced computer vision to verify practices. Covered practices currently include nitrogen application, tillage, irrigation, cash-crop identification, and cover-crop emergence.




Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) released a feature-length documentary film at its annual conference this week, titled Livestock on the Land. The film, available on YouTube, tells the story of how farmers are building a regenerative agriculture by centering their operations around the animals they care for. PFI notes, "Whether it's through rotational grazing, cover crops or fertility for crop fields, livestock hold the key to protecting our soil, cleaning up our water and even providing habitat for wildlife. But most importantly, livestock give farmers a chance to get started, grow businesses, provide for their families, work together and, ultimately, bring back the next generation to start it all over again."




A new edition of Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities: A Guide to Federal Programs for Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Entrepreneurship, Conservation, Food Systems and Community Development is available online and in print. This fourth complete update of the publication incorporates programs from the 2018 Farm Bill. It was produced through the collaboration of SARE, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Funding was provided by SARE, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the McKnight Foundation.




USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is conducting a Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. At the beginning of January 2021, NASS delivered the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey to 36,500 farmers nationwide to obtain new data on local and regional food production and marketing practices. Farmers who received the survey have until February 16, 2021, to respond. The survey asks about the marketing of food directly from farm producers to consumers, retailers, institutions, and a variety of local food intermediaries such as distributors and wholesalers that market and sell locally branded products. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) encourages producers to participate, noting that the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey is critical in guiding the entire farmer population on current market trends across local and regional channels. NSAC also points out that the survey will ensure that food system advocates and federal agencies can better identify the gaps and barriers that exist for underserved farmer populations that market directly to consumers.




A research collaboration between The Organic Center and Iowa State University, funded by the Organic Trade Association's Fiber Council, surveyed organic cotton producers and processors to better understand the specific approaches and methods used in organic cotton production and processing, and the environmental impacts of those techniques. Survey results showed a strong recognition by organic farmers of production practices that benefit the environment, and identified key pest-management concerns, as well as concerns with GM contamination, pesticide drift, weather, and organic seed sourcing. The findings were published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. They note the benefits of organic cotton to water and biodiversity, as well as beneficial practices such as building soil health and utilizing non-toxic processing methods.




Through the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center, University of Vermont Extension is providing technical assistance for dairy farmers seeking to transition to rotational grazing. Farmers participating in the two-year pilot program receive direct one-on-one support, as well as the opportunity for networking as a group and grant funding to implement additional grazing projects on their farm. The farmers had several on-farm meetings to share their plans and experiences with dairy grazing.




USDA is making available $12 million for payments to forest landowners with land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in exchange for their implementing healthy forest management practices. Existing CRP participants can now sign up for the Forest Management Incentive (FMI), which provides financial incentives to landowners with land in CRP to encourage proper tree thinning and other practices. Only landowners and agricultural producers with active CRP contracts involving forest cover can enroll. CRP participants will receive the incentive payment once tree thinning and/or other authorized forest management practices are completed.




The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that the University of Arkansas will continue its online video series focused on sustainable agriculture in 2021. The series began in November 2020 with episodes focusing on connections between farmer and retailer, and recorded episodes are available online. Five episodes will be added in 2021, dealing with commodity crops commonly grown in Arkansas, such as soybeans, rice, cotton, and poultry, as well as market conditions and marketing opportunities. "The purpose is to educate our producers, county extension agents, crop consultants, industry partners, high school science students and the public about our research-based practices that have been proven on local farms to conserve water, improve water quality and soil health," said production team member Rita Watson.




According to a global research effort led by Michigan State University, global land area and population facing extreme droughts could more than double by the late 21st century, from 3% to 7-8%. The research team also predicts that climate change will cause a large reduction in natural land water storage in two-thirds of the world. The research is based on a set of 27 global climate-hydrological model simulations spanning 125 years and was conducted under a global modeling project called the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project. "Our study presents the first, comprehensive picture of how global warming and socioeconomic changes will affect land water storage and what that will mean for droughts until the end of the century," explained study leader Yadu Pokhrel.




USDA announced the final rule regulating the production of hemp in the United States. It is available for viewing in the Federal Register and will be effective on March 22, 2021. Key provisions of the final rule include licensing requirements; recordkeeping requirements for maintaining information about the land where hemp is produced; procedures for testing the THC concentration levels for hemp; procedures for disposing of non-compliant plants; compliance provisions; and procedures for handling violations.




Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that shows pollinator decline receives little mainstream news coverage. A search of nearly 25 million news items from six prominent U.S. and global news sources found "vanishingly low levels of attention to pollinator population topics" over several decades. "As much as the entomological community is gripped by this impending crisis, it appears the public isn't paying much attention," said study co-leader May Berenbaum. "It's not that people are indifferent, it's just that they don't even know about it."




In coordination with the Canadian Space Agency, NASA has opened the Deep Space Food Challenge. The goal of the competition is to generate novel food production technologies or systems that require minimal resources and produce minimal waste, while providing safe, nutritious, and tasty food for long-duration human exploration missions. Interested participants from the United States can compete for part of $500,000 in prizes from NASA in Phase 1 of the competition by designing food systems that can provide adequate nutrition for future long-duration mission explorers. Depending on the technologies presented, a possible second phase, involving a kitchen demonstration, could follow. NASA notes that advanced food systems will have benefits on Earth, as well. For example, solutions from this challenge could enable new avenues for food production around the world, especially in extreme environments, resource-scarce regions, urban areas, and in locations where disasters disrupt critical infrastructure.




A survey conducted by the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau assessed the impact of COVID on agritourism in Illinois, reports Ag Update. The study compiled responses from 43 agritourism operator surveys and agritourism business websites. Businesses reported impacts from the pandemic such as being closed for part of the season, increasing sanitation procedures, and implementing mask regulations. Although 7% of businesses reported having to close for the entire year, the remaining respondents averaged a 5.7% increase in profit during 2020 over the previous year. Agritourism businesses also reported having an average of 17% more customers during 2020.




Oregon State University researchers published a study in the journal Sustainability that shows the potential for widespread application of agrivoltaic systems to provide energy, food, and jobs in rural communities. The researchers say that co-developing land for both solar photovoltaic power and agriculture could provide 20% of total electricity generation in the United States with an investment of less than 1% of the annual U.S. budget. The study showed that wide-scale installation of agrivoltaic systems could lead to an annual reduction of 330,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in rural communities, while only minimally impacting crop yield. Chad Higgins, lead author of the study, will next lead installation of a fully functional solar farm designed to prioritize agricultural activities on five acres of Oregon State's North Willamette Research and Extension Station in Aurora.




In a blog post, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) provides an overview of the provisions in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 that relate to sustainable agriculture spending. The omnibus legislation combined coronavirus response funding with annual appropriations. Included in the coronavirus response section of the bill was funding to expand access to online SNAP for direct market farmers. A major provision of the legislation is a third—and further revised—version of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 3.0), which will provide direct payments to farmers. Several existing programs that support farmers and local markets for farm produce received funding increases and modifications that improve access. These include the Local Agriculture Market Program, Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach, the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, and Specialty Crop Block Grants. In addition, $28 million in funding to states will initiate farmer stress support programs.




USDA announced that it will provide additional assistance through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), expanding eligibility for some agricultural producers and commodities as well as updating payments to accurately compensate some producers who already applied for the program. Producers who are now eligible and those who need to modify existing applications due to these updates should contact USDA's Farm Service Agency by February 26, 2021. Contract producers of poultry and swine are now eligible under the program, as are producers of pullets and turfgrass sod. Calculations for some row crops have been updated, as has the payment calculation formula. Producers who applied during the sign-up period that closed December 11, 2020, can modify an existing CFAP 2 application according to the new calculation.




The Sustainable Farming Association has released its third annual volume of soil health case studies. The ten case studies from 2020 feature farmers from Southeast Minnesota, the Driftless region, who have adopted soil health practices and incorporated soil health principles. The case studies reflect a wide variety of operations and demonstrate the many ways soil health practices can be implemented into an operation.




New research from the University of Colorado Boulder finds that one-third of the fertilizer applied to U.S. corn each year simply compensates for the ongoing loss of soil fertility. Corn farmers offset losses in soil fertility with nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers intended to boost yields. This costs farmers half a billion dollars each year and contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions, say the researchers. They ran models to estimate crop growth and how crop growth responds to variables like fertilizer, irrigation, and climate. They found that across the country, one-third of fertilizer added to corn is used to bring soil fertility back to pre-farmed levels. Corresponding author Jason Neff says this study, published in Earth's Future, highlights opportunities for farmers to reduce tillage, prevent erosion, and utilize organic fertilizers to build soil fertility and save on input costs.




The Savanna Institute offers an Apprenticeship Program that provides experience and technical education for aspiring agroforestry farmers through on-farm training with a mentor farmer in the Midwest. In addition to on-farm mentoring, participants will have the opportunity to enroll in an online agroforestry course, monthly cohort calls, and workshops. The apprenticeship lasts 10 weeks, part time or full time. Schedules depend on the needs of the mentor farm and the availability of the apprentice. Applications for this year's program are due February 26, 2021.




The new label Certified Regenerative by A Greener World (AGW) has selected more than 50 farms to join the program's pilot phase. The new certification provides a whole-farm assurance of sustainability by measuring benefits for soil, water, air, biodiversity, infrastructure, animal welfare, and social responsibility. Key features of the program include transparent, rigorous standards; high animal welfare; a holistic, farmer-led approach; early and broad access to regenerative markets; and a pragmatic, science-based approach. The core feature of the label is a five-year Regenerative Plan developed in partnership with the farmer, whereby farmers and experts assess risk, set goals, and track progress toward meaningful milestones. Pilot farms were selected based on a variety of factors including agricultural experience, regenerative principles, market or educational impact, and geographical diversity. Farms span four continents, with products ranging from grassfed lamb to herbs and vegetables.




Research conducted through the Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI) showed that wild relatives of tomatoes and wild-type tomatoes received a substantial growth and disease-immunity boost from treatment with the beneficial soil microbe Trichoderma harzianum. Modern tomatoes, however, experienced only a slight growth boost and a disease detriment. The research team is interested in identifying the genes that allow tomatoes to benefit from this soil microbe so that they can reintroduce them to current varieties. This could help enhance tomatoes' disease resistance to make organic growing easier.




A new online Hemp Essentials course from Purdue University addresses producing, processing, and selling hemp. Purdue says the course includes some information specific to Indiana, but the content has broad applicability throughout the Midwest and beyond. The self-paced curriculum covers the history and legalities of hemp production, including how to grow and harvest the plant, as well as the many applications that hemp has and the economics of the industry. For farmers, hemp can be an alternate cash crop and something new to add to a crop rotation. The course is designed for current hemp producers and farmers thinking of getting into the business, crop advisors and consultants, and people in hemp product manufacturing or sales, as well as individuals with an academic or educational interest.




USDA has released its U.S. Agriculture Innovation Strategy Directional Vision for Research summary and a dashboard that will help to guide future research decisions within USDA. The strategy synthesizes the information USDA collected from the public during the past year on research priorities. Respondents were asked to identify transformational research goals for the next era of agriculture productivity and environmental conservation. They were also asked to propose approaches to these opportunities and to identify gaps, barriers, and hurdles to meeting these goals. This report summarizes the extensive stakeholder input and defines discovery goals that will help inform research to best address the Agriculture Innovation Agenda for the next 10 to 30 years.




The Center for Rural Affairs released Conversations from the Field: Crop Insurance for Organic Operations, a new educational guide that sheds light on the crop insurance process and options available for organic grain producers. The guide features interviews with seven crop insurance agents who have experience with organic operations, and seven organic farmers from across the Midwest. Topics covered include insuring the higher value of organic crops using contract prices, the claims process, prevented planting, the crop insurance timeline over a given year, and advice for finding an agent. The 32-page guide is available free online in PDF.




Minnesota Department of Agriculture awarded nearly $1.2 million in 2020 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to 13 recipients across the state. The grant program aims to boost the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Minnesota through marketing and promotion, research and development, expanding availability and access, and addressing challenges confronting producers. The funded projects include training small-scale, immigrant Hmong farmers on best-practice growing methods for ginger and low tunnel day-neutral strawberries, support of the Minnesota Grown Directory, produce safety training, and expanding the production season for Deep Winter Greenhouses. Other projects will address disease, insect, and weed pests.




The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has released a free digital resource created to help companies in the animal feed supply chain better understand and address how the demand for animal feed affects the environment, including air, land, soil, water, and biodiversity. Resource Guide on Sustainable Animal Feed was developed with input from stakeholders including Field to Market, BASF, Greenfield Solutions, National Pork Board, The Nature Conservancy, Pipestone Systems, Syngenta, American Feed Industry Association, Sustainable Food Lab, and others. The resource guide is intended to be a resource for sustainability professionals, procurement teams, feed and animal protein industry professionals, researchers, and nonprofits. It collects relevant resources and information related to feed sustainability in the United States and globally, with chapters on organizations engaged in feed sustainability efforts, case studies, tools, and companies' feed sustainability initiatives.




USDA has introduced a new weekly data report, the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement Seasonal Perishable Products Weekly Update, based on data provided by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and its Specialty Crops Market News Division. According to USDA, this new report was first issued in December 2020 and combines information published by AMS Market News into an easy-to-read description of the current market trends on key imported specialty crops. The commodities highlighted each week will vary seasonally and will change to follow importing seasons and crop cycles.




The Ecological Farming Association has announced the recipients of its annual Sustie and Justie awards. The awards will be presented during the virtual EcoFarm Conference January 20-23, 2021. The Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Award (Sustie) honors those who have been actively and critically involved in ecologically-sustainable agriculture and have demonstrated their long term, significant contributions to the well-being of agriculture and the planet. This year's recipients are Ben Burkett, Rowen White, and Diane Dempster. The Advocates for Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture Award (Justie) honors those who have been active advocates for social justice as a critical aspect of ecologically-sustainable agriculture and food systems. This year's recipients are Acta Non Verba and First Nations Development Institute.




Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation (CABBI) found that energy sorghum efficiently captures light and uses water to produce abundant biomass, like the perennial grass miscanthus. At the same time, it's easier to establish than a perennial crop. A study published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy compared miscanthus, maize, and energy sorghum. Sorghum appears to be a "middle-road crop," with an annual growth cycle but the ability to use much less water than maize to produce "a ton" of biomass, according to study leader Caitlin Moore. "It certainly holds promise as a crop that supports the bioenergy economy."




The Wisconsin Farm Center at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is launching a series of virtual support groups for farmers and farm couples, beginning in February. Support groups will meet monthly, on Monday evenings, Tuesday afternoons, or Thursday evenings. The support groups are open to farmers and their spouses at no cost. Participants can be located anywhere in Wisconsin and must register in advance. Sessions will be led and moderated by peer leaders that are farmers who have experienced stress and anxiety while operating their own farm. A licensed mental health provider with extensive experience in serving farmers will also be on-hand at each session to offer additional support as needed.




The Ecology and Management of Annual Rangeland Series is a new, 200-page publication available free online in PDF from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The nine-part document contains past and present practices for managing vegetation, grazing, and livestock on California annual grassland, oak-woodland, and chaparral ecosystems. It synthesizes the most important information from some 700 rangeland publications in the UCANR database. The new publication addresses the history of both rangeland ecology and livestock production, as well as touching upon climate, soil, plant growth and vegetation change, and livestock and grazing management.




A new study on the costs and returns of establishing and producing avocados in San Diego County has been released by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cooperative Extension, UC Agricultural Issues Center, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Over the past two decades, urban development and high water costs have contributed to declines in avocado acreage and production in the county. This study indicates that high-density plantings of 430 trees per acre for avocados could increase profitability and make water costs proportionally less than a conventional planting. The study is available free online.




USDA is seeking members for a new advisory committee on urban agriculture, as part of a broader effort to focus on the needs of urban farmers. The 12-person committee will advise the Secretary of Agriculture on the development of policies and outreach relating to urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production practices as well as identify any barriers to urban agriculture. USDA is looking for four producers; two Extension or higher education representatives; representatives from a nonprofit, a supply chain, business and economic development, and financing; and two individuals with related experience or expertise in urban, indoor, and other emerging agriculture production practices. Any interested person or organization may nominate qualified individuals for membership. Self-nominations are also welcome. Nominations are due by March 5, 2021.




The Food System Vision Prize sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation has announced 10 "Visionaries" who will each be awarded $200,000 in recognition of their bold ideas for tackling some of the world's most pressing food systems challenges. Winners were selected from a pool of more than 1,300 applicants from 119 countries who responded to a call to develop ambitious and attainable plans for regenerative, nourishing food systems by the year 2050. Winners from the United States included 7Gen Food System, a vision for the Rosebud Indian Reservation of South Dakota, led by the Sicangu Lakota people. This vision outlines a regenerative agricultural system that creates economic opportunities for tribal members; increases the accessibility of locally produced, nutrient-dense foods; and re-establishes the Lakota as primary stewards of the lands. Additionally, Stone Barns Center presented a winning vision from the Hudson Valley in New York that seeks to bring about a new food culture—rooted in the ecological, nutritional, and communal potential of organic agriculture—through groundbreaking culinary experimentation.




The Livestock Conservancy announced the award of more than $22,300 through its Microgrants Program. The microgrants will go to 17 farmers, ranchers, and shepherds raising endangered breeds of livestock and poultry across the country. "Small financial awards can make a big difference for heritage breeders," noted Dr. Alison Martin, Livestock Conservancy Executive Director. The recipients include both youth and adults, and the funded projects encompass acquisition of breeding stock, infrastructure improvement, and veterinary intervention to improve reproductive success. Emergency Response Fund grants will help producers financially impacted by the pandemic with animal feed.




USDA is allocating more than $70 million in funding for 383 projects to strengthen plant protection from pests. The funding was issued through the Plant Protection Act's Section 7721 program to strengthen the nation's infrastructure for pest detection and surveillance, identification, threat mitigation, and to safeguard the nursery production system and to respond to plant pest emergencies. Funded projects include Asian giant hornet research and eradication, exotic fruit fly detection, and honey bee and pollinator health, as well as an allocation of $14 million to rapidly respond to invasive pest emergencies.




Partnerscapes, a landowner-led organization that brings people, working landscapes, and communities together in conservation, recently released a report on the results of a survey of nearly 270 collaboratives, like land trusts, forest collaboratives, watershed groups, and more across eight western states from Arizona to Montana. Perspectives on Collaborative Conservation reports on what these collaborative partnerships are doing, how they measure and share the story of their progress, and what lessons and insights they can offer other collaborative efforts to advance natural resource conservation in the West. The 16-page report is available free online in PDF.




Jordan Clasen, of Grade A Gardens in Johnson, Iowa, shared tips for CSA success in a presentation at the 2020 Iowa Organic Conference, reports Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. With demand for local food growing exponentially during the past year, CSAs that had or quickly implemented online ordering systems fared well. Clasen recommended in his presentation that farms try to provide a simple ordering experience with their websites, and he advised offering customers as many options as possible for buying farm products.




The American Society of Agronomy reports on research presented at the virtual 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting that highlighted the potential for tepary beans to enhance food security while consuming less water. The native tepary bean has been cultivated for thousands of years and is more drought and heat tolerant than other bean varieties. Researchers say heirloom crops like tepary and wild relatives could be important breeding resources for developing crops that can thrive on less water. Or, researchers say, a shift to simply growing less-thirsty crops like pistachios, sorghum, and teparies could offer an agricultural future for arid parts of the United States, such as the Southwest. In addition to being used as dry beans, tepary beans can also be used as a forage or cover crop.




USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists at the Functional Foods Research Unit have been exploring grain alternatives to wheat, corn, and rice that can make foods both healthy and tasty. The team was looking for alternatives that were gluten free, low in sugar, and offered improved nutritional qualities, yet at the same time preserved the functionality and sensory profile of the finished food. The team identified several alternative grains as promising superfoods: amaranth, chia, and sorghum. "Some alternative grain crops are naturally advantageous for farmers too. Many are relatively drought resistant and may require fewer resources than corn or wheat. For example, sorghum plants offer those characteristics plus natural pest resistance, soil enrichment, and potential biofuel production," said research leader Sean Liu. "Ultimately, alternative grains can make both us and the planet healthier."




Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) announced that U.S. military veterans will qualify for reimbursement of tuition for classes taken through its online school, Managed Grazing Innovation Center (MGIC). Funding was provided by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program (AgVets) and will be available beginning Spring Semester 2021 until August 31, 2022. MGIC is now open to the general public and offers a slate of six classes: Dairy Cattle Health and Wellness; Milk Quality; Dairy Cattle Nutrition, Feeds, and Feeding; Soil and Water Resources Management; Farm Business Management; and Managed Grazing Systems for Dairy Cattle. Courses run for 12 weeks during Spring Semester and Fall Semester, with the next classes beginning January 11, 2021. Students can take courses individually or complete all six within five years to earn a Managed Grazing Dairy Certificate.




Agricultural producers and private landowners interested in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can sign up until February 12, 2021. The competitive program, administered by USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), provides annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes. Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Farmers and ranchers who participate in CRP help provide numerous benefits to their local region and the nation's environment and economy. CRP general signup is held annually and is competitive; general signup includes increased opportunities for wildlife habitat enrollment through the State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative. New cropland offered in the program must have been planted for four out of six crop years from 2012 to 2017. Additionally, producers with land already enrolled but expiring on September 30, 2021, can re-enroll this year.




USDA will purchase an additional $1.5 billion worth of food for nationwide distribution through the fifth round of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. USDA will again purchase combination boxes containing fresh produce, dairy products, fluid milk and meat products. Seafood products will also be included in this round. The solicitation will be issued to more than 240 organizations that have previously received Basic Ordering Agreements (BOA). Contract awards are expected to be made by January 19, and deliveries will continue through the end of April.




Oklahoma State University's Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center (FAPC) made a prediction of the top-ten food trends for 2021. Topping the list is a search for foods that promote well-being, whether personal or environmental. FAPC predicts that consumers will opt for organic, green, and superfoods. The center's predictions also include continued interest in healthy home cooking, including interest in baking bread and making bigger breakfasts at home. Other trends included interest in oils made from a range of alternative products, as well as a much larger and more diverse market for chickpeas.




Small farmers in California who were challenged by a pandemic and threatened by wildfires demonstrated their resilience, according to a feature on Stone Pier Press. When industrial agriculture's food distribution systems faltered, small farms were able to pivot their production and distribution systems to provide local food for consumers. However, when wildfires cut off electricity and supplies and damaged crops and equipment, many small farms were challenged anew. This feature offers examples of how crop diversity, exemplary soil-management practices, and community support contribute to small-farm resilience.




The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's (MDA) Rural Finance Authority is now accepting applications for a tax credit for the sale or lease of land, equipment, machinery, and livestock in Minnesota by beginning farmers. To qualify, the applicant must be a Minnesota resident with the desire to start farming or who began farming in Minnesota within the past ten years, provide positive projected earnings statements, have a net worth less than $851,000, and enroll in, or have completed an approved financial management program. Three levels of credits are available: 5% of the lesser of the sale price or fair market value of the agricultural asset up to a maximum of $32,000; 10% of the gross rental income of each of the first, second and third years of a rental agreement, up to a maximum of $7,000 per year; or 15% of the cash equivalent of the gross rental income in each of the first, second or third year of a share rent agreement, up to a maximum of $10,000 per year. The Beginning Farmer Tax Credit is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Applications must be received by October 1, 2021.




After 20 years of development, University of California, Davis, researchers have released five new varieties of wine grapes that are highly resistant to Pierce's disease. The three red and two white varieties were traditionally bred and produce high-quality fruit and wine. The new varieties could be a boon to Southeast growers who have only been able to grow disease-resistant varieties that weren't of good wine quality, and to growers whose crops are becoming increasingly subject to Pierce's disease due to rising temperatures from climate change. "These varieties will hopefully make viticulture much more sustainable and provide a high-quality wine that the industry will welcome," said variety developer Andrew Walker. "So far there has not been tremendous interest in new wine grape varieties, but climate change may encourage growers to reconsider wine grape breeding as we work to address future climates and diseases."




Rangeland ecologists at the University of California, Davis, studied 46 grazing units on ranches and national forests covering nearly 1 million acres of dry, rugged rangeland in east-central and northeastern California. They looked at the relationship between number of livestock, management effort in terms of time investment, and riparian health. The team found no significant relationship between riparian health, number of livestock, and simple yes/no answers on whether ranchers used fencing, herding, or water and salt licks on hillsides to coax cattle from creeks. There was, however, a significant correlation between riparian health and time spent implementing those tools. When ranchers invested even one week a year in implementing grazing-management practices, riparian health improved by as much as 53%."[T]his study suggests that how you implement the tools might be the biggest factor in keeping rangelands productive and environmentally sustainable,” noted one of the participating scientists.




The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) has released a pair of music videos highlighting key themes of the growing farmer interest in building soil health. The two songs-of-the-soil, "Got Cover Crops" and "Back to Soil," were commissioned from Austin, Minnesota, native and singer-songwriter Bret Hesla and performed with the band Six Feet Deep. Hesla visited the farms of soil health practitioners in Minnesota to learn more about the concepts as he was writing the songs. The music videos are available for public use at no charge.




The Los Angeles Times reported on the death this week of Amigo Bob Cantisano, recognized as one of the founders of the organic farming movement in California. Cantisano, 69, helped found California Certified Organic Farmers and was one of the founders of the Committee for Sustainable Agriculture, which sponsors the EcoFarm Conference. He was known for helping to expand adoption of organic farming methods into commercial agriculture and for efforts to preserve heirloom varieties of perennial crops in California.




The New York Times published a feature exploring the issue of whether dairy farming is inherently cruel to cows. Declining demand for dairy products in recent years, coupled with animal rights activists' accusations of poor treatment of cows, has made the climate difficult for dairy farmers. This feature discusses the issue from the angle of small-scale dairy farmers, animal-welfare researchers in academia, and activist organizations. Producers such as Hawthorne Valley Farm offer examples of dairy practices designed with animal well-being in mind, such as pasture access, no dehorning, and keeping cows with their calves. Although these strategies may not be practical for all operations, many agree that practices that promote animal well-being could readily be implemented in dairy farming.




The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is seeking certified organic producers to participate in a virtual focus group on January 21, 2021. This is an opportunity to describe the biggest agronomic, economic, and social challenges you are facing. In particular, we would like to understand what kinds of research, information, and technical assistance programs are needed to support your organic production practices. Your views will be used to help build a comprehensive roadmap for future research investments to advance organic agriculture. After attending the virtual focus group and completing the survey, participants will receive a $25 VISA gift card. Participants will be randomly selected. Certified organic farmers who actively participate in the decision making on the farm operation may apply to participate at the NCAT website events page.




Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice, owners of Red Fern Farm in Wapello, Iowa, donated a conservation easement to the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) in December, permanently protecting their 86 acres for perennial agriculture. SILT notes that this is the first easement of its kind known in Iowa. The farm contains "wild timber along with 22-plus acres in a planted mosaic of mature and immature chestnut, pawpaw, persimmon, black walnut, heartnut, plum, Asian pear and other food-producing perennial trees." Landowner Tom Wahl explained, "Time and again I have seen where fruit and nut plantings that took a lifetime of work to build were bulldozed away in a matter of hours. This easement will ensure this does not happen at Red Fern Farm once we're gone." The easement brings SILT to more than 1,000 acres of protected farms across Iowa.




A feature in The Prairie Star explains how Pete and Meagan Lannan operate Barney Creek Livestock and a cow/calf business in Montana's Paradise Valley using regenerative ag. The Lannans developed an operation that fits with their family's priorities and needs. They worked to minimize inputs and extend the grazing season as they returned livestock to the ranch. They're seeing their land-management practices pay off in increased biodiversity and improved soil and animal health. They continue experimenting with new practices and sharing what they're learning with other livestock producers.




OurSci, an open-source technology company, is developing open software and hardware for measuring soil carbon, in partnership with Global Urban Forest, The Bionutrient Food Association, Yale University, and Michigan State University. OurSci has developed a reflectometer, also known as a spectrometer, for measuring soil carbon. The Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming is participating in field testing that is helping to correlate spectrometer readings with laboratory testing results on soil carbon content. The project is designed create a means for farmers to quantify their soil carbon and track the changes that result from changes in management practices, by making it possible to conduct measurements frequently and over a large area.




The Glynwood Center for Regional Food and Farming reports that efforts to link Hudson Valley farmers with hunger-relief activities during the pandemic have grown into a larger and longer-lasting food sovereignty movement. During the 2020 growing season, Glynwood raised funds to contract with 10 regional farms that grew thousands of pounds of food specifically for hunger relief. These efforts have evolved into the Food Sovereignty Fund, a project that strives to increase regional food sovereignty while protecting the bottom line of small, regeneratively managed farms (particularly those led by people from historically marginalized backgrounds) in 2021 and beyond. In 2021, the Food Sovereignty Fund plan to expand its network of farms and community-led food access projects; build crop plans that directly reflect the needs of emergency food providers and their constituents; provide technical assistance to participating farms and community-led projects to ensure success; and work towards a more equitable food system.




Chatham County, North Carolina, Agriculture Extension Agent Debbie Roos is featuring a series of photos from farm visits on the Growing Small Farms website. The series highlights activities taking place on farms that Roos visits in the course of her Extension work. Posts to date include caring for pastured poultry and washing sweet potatoes at Perry-winkle Farm and high tunnels and greens processing at Granite Springs Farm.




Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, received a $4.67 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to support efforts to breed citrus varieties resistant to the citrus greening disease. The scientists are seeking to incorporate disease resistance into citrus by creating hybrids with microcitrus like Australian finger lime that has natural resistance. The microcitrus, however, can impart a sharper, more bitter taste to the fruit than commercial citrus has, so researchers are creating many hybrids and selecting those that combine uncompromised taste with disease resistance.




Research led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research environmental soil scientist Paul DeLaune showed the benefits that producers can get by grazing cover crops planted in no-till systems. DeLaune evaluated the results of planting and grazing multi-species mixed cover crops on the cotton and wheat crops that follow them in rotation. The study showed that cover crops could be grazed without impacting their ability to provide soil-health benefits. DeLaune highlighted three potential opportunities to graze cover crops: supplemental grazing on warm-season cover crops in the summer; fall grazing of early-planted, cool-season cover crops; and spring graze-out of cool-season cover crops. Economic analysis indicated that grazing summer cover crops could increase net return per acre by as much as $38 to $44 compared to non-grazed cover crops. Furthermore, the soil with cover crops captured more water in rainfall events.




The Farmer Veteran Coalition announced that Wounded Warrior Project will provide direct funding to support the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. This small grant program operated by Farmer Veteran Coalition provides assistance to veterans in the early stages of their agricultural careers with the purchase of a piece of equipment. This funding from WWP will support 36 new fellowships, with at least half of them designated for female veterans.




The Washington State Department of Agriculture issued a statewide Stop Sale, Use and Removal Order for "Agro Gold WS," a product sold for use in organic agriculture but found to contain active pesticide ingredients. Any organic operation that continues to use the product risks losing its organic certification. Agro Gold WS is labeled as an organic biological soil amendment normally sold with the herbicide Weed Slayer. The order issued on December 16, 2020, requires that all distribution, promotion, sales, and use of Agro Gold WS in Washington must cease immediately. The order also requires the product be removed from all visible or accessible public locations. Both the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture also found these pesticide ingredients in Agro Gold WS and have issued similar notices to stop sales of the product.




Cornell University is developing a system to extract energy from cattle manure to meet the campus's peak demands for heat in the winter months. In the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, by AIP Publishing, scientists involved with the project give a detailed analysis of the issues required to make this work, including scientific, economic, and energy policy considerations. Investigators are proposing a system to convert manure from the school's 600 dairy cows to methane and other products. The method employs a three-stage process, where the manure is first biologically digested with microbes to produce biogas, then converted into a type of biocrude oil plus a substance called hydrochar that makes a good soil amendment. The final stage combines the carbon dioxide generated in the first step with hydrogen gas produced by renewable electrolysis of lake water to biologically generate renewable natural gas, RNG. The scientists believe this will produce enough energy to cover 97% of the school's total annual peak heating demand.




In cooperation with the Indiana State Poultry Association, Indiana State Egg Board, and Purdue Extension, the PEEP (Poultry Enthusiasts Excel with Purdue) group is conducting a survey to identify education and Extension needs. This information will be used to identify opportunities to better serve the Indiana and national poultry communities and to develop a map for programming over the next three to five years. The online survey takes about 10 minutes to complete.




The Center for Rural Affairs reports that the coronavirus stimulus package approved Monday by Congress included funds to directly support small-scale meat processors to help them expand and distribute meat across state lines. As part of the package, $60 million will be available for facility upgrade and planning grants. The bill also requires a report on the availability of financing for new and existing processing capacity and calls for USDA to work with states and detail ways to improve the existing Cooperative Interstate Shipment program. Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs, noted, "Congress deserves credit for acknowledging this problem and offering a response. Storage and equipment limitations have made it difficult for independent processors to meet growing demand, and we expect this stimulus to help overcome the capital constraints that have been impairing the industry for months."




The Packer's report Organic Fresh Trends 2021 offers insight on the organic produce purchasing preferences of consumers. The report revealed the top commodities that consumers buy organic at least some of the time and those that they purchase exclusively organic, led by kale, blueberries, and spinach. The report also offers demographics showing who is purchasing organic produce, and an analysis of where consumers purchase it (led by regional supermarkets). It also indicated the organic premiums that consumers say they are willing to pay.




Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program funded a multi-year project in Oregon that identified winter squash varieties that yielded well, stored well in barn conditions, and tasted good. The project also had a focus on introducing consumers to new ways to prepare and eat squash, culminating in the launch of the consumer website www.eatwintersquash.com. The website breaks down squash varieties into four types: simple squash, saucy squash, sweet squash, and salad squash. In each type, it identifies flavorful, long-storing varieties and provides recipes.




A study published by the University of Vermont in Evolutionary Applications revealed that the Colorado Potato Beetle uses DNA methylation to respond to pesticide exposure. Turning certain genes on or off helps the beetle adapt biological defense mechanisms, such as enzyme flush or faster excretion, to overcome the effects of pesticides. These defenses are the same ones that help the beetle overcome the plant-based toxins in potatoes themselves. Researchers found that the effects of the methylation persist for at least two generations. This discovery helps explain how Colorado Potato Beetles withstand insecticide exposure, and how they develop pesticide resistance.




The Southern Sustainable Research and Education Program (SSARE) has announced its 2020 Large Systems Grant award of $200,000 per year for three years. The project will create a group of universities and farmer cooperators to conduct large systems research on sustainable meat goat production and marketing. Researchers from Florida A&M, Fort Valley State, Langston, Prairie View A&M, Tennessee State, Tuskegee, and Virginia State universities are all involved in the project. Each of the 1890 Land-Grant universities will involve at least two farmer co-operators in their research. With the support of Southern SARE, researchers will seek to develop a deeper understanding of the factors that impact sustainable goat production in the Southeast and increase the sustainability of the southeastern goat industry.




American Farmland Trust has released A Guide to Water Quality, Climate, Social, and Economic Outcomes Estimation Tools: Quantifying Outcomes to Accelerate Farm Conservation Practice Adoption. The free, 100-page publication features tools and methods for use by managers of projects funded by USDA, EPA, states, and the private sector who are supporting conservation practice adoption. The guide features 14 tools and two methods that provide quantitative estimates of the impacts that conservation practices can have on water quality, climate, social, or economic outcomes. The featured tools were chosen based upon their availability, applicability, and usability by conservation project managers. "Effectively, practice- and project-scale outcomes quantification by local project managers can become another 'tool' in the 'conservation toolbox' alongside educational, financial, and technical assistance efforts to accelerate practice adoption," explains Emily Cole, American Farmland Trust's climate and agriculture program manager.




The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) is seeking applications for two vacancies on its Administrative Council. The open seats are for a Land Grant University Agriculture Experiment Station representative and for a Farmer or Rancher representative from one of the 12 states that comprise the North Central SARE region. The term for each of these SARE Administrative Council slots is three years. Applications are due by January 15, 2021.




USDA announced six additional locations for Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees focused exclusively on urban agriculture: Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans, Phoenix, and St. Louis. These new urban agriculture committees will join the ones in Albuquerque, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Portland (Oregon), and Richmond (Virginia) that were formed earlier this year as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill. The urban and suburban county committees will work to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production practices. Additionally, the new county committees may address areas such as food access, community engagement, support of local activities to promote, and encourage community compost and food waste reduction. FSA will begin accepting nominations for urban and suburban county committee members in June 2021. Urban farmers who participate or cooperate in an FSA program in the county selected may either be nominated or may nominate themselves or others as candidates by August 2, 2021.




Sodicity and salinity are causing productivity problems with 15% of North Dakota cropland, reports Farm Journal. Salts and sodium make their way into soil from parent material or groundwater discharge, and can reduce productivity to the point where nothing grows. Producer Mark Cheatley has been addressing soil sodicity on parts of his land by incorporating flue gas desulfurization gypsum. NDSU Extension is also exploring other methods of dealing with sodic and saline soils, including planting salt-tolerant grasses for hay or grazing instead of row crops.




The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) announced that its has awarded the last of 13 grants this year to help address the top challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers. This grant to Sarah Brown at Oregon Tilth is focused on improving the design and delivery of virtual peer learning programs that support organic farmers to strengthen their economic viability and ecological sustainability. A news release notes that unlike traditional distance learning such as online courses and instructional webinars, these programs are explicitly designed to use web technology for the reciprocal sharing of knowledge, ideas, and experience among practitioners. All results will be shared freely in the OFRF grants database upon submission of Brown's final report.




The Soil Health Academy announced the establishment of a new scholarship fund to honor soil health and regenerative agriculture pioneer Kendra Brandt of Carroll, Ohio, who passed away recently. "Kendra, alongside her husband David Brandt, formed a magnificent team that raised children with respect and honor, were vital members of their community and beyond, and stood as pioneers in helping others regenerate our soils, our ecosystems and ultimately our health." said Allen Williams, Ph.D. In memory of Kendra's legacy, Understanding Ag, LLC, provided an initial endowment to establish the Soil Health Academy scholarship fund, which is targeted to women and beginning farmers who are committed to growing the regenerative agriculture movement by implementing regenerative principles in their own operations or through regenerative agriculture education, outreach, or policy advocacy.




The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at UW-Madison was awarded a grant through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service's Farmers Market Promotion Program for a project titled "Grains to Institutions: Expanding Value Chains and Cultivating Resources for Upper Midwest Grain Growers." CIAS will use this $516,000 grant over three years to increase the ease of using regionally produced grains in local institutions, in collaboration with the Artisan Grain Collaborative and Upper Midwest grain producers, processors, and Wisconsin partner institutions. This project will develop a suite of resources for entities across the grain value chain from growers to buyers to accelerate procurement of local grains and continue to build farm to institution efforts.




The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced that 19 projects in the state will receive a total of more than $1.1 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants. The matching grants are intended to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crop industries through research, education, or market development. The funded projects include investigation of the wild bergamot plant as a specialty crop, worker training for diversified organic vegetable farms, vegetable variety trials, development of an elderberry hub, and projects to promote cranberries and black currants.




Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and researchers in conservation agriculture have released a new publication, A Practitioner’s Guide to Conducting Budget Analyses for Conservation Agriculture. The guide is designed to support other researchers, academics, conservation nonprofits, and any organizations interested in measuring the farm financial outcomes of agricultural conservation practices. The guide is informed by a thorough review of 33 farm budget case studies and five multi-farm analyses that examined conservation adoption, in addition to input from leading experts on conservation agriculture and farm financial management. The 31-page guide is available free online.




A new study led by the University of Michigan found that diverting urine from wastewater treatment at the city scale and recycling it to make crop fertilizer would result in multiple environmental benefits. The researchers found that urine diversion and recycling led to reductions of 26% to 64% in greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, freshwater consumption, and the potential to fuel algal blooms in surface water. This study compared the performance of large-scale, centralized urine-diversion and fertilizer-production facilities to conventional wastewater treatment plants and the production of synthetic fertilizers using non-renewable resources. Urine diversion and recycling was the clear winner in most categories of the life-cycle assessment.




USDA Economic Research Service has released America's Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition. The report provides the latest statistics on U.S. farms, including production, financial performance, and farm household characteristics by farm size. Among the findings, 98% of U.S. farms are classified as family farms, and these accounted for 86% of farm production in 2019. The report also reveals that 90% of farms are small, with gross cash farm income less than $350,000. These small farms account for 22% of production. The report notes that the average value of production on the two million U.S. farms amounted to $168,218, but few farms are actually near the average. Almost half of the farms had production valued at $6,000 or less.




As required by the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has issued a final rule that clarifies the types of conduct prohibited by the Packers and Stockyards Act and sets forth several criteria the Secretary of Agriculture will consider when determining whether conduct by packers, swine contractors, or live poultry dealers represents an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage. The four criteria include whether the preference or advantage: cannot be justified on the basis of a cost savings related to dealing with different producers, sellers, or growers; cannot be justified on the basis of meeting a competitor's prices; cannot be justified on the basis of meeting other terms offered by a competitor; and cannot be justified as a reasonable business decision. The rule will be published in the Federal Register and is effective as of January 11, 2021.




USDA announced that it is increasing incentive payments from 5% to 20% for practices installed on land enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Additionally, producers will receive a 10% incentive payment for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP's continuous signup. Under continuous CRP, producers can enroll environmentally sensitive land devoted to certain conservation practices, with signup available at any time. FSA automatically accepts offers, provided the land and producer meet certain eligibility requirements and the enrollment levels do not exceed the number of acres FSA is allowed to enroll in CRP. "Increasing the incentive payment gives farmers even more reason to participate in continuous CRP, one of our nation's largest conservation endeavors," said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce.




USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the 2019 Census of Horticultural Specialties report, the only source of detailed production and sales data for floriculture, nursery, and specialty crops for the entire United States. The data show that horticulture operations sold a total of $13.8 billion in floriculture, nursery, and specialty crops in 2019, down fractionally from sales in 2014, when the census was last conducted. The number of horticulture operations in the United States decreased 11% during this five-year period, to 20,655. Horticulture production occurred primarily in 10 states, which accounted for 66% of all U.S. horticulture sales in 2019. California ($2.63 billion), Florida ($1.93 billion) and Oregon ($1.02 billion) led the nation in sales. Food crops under protection represented $703 million, down 12% from 2014.




The Climate Science Alliance, in collaboration with Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians and Solidarity Farm, has been leading the Carbon Sink Demonstration Project at Pauma Tribal Farms to illustrate how carbon sink farming practices can be applied under Southern California conditions to benefit farmers and support climate mitigation and resilience efforts. A presentation on this project that was given at the 2020 San Diego Climate Summit is available online as a 23-minute video. It describes the Carbon Sink Demonstration Project, the research conducted, and the final outcomes and community impact.




The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit developed by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, the Farmers Market Coalition, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) has added a new resource on free speech at farmers markets. The new factsheet, Free Speech at Farmers Markets: What Rules can a Market Make Regarding Speech? provides background on the legal context of free speech, explains what types of speech can be restricted at any market, and offers decision trees that can be used to make market rules without infringing upon First Amendment rights.




Vermont Law School's Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and University of Vermont Extension's Northeast Center to Advance Food Safety have launched a free online legal resource on food safety for farmers and food producers. The Extension Legal Services Initiative website houses an interactive map illustrating the specifics of each U.S. state's produce safety program, as well as seven fact sheets covering the following topics: The relationship between FDA rules, guidance, and other communications; Produce farms, foodborne illness, and legal liability; Produce Safety Rule inspections and third-party audits; Produce Safety Rule coverage and exemptions for farms with multiple business entities; Alternatives and variances to the Produce Safety Rule; and How to use the FDA Technical Assistance Network and the Freedom of Information Act to access information about the Food Safety Modernization Act; and Supply chain program requirements for processors and their produce suppliers.




Practical Farmers of Iowa has posted the results of farmer-led research into yield of fall-harvested cauliflower varieties. Mark Quee and Shanti Sellz seeded cauliflower varieties in late spring and transplanted in mid-summer for fall harvest. Mardi performed best among four varieties trialed in Quee's first succession, but no differences among the five varieties trialed were observed in the second succession. At Sellz's, only the 'Snow Crown' variety produced harvestable cauliflower.




Central Georgia Technical College, in collaboration with STAG Vets, Inc. and Fort Valley State University, received grant funding to create a sustainable foods technical certificate program. The Sustainable Small Farm and Agriculture Technician Technical Certificate of Credit is a 17-hour, short-term, specialized program that will allow for an immersive curriculum of study that includes hands-on training in the small-scale production, management, and marketing of food. The project will help a pool of qualified, trained, and educated veterans address the need to fill existing vacancies in Georgia's food and agriculture production. Enrollment is not limited only to veterans: anyone is welcome to apply.  The Sustainable Small Farm and Agriculture Technician program will be offered online, via class space on the Milledgeville campus of the college, and at farmland offered through STAG Vets, Inc. at Comfort Farms in Milledgeville. The first cohort begins in January 2021.




Niman Ranch recognized the Nuessmeier Family Farm of LeSueur, Minnesota as the first recipients of their Sustainable Hog Farmer of the Year Award. Brothers Tim and Tom Nuessmeier along with their family, are celebrated for their decades of efforts to preserve their farmland and conserve natural resources. The Nuessmeiers raise pigs outdoors, grow organic crops using sustainable practices including crop rotation and buffer strips, and have dedicated pollinator habitat among many other environmentally conscious practices on their diversified farm.




A new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that the biodiversity that is below ground is not being given the importance it deserves and needs to be fully taken into account when planning interventions for sustainable development. The State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity explains that although soil organisms play a crucial role in boosting food production, enhancing nutritious diets, preserving human health, remediating pollution, and combating climate change, their contribution remains largely underestimated. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of Convention on Biological Biodiversity, commented, "We urgently need to recognize that soil biodiversity is indispensable to food security and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Soil biodiversity underpins the productivity and resilience of agriculture, making production systems and livelihoods more resilient to shocks and stresses."




USDA Agriculture Research Service scientists announced that they have developed a groundbreaking treatment for the damaging sheep parasite H. contortus. This important parasite has developed resistance to virtually all known classes of anti-parasitic drugs. The new para-probiotic treatment is developed from bacteria normally found in the soil that produce a protein that binds to receptors in the intestine of the parasite, killing the parasite. The treatments are currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will likely be commercially produced in large amounts once approved.




Researchers at Colorado State University are conducting a study on ranchers' perceptions of the benefits and costs, extent of use, enabling conditions, and barriers to ranch management planning. Producers in Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska are invited to take the anonymous online survey on ranch management planning. The results will inform outreach and program design on ranch management planning, not just for Colorado State, but also for other groups supporting ranching.




Ward and Rosie Burroughs, and the Burroughs Family of Farms have been selected as the recipient of the 2020 California Leopold Conservation Award®. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat management on private, working land. In California, the prestigious award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Sustainable Conservation and the California Farm Bureau Federation. Winners receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. Ward and Rosie Burroughs and their children are co-owners of five diversified, sustainable farms in Stanislaus County that produce organic almonds, beef, chicken and eggs, dairy, olives, and hay. Exceeding organic standards, the family continually refines and enhances their systems to reduce water use and improve soil fertility.




American Farmland Trust released Growing Resilience: Unlocking the Potential of Farm to School to Strengthen the Economy, Support New York Farms, and Improve Student Health in the Face of New Challenges. This report revealed that in spite of challenges schools face in buying local grown food, continued state commitment to New York's Farm to School programs could unlock $250 million in school spending on food from New York farms. This would result in bringing high-quality, local food to more than 900,000 students across New York while generating nearly $360 million in total economic impact statewide by 2025. This translates into a return on investment of $3.50 for every taxpayer dollar spent. The report builds on the findings of a report last year that evaluated the New York Farm to School Purchasing Incentive after its first year, by further fleshing out recommendations while considering the new and pressing challenges schools have faced during COVID-19, including budget shortfalls, lack of capacity, and supply chain breaks.




Pennsylvania State University researchers received a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore how duckweed could be grown on Pennsylvania farms to limit fertilizer and manure runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. Duckweed grows rapidly in water with elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Although it is typically considered a pest plant, this project will explore the role it can play in improving water quality and how it can be harvested for use as a high-protein feed supplement for livestock. Lead investigator Rachel Brennan explains, "Duckweed's protein content is similar to soybeans but its growth rate is faster, so it has a higher yield. Given the same area, you can produce more protein if you switch to this little aquatic plant." This four-year project will evaluate both the environmental and economic benefits of duckweed.




USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is conducting the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey, starting in December. This Census of Agriculture special study will look at local and regional food systems and provide new data on how locally grown food in the United States is marketed and sold. The survey will ask producers about their production and local marketing of foods during the 2020 calendar year, including the value of food sales by marketing channel such as farmers markets, restaurants, and roadside stands. Other questions seek information on the value of crop and livestock sales, marketing practices, expenses, federal farm program participation, and more. Farmers and ranchers who receive the survey must complete it by February 16, 2021.




Appalachian State University's Department of Sustainable Development received a three-year grant from USDA for its Frontline to Farm program, reports Mountain Times. The $599,684 grant will help veterans transition to civilian life through sustainable agriculture. The program will include a combination of web-based training modules, hands-on workshops in the field, and mentoring programs to train new farmers in sustainable agriculture.




The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing to establish additional traceability recordkeeping requirements for persons who manufacture, process, pack, or hold foods the Agency has designated for inclusion on the Food Traceability List. These include cheeses, shell eggs, finfish and crustaceans, as well as an assortment of produce such as melons, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and leafy greens. The proposed rule, "Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods," would implement Section 204(d) of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until January 21, 2021. Meanwhile, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has posted its analysis of what the proposed rule means for farmers.




The independent organization Climate Central reports that the winter season has warmed across most of the United States since 1970. Their analysis notes that although cold weather still happens in a warming climate, the winter season is less cold than it was half a century ago, and winter is the fastest-warming season in a majority of the U.S states. Furthermore, an analysis of winter temperatures indicates that 98% (236) of 242 cities had an increase in average winter temperatures from 1970, with the highest increases around the Great Lakes and Northeast region. The Climate Central materials explain that cherry, apple, and peach trees require a minimum number of winter chill hours before they can develop fruit in the subsequent spring and summer months. In a warming climate, the winter's chill period is decreasing and could eventually become insufficient for fruit development in the areas where the trees are currently planted. For example, the "Peach State" of Georgia is facing peach production challenges to its iconic fruit. The online Climate Toolbox will allow users to calculate how many chill hours are projected in a specific location, to determine how warming winters will affect agriculture.




The Indiana State Department of Agriculture awarded more than $468,000 funded by USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant program to six projects designed to grow the state's specialty crop sector. The grants were awarded to non-profit organizations, academic institutions and government agencies on a three-year cycle and will fund specialty crop research, education and market development. Funded projects include a marketing and consumer-education campaign to promote Indiana-grown watermelon, promotional marketing for farmers markets by Indiana Grown, and Indiana University's efforts to establish Indiana-based supply chain for state-grown chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts by conducting a supply chain assessment and hosting grower-education workshops.




The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF) has received a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to help grow demand for the Iowa specialty crop of lavender. This investment will allow IALF to increase awareness and understanding of lavender as a specialty crop in Iowa through the development of lesson plans and hands-on activities for educators and students. The lessons and activities will include lavender production and honeybees as pollinators, and feature samples of lavender products like lip balm, lotions, honey, and other food items.




Kansas State University is conducting a survey to determine the adoption baseline of cattle grazing management plans in the United States and the economic impact of implementation, including the costs to implement and the resulting production benefits. Kansas State is asking ranchers to complete the anonymous survey, which takes about 20 minutes online. Questions focus on the respondent's cattle operation and grazing management practices.




Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Tarleton State University scientists received a Conservation Innovation Grant to develop and demonstrate a biochar-assisted phytoremediation system for enhancing water quality during dairy manure application. The premise of the research is that specially designed biochar, created by using heat, pressure, and other adjuvants, produces unique carbon structures that particularly equip it to trap the nitrogen and phosphorus most likely to escape from field application in runoff. Laboratory testing shows that use of this biochar can help enhance the water quality of any potential runoff and, under the new grant, field testing will be conducted on perennial forage-based systems.




The Land Connection has published Financial Risk Management for Specialty Crop Producers, a guide written by experienced farmers and professionals serving farmers to help farmers maintain, refine, and grow a farm business. The text explores tools for budgeting and financial planning; skills and strategies for accessing capital; structures and considerations for accessing land; crop insurance products; foundational business management practices; and strategic planning for ongoing success. It is designed specifically for specialty crop producers with a few years of experience running a farm business, though the information is applicable to farmers at many stages of development. The publication is available free online in PDF.




An Organic Research Forum will be included in Growing Stronger, the 5-in-1 virtual conference that combines the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, GrassWorks Grazing Conference, OGRAIN Organic Grain Conference, Midwest Organic Pork Conference, and Organic Vegetable Production Conference. Accepted entrants for the Organic Research Forum will receive free admission to Growing Stronger, taking place February 22-27, 2021. Researchers, academic faculty and staff, graduate/undergraduate students, and farmer researchers may submit proposals on research conducted in certified organic systems. The forum provides an opportunity to share your research through a four-minute speed presentation and an optional PDF of your research poster. The research forum is a juried session with awards for first through third place. Submissions are due by January 11, 2021.




The U.S. Postal Service has unveiled the designs for stamps that it will issue in 2021, including stamps honoring heritage livestock breeds. According to a press release, these stamps pay tribute to "preindustrial farm animals that are enjoying renewed attention for their versatility, adaptability, and unique genetic traits." The stamps include photographs of 10 heritage breeds: the American Mammoth Jackstock donkey, the Narragansett turkey, the Cayuga duck, the San Clemente Island goat, the Mulefoot hog, the Cotton Patch goose, the American Cream draft horse, the Barbados Blackbelly sheep, the Milking Devon cow, and the Wyandotte chicken.




Sarah Lindblom of Solar Fresh Produce, a small CSA farm in Buffalo, Minnesota, received a Mill City Farmer Market Next Stage Grant to study and demonstrate caterpillar tunnels. The Sustainable Farming Association has posted a video, a podcast, and a series of reports on her experience growing high-value crops under caterpillar tunnels in 2020.




Scientists at Cornell University have unveiled a tool that will help researchers and policymakers map soil's potential for carbon sequestration globally. Soils Revealed is an open-access, interactive platform that maps soil carbon fluctuation, both in the past and into the future. It was developed by researchers at Cornell, The Nature Conservancy, Woodwell Climate Research Center, and the International Soil Reference and Information Center. Developers say it's the first interactive, global tool that shows how organic carbon in the soil has changed over time, as well as how much potential different land-management strategies have to mitigate climate change. "It is really exciting that we now have the digital tools to explore at high resolution—even down to the individual farm—what strategies work best and how much carbon we can store," explained one of the developers.




The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that a new initiative involving the Robert C. Byrd Institute, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield, and Unlimited Future and the Wild Ramp in Huntington seeks to expand the use of specialty crops in state-made drinks. The article reports that the effort will "expand cultivation of specialty crops for the craft beverage market, connect growers to bottlers who need specialty crops and promote the use of locally grown fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs to produce craft beverages." The project is funded by a Specialty Crop Block Grant and seeks to help 200 farmers in the state increase sales of specialty crops or expand into producing specialty crops.




The Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research announced the award of a grant to Dr. Inna Popova at the University of Idaho to examine mustard seed meal extract as a weed management strategy for organic potatoes. University of Idaho researchers developed an extract from white mustard seal meal that contains high concentrations of a biopesticide compound. Dr. Popova and her team are evaluating the efficacy of mustard seed meal extract (MSME) on inhibiting weed seed germination (pre-emergent) and killing aboveground weed growth (post-emergent) while also determining the influence of MSME application on the soil microbiome in the field. Additional objectives include evaluating the influence of MSME on the nutritional quality of potatoes and assessing the efficacy of MSME to act as a pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicide against common annual broadleaf and grass weed species under greenhouse conditions.




One of the initial impacts of climate change is saltwater intrusion, reports the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. Atlantic and Gulf Coast farmers are losing the use of farmland due to salt that's arriving not only with storms and tides, but also through underground saltwater intrusion. Saltwater intrusion is causing damage to forests and farm fields, making land unusable for crops and, in some cases, not able to grow weeds. Salt soils are also causing problems for agriculture in other regions, such as California's Central Valley, where already-salty soils are accumulating more salt due to irrigation and farming practices. Researchers are working to understand the extent of the problem and identify salt-tolerant crops and alternative land uses that could help affected farmers.




A startup company in the United Kingdom has developed a low-cost robotic platform for agricultural implements, reports the University of Plymouth. The Robotriks Traction Unit (RTU) costs just over $9,000, and can be used for tasks ranging from soil and crop monitoring to row-crop harvesting. The battery-powered RTU works either by remote control or autonomously, at speeds up to 10 mph, and it is able to carry several hundred pounds. It is made from mass-produced standard parts, including a large drive wheel, suspension, and a computer system, all held together by galvanized pipe, on which farmers can attach a variety of implements. The developers envision their technology as an aid to farmers by providing needed labor for jobs that people aren't available to fill.




The Association of State Public Health Nutritionists announced that 10 states and the District of Columbia have been awarded $90,900 each to strengthen their state-level Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) initiatives for a one-year project period. The plans that were competitively selected for funding were submitted by Colorado, District of Columbia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, and Washington. The funded programs take an equitable approach to fostering greater access to nutritious foods and a hands-on approach to food, health, and agriculture education.




Winrock International and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture are surveying farmers across the mid-South to gauge their interest in organic crop production. Researchers are seeking responses from active producers of row, fruit, vegetable, and field crops, including hay and forage, as well as livestock owners in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. "The survey is being conducted to help design a three-year agricultural research project focusing on organic production issues in the Mid-South," said Joseph Schafer of Winrock International. The survey takes five to 10 minutes to complete and will be open until December 31, 2020.




American Farmland Trust (AFT) released an update to its Understanding and Activating Non-Operator Landowners: Non-Operator Landowner Survey, adding additional state data that clearly shows landowners care about conservation and are willing to share in the efforts to steward their land. Around 40% of farmland in the United States is rented, with more than one-third of this land owned by women. While conservation practices are less likely to be used by renters, many non-operator landowners are unaware of conservation programs, notes AFT. This study will help inform program materials designed specifically for landowners and help improve conservation conversations between landowners and tenants.




The sixth year of oat variety trials from Practical Farmers of Iowa screened 18 oat varieties at four Iowa State University research farms, and two varieties on one organic commercial farm. A complete report of the results is available online. The average oat yield was 121 bu/ac. The variety 'Saddle' had the highest yield at three of the four research farms. Both hulled and hulless varieties were tested.




Writing in Organic Broadcaster, berry grower Pete Widin explores the potential of American elderberry to be a profitable crop for small-scale farmers. The perennial elderberry enjoys growing markets for both flowers and fruit. Widin explains that the crop needs full sun and well-drained soil, and benefits from irrigation. The berries are vulnerable to spotted wing drosophila, and pressure from other pests and diseases varies by location. Prospective growers also need to consider the labor and infrastructure required to bring a crop to market.




Organic Seed Alliance, Dr. Julie Dawson at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and SeedLinked are launching a collaborative project funded by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). The Collaborative Plant Breeding Network Development for Organic Systems in the Upper Midwest project will engage organic farmers, independent plant breeders, seed companies, and organic certifiers in plant breeding and trialing on organic farms, developing and field-testing new data-sharing and networking tools, and releasing new varieties of sweet peppers and tomatoes adapted to the Upper Midwest. Farmers and gardeners in the Upper Midwest are invited to join the collaborative plant breeding network and receive information on topic-specific groups and trainings.




Scientists have created the first global distribution map for bees, reports Yale Environment 360, and published the work in the journal Cell Biology. The analysis of nearly six million public records revealed that bee diversity is greater in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern, and that there are more bees in temperate regions than in the tropics. The United States has the most species of bees. The scientists say their work can help protect bee species and promote food security.




USDA is accepting applications from farmers for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) until December 11, 2020. This program provides direct relief to producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Up to $14 billion is available through the program, and more than $9.5 billion of that had already been paid to farmers by November 9, 2020. Producers of certain row crops, livestock, dairy, specialty crops, aquaculture, and more may be eligible. Producers can apply online by completing the application form found at farmers.gov/cfap, using the CFAP 2 Application Generator and Payment Calculator. Customers seeking one-on-one support with the CFAP 2 application process can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer general assistance. NCAT's ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture specialists are also available to help you with your application, at 800-346-9140 or askanag@ncat.org.




The California Department of Food and Agriculture is accepting public comments on the Request for Applications (RFA) for the Farm to School Incubator Grant Program. Comments will be accepted until December 4, 2020. Through these grants, CDFA is looking to support programs that promote innovation in nutrition education, sustainable production and procurement, and high-quality student experience. The program will offer both innovation grants and regional partnership grants, for a combined total of more than $8 million in funding. Comments received will be considered before this Farm to School RFA is made final and when developing future Farm to School RFA's.




A research project at Iowa State University is focusing on Three Sisters Gardening, according to a post on The Conversation. Researchers are working with numerous Native American farmers and community groups in reviving seed supplies for indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers and teaching indigenous growing techniques. The far-reaching project encompasses diversifying and improving the healthfulness of food supplies in Native communities, as well as documenting the healing aspects of indigenous gardening practices.




The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) will launch an online information clearinghouse in 2021 to promote solar-energy development on agricultural lands while protecting—and even improving—those lands' agricultural capacity. NCAT was selected for a $1.6 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the Agri-Solar Clearinghouse (ASC), a national information hub and professional network that connects researchers, technology companies, solar developers, landowners, farmers, and consumers. ASC will showcase and develop practical, affordable solar-energy solutions through research, success stories, case studies, and multi-media outreach. The project will also connect participants through an online forum, mailing list, workshops, and farm tours to facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges and mentoring. ASC is expected go live in the summer of 2021.




Northeast Montana farmers Shauna and Terry Farver began offering value-added baking and meal mixes four years ago, incorporating wheat and lentils grown on their farm. The Prairie Star reports that more recently, they've developed a snack product made from lentils grown at their farm. Over time, the business has grown to have its own dedicated building and employee. This past year, Farver Farms purchased a restaurant that serves products from their farm in the local community. The business continues to develop, with new flavors and products coming out in the near future.




USDA has launched a new AskUSDA Contact Center program. The AskUSDA Contact Center will serve as the "one front door" for phone, chat, and web inquires, transforming how the public interacts with USDA and providing an enhanced experience for the public. USDA says the new AskUSDA Contact Center assures that farmers, researchers, travelers, parents, and more have efficient access to the information and resources they need. The public can contact AskUSDA by phone at (833) ONE-USDA with representatives available 9:00am-5:30pm EST weekdays. The website (https://ask.usda.gov/) is available 24/7 and includes live chat agents available 10:00am-6:00pm EST on weekdays. Inquiries can also be sent via email at any time to askusda@usda.gov.




The Eat Local First Collaborative has launched a new Washington Food & Farm Finder, a comprehensive and mobile-friendly searchable database connecting residents with more than 1,700 sustainable and organic farms, farmers markets, and food businesses around the state. Eat Local First Collaborative is a collective of food system organizations from around Washington working together to merge various online food- and farm-finding resources into a single easy-to-use platform. By offering free listings on the Washington Food & Farm Finder through 2021, the group aims to increase accessibility to consumer and wholesale markets for farms that otherwise might not be able to access such support.




The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced vacancies on the Certified Farmers Market Advisory Committee. This committee advises the CDFA secretary on all matters pertaining to the Direct Marketing Program, including legislation, regulations, enforcement, and administrative policies and procedures pertaining to the direct marketing of California-grown agricultural products at the approximately 650 Certified Farmers Markets in thee state. The current vacancies include producers or representatives of agricultural organizations that represent producers; alternate producers or organizations that represent producers; and alternate market operators or their representatives. Applications will be accepted until the positions are filled.




Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) is seeking an agricultural producer to fill a vacant seat on its Administrative Council and provide a "voice" for the direction of sustainability across the Southern region. The Administrative Council guides the vision of the SARE program, sets goals related to sustainable agriculture, oversees the review of grant calls for proposals, evaluates projects, and serves as SARE ambassadors. The three-year term would begin in February 2021. Nominations from all 13 states in the southern region, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands will be considered. The deadline to apply or nominate someone is December 31, 2020.




The CSA Innovation Network has assembled a renewals promotional package of social media and print templates for use by Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations. The package is available for free online download. It includes shareable and customizable Facebook and Instagram posts, printable flyers, and other graphics that farmers can edit and make their own when encouraging members to renew their support. CSAs can use the materials in this package to promote early membership renewals to customers and followers.




Family Farm Action Alliance, in partnership with Open Markets Institute, has released a new report, The Food System: Concentration and Its Impacts. According to a press release, the report provides the latest data on agricultural market shares in the United States, as part of a holistic and comprehensive analysis of the shortcomings of our overly concentrated food supply chain. It also includes proposals for decentralizing our agri-food system. The 28-page report is available online.




Northeast SARE reports that recipients of one of its Farmer Grants tested alternative planting dates for strawberries on a West Virginia farm. Kent and Jennifer Gilkerson of Sunset Berry Farm and Produce tested three different planting dates for strawberries in plasticulture, beginning two weeks after the current recommended August planting date. Plantings on September 5 and September 20 had favorable branch crown development and fruit production. As a result of the project, the Gilkersons have changed their strawberry planting dates to the first week of September. This helps them spread labor to a less-busy time, and helped them have healthier strawberries with less weed pressure and lower labor requirements for removing runners and weeding.




The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) announced that it has updated its publication Farmers' Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This guide is a resource for farmers who want to learn more about CSP or who are thinking about enrolling in the program. It has been updated to reflect recent changes in the program. The guide helps walk farmers through the application and implementation processes for CSP, and the updated version contains a full list of CSP practices and profiles of farmers who use CSP. The guide is available free online.




A comprehensive University of Illinois study looked at water withdrawals in U.S. agriculture and food production from 1995 to 2010, and found an 8.3% decline in use of water for irrigation during this period. However, the savings were not evenly distributed across crop types. For example, oilseed crops experienced a 98% increase in water demand over the period, even as water use in cereal grains, fruits, and vegetables declined due to irrigation efficiency improvements. This analysis considered water use at all stages in the supply chain.




Farmers for America is a documentary film directed by Graham Meriwether and narrated by Mike Rowe that celebrates young and beginning farmers and the opportunities agriculture has to restore rural communities. NCAT joined with the National Young Farmers Coalition, National Farmers Union, the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and other national outreach partners in promoting showings of the film. During the next two months, 25% of PBS affiliate stations across the country will air the film. A schedule of broadcast dates is available online, as is a trailer for the film.




A story from Harvest Public Media highlights the difficulties that female farmers can have in finding tools and equipment designed for them, or that are practical for them to use. Many farming tools are scaled for taller heights and upper body strength typical of men. With numbers of female farmers increasing—to roughly 36% of all farmers—the issue is receiving more attention and becoming ever more relevant. At least one company, Green Heron Tools, is focusing on researching and designing tools and machinery that are easier for women to use.




Organic produce company Grimmway Farms has donated $5 million to Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences to establish an on-campus Center for Organic Production and Research. According to a press release, Cal Poly will expand its emphasis on applied research in organic production and soil health by providing a unique, collaborative platform for academia, industry, and government from across California and beyond to come together to advance the organic industry. "Our partnership with Grimmway will facilitate bringing increased science and technology to the production of organic food," said College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Dean Andrew Thulin. "Cal Poly is at the forefront of using the power of collaboration to solve real world problems. This new center will integrate the greatest talents in academia, private industry, government and a wide range of disciplines to benefit the organic industry as a whole."




In honor of its 75th anniversary, Noble Research Institute has posted a collection of 75 facts about beef. The facts range from trivia about the history of the beef industry in the United States to statistics on the current beef market. They also address the environmental impact of beef production, the connection between beef cattle stewardship and soil health, and details on how cattle production can contribute to carbon capture and wildlife habitat.




An eight-year study in Latin America demonstrated that in-kind payments incentivized farmers to conserve agrobiodiversity, reports the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The innovative payment scheme for ecosystem services successfully encouraged farmers to cultivate and conserve agrobiodiversity in exchange for items ranging from fertilizer to furniture. In four Latin American countries, affordable in-kind payment schemes encouraged farmers to cultivate threatened varieties of important crops such as quinoa and maize. The programs appealed to both farmers and policymakers. Researchers report that because the programs use awards that are requested by communities, they create conditions to incentivize extremely high compliance by farmers.




Hawaii-based agroforestry innovators Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR) and Forest Agriculture Research Center (FARM Center) have announced the launch of a free online platform called the Agroforestry Design Tool to assist planners and growers in developing agroforestry plans. The Agroforestry Design Tool guides the user in selecting from a range of planting patterns suitable for multistory agroforestry. The user can then select species from a list of more than 200 fruit, nut, timber, native, and culturally significant plants from throughout the Pacific Islands. Finally, the tool provides visualizations and an animation of the growth of the user's agroforest, as well as a summary report in PDF. The tool also assists users in meeting standards for multistory agroforestry set by USDA NRCS and in meeting a standard for regenerative agroforestry.




The Soil Health Academy instructed by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Shane New, and Allen Williams, Ph.D. will offer an online version of their educational program as "Regen Ag 101." Regen Ag 101 is an online, self-paced, interactive media experience that contains video lectures, case studies, and supporting research from Soil Health Academy live workshops. The course consists of nine documentary instruction modules. Pre-enrollment is open, with a course launch date set for December 2020.




USDA announced that signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will be open from January 4, 2021, to February 12, 2021. Through CRP, farmers and ranchers establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees, to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat on cropland. Signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021, to April 23, 2021. CRP Grasslands helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, pastureland, and certain other lands while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.




Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has published the Farmers' Guide to Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2), a direct payment program for farmers run by USDA. The 96-page PDF is a detailed explanation of how CFAP 2 works. Potential applicants should be aware that CFAP 2 is a completely different program than the first CFAP program. The introductory chapter describes very briefly the outlines of CFAP 2 and its background. Later chapters describe eligibility rules for CFAP 2 and how USDA says the program will work, including how payments will be calculated. The program application deadline is December 11, 2020.




The Targeted Grazing Committee of the Society for Range Management is developing a certification program for targeted graziers, to ensure that they are knowledgeable, reliable, and exhibit ethical business and livestock-management practices. The certification will help natural resource managers differentiate practitioners in order to employ service providers (graziers) who offer a defined standard of service. The certification program involves a written exam, letters of testimonial, and submission of a portfolio of photos or video. Certified graziers must maintain membership in the Society for Range Management and pay a $100 initial, non-refundable application fee. Certification of targeted grazers will begin in 2021.




The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) announced that it has received final approval from USDA for the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Plan. SDDA is taking actions to promulgate emergency administrative rules to establish the program in accordance with state law and the USDA-approved plan. Applicants for processor licenses and grower licenses will be able to apply as soon as those rules become effective. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is accepting online applications until April 30, 2021, from individuals and businesses wishing to grow or process hemp in Minnesota in 2021. This will be the first year that the program will operate under a new, federally approved state plan that governs production and regulation.




CSA Innovation Network has released Farmer to Farmer eCommerce Platforms Report, a comparison of farm-specific sales platforms. The 11-page report includes includes details on pricing and features of different platforms and provides farmer ratings for the five most popular of those farm-specific sales platforms, plus four additional platforms that are not farm-specific but are used by many farmers. The information was compiled through a national survey of farmers conducted by the CSA Innovation Network in 2020 that received 170 responses.




The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and partners at the University of Minnesota received a Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant through USDA to develop a roadmap for strengthening statewide support for small- and medium-sized agricultural producers in Minnesota. This project will engage producers in direct-to-consumer sales, like farmers markets, U-Pick, and CSAs, as well as those engaged in wholesale markets, such as selling to schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and through distributors. MDA will work with the UMN's College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, UMN Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and the nonprofit Renewing the Countryside to gather currently uncollected market data and identify how MDA's promotion and regulation programming can best serve the needs of Minnesota producers that sell in local and regional markets.




Native American Agriculture Fund has released a 19-page publication on Reimagining Native Food Economies. It offers a vision for native food and agriculture infrastructure rebuilding and recovery. The publication asserts that a regional food system grounded in Native culture, that provides economic opportunities and diversification for Tribes and producers to feed their communities, is necessary. The authors propose building 10 regional food hubs in Indian Country to provide necessary processing and distribution infrastructure for food grown and raised by Tribal farmers and ranchers. They note that these hubs could also serve as critical resources to broader rural communities.




Researchers who analyzed 13 years of data from California's agriculturally productive Kern County discovered that less-diverse croplands led to greater variability in pesticide use, as well as to higher peak pesticide application. Data supported the theory that diversity promotes stability in biological systems. "We find increasing cropland in the landscape and larger fields generally increase the level and variability of pesticides, while crop diversity has the opposite effect," the study authors wrote in the journal Nature Sustainability. Smaller fields have more perimeter area that can serve as beneficial insect and crop-pest predator habitat, and these pest predators were able to access the entire field when it was a small field. Also, having different crops in proximity prevented insect pests from multiplying unimpeded.




The University of Illinois has released a new review that shows some crops, including corn, cannot distribute their resources effectively to take advantage of extra CO2 in the atmosphere. Although some types of crop plants, including soybeans, rice, canola, and all trees, become more productive under elevated CO2 levels, other types of crops, including corn, sorghum, and sugarcane, are no more productive with more CO2. Scientists say that these plants would have to be engineered to allow them to have more productivity under conditions likely to exist as atmospheric CO2 levels increase.




USDA has mailed ballots for the Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committee elections to eligible farmers and ranchers across the country. To be counted, ballots must be returned to the local FSA county office or postmarked by December 7, 2020. Each committee has three to 11 elected members who serve three-year terms of office, and at least one seat is up for election each year. County committee members help FSA make important decisions on its commodity support programs, conservation programs, indemnity and disaster programs, and emergency programs and eligibility. Producers must participate or cooperate in an FSA program to be eligible to vote in the county committee election. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation(s) but may not have applied or received FSA program benefits.




USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is awarding more than $14.6 million in Conservation Innovation Grants. They support 24 projects to develop innovative systems, tools, and technologies for production and conservation on agricultural lands. Grants this year focused on five priority areas: air quality, water quality, water reuse, energy conservation, and wildlife habitat. A complete list of funded projects is available online. Highlights include a Practical Farmers of Iowa project that will increase the adoption of fertilizer and manure management practices that result in lower greenhouse gas emissions from small grains production and a grant to a coalition involving groups from Montana to New Mexico that has a three-year project to reduce conflicts between people and predators.




Research at the University of New Hampshire showed that nearly half of New Hampshire restaurants would prefer to purchase their food directly from farmers in support of local food systems. The researchers found 44% of restaurants want to purchase food directly farmers if no other constraints exist, such as seasonal availability and delivery issues. The study also revealed that 37% of restaurants already procure food directly from producers. "Overall, buyers are more likely to purchase local if they feel they are socially or economically benefiting their community," the researchers found. Buyers were most interested in purchasing locally produced vegetables, fresh-cut produce, local cheese, and local beef, and least interested in grains, wine, and yogurt. All buyers cited taste as important or very important, also noting quality, cost, and product marketability as important. Nearly all respondents said consistent supply and quality was important or very important, according to a press release.




The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is seeking individuals to serve on its Administrative Council. The 20-member governance committee sets program policies for Northeast SARE, participates in the grant review process and makes final award decisions for all grant programs. Northeast SARE is seeking to fill three open seats representing: agricultural lending and farm financial management; non-profit organizations engaged in environmental work; and for-profit agricultural businesses/industry. Interested individuals should submit a letter by December 4, 2020, describing their interest in serving on the council, a resume, and a short description of the business or organization where they work.




The University of New Hampshire researchers received a grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture that will explore how forage legumes could help the region's organic dairies improve production efficiency. The $2 million grant will support testing on maximizing forage yields and identifying best practices for implementing forage-rich diets. The forage legumes could help organic dairy producers reduce imported feed inputs, improve milk quality, and access premium specialty markets for grass-fed dairy products.




In northern New York, Cornell University Cooperative Extension researchers worked with farmers to identify optimal sampling levels for seven key soil health indicators. The project, funded by a Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) grant, will help more accurately assess the restorative effectiveness of farms' efforts to improve soil health over time. In this research soil-sample analysis determined the number of samples needed to detect a 10% improvement in soil health based on soil pH, soil organic matter, surface hardness, subsurface hardness, within-field phosphorus, aggregate stability, and soil respiration. The number of samples needed varied widely across the indicators under evaluation. The least variable soil health indicator within a field in this project was soil pH. The most variable within-field soil health indicator was soil phosphorus. As a general guideline, based on this project's findings, the researchers suggest a minimum of 40 to 50 sub-sample locations per field for farmers who wish to begin monitoring soil health status and improvements over time on a broad scale. To evaluate individual soil health components, more intensive sampling can be done.




University of Missouri Extension reminds farmers in crisis that they can take advantage of a 24-hour hotline for stress counseling as well as information and referrals. Through the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center, the Iowa Concern Hotline is available to residents of 12 north-central U.S. states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Call 800-447-1985 or go to extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern to access the service. Individuals can also email experts questions related to finance, legal issues, stress, and crisis and disaster. Calls, chats and emails are confidential, and language interpretation services are available. Missouri also offers state-specific resources, including Show-Me Strong Farm Families on Facebook.




American Farmland Trust is providing online access to the methods, tools, and training resources it used in its Quantifying the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Soil Health project to develop case studies featuring successful farmers. Specifically, partners will be able to use AFT's Retrospective Soil Health Economic Calculator (R-SHEC) Tool, an 11-tab Excel-spreadsheet tool, to evaluate the costs and benefits of soil health conservation practices, including no-till or reduced tillage, cover cropping, nutrient management, and conservation crop rotation. The tool presents the net economic benefits in a partial budget analysis table and an estimate of the Return on Investment, or ROI, in the soil health practices. Available materials also include instructions on using the R-SHEC and how to obtain the data needed to run the tool. There is also information on correlating results with calculations from USDA's Nutrient Tracking Tool and COMET-Farm Tool.




Heroes to Hives is a Michigan State University Extension program that seeks to address financial and personal wellness of veterans through free professional training and community development centered around beekeeping. Veterans leave the program with a broad depth of beekeeping knowledge, as well as personal and professional relationships that open up new opportunities and ensure long-term peer support. Students learn to understand the importance of pollinators in U.S. agriculture and stand to protect managed honey bees through small-scale sustainable beekeeping operations. Registration for the 2021 program is open until February 28, 2021.




The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences reports that an international research group found that increasing diversity in crop production systems benefits ecosystem services and biodiversity without compromising crop yields. Researchers analyzed nearly 42,000 comparisons between diversified and simplified agricultural practices, and found that both above- or below-ground diversification were beneficial for the environment. Management practices that contribute to diversity include growing multiple crops in a rotation, planting flower strips within fields, reducing tillage, adding organic amendments that enrich soil life, and establishing or restoring species-rich habitat in the landscape surrounding crop fields. Additionally, diversification practices maintained or even increased crop yields in a majority of cases.




Research from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, published in People and Nature, indicates that eating more food from tropical trees has the potential to improve both human and planetary health. "Planting the right type of trees in the right place can provide nutritious foods to improve diets sustainably while providing other valuable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration," notes the study's lead author. Scientists point to overconsumption of wheat, rice, sugarcane, and maize as contributing to climate change and loss of biodiversity, and they contend that tropical tree fruits offer more nutrients. They call for scaling up agroforestry systems to produce more and healthier food, while simultaneously diversifying income sources for smallholder farmers. Crops like avocado, mango, Brazil nuts, and dozens more are options.




The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission released a new video in its nine-part Farms in Focus Series showcasing Southern Maryland's diverse agricultural profile. This video explores the technology, skill, and artistry involved in raising plants and flowers through the experience of three growers engaged in different cultivation and business models—small and large. Part of the video features Priscilla Wentworth Leitch, of Anchored Roots Farm in St. Mary's, who explains how she and another small farm are partnering to grow a combined floral inventory to supply area florists and meet the growing consumer demand for locally grown flowers for weddings and other special occasions.




USDA is amending the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic crops and handling, based on public input and the October 2018 National Organic Standards Board recommendations. The change allows non-organic tamarind seed gum to be used as an ingredient in organic handling when an organic form is not commercially available, effective December 7, 2020. This published rule does not finalize the proposed actions on natamycin or blood meal made with sodium citrate.




Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) is accepting applications for its Humane Farming Mentorship Program until December 31, 2020. The one-year program, from the end of February 2021 to February 2022, is for beginning livestock and poultry farmers seeking personalized guidance from an experienced farmer. Farmers who currently raise animals and have at least one year of farming experience are eligible to participate as mentees, for $200. Mentors are also sought. Ideally, a mentor will have 10 years of experience or more raising animals, and mentors must use humane animal management practices. Mentors are compensated $300 for participating. This program is open to farmers in the continental United States, and an online info session is offered on December 9, 2020.




Livestock producers in the southwestern United States are faced with rising temperatures that require them to adapt to keep farming practical, reports The Guardian. Producers in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and California are utilizing cooling methods such as shade shelters and sprinklers to keep livestock cool enough to be productive. Cattle ranchers, meanwhile, are developing new breeds that are less heat-sensitive. However, in some locations, the cost of heat mitigation for livestock can outstrip the profitability of raising stock.




A new report from CoBank's Knowledge Exchange, Field of Agronomic Dreams: Rethinking the Farm Supply Co-Op to Drive Value, suggests that it may be time for farm supply cooperatives to rethink their business model, in the face of current challenges. Price competition, manufacturer ability to sell direct to farmers, and large farms contracting directly for services that coops used to provide are all challenges facing farm supply cooperatives, according to the report. However, the report says farm supply cooperatives can create additional value by pursing economies of scale, diversifying product offerings and revenue sources, and simplifying operations. One opportunity could be partnerships with emerging tech companies to help guide farmers through digital transformation.




A newly revised bulletin from SARE, A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests, discusses ecological approaches to pest management and highlights cases of farmers using innovative methods to manage pests. The publication describes ecological pest management strategies that focus on strengthening natural relationships throughout the farm to reduce pest pressures. These holistic strategies emphasize knowledge of cropping systems, biodiversity, and farm resource management. Part one examines how biodiversity and biological control drive management practices that can boost the natural defenses of your farm. The second part puts those tools into practice by providing reliable and profitable strategies to successfully manage pests. The 16-page publication is available free in print and for download.




Western Illinois University Assistant Professor Shelby Henning leads a project that is testing varieties of peppers and tomatoes to determine which do best in high tunnels. Researchers planted 22 varieties of tomatoes and 15 varieties of peppers in a high tunnel facility at the University's agricultural research farm this season. The results will be published in the Illinois Fruit and Vegetable News a free-access, online newsletter published by the University of Illinois for commercial growers.




USDA recently announced the latest round of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) grant awards. This program has been the only federal program dedicated to training the next generation of farmers during the past decade. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coaltion (NSAC) notes that the 48 new grants that will invest over $16 million over the next three years actually represent a decline in funding below the program's peak in 2014. Approximately 28% of BFRDP applicants received funding, and NSAC offers an analysis of award trends, along with several examples of projects funded this year.




The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded nearly $25.4 million in grant funding to dairy methane reduction projects across the state. These projects, part of the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program and the Alternative Manure Management Program, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from manure on California dairy and livestock farms. The collective projects will reduce an estimated 191,360 metric tons of greenhouse gases per year and contribute $32 million in matching funds. Dairy digesters help capture methane emissions and use them to produce electricity or natural gas. Changing manure management practices so that manure is handled in a dry form (such as staying on pasture longer or compost pack barns) is another way to reduce methane emissions significantly.




Greenhouse Manual: An Introductory Guide for Educators, a project of the U.S. Botanic Garden, NCAT, and City Blooms, has been honored with a 2nd place national award by the American Alliance of Museums in the Education category of their publications awards. The manual is an easy-to-use guide designed to help educators who have access to greenhouses with planting gardens, growing for farm to school programs, or integrating plant science into an existing curriculum. The manual opens with a basic explanation of greenhouses and continues with how to integrate their use into classroom and out-of-classroom learning. It contains lesson plans and information on greenhouse operation, growing plants, starting seeds, plant nutrition, disease and pest management, greenhouse budgeting, and succession planting. The manual is available free online.




Indigo Agriculture has announced the first commitments from large global brands to purchase verified agricultural carbon credits through Indigo Carbon. Companies including Boston Consulting Group, Shopify, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Givewith, IBM, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and New Belgium Brewing committed to a credit purchase price of $20/tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents sequestered and abated in the 2020 growing season. Net on-farm GHG emissions will be measured and verified by a newly developed Soil Enrichment Protocol, as well as a Methodology for Improved Agricultural Land Management (MIALM) that is currently undergoing final review.




The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule that Application Exclusion Zones (AEZ) for pesticides can only be enforced on-farm and not on neighboring property, reports The Hill. These rules keep people other than the pesticide handlers from being in the area as pesticides are applied. Opponents of the rule change argue that pesticides do not respect property boundaries and that the rule change will endanger farmworkers on neighboring properties when pesticides are applied, as well as nearby community members. EPA argued that regulations on areas beyond the farm's property are difficult to enforce, and that the modified rule will be more workable for farm owners. The rule also reduced the size of AEZ needed for some pesticide applications.




An international team of scientists laid out a strategy for sequestering carbon in soil to fight climate change. Their work, published in Nature Communications says that carbon sequestration in agricultural soil could offset a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and would result in increased crop yields, as well. The strategy set forth by the scientists calls for simple actions such as mulching, adding biochar, and increasing plant growth through accurate liming, fertilization, and irrigation. However, the scientists say, implementing this type of strategy requires locally adapted actions that prioritize treatment of already-degraded soils and handle different types of soils appropriately.




As part of the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, to assist farmers in accessing and adopting new approaches, USDA is requesting input on the most innovative technologies, practices, and management tools that can be readily deployed through one or more USDA programs. Recommended approaches should enable the U.S. agriculture industry to meet USDA's goal to increase agricultural production by 40% to meet the needs of the global population in 2050, while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half. USDA's goal is to identify the best "ready to go" innovations, as well as request input on how to best incorporate these innovations into USDA programs and accelerate their adoption. USDA will consider comments received by November 9, 2020.




The Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is seeking immediate nominations or self-nominations for a qualified individual to represent non-government organizations involved with underrepresented agriculture groups on its Administrative Council. There will also be an opening for a second position to represent agri-business (preferably in the processing sector) available in early March 2021. The Administrative Council provides oversight of research needs, competitive proposal reviews, and budget allocation for Western SARE. The term of service is four years, and applications are due by January 8, 2020.




Researchers at Australia's RMIT University have discovered a new type of ultra-efficient catalyst that can make low-carbon biodiesel and other valuable complex molecules out of diverse, impure raw materials. This new catalyst can make biodiesel from low-grade feedstocks containing up to 50% contaminants, whereas today's commercial processes require oil that's 98% pure. The new catalyst is sponge-like, and modeled after the way that enzymes in human cells coordinate complex chemical reactions. It's the first time a multi-functional catalyst has been developed that can perform several chemical reactions in sequence within a single catalyst particle. RMIT reports that making low-carbon biodiesel from agricultural waste with these catalysts requires little more than a large container, some gentle heating, and stirring.




The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) received more than $591,000 through USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Producer groups, trade associations, nonprofits, and colleges and universities were eligible to apply for grant funds through the department. IDOA will split the funds between ten projects that are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally grown produce and strengthen the state's specialty crop industry. A list of projects is available online. Meanwhile, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) has announced the recipients of this year's Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) awards in that state. In addition to a host of products from strawberries to mixed vegetables, funding will also go to a pilot project supporting farmers seeking certification in Good Agricultural Practices.




USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) launched a new tool on farmers.gov to help producers with the application process for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+). The new tool documents information about a producer's operation and helps USDA identify producers who may need more information about or assistance with the program application process. After the online survey is completed, the local FSA county office will follow up with producers who provide contact information. The program compensates producers for losses due to hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, drought, excessive moisture, and wildfires occurring in calendar years 2018 and 2019. The deadline to submit applications for disaster recovery assistance through WHIP+ is October 30, 2020.




A project led by South Dakota State University surveyed North and South Dakota livestock producers to identify barriers to adopting rotational grazing. Producers who haven't adopted rotational grazing identified water and labor as the major barriers to adopting the practice, and adopters agreed that supplying water to multiple paddocks was their greatest challenge. The survey showed that among rotational graziers, 84% have used the practice for 10 years or more, and they find benefits to soil and water quality and profitability. However, the number of graziers switching to rotational grazing has stagnated in recent years. This NIFA-funded project is helping researchers determine why more producers haven't adopted the beneficial practice and how they might be convinced to make the switch.




The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced the appointment of 17 members to the new Emerging Farmers' Working Group that will help shape the future of farming in the state. The group's purpose is to advise the MDA and Minnesota Legislature on ways to advance the success and sustainability of farmers who traditionally face barriers to the resources necessary to build profitable agricultural businesses. Emerging Farmers are defined as women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian/Alaskan Native, communities of color, young, and urban farmers. The working group's first meeting will take place November 6, 2020, via Webex. Members of the public are welcome and public comments can be made through the chat box.




The Midwest Grazing Exchange, a new website created by the Midwest Perennial Forage Working Group, is a free matchmaking service that aims to connect graziers and landowners. Graziers can search for forage to graze and landowners can search for livestock to graze their land in a six-state region that includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The site allows visitors to create listings for land or livestock they have to offer, search and save existing listings, and find information on grazing contracts and regenerative grazing, as well as locate organizations and grazing specialists that can offer support in each participating state.




Certified American Grown, a diverse and unified coalition of small to large cut flower and greens farms across the United States, has transitioned from a marketing and governmental relations group under the auspices of the California Cut Flower Commission to an independent trade association representing cut flower and greens farmers nationwide. As a trade association, Certified American Grown will continue its efforts to lobby on behalf of cut flower and greens farmers, sponsor American Grown Flowers Month in July, host the annual American Grown Field to Vase Dinner Tour, and give consumers confidence in the source of their flowers and greens by providing the only third-party guarantee in the floral industry validating bouquets and bunches purchased were actually homegrown.




In the first month that applications for the second round of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) were open, USDA approved more than $7 billion in payments to producers. CFAP 2 provides agricultural producers with financial assistance to help absorb some of the increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Since CFAP 2 enrollment began on September 21, 2020, FSA has approved more than 443,000 applications. The top five states for payments are Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, and Kansas. USDA has released a data dashboard on application progress that is updated weekly. CFAP 2 applications will be accepted through December 11, 2020, and a total of $14 billion is available.




USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released the results of the 2019 Organic Survey, which show total sales of $9.93 billion in organic products, an increase of $2.37 billion, or 31% percent, from 2016. There were 16,585 certified organic farms, a 17% increase from 2016, which accounted for 5.50 million certified acres, an increase of 9% over 2016. The top organic sector was livestock and poultry products. Survey results showed that $2.04 billion in organic products were sold directly to retail markets, institutions, and local/regional food hubs, while another $300 million in organic products were sold directly to consumers, and value-added products accounted for $727 million in sales. The survey also revealed that 29% of farms plan to increase their level of organic production, and more than 1,800 certified organic farms currently have land in transition to organic production. Additional survey results are available online.




USDA has published the final rule for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program update as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill. The changes incorporated in the final rule include higher payment caps for producers participating in the Organic Initiative, advance payments for historically underserved producers, and new language specifically including soil health and weather and drought resilience in the national priorities. In addition, the Conservation Innovation Grants program was changed to include field research and lower matching funds requirements for historically underserved producers. Also, the Conservation Innovation Grants program now includes opportunities for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials and Soil Health Demonstration Trials.




Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has published a third edition of its Farmers' Guide to Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). FLAG noted that there have been a number of changes to the program since the second edition came out in June. This third edition describes the two main aspects of CFAP—the component of CFAP that provides direct payments to farmers (what this Guide calls the CFAP direct payments program, or CFAP for short) and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The guide is available free online.




Farmland for a New Generation New York is a partnership between the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, American Farmland Trust, and a network of 27 land trusts that has connected more than 50 farmers with farmland over the past two years. The program combines online listings for farmland and farmers with staff who work one-on-one with farmers facing complex decisions for the future of their farms. Farmland for a New Generation New York provides these services for free to retiring farmers to help them keep their land in farming, to farmland owners who don't farm their land to ensure they can make their land available for farming, and to new and existing farmers to help them overcome barriers in finding land to launch or expand farm businesses. In the two years since the launch of the program, more than 1,500 participants have received direct assistance leading to 53 matches of farmers to nearly 2,000 acres of farmland across the state.




The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production nationwide and many hoped it would be a profitable new crop for farmers, reports Politico. However, after a boom in acreage planted last year, plantings of industrial hemp were down in 2020. Growers say a drop in price and a lack of markets have discouraged wider adoption of the crop. A patchwork of state regulations, combined with USDA requirements and pending FDA regulations, also complicate entry into this industry.




Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) is accepting applications for its 2020-2021 Farm Beginnings program. The eight-week course is a farmer-led program to help guide those with a strong commitment to creating a sustainable farm business achieve their goals. Designed for farmers with at least one year of production experience, this series of intensive workshops will help you to develop a whole farm plan through realistic goal setting, reflection, and assessment of your resources, skills, and markets—and give you the business-planning tools necessary to implement your plan successfully. Applicants from Maine will be given priority. The course takes place virtually in January and February; applications are due by December 1, 2020.




Research published in Agricultural & Environmental Letters notes that information regarding soil health is often too generalized. Practices that are beneficial in one region could create challenges in another. Postdoctoral scientist Grace Miner says that practices need to be tested at the regional level to determine their effects, and that more study is needed on how soil health improvements impact crop yield.




Sonja Brodt, deputy director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program, is leading a collaborative effort with California farmers and UC researchers to develop native western elderberry as a hedgerow cash crop. Planting hedgerows with edible and medicinal species such as elderberry can help growers generate additional revenue while fostering beneficial insects and improving soil health. California's native blue elderberry subspecies is more heat- and drought-tolerant than the more commercialized North American and European subspecies of elderberry. "Elderberries have this great potential as a 'win-win' crop. Farmers harvesting and selling elderberries from their hedgerows can receive a direct income from a farm practice that benefits the local ecosystem," says Brodt. A field trial found that elderberry yields from a 1,000-foot, multispecies hedgerow could provide $2,700 to $4,800 in revenue, after harvest and de-stemming costs, in only the second year after hedgerow planting.




A new University of California report, Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016, says that organic agriculture continues to expand in the state and now includes more than 360 commodities. According to the report, the number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016, based on data collected from farms that register as organic with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. In 2016, the top-10 organic commodities (by sales value) were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, wine grapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix, and chicken eggs. California organic sales were $3.1 billion in 2016, says the report.