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




CCOF, UC Davis Food Systems Lab, and Roots of Change have created the California Meat Processing Coalition to explore policy solutions to meat processing bottlenecks for small and mid-size producers. Coalition members include producers, processors, scientists, technical assistance providers, and key agricultural and environmental organizations. According to a CCOF posting, "The coalition is exploring policy solutions that will remove burdens on small and mid-size producers and processors, expand meat processing options, and invest in infrastructure to alleviate meat processing bottlenecks and support a resilient regional meat supply chain. Potential solutions include expanding on-farm slaughter, training the next generation of butchers, streamlining regulations, and supporting upgrades and expansion of meat plants."




Researchers reporting in American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology identified pesticide residues at 100 Swiss farms, including all the organic farms in the study. The study showed that the abundance of beneficial soil microbes was negatively impacted by the occurrence of pesticide residue, even when the fields had been converted to organic management more than 20 years previously. The study found that multiple herbicides and one fungicide remained in the surface soil after the conversion to organic practices. However, scientists say that the pesticide might have contaminated the organic fields by traveling through the air, water, or soil from nearby conventional fields. At any rate, the team observed lower microbial abundance and decreased levels of a beneficial microbe when fields had higher numbers of pesticides.




A new study from Montana State University examined the economic impact of on-farm agriculture in Montana. This agricultural impact study utilizes data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture and the IMPLAN economic impact model to assess the impact of farmers and ranchers on the Montana economy. The study examines agricultural land use, finance (including revenues, expenses, and taxation), producer profiles, and agriculture production's impact on jobs and gross state product for each county in Montana. Statewide, the market value of agricultural products sold was $3.5 billion, with crop-related sales totaling $1.6 billion and livestock-related sales totaling $1.9 billion.




The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Spring 2021 Meeting will be virtual. Meeting materials are available online, including the tentative agenda, proposals, and discussion documents. Interested parties are encouraged to review the online meeting materials and provide feedback on topics included on the agenda. Written comments and requests for oral-comment speaking slots must be received by April 5, 2021. Public comment webinars will be held on April 20, 2021 and April 22, 2021. The public NOSB meetings will take place daily from April 28-30, 2021. The meetings are free and open to the public, and registration is not required unless you wish to provide public comment.




The Eat Local First Collaborative in Washington state launched a "Meet Your CSA Farmer" campaign that's running through March 31, 2021. The campaign features an online CSA Finder tool, integrated with Eat Local First and the Washington Food & Farm Finder, to help consumers find CSA (community-supported agriculture) farms near them. The campaign also features a 15-video series running on the Collaborative's Facebook and Instagram channels that featuring local CSA farmers sharing how and why they grow, raise, and harvest in Washington, and how consumers can purchase shares. There's also an opportunity for state residents to win $100 toward a CSA share of their choice.




The Iowa Food Hub Managers Working Group released a report on the impacts of the Local Produce and Protein Program (LPPP) grant on Iowa's food hubs. This grant, funded by the CARES Act, helped Iowa children at 80 schools and early care centers eat healthy local food last fall. According to the report, schools in 53 of Iowa's 99 counties used an LPPP grant to purchase local food. Of the $225,000 reimbursed to schools for food procurement, 51% was spent at food hubs. Food hubs served 52 unique farm to school customers in 2020. Of these, 52% were new hub customers, and all of these new customers were spending grant funds, demonstrating how the LPPP incentivized schools to buy local food for the first time. The report also noted that schools purchased an additional $111,689 of local food from hubs last year using non-grant funds, amplifying the impact of the grant.




A special project group of the North Central Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Center wants to learn about specialty crop growers' concerns and experiences with herbicide drift. The group is surveying growers of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops in the upper Midwest. To truly understand the frequency, severity, and economic impact of herbicide drift on specialty crops, they need to hear from growers: growers who have experienced drift damage, growers who can share their concerns around this issue, and growers who have not dealt with drift but who grow sensitive crops in drift-prone regions. Survey responses are needed to establish herbicide drift as a serious economic and regulatory concern across the region. Growers in IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, or WI may complete the survey at go.osu.edu/driftsurvey21




A University of Guelph study found female hoary squash bees exposed to the insecticide imidacloprid dug 85% fewer nests, collected less pollen from crop flowers and produced 89% fewer offspring than unexposed bees. Imidacloprid is a neonicotinoid pesticide commonly used to control cucumber beetles on squash and pumpkins. Meanwhile, the hoary squash bee and other ground-nesting bees are important pollinators for many food crops. "Solitary ground-nesting bees make up about 70% of bee species. It's a really important ecological group and is also really important in crop pollination," said one of the scientists who conducted the study. The study mimicked real-world exposure conditions such as those bees would experience in farm fields.




An Oregon Field Guide feature from OPB highlights how Oregon farmers Shantae Johnson and Arthur Shavers of Mudbone Grown made their way into farming and are helping train and launch more farmers. The couple participates in training veterans as farmers and young farmers of color, and they are working with the Black Oregon Land Trust and the Black Food Fund to help gain access to land and food system and cultural infrastructure for Black farmers.




Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service provides peach growers in the Southeast with information on how to detect and fight diseases, insects, and weeds. They advise organic growers to focus on soil and tree health, preserve beneficial insects and other microbes, and tighten spray intervals, given that most organic products are only marginally effective. Clemson Fruit Pathology Program developed the free MyIPM Smartphone App Series that provides growers along the East Coast with information about fruit crop diseases, pests, and disorders. They also offer the online 2021 Southeastern Peach, Nectarine and Plum Pest Management and Culture Guide that covers pest management options.




Great Lakes Vegetable Working Group, a group of vegetable Extension educators and researchers across the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, is introducing Vegetable Beet, a new weekly Web series for vegetable growers. Each week the live show will address a topic relevant to growers, and growers can join in to ask questions. The sessions will be recorded for later listening as podcasts. Topics planned for March include preparing for the coming growing season, transplant media, soils in high tunnels, and hot-water-treating seed.




Soil Health Academy surveyed its 2019 and 2020 course graduates on implementation of regenerative agriculture practices. The survey found that a majority of respondents are realizing resource and profitability improvements, with those improvements even more pronounced among producers who have been implementing regenerative practices for more than a year. A majority of respondents reported declines in synthetic fertilizer use, decreases in the use of pesticides and herbicides, and improved water infiltration. Meanwhile, among graziers, a majority of first-year respondents reported biomass increases, while 90% of second-year respondents reported increases. Furthermore, 37% of 2020 graduates and 60% of 2019 graduates reported increased profits from implementing regenerative practices.




The nonprofit Mad Agriculture has launched the Perennial Fund, which offers a new type of loan to help farmers expand certified-organic acreage using regenerative practices. The program is designed to support farmers as they transition, in situations where conventional financing is difficult to obtain or not tailored to farmers' needs. The Perennial Fund offers operating loans, equipment loans, and infrastructure loans that provide flexible payments during transition years and allow two deferral years in case of unexpected losses. The program also helps to coordinate a support network that addresses business planning, market development, and information exchange.




Researchers at Penn State University examined data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture to identify aspects of local economic and agricultural ecosystems that are most strongly associated with female-owned farms. The analysis, which was recently published in Food Policy, shows that more female-owned farms are found where average farm size is below 50 acres, where annual farm sales average less than $10,000 per farm, where more farms specialize in grazing sheep or goats, and where agritourism activities are more common. The researchers also found that direct-to-consumer sales are more prevalent in counties with more female-owned farms. In addition, availability of childcare is correlated with the number of female-owned farms in a county. Also, the share of farms with female operators is higher in counties with a greater total number of farms.




Organic Seed Alliance is accepting applications for the 2021 Organic Seed Production Online Course. This is a six-month certificate program that combines hands-on, farm-based independent study with online learning. The interactive, cohort-based course is designed to supplement an on-farm organic seed production training experience. The course includes six modules over six months and is focused on the biological, technical, and economic aspects of organic seed production. The online course is meant to supplement an on-farm seed production training experience and requires that enrolled students be simultaneously working or interning on a farm that grows seed or will allow the student space to grow seed. There is no tuition fee.




A Greener World's Executive Director, Andrew Gunther, passed away suddenly on February 19, 2021. According to a blog post from A Greener World (AGW), "Andrew's leadership, expertise and relentless hard work drove the unprecedented growth of AGW's flagship certification, Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW...During his tenure, AGW expanded to offer five of the most trusted and transparent food labels and certification services to farms, ranches and food businesses around the globe." AGW's Director of Communications and Outreach, Emily Moose, will assume the role of Executive Director.




Since 2003, the Sand County Foundation's Leopold Conservation Award has recognized nearly 150 farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners nationwide for their efforts to improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat. Now, a $250,000 Conservation Collaboration Grant from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will fund Sand County Foundation's two-year pilot project to promote conservation outreach by its award recipients. "Leopold Conservation Award recipients are ambassadors who regularly discuss the importance of agricultural conservation with their peers and the general public. This project will empower our network of award recipients to share a range of knowledge, from how to apply for an NRCS conservation program to technical assistance, with an important audience," said Dr. Heidi Peterson, Sand County Foundation's Vice President of Agricultural Research and Conservation. Potential participants in the Land Ethic Mentorship can learn more and sign up for the free program online.




Soil Health Partnership, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, published data from a study of 96 farms over three to five years, showing that soil health indicators improved with the use of cover crops. Of six key soil health indicators (active carbon, soil organic matter, aggregate stability, available water capacity, respiration, and soil protein), four changed with use of cover crops. Furthermore, the effect of the cover crop increased with the amount of time cover crops had been used on the field. Soil Health Partnership notes that these indicators can translate into improvements in soil function around soil nutrient cycling and water management on the field, which can have benefits to farmers. The researchers pointed out that laboratory indicators are limited in their ability to reflect soil function in the field, meaning that it's also important for farmers to pay attention to how indicators like infiltration, soil structure, and compaction are changing over time.




Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) announced the award of $130,000 in Fund-a-Farmer Grants to a diverse slate of 56 livestock farmers and ranchers located across the country. The grants range from $1,000 to $2,500 and were awarded for projects that improve farm animal welfare and increase the capacity of humane farmers. In solidarity with the movement to address racial inequity in agriculture, half of the grants were made to farmers who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color. The grants include 19 to farmers who are seeking to attain or who already hold one of three animal welfare certifications (Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, Certified Humane, or Global Animal Partnership Animal Welfare Certified) and 37 grants to farmers who wish to improve or expand access to pasture for their animals. A list of the recipients is available online.




Oregon State University has received a nearly $700,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide software tools for investors interested in starting aquaculture businesses in Oregon. This software, the Oregon Aquaculture Explorer Platform, provides more than 100 layers of data, including everything from water quality to energy costs to seasonal temperature variations. Investors and other stakeholders can use the platform to produce a specific report on aquaculture potential for any particular site in the state. An earlier grant supported development of three aquaculture business scenarios in the software: tilapia in recirculating tank systems; sturgeon in recirculating tanks; and hybrid striped bass in ponds. The new funding from NOAA will allow the team to create additional investment models that include species that live in oceans or estuaries. It's aimed at increasing Oregon's share of aquaculture business to levels more like other states in the region.




Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences received a $900,000 grant to explore how kelp aquaculture can remediate negative effects of climate change. Absorbed atmospheric carbon dioxide is making ocean water more acidic and less habitable for many marine organisms, but kelp that soaks up carbon dioxide as it grows can lower the acidity of the surrounding seawater and raise oxygen levels. This benefits other sea life in the area. In this project, researchers are exploring the potential of growing kelp alongside blue mussels—which are particularly vulnerable to increasing ocean acidity. In protected bays, growing kelp can naturally buffer seawater acidity and create an additional product for harvest in the process. "Not only does this give us two commercially viable crops, but it also allows us to increase the positive impact on our local ecosystem," said Matthew Moretti, CEO of Bangs Island Mussels, a Maine farm that has been collaborating with the researchers.




The Economist Intelligence Unit released the ninth annual Global Food Security Index (GFSI) sponsored by Corteva, which measures the underlying drivers of food security in 113 countries, based on the factors of affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience. The GFSI considers food security in the context of income and economic inequality, gender inequality, and environmental and natural resources inequality—calling attention to systemic gaps and most recently how COVID-19 exacerbates their impact on food systems. Based on these findings, global food security has decreased for the second year in a row. This year, the GFSI formally includes "Natural Resources and Resilience" as a fourth main category. This addition marks a significant shift in methodology, revealing food systems' resiliency against climate change. The United States moves to 11th place, although North America leads the world in food security.




Researchers at Penn State University modeled the water-quality effects of relocating corn and soybean production away from the steepest land in the watershed of a Susquehanna River tributary. They found that moving hay crops onto landscapes most vulnerable to erosion and nutrient loss resulted in a 15% reduction in total nitrogen losses, a 14% reduction in total phosphorus losses, and a 39% reduction in sediment losses at an average annual scale across the watershed. The scientists say that replacing existing crops with alternatives in vulnerable areas could be the key to improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, though they caution that more research is needed, as well as consideration of how such a program could be implemented.




Poultry producer Bell & Evans has unveiled an Organic Grain Initiative that aims to transition 50,000 acres of U.S. corn and soybeans to certified organic production over the next five years. Bell & Evans is experiencing significant growth in its organic chicken program, increasing its need for U.S.-grown certified organic corn and soybeans to use in its organic chicken feed. Bell & Evans finalized a long-term sourcing agreement with Cargill to exclusively secure its organic grain and increase domestic organic grain supply. Under the agreement, Cargill will incentivize U.S. farmers to transition acreage from conventional to organic management through subsidized organic crop consulting services provided by Rodale Institute.




The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) announced the expansion of its steering committee and new policy working groups focused on developing a set of more specific policy proposals that drill down on recommendations released by FACA in November 2020. FACA's eight founding members—American Farm Bureau Federation (co-chair), Environmental Defense Fund (co-chair), FMI - The Food Industry Association, National Alliance of Forest Owners, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (co-chair), National Farmers Union (co-chair) and The Nature Conservancy—welcomed 14 new groups to the Steering Committee. New Steering Committee members include the following: the American Seed Trade Association, American Sugar Alliance, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, Ducks Unlimited, Farm Credit Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Milk Producers Federation, Produce Marketing Association, and USA Rice Federation. Meanwhile, the alliance's policy working groups are producing more detailed and specific proposals focusing on the carbon bank concept, tax credits and other incentives, as well as climate research.




Soil Health Partnership (SHP), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and K·Coe Isom collaborated to evaluate the financial impact of conservation tillage and cover crop usage among Midwest corn and soybean farmers. Key findings from the analysis are available in a new report, Conservation's Impact on the Farm Bottom Line, available online. Throughout 2020, the project team collected information about farm operations, management practices, and financial data, which was then analyzed to identify the impact on each farmer's bottom line. The summary report highlights three key findings: 1) By reducing or eliminating tillage, growers were able to reduce operating costs; 2) Profitability with cover crops improves as growers get more experience with this approach; and 3) Farmers in the study achieved profitable conservation systems by aiming to address specific management challenges with in-field conservation practices.




Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) has released its 2020 Appalachian Grown Producer Survey Report. The report contains findings from a survey sent in in November of 2020 to 775 participating farmers in the Appalachian Grown branding program. The annual survey assesses the impact of program services and support and gathers feedback to shape the program's future direction. This year's survey also contained a section specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. ASAP notes that the survey data reveals that for most farmers, the pandemic swiftly upended months of crop and business planning. However, adaptable small and diversified farms pivoted (sometimes multiple times) to new market outlets and to establish relationships with new buyers. The 17-page PDF report is available online.




Food Solutions New England has launched a new Network Health Assessment survey to gain insight into how the network has been doing, as well as to solicit ideas and opinions from the regional food system community on future work. Anyone involved in any aspect of the New England food system is invited to participate. The online assessment survey takes about 15 minutes to complete and is open until March 8, 2021.




Pasa Sustainable Agriculture released its Soil Health Benchmarks 2021 Report. This publication reports the latest soil health benchmark data from multi-year collaborative research with farmers, designed to help them monitor and evaluate the nuanced soil health strengths and challenges that can exist simultaneously within their fields. This 48-page PDF report details soil health benchmarks from the 2019 season, as well as soil health trends from farms that have participated in the study over multiple years. The study includes a wide variety and scale of farm types and management systems, encompassing soil samples and field management records from pastured livestock, row crop, and vegetable farms in Pennsylvania and Maryland.




University of Massachusetts Amherst research using satellite imagery shows that nearly 30 million acres of the Midwest Corn Belt has completely lost its A-horizon soil. The A-horizon is the upper portion of the soil—topsoil—that is rich in organic matter and contributes nutrient and water retention. The researchers say erosion of the A-horizon has already reduced corn and soybean yields by about 6%, leading to nearly $3 billion in annual economic losses for farmers across the Midwest. The A-horizon has primarily been lost on hilltops and ridgelines as a result of tillage erosion. Tillage erosion is not included in national assessments of soil loss, and researchers say this has led to significant underestimation of the true magnitude of farmland erosion. The researchers recommend incentives for no-till farming and regenerative agricultural practices to help restore soil productivity.




University of New Hampshire professor Drew Conroy is conducting a survey on working steers and oxen currently in the United States. It's the first survey of its kind since 1890. The online survey includes 12 questions and takes around five minutes. The intent is to share the results of this study in an international conference and resulting publication focused on draft animals. After the conference, Dr. Conroy will also share the results with numerous electronic groups and forums where the survey was shared. He would also be happy to share in other venues. The research results will hopefully have value to people who are interested in working with cattle, people who encourage their use, and those providing related equipment.




Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) published a Guide to recent changes to the CFAP program, Farmers Guide to 2021 CFAP Changes—Contract Farmers and Others. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is a USDA program that gives direct payments to farmers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This Guide focuses on recent changes to CFAP 1 and CFAP 2 introduced by the 2021 Appropriations Act and on other recent changes made by USDA. Although the application deadlines for both versions of CFAP have passed, USDA recently announced important changes to CFAP that directly affect many farmers. Some farmers, such as many contract producers, are newly eligible for CFAP 2. Further, an extension of deadlines means that many farmers may still apply for or amend their applications for CFAP 2. The free 30-page guide is available online.




Purdue Extension announced the update of several resources for commercial fruit and vegetable growers. The 2021 Midwest Vegetable Production Guide for Commercial Growers is available online to download for free. The online version is searchable by crop, pest, and control measures. The Midwest Vegetable Trial Reportss are also available for free download, with variety trial results for asparagus, peppers, cantaloupe, pickling cucumber, summer squash, and seedless watermelon, as well as cultural practice trials on no-till sweet corn and pumpkin after winter rye, nitrogen rates for pepper and tomato, and the use of low tunnels and grafting for watermelon production. A new print edition of the Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide is also available for sale.




A pioneering study by the University of Vermont on U.S nitrogen use in agriculture has identified 20 places across the country where farmers, government, and citizens should target nitrogen reduction efforts. The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, located "hotspots of opportunity" that represent 63% of the total surplus nitrogen balance in U.S. croplands although they constitute only 24% of U.S. cropland area. The top-ranked hotspot to target, based on total excess nitrogen, is a 61-county area across Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin. That's followed by a 55-county region in Kansas and Nebraska in second place, and 38 counties in Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota in third. A map illustrating the hotspot counties is available online.




USDA is reminding rural communities, farmers and ranchers, families, and small businesses affected by the recent winter storms that it has programs that provide assistance. The Federal Crop Insurance Program and Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program offer risk protection for crops. Growers who experience losses are asked to report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office, respectively, within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. Livestock growers who experience losses can apply to the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybee and Farm-raised Fish Program for partial reimbursement. Perennial crop producers may qualify for the Tree Assistance Program cost-share to rehabilitate or replant and clean-up damage to orchards and vineyards. Additionally, USDA can provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. Assistance may also be available for emergency animal mortality disposal from natural disasters and other causes.




Noble Research Institute announced that it will focus all of its operations on regenerative agriculture and set its primary goal to regenerate millions of acres of degraded grazing lands across the United States. Noble says it will achieve the vision through its direct work with farmers and ranchers across the nation as they make the transition to and profitably maintain regenerative management of their lands. Noble's programming will center exclusively on regenerative ranching, which applies regenerative principles specifically to grazing lands. Working directly with farmers and ranchers, Noble's consultants, educators, and researchers will seek ways to overcome the barriers that often deter farmers and ranchers from adopting or using regenerative principles.




The South Dakota No Till Association is offering its annual soil health events in a virtual format this year, available for on-demand viewing. The presentations include Jerry Doan on Building Soil Health while Stacking Enterprises and Improving Profitability for The Next Generation and Dr. Dwayne Beck on Benefits of Crop Rotation, as well as speakers on grassland soil health, carbon basics, and building soil health in crop rotations.




Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) revised its publication Smart Water Use on Your Farm or Ranch, which spotlights innovative, SARE-funded research into a range of conservation options. Part one examines how soil management strategies, such as cover cropping, adding organic matter, and conservation tillage, can build soil health, improve soil structure, and boost the waterholding capacity of soil. Part two discusses plant selection, crop rotation, and livestock management strategies. Part three highlights how irrigation and drainage systems can be used to better manage water use in cropping systems. The 16-page publication is available free online or in print.




Equitable Food Initiative relaunched its online Responsible Recruitment Scorecard as an interactive version with a digital self-assessment to help growers identify their risk factors for forced labor in the recruitment process and pursue recommended action steps. The Responsible Recruitment Scorecard is available free online in both English and Spanish. Grower-shippers can choose from two versions of a detailed questionnaire: one designed to help identify risks that are often associated with the foreign recruitment of workers and another to determine risks that can be present when working with farm labor contractors. After the confidential questionnaire is filled in, the scorecard calculates key areas growers can address to drive continuous improvement across their recruitment processes, and it provides directional guidance.




Research scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Northern Plains Agricultural Research Lab offered an update on their research with soil moisture meters at the virtual MonDak Ag Research Summit, reports The Prairie Star. The researchers explained their trials of different soil moisture probes and sensor systems on sugarbeet crops. The sensor systems can help with irrigation scheduling to conserve water, energy, and labor while optimizing yield. Researchers found that different sensors seemed to work best for different soil types.




The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, through its Farm to Plate Initiative, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) released the Vermont Agriculture and Food System Strategic Plan 2021-2030. The Plan lays out a vision, 15 goals, 34 priority strategies, and 276 recommendations for advancing the agriculture and food system in Vermont, as informed by input from more than 1,500 Vermonters over 18 months. The Plan provides in-depth insights across 54 product, market, and issue briefs which are the foundation for its goals and strategies. For producers, there are briefs that pertain to particular products such as dairy, goats, grains, and much more, as well as briefs that provide insight on various market channels such as grocery stores, restaurants, and others, and briefs that cover a range of issues including climate change, consumer demand, marketing, supporting future farmers. The complete 202-page plan and all of the individual issue briefs are available online.




Scientists based at Rothamsted and the University of Bristol Veterinary School in the United Kingdom have found a clear link between the weight of lambs early in their life and meat quality. The study found that lambs that are heaviest at the point of weaning go on to produce the leanest, most sought-after meat at market. Both leanness and musculature of lamb meat can be successfully predicted from the growth pattern of the animal before weaning. The researchers say this means it's likely that carcass quality is affected by management of ewes during pregnancy and lactation, because ewes' milk plays such an important role in determining weaning weights.




Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is reporting on results from trials of the "super fruits" juneberry, aronia, and honeyberry. Reports on trials as part of the New Commercial Fruit Crops for Northern New York project at the Willsboro Research Farm are available online. The project will add American and European varieties of elderberry to the trial this spring. The research trials are investigating aspects of these fruit crops such as growth habits, flowering and fruiting times, disease susceptibility, soil preferences, and fruit quality and yield. Additional on-farm trials are developing best management practices, based on regional growers' experiences establishing, producing, and marketing the specialty fruits. The project is aimed at increasing the number of specialty fruit-crop options available to regional market farms.




As interest in regenerative agriculture grows, the need to define and measure progress toward attaining the concept becomes more important. GreenBiz featured five technological tools aimed at assessing biodiversity on agricultural land and gauging soil health and carbon levels. From in-field bird biodiversity monitoring to artificial intelligence that identifies insect species and from handheld soil carbon probes to satellite mapping, new technologies are enabling measurement of agricultural health indicators.




Iowa farmer Ryan Collins benefited from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by enrolling as a beginning farmer, reports the Center for Rural Affairs. Collins began farming in 2010 and is currently in his second 5-year CSP contract. The conservation plan developed for his farm through CSP has led to forage improvement, continuous no-till cropping, and rotational grazing, among other practices. Collins notes that the CSP payment provided the incentive to implement new practices, but he continues with them because the benefits are apparent.




Microbial ecologists at Penn State University are studying how high salt and nitrogen concentrations in high-tunnel soils make it challenging to rebuild a healthy soil microbiome following a soil-clearing event. High-tunnel growers who experience mounting disease pressure from growing the same crops season after season sometimes utilize anaerobic soil disinfestation and soil solarization to reduce pathogens. Howeover, these methods wipe out the entire soil microbial community, and this research shows that soils high in salt and nitrogen experience delays in soil-biome reestablishment.




The Northeast Cover Crops Council has launched an online Cover Crop Decision Support Tool that provides cover crop species recommendations based on grower USDA hardiness zone and cropping system specifics. The tool is based on the Midwest Cover Crop Council's decision support tool but has been adapted for Northeast species and expanded. Northeast Cover Crops Council notes that "[d]ecision support tools are an excellent way to integrate the complexity of climate, soil, and management into recommendation systems." The code for the tool is open source.




Teams at the Northwest Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC) and Taste the Local Difference (TLD) are working together to offer no-cost marketing services to small farmers and food-based businesses in Northwest Michigan. Priority is given to businesses with ten or fewer employees and they must be for-profit entities. The first participating businesses are working on marketing needs such as creating online stores, developing social media content, and third-party media strategy. The value of services for each awarded business ranges up to $4,000, depending on needs. Applications for the initiative are being accepted from February 12-17, 2021.




Taste the Local Difference reports that in honor of Black History Month in February, three local-food entrepreneurs launched an initiative called Taste the Diaspora Detroit (TDD). This celebration of Africa's contribution to American cuisine showcases the diverse foods of the African Diaspora through culinary storytelling. Throughout February, folks in the Detroit area can order weekly-diaspora themed dishes created by a collective of Black chefs, restaurants, farmers, and producers. The dishes utilize fresh, locally grown produce from Black farmers and Black-owned artisan food products. The initiative also includes a limited number of shoebox lunches featuring the dishes, available for purchase. TDD is partnering with Oakland Avenue Urban Farm to distribute 20% of these shoebox lunches to food-insecure residents at no cost.




The National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) and Hemp Industry Association (HIA) have released results of a sample survey of industry stakeholders regarding a hemp checkoff program. The survey of farmers; oil, seed, and CBD processors; seed companies; importers and exporters; and other stakeholders found a high level of overall interest and support for the concept of a national hemp checkoff. Well over two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed with the essence of a checkoff, the need for more research, greater promotion of the industry, and for greater consumer education. Two-thirds of respondents showed support for a nominal assessment of less than 1% of the value of their crops to fund industry research, promotion, and consumer education.




Research at the University of California, Riverside, has identified a peptide from the Australian finger lime that can kill the bacteria that causes citrus greening disease or stimulate a plant's own immune system to help prevent infection. The peptide occurs naturally in plants that are tolerant of Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening. The peptide punctures the bacterium that causes the disease, acting more quickly than antibiotics. It is also safer for the environment than other potential treatments for the disease.




A new report from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), titled Healthy Soils and the Climate Connection: A Path to Economic Recovery on America's Farms, provides a roadmap for how climate-smart agriculture policies could provide profit boosts for farmers and climate wins for advocates. The analysis shows that becoming carbon-negative can open the door for farmers to the marketplace of carbon credits and other financial incentives through farm policy. According to the report, regenerative farming practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and low-till or no-till practices that increase the amount of carbon in soil offer new revenue streams for hard-hit farms.




The South Dakota State University Extension Small Ruminant Team is seeking input from sheep and goat producers across the United States to identify producer interests and enhance future Extension efforts. Responses collected from the voluntary survey will be complied into a Sheep and Goat Producers Needs Assessment. "We believe this nationwide response will add value by identifying collective producer strengths and struggles to cooperatively strengthen Extension program efforts in South Dakota and across the United States," says Kelly Froehlich, Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Specialist in Small Ruminant Production. The survey is voluntary, confidential, and will take approximately 20 minutes to complete. Alternatively, printed surveys can be sent by mail upon request.




Vermont Law School's Center for Agriculture and Food Systems and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic recently released The Urgent Call for a U.S. National Food Strategy. The report updates the 2017 Blueprint for a National Food Strategy. It illustrates the need for a coordinated federal approach to food and agricultural law and policymaking through an analysis and review of new domestic strategies and coordination approaches, as well as international food strategies developed since 2017. In addition, the report considers some of the major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food system—such as disproportionate food insecurity affecting BIPOC communities, alarming rates of infection among food and agricultural workers, significant threats to farm income, a dramatic increase in food waste—to consider how these issues demonstrate both an urgent need for a national food strategy and how they might have been alleviated and addressed more quickly with the kind of coordinated food system leadership a national food strategy would provide.




Four farmers in Practical Farmers of Iowa's Cooperators' Program have compiled an enterprise budget for sweet potatoes, based on production on their farms during 2019. The farmers tracked expenses, labor, yields, and revenue for sweet potatoes grown primarily for CSA, and harvested by hand with broadforks and digging forks. The farmers used their own preferred planting methods and practices. The results showed that sweet potatoes were profitable for three of the four farms. Labor was either the most expensive or second-most expensive cost at all farms, with harvest accounting for most of the labor. Two of the farms decided not to grow sweet potatoes again, based on this analysis.




A new initiative, Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC), is bringing together women landowners throughout the state to network and connect with each other and with resources. With support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a coalition of organizations dedicated to sustainable agriculture and conservation, led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), kicked off a unique three-year initiative that will collaboratively bring together women throughout the state through a variety of workshops, field days, and mentorship and learning opportunities. Activities will begin with March and April virtual workshops offered throughout the state.




NCAT is offering a virtual version of its popular sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans, Armed to Farm. NCAT is moving the training online to make it accessible during COVID-19 restrictions. Veterans who want to attend the Virtual Armed to Farm training, which will take place in six sessions during April and May, can apply online until March 12, 2021. Virtual Armed to Farm will cover topics essential to farm success, including business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, and USDA programs, as well as specific enterprise discussions. Virtual Armed to Farm will include an engaging blend of interactive online instruction and video farm tours via Zoom. Participants will be expected to be involved in virtual activities, complete assignments, and interact with other attendees. Virtual Armed to Farm topics will be applicable to all U.S. beginning farmers, regardless of location. Military veterans interested in farming are encouraged to apply.




USDA is extending the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Signup period, which had previously been announced as ending on February 12, 2021. This signup for CRP gives producers an opportunity to enroll land for the first time or re-enroll land under existing contracts that will be expiring September 30, 2021. All interested producers, including those on Indian reservations and with trust lands, are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center for more information. The program, administered by USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), provides annual rental payments for 10 to 15 years for land devoted to conservation purposes, as well as other types of payments. USDA says it will continue to accept offers as the Administration evaluates ways to increase enrollment.




The Virginia Cooperative Extension Small Farm Outreach Program at Virginia State University announced its 2020 Andy Hankins Small Farmer of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, and Small-Farm Agent of the Year awards in a virtual ceremony. Carolyn Quinn, owner of Dug In Farms in White Stone, Virginia, was the recipient of the Andy Hankins Small Farmer of the Year award. Quinn began farming six years ago after moving from Washington, D.C. She raises vegetables and cut flowers and runs a farmers market on her farm. Quinn grows produce year-round in two high tunnels she received through a program funded by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.




The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), per the Governors Executive Order N-82-20, is holding a series of stakeholder meetings in February to solicit feedback from the public and agricultural stakeholders on farmer-and rancher-led climate solutions that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gases, and enhance biodiversity. The meetings are organized around three agricultural categories: livestock and dairy; row and field crops (annual crops); and trees and vines (perennial crops). Each agricultural category will have two online meetings of approximately two hours each. The first meeting will include an introductory presentation followed by an opportunity for stakeholder input. The second meeting will allow further discussion and capture additional feedback. The resulting report will be made available for a 30-day Public Comment period, after which the information will be used to inform CDFA and other state agencies about farmer-and rancher-led climate solutions.




A feature on Marketplace highlights multiple efforts in North Carolina to halt the ongoing loss of Black-owned farms. For example, Julius Tillery, the founder of Black Cotton, is developing new markets for small-patch cotton as home decor. Meanwhile, organizers of the Tall Grass Food Box built a supply chain to move products from small-scale Black farmers to consumers during the pandemic. The effort not only raised $80,000 for Black farmers during 2020, but also helped the participating farmers build a sense of community.




Successful Farmer featured an interview with Missouri pastured pig producer David Borrowman. Borrowman discussed the motivation for starting his pastured pork operation and explained how the COVID pandemic has been an opportunity for his local direct marketing. In addition to direct-marketing, he also raises 250 hogs per year for Niman Ranch, and he discussed how this arrangement offers market stability. Borrowman's diversified operation also produces corn for a distillery and small-square straw bales, among other product lines.




USDA published a Final Rule that updates the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill. The Final Rule incorporates public comments made on an interim rule. Updates to ACEP address revised definitions for beginning farmer or rancher, eligible land, farm or ranch succession plan, future viability and maintenance to provide additional clarity, especially around succession planning. In addition, updates to ACEP's agricultural land easements component incorporated priority for lands enrolled in the Transition Incentives Program, clarified the non-federal match requirements, and updated regulatory language.




Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State say the economic value of insect pollinators is much higher than previously thought, amounting to $34 billion in the U.S. in 2012. The team determined economic dependence of U.S. crops on insect pollination services at the county level. Their work also revealed that the areas most reliant on insect pollinators economically also had poor pollinator habitat and forage quality. Researchers say this points to an opportunity for farmers to focus on providing better habitat as a means of preventing further decline of bee species. This work also highlighted regions where local land-use practices are supporting both agriculture and healthy pollinator populations, and the researchers point out that those places could serve as models for sustainable agriculture and pollinator conservation practices.




Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative (ASFC) announced that it has launched a Peer Learning Group online for anyone milling grain or tree nuts. The group already has more than 50 millers involved and has met once to identify topics to discuss. ASFC also offers a newsletter, The Staple Pulse, in conjunction with its efforts to build a network that supports regional efforts to grow and process annual and perennial staple seed crops across North America. The fourth issue of the newsletter has just been published, and previous issues are available online.




Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, discovered that adding fermented food waste to growing systems can increase beneficial microbes that increase plant growth and make plants more resistant to pathogens. The scientists tested both the beer mash byproduct and mixed food waste from grocery stores and found that fermenting either waste and adding it to water that was used on plants caused the beneficial microbes in the system to increase two- to three-fold within a day. The scientists say the practice could reduce carbon emissions and reduce or replace synthetic chemical inputs, saving farmers money.




Researchers at the University of Copenhagen released a new study that shows predatory insects live longer when they have access to nectar and pollen. The researchers note that planting flowering margins and strips in fields provides farmers with both pollination support and habitat to sustain predatory insects throughout the season. Insect predators such as hoverflies, lacewings, minute pirate bugs, phytoseiid mites, and two-spot ladybugs can survive on pollen when their insect prey is lacking. Thus, planting flowers that bloom both early and late in the season can help sustain beneficial insect populations throughout the season. "[W]e are looking at how to design mixed flowering strips and flowering margins that benefit both predatory insects and pollinators. This will reduce the need for other forms of pest control while supporting biodiversity," explained one of the study authors.




USDA launched the Farmers to Families Food Box Program in April 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. In this program, USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) contracts with farms, farmer associations, and distributors to purchase and distribute fresh produce, dairy, and meat to nonprofit organizations, such as food banks. According to a new report by Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program has accomplished much and can serve as a model for future USDA fresh food purchasing and distribution efforts, but it also faces several significant critiques. The analysis notes that there is tremendous potential for USDA to make changes to support more small- and mid-size farms and farms owned by women and people of color; better alleviate hunger; and mitigate senseless food waste. The report offers recommendations to strengthen the program and suggests that it could serve as the model for a long-term food system solution.




The CSA Innovation Network, a national network for local CSA farms, is hosting the national CSA week February 21-28, 2021. During this special week, farmers, farmer support organizations, and CSA enthusiasts across the country will be working together to raise awareness of CSA and promote CSA signups. The CSA Innovation Network is providing a free packet of digital tools to help farmers promote their CSA during this special week. The tools are available to people who sign up for CSA Week on the Network's website.




Big River Farms, AgSquared, and New Entry Sustainable Farming Project have partnered to create a series of new app-based recordkeeping tools to help farmers of color, immigrant farmers, and other beginning growers keep the records needed for organic certification and to better understand their farm businesses. This project is funded by a Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS and specifically aims to help farmers make records more useful, regardless of language spoken or whether or not they have reliable computer access. The project also aims to provide a new tool for incubator farms and other farmer service providers to teach effective recordkeeping and to more easily communicate with farmers regarding records kept, pest and disease monitoring and control, and other data. The partners are looking for incubator farms and farmer service providers to experiment with the apps this year. Project partners will host monthly conversations the first Friday of each month for an hour so that participants can share and learn best practices and tips.




Seven Harvest, Inc. announced that it has awarded $5,000 each to four African American farmer veterans in Arkansas and Mississippi through the Veterans Agriculture Support Funds Project (VASFp). VASFp assists farmer veterans from underserved and socially disadvantaged communities to improve their farm and food business operations. In 2021, the awardees are expected to improve these aspects of their businesses: 1) cash flow expenses to revenues; 2) time of planting; and 3) local direct sales. Priority farm improvements include irrigation, mechanization with tractors and seeders, and input supplies.




An open-access paper published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation aims to define regenerative grazing and identify opportunities to increase its implementation in the Upper Midwest. The paper discusses resources available to support transitioning to regenerative grazing and provides recommendations on accelerating the rate of regenerative grazing adoption. This paper explains some of the environmental and social challenges that regenerative grazing can address and notes that these benefits are currently undervalued. This situation has slowed more widespread adoption of regenerative grazing.




Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced grants totaling $1.287 million to eight organizations for research on issues critical to sustaining and growing Pennsylvania's agriculture industry. The grants focus on a broad range of research topics including detecting COVID-19 exposure in livestock, increasing farm productivity and profits, protecting pollinators, safely controlling Spotted Lanternfly and other invasive species, and improving soil and water quality and sustainability through regenerative farming. This funding supplements $900,000 in agricultural research support through the department's budget to Rodale Institute, the Penn State University Center for Agricultural Law, Penn State Extension, and the Centers for Beef, Dairy, Poultry and Livestock Excellence. A list of grantees and project titles is available online.




Sand County Foundation and national sponsor American Farmland Trust present the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 22 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. State partners join in presenting the the $10,000 award in individual states. Pennsylvania, California, the New England Region, Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Dakota have all announced the process for nominating a landowner or self-nominating for the 2021 award. Nomination deadlines vary by state, ranging from June 1 to August 15, 2021.




USDA has released the annual count of certified organic operations calculated from the USDA National Organic Program's Organic Integrity Database. The number of certified organic operations worldwide grew to 45,578 in 2020 with 28,454—more than 62%—located in the United States. California remains the leader domestically with more than 5,000 certified operations. The Great Lakes Region, Pacific Northwest, and Iowa continue to round out the top 10.




USDA has released the final rule for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The final rule adopts the interim rule that was directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others. The final rule includes explicit special considerations for historically underserved (HU) producer and landowner enrollment and identifies ranking criteria for proposals that target the needs of HU producers. The 2018 Farm Bill made RCPP a stand-alone program with its own dedicated funding and simplified rules for partners and producers. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill reduced the number of funding pools and emphasized partner reporting of conservation outcomes. The updated program also expands flexibility for alternative funding arrangements with partners and the availability of watershed program authorities to projects outside Critical Conservation Areas.




The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has awarded $750,000 in producer-led watershed protection grants to 30 farmer-led groups. Grants support producer-led conservation solutions by encouraging innovation and farmer participation in on-the-ground efforts to improve Wisconsin's soil health and water quality. The awards included three new grant recipients and 27 new grants for previously funded projects. This is the sixth, and largest, round of grant awards since funding started with the 2015-17 state budget. Information about current producer-led projects is available online.




NCAT's 2021 Soil Health Innovations Conference will offer a virtual poster presentation hall as a way to encourage and foster soil health innovation by providing a platform for discussing soil health research and projects. The conference is set for March 8-9, 2021, and will be virtual. Exhibitors may upload a short video and other materials to the conference website, where it will be available to attendees. There will be designated times on the conference agenda for poster presenters to have live online chats with folks who have questions about their poster topics. The virtual poster presentations will be a powerful way for researchers, farmers, and other attendees to network and to update themselves on the cutting edge of advancements in soil health. The deadline to submit poster materials is February 20, 2021, but early submissions are strongly encouraged.




USDA announced that it will temporarily suspend past-due debt collections and foreclosures for distressed borrowers under the Farm Storage Facility Loan and the Direct Farm Loan programs administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Additionally, USDA has extended deadlines for producers to respond to loan servicing actions, including loan deferral consideration for financially distressed and delinquent borrowers. In addition, for the Guaranteed Loan program, flexibilities have been made available to lenders to assist in servicing their customers. According to USDA data, more than 12,000 borrowers—approximately 10% of all borrowers—are eligible for this relief. The temporary suspension is in place until further notice and is expected to continue while the national COVID-19 disaster declaration is in place.




The Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farmer of the Year award recognizes organic farmers who show a strong commitment to organic principles, use innovative practices on their farm, and share their experience to help other organic farmers succeed. Liz Graznak grows organic vegetables for CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale accounts at Happy Hollow Farm in Moniteau County, Missouri. MOSES explains that Liz has earned the 2021 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year award by raising outstanding organic vegetables while expanding the borders of organic food through her CSA and market stand, her community-building efforts, and her engagement with other farmers.




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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




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