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USDA is investing $91 million to build or improve community facilities and essential services for nearly 300,000 rural residents in 12 states through the Community Facilities Direct Loan Program. The 16 funded projects will help rural small towns, cities, and communities make infrastructure improvements and provide essential facilities such as public schools, libraries, courthouses, public safety facilities, hospitals, colleges, and day-care centers. More than 100 types of projects are eligible for Community Facilities funding. Eligible applicants include municipalities, public bodies, nonprofit organizations, and federally recognized Native American tribes. A list of projects selected for funding is available online.

The Soil Health Institute has released a report summarizing the Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health that was held in October 2018. The conference was designed to bring the soil health and human health communities together, establish the current state of collective knowledge, identify gaps and associated priorities, and scope a collaborative path forward. The conference's top 10 priorities for investigating soil health and human health connections are presented in the report, along with summaries and links to each presentation.

The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is accepting applications for its Agroforestry Academy, set for July 21-26, 2019, in Columbia, Missouri. The week-long training includes integrated classroom workshops, multiple on-farm visits, hands-on demonstrations, and content integration into practical on-farm agroforestry planning and design to advance adoption of agroforestry as a cornerstone of productive land use. Scholarships are available for veteran farmers. Registration is due by May 24, 2019.

Research from McGill University shows that the herbicide glyphosate is contributing to environmental phosphorus levels in soil and waterways. The study was published in Ecological Society of America's Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. As global use of glyphosate has increased 15-fold over the past 20 years, the small amount of phosphorus in glyphosate has begun to add up, researchers report. "Our study argues that the recent and rapid rise in glyphosate use has magnified its relative importance as a source of anthropogenic phosphorus, especially in areas of intensive corn, soybean, and cotton cultivation," lead study author Marie-Pier Hébert says.

Practical Farmers of Iowa's Labor4Learning program is offering 16 on-farm job opportunities in 2019, working with farmers across Iowa who are willing to provide additional training on what it takes to run a farm business. The Labor4Learning program provides someone thinking about a career in farming with a paid on-farm job, as well as training on record-keeping, marketing, and other skills. Each participating trainer farm in the program was approved by a committee of Practical Farmers of Iowa members to serve as qualified teachers. The farms represent a diversity of enterprises including row crops, small grains, multiple species of livestock, fruits, vegetables, and more. Resumes and references are submitted directly to the trainer farm.

Michigan State University Extension's Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center conducted a trial of 12 commercially available varieties and one experimental variety of chile peppers in 2018. They found that using earlier maturing varieties was key to ripening chile peppers to maturity in Michigan's climate. Production results and notes for these varieties are available online. The project also trialed low-cost methods of drying the fruit, which are important because peppers grown in Michigan have more water in them than peppers grown in arid regions and require more time and energy to dry. The method that was most successful involved using a commercial food warmer with an air temperature of 165F for 24 hours. However, researchers concluded that an inexpensive heat source would be necessary to allow dried peppers to be cost-competitive in the marketplace. Full test results are available online.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology's (NCAT) Armed to Farm (ATF) program is accepting applications from military veterans to participate in a week-long sustainable agriculture training May 13-17, 2019, in the Crawfordsville, Indiana area. ATF allows veterans and their spouses to experience sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and explore agriculture as a viable career. ATF's engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on experience, and interactive classroom instruction gives participants a strong foundation in the basic principles of operating a sustainable farm. The training is free for those chosen to participate. All military veterans, as well as their spouses or farm partners, are welcome to apply. However, veterans located in the Midwest region will receive priority. Applications are due by April 8, 2019.

In celebration of National Ag Day, USDA has launched a website to connect young people and youth-serving organizations with resources offered by the Department.The USDA Youth and Agriculture website features three key components of agriculture-focused youth engagement: classroom studies, experiential learning, and leadership training. At the website, educators can find ways to include agriculture in the classroom and beyond. Young people can learn about USDA summer outreach programs, youth loans for business projects, and outdoor volunteering. Community leaders can get tips on starting leadership development clubs and education programs.

A multi-year research project by universities in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, is delving into the potential of urban gardening to enhance human and environmental health, reports the American Society of Agronomy. In addition to growing food, urban agriculture can fulfill other purposes. Growers in this study are striving for goals including education, culturally relevant food, and community reconciliation. The research team is helping urban growers overcome challenges such as land tenure and soil contamination, and they are collecting information on how urban agriculture benefits soil health and community health.

Researchers at the University of Iowa, partnering with others at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana, have been awarded a four-year, $1.6 million grant from USDA to design and build smart sensors for irrigation scheduling. The sensors would measure soil moisture and temperature, air temperature, and humidity and transmit that information to the cloud, where farmers could access it via an app. The information could then inform efficient irrigation scheduling.

A study published in Frontiers in Plant Science showed that growing grasses with blueberry plants could correct signs of iron deficiency at less cost and risk than chemical treatment. The grass intercropping also increased yield and antioxidant content of the berries. Senior study author Dr José Covarrubias explained that "Grasses -- which are well-adapted to poor soils -- can provide a sustainable, natural source of iron chelators via their roots when grown alongside fruiting plants. Intercropping with grass species has been shown to improve plant growth and fruit yield in olives, grapes, citrus varieties -- and most recently, in blueberries."

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has launched the Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program, based on its Organic Fraud Prevention Guide that provides businesses engaged in organic trade with a risk-based process for developing and implementing organic fraud mitigation measures. OTA explains that the program is not a certification or verification program, nor is it a product label. Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions establishes a framework and formal process for businesses to create continuously improving internal programs for achieving organic integrity throughout their associated supply chains. The program requires training, an organic fraud vulnerability assessment, and the development of an organic fraud prevention plan. To pre-enroll, a company must be an Organic Trade Association member and either certified organic or listed with a USDA-recognized Material Review Organization. Eligible operations include farmers, handlers, processors, distributors, traders, retailers, and input manufacturers.

Idea Foundry, a Pittsburgh-based economic development organization, has created a pilot revolving loan fund designed to support local entrepreneurs innovating around connecting consumers with local foods, reducing regional food insecurity, increasing on-farm sustainability, and increasing jobs in local farming. The revolving loan fund pilot program is being supported with a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and will provide funds to as many as six businesses in year one. The loans will directly address the financial needs of food and agriculture startups and innovative regional farms required to generate profits that contribute back into both the loan fund and the local economy.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has published the first results from a five-year beef life-cycle analysis study. The study included seven cattle-producing regions and used data from 2,270 survey responses and site visits. The study revealed that beef cattle production across all seven regions accounted for 3.3% of all U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Beef operations in the Northwest and Southern Plains had the highest total water use, but, across all the regions, irrigating crops to produce feed for cattle accounted for 96% of total water use. The study concluded that water use and reactive nitrogen losses are areas for potential emissions reductions.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that it is seeking public input on its 150-plus existing national conservation practice standards as part of implementing the 2018 Farm Bill. These standards provide guidelines for planning, designing, installing, operating, and maintaining conservation practices. NRCS is requesting public comments on how to improve conservation practice standards that support programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. The comment period ends April 25, 2019. Comments may be submitted online or by mail.

Researchers at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center are exploring the potential for growing organic artichokes in the state. A number of past studies have evaluated artichoke varieties and management practices; two other studies were recently completed. The first assessed how organic and conventional fertilizing systems affected growth, marketable yield, head quality, and soil chemical properties of globe artichoke. It found significant variation by variety and soil type but noted that organic growing appeared to improve head quality and soil health. The second study assessed the performance of four different organic fertilizers on artichokes. Although an alfalfa-meal fertilizer led to the best artichokes, it was the most expensive, and researchers concluded that an animal-based fertilizer could be the best economic choice.

A new scholarship program for students interested in agroecology, sustainable food systems, and food justice is now available at University of California Santa Cruz through funding from USDA's Multicultural Scholars Program. To qualify, students must be accepted to start at UC Santa Cruz in Fall 2019 as a transfer or first-year student, and intend to declare a major in Environmental Studies or a related field. Students must have an interest in agroecology, food systems, or food justice, be a member of a historically under-represented group in academia, and be a U.S. citizen. Support includes $6,500 in funding a year for four years (or two years for transfer students), as well as assistance with books, leadership skills, and faculty advising. Each student will also receive a $4,000 stipend to support a summer internship between the junior and senior years. Applications are due by April 1, 2019.

A new podcast series called Thriving Farmer will feature interviews with farmers from around the world by host Michael Kilpatrick. Learn the latest tricks and strategies of successful farmers, strategize with in-depth interviews with leaders in the industry, and connect with stories of farmers just like you. The first four episodes include an introduction to the series and interviews with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Jenny Quiner of Dogpatch Urban Gardens, and Ben Beichler of Creambrook Farm. A new episode will be added each week.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension have published the first cost study of primocane-bearing blackberries in California. With primocane-bearing blackberries, growers can extend the blackberry production season because the plants bear fruit in their first year. The study presents sample costs to establish, produce, and harvest primocane-bearing blackberries in the Central Coast Region of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties. The analysis is based on a hypothetical well-managed farming operation using practices common to the region. The authors describe assumptions in detail and present a table of costs and returns based on those assumptions about production, input materials, prices, and yields.

A documentary series from the grassroots regenerative agriculture movement Farmer's Footprint, powered by Seraphic Group, has launched with a 20-minute film that was named a Vimeo "Staff Pick." Each short film in the series visits a farming family that is transitioning into a future of renewed food independence and economic viability through regenerative agriculture. The inaugural film in the series, Farmer's Footprint: The Beginning, showcases the trials, lessons learned, and gratifying victories of the four-generation Breitkreutz family of Stoney Creek Farm in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, as they navigate away from conventional practices to regenerative agriculture. Over decades of using conventional methods, the family had seen their soils degrade and their input costs rise each year. But just a few years of embracing regenerative practices has healed their land while cutting their costs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has released a report showing that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems is disappearing--putting the future of our food, livelihoods, health, and environment under severe threat. State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture warns that when agricultural biodiversity is lost, it cannot be recovered. The report points to decreasing plant diversity in farmers' fields, rising numbers of livestock breeds at risk of extinction, and increases in the proportion of overfished fish stocks. Of some 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food output, while just nine account for 66% of total crop production. Similarly, the world's livestock production is based on about 40 animal species. Furthermore, information from the 91 reporting countries reveals that wild food species and many species that contribute to ecosystem services that are vital to food and agriculture, including pollinators, soil organisms, and natural enemies of pests, are rapidly disappearing. The full report is available online.

A team from Cornell University has unveiled a framework for economic impact analysis that uses locally sourced data to accurately capture spending related to the agriculture industry. Traditional economic analyses using state and local data can distort the impact of agriculture in a local economy. The Cornell researchers used New York's apple industry as a case study for the new framework and found that this industry has a 21% larger economic impact than traditional models suggest. The team found that every $1 of New York apples or apple products sold generates an additional 58 cents of spending, such as for support services and supplies. Similarly, apple industry jobs generate additional employment, and every $1 of direct apple-industry gross domestic product generates an additional $1.14 in GDP from related business activity in the state.

A study led by Cornell University shows that biochar has the ability to soak up nitrogen from the air pollutant ammonia through a chemical reaction. Research in Ethiopia proposed to capture the nitrogen that would otherwise be lost from compost by adding biochar, and successfully documented this capture. Professor Johannes Lehmann notes that biochar compost has several potential benefits for farmers: it can conserve nitrogen for use as fertilizer, reduce odors from manure, and protect local water quality. In addition, the study revealed to scientists a process by which nitrogen emitted through mineralization and fires is naturally recaptured in terrestrial ecosystems.

At its annual conference, CCOF released Roadmap to an Organic California: Benefits Report, which distills the findings of more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific studies. The report details the many benefits that organic production is already generating and could generate on a far larger scale with increased organic acreage. "Organic food production is an opportunity to stimulate the state's economy, promote public health, and protect our natural resources," said Kelly Damewood, CEO of CCOF. "The report finds that organic agriculture provides evidence-based solutions to the nation's complex challenges by promoting healthy, carbon-storing soils while also driving strong economic returns and improving public health and prosperity." The Benefits Report is available as a free download or in printed format.

A three-minute video produced by the Northwest Berry Foundation explores uses for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in Integrated Pest Management for berry production. The video highlights features of UAVs and how they can be used to map fields, revealing outbreaks of insects or diseases. Aerial photos can also provide imaging that helps with irrigation management.

A nationwide survey is underway to gather information from farmers and growers on the economic impact of the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) on agriculture. The survey asks when BMSB became a problem for you, where you currently get information on how to control them, how much damage you have suffered, your use of and interest in various management practices, and your feelings about biological control methods and their potential for your operation. The results of the survey will be used by Extension programs across the United States to fine tune management advice for the BMSB and help prioritize research and outreach activities. The online survey takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Grazing advisor Troy Bishopp has updated his popular grazing charts for the 2019-2020 grazing year. The resources are available free online as Excel files that users can print at home, or as PDF files that can be printed in large format. The files serve as templates that can be adapted as needed. Bishopp points out that they can even be customized to help manage a vegetable CSA. The available resources include 10-month (April through January) and 12-month (April through March) grazing charts in versions designed for 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 paddocks. The charts are useful for record keeping, planning, and pasture and grazing management.

The Seed Internship Program hosted by Organic Seed Alliance and the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture (MESA) was created to match future seed growers excited to build their skills with experienced seed producers excited to train the next generation of seed growers. The Seed Internship Program combines online and classroom learning, farm-based independent study, and real-world experience through a diverse network of family farms. The program is accepting applications from potential interns for a six-month program that matches interns with host farms that provide on-farm experience and formal training in seed production. The program is also accepting applications from farms interested in becoming a host farm.

The federal Biomass Research and Development (BR&D) Board, an interagency collaborative co-chaired by USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy, has released The Bioeconomy Initiative: Implementation Framework. The document articulates a strategy to accelerate innovative technologies that harness the nation's biomass resources for affordable biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. The Implementation Framework presents goals and actions for addressing knowledge and technology gaps in advanced algae systems, feedstock improvement, biomass conversion and carbon utilization, and bioeconomy sustainability, among other areas. The Implementation Framework lays out activities to address technology uncertainty; leverage government, academic, and industrial resources and capabilities; stimulate public-private partnerships; and generate technical information that can inform decision-makers and policymakers.

General Mills has announced its commitment to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. The company will partner with organic and conventional farmers, suppliers, and farm advisors in key growing regions to drive the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices. The company defines regenerative agriculture as a holistic method of farming deploying practices designed to protect and intentionally enhance natural resources and farming communities. General Mills is beginning with a $650,000 grant to nonprofit organization Kiss the Ground to support farmer training and coaching through Soil Health Academies, where growers will learn how to increase farm profitability, build resiliency into the land, and decrease input costs using soil health practices.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Program is conducting a webinar on March 13, 2019, to solicit public comments on the multiple sections of the 2018 Farm Bill relating to industrial hemp. Up to 1,000 people at a time may view the webinar; however, time constraints will allow only 60 speakers during the webinar and it will not include a Question and Answer session. Registration is available online but limited to 1,000. For additional information on the marketing program, visit USDA's Marketing Program for the Commercial Production of Hemp webpage.

Planting a legume such as Kura clover in conjunction with a biofuel crop like prairie cordgrass improves soil microbial activity and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed, according to a 10-year study from South Dakota State University. It takes time for the clover to begin providing visible benefits, however. Study leader Vance Owens explains, "It took until the fourth year before we saw any direct benefit in terms of yield in the prairie cordgrass plots mixed with Kura clover, but by then, the nitrogen benefit from the Kura clover ranged from 20 to 80 pounds per acre across the four locations." Related research showed that the cordgrass-and-clover stands also had higher levels of microbial community structure with more total bacterial and fungal biomass than control plots. The researchers concluded that interseeded legumes have potential for helping produce biofuels crops more sustainably, as well as improving overall soil health.

Researchers at Newcastle University have published a study in PLOS ONE, showing that limonene is the component of marigolds that repels tomato whiteflies. The research team says it could be possible to develop a limonene product that could be hung in greenhouses to deter whiteflies. Study leader Dr. Colin Tosh commented, "There is great potential to use limonene indoors and outdoors, either by planting marigolds near tomatoes, or by using pods of pure limonene. Another important benefit of using limonene is that it's not only safe to bees, but the marigolds provide nectar for the bees which are vital for pollination." The team is conducting further studies on developing a three-companion-plant mixture to repel three major insect pests of tomato: whiteflies, spider mites, and thrips.

UC Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems is conducting a survey of produce growers or farm operators in California who primarily grow vegetables, fruits, or nuts that are or may be covered under the FDA's Produce Safety Rule. The survey goal is to understand how growers manage food safety risks in their farming operations, how much time and money this costs, and how food safety affects farm sustainability. The project will identify the most significant difficulties faced by farmers for each area of the Rule: water, soil amendments, worker health and hygiene, tools and equipment, and environmental monitoring. It will also clarify how the cost to comply varies among farms of different size, cropping system, location, and organic certification status. The online survey takes about 30 minutes. The first 300 people to complete the survey will be eligible for a $20 gift card, and all respondents who complete the survey may choose to enter a drawing for one of ten $100 gift cards. The survey will be open through March 31, 2019.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has unveiled the PA Farm Bill, a proposal to provide support for and continued investments in the commonwealth's agriculture industry. According to the governor's office, the PA Farm Bill will provide for business development and succession planning, create accommodations for a growing animal agriculture sector, remove regulatory burdens, strengthen the ag workforce, protect infrastructure, and make Pennsylvania the nation's leading organic state. The proposal also includes support for urban agriculture initiatives and a newly created state-level specialty crop block grant program to support growing industries like hemp, hops, and hardwoods.

American Farmland Trust and the State of New York have announced that 20 organizations across New York state will receive grants totaling $170,000 to support their work in helping new farmers find land and assisting landowners and retiring farmers who wish to keep their land in farming. The 20 organizations will serve as Regional Navigators for Farmland for a New Generation New York, offering support, including one-on-one assistance, workshops, and other opportunities tailored to address local needs, to help farmers find land. They will also aid farmland owners or current farmers in finding someone to continue farming on their land. To learn more about Farmland for a New Generation New York, and to find a Regional Navigator in your area visit www.nyfarmlandfinder.org/regional-navigators.

The Missouri Agricultural Foundation engaged TEConomy, Inc. to conduct an economic feasibility study that explored the potential for growing the Missouri economy if the state invests in its food and forest product manufacturing enterprises. The 140-page final report of the Show-Me State Food, Beverage and Forest Products Manufacturing Initiative is available online in PDF. The report identifies three opportunities that hold great potential for the state. First, it recommends focusing on regional food systems by enhancing food value chains and accelerating development of regional value-added food manufacturing businesses. It also recommends building a new, research-and-innovation-driven food industry rooted in advanced nutritional sciences and developing enhanced value-added processing opportunities for commodities.

The Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson University has issued five grants totaling $300,000 through the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF), to help farms and a conservation district reduce discharge of pollutants into the Suwannee River. The awards are allowing grant recipients to purchase and use new equipment for sustainable, eco-friendly farming techniques, such as applying fertilizer precisely to reduce nutrient runoff. The $900,000 SFF was established in 2018 as a result of a settlement of the Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by Environment Florida and the Sierra Club against the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation. Current grant recipients and private farmers within the Suwannee River Basin are invited to submit proposals for grant funds in September 2019 and 2020. All of the SFF monies must be awarded within three years.

Entomologists from Texas A&M University and Penn State University explored how Colorado potato beetles and potato plants responded to the presence of entomopathogenic nematodes, insect-killing nematodes. They found that female Colorado potato beetles laid fewer eggs when entomopathogenic nematodes were present in the soil, while the potato plant increased its defenses. The study concluded that growers can experience additional benefits from using entomopathogenic nematodes for biological control of insect pests, beyond the nematodes' predation on beetles during phases of their life when they're in contact with soil. "Not only are the EPNs directly killing insect pests in the soil, they also produce chemical cues that provide additional protection to plants," study leader Anjel Helms said. "They deter herbivores and enhance plant resistance to pests."

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is inviting self-nominations for peer reviewers of the 2019 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) applications. Peer reviewers are typically farmers or ranchers, or from community-based and nonprofit organizations, universities, or government. If selected, reviewers will be expected to attend brief (remote/webinar) training, write reviews of about 15 proposals, and attend a three-and-a-half-day panel meeting in Washington, DC, to be held in the early summer. If you are interested in being considered as a reviewer and will not be involved in any 2019 BFRDP proposal, please send the following information to wdean@nifa.usda.gov: 1) your name, organization name and type (e.g. farm/ranch, NGO/CBO, university), and contact information (email, phone, city and state); 2) a brief description of your interest and experience related to BFRDP, including any experience with military veteran BFRs and/or socially disadvantaged BFRs.