Latest News

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program is awarding more than $79,500 in grants to farmers around the Southern Region to further sustainable agriculture production and marketing practices. Projects funded by Producer Grants will include bee pollen identification, season extension, essential oils, walnut syrup production, and agroforestry. Grant recipients will share their results with fellow farmers in an education and outreach capacity. Southern SARE will also award $116,154 for eight on-farm research grants on topics including sheep parasites, bale grazing, regenerative grazing, technology for organic no-till vegetable production, and more. A complete list of funded projects is available online.

The Council of Development Finance Agencies has released the second white paper in its Food Finance series, Food Systems and Access to Capital. This series aims to define the food system as an asset class worthy of utilizing traditional development finance tools that will support economic growth and community development. This second paper focuses on small businesses, micro-enterprises, and entrepreneurs, arguing that food-related businesses are no different than other small businesses. It shows how small businesses can access and utilize different types of financing tools.

In Wisconsin, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Waupaca County Land & Water Conservation Department have partnered with eight Wisconsin counties to launch the Upper Fox-Wolf Demonstration Farm Network. This partnership will support the fourth network of farms in the state that will demonstrate the best conservation practices to reduce phosphorus entering the Great Lakes basin. Participating farms will test the effectiveness of conservation systems, foster technology transfer, host research, and conduct outreach to share lessons learned. Ten demonstration farms have joined the network.

The UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture is offering a range of online summer classes in sustainable food and farming. Two summer terms are scheduled: from May 20 through June 28, 2019, and from July 8 through August 16, 2019. Two full-summer courses are also offered, spanning both terms. Courses available include urban agriculture, community food systems, organic vegetable production, and more. Courses may be taken individually, or toward completion of an online 15-credit Certificate, 60-credit Associate of Science, and/or 120-credit Bachelor of Science degree.

A new website has been launched by Water for Agriculture, an interdisciplinary research project led by Penn State University. The Water for Agriculture project brings together social and biophysical researchers and practitioners to work with communities in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Arizona to address the water and agriculture issues that matter most to them through effective stakeholder engagement. In addition to providing background on the project, the website houses a library of webinars, a news and update section, and a community engagement toolbox, which provides a practical guide to the major concepts, tools, and strategies for implementing effective community engagement processes.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach announced a new program, Farm, Food and Enterprise Development. The program's 20 staff members come from the former Local Foods and Value Added Agriculture programs, as well as from the current Community and Economic Development program. The team will provide resources and technical assistance on topics such as small-farm profitability, agritourism, community food systems planning and development, farm to school and farm to early childhood education, and business feasibility and financing. The program is divided into the areas of small farms, food systems, and enterprise development.

A study led by researchers at Tufts University, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, revealed that adequate intake of nutrients from food is associated with a reduction in mortality, but there is no association between use of dietary supplements and a lower risk of death. The study evaluated the association between dietary supplement use and death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer in 27,000 U.S. adults. Researchers found that adequate intakes of Vitamin A and Vitamin K, as well as magnesium and zinc, from food were associated with lower risk of death, but the same did not hold true when these nutrients were sourced from supplements. Furthermore, excess calcium intake from supplements was associated with higher risk of death from cancer, although there was no association for calcium intake from foods.

The Natural Capital Finance Alliance has released Natural Capital Credit Risk Assessment in Agricultural Lending, a new template that enables financial institutions to conduct natural capital credit risk assessment across different agricultural sectors and geographies. Although most banks still lend to farmers almost solely on the basis of their most recent profit and loss accounts, lenders should recognize that performance can be improved over the short-term in an unsustainable way, but this can create medium-term risks such as degradation of land and water. The new approach outlined in this guide provides a global template for natural capital credit risk assessment that takes into account factors such as water availability, use and quality; soil health; biodiversity; energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions. The approach is designed to be consistent with the leading international standard for including natural capital in business decision-making, the Natural Capital Protocol.

Prairie strips on cropland can help farmers conserve soil and protect water quality, but it can be challenging to establish prairie affordably. Research led by the University of Northern Iowa has developed a Tallgrass Prairie Seed Calculator that can help landowners develop seed mixes that meet their goals and budgets. The Tallgrass Prairie Center has also investigated strategies that can help farmers succeed with prairie establishment, such as selling prairie biomass for energy or other uses to help offset seed costs.

Southeast Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) has posted Four Acre Farms' report on a year-long study of an insulated Langsroth hive that was funded by a SEMAP Technology, Innovation, and Excellence (TIE) grant. The 21-page PDF report details results of a project that added foam insulation board to a bee hive in an attempt to moderate weather-sourced stressors. In this study, the insulated hive thrived, producing honey in its first year, in contrast to the uninsulated control hive. The beekeepers deemed the insulated hive a success, though they note that the cost and effort required for insulating the hive are considerations in its effectiveness.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has announced that a team of researchers at Montana State University will receive a $20,000 soil health grant to evaluate the effects of seeding rates on lentil yields and competition. Lentils are an important crop for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems and are one of several pulse crops used by farmers in the Northern Great Plains to promote biodiversity, improve soil health, and generate income. Dr. Jed Eberly will lead research to select the optimum varieties to improve lentil yields, nutritional quality, and economic returns. Dr. Eberly is collaborating with organic farmers from three different locations in a series of multi-site replicated trials.

Montana organic farmer Nate Powell-Palm testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture about what the USDA organic standards mean for organic farmers, reports the Organic Trade Association. Powell-Palm said that "when farmers can receive a premium in the market for sustainable practices, it's a win-win." He is a diversified organic farmer growing organic wheat, field peas, straw, cattle, and hay, who says that organic price premiums have helped him expand his operation. He notes that the organic certification process is a way to ensure that farmers can be fairly compensated for the sustainable practices they use.

Practical Farmers of Iowa has announced meetings for six grazing groups located in different regions of the state of Iowa. Groups will meet in Lamoni, Lockridge, Remsen, Maxwell, Oxford, and Charles City during May and early June. They will go on pasture walks, discuss spring grazing management on lush pastures, first-cut hay, planting summer annuals, and more. Each meeting includes dinner and the opportunity to learn from fellow livestock producers.

The new edition of the Minnesota Grown Directory features products and services offered by more than 1,000 farms, ranches, and farmers markets across Minnesota. The updated directory is searchable by region, farm name, or product. It includes locally grown fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy items, wineries, nurseries, Christmas trees, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, and more. Readers can search by new product categories, including On-farm Dinners/Tastings, Hemp, Microgreens, and Pick-your-own farm opportunities. In addition to searching for certified organic entries, readers can now also search by Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certified farms. The directory is available free online or in print.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released an Information Alert on the 2019 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) sign-up opportunity. The 17-page publication explains updates to the CSP program this year and provides producers with detailed instructions on completing the sign-up process. NSAC is notifying farmers that they must file an initial application for the program before May 10, 2019, for enrollment in the program during Fiscal Year 2019.

Livestock producers in southwest Wisconsin received a North Central SARE grant to help them achieve four objectives related to opportunities in local meat processing, reports Agri-View. Among these was a feasibility study for a cooperatively owned, federally licensed, and women-farmer-led mobile-slaughtering unit and/or retail butcher establishment in south-central Wisconsin. A survey of 80 livestock producers in a three-county area revealed that producers would be likely to increase their business if local slaughtering capacity increased. Respondents indicated that wait times and lack of custom-cutting services limited their meat sales. The project organizers plan to continue working on local meat processing and develop outreach materials to help others become involved.

The 2018 Farm Bill increased the amount that producers can borrow as direct and guaranteed loans available through USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) and made changes to other loans, such as microloans and emergency loans, that are financed and serviced by FSA. The Direct Operating Loan limit increased from $300,000 to $400,000, and the Guaranteed Operating Loan limit increased from $ 1.429 million to $1.75 million. In addition, the Farm Ownership Loan limit increased from $300,000 to $600,000, and the Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loan limit increased from $1.429 million to $1.75 million. Farm ownership loans help producers become owner-operators of family farms as well as improve and expand current operations. In another change, producers can now receive both a $50,000 Farm Ownership Microloan and a $50,000 Operating Microloan. Previously, microloans were limited to a combined $50,000. Microloans provide flexible access to credit for small, beginning, niche, and non-traditional farm operations. Additionally, beginning and socially disadvantaged producers can now receive up to a 95% guarantee against the loss of principal and interest on a loan, up from 90%.

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has announced the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Among key findings were that both farm numbers and land in farms have continued to decline since the last Census in 2012. At the same time, there continue to be more of the largest and smallest operations and fewer middle-sized farms. The 273,000 smallest (1 to 9 acres) farms make up 0.1% of all farmland while the 85,127 largest (2,000 or more acres) farms make up 58% of farmland. In addition, the average age of farmers and ranchers continues to rise. Average farm income is $43,053, but a total of just 43.6% of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017. Other interesting statistics are that a total of 133,176 farms and ranches use renewable energy producing systems, and that in 2017, a total of 130,056 farms sold directly to consumers, with sales of $2.8 billion.

Kentucky Department of Agriculture's Direct Farm Marketing Division is sponsoring a contest for Kentucky FFA members actively involved in the production, growth, and marketing of farm commodities or value-added products. To be eligible, participants must produce and market fruits, vegetables, flowers, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or value-added products that have direct Kentucky farmgate impact. The products must be marketed and sold directly to the consumer through farmers markets, roadside markets, or on-farm markets. Participants must turn in a written marketing plan, in which they answer 10 questions regarding market research, display skills, and direct-marketing abilities. Applicants also must submit a portfolio that should include photos of the farm operation, products in the field, promotional materials, and market displays. Applications are due May 15, 2019.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has posted an update on the Innovative Site Preparation and Impact Reductions on the Environment (InSPIRE) project that is exploring benefits and barriers of low-impact solar development. Rather than devoting solar energy sites solely to energy production, low-impact solar incorporates other land uses, such as providing pollinator habitat and allowing agricultural uses ranging from grazing to vegetable production. Low-impact solar development leaves topsoil in place beneath solar arrays and often plants native vegetation. The project has found that having vegetation in place to cool the ground can make solar panels perform better. Conversely, in hot climates, shade from solar panels can improve the water efficiency of vegetable production beneath the shade of the panels, a practice called "agrivoltaics."

In California, Novato Unified School District has lifted a 10-year-old ban on beef in school meals and begun serving grass-fed beef from a local rancher, reports Marin Independent Journal. Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales, whose owners Loren and Lisa Poncia have children in the school district, is supplying meat for lunches in the district every other week. Using the raw meat has meant some new food-safety protocols for the district. Miguel Villareal, director of food and nutritional services for the Novato Unified School District, has worked to bring a variety of healthy, local foods to district meals.

University of New Hampshire researchers found dramatic declines in populations of 14 wild bee species that are important pollinators of fruit crops in the Northeast. This study used museum records to compare wild bee communities in New Hampshire between 1891 and 2016. The researchers found that 13 species of New England-native ground-nesting bee and one species of cavity-nesting bee are in decline. The declining species also experienced shifts in the elevation and latitude where they are found, with half becoming more abundant in the northern end of their range.

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has published a notice in the Federal Register regarding its intent to reinstate the 2019 Organic Survey as a follow-on survey to the 2017 Census of Agriculture with mandatory reporting. NASS is accepting public comment until April 29, 2019, on (a) Whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility; (b) the accuracy of the agency's estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (c) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (d) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including through the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, technological or other forms of information technology collection methods.

The Society of Organic Seed Professionals (SOSP) is launching a membership recruitment campaign. SOSP, formed in 2017, is a new membership organization of researchers and practitioners committed to the advancement of organic seed systems. SOSP fosters learning and collaboration among diverse people working in organic seed systems within and beyond the United States. SOSP invites scientists, educators, farmers, entrepreneurs, policy advocates, seed company professionals, and students to gather, share their work, and generate interpersonal connections that amplify each individual's passion and ensure a robust future for organic agriculture. SOSP offers a sliding scale of membership dues, with benefits including a member listserv, resources on the SOSP website, and mentorship opportunities for early career and experienced organic seed professionals.

A Clemson Extension agent is working to develop a butterbean variety that can successfully pollinate during warmer nights. The butterbean, or lima, is a southern dietary staple, but the most common variety won't pollinate when night temperatures rise above 75°F. Climbing temperatures in South Carolina in recent years have resulted in poor crops and crop failures. Consequently, the amount of butterbean acreage in South Carolina has been in decline, as growers move to other crops. Researcher Tony Melton says he hopes to have a heat-tolerant butterbean by the end of 2019, which growers are eagerly awaiting.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is accepting applications from military veterans who want to attend our week-long Armed to Farm (ATF) training June 10-14, 2019, in the Craftsbury Common, Vermont, area. ATF allows veterans and their spouses to experience sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and explore agriculture as a viable career. ATF's engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on experience, and interactive classroom instruction gives participants a strong foundation in the basic principles of operating a sustainable farm. Participants learn about business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, livestock production, fruit and vegetable production, and more. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture specialists will teach the training sessions. Additional contributors will include staff from Sterling College and USDA agencies, plus experienced crop and livestock producers. The training is free for those selected to participate. All military veterans, as well as their spouses or farm partners, are welcome to apply. However, selection priority will be given to residents of the Northeast region. Applications are due by May 3, 2019.

Researchers at the University of Würzburg published a study in Ecology Letters that illustrates the value of breaking up agricultural landscapes into small habitats. When cropland is broken up into small-scale pieces alternated with non-crop habitat, biodiversity, pollination, and pest control are all improved. The study of 1,515 agricultural landscapes in Europe showed more beneficial insects and spiders with small-scale land use, as well as increased pollination and natural pest control. "In order to reduce pests and promote biodiversity, increasing the density of seminatural habitat elements can be an ideal solution for farms. You don't have to remove much land from cultivation to reach a significant effect," says study leader Dr. Emily A. Martin.

A study from the University of Minnesota, published in Nature Sustainability, shows that health damages caused by corn production result in 4,300 premature deaths annually in the United States. The study considered pollution emissions, pollution transport by wind, and human exposure to increased air pollution levels. It also found that the damage to human health of producing a bushel of corn differs from region to region. The study revealed that in some areas, the monetary value of health damages from corn production are greater than the corn's market price. On average, health damages from reduced air quality total $3.07 per bushel of corn. This paper also estimates life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of corn production, finding total climate change damages of $4.9 billion, or $0.38 per bushel of corn. The study's results suggest potential benefits from improving nitrogen-use efficiency, switching to crops requiring less fertilizer, and changing the location where corn is grown.

USDA has announced that producers interested in enrolling in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) should submit applications to their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office by May 10, 2019, to ensure their applications are considered for 2019 funding. NRCS plans to invest up to $700 million for new enrollments and contract extensions in fiscal year 2019. The 2018 Farm Bill made several changes to this critical conservation program. Among them are the following: NRCS now enrolls eligible, high-ranking applications based on dollars rather than acres. Additionally, higher payment rates are now available for certain conservation activities, including cover crops and resource-conserving crop rotations. Also, CSP now provides specific support for organic and for transitioning-to-organic production activities and a special grassland conservation initiative for producers who have maintained cropland base acres.

The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) administered by USDA provides financial assistance to producers of noninsurable crops when low yields, loss of inventory, or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters. USDA has issued a notice on how the 2018 Farm Bill amended NAP. One significant factor is that there is an opportunity for buy-up coverage. USDA notes, "Because all 2019 application closing dates and some 2020 application closing dates for NAP crops passed before FSA announced the availability of buy-up coverage, producers can obtain buy-up coverage (or increase coverage level election to buy-up) for the 2019 and 2020 crop years retroactively." This option will be available through the later of the crop's application closing date or May 24, 2019.

MOSES has published the 11th edition of its Midwest Organic Resource Directory, listing buyers, processors, suppliers, certification agencies, consultants, resource organizations, state and federal agencies, and university programs for organic production. Suppliers are sorted by tools, soil inputs, livestock products, pest control, season extension, and seed. The directory is available online as a free PDF download or as a printed, spiral-bound book.

University of Minnesota Extension and Hmong-American farmers have developed four Hmong-language videos to help Hmong-American farmers scale up for wholesale production. The videos are part of a peer-to-peer learning project, and Hmong-American farmers participating in the project helped develop the scripts and acted in the videos. University of Minnesota Extension says the videos are intended to be used by nonprofit educational organizations and farmers to conduct on-farm training about food safety practices to reduce the risk of contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables. Topics include cleaning and sanitizing tools, keeping things clean on the farm, washing vegetables, and mixing sanitizers.

The California Green Medal recipients have been announced for the fifth annual Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards. The California Green Medal recognizes the leadership of wineries and vineyards committed to sustainability. Silver Oak Cellars was the winner of the Leader Award given to the vineyard that excels in the three "E's" of sustainability--Environmentally Sound, Socially Equitable, and Economically Viable practices. The Environment Award went to Scheid Family Wines, the Community Award to Smith Family Wines, and the Business Award to Domaine Carneros.

Research at Penn State University, published online in the Journal of Chemical Ecology, has shown that chemicals called flavonoids help provide sorghum plants resistance against corn leaf aphid. Scientists say the findings suggest that flavonoids could be developed into non-toxic insecticides to protect crops. Study leader Surinder Chopra notes that much work remains to be done, but he has applied for a patent on using flavonoids as insect deterrents.

Popular Science featured a new generation of farmers in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, focused on "carbon farming," or farming in ways that help sequester carbon in the soil. Small farmers who raise a diversity of crops are using practices such as rotational grazing, agroforestry, and permaculture to maintain soil cover and add organic matter to the soil. They discuss their neighbors' receptivity to the new farming methods they use, noting that as success with yields is proven, more people will adopt more sustainable farming methods. However, Teddy Moynihan of Plowshare Farms also notes the challenges that climate change poses even for carbon farmers: "Many small farmers like us got into farming to be on the front lines of the climate change fight. What I realized this past season is that being on the front lines often means suffering the worst casualties."

Ginger can be grown as a market crop even in northern climates, reports Agri-View. Minnesota organic grower Melissa Driscoll presented on her experience producing ginger in high and low tunnels at the MOSES Organic Conference in February. Keys to growing the tropical crop are sprouting it in a dark, warm, and moist place for six weeks, then planting it in fertile soil with temperatures above 55° F. Ginger is transplanted to the ground in May, where it is grown in a low tunnel throughout the summer. It takes 10 months to produce a crop, but the ginger can be a profitable local crop when the whole plant is marketed.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) have created a new series called "TransFARMation" that uses farm radio, podcasts, and social media to increase awareness and reduce inhibitions about acknowledging farmer stress, while highlighting sources of support. The 60-second prime-time radio stories can be heard on all of RRFN's 20 stations throughout Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In addition, in-depth podcasts will be available online.

Purdue University is home to both the National AgrAbility Project and the Indiana AgrAbility Project, Breaking New Ground. These programs support farmers with a range of disabilities in entering and maintaining agricultural careers. Recently, the AgrAbility programs have played a role in helping veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and other disabilities either return to the farm or launch new agricultural careers. AgrAbility's clients have a higher rate of full-time employment than the general population of persons with disabilities, and more than 17% of AgrAbility's clients are veterans. Proponents say the program can help disabled veterans consider a career path that otherwise might have seemed closed to them.

The National Corn Growers Association, in partnership with the Honey Bee Health Coalition, has released Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Pollinator Protection in Field Corn. The BMPs presented in the 21-page digital guide identify potential effects of agricultural practices on bees at each stage of production and recommend ways to mitigate those impacts. Key practices recommended in the guide include improving communications between farmers and beekeepers, verifying the need for pest control and considering alternative strategies, and planting and preserving flowering plants in non-crop areas.