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Farm Commons, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and University of California Cooperative Extension have released Demystifying the Food Safety Modernization Act's Preventive Controls Rule: Supplier Verification Requirements. The 32-page guide is available free online. The Food Safety Modernization Act's Preventive Controls Rule applies to facilities such as food hubs and farms that aggregate products. This guide provides information and a flow chart to help businesses that are subject to the PC Rule determine if they need to be in compliance with the supplier verification requirement and how they could go about doing that with the farmers they buy from.

Global agriculture company Corteva Agriscience announced that it has created a new Carbon and Ecosystems Services portfolio to develop innovative products and services. According to the company, the initial offering will enable the carbon sequestration process, ease farmer access to carbon credits, and create flexible solutions to help farmers increase profitability while contributing to a climate change solution. Additionally, Corteva has created the 2021 Climate Positive Leaders Program, which will recognize "early adopter" farmers and ranchers who have successfully implemented climate positive agriculture practices. The introductory launch of Corteva's Carbon Initiative will be targeted to row crop farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa this year, with the intent to expand to new geographies and crops for the 2022 growing season.

The Nature Conservancy and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced a five-year cooperative agreement to increase private land conservation in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Through this new agreement, The Nature Conservancy and NRCS will prioritize the geographies and natural resource issues where the two organizations can work together to have more impact delivering conservation assistance across the Great Plains.

Farmer-led research reported by Practical Farmers of Iowa explored the effect of having sheep graze cover crops on vegetable cropland. In the first year of this trial, Maja and Carmen Black were interested to see if there was a difference in the weight gain of lambs that grazed cover crops compared to those that grazed pasture. They found no difference in the average daily gain of the lambs. In the second year of the trial, Maja and Carmen were interested to see if there was a difference in yield of the summer squash between the plots that were grazed and the plots left ungrazed. They found no difference in marketable yield, but ungrazed plots produced more cull fruits. The complete report on the research trial is available online.

Cornell University researchers have received a $500,000 grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help improve the marketing returns for small- and medium-sized livestock farms in New York state. The Cornell Chronicle reports that the project will develop and deploy data, analysis and feedback tools that give farm managers the ability to make better decisions as they select local markets, price meat, and market their products. The project is designed to both improve farm profitability and increase state capacity for meat production. The team is accepting applications to participate in the project from New York farms that sell meat-by-the-cut in direct-to-consumer channels. Participating farms will record sales data and will receive technical assistance with marketing and pricing.

In partnership with Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and Southeastern African American Farmers' Organic Network (SAAFON), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is presenting scholarship awards to three students committed to working on issues that affect Black farmers and food and agriculture systems. Three students, Erniko Brown (Columbia College), Cyheim McRae (University of Mount Olive), and Kristen Dunning (University of Georgia) are each being presented with Cynthia Hayes Memorial Scholarships in the amount of $3,000 to help further their work in sustainable agriculture and with communities of color. The scholarship program, now in its fourth year, aims to support Black and Indigenous students within MANRRS who are interested in doing work within sustainable agriculture and are committed to working on issues that impact Black farmers.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is beginning a three-year project to study the needs, challenges, and opportunities of women landowners. "Enhancing Conservation, Access and Generational Transition of Iowa Farmland through Women Landowners" is funded through a $300,000 grant by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In Iowa, women own 47% of all farmland acres. According to a press release, the first part of the project will consist of collecting data and analytics about women's farm ownership. From there, the team will assemble area meetings of women landowners and stakeholders, to discuss and gather concerns. Lastly, the team will hold online and face-to-face workshops to deliver information and resources that improve women's knowledge of land ownership. Specific goals include the use of equitable leases and other economic incentives to increase conservation and land access for beginning farmers, adoption of soil and water conservation practices, and the implementation of efficient plans to transition farmland to the next generation of owners.

The new California Pollinator Coalition, convened by Pollinator Partnership, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Almond Board of California, includes more than twenty organizations pledging to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. Together, their goal is to increase collaboration between agriculture and conservation groups for the benefit of biodiversity and food production. According to a press release, the result will be on-the-ground improvements, technical guidance, funded research, documentation of relevant case studies, and tracked progress toward increasing healthier pollinator habitats. "What we are doing in California is acknowledging the urgency to address the critical issue of protecting all pollinators, including native and managed species," said Laurie Davies Adams, President and CEO of Pollinator Partnership. "The outcome will not be a tidy report that sits on a shelf, but rather a metric of acres, projects, and species added to the landscape while agriculture continues to profitably feed the nation."

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has released a draft report, Farmer-and Rancher-Led Climate Solutions, for public comment. The report documents the wide range of comments, ideas, and feedback provided to CDFA by farmers, ranchers, and stakeholders during six online listening sessions held in February. The public comment period closes on April 30, 2021. The draft report was prepared by California State University Sacramento's Consensus and Collaboration program in partnership with CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation. It is available online.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) unveiled new action-based frameworks to increase conservation work designed to benefit both agriculture and wildlife in sagebrush and grassland landscapes of the western United States. The new frameworks are designed to combat the most severe and large-scale threats faced by rangeland: woody encroachment, land-use conversion, exotic annual grass invasion, and riparian and wet meadow degradation. USDA explains that the frameworks will help guide voluntary conservation work over the next five years. Farmers, ranchers and private landowners in the sagebrush or Great Plains region can work with NRCS to implement conservation practices on their working lands, including those that further these conservation action plans. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance for prescribed grazing, prescribed burning, woody species removal and other key practices.

Colorado State University researchers evaluated 12 strategies for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of beef production. Their published study, Reducing Climate Impacts of Beef Production: A synthesis of life cycle assessments across management systems and global regions, showed that emissions could be reduced by as much as 50% in certain regions, with the most potential in the United States and Brazil. The study found that increased efficiency to produce more beef per unit of GHG emitted and enhanced land management strategies to increase soil and plant carbon sequestration on grazed lands offered significant means of emissions reduction. The research team found a 46% reduction in net GHG emissions per unit of beef was achieved at sites using carbon sequestration management strategies on grazed lands, including using organic soil amendments and restoring trees and perennial vegetation to areas of degraded forests, woodlands and riverbanks. Additionally, researchers found an overall 8% reduction in net GHGs was achieved at sites using growth efficiency strategies. Net-zero emissions, however, were only achieved in 2% of studies.

University of Maine reports that some of its researchers are assisting in a multi-institutional effort to create new strategies for producing and marketing small grains, including emmer, einkorn, spelt, naked barley, hulless oats, rye, and others. The project is working to develop new small grain varieties, identify best management practices, evaluate new market opportunities, and strengthen supply chains. This work should help bolster small grain production and organic farms' sustainability and diversity. University of Maine's part of the project involves variety trials on test plots and on-farm, as well as nutritional analysis and baker evaluation of the flour produced.

A study by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the University of Arizona says that dry periods between rainstorms have become longer and annual rainfall has become more erratic across most of the western United States during the past 50 years. According to study authors, rain has been falling in fewer and sometimes larger storms, with longer dry intervals between. Total yearly rainfall has decreased by an average of four inches over the last half century, while the longest dry period in each year increased from 20 to 32 days across the West. The scientists did note that exceptions to these drought patterns were seen in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and the Northern Plains region of Montana, Wyoming, and the most western parts of North and South Dakota, where total rainfall has increased and drought intervals decreased. "Consistency of rainfall, or the lack of it, is often more important than the total amount of rain when it comes to forage continuing to grow for livestock and wildlife, for dryland farmers to produce crops, and for the mitigation of wildfire risks," co-senior author Joel Biederman said.

North Jersey RC&D has published A Practical Guide to No-Till and Cover Crops in the Northeast. The 182-page manual, available free online in PDF, was funded by a Northeast SARE Professional Development Grant. The manual is designed to help agricultural service providers and farmers as they strive to implement new practices. It is designed for individuals already convinced of the merits of no-till and cover crops, but unsure how to implement these practices. The manual contains precise instructions and equipment-configuration recommendations. It addresses cover crop species selection, planting, and termination, in addition to details on transitioning to no-till and a section on advanced soil health practices.

USDA Farm Service Agency announced the availability of $2 million to establish partnerships with organizations to provide outreach and technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The funding will be in the form of cooperative agreements from $20,000 to $99,999 that support participation in programs offered by FSA. Interested organizations have until May 5, 2021, to submit proposals. The funding was made possible by USDA's new Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. As part of this same initiative, USDA is reopening Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) signup. Farmers and ranchers will have at least 60 days to apply or make modifications to existing CFAP 2 applications.

A study led by Cornell University revealed that global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change. This is the equivalent of losing seven years of agricultural productivity out of the past 60 years, say scientists. Stanford University's David Lobell, a study author, explains the impact of the study results, "By looking at the whole system—the animals, the workers, the specialty crops—we can see that the entire agricultural economy is quite sensitive to weather. It seems that in agriculture, practically everything gets harder when it's hotter."

Practical Farmers of Iowa has released a farmer-led research report on tests of potting soil for vegetable seedlings. Iowa farmers Hannah Breckbill, Emily Fagan, and Jon Yagla assessed how three potting soils performed in their farms' production systems. Study participants evaluated the quality of seedlings produced in each of three different companies' potting soil. At two farms, the media did not statistically differ from one another. At the third, gains in seedling quality were offset by declines in ease of work. The full report is available online.

USDA is requesting public input from interested parties, including potential customers and interested stakeholders, to help create a new Rural Renewable Energy Pilot Program. USDA is seeking written comments and will also host a public listening session on April 22, 2021. The new program will aim to support the Nation's critical energy needs and combat climate change while advancing environmental justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity through the use of distributed energy technologies, innovations, and/or solutions. Instructions on how to provide comments, and the particular topics upon which USDA seeks comment, are available online.

Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG) has released a new, free, online publication, Farmers' Guide to the 2021 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The new Guide explains the important recent changes to PPP that affect farmers. For example, PPP rules now allow farmers to receive two different PPP loans, what the program calls "first draw PPP loans" and "second draw PPP loans." In addition, farmers can use gross income, not net profit, as the basis of a loan. The Guide describes these and other rules, such as farmer eligibility for PPP loans, in detail. The Guide also explains how farmers can go about getting PPP loans forgiven, and how to go forward if a loan is denied or if loan forgiveness is denied. The deadline to sign up for PPP is now May 31, 2021, so it is not too late to apply.

California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has appointed a diverse group of experts to serve in its new Sustainable Pest Management (SPM) Work Group, reports CCOF. The SPM Work Group is tasked with guiding state agencies in creating alternatives to the use of highly toxic synthetic pesticides. The members of the Work Group include representatives from organic farms and businesses, from the University of California, and from environmental and environmental justice groups. A list of members and their affiliations is available online.

A meta-analysis of 118 studies conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia and reported in Nature showed that small farms tend to be more productive and biodiverse than large ones, globally. The research revealed that small farms have higher yields than large ones, which may be attributable to availability of family labor. The small farms also have more crop diversity and a greater diversity of non-crop species. The researchers also noted that small farms were roughly as profitable and resource efficient as large ones.

A new nonprofit, the Kansas Soil Health Alliance, is a farmer- and rancher-led organization formed to provide practical information, resources, and events on soil improvement/soil health across the state. The organization's mission is to improve and protect Kansas soils. It welcomes all growers no matter the size of the operation or current farming and ranching practices to learn about soil improvement through its events and resources. Partners in the alliance include the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, Kansas Soybean, No-till on the Plains, and General Mills. The organization is currently exploring feasibility of creating a grazing exchange.

The nonprofit New Mexico Community Capital (NMCC) is introducing a new way to connect Native American farmers to Native consumers and larger non-Native markets. The Native Farmer in Residence program is a peer-to-peer based Native farmer training and support program based on delivering the tools and knowledge a farmer needs to enhance success. With funding from the Native American Agricultural Fund, the program is launching in 2021 with the selection of a cohort of 20 individuals engaged in farming practices, from micro-farms of less than nine acres to larger farms in the range of 40 to 60 acres. Training will take place over a one-year period at farms, in NMCC classrooms, and online. Each participant receives a Chromebook loaded with a suite of Google business tools tailored to farming. Additionally, each participant is funded with a stipend for the purpose of investing in the needs of their farm. Program curriculum includes enterprise resource analysis; developing a whole farm plan; budgeting, recordkeeping, accounting/bookkeeping; finding new markets; and building a business plan.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division has launched a nationwide education, outreach, and enforcement initiative to ensure workplace protections for farmworkers. The initiative includes targeted outreach and education efforts to ensure that farmworkers and their advocates understand their rights and that they should contact the division to file a complaint if violations occur. The effort also focuses on educating growers, farm labor contractors, other agricultural employers, and industry stakeholders to ensure that they understand their responsibilities, and that the division is available to answer their questions. In addition to education and outreach, the initiative’s compliance component seeks to reduce agricultural industry violations through enforcement. Investigations in agriculture in 2020 found more than $7 million in back wages owed to more than 11,000 workers. In its investigations, the division assessed employers with more than $6 million in civil money penalties.

A study by the Minnesota State Agricultural Centers of Excellence revealed that farmers enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) had higher profits than non-certified farms. This marks the second year of data highlighting improved financial outcomes. The 64 MAWQCP farms in the study saw 2020 profits that were an average of $40,000 or 18% higher (median of $11,000) than non-certified farms. Other key financial metrics are also better for those enrolled in the MAWQCP, such as debt-to-asset ratios and operating expense ratios. The two years of data serve as an early indicator of a positive return on investment for whole-farm conservation management farmers implement in order to become certified.

USDA Agricultural Research Service has introduced a new Rangeland Restoration Research website that documents the performance of 37 check dams in the American Southwest from 2008 to 2019. The check dams are barricades made of loose rocks, made across minor channels that were experiencing erosion. The check dams slow runoff, trapping sediment that helps reverse the effects of erosion and allowing more water to infiltrate the soil. The low-cost check dams can not only halt erosion, but can result in minor channels refilling with sediment over the course of a few years. One key to making the dams work is maintaining them, the researchers note.

Sand County Foundation is working with four Wisconsin farmers to demonstrate the conservation and economic benefits of rotational grazing livestock on cover crops. The three-year project is supported by a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Program. Each of the participants involved in the study is a member of Sauk Soil & Water Improvement Group and farm within the Lower Wisconsin River Basin. "By gathering feedback from experienced graziers in an environmentally sensitive region, these case studies will help reduce the trial and error of grazing cover crops for farmers elsewhere," said Dr. Heidi Peterson of Sand County Foundation.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is offering a free, online course, "Risk Management Education for Farmers with On-Farm Visitors." Producers will learn practical management techniques to enhance the safety and health of their on-farm visitors. The course is expected to take approximately eight hours and enrolled participants will have three months to complete it. Topics include identifying hazards, legal risks, food safety best practices, and protecting animals and humans from biosecurity risks.

The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, a unique partnership between the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota Extension, and the Sustainers' Coalition, a group of individuals and community-based nonprofit organizations, is seeking nominations to fill vacancies on its Board of Directors. The purpose of MISA is to bring together the diverse interests of the agricultural community with interests from across the University community in a cooperative effort to develop and promote sustainable agriculture in Minnesota and beyond. A term on the MISA Board is three years. Nominations are sought by April 21, 2021, for a representative of the sustainable agriculture community, three representatives of the university community with a demonstrated interest in sustainable agriculture, and two representatives of the farming community with a demonstrated interest in sustainable agriculture.

The United States District Court for the Northern District issued a ruling in a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) challenging USDA's decision to allow soil-less hydroponic operations to be certified organic. Siding with the government, the Court ruled that USDA's decision to exempt hydroponic operations from the soil fertility requirement mandatory for all soil-based crop producers was permissible because the Organic Foods Production Act did not specifically prohibit hydroponic operations. The lawsuit claimed that hydroponic operations violate organic standards for failing to build healthy soils, and asked the Court to stop USDA from allowing hydroponically-produced crops to be sold under the USDA Organic label.

Cornell University has announced its new Lund Fellows Program for Regenerative Agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The program plans to select eight undergraduate students in its first year for an eight-week experience working on small-scale, agro-ecological, biodynamic and/or organic farms around Ithaca, the Hudson Valley, and New York City. The program is recruiting students and farmers from diverse backgrounds. Program funding will allow students to accept unpaid internships without financial loss, and will support farmers in providing mentoring and training. Applications are being accepted until April 21, 2021.

International research led by the University of Reading showed that fields and farms with more variety of insect pollinator species had more stable yearly pollination of nearby crops. According to a press release, areas with diverse communities of pollinators, and areas with stable populations of dominant species, suffered fewer year-to-year fluctuations in pollinator numbers and species richness. The findings could influence how agricultural land is managed, because land managers and farmers will need to consider interventions that support diversity in pollinators on their land to provide long-term benefits to food production. "This study has revealed that the secret to consistent crop harvests could be to encourage pollinator diversity on or near farmland. If we want pollinators to help us, first we need to help them, through land management decisions that preserve and increase the number of insect pollinator species," explained study leader Dr. Deepa Senapathi.

USDA has published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, part of the organic regulations overseen by the National Organic Program. The proposed changes are based on October 2019 recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board. This proposed rule would allow fatty alcohols as plant growth regulators for sucker control in organic tobacco production, allow potassium hypochlorite as a pre-harvest sanitizer, and remove the redundant listing for dairy cultures from the list. These would continue to be allowed as ingredients in organic handling under the separate listing for microorganisms. USDA welcomes comments on the proposed amendments until May 24, 2021.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball has announced two new initiatives to strengthen New York State's Farm-to-School program, which provides new markets for New York farmers and improves access to locally grown and produced food in schools. Working with the Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) will establish a Farm-to-School Coordinator Program to increase local agricultural product procurement in schools on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and the North Country. Additionally, the State is providing performance-based awards to schools across the State that successfully participated in the 30% Initiative during the 2019-2020 school year.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Minnesota Grown program announced Retailer of the Year awards for grocers in six regions who promote locally grown products and farms. Judges' scores were based on several factors—including the number of Minnesota Grown products and the number of Minnesota Grown farmers that the grocer carried. Judges also looked at how the grocer used ads, displays, social media, and other events to promote Minnesota Grown items to customers. The retailers in their respective regions will receive a commemorative plaque and exclusive rights to use the "Minnesota Grown Retailer of the Year 2021" logo in their ads and displays. In addition, Cub Foods of Burnsville received the Minnesota Grown People's Choice Award for best display, as determined by an online social media voting contest.

Organic Seed Alliance and its Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI) partners have released a new guide to help growers produce organic tomato seed. The Tomato Seed Production Guide includes a background on the history of tomatoes, the various types and fruit colors, as well as the tomato lifecycle and biology. Readers will find details about growing tomato seed, including climatic requirements, maintaining genetics and population size, isolation requirements, and criteria for selecting desired traits. The guide walks growers through harvest techniques, cleaning methods, and how to store seed to keep it viable. Finally, this guide serves as a go-to resource for learning about important seedborne diseases of tomato seed crops, including bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases, and methods for treating them.

National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW), set for March 25-31, 2021, is a week of action for communities and individuals to bring attention to farmworkers and honor them for the contributions they make to our daily lives. Student Actions with Farmworkers maintains an interactive map where you can find national events or an event near you.

USDA announced that it is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers, and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs. USDA is dedicating at least $6 billion toward the new programs. The Department says it will also develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers, and timber harvesters, as well as provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others. USDA notes that existing programs like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers.

USDA announced that it is investing $11.5 million in research to help ensure America's small and medium-sized farms become more profitable and improve the quality of life in American farm communities. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded 24 grants to 20 universities and organizations through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The grants will support research efforts that focus on alternative crop enterprises, marketing, and scaling up fruit and vegetable production to overcome marketing constraints. Descriptions of the funded projects are available online.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is inviting public comments on the development, coordination, and implementation of grant programs to support food processing, distribution, seafood processing, farmers markets, and producers and other businesses identified in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. AMS also seeks comments on the development, coordination, and implementation of a food purchase and distribution program intended to provide additional aid to nonprofits serving Americans in need of nutrition assistance. Specifically, AMS is seeking input on questions of how to define and confirm designations of small to mid-size businesses, and what aspects of the current food purchase program worked and which ones didn't work. Comments should be submitted by March 31, 2021.

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA) announced that more than 30 companies, organizations and individuals have joined the Decade of Ag movement. The shared Decade of Ag vision is for a resilient, restorative, economically viable, and climate-smart agricultural system that produces abundant and nutritious food, natural fiber, and clean energy for a sustainable, vibrant, and prosperous America. It is accompanied by principles for action and detailed desired outcomes. Those signing on include major agribusiness and foodservice companies, as well as Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Native American Agriculture Fund, National Association of Wheat Growers, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, American Egg Board, Manna Fish Farms, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Dairy West, Maryland Grain Producers, Pennsylvania Soybean Board, Montana Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and Maryland Soybean Board.

The Livestock Conservancy has launched the 2021 Poultry Census, sponsored by Murray McMurray Hatchery. This critically important project will focus on breeding populations of domestic poultry (purebred breeds or landraces), including chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. The census will enable The Livestock Conservancy to understand how poultry populations are faring in North America and guide future conservation efforts. Anyone who manages breeding flocks, small or large, is invited to complete the 2021 Poultry Census online. The last poultry census, conducted in 2015, showed an overall improvement for most poultry breeds. More than half of all poultry breeds had more than 1,000 breeding birds, making them far more secure than when last censused. The Livestock Conservancy notes that greater participation in the survey will result in a more precise picture of poultry populations in North America.

The White House released the President's proclamation of National Agriculture Day on March 23, 2021. "I call upon all Americans to join me in recognizing and reaffirming our commitment to and appreciation for our country’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, farmworkers, and those who work in the agriculture sector across the Nation," wrote President Biden. In addition, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack posted a video message that invites people to celebrate National Ag Day in the United States and to recognize the value of our farmers, ranchers, and producers and those who work in labor in our farm fields.

Rural Advancement Foundation International—USA's (RAFI-USA) Come to the Table program launched an 80-member community-supported agriculture (CSA) partnership between three local farmers of color and eight churches in Wake County, North Carolina. This pilot, part of RAFI-USA's Farm and Faith Partnerships Project, will run for eight weeks, with farmers beginning to plant in mid-February and deliveries taking place in April and May. RAFI-USA anticipates that the CSA will bring in $20,000 in produce sales for local farmers. Census data shows the average NC farmer runs a 168-acre farm whose market value exceeds $250,000 per year; for African American farmers, the average is 95 acres. RAFI-USA notes that for farmers of color, creating local partnerships through community-supported agriculture means a guaranteed source of income and market for their products. Meanwhile, for faith communities, forming a relationship with a local farmer helps increase access to fresh, healthy foods.

Vermont has joined the Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) Program, allowing state-inspected meat and poultry processors to ship their products across state lines without a federal grant of inspection. The 2008 Farm Bill created the CIS program, an agreement between USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) and participating state meat inspection programs. The program is open to states that have an established Meat and Poultry Inspection Program (MPI) that ensures state plant inspections follow the same guidelines as USDA FSIS inspections for official federal establishments. There are now 27 states participating in the program. "Vermont entered into the CIS program with the USDA FSIS to increase the business opportunities for the state's small meat and poultry processors, and expand available markets beyond Vermont's borders," said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to support access to fresh, healthy foods for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients while supporting Pennsylvania's agricultural economy. Interested market owners should apply to be an authorized SNAP retailer through FNS. Once authorized to accept SNAP, vendors can contact Pennsylvania's electronic benefit transfer (EBT) provider to request free wireless EBT processing equipment. The grant also covers set-up costs and one year of SNAP transaction fees. Although Pennsylvania is home to more nearly 1,000 farmers markets and on-farm markets, less than 5% of these are registered with FNS to accept SNAP benefits. Administration officials say this program that provides EBT equipment can help decrease food insecurity, increase consumption of healthy foods, and help build new markets for agricultural producers.

Community Alliance for Family Farmers has released Integrating Sheep into Walnuts: a case study on Sierra Orchards. In the five-page publication, Sean McNamara and Jeremy Shepherd share their experiences integrating sheep into walnut orchards in Winters, California, for cover crop grazing, weed management, soil health benefits, and more. The case study includes insights from the field, such as lessons learned, best management practices, and considerations around cover cropping with sheep in mind.

USDA published a notice in the Federal Register, inviting input from the public regarding a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy. Comments will be accepted until April 29, 2021. Specific questions on Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry appear in the notice, such as "What new strategies should USDA explore to encourage voluntary adoption of climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices?" In addition, the notice seeks input regarding aspects of biofuels and renewable energy, catastrophic wildfire, and environmental justice.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, published results of a long-term study in the journal PLOS ONE, showing that feeding beef cattle red seaweed could reduce methane emissions by as much as 82%. Scientists found that feeding cattle 80-gram (3-ounce) doses of seaweed daily for five months did not affect weight gain, but reduced methane emissions dramatically. Scientists found no drop-off in efficacy of the seaweed supplement over time. The next step for researchers is to find a way to farm the type of seaweed used in the tests, because there is not enough of it available in the wild to allow broad application to cattle diets.

A farmer-led research project report from Practical Farmers of Iowa compared landscape fabric with straw mulch in tomatoes. Jill Beebout compared the two types of mulch during the 2020 growing season in order to evaluate any difference in both yield and labor. She found that there was not a significant yield effect from the type of mulch used. The landscape fabric beds required less weeding time, but had a larger labor cost overall in this study because they required more labor for bed preparation and clean-up.

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources published California Urban Agriculture Food Safety Guide: Laws and Standard Operating Procedures for Farming Safely in the City, available free online in PDF. The 72-page guide covers fresh produce safety, urban soils safety, as well as food safety considerations for eggs, poultry, and small livestock in the urban environment. The authors also point out which aspects of the Food Safety Modernization Act apply to urban farms, as well as California laws that apply, recordkeeping requirements, information on working with gleaners, how to register as a community supported agriculture (CSA) organization, permitting requirements, and how to develop a food safety plan. "There are a growing number of backyard and community producers who are scaling up to sell some of what they grow,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor based in Los Angeles County and co-author. “We hope this guide will help them navigate the regulations and learn best practices for keeping food safe for consumers."

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) announced the projects selected for funding in 2021 through several of its grant programs. For Research and Education Grants, more than $3.4 million was awarded to 16 projects. SSARE also funded eight Professional Development Program, or train-the-trainer, projects for a total of $608,355. In addition, 10 On-Farm Research projects received funding that totaled $197,888. SSARE also funded nine Producer Grants totaling $105,176. Brief descriptions of all the funded projects are available online. They encompass research into specialty crops, plant disease control, livestock production, and market development.

Scientists at Penn State University are looking for potential predators among native species that could help provide control of the invasive spotted lanternfly, a pest found in 34 Pennsylvania counties and surrounding states. They asked citizen scientists to supply photos and observations of species feeding on the pest and received 660 submissions. Photographers supplied images of birds, insects, mammals, and fish consuming the spotted lanternfly. Scientists say the results are promising, although the spotted lanternfly doesn't have enough natural enemies ready in the United States to keep its population in check. "The overwhelming response to our request demonstrates what we suspected—that native predators may play a larger role in spotted lanternfly control than may have been assumed previously, perhaps giving us more biological options to help manage this pest," said one of the study leaders.

NCAT has collaborated with the University of California, Davis, for several years to work with and support beginning pastured poultry farmers. As part of these efforts, the partners have developed a short survey aimed at helping farmers better understand the economics of commercial pastured poultry production. This survey is designed to explore the overall profitability of commercial pastured and free-range poultry production in the United States, with a goal of providing farmers better information about capital and operating costs associated with this type of commercial poultry production. The anonymous online survey is approximately 25 questions and will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension Program, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, and the Agricultural Justice Project are collaborating on an effort to help farmers succeed through improved financial management and better understanding of crop insurance options. The new project is called "How Do You Know Your Pricing is Right and Your Investment is Protected?" It will help farmers gain knowledge about overhead costs, equipment depreciation, using crop budgets, the complexity of specialty crop insurance, how to apply for and use crop insurance, how to hire workers and how to provide a workplace that is legal, fair, and safe. The program will include five online or in-person trainings, with multiple individualized consultations, online resources, and ongoing technical assistance. Farmers who are interested in participating are asked to complete an online survey. The project is also seeking farmer advisory board members to provide feedback and assist with program evaluation.

The Food Waste Index Report 2021, from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and partner organization WRAP, revealed that 17% of total food available to consumers in 2019 was wasted. Most of this waste comes from households, which discard 11% of the total food available at the consumption stage of the supply chain. Food services and retail outlets waste 5% and 2% respectively. On a global per capita-level, 121 kilograms of consumer-level food is wasted each year, with 74 kilograms of this happening in households. The study found that food waste is a global, not just developed world, problem. UNEP says the report "presents the most comprehensive food waste data collection, analysis, and modelling to date."

The new Mountain West Grazing Connection website is a place where livestock producers and landowners across the Intermountain West region can find and connect with each other. It was created through a collaborative effort between NCAT, Montana State University, and a WSARE research grant, and it's designed to encourage more grazing in the region, to promote healthy land and livestock. Users can add a listing for available grazing land or for livestock available to provide grazing services and can also explore listings in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah. The site is free to use.

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) is introducing a new series of short animated videos that illustrate how producers can improve the success and health of their farms by implementing sustainable practices. SARE says the eight What is Sustainable Agriculture? videos are useful and engaging for audiences with a variety of educational backgrounds. "A Whole Farm Approach to Sustainability," the first video in the new series, explores what it means to be sustainable across an entire farm or ranch operation. The three-minute video is viewable online, as are following episodes on "Cover Crops and Soil Health," "Conservation Tillage and Soil Health," "Social Sustainability," and other topics.

USDA is investing $28 million in six new Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) projects and four ongoing ones, which enable conservation partners and producers to work together to return critical wetland functions to agricultural landscapes. Several of the projects represent new phases of successful existing projects. The funded projects include habitat restoration and protection in the Mississippi River basin, wetland habitat conservation in Texas for migratory birds, and playa wetland restoration in Nebraska.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a newly updated version of its Farmers' Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. This guide includes everything interested farmers and ranchers need to know about VAPG to determine if the program is a good fit for their operation, including program changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic and helpful tips to improve a producer's chances of obtaining funding from this highly competitive program. The revised guide is available free online

USDA is accepting Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) renewal applications through March 31, 2021, for more than 11,000 contracts set to end this year. Participants with existing CSP contracts that close on December 31, 2021, can benefit from recent program changes by renewing their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional conservation practices on their land. Changes in the 2018 Farm Bill authorize NRCS to accept new CSP enrollments through 2023 and make additional improvements to the program, including higher payment rates for specific conservation activities on working lands. USDA advises that producers interested in contract renewals or applying for CSP for the first time should visit the CSP webpage or contact their local USDA service center.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The revisions include standards that deal with stream crossing, waste treatment, energy efficient agricultural operation, and dry hydrants. The 2018 Farm Bill required NRCS to review all 169 existing national conservation practices to seek opportunities to increase flexibility and incorporate new technologies to help the nation's farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners better protect natural resources on their working lands. In 2020, a total of 57 standards were updated. Comments on the latest proposed revisions are due by April 8, 2021

The University of Minnesota Extension Women in Ag Network, American Agri-Women, Minnesota Agri-Women District 11, and Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center are collecting data to learn more about women in agriculture and resiliency to stress. The study's online questionnaire takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and anyone involved in agriculture and over the age of 18 may take the survey. The data that is being collected will help these groups to learn more about resiliency to stress by women in agriculture, which in turn informs continued online programming for the Cultivating Resiliency series and aids in developing new resources to help women in agriculture. The survey is open until April 30, 2021.

Texas researchers explored how applications of cattle manure could help improve the health of arid Texas soils, reports the American Society of Agronomy. This research project involved a one-time application of a low level of manure to grassland pastures. The manure helped increase soil organic carbon and the number of microbes in the soil, but the changes took nearly 18 months due to the dry climate. The researchers plan to explore whether more manure or multiple applications would get faster results and if irrigation or addition of nitrogen fertilizer would help incorporate the manure faster.

Crop Condition and Soil Moisture Analytics (Crop-CASMA) is a new tool developed by USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in collaboration with NASA and George Mason University. Crop-CASMA provides access to high-resolution data from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. The tool maps soil moisture across the United States, providing private users such as farmers and ranchers with free access to high-resolution data that can help plan spring planting, track damage after natural disasters, monitor crop health, and more. Data are from the topsoil and rootzone levels, or from the surface to roughly 3 feet underground, and are available at a 1-kilometer resolution.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation reported on results from a 2020 grant devoted to breeding varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the U.S. northeast. Grantee Sarah Hargreaves at the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario and team have released a new early-yielding pepper variety called 'Renegade,' and are also working n an open pollinated broccoli that is heat tolerant and adapted to organic systems, and an open pollinated seedless English cucumber with excellent flavor and good yield that is adapted to organic greenhouse conditions.

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service has amended the notice inviting applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. The amendment extends the application deadline to May 4, 2021, for hard-copy applications and April 29, 2021, for electronic applications. In addition, $35 million in COVID–19 relief funds has been added to the program, meaning that a total of $76 million in program funding is available. A reduced cost-share match requirement of 10% of the grant amount applies for the $35 million in COVID–19 relief funds. Relief funds will be awarded in application scoring rank order until exhausted. If your application for COVID–19 relief funds is not selected for funding through the competitive process, you will have the opportunity to compete for the additional $41 million in funds if your application scores 50 points or above. You will be contacted by the Agency and will be required to submit a revised budget and work plan that includes the standard cost-share match of at least $1 for every $1 in grant funds. Producers should note that this grant applies to "the use of a recognizably coherent set of agricultural production practices in the growing or raising of the raw commodity, such that a differentiated market identity is created for the resulting product. Examples of eligible products in this category include, but are not limited to, sustainably grown apples, eggs produced from free-range chickens, or organically grown carrots."

Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) is celebrating National Farmworker Awareness Week by encouraging growers, agricultural associations, and consumers to share messages honoring farmworkers. National Farmworker Awareness Week is a designated week of action for communities to bring attention to the multiple challenges farmworkers face and honor their important and #AlwaysEssential contributions to the food supply chain. This commemorative week is observed March 25-31, 2021, and everyone in the supply chain can get involved by sharing the key messages and graphics provided in EFI's free communications toolkit.

Scientists at Michigan State University who are exploring how crops will perform under changing climatic conditions say that adapting to climate change through soil management is the best alternative for Midwest farmers. The researchers say that warming air temperatures will put crops at higher risk of drought, even if rainfall increases. However, instead of installing extensive and expensive irrigation systems that might only pay off under extreme droughts, ecosystems scientist Bruno Basso advises farmers to invest in technology and regenerative soil practices that make plants more resilient and adaptable to climate change.

The Soil Health Institute (SHI) and Cargill partnered to assess the economics of soil health management systems. SHI researchers interviewed 100 farmers across nine states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee) who adopted soil health systems to acquire production information such as tillage practices, nutrient management, pest management, yield changes, and more. SHI found that soil health management systems increased net income for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybean. In addition, they reduced the average cost to grow corn by $24/acre and soybean by $17/acre, and they increased net farm income by an average of $52/acre for corn and $45/acre for soybean. "In addition, 97% of the farmers we interviewed reported their soil health management system increased crop resilience to extreme weather," noted Dr. John Shanahan, Project Manager for the study.

A new study, directed by the University of Maryland in collaboration with The Organic Center, analyzed more than 4,000 scientific articles to identify best management practices that organic growers can use to achieve significant boosts in the amounts of carbon captured in their soil. Specifically, the study looks at three best management practices: the use of organic soil amendments, conservation tillage, and cover crops. Although all three boost carbon sequestration, this study found that using best practices for organic soil amendments like compost and manure has the biggest impact in the shortest period of time. The study was published in the scientific journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, and The Organic Center developed a 15-page report titled Maximizing Carbon Sequestrations in Organic Systems that succinctly describes the findings and is available online.

American Farmland Trust has released a suite of new resources aimed to help farmers adopt or expand conservation practices that benefit the environment and their bottom line. The Genesee River Demonstration Farms Network showcases the impacts of practical and innovative conservation practices on real working farms in the Genesee River watershed. A new case study features the 650-acre organic dairy HaR-Go Farms. Also, a new video features two farms in the Genesee River Demonstration Farms Network sharing their experiences with cover crops, reduced tillage, no-till, and other soil health practices and how their farm operations have benefited from these practices over time.

Research at the University of Nevada, Reno, explored the potential of cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a a biofuel, food, and forage crop. Researchers say this drought- and heat-tolerant plant offers promise as a sustainable crop for arid regions. With dry areas predicted to become even drier with climate change, finding a productive crop species is key, as temperatures and lack of water will rule out increasing numbers of traditional crops. This five-year study focused on the use of spineless cactus pear as a high-temperature, low-water commercial crop. In addition to providing fuel, food, and forage, the plant also functions as a land-based carbon sink.

The School of Aquaculture and Aquatics Sciences at Kentucky State University released Aquaponics Production Manual: A Practical Handbook for Growers. This 75-page comprehensive manual covers the biological concepts of aquaponics, types of systems, suitable fish and plant species, systems management, water quality, diseases of plants and fish, controlled environments (greenhouse and indoors), marketing and economics, as well as information on certification and regulations. It is written as a practical resource for practicing (or potential) aquaponic producers. The complete manual is available free online in PDF.

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

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.