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The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is accepting applications for its week-long sustainable agriculture training program for military veterans, Armed to Farm. The training will be held May 13 - 17, 2019, in Indianapolis Indiana. The multi-day program includes a mix of educational classes--covering topics such as risk management, business planning, and marketing--and hands-on activities at successful livestock, crop, and agritourism operations. The training is free for those selected to attend. Applications are due by March 29, 2019.

The Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) is hosting a series of eight "Cafe Chats" on soil health in communities throughout Minnesota from February 25, 2019, through March 7, 2019. At each Cafe Chat, area farmers share their experience with soil health practices such as cover crops, species diversification, reduction in soil disturbance, and adding livestock. Open questions and discussion follow, and SFA Livestock & Grazing Specialist Kent Solberg and local SWCD staff will also discuss soil health and answer questions. A schedule for the free events is available online.

A Southern SARE-funded Research & Education Grant project has released a publication from a study focusing on a systems approach to urban agriculture in Puerto Rico, Guideline for the Development of Community-Based Urban Orchards in Puerto Rico. In the study, researcher Maria Calixta Ortiz and her colleagues found that urban community gardens, specifically orchards, serve an important social, economic and environmental function in the community--influencing cultural experiences, supporting community values and knowledge sharing, satisfying demand for local foods, and utilizing empty urban spaces. The publication provides recommendations for policymakers, municipalities, and other local officials on how to work more effectively with small urban farmers to strengthen urban agriculture on the island.

The U.S. Organic Grain Collaboration, in partnership with the Organic Trade Association, has released a report on the state of organic grain in the United States. U.S. Organic Grain--How to Keep It Growing drills down into the key barriers to expanding domestic organic grain production and identifies specific industry solutions to overcome the hurdles. The report recommends new contracting mechanisms for growers to reduce financial risk, development of markets for essential fertility-building and-weed-suppressing crops that are necessary in organic rotation, and more organic coaching and technical assistance for organic growers. The full 23-page report is available free online in PDF.

The University of Florida and the University of Georgia have developed a series of SmartIrrigation apps that notify farmers via smartphone when their crops need water. The apps use detailed weather data to estimate how much water a crop needs. Apps are already available for cotton, citrus, strawberries, and vegetables. New apps to be released this year for both iOS and Android devices make recommendations for soybeans and blueberries, and a corn app is under development for 2020. Studies have shown that using the cotton app resulted in an average reduction of 44% in irrigation water use and an average yield gain of 13% over using other irrigation-scheduling methods.

An article published in HortTechnology by USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist Eric Brennan describes how to construct and use a low-cost, jab-style, Slide Hammer Seeder that allows controlled planting of small seeds. The tool can be built in two to four hours with parts from a local hardware store. It is useful for planting herbs, vegetables, and the small seeds of a range of plants that attract beneficial insects. It can be used for interplanting or intercropping. A one-hour YouTube video is also available that describes how to make and use the tool.

The Cornell Small Farm Program has released Securing the Future of the New York State Livestock Industry. The 18-page PDF report provides vital information to communities, policy makers, and other industry supporters on needed investments in research and education to sustain growth of a resilient and viable New York livestock sector. Priorities for growing the state's livestock sector were determined through a 2017 Small Farm Summit and a survey of New York livestock producers.

Pennsylvania State University is constructing an anaerobic digester to handle manure from livestock on University-owned farms. The digester will separate methane gas from solids that can then be field-applied on University farmland. Laura Miller, Energy Program manager, commented, "This project will lower the carbon footprint of the animal operations while providing a facility to increase education and outreach to farmers across the Commonwealth." The facility has a potential of 9 million BTUs and 830,000 kWhs, and it will contribute significantly to Penn State achieving its greenhouse-gas reduction goal.

Small Farm Central is hosting the third annual CSA Day on February 22, 2019. The event promotes consumer sign-up with Community Supported Agriculture farms. CSA farmers are encouraged to offer promotions, free merchandise, and other deals that will maximize signups on CSA Day. A CSA directory is available online to assist consumers in locating participating farms.

A research project dedicated to refining organic no-till practices has received a $1.1 million Conservation Innovation Grant through NRCS, to match support provided by project partners at the University of Wisconsin, the Rodale Institute, and Iowa State University. The four-year project will explore and demonstrate which innovations in cover crop selection, planting dates, roller type, planter modifications and termination methods lead to the most successful organic no-till outcomes for soil health, corn and soybean yields and farm profitability. Research results will be shared via field days at farmer-cooperator sites in Iowa and Wisconsin and on the website of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Findings of a comprehensive review of U.S. strawberry production have been published in an open-access article in HortTechnology, reports the American Society for Horticulture Science. Jayesh Samtani of Virginia Tech and Curt Rom of the University of Arkansas led a team that investigated the challenges, needs, and opportunities of strawberry growers across the United States. The study looked at eight distinct geographic regions and also considered controlled-environment culture, with an aim of enabling the development of educational and production tools. The study revealed that there is increasing use nationally of protected-culture strawberry production, and that "increasing consumer demand for berries, climate change-induced weather variability, high pesticide use, labor and immigration policies, and land availability impact regional production." In addition, it found that producers are reducing use of fumigants and exploring alternatives such as steam, enhanced soil solarization, or hot water treatments.

Illinois Farmer Today reported on a course being offered at Vienna Correctional Center that teaches inmates about horticulture and small-farm management, equipping them to become agricultural entrepreneurs once released. The course was developed by a University of Illinois Extension educator under a USDA grant. Following classroom instruction, the students develop plans for their own 600-square-foot gardening plots. They choose a farm name and consider marketing ideas, as well as predicting yields. During the growing season, inmates plant seed (some locally donated) and see whether they can match their predicted yields. Harvested produce is used by the prison in meal preparation. Course organizers hope the project will help give prisoners viable job skills and contribute to local food production.

Writing in The Conversation, Miguel Altieri proposes that urban agriculture could help to improve food security in U.S. cities, particularly for underserved populations. Altieri points out that studies draw varying conclusions about the amount of food urban agriculture can realistically provide for cities, based on the lack of available land. However, he points out that using the open land in cities could produce a significant amount of food for local consumers. He describes research at the University of California, Berkeley, that showed how intercropping, compost, and rotations can produce high yields from urban plots. Altieri also explores the barrier that lack of land ownership poses for urban farmers.

A feature from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) highlights the success of pollinator conservation efforts in Lake, Carter, and Hill counties of Montana. The post explains how farmers and ranchers in Montana have utilized NRCS technical and financial assistance to establish and improve habitat for pollinators, and describes how NRCS staff members, Montana conservation districts, university researchers, and volunteers are involved in supporting pollinator populations by protecting pollinator health, establishing habitat, and increasing awareness.

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SAWG) is accepting applications for three to five new positions on its Board of Directors. The additional Board members will help strengthen, grow, guide, and support SAWG. The term of appointment will extend from July 2019 to July 2022. Responsibilities include long-range and strategic planning, goal setting, prioritizing and evaluating activities, financial oversight, funding development, and setting Southern SAWG policy and program direction. SAWG is looking for applicants from states in the region not currently represented (GA, MS, OK, VA), persons of color, farmers, persons with funding-development skills, persons with communication and marketing expertise, youth representatives, and those involved with the work of Southern SAWG. Applications should be submitted by March 7, 2019.

The Sustainable Food Center and a project team that includes the National Center for Appropriate Technology have released Feasibility Study for a Central Texas Food Hub. The 63-page report centered on two key questions: 1) Does Central Texas need something new or additional to bring more local, sustainably-grown fresh produce into the marketplace? 2) If yes, then what does that something new or additional look like? The team employed a three-pronged study design made up of a supply analysis, a demand analysis, and a landscape analysis to answer the two key questions. The project team concluded that, in Central Texas, multiple assets need to be built and/or strengthened in order to bring more local, sustainably-grown fresh produce into the marketplace. The report recommends specific immediate and near-term actions to strengthen existing aggregation and distribution of local, sustainably-grown produce.

The Savanna Institute has launched an Agroforestry Farmer Apprenticeship Program in the Upper Midwest that begins in Summer 2019. Each apprentice will spend 10 weeks on the farm of a mentor agroforestry farmer, with part- to full-time employment throughout the period. On the farm, apprentices will learn about perennial crop establishment, management, and harvest; farm planning and decision-making; equipment maintenance; product marketing; farm/tree finance, and more. The program is free; compensation, room, and board depend on the host farm. Limited spots exist for the 2019 season. Apply by March 1, 2019.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances section of USDA's organic regulations. The proposal would implement recommendations submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This rule proposes to add elemental sulfur for use as a molluscicide in organic crop production, add polyoxin D zinc salt to control fungal diseases in organic crop production, and reclassify magnesium chloride from an allowed synthetic to an allowed nonsynthetic ingredient in organic handling. Interested persons may comment on the proposed rule online or by mail before April 16, 2019.

The Wallace Center's Food Systems Leadership Network and Food Solutions New England are holding a retreat for food systems network leaders in Durham, New Hampshire, May 7-10, 2019. The retreat will help participants connect with fellow network leaders, learn new skills to foster collective action, and challenge old ways of thinking. Applications for the 25 slots will be accepted until March 1, 2019, and scholarships are available.

Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems has released the sixth edition of its publication, An Annotated Bibliography on Structural Racism Present in the U.S. Food System. The publication provides current research and outreach on structural racism in the U.S. food system for the food system practitioner, researcher, and educator. The sixth edition contains 18 videos and 41 new citations. It is available online in PDF. Additionally, the Racial Equity in the Food System Workgroup has launched a national Racial Equity ListServ, EQUITYFOOD, that is open to join.

The Agricultural Retailers Association, the American Society of Agronomy, Environmental Defense Fund, and Field to Market have launched Sustainability Programming for Ag Retailers and CCAs (SPARC). SPARC's resources help train agricultural retailers and certified crop advisers to aid producers in meeting supply-chain sustainability commitments. Six training modules available through the American Society of Agronomy's online classroom introduce the concept of sustainability, explain how sustainability metrics are used, and explore the financial benefits of improved environmental performance and operational efficiency.

An in-depth editorial series from Agri-Pulse looks ahead at "Farm & Food 2040." The second installment of the series explores some historic changes in cropping patterns and predicts that "as the amount of U.S. cropland continues to decline due to urbanization, there will be a focus on growing more on less acreage and doing so in a sustainable fashion." Based on interviews with six leading farmers in locations across the country, the feature also predicts "larger-scale conventional farming by 2040 along with more diversification into new geographic areas along with organic production and more nonconventional approaches like soil-less urban farming." The organic producers see more farmers shifting to organic production in coming years as a way to increase profits, reduce input costs, and attain greater sustainability. Urban growers envision more local sites producing fresh food in urban locations.

The Organic Center has published Combatting Citrus Greening in Organic Systems: A Grower's Guide, a 24-page reference available online in PDF. Authors distilled information of particular relevance to organic growers, to aid them in their fight against Huanglongbing, also known as Citrus Greening Disease. The publication presents findings from the scientific research community as well as grower experience and opinion related to both successful and unsuccessful practices.

The Soil Health Partnership (SHP) is accepting proposals for partnerships and collaboration for 2019. SHP encourages any organization or individual who has an interest in working together to submit ideas. The Soil Health Partnership is a farmer-led initiative administered by the National Corn Growers Association that brings together broad and diverse partners to work towards common goals. Applicants are required to complete the Request for Partnership form on the SHP website. The deadline for submissions is Friday, March 15, 2019.

National Farmers Union's Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) is a free training program that prepares beginning farmers of all ages and operation types for a successful future in agriculture. Applications for the 2019-2020 BFI cohort are open through April 15, 2019. Participants will attend three in-person learning sessions over the course of the year, one each in Washington, D.C., Northern California, and Savannah, Georgia. The sessions include farm tours as well as seminars on a variety of beginning farmers issues, such as business planning, USDA programs, and acquiring land. Each year's curriculum will be tailored to the participants' needs as determined by a pre-attendance survey.

USDA is hosting a listening session for initial input on the 2018 Farm Bill on February 26, 2019. USDA is seeking public input on the changes to existing programs implemented by the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency. USDA announced that each agency will take into account stakeholder input when making discretionary decisions on program implementation. The listening session is open to the public. Participants must register at farmers.gov/farmbill by February 22, 2019, to attend the listening session and are encouraged to provide written comments prior to the listening session. Additional written comments will be accepted through March 1, 2019.

A feature in the "Michigan Good Food Stories" series looks at the role that food hubs are coming to play in local communities. For example, ValleyHUB, part of Kalamazoo Valley Community College, is not only selling produce from local farms, but also growing food indoors in an urban setting. ValleyHUB is supplying food to local grocery stores, restaurants, and Bronson Healthcare, a health-care provider committed to helping members of the community access healthier local food. Together, ValleyHUB and Bronson are exploring how to make local food more affordable and accessible to a broad section of the community. Meanwhile, Bronson Battle Creek is working with food hub Sprout BC to make healthy local food more accessible in that community, through hospital food service and food distribution arrangements.

Writing in The Conversation, author Stephanie Anderson explains the concept of regenerative agriculture, which restores resources. Anderson explores some of the circumstances that have shaped current conventional agricultural practices, and she also discusses how regenerative agriculture can help farmers deal with climate change by making their operations more resilient and sequestering carbon. Anderson cites examples of some farmers who are already practicing regenerative agriculture, and notes that researchers with Project Drawdown estimate that 1 billion acres worldwide will be devoted to regenerative agriculture by 2050.

Yale Climate Connections has posted a four-minute documentary video on evolutionary plant breeding, a technique that can help farmers develop plant varieties that thrive in local conditions. In the video, Italian plant geneticist Salvatore Ceccarelli explains how the technique could help farmers around the world respond to problems posed by climate change and gain autonomy. Over time, individual farmers can develop crops that are tailored to produce well on their own land.

Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) has posted Soil Redemption Song, the keynote address by Michael Phillips at PFI's 2019 Annual Conference, on its website. PFI says the 55-minute keynote "takes you on a deep dive into the microscopic communities beneath our feet and our crops." Phillips talks about the fungal network as a pathway to bringing resilience to ecosystems.

American Vegetable Grower has released the results of its 2019 State of the Vegetable Industry survey. The survey showed that although the number of organic growers hasn't grown significantly, many growers are planning to add organic produce to their crop mix in the next few years. In addition, growers who raise organic crops are devoting increasingly more of their acreage to organic production. The survey also showed that although the number of growers using biocontrols is holding steady at around 50% of survey respondents, those who are using them report using significantly more biochemicals and biostimulants. Additionally, it revealed that more than half of vegetable operations grow in a greenhouse, high tunnel, or low tunnel.

Clemson Cooperative Extension agents say that industrial hemp could be a viable crop alternative for South Carolina farmers. Last year's pilot program permitted 20 farmers to grow industrial hemp in the state. One of the challenges growers encountered was that fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides aren't labeled for the crop. Biological controls have offered an option for some growers. Meanwhile, economists say there is a strong market for hemp, with hemp-based product sales predicted to reach $1.9 billion by 2022. They are working to create an enterprise budget; preliminary figures show operating costs ranging from $8,000 to $13,000, not counting labor and machinery. There are also costs associated with production and processing infrastructure, some of which are borne by growers.

Long-term research on agricultural use of flue-gas desulfurization gypsum, a byproduct of electricity generation from coal, shows its benefits as a soil amendment, reports the American Society of Agronomy. The recovered gypsum has a small and uniform particle size. Gypsum is calcium sulfate and provides both calcium and sulfur in plant-available forms. Additionally, it can counteract the effect of soluble aluminum in acidic soils. Researchers also say that adding gypsum improves soil structure and water percolation, and can reduce phosphorus movement out of the field. Using the recovered gypsum in agriculture reduces the need to mine gypsum, and also keeps a potential waste product out of landfills.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is accepting nominations for the 2019 New Innovator in Food and Agriculture Research Award. This award supports early-career scientists pursuing research that sustainably enhances agricultural production or improves health through food. FFAR will grant as many as 10 awards, and each awardee may receive up to $600,000 (including matching funds), over three years. Institutions of higher education, nonprofit research institutions, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are encouraged to nominate up to two candidates for the Award who hold tenure-track or equivalent positions and meet the eligibility criteria. The deadline for submitting nominations is February 28, 2019.

The Washington Winegrowers Association has announced that it will relaunch its "Vinewise" program, reports Good Fruit Grower. The program was first introduced 20 years ago, and it has now been updated to address more aspects of viticulture and fill some gaps in the program. Vinewise could be developed into a certification program, similar to California sustainability programs. The program focuses on continually improving to minimize a farm's environmental and social footprint, important to consumers concerned about sustainability.

Organic research and education organization Rodale Institute has announced that it will open the Midwest Organic Center at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this year. Rodale Institute announced that the Midwest Organic Center will provide resources and support for Iowa's organic farmers and enhance the growth of more organic farms throughout the region. The site will also be home to grain production, vegetable production, and a long-term systems trial similar in design to Rodale Institute's flagship Farming Systems Trial, America's longest-running trial comparing organic and conventional growing methods. "We're looking forward to having boots on the ground in the Midwest to address some of the greatest challenges for farmers in the region, and to provide training, demonstration plots, field days and more. We invite additional partners to join us in this initiative, and expect it to be a real collaborative effort," said Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute executive director.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) seeks public comment on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that analyzes the impact of efforts to suppress populations of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets from 17 western states. APHIS last published an EIS for the grasshopper and Mormon cricket suppression program in 2002. APHIS announced that because there have been scientific and technological advances since then, the agency is seeking comments on a new EIS that addresses environmental effects of suppression alternatives. The current draft EIS updates the science and adds a chemical treatment option. APHIS will consider all comments received on or before March 18, 2019. Comments can be submitted online or by mail.

An international study led by the University of Toronto found that global crop diversity is declining, with more of the same kinds of crops being grown on large-scale industrial farmland worldwide. The study found that soybeans, wheat, rice, and corn together occupy just less than 50% of the world's agricultural land. Furthermore, there is a lack of genetic diversity within individual crops, with six individual genotypes comprising 50% of all corn crops. Lead author Adam Martin comments that this lack of diversity reduces food sovereignty and makes the global agricultural system increasingly susceptible to pests or diseases.

A Purdue University professor who developed a biofortified orange corn using traditional breeding techniques is now making it commercially available in the United States through the startup NutraMaize LLC. Torbert Rocheford worked to increase the amount of antioxidant carotenoids in corn, making the corn more nutritious and orange in color. The resulting corn is designed to be milled for use as a food ingredient, and NutraMaize is developing varieties with a focus on taste and nutrition. The orange corn is licensed through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization.

Wild Farm Alliance has released Supporting Beneficial Birds and Managing Pest Birds. The PDF publication is available online for free download. This resource discusses the pest-control role of beneficial birds and how they can help farmers reduce pest-control costs when habitat is provided for them. It also explores how to manage and co-exist with pest birds. Co-author Jo Ann Baumgartner explains that “by providing habitat for beneficial birds, farmers are improving the biodiversity of their operations, which increases the resiliency of the farm. This new resource gives farmers practical and research-based information on the importance of specific birds to crops."