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The California Department of Food and Agriculture's (CDFA) Pest Exclusion Branch is accepting applications to fill 13 vacancies on the Industrial Hemp Advisory Board (IHAB). The Board advises CDFA and makes recommendations on matters including, but not limited to, industrial hemp seed law and regulations, enforcement, annual budgets, and the setting of an assessment rate. The term of office for board members is three years. Members include registered cultivators of industrial hemp, as well as industry representatives and other stakeholders. Individuals interested in being considered for these Board appointments should send a letter of interest and resume by March 15, 2020.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) are conducting two national surveys: one for certified organic producers and the other for producers transitioning to organic certification. This collaborative effort is part of a USDA-funded project seeking to learn more about the challenges and research priorities of organic farmers and ranchers, and those transitioning land to certified organic production. Survey results will be published in updated versions of OFRF's National Organic Research Agenda report and OSA's State of Organic Seed report. If you are a certified organic farmer/rancher, respond to the online survey at If you are a farmer/rancher transitioning to certified organic production (this means no land currently certified organic), take the transitioning producer survey online at

Payments from wind energy companies for hosting turbines are helping some farmers stay in business and plan for the future, according to a USA Today feature. Rental payments for land where turbines are sited has helped some farmers pay off equipment, plan for retirement, weather droughts and market price drops, and make succession plans. Some wind energy companies even offer small payments to neighbors of turbines, and wind development can bring jobs to rural communities. Studies show that people receiving payments tend to view wind energy favorably. The country's strongest wind resources correlate with areas where farmland is prevalent. As wind energy development increases, it's becoming increasingly important for farmers to find ways for their operations to co-exist with energy production.

American Farmland Trust released Growing Opportunity for Farm to School: How to Revolutionize School Food, Support Local Farms, and Improve the Health of Students in New York. This report reveals the incredible economic potential for the New York farm economy of recent farm to school initiatives, as well as their opportunity to increase access to healthy, local food for kids throughout the state. According to the report, New York schools could increase their purchases of food from New York farms threefold to nearly $150 million, which would generate over $210 million in economic impact while costing the state less than half that amount over the course of the next five years. The report details the results of an in-depth look at recent farm to school efforts in New York and the current and future impacts of the New York State Farm to School Purchasing Incentive program. The report reveals significant potential for the incentive program and outlines eight recommendations on which the state of New York can act starting immediately to unlock its potential impact on the farm economy and student health.

A study led by a Virginia Tech professor will test pasture mixes of native prairie grasses and wildflowers to find the best combination for both cattle and bees. A team that includes Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee, cooperating farmers, and a nonprofit called Virginia Working Landscapes received a federal grant for half of the $1.8 million project. The team will test 20 different wildflowers in combination with native grasses on pastures at research centers and on farms in Tennessee and Virginia. Adding native wildflowers to pastures in the fescue belt could become a new conservation practice that USDA's National Resource Conservation Service will cost share, based on the results of this study.

California's Santa Clara County Food System Alliance released Small Farms, Big Potential: Growing a resilient local food system, a 100-page report that highlights the viability of local small-scale agriculture. The report notes that in Santa Clara County, 52% of farmland parcels are 10 acres or less. The report dispels the myth that small farms cannot be viable in the county and builds on the recommendations of the Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan. The report includes nine Farmer Profiles that illustrate the diversity and success of local farms.

University of Georgia researchers tested the yields of 13 different sweet pepper varieties under organic production. The study results were published in the open access journal HortTechnology, and the complete article is available online. The study evaluated total yield, graded yield, and early yield of the peppers in a hot, humid climate. Top varieties included Aristotle X3R and Gridiron for fancy and early yield, as well as Sweet Chocolate for early yield.

Practical Farmers of Iowa issued a research report on on-farm testing of camelina as a cover crop for use with corn and soy rotations. Farmers looking for winter-hardy alternatives to small-grain cover crops tried the brassica camelina as a cover crop. In one of three on-farm tests seeded in Fall 2018, the camelina winterkilled. At the other two sites, soy and corn yields were not affected by the camelina cover crop, compared to no cover crop. One of the farmers participating noted that the camelina's small seed size allowed lower seeding rates that would lower application costs.

In partnership with the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), NCAT is bringing the week-long Armed to Urban Farm veterans' sustainable agriculture training to Baltimore, Maryland, May 4-8, 2020. Armed to Urban Farm gives military veterans an opportunity to see sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and learn about urban farming as a career. Armed to Urban Farm, which is based on NCAT's popular Armed to Farm program, combines engaging classroom sessions with farm tours and hands-on activities. The program is available to military veterans who are interested in starting an urban farm or who are beginning urban farmers. All veterans are welcome to apply, but those from the Mid-Atlantic region will receive priority. Applications are due by March 20, 2020. The event is free for those chosen to attend; lodging, transportation to local urban farms, and most meals will be provided.

Results of six listening sessions conducted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture have been collected in a report, Emerging Farmers in Minnesota. The report lays out recommendations on reducing or eliminating barriers that make it more difficult for the next generation to enter or stay in agriculture. The report also suggests creation of an Emerging Farmers Task Force in the state. "People who identify as emerging farmers feel unseen in the current system," Assistant Commissioner Patrice Bailey said. "We have tried to identify in this report ways to make our agricultural economy more inclusive to all who want to share in it. This report is an important step in identifying the biggest barriers to entry that prevent many Minnesotans from owning and operating their own farms."

A study led by Conservation International and published in PLOS One says that global heating that makes it possible to grow crops in new areas could have drastic environmental consequences. As many boreal areas in Canada and Russia become increasingly suitable for agriculture, it's likely that they will be put into agricultural production. This could result in water quality issues for population centers downstream, loss of biodiversity as new areas are converted to agriculture, and significant losses of stored carbon from soils on new agricultural frontiers. This carbon release, which could, in worst case scenarios, be equal to putting one billion more cars on the road, would lead to further global heating in a vicious cycle.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service has created a new video series that highlights common conservation practices. "Conservation at Work" features 90-second videos that shine the spotlight on farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners from across the United States who tell their own stories and explain how conservation practices are helping them protect and improve resources and save time and money. Topics include brush management, grade stabilization, cover crops, high tunnel, prescribed grazing, wetland restoration, and more.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comments on its interim rule for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP helps partners develop and implement unique conservation solutions. The 2018 Farm Bill made RCPP a stand-alone program with its own dedicated funding, simplifying rules for partners and producers. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill reduces the number of funding pools and emphasizes partner reporting of conservation outcomes. The updated program also expands flexibility for alternative funding arrangements with partners and availability of watershed program authorities to projects outside critical conservation areas. Public comments on the interim rule are due by April 13, 2020.

The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) released Farming to Capture Carbon & Address Climate Change Through Building Soil Health, a white paper that recommends policy changes at the state and federal level, including increased funding for initiatives that promote and support soil-building farming systems. The white paper is based on an analysis of scientific literature related to soil health and climate change, as well as interviews with Minnesota farmers. The paper documents how soil organic matter can be increased and how managed rotational grazing of cattle and other ruminants on perennial grass pastures, as well as on annual cover crops, can build the soil's ability to store carbon. The analysis also concludes that building soil health could help Minnesota deal with water pollution.

The Nature Conservancy and online farm rental marketplace Tillable announced that they are teaming up to help farmers and their rental landowners more efficiently and cost-effectively adopt conservation agriculture practices. Among other activities, the collaboration will provide conservation metrics and a digital conservation dashboard for both farmers and landowners to evaluate and track changes in land management over time. The effort will also explore opportunities to increase soil carbon storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on leased farmland for use in emerging carbon credit programs. Additionally, the partners hope to engage farmland owners to improve the use of conservation practices on lands they operate.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources announced that its Grasslands for Gamebirds & Songbirds (GGS) initiative made a quantifiable impact in establishing habitat for birds and pollinators. GGS provides Indiana landowners with technical and financial assistance to restore native grassland habitat. In the program's first year, 138 habitat projects on more than 1,800 acres started establishing native grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs. Additionally, research and monitoring efforts are underway to assess the impact newly established habitat has on grassland bird species. GGS is led by Department of Natural Resources Fish & Wildlife in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Field research in Australia is exploring how using biochar as a cattle feed supplement might reduce methane emissions from cattle, reports BBC Future Planet. Although previous studies showed methane reductions, scientists aren't sure of the mechanism that produces these reductions, so further research is needed. Australian cattle producer Doug Pow first became interested in biochar as a way to improve soil health and sequester carbon, and decided to use his cattle as a distribution system for the material. However, he had to import dung beetles to incorporate the biochar-containing cattle manure in the soil. He believes other producers could benefit from implementing the biochar-and-dung-beetle system on their operations.

FutureHarvest debuted an 18-minute video highlighting the benefits of grassfed livestock production, Go Grassfed, at its 2020 annual conference in January. In the video, farmers and food system professionals explain how grassfed beef helps protect the environment and keep money in the local economy, as well as being healthier for the consumer and keeping farmers on the land. They explain how keeping land in permanent pasture builds soil and protects water quality.

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a model that could boost investment in farm-based sustainable energy projects by more accurately predicting whether a project will turn a profit. The researchers developed a computational model that tells users how to maximize the economic return on cooperative anaerobic digestion systems. Specifically, it tells users where a system should be located, what its capacity should be, and how large a geographic area it should serve. The model runs repeated simulations that account for variation in each area of uncertainty, to come up with a more accurate prediction than previous models.

FieldWatch, Inc., a non-profit company that supports communication, collaboration, and cooperation between crop growers, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators, announced the addition of industrial hemp to the list of sensitive crops included in its registry. According to FieldWatch, this step will enable licensed hemp growers to protect their plots from accidental pesticide exposure, which can damage this sensitive crop. Hemp growers in 16 states where FieldWatch operates, and that have legalized industrial hemp production, can map their sites in the DriftWatch® online specialty-crop registry. This information helps pesticide applicators exercise caution when spraying in the vicinity of hemp plots.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) adopted policy and funding priorities to guide the organization's work through 2020. Representatives from NSAC's more than 130 member organizations chose Working Lands Conservation, Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) as priorities. NSAC also identified additional annual and multi-year campaign issues in which it will engage: climate change and agriculture, small meat processing, and immigration. NSAC members also identified priorities for the group's appropriations campaign.

Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) debuted a new podcast series, Fresh Growth: Approaches to a More Sustainable Future from Western Ag Practitioners. The podcast introduces listeners to farmers and ranchers from around the western United States who are finding innovative sustainable practices that enrich the natural resources. The first episode features Colorado farmer Brendon Rockey, discussing how his family's multi-generational farm has experimented and implemented one new farming practice after another, steadily increasing their sustainability, profitability, soil health, and crop quality. The second episode highlights biodiversity at California's Matchbook Winery.

USDA announced that it will invest $56 million this year to help agricultural producers improve water quality in more than 300 high-priority watersheds across the country through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) and National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI). MRBI offers $17.5 million to producers in 13 states: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Through NWQI, NRCS provides targeted funding for financial and technical assistance in small watersheds most in need and where farmers can use conservation practices to address impaired surface water. NRCS accepts applications for conservation programs year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally. Interested producers should contact their local NRCS field offices.

Applications close on February 24, 2020, for the Food Systems Leadership Retreat hosted by the Wallace Center's Food Systems Leadership Network in Canby, Oregon, April 27-30, 2020. The retreat is a 2.5-day facilitated convening of food systems leaders that digs deep into the tools of systems leadership and systems thinking for social change. Participants are guided through hands-on, experiential workshops that will strengthen leadership skills, offer new tools for mapping and finding change levers, and support their growth as effective facilitators of community change processes. This retreat will convene leaders from the Northwest region who are working on equitable economic development through food and agriculture. This opportunity is available to staff and leaders from nonprofit organizations and organizations with fiscal sponsors.

A USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist is inviting citizen scientists to provide input on how they cook and eat beans and other pulses, such as chickpeas and lentils. Plant geneticist Karen Cichy is working to breed faster-cooking varieties of dry beans and pulses. She has teamed with the Global Pulse Confederation to create a dedicated website where citizen scientists can enter information about which type of pulses they chose to cook, what cooking methods they used (e.g., boiling and pressure cooking), how long it took and how often they eat pulses. The project is accepting input until February 29, 2020, from anyone worldwide, whether regular pulse consumers or not.

The North Carolina Bioenergy Research Initiative and the New and Emerging Crops Program recently awarded $500,000 each in research and development grants for a total of 15 projects aimed at boosting bioenergy opportunities and crop production in the state. Bioenergy grants will explore energycane breeding, develop wood-fiber products and fuels, and investigate the synergy between anaerobic digestion and biochar technologies. Meanwhile, grants for new and emerging crops include research on hemp, feasibility of purple carrots, goumi berries, muscadines, purple sweet potatoes, specialty melons, and ethnic crops.

The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) will present a new award at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference February 27, 2020, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. These awards will recognize "Changemakers" who break down barriers and empower others to farm in ways that are environmentally responsible, socially just, and economically viable. The 2020 Changemaker awards will go to Steve Acheson, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Loretta Livingston, and Joy Schelble.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection and Quarantine has posted a new Weed Risk Assessment (WRA) for Palmer's amaranth. The purpose of a WRA is to evaluate the likelihood that a weed species will escape, naturalize, and spread in the United States, and harm U.S. natural and agricultural resources. Stakeholders can use WRAs to support their own management or policy decisions as needed. This WRA notes that populations across the global range for Palmer's Amaranth have developed resistance to eight different herbicidal modes of action, with some populations being reported as resistant to two or more of these modes of action. The plant is present outside its native range in 19 states and has caused yield losses ranging from 6% to 94% in corn, cotton, peanut, sorghum, soybean, and sweet potato.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) extended the deadline for commenting on changes to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program until March 20, 2020. ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring, and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands, and grasslands. Specifically, NRCS is asking whether the Healthy Forest Reserve Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program should be used primarily to help protect agricultural lands with forest lands that are beyond what is eligible for enrollment as an ACEP Agricultural Land Easement. In addition, NRCS is asking for input on streamlining access to ACEP and ranking criteria. Comments can be submitted online.

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) is seeking ideas for new information products from SARE-funded research or education projects. Submissions will be prioritized by the SARE Outreach Steering Committee for development based on alignment with SARE Outreach's selection criteria and capacities. An online survey is being conducted to assess information needs and opportunities. Ideas should be submitted by March 1, 2020.

Researchers in the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section at Cornell University are seeking input from dry bean growers producing for organic, specialty, and/or direct markets in the United States or Canada. An online needs assessment survey collects information about growing practices, agronomic challenges, and needs for variety improvement. Results will be shared with growers, public bean breeders, and Extension specialists. The survey takes about seven minutes to complete.

Research into how California ranchers are adapting to climate change revealed a new generation of California ranchers who base their livestock production practices on environmental stewardship. Writing on The Conversation, researchers noted that new ranchers in the state tend to be young, more often female, and ethnically diverse. They are more likely than existing ranchers to have diverse livestock herds with small ruminants or a mix of livestock and smaller landholdings. Many of these new ranchers used production methods chosen for their benefits to the environment, such as mob grazing that promotes carbon sequestration and improves soil health, or grazing designed to reduce fire danger. The authors say there are some funding sources that provide support to ranchers for their environmental stewardship approach, but they conclude that wider funding and informational support is needed to help these new farmers establish themselves and stay in business.

A Washington State University study published in Biological Reviews found little evidence to support a supposed link between wild birds and food-borne illnesses. Although wild bird feces can contain E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, researchers found only one study definitively linking wild birds to a food-borne illness outbreak. They found no studies with data regarding 65% of North American breeding bird species. "Farmers are being encouraged to remove wild bird habitat to make their food safer, but it doesn't appear that these actions are based on data," said lead study author Olivia Smith. "When you restrict birds from agricultural settings, you are doing something that can lead to their decline."

USDA approved plans for the production of hemp under the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program for the states of Delaware, Nebraska, and Texas and for the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Yurok Tribe. Plans previously approved include those for the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes. To produce hemp, growers must be licensed or authorized under a state, tribe, or USDA production program. An online resource, Status of State and Tribal Hemp Production Plans, is available to check the status of a plan or to review approved plans.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is partnering with Georgia Organics to bring its Armed to Farm (ATF) training to Georgia. Military veterans who want to attend the April 6-10, 2020, training in Athens, Georgia, can apply online until February 28, 2020. ATF allows veterans and their spouses to experience sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and explore career opportunities in agriculture. At ATF, participants learn about business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, USDA programs, livestock production, fruit and vegetable production, and more. Trainings include an engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on activities, and interactive classroom instruction. This training is for veterans in the Southeast, with preference given to those in Georgia. The event is free for those chosen to attend; the number of participants will be limited.

A Minnesota couple is helping beginning farmers make a start by hosting an incubator farm on their property, reports AgriView. Through the incubator, Dayna Burtness and her husband Nick Nguyen provide land and housing, loan small tools, rent large equipment, and coach and collaborate on marketing for two beginning farmers. The goal is for these farmers to move onto their own farms in one to three years. Incubator participants own their own animals and assume risks, but they are able to benefit from the incubator setting as they get started. Participants utilize a third-party facilitator to help work out disagreements, and everyone commits at the start of the season to being respectful.

Georgia Organics has introduced a Farmer Fund Accelerator that combines tailored on-farm investments with a customized coaching program to help selected farmers grow a more financially sustainable operation more quickly than usual. The Accelerator will provide selected farmers with business and financial consultants, marketing and sales experts, loan and leasing coaches, and production consultants, combined with up to $10,000 in support per farm in the form of paid apprentices, marketing materials, infrastructure and equipment investments, and health insurance premium cost-shares. The Accelerator is free for selected Georgia Organics members and lasts one year. Alumni are eligible to apply for an additional year of support. Applications are due by February 14, 2020.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is working with a coalition of partners on a project that is exploring the pollinator-habitat and other benefits of cover crops. "Orchards Alive" is a demonstration project on two California pecan orchards, totaling 325 acres. A cover crop mix that includes eight native wildflower species will be evaluated to determine how it affects populations of both pest and beneficial insects such as pollinators, as well as how it affects soil quality and carbon sequestration.

Locus Agricultural Solutions® and Nori have announced a partnership that provides a pathway for payments to farmers harvesting carbon. Farmers who work with these startups this year and have been practicing regenerative agriculture since on or after January 1, 2010, will be able to sell their resulting carbon credits. The price is currently $15 for every ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestered. After 2020, the price will be set by the open market. Nori is using the COMET-Farm carbon and greenhouse gas accounting system for creating standardized carbon baselines.

Seed Your Future has introduced a new free online Horticulture Careers Internship Search Tool. Seed Your Future is a coalition of more than 200 partners—including horticulture companies, gardening organizations, schools, colleges, universities, public gardens, youth organizations, nonprofit organizations, and individual advocates—united in their mission to promote horticulture and careers working with plants. The tool will help students find internships across the broad diversity of the horticulture profession. The online tool includes internships across the art, science, technology, and business of plant careers; and lets site visitors search for their future internship by job category, by employer, and by state.

Scientists at Washington State University published an analysis in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing that organic agriculture sites had 34% more biodiversity and 50% more profits than conventional agriculture sites, even though the organic sites had 18% lower crop yields. The study also showed the importance of location for organic farms. As the fields surrounding the organic farms grew larger, the organic farms' advantage in biodiversity increased, but they became less profitable compared to conventional operations. This suggested that biodiversity, crop yields, and profitability function independently of one another, but are influenced by landscape context.

New research from North Carolina State University shows that prescribed burns in longleaf-pine ecosystems can benefit pollinators. Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species compared with similar forests that have not burned for 50 years, researchers found. Within those burned areas, bee abundance and diversity tended to be greatest at sites that were most recently burned. The effect is credited to fires maintaining openings in the forest canopy, reducing ground cover, and releasing nutrients into soils at the same time, creating the perfect environment for large blooms and increasing the flower resources pollinators rely on. The study also found that the low-intensity prescribed burns did not reduce the amount of nesting material for above-ground nesting pollinators, and the abundance of above-ground nesting pollinators was not impacted by the fires. Meanwhile, below-ground nesting species appeared to benefit from the increased access to bare soil.

CCOF Foundation reports that Michelob has introduced an initiative called "6 For 6-Pack" that helps farmers transition six square feet of farmland into organic with each purchase of a 6-pack of the company's ULTRA Pure Gold organic beer. The initiative is an expansion of an existing program launched in 2019 called Contract for Change, which offers 3- to 6-year transitional barley contracts with premiums for transitional and organic barley production. Meanwhile, the Midwest's member-owned, Farm Credit cooperative Compeer Financial has introduced an Organic Bridge Loan Program to aid transitioning farmers. Loan proceeds can be drawn for two or three years during the transition process while farmers are only required to pay the annual interest. After organic certification, the loan converts to a term-loan with fully amortized principal and interest payments.

The Vermont Land Trust is accepting applications for an award to celebrate and benefit Vermont farmers. The $5,000 Eric Rozendaal Memorial Award will be given to a Vermont farmer who exemplifies land stewardship, giving back, and entrepreneurial farming. Corie Pierce of Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne and South Burlington was the winner of the first Eric Rozendaal Memorial Award in 2019. The award will be given annually, until 2029. The awardee must be a resident of Vermont and be actively managing a commercial farm operation in Vermont. The deadline for applications is June 30, 2020.

The Sustainable Cities Research Team, a multidisciplinary effort with participants from several universities, has received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The team will develop a framework for analysis of food, energy, and water systems for greater Des Moines, which includes the city and the surrounding six-county area, and formulate scenarios that could result in a more sustainable city. Given current and future urban climate conditions/scenarios, researchers will analyze the potential for increased urban agriculture, community gardens, and other green space within city limits. The group intends for its results to inform decisions about food production, energy use, environmental outcomes, and related policies that would apply to a large number of cities in rain-fed climates.

Nonprofit A Greener World (AGW) has launched an updated online directory for its third-party certified farms and products. The newly updated directory is more user-friendly, free to use, and features updated search options for users to find AGW-certified sustainable products. The directory includes farms, restaurants, and retailers selling Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, Salmon Welfare Certified by AGW, Certified Grassfed by AGW, and Certified Non-GMO by AGW meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and fiber products, along with beauty products, candies, and treats.

USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has revised two of its information guides on farm loans. Your Guide to FSA Farm Loans simplifies information on the types of farm loans available; how to apply for a guaranteed loan, direct loan, or land contract guarantee; what you can expect once you submit your application; and most importantly, your rights and responsibilities as an FSA customer. Meanwhile, Your FSA Farm Loan Compass simplifies information regarding the responsibilities of FSA loan borrowers and the loan servicing options available to them. Both publications are available in English and Spanish.

Vermont Law School (VLS) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced the launch of the Vermont Legal Food Hub, a program that will match income-eligible farmers and business owners with skilled attorneys willing to provide free legal services. The partners say farmers or food entrepreneurs sometimes go without legal services or pay more than they can afford, and this project funded by the National Agricultural Library will address that need. The Vermont hub has already recruited attorneys from 10 law firms and placed two pilot cases. One involves a group aiming to protect land for a farmers market and community garden. The Hub is currently recruiting additional attorneys and accepting applications for legal assistance from Vermont farmers, food entrepreneurs, and related organizations.

USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) published Economic Drivers of Food Loss at the Farm and Pre-Retail Sectors: A Look at the Produce Supply Chain in the United States. The study provides an overview of the drivers of food loss on the farm and in other pre-retail sectors, with a focus on economic incentives that underlie the way fresh foods are grown, processed, and marketed in the United States. It identifies major factors influencing food loss as price volatility, labor costs and availability, infrastructure costs, consumer expectations, contracts, and policy constraints. The complete study, which is available online, presents case studies of several key commodities (fresh field tomatoes, processing tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, romaine lettuce, and fresh peaches).

Native American Natural Foods' Tanka brand will partner with Niman Ranch to help build a humane and sustainable Native American supply of bison, cattle, and other pasture raised animals raised on Native prairie by Native people. The new alliance aims to support the economic revitalization on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. According to a press release, the alliance with Niman Ranch will help NANF gain market stability with combined access to new markets, capital, and expertise for greater opportunities with current Native producers and clear incentives for new Native ranchers to join. The plan will include a new focus on utilizing the full animal with higher value cuts for food service and retail, opportunities to grow the brand with current and new customers, a rebranding with the goal for a U.S.-raised, third-party Certified Humane® seal, and a network of advisors and on-the-ground support.

Nebraska Extension's On-Farm Research Network received a $1.2 million On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials grant to help farmers manage nitrogen and prevent excess nitrates from contaminating state waters. Corn and wheat growers will use new technologies such as imagery, sensors, and models to help identify the precise amount of nitrogen crops need. The grant will fund 40 trials a year for three years, and EQIP-eligible farmers can apply to participate. On-Farm Research Network coordinator Laura Thompson explained, "One of our goals is to help farmers get exposure to these technologies in their own operations. This will help them determine if these technologies are a good fit for them and if they should adopt them in their operations."

The Organic Grain Resource and Information Network (OGRAIN) has posted a series of nine videos, called "The Art and Science of Cultivation." In these videos, experienced organic farmer and consultant Gary McDonald discusses equipment, techniques, and adjustments for successful row-crop cultivation. In videos ranging from two to 12 minutes, McDonald addresses the tractor, the cultivator, cultivation timing, and more.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) compiled a set of questions that voters can ask candidates regarding issues that affect food and farming. This guide is meant to support candidates in thinking about food, farming, food security, community gardening, and the environment. The guide includes tips on building relationships with future policymakers and provides background information and sample questions for candidates for local, statewide, and federal offices. Although many questions are specific to North Carolina and South Carolina, some are applicable for other locations, as well.

Vermont FEED has released Connecting Classrooms, Cafeterias, Communities: A Guide to Building Integrated Farm to School Programs, a free online guide to support school communities in developing robust, long lasting, and integrated farm to school programs. The guide reflects 20 years of practice, evaluative research, and innovation in the field. The guide addresses farm to school action planning and goes through a step-by-step process to help assemble a team, identify shared goals, and plan and conduct strategic activities. In addition, it provides valuable content on classroom curriculum, school meal programs, and community building. The guide is filled with useful templates, curricular design strategies, and creative ways to communicate and celebrate farm to school success.

The University of California announced that its first-ever institute for organic research and education will be established in the UC's Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) division with a $500,000 endowment gift from Clif Bar & Company and $500,000 in matching funds from UC President Janet Napolitano. The California Organic Institute will accelerate the development and adoption of effective tools and practices for organic farmers and those transitioning to organic by building on the capabilities of UC ANR's Cooperative Extension and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Chatham University was awarded a grant of $499,997 by the USDA's Local Food Promotion Program for a project to develop a local grain economy in Western Pennsylvania. The project will be managed by Chatham's Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation (CRAFT) and will help connect local grain suppliers with grain processors and address barriers to greater utilization of locally grown grain. According to a news release, the program will also develop new business partnerships among regional farmers, millers, bakers, and other value-added processors, and increase consumer awareness and consumption of local grain products.

Praedictus Climate Solutions announced that Diversified Crop Insurance Services (DCIS) plans to offer Parametric Hemp Production Coverage policies across the lower 48 United States for the crop year 2020. This coverage, based on Praedictus' crop modeling technology, provides protection from climatic conditions for hemp crops by assessing each season's viability for growing hemp, accounting for temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation. Policies will be offered for all counties in the contiguous United States where it is legal to grow hemp.

Penn State University researchers found that over the past 20 years, agricultural insecticides have become more toxic to honeybees when ingested. The scientists identified widespread and increasing use of neonicotinoid seed treatments as the primary driver of the change. Their work also considered geographic patterns of insecticide toxicity, and the study found the highest increases in toxicity in the corn- and soy-growing areas of the Upper Midwest. Although pounds of insecticide applied decreased in most counties, this study revealed that oral-based bee toxic load increased by ninefold, on average, across the United States during the period.

The Good Food Foundation has announced the 2020 winners of the Good Food Awards. These awards honor food and beverage crafters in 17 categories as the vanguard of deliciousness and social and environmental excellence. In each category, three food crafters from each region—North, South, East, West and Central—receive the honor each year. An interactive map and listing of winners for 2020 is available online.

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has released Volume 7 of its updated 7th edition of the Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance. This volume focuses on USDA's Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP). The 33-page PDF publication provides basic information on the program, explaining eligibility requirements for farmers, livestock, land, and losses. It also details the sign-up process and the application for payment, as well as explaining the payment process. The publication is available free online.

Despite the publicity and investment surrounding driverless cars, it's autonomous farm vehicles that are developing successfully, reports OneZero. Several different companies are currently testing small farm vehicles that can move slowly through fields on their own. They can perform functions like assessing crop health, planting cover crops, and removing weeds. Because of their small size and remote operating locations, the vehicles pose fewer dangers than autonomous cars. Due to the setting where they're used and speed at which they travel, small, driverless farm vehicles don't require as much regulation. Consequently, their development is moving forward comparatively quickly.

The 2020 edition of the Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers is now available online. The information resource is a collaboration of land-grant universities from eight states: Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, and Missouri. It provides vegetable production information that is valid in the participating states for the current year, including fertility, variety, cultural, and pest-management recommendations.

Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has introduced NWA Farmlink, a free website to help farm seekers and farmland owners connect. The website helps farmers looking to access land in Northwest Arkansas and farmland owners interested in new opportunities for their property. The site serves farm seekers from anywhere and farmland owners with property in Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington Counties of Arkansas. Farmers interested in growing fruits and vegetables are especially encouraged to participate as the demand for fresh, local foods increases.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a newly updated version of its Farmers' Guide to Applying for the Value Added Producer Grant Program. NSAC's newly updated guide includes everything interested producers need to know about VAPG to determine if the program is a good fit for their operation, as well as details on changes made in the 2018 Farm Bill, and helpful tips to improve a producer's chances of obtaining funding from this highly competitive program. The guide is available free online. The application period for the VAPG program is open until March 10, 2020, with electronic applications due by March 5, 2020.

Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) announced that Jane Hawley Stevens and David Stevens of Four Elements Organic Herbals are its Organic Farmers of the Year. Four Elements Organic Herbals is a 130-acre farm in North Freedom, Wisconsin, that has been growing organic herbs and marketing herbal products for the past 32 years. The couple grows both herbs and flowers for a variety of wellness products. They'll receive their award at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in February.

Researchers at Virginia Tech published a study in Rangeland Ecology and Management, revealing that ranchers' land-management decisions are not motivated by profit alone. They say that the complexity of land-management decision making needs to be taken into consideration when developing programs and policies to foster private-lands conservation. The project focused on the decision to flood irrigate, in order to explore how conservation professionals could more effectively work with ranchers toward conservation and wildlife management goals.

Prairie strips are now an official practice under the Conservation Reserve Program's (CRP) Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers Initiative. Iowa State University researchers helped with the process of having the practice approved by translating experimental findings into real-world management guidelines that could be incorporated in policy. The new policy has been approved by USDA, and farmers who participate in the ongoing Continuous CRP signup that opened in December can offer to apply prairie strips. ISU scientists have documented a range of benefits from prairie strips during the past 10 years of research.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology developed a new computational model to evaluate crop rotation patterns in terms of yield, reports Science Daily. The research was published in PLOS Computational Biology. Specifically, the model investigated crop yields when cash and cover crops are alternated year to year, in the presence of a pathogen that affects the cash crop. This revealed that regular rotations that switch every other year may not be optimal for yield in the long term. Crop rotations must meet the dual goals of maintaining soil quality and diminishing the impact of pathogens. The model can be adapted to consider other crops and specific pests, or to consider crop rotation in conjunction with other practices.

The Savanna Institute is accepting applications for its 2020 Agroforestry Apprenticeship Program. The program provides experience and technical education for aspiring agroforestry farmers through on-farm training with a mentor farmer as well as community-building opportunities for farmers, apprentices, and those interested in agroforestry. The program will last 10 weeks and takes place in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, or Iowa. Three to five apprentices will be selected. Applications are due by February 28, 2020.

The keynote speaker at the Kansas Rural Center's November 2019 Food and Farm Conference, Dr. Becca Jablonski, reflected on her research into the benefits of local and regional food systems. Jablonski pointed to a proliferation of federal and state programs to incentivize local food production and proliferation of local food policy councils nationwide. These local food councils focus on creating opportunities within the food system. Jablonski has been studying the viability of local food markets for farmers. For example, research identifies labor as an expense that must be managed for farms to be profitable. She also spoke to the need for food policy councils to include rural perspectives.

Family Farm Defenders is seeking both nominations and sponsorships for the 2020 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize. The prize is awarded in memory of organic pioneer and food sovereignty advocate John Kinsman. Nominees must be small-scale vegetable, fruit, and/or livestock producers engaged in farming for less than five years who market products locally. They must practice sustainable management of natural resources, promote healthy soil and conserve biodiversity, and support food sovereignty principles. Nominations are due by January 20, 2020.

Soil Health Academy issued its inaugural annual report, illustrating the organization's impact in educating farmers and ranchers about regenerative agriculture. The nonprofit organization has offered courses for nearly 500 farmers and ranchers, representing an estimated five million acres of agricultural land. Follow-up surveys of course participants indicate that students are applying the regenerative agriculture principles they learned and are sharing ideas with their peers. The annual report is available online.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is reminding historically underserved producers participating in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the advance payment option. This option allows beginning, veteran, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to get conservation practice payments in advance of practice implementation. Under the advance payment option, such producers may request payments when they have final designs and job sheets and are ready to begin their EQIP practices. Advance payments provide at least 50% of the payment rate for each practice and must be spent within 90 days.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register, specifying four criteria the Agency would consider when determining whether an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage has occurred in violation of the Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Act. According to the rule, USDA would test for undue preference using these four criteria: 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 that would be customary in the industry. AMS invites public comment on the proposed criteria until March 13, 2020.

A multi-stakeholder initiative led by Croatan Institute received a $700,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS. The project is aimed at developing an innovative, place-based financing model to support the adoption of farming systems that improve "soil wealth." According to a press release, this project will develop the emerging concept of rural regenerative organic agricultural districts, also known as ROADs, to help agricultural producers and landowners finance soil wealth using land-secured financing mechanisms and other place-based investing approaches that could unlock new sources of capital for implementing conservation practices with regenerative agricultural features. The national project will focus on four particular areas and products: diversified farming in North Carolina, grain and livestock systems in Wisconsin, perennial crops and dairy in Oregon and Washington, and diversified grain and livestock in Kansas and Missouri.

Scientists with Texas A&M AgriLife Research completed a study that shows plants produce healthier fruit when their leaves have been wounded by insects. Researchers found that when strawberry plant leaves were damaged to mimic insect feeding, plants activated a defense mechanism that resulted in more antioxidants in their fruit. The study had its origins in a theory that organically grown produce could have higher levels of beneficial compounds due to a higher incidence of insect activity. Researchers say the results of this study could affect the way that both conventional and organic produce is grown, by introducing pre-harvest stress tools that improve antioxidant levels.

USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released The Fate of Land in Expiring Conservation Reserve Program Contracts, 2013-16. The report tracks what happened to 7.6 million acres of land that expired from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) during this period. Under the CRP, landowners voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years in exchange for an annual rental payment. The report shows that 36% of land under expired contracts was reenrolled, while 51% was put into some type of crop production. About 13% of expiring CRP land was kept in grass cover or tree cover, with a small amount of this enrolled in non-CRP conservation programs or put to other uses.

The California city of Anaheim is using grazing goats as part of its fire-prevention plan, reports KQED. Goats are able to navigate the steep terrain of city hillsides, and they consume invasive grasses and plants that experts say are making fire danger worse. The company Environmental Land Management contracts with the city for grazing services. Even though some challenge the effectiveness of goats for protecting homes from fire, company Operations Manager Johnny Gonzales notes soaring demand for goat-grazing services. "It's not an underestimation to say that we got over 100 calls a month from private individuals with smaller parcels, little lots or things from an acre, two acres requesting the goats," Gonzales says. "And unfortunately, as a commercial herd, I can't take on all these private lots."

National Seed Swap Day is set for the last Saturday of January each year; this year's date is January 25, 2020. Organizations across the country are invited to host seed swap events for gardeners and farmers. A list of currently scheduled events is available online, including seed trading opportunities and educational programs.

The Natural Resources Institute at Texas A&M has published Status Update and Trends of Texas Working Lands 1997–2017. The report, based on Census of Agriculture datasets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, is in its fifth iteration. The report reveals significant population growth in Texas, as well as increases in land values in proximity to major metropolitan areas. Texas gained approximately 1,000 new working farms and ranches per year from 1997 to 2017, although average ownership size decreased from 581 acres in 1997 to 509 acres in 2017. The report also notes that from 1997 to 2017, Texas lost approximately 2.2 million acres of working lands by way of those lands being converted to non-agricultural uses.

Mt-Glen farms, owned and operated by Dean and Rebecca Jackson, received the 2019 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award of $10,000 and a crystal award. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters in 20 states who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land. Mt-Glen Farms is known for protecting the environment while raising high-quality dairy cattle. The Jacksons use agricultural conservation practices that retain nutrients on the soil while protecting water quality.

Members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are inviting individual farmers and ranchers to sign on in support of the Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture. This letter will be sent to Congressional members and leaders with USDA in the spring of 2020 to lift up farmer voices to speak about the impact of a changing climate on their communities and the solutions agriculture has to offer. The letter does not endorse specific policy proposals but broadly calls for investments in agricultural solutions to the climate crisis, including soil health, farmland conservation, on-farm renewable energy, sustainable livestock production and more.

Solar energy project owners are increasingly using grazing animals as an alternative to mowing their solar sites, reports Solar Power World. Owners find that grazing animals cost considerably less than fossil-fuel-powered mowing over the life of a project. What's more, they reduce carbon production of projects and help support a healthy local agricultural economy. Solar projects in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and other states have successfully employed sheep for site maintenance. Some solar projects are also changing the plantings on site to include more diversity, pollinator-friendly plants, and more native species.

More than 70 scientists from 21 countries collaborated on a road map to insect conservation and recovery, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. They say that all over the world, insect species are suffering from multiple human-induced stress factors: habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and overharvesting. The scientists state that "insects are vitally important in a wide range of ecosystem services of which some are indispensible for food production and security, as in pest control." The road map calls for immediate, mid-term, and long-term actions. The scientific experts involved in the road map agree that insect declines are a serious threat that society cannot postpone addressing any longer.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets commissioned market research on Vermont maple syrup and value-added maple products to determine market conditions, trends in consumer demand, and current distribution channels. The report, completed by Atlantic Corporation, identified a growing role for maple syrup as a healthy alternative sweetener and recognized its health benefits. The report also noted an increasing role for maple syrup as an ingredient in more food products, and pointed out a number of new food products containing maple. The goal of this research is to provide Vermont maple producers a potential roadmap for moving Vermont maple forward in a global marketplace, while ensuring that Vermont maple businesses remain competitive, high-quality, and continue to support the agriculture economy.

Managed Grazing Innovation Center (MGIC), an online school created by Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA), is opening its courses to the general public beginning Spring Semester 2020. MGIC is offering anyone the same slate of six classes required for Apprentices: 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. Students can take courses individually or complete all six within five years to earn a Managed Grazing Dairy Certificate. The one-credit Spring Semester classes began January 6, 2020, and run through March 28, 2020.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued an updated guideline on documentation needed to support animal-raising claims made on meat or poultry product labeling. The updated guideline, which was published in the Federal Register on December 27, 2019, includes changes made in response to comments on the guideline posted in October 2016. The guidance addresses the use of animal-raising claims such as "vegetarian-fed," "grass-fed," and "raised without the use of antibiotics" on product labels. This guideline is intended to facilitate the approval process for labels bearing animal-raising claims.

University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences published results of research on irrigation efficiency for container-grown plants in the journal HortScience. Researchers compared container irrigation guided by leaching fraction with evapotranspiration-based irrigation scheduling that used real-time weather information. The researchers found that small daily adjustments to the amount of water applied based on evapotranspiration were not beneficial for saving water compared to adjustments made every one to three weeks, based on leaching fraction tests. The leaching fraction is determined simply by dividing the amount of container drainage by the amount of irrigation water applied to the container.

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has released Volume 6 of its updated 7th edition of the Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance. This volume focuses on USDA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). The 64-page PDF publication provides basic information on NAP, including eligibility and coverage, how to apply, collecting benefits, and appeal rights. It is available free online.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The interim rule includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill. Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include the following: authorizing assistance to partners who pursue "Buy-Protect-Sell" transactions, requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement, and increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements. ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands, and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are exploring the yield potential of "lost crops," productive plants that were grown in North America for thousands of years before being abandoned. Historical evidence shows that people purposefully tended crops of goosefoot, erect knotweed, maygrass, little barley, and sumpweed. Natalie Mueller leads research that is trying to rediscover how these crops were grown and how well they produced. In the Journal of Ethnobiology Mueller reported research results showing that growing goosefoot and erect knotweed together is more productive than growing either one alone. In fact, when grown together, the two plants have higher yields than global averages for closely related domesticated crops such as quinoa and buckwheat, leading researchers to conclude that crops of these plants could historically have fed thousands of people.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) updated its guideline on how establishments can make label claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or genetically-modified (GM) ingredients or animal feed were not used in the production of meat, poultry, or egg products. These "negative claims" are termed a special statement or claim that must be submitted to FSIS for approval before it may be used on a product distributed in commerce. However, the updated guideline specifies that certified organic products may be labeled with negative claims without additional third-party certification or documentation when the negative claim is connected with an asterisk or other symbol to the explanatory statement "Produced in compliance with the USDA Organic Regulations" and that the website of the certifying entity does not always need to appear on the label.

Oregon State University (OSU) plant pathologist Jennifer Parke found that soil solarization may offer Northwest organic farmers an effective way to control soil pathogens and weeds, reports Organic Farmer. Although the technique has proven effective in hotter climates, it didn't work in the cooler Pacific Northwest until Parke tried using new, non-condensing film made for the greenhouse industry. Using the film for solarization heats the soil by about 10°C: enough to kill pathogens but not beneficial microorganisms. Field testing in nurseries showed dramatic reductions in weeds and produced healthier plants. Parke's research team is now testing the minimum amount of time needed for effective solarization.

A three-year research project funded by Northeast SARE looks at the whole health and resilience of the farmer(s) and farm employee(s). It's the project of a research team that includes Leslie Forstadt from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Anu Rangarajan and Violet Stone from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Jennifer Hashley from Tufts-New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Rachel and Steffan Schneider from the Institute for Mindful Agriculture/Hawthorne Valley, and Daniel MacPhee from Blackbird Rise Farm. The project will focus on creating reflective spaces for farmers to gather and contemplate how elements of wellness play out in their lives and businesses. This effort begins with a 90-minute farmer focus group at the NOFA New York Conference in January.

A report from the University of Illinois, published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, explored the feasibility of regional phosphorus recycling in the Midwest. Mined phosphorus is used as an agricultural fertilizer, and there is some concern about the longevity of these supplies. At the same time, phosphorus runoff from fields and phosphorus from livestock manure, ethanol and soybean processing, and wastewater poses a water-quality problem. The University of Illinois study found that phosphorus can be recovered from water and altered into a plant-accessible form, but the cost of doing so exceeds the current cost of mined phosphorus. Nonetheless, the researchers believe a circular phosphorus economy is ultimately feasible for the Midwest, noting that phosphorus trading schemes, similar to carbon credits, could be part of the solution, as water-quality concerns generate a willingness to pay for effective phosphorus capture and recycling.

Penn State Extension has developed food safety training curriculum materials tailored specifically for Amish and Mennonite growers. According to a press release, the educational materials are aimed at accommodating Amish produce growers who do not prefer computer or other electronic training materials. They are designed to be presented in a way that reflects the unique farming practices and learning preferences of these farmers. The curriculum materials include a FSMA Produce Grower Training slide set and a Training Flip Chart for Amish Harvesters and Handlers of Fresh Produce.

Speakers during the Minnesota Cattlemen's Convention held in December highlighted the soil health benefits of rotational grazing, reports Minnesota Farm Guide. Several speakers demonstrated how rotationally grazed pastures prevent erosion and increase the soil's water-storage capacity. Brian Pfarr, Redwood County SWCD resource specialist, explained how cost-share funding through NRCS helped him put the fencing and water infrastructure in place to begin rotational grazing. After eight years he has nearly halved the amount of pasture it takes to feed a cow-calf pair, and 23 native species of plants and flowers have returned to the pastures, while large stands of thistle were out-competed by the grass.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture, along with several Kansas ag partners, unveiled, a new website to provide resources and support to those dealing with ag-related stress. The website addresses the challenges that Kansas farmers, ranchers, and their families face, such as natural disasters, depressed commodity prices, and other issues that can lead to mental and emotional distress, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Visitors to the website can find local and national resources for those issues, as well as support in areas ranging from stress management to financial and legal challenges.

Chipotle Cultivate Foundation has announced a new Seed Grants program in partnership with the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) and Niman Ranch. The foundation donated $250,000 raised through sales in Chipotle restaurants on December 6, 2019, its first "Farmer Friday," to the National Young Farmers Coalition to help start the new Seed Grants Program for young farmers. The Seed Grants program will offer startup grants to young farmers under age 40. Support can go towards needs such as a new barn, new equipment, or a just a day-to-day jumpstart. In addition, during the Rose Parade on January 1, 2020, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation will donate $1 for every tweet with #farmer, up to $250,000, to the National Young Farmers Coalition.

Trials at Carrington Research Extension Center in North Dakota demonstrate how intercropping can increase yields, reports Farm and Ranch Guide. Research agronomist Mike Ostlie notes that today's equipment makes it possible to plant two crops at once, harvest them at once, and then separate them. Intercropping works best with a large-seeded crop and a small-seeded crop. Some examples are field peas and canola or chick peas and flax. With intercropping, the farmer is able to gain more yield in a given amount of space, because the different crop plants utilize different resources. However, the cost of separating and marketing the crops must be more than offset by the sale price of the companion crop for the practice to be profitable.

The California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) awarded nearly $57 million for agricultural land use planning and land conservation to promote infill development and keep the state's valuable farm and ranch lands available for agricultural production. The investment of California cap-and-trade dollars in the fifth round of SGC's Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) will fund six planning grants and 31 agricultural conservation easements in regions across the state. SGC awarded more than $55.5 million to land trusts and local governments working with farm and ranch owners to implement agricultural easements to conserve their properties. These projects were selected based on their risk of being converted to other uses, their potential to promote infill development, as well as their agricultural, economic, and ecological values. The Council also awarded more than $1.4 million in planning grants to help local governments prepare to conserve agricultural lands while planning for increased housing and other critical needs.

ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is encouraging consumers to participate in a week-long Factory Farm Detox consumer challenge to eliminate factory-farmed foods and replace them with more humane and sustainable alternatives. Participants can choose any week during January to participate in the challenge. Participants can opt for products bearing meaningful animal welfare certifications, including Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) 2+, or plant-based products. Participants receive support via a text-based helpline that aids them in finding more humane food, online label guides, discussion starters, and more.

USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced a new crop insurance option for hemp growers in select counties of 21 states in 2020. The pilot insurance program will provide Actual Production History (APH) coverage under 508(h) Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) for eligible producers in certain counties in Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The MPCI coverage is for hemp grown for fiber, grain, or CBD oil for the 2020 crop year. It is in addition to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection coverage available to hemp growers. To be eligible for the MPCI pilot program, among other requirements, a hemp producer must comply with applicable state, tribal, or federal regulations for hemp production, have at least one year of history producing the crop, and have a contract for the sale of the insured hemp. Producers also must be a part of a Section 7606 state or university research pilot, as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, or be licensed under a state, tribal, or federal program approved under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) interim final rule issued in October 2019.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service updated its High Plains Crop Profitability Analyzer budgeting tool for 2020. The spreadsheet contains four sections: enterprise budgets that require user input, break-even price estimates, comparative returns, and optimal irrigation analysis. Irrigated crops available for analysis are alfalfa, canola, corn, corn silage, cotton, peanuts, sorghum, sorghum seed, sorghum silage, sorghum Sudan grass, soybeans, sunflowers, triticale, and wheat. Dryland crops include canola, cotton, sorghum, sorghum Sudan grass, sunflowers, and wheat. Though budgets are for the High Plains, the tool is flexible enough to modify for use in other areas of the country, as well.

The USDA National Agroforestry Center has posted a Story Map that provides an overview of windbreaks in the Great Plains. Little information is available regarding the status of windbreaks. USDA National Agroforestry Center and partners at the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station Forest Inventory & Analysis are developing methods to inventory and map these trees. Working with partners at state forestry agencies, the partners are producing high-resolution mapping outputs that provide information to assess the status of these trees and monitor trends towards the future. This Story Map provides an overview of the benefits, types, and trends of windbreaks, highlights the inventory and mapping work being done, and shows other innovative ways windbreaks can provide benefits.

Two guides to help landowners navigate solar leases are available from the National Agricultural Law Center. The Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing helps landowners understand solar energy development and the solar leasing process. It covers topics such as property taxes, government programs, common legal documents, and more. A second publication, Understanding Solar Energy Agreements, provides information for landowners considering and negotiating leases. Topics addressed include conflicting land uses, responsibilities of each party, and typical payment structures. Both publications are available online.

Profiles in Land and Management, a project funded by the McKnight Foundation, the NoRegrets Initiative, and TomKat Ranch, features profiles showcasing land managers who are using livestock as a positive tool to achieve their goals. The profiles feature large and small operations on public and private lands across the West. However, they share the theme of innovative land managers thoughtfully harnessing the impact of grazing livestock as a valuable tool for ecological management to improve soil health, decrease bare ground, and increases water infiltration and retention.

Soil Centric has introduced a beta version of its Pathfinder Tool, designed to help identify regenerative opportunities. The tool lists opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and land stewards, as well as nonfarmers. For farmers, opportunity categories include improving soil health, incorporating agroforestry, and integrating animals. The listings range from information resources to internships to online courses. Nonfarmer opportunities range from volunteering to eating at carbon-neutral restaurants.

The Idaho Statesman reports that even as Idaho farmland is lost to development, the number of small farms is increasing in some counties. Some of these small farmers are able to sell what they produce locally, thanks to a network of robust farmers markets. Idaho has 47 registered farmers markets, ranging from small to large, but even the smaller ones can help farmers generate a significant portion of their income. On the large end of the scale, the Boise Farmers Market boasts 115 vendors and more than $1 million in sales each season. The feature notes that markets also play a strong role in building community, and in helping to reduce food insecurity by accepting EBT and SNAP. They also play a role in helping beginning farmers connect with the farming community and develop markets for their produce.

University of Vermont Extension has introduced The Ag Engineering Podcast. This series of 10- to 20-minute, in-depth podcasts chats with small-scale fruit and vegetable farmers who share tools, tips, and techniques to improve the sustainability of your farm. The first three episodes address caterpillar tunnels, managing multiple sales channels, and forming habits that create a sustainable farm business.

The Ecological Farming Association will present the Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Susties), the Advocates for Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Justies), and the Golden Pliers Award at the EcoFarm Awards Dinner Banquet on January 24, 2020, as part of the 40th EcoFarm Conference. The Sustie Award 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 Lynn Coody, Leonard Diggs, and Rosie and Ward Burroughs. Meanwhile, the Justie Award honors those who has been active advocates for social justice as a critical aspect of ecologically sustainable agriculture and food systems. This year's recipients are Joy Moore and Lauren Augusta.

Cornell University researchers have published a study that examined how organic farming practices affected soil health in the long term. The study also explored how different aspects of soil health affected crop productivity. For example, it found that measuring soil invertebrate populations can indicate soil health. The study compared four cropping systems following 12 years of organic management and found that past nutrient inputs, how much soils had been disturbed, weed management, and the preceding crop all produced lasting productivity effects. In particular, the study found that low microbial activity and reduced soil aggregate stability can limit crop productivity even when soil nutrients are at acceptable levels.

A feature from Purdue University showcases the development of FieldWatch, a voluntary program that allows participants to register crops on a public database to help protect them from pesticide drift. The program began as an effort to protect specialty crops by alerting neighbors and pesticide applicators to the presence of sensitive crops. Later it expanded to include listings of row crops and bee hive locations. The program has grown to cover 22 states and a Canadian province, and plans further expansion. More than 30,000 individual FieldWatch users have enrolled more than 1.3 million acres in the program. Participants call the effort a model of stewardship because it engages and meets the needs of very different stakeholders, including growers, pesticide applicators, chemical manufacturers, and other stakeholders.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is accepting public comments on its draft Request for Grant Applications for the next round of healthy soils funding to be awarded through its Climate Smart Agriculture Incentives Programs. These programs include the Healthy Soils Program (HSP) Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects. The draft RGAs establish parameters by which competitive grants for the HSP Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects must be submitted and evaluated. Public comments on the draft guidelines will be accepted until January 7, 2020. "We hope these changes will make this program more accessible to a larger number of farmers and ranchers in California," said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. "As one of the first programs in the nation to focus on carbon sequestration using working private lands in California, we hope to contribute to greenhouse gas reductions and ensure our agricultural soils are healthy and productive into the future."

A study by University of California Cooperative Extension examined how wildfire smoke affected wine grapes near burned areas. After 2018 wildfires in California, many growers scrambled to find new markets for grape crops that buyers feared were tainted with smoke. This study showed that wind direction and speed, temperature, and a vineyard's proximity to an active fire are factors that can help growers and winemakers predict smoke damage to fruit. For example, tests revealed that grapes from some smoke-filled vineyards were not discernibly affected by smoke, because they were far enough from fires that the volatile gases that most affect grape taste were no longer present in the smoke. Testing also revealed that riper fruit was more susceptible to smoke taint, and further tests established thresholds for volatile-gas content below which tasters could not discern a taste impairment.

A new study from Iowa State University shows that livestock grazing can be integrated with organic crops without posing a significant food safety risk. The study involved experimental organic farming systems in Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania on which corn and soy crops were rotated with cattle grazing on small grains. Researchers found no traces of common strains of E. coli or salmonella on the meat produced in the experiments, and pathogens detected in feed, fecal, and hide samples remained below thresholds commonly detected in conventional production systems. Iowa State University professor Kathleen Delate, one of the authors of the study, said the results show promise for the potential of farmers integrating animal and crop production. Experiments have shown such arrangements can help farmers realize a number of benefits, including better soil health.

Cover crops can help the sustainability of star fruit farms, according to research reported by the American Society of Agronomy. Florida International University researcher Ariel Freidenreich says star fruit, or carambola, is becoming more popular as a crop in south Florida. It offers an alternative to citrus and avocado, crops that are challenged by disease in Florida. In this study, the research team explored how cover crops of sunn hemp and velvet bean contribute organic matter to the soil and improve nutrient availability for the cash crop. The cover crops can also provide mulch to help protect carambola tree roots from cold temperatures, and sunn hemp can help provide a windbreak for the wind-sensitive star fruit crop.

Researchers from Cornell University found that consumer perception of produce was influenced by having a label that identified it as locally grown. In a blind taste test of broccoli, consumers rated California broccoli higher than local broccoli on taste and appearance. However, when the produce was labeled as locally grown, consumers ranked its flavor higher and indicated their willingness to pay more for it. The study results could have implications for efforts to develop an East Coast broccoli industry using varieties with an appearance different from the standard California broccoli. Researchers say the study results could also influence efforts to market other local produce.

Colorado State University announced creation of the Sustainable Livestock Systems Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind collaborative to support profitable, sustainable, and healthy livestock production. CSU livestock and animal health experts will work alongside industry, government, and other stakeholders in addressing 21st-century challenges, as well as training livestock industry professionals. The collaborative will look at enhancing sustainable and healthy livestock systems through the examination of new technologies and disease treatments as well as soil, plant, animal, and atmospheric microbiomes, among other areas. The collaborative is spearheaded by College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and includes Colorado Beef Council, Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Colorado Livestock Association, as well as the Warner College of Natural Resources, the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, and CSU Extension.

Through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) grant, researchers at Furman University studied the feasibility of transforming forested land on southern farms to silvopasture systems. Professor John Quinn and colleagues studied suitable understory forage mixtures specifically for grazing pigs, removed invasive weed plant species to determine how that impacted wildlife nesting and foraging habitat, and compared soil quality of managed and unmanaged forested land. They found that some forage mixtures did not provide enough forage or provide for soil retention. They also found little difference in soil quality in this short-term study. "The results suggest that forest soils, like the pastures, are still recovering from degradation caused by intensive tillage cultivation," said Quinn. "Removal of invasive plants and increased rotational grazing combined with cover crops may improve soil quality as measured by carbon and nitrogen content."

Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) announced that Lauren Langworthy will serve as the new executive director of the organization. Langworthy was the program director before taking on the role of interim executive director in March. Langworthy joined the staff at MOSES in early 2015. She and her husband also own a 153-acre farm in Wheeler, Wisconsin, with rotationally grazed sheep and Highland cattle. MOSES is a nonprofit organization that supports organic and sustainable agriculture and is well-known for the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the country's largest event focused on organic and sustainable farming.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is awarding about $12.5 million to 19 projects through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. The program supports the development of innovative systems and technologies for private lands conservation. In 2019, the program focused on four priority areas: water quantity, urban agriculture, pollinator habitat, and accelerating the pace and scale of conservation adoption. A full list of recipients, with brief project descriptions, is available online.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting public comments on its interim rule for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill. These include creating incentive contracts and payments for incentive practices to better support locally led conservation needs, as well as requiring NRCS to offer an advance payment option for historically underserved producers. The interim rule also raises the payment cap for producers participating in the Organic Initiative to $140,000. Additionally, it expands the Conservation Innovation Grant program, which is funded through EQIP, to include opportunities for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials and Soil Health Demonstration Trials. NRCS invites comments on the interim EQIP rule through February 17, 2020.

A wide range of food stakeholders met recently in Wyoming for a Conference on Forming a Wyoming Food Coalition and Action Agenda, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. Wyoming is the only state that doesn't have a food council, and participants in this meeting were looking at how the private sector and state nonprofits could collaborate to address several different food-system issues. Farmers and ranchers are operating on narrow margins, yet comparatively little of the produce purchased in the state is grown there. Though 13% of state residents experience hunger, Wyoming has a low rate of participation in the SNAP program. Participants in the recent conference looked at ways for the state to develop local food production systems that would support economic growth and help address hunger.

University of Maine at Presque Isle, University of Maine at Farmington, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Jasper Wyman & Sons, and Sodexo are partnering on a project that will increase capacity to process locally grown vegetables in Maine, reports Mainebiz. The project received funding from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation through the New England Food Vision Prize. The project will help connect sustainably grown New England vegetables with the institutional market, as well as with hunger-relief programs in schools and at food banks. This project is one of six funded by the New England Food Vision Prize, which is designed to help New England achieve the goal of producing at least 50% of its own food by 2060.

The Better Cotton Innovation Challenge is a global project seeking innovative ideas and solutions to improve sustainable cotton farming practices around the world. Sponsored by the The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), with the support of Dalberg Advisors, the challenge calls for innovators to submit disruptive solutions to enable effective and customized farmer training and efficient data collection. The challenge team invites innovators from universities, research and development labs, start-ups and nonprofit organizations to apply. Innovators will undergo three competitive application stages, receive mentorship from experts, and gain access to networking opportunities with industry leaders. The finalists will have the opportunity to pilot test their solution on the ground with BCI Farmers. Entries are due by January 15, 2020.

USDA Economic Research Service has released America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition. This report provides an overview of U.S. farms, including the latest statistics on production, financial performance, and farm household characteristics by farm size. Among the findings, 98% of U.S. farms are family farms, and these accounted for 88% of farm production in 2018. Although 90% of farms are considered small, they accounted for only 21% of production.

The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School is making available a free online Farm Lease Builder as part of its Farmland Access Legal Toolkit. The Farm Lease Builder creates a free customized lease draft for farmers based on their specific needs, significantly reducing the cost of legal services. "This tool provides a comprehensive process for helping farmers and landowners think through how they'd like to handle issues that commonly arise in a farm lease situation," explains Amanda Heyman, CAFS project partner and consultant. The tool walks farmers through the decision-making process and creates a draft lease.

California Farm Academy's Beginning Farmer Training Program is accepting applications for 2020. The program runs from February 18, 2020, through the end of September. Classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 4:30-7:30 p.m., and two Saturdays per month at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, California, or at other nearby locations. In this immersive educational program, students have the opportunity to gain farm production and business knowledge through lectures by farmers and agricultural professionals, hands-on field experience, and farm visits. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the class is full.

The American Lamb Board has introduced a suite of new tools that focus on why consumers can feel good about eating American lamb, highlight sheep and lamb production throughout history, emphasize how sheep and lamb are intrinsic to our existence, and explain the unique relationship among sheep, humans and other animals. A 9-minute video serves as the central storytelling tool, but the suite of materials includes a 2-minute version of the video, six shorter-form social media clips, photography, and a print narrative. The full video is featured on the new website.

Drones could play an important role in the future of sustainable agriculture, according to a researcher from the University of California, Davis. Elvira De Lange's review article notes that drones can be used in Integrated Pest Management to patrol fields for signs of pest activity and to deliver biological control agents or highly targeted pesticides. Another potential application for drones is assessing plant health and need for fertilizer.

A Stanford University study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that Midwest farmers who reduced tillage increased corn and soybean yields while improving soil health and lowering production costs. The research team used machine learning and satellite datasets to develop satellite-based crop yield models. Researchers calculated that, across nine Midwest states between 2005 and 2016, corn yields improved an average of 3.3% and soybeans by 0.74% on fields managed with long-term conservation tillage practices. The researchers calculated that it takes 11 years for corn farmers to see full benefits of reduced tillage, and twice that long for soybean growers. However, reduced tillage lowered production costs from the start, due to reduced need for labor, fuel, and farming equipment.

Penn State Extension has created a set of free online tools for small-scale cheesemakers, to help them develop food safety systems for their facilities and conduct risk assessments of their processes. The tools include a Guide for Implementing a Food Safety System in Small-Scale and Raw Milk Cheese Plants, which provides an overview of what is needed and how to approach setting up a food safety system and conducting a hazard analysis. Another tool is the Food Safety Plan for Raw Milk Gouda Cheese Teaching Example, which provides a comprehensive hazard analysis that can be adapted by cheesemakers. A blank template for building a food safety plan is also available. Printed copies are available for cheesemakers who do not have access to the Internet.

Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation, and National Farmers Union are partnering on a program to train individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers to recognize signs of stress and offer help. Based on the farm stress program Michigan State University Extension developed for the USDA Farm Service Agency, this combination of online and in-person trainings is designed specifically for individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers. It provides participants the skills to understand the sources of stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies, reduce stigma related to mental health concerns, and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is launching endorsements for soil health, integrated pest management, and wildlife in addition to the 10-year water quality certification a farmer or landowner receives in the program. MAWQCP is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect water. Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years. The MAWQCP partnered with various non-profit organizations, such as Pheasants Forever and the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, and state agencies to develop the three new endorsements. Certified producers who achieve an endorsement will receive an additional sign for their farm and recognition for their conservation excellence.

The Savanna Institute has released Overcoming Bottlenecks in the Midwest Hazelnut Industry: An Impact Investment Plan. The 63-page free report represents the first stage in Savanna Institute's push to catalyze the Midwest hazelnut industry. It provides a roadmap for connecting capital with the key practitioners, researchers, and educators on the ground. The report gathers critical information from across the community of hazelnut stakeholders, identifies the industry's central development bottlenecks, considers the competing priorities and merits of various approaches to these hurdles, and conducts an object assessment and ranking of priorities for impact investment.

USDA has announced a $237 million investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The current round of funding will support 640 awards to applicants in all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Western Pacific. Recipients can use REAP funding for energy audits and to install renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. The funding can also be used to increase energy efficiency by making improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration.

Bloomberg reports that a livestock feed supplement developed by Swiss agritech company Mootral reduces emissions enough to qualify the farmers who use it for carbon-offset credits. The credits are offered through the nonprofit organization Verra, whose VCS Program allows vetted projects to turn their greenhouse gas emissions reductions into tradable carbon credits. The garlic-and-citrus feed supplement has been proven to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by dairy cows in England by 38%. Mootral expects the first "CowCredits" to be generated next year, and plans to expand to sheep and goats in the future.

A study led by the University of Vermont is inviting farmers throughout the country to participate in a 10- to 15-minute survey on agritourism. The data will be used by cooperative extension and research personnel to develop resources to help increase the success of small- and medium-sized farms that offer on-farm direct sales, education, hospitality, recreation, entertainment, and other types of agritourism. In addition to demographic and farm information, the survey is collecting data on direct sales and agritourism experiences offered, visitor numbers and goals, successes, challenges, and future plans for agritourism. Farmers can also provide input on the types of support needed to achieve success with agritourism, including on-farm direct sales.

The University of Connecticut is collaborating with other New England institutions to put together a USDA grant on Agriculture and Food Research Initiatives. The focus is on sustainable poultry production to help small, medium, and large poultry farmers, processors and industry personnel to increase profitability, reduce input costs, increase productivity, and reduce losses due to environmental and biological stresses. In addition, this grant would help develop tools to enhance rural prosperity and health by ensuring access to affordable, safe, and nutritious poultry products to sustain healthy lifestyles. Long-term, the project seeks to ensure the sustainability of antibiotic-restricted broiler production by enhancing bird, human, and environmental health, and ultimately increasing consumer acceptability and economic returns to farmers. Project collaborators are collecting information on needs for poultry research, education, and outreach in the region through a three- to five-minute online survey questionnaire.

USDA has announced the award of $23.5 million in grant funding through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). The programs are designed to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets. There were 49 projects funded under the FMPP and 42 projects through the LFPP. Lists of the recipients are available online, along with brief descriptions of the projects selected for funding.

USDA is opening signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on December 9, 2019. The signup deadline for general CRP is February 28, 2020, although signup for continuous CRP is ongoing. A separate CRP Grasslands signup will be held after the general signup. Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive a yearly rental payment for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. CRP already has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term.

USDA has announced five new members for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Nathaniel Powell-Palm of Cold Springs Organics in Belgrade, Montana, will serve on the Board in a farmer seat. Kimberly Huseman, the Director of Specialty Ingredients for Pilgrim's, will serve in a handler seat, as will Gerard D'Amore of Munger Farms. Eastside Food Co-op Grocery Manager Mindee Jeffery will serve on the Board in the retailer seat. Lastly, the Senior Vice President of Sustainability for Agriculture Capital, Wood Turner, will serve in an environmental protection and resource conservation seat. These new members will serve five-year terms beginning in January 2020.

A blog post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition highlights three different farm operations that received Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) to expand their businesses. The post explains how a dairy farm in Alabama, a hog farm in Georgia, and a farmer-led cooperative in Minnesota utilized the VAPG program, and it includes videos of the grant recipients discussing how VAPG helped them. These grant recipients have all successfully utilized VAPG more than once. The post also notes that this year's application period is expected to open soon.

Colorado is considering a statewide soil health program that will support farmers and ranchers in efforts to implement regenerative agriculture practices, reports The Colorado Sun. The state's governor has requested funding for the program from the legislature, and the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils is trying to envision the program's role and how it would work. It's a group of farmers, ranchers, and stakeholders from across the state that is exploring ways to encourage and incentivize soil management practices. Agency employees, consultants, and farmers and ranchers themselves recognize that change isn't easy for agricultural producers who are already struggling economically. They say a statewide program could help provide the knowledge and financial incentives that producers need to develop practices that will be effective at improving soil health on their particular operations.

A paper published in Ecology Letters by Washington State University scientists shows that small farms with more plant diversity attract more visits by pollinating bees. The researchers say that having a variety of plants that flower at different times and offer beneficial traits is the best way to increase pollinator activity. Increasing bee visits to a farm in turn increases pollinator efficiency. The study showed the effect held true for both honey bees and wild pollinators. "If a farmer is thinking about buying more bees, planting more diverse crops could be an alternative," said study co-author Elias Bloom.

University of Kentucky researchers led a study published in the journal Insects that demonstrated the potential of fine-mesh netting for insect control in blackberries. The fine-mesh exclusion netting reduced the abundance of numerous insect pests and resulted in a higher yield of marketable fruit, compared to organic spinosad insecticide treatment. The researchers point out that fine-mesh netting can be substituted for netting conventionally used to keep birds out of small-fruit crops, because it excludes bird as well as insects. Therefore, using the fine-mesh netting could be particularly feasible for producers of grapes, caneberries, and blueberries who already utilize netting to exclude birds.