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In December, Texas became the tenth state to pass the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, reports KBTX-TV. The law provides inherited property protections to vulnerable, low- and middle-income families with tenancy-in-common ownership. Under this type of ownership, sales can be forced by a minority owner and, at a partition sale, properties often sell for far less than market value. Texas A&M University School of Law professor Thomas W. Mitchell found that these sales disproportionately affect African-American, Hispanic and Latino, and Native American families, which led him to craft legislation that would help resolve the problem.

University of Georgia scientists and staff members will be presenting research results at the Georgia Organics Conference slated for February 8-9, 2019, in Tifton. Topics will include high-tunnel production, cover crops, and nitrogen fertility management in organic systems, as well as marketing. In addition, events, workshops, and field trips to farms in south Georgia will be offered as part of the event. Scholarships and opportunities to volunteer are available, as well.

Gigi DiGiacomo, co-author of Organic Transition, a Business Planner for Farmers, Ranchers and Food Entrepreneurs, offered some guidance for farmers transitioning to organic production in a feature in Minnesota Farm Guide. DiGiacomo advised farmers to plan for the three-year transition period when crops cannot yet be sold as organic, but yields can drop due to changing management practices. She emphasized producers' need for three business plans during transition: the conventional plan they began with, a plan that takes them through the three-year transition period, and a final plan for organic operation when transition is complete. DiGiacomo says that a gradual transition of part of a property at a time can be one way to offset transition costs, as can transitioning land while it's in alfalfa. She also suggests beginning transition in the fall, so that the third year's fall crop can be marketed as organic.

In many parts of the country, people who are looking for a final use for their real Christmas trees are donating them to flocks of goats. Goat Dispatch, a landscape management company in Minnesota, is accepting donated trees as feed for its flock for the fifth year. In other locations from New Jersey to Colorado, goat owners accept real trees and wreaths to provide their goats a nutritious and entertaining feed.

The stories of nine small seed companies that are leaders in preserving heirloom seeds are presented in an online exhibit from Seed Savers Exchange, The Rise of Heirloom Seeds. "This first wave of heirloom seed companies did not offer seed catalogs in response to consumer demand. Instead, they created it," says Seed Savers Exchange in the introduction to the exhibit. The feature includes the stories of Alan and Linda Kapuler of Peace Seeds, Suzanne Ashworth of Del Rio Botanicals, Craig Dremann of Redwood City Seeds, Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, Mike Dunton of Victory Seeds, Tom Wagner of Tater Mater Seeds, Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum, Bill McDorman of High Altitude Garden Seeds and Seeds Trust, and Glenn Drowns of Sand Hill Preservation Center.

A "Michigan Good Food Stories" feature on Rapid Growth Media takes a look at how food equity relates to health outcomes. A charity food system that was meant to be temporary, but has become entrenched, has contributed to poor health outcomes for low-income people. Several organizations and programs are working to help build strong local food systems in Michigan that can sustain local producers and improve health food access for all income brackets. Advocates say that improvements in both agriculture and education are needed to achieve food equity.

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is accepting applications for grant funding through the Specialty Crop Block Grant program to support projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Iowa. The Department is establishing a Review Committee to help review, evaluate, and make recommendations on grant proposals submitted. Those interested in participating in the Review Committee should have knowledge of specialty crops, and/or grant writing or grant management experience, and the ability to devote the necessary time to complete the review process. Applications to participate are due by February 5, 2019. The Department is also asking specialty crop stakeholders and organizations to submit public comments on program priorities. The comments will help identify priorities, establish the criteria used to evaluate the projects proposed, and determine how the reviews are conducted. Comments received by March 1, 2019, will be presented to the review committee to assist in prioritizing projects.

A feature in Civil Eats explains how Wisconsin farmer Paul Bickford is transitioning his operation to unrelated successors John and Halee Wepking. Bickford advertised to find young farmers who share his land stewardship ethics. The Wepkings, in turn, found a way to enter farming without the initial investment they would have incurred starting from scratch. They also gained the benefit of Bickford's 40 years of farming experience. The Wepkings are transitioning the farm's name, diversifying its crops and rotations, and delving into value-added products. "It's nice to see what I envisioned, what I built, continue," noted Bickford.

A study in China, published in Annals of the Entomological Society of America, found that polyculture supports increased populations of natural-enemy insects that prey on crop pests. The three-year study measured plant and insect biomass in plots with one to 16 crop species planted. Researchers found that the more species of plants in a plot, the more species of insects found there. However, they also found that the more plant species in the plot, the higher the biomass of natural enemies. In other words, the ratio of natural enemies to pests increased as the diversity of crops planted increased. The researchers concluded that increasing crop diversity could help support biocontrol of crop pests by natural enemies.

Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), the NASDA (National Association of State Departments of Agriculture) Foundation, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) have launched a three-part project to help women ag entrepreneurs succeed. The NASDA Foundation has begun an online survey that will inform development of a women's business accelerator program due to launch in the fall/winter 2019. Women who own a farm/ranch or a farm-based food business in Washington or Oregon are invited to complete the survey by January 31, 2019. Women can also apply for a total of $40,000 in funds to launch, grow, or scale their businesses. The competition opens January 1, 2019. Both the survey and the competition will help launch a NASDA Women Farm to Food Accelerator Program--a 90-day program that will offer training, skill building, and networking tailored to the needs of women in agribusiness.

Beginning farmers in California are often more drawn to the outdoor aspects of the career than the business side of farming, reports Southern California Public Radio, yet when small farms fail, it's often because business-management skills were lacking. Some organizations are trying to change that by offering a variety of farm-business education programs. For example, nonprofit Kitchen Table Advisors offers three years of free business advising for farmers on small, organic farms in Northern California and the Central Coast. There are several farm training programs offered in California, as well.

Each spring, The FruitGuys Community Fund provides grants of up to $5,000 to small American farms for sustainability projects that have large positive impacts on the environment, local food systems, and farm diversity. In May 2018, 13 small farms and agricultural nonprofits across the United States received grants totaling $47,534 for sustainable farm projects. The grantees shared their challenges and results in final reports that have been posted online. The FruitGuys Community Fund is accepting letters of intent for the 2019 grant cycle until January 11, 2019.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University recently released A Pesticide Decision-Making Guide to Protect Pollinators in Tree Fruit Orchards. The 30-page online guide provides at-a-glance perspectives on best choices for protecting tree fruit crops while protecting pollinators. This guide helps growers and pesticide applicators understand and compare the acute toxicity and synergistic effects of different pesticides on pollinators, helping them choose a product that is effective against target pests but poses minimal risk to bees.

Richardson Family Farm in Hartland, Vermont, has nearly 14,000 Instagram followers, reports Burlington Free Press. Amy Richardson began the account in 2013, and has evolved a management style that has her posting every few days. The farm sells milk, maple syrup, and split-rail fencing, but it's pictures of the cows that seem to lure the most viewers. Richardson focuses on providing quality content and finding ways to connect with her audience. She shares tips with other farmers interested in developing an account and gaining followers: be uniform in operating an account and be consistent with the farm message. She also reminds them that growing the platform requires a time commitment.

At the COP24 Climate Talks, farmers were illustrating how a changing climate is already impacting their operations and sharing their ideas about the potential for changing agricultural methods to make agriculture a carbon sink rather than a contributor, reports Grist. Californian Hans Herren discussed how farmers are already dealing with climate change. Both he and Australian farmer Andre Leu agree that the best hope of convincing farmers to change their management practices is to have other farmers convince them that the new practices will work. Strategies like planting cover crops and reducing tillage to build soil organic matter have the potential to turn agriculture into a carbon sink, advocates say.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets announced that nearly $8.5 million has been awarded in support of conservation easement projects on several New York dairy farms. The Farmland Protection Implementation Grant program is helping to ensure dairy farms the opportunity to diversify their operations or transition their farm to the next generation at a more affordable cost while ensuring the land forever remains used for agricultural purposes. Funding for the program is still available, and the state is accepting applications from eligible entities, such as land trusts, municipalities, counties, and soil and water conservation districts, on a rolling basis for grants up to $2 million. State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "By expanding the State?s farmland protection program to include an opportunity specific to New York State's dairy farmers, we are hoping to provide some relief during this difficult time...The grants will provide a boost to our farmers at a time when they need it most and ensure that these valuable lands remain used for agriculture."

The National Restaurant Association's annual What?s Hot survey consulted 650 professional chefs on food trends for 2019. A majority of the responding members of the American Culinary Federation indicated that globally inspired breakfast would be the year's top food trend. Some 67% of respondents indicated that new cuts of meat would once again be among the top food trends. Additionally, more than 60% identified local meats and seafood as hot items.

A study published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy evaluated the readiness level of current U.S. policies, programs, and regulatory incentives regarding the benefits of biochar. "Despite the accumulating evidence on biochar, adoption has been slow," said lead study author Ghasideh Pourhashem of North Dakota State University. "Our new study guides how policy frameworks can change to adopt biochar as a resource-saving, crop-boosting, and health care improving material." The researchers recommend improving policies that allow for the monetization of environmental benefits and avoided costs, recognizing soil as a resource through national preservation policy, and developing a broadly accepted set of product standards for biochar. These strategies would help the country more rapidly capitalize on the benefits offered by biochar utilization.

Researchers at Iowa State University have published results on the performance of the saturated riparian buffer system that they developed to reduce nutrient pollution in water drained from crop fields. Riparian buffers that consist of trees, shrubs, and grasses planted along streams or drainage ditches offer multiple conservation benefits. Iowa State University scientists have developed a way to utilize these benefits by running subsurface tile drainage systems through a riparian buffer before they discharge to surface water. They report that a saturated buffer can remove up to 100% of nitrogen from tile water, with an estimated average reduction of 40%, at a cost similar to that for bioreactors or water-treatment wetlands. Further research on understanding and improving the performance of saturated riparian buffers is underway.

Penn State University researchers who studied milk production records across the country report that fluctuations in milk yield and composition are mainly driven by photoperiod and not strictly by environmental conditions such as heat stress. "On average, milk yield peaked in April, fat and protein yield peaked in February, fat concentration peaked in January, and protein concentration peaked in December," said lead researcher Isaac Salfer, doctoral student in animal science. "And the yearly rhythms of milk yield and fat and protein concentration consistently occur, regardless of region." The findings could help dairy producers develop management strategies that serve them better.

Organic Insider has posted what it identifies as the top five organic food trends for 2019. The first is add-on labels to the USDA organic label, such as Regenerative Organic Certification or Real Organic. Other trends include products such as kefir soda, organic CBD oil, and organic oat milk. The article also anticipates companies, organizations, and consumers embracing regenerative agriculture.

In difficult financial times for farmers, University of Minnesota Extension wants to make sure that farmers are aware of resources available to help them. These include free counseling, advice, and round-the-clock helplines. Farmers Liz and Bob Krocak are encouraging other farmers to ask for help the way they did. The Krocaks had to sell their dairy herd in May, but they have embarked on organic crop production that they hope will save their family farm. They were recently recognized as Le Sueur County Outstanding Conservationists by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. "Make that call. Get some advice," says Liz Krocak.

USDA logoUSDA has announced the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered. The Standard defines bioengineered foods as those that contain detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature. Regulated entities have several disclosure options: text, symbol, electronic or digital link, and/or text message. Additional options such as a phone number or web address are available to small food manufacturers or for small and very small packages. The implementation date of the Standard is January 1, 2020, except for small food manufacturers, whose implementation date is January 1, 2021. The mandatory compliance date is January 1, 2022.

Researchers from the James Hutton Institute reported at the British Ecological Society's annual meeting that milder winters could threaten blackcurrant production in the United Kingdom. Blackcurrants are a crop worth more than $12 million annually in the UK, used primarily for juice and as an ingredient. According to researchers, milder winters may cause blackcurrant crops to flower later in the year, produce fewer fruit, and have a reduced plant lifespan. Later harvests could also impact producers who share processing facilities with apple producers, because the currant producers may not have access to equipment at the appropriate time. "Blackcurrants have particularly high chill requirements and so are already seeing the effects of milder winters," said Dr Katharine Preedy from Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland. "Blackcurrants are like the canary in the mine. If we can understand what they need in a changing climate, we can apply our knowledge to similar crops like blueberries, cherries, apples and plums," Preedy added. The researchers noted that different varieties of blackcurrant respond to climate change differently, and understanding this could be crucial for producers.

USDA logoUSDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will conduct two special studies as part of the 2017 Census of Agriculture to collect more detailed information on aquaculture and irrigation practices in U.S. agriculture. NASS is mailing the 2018 Census of Aquaculture to producers to collect industry-specific data at the state and national levels, including production volume and methods, surface water acres and sources, sales, and more. Responses are due by January 14, 2019. NASS is also mailing the 2018 Irrigation and Water Management Survey to a sample of producers who reported irrigation practices on their 2017 Census of Agriculture forms. Producers will be asked to provide information on topics such as water sources and the amount of water used, acres irrigated by type of system, irrigation and yield by crop, and system investments and energy costs. The results of this survey will aid efforts to develop and promote efficient irrigation practices and long-term sustainability of water resources. The deadline to complete the survey is February 15, 2019.

USDA logoThe USDA National Agroforestry Center has published Guide to USDA Agroforestry Research Funding Opportunities. The 28-page PDF publication provides an overview of external agroforestry research funding opportunities offered by USDA agencies. It is intended as an aid to researchers and academics pursuing funding opportunities for research in agroforestry. The listings, organized by agency, include a discussion of opportunities for agroforestry research, examples of agroforestry research supported, eligibility requirements, and additional agency resources.

International researchers say that the breeding and consumption of the modern broiler chicken is a defining feature of the Anthropocene, the era of human impact on geological processes. They note that broiler chickens are the most numerous terrestrial vertebrate species on the planet, with a biology shaped by humans to be radically different from their ancestors. "The body shape, bone chemistry and genetics of the modern meat chicken is unrecognizable from wild ancestors and anything we see in the archaeological record," notes a study co-author. Researchers also note that imported chicken feed from a globalized food supply linked with industrial agriculture helps define these chickens across the globe, and that the sheer number of discarded bones will make them a marker species in the geological record.

Cornell Cooperative Extension's Weeds as Crops project funded by Northeast SARE is researching the use and marketability of edible weeds as supplemental farm crops. The project is collecting information from farmers for a resource guide on how and why to use edible weeds as crops. The guide will be made available online and distributed throughout the Northeast to help empower producers who wish to add edible weeds to their harvest lists. Farmers interested or experienced in selling wild foods are invited to participate in an online survey. For farmers, bringing edible weeds to market can diversify production, increase the dollar-per-acre yield, offset labor costs, and potentially reduce the overall weed seed bank. Furthermore, weed crops don't require fossil-fuel inputs or soil amendments, and consumption offers an organic control for some invasive species.

USDA logoUSDA Economic Research Service has released America?s Diverse Family Farms: 2018 Edition. The 28-page PDF report is available online, and shows that in 2017% of U.S. farms were family farms, and they accounted for 87% of farm production. The report provides an overview of U.S. farms, including the latest statistics on production, financial performance, and farm household characteristics by farm size categories. It categorizes farms by size, and it reveals that most U.S. farms are small; small farms operate over half of U.S. farmland but account for 26% of production. Small farms produce particularly large shares of poultry and hay.

Oregon non-profit Rogue Farm Corps trains and equips the next generation of farmers via hands-on beginning and advanced programs in partnership with host farms focused on sustainable and conservation agricultural practices. Positions are available in four chapter locations. Information on the entry-level Internship program and advanced-level Apprenticeship program is available online. The early application period for 2019 internships extends until January 15, 2019.

Michigan State University Extension will offer a weekly series of Beginning Farmer Webinars on Wednesday evenings from January 19, 2019, through April 3, 2019. The twelve online programs will address crop and livestock production, farm business, and marketing. Participants will get an overview of a variety of farming enterprises and topics, and have opportunities through live, online chat to ask questions of MSU and other agriculture experts. A $5 fee is charged for each webinar in the series, or $30 for the full series. Programs will also be archived for future viewing.

A Cornell-led study published in Science Advances took a big-picture look at regional agricultural vulnerability to climate change, and found the Midwest increasingly at risk. A study of how agricultural inputs converted to outputs over the past 50 years, when combined with climate data, showed that rising summer temperatures are causing productivity to drop. The Midwest is especially sensitive to temperature rises that are occurring with increasing frequency because of its dependence on rainfall-fed crops and the increasing specialization of producers in the region. "[T]hey're basically putting all their eggs in one basket, and that basket is getting more sensitive," noted study leader Ariel Ortiz-Bobea.

Access to affordable land is a chief barrier across the country for young farmers, according to a feature posted by Pew Charitable Trusts. Although the farm population is aging, young farmers face a disadvantage in entering the profession because land prices are high and farming is a capital-intensive industry. Young farmers who don't inherit family land and grow up with agriculture face difficulties accessing the land and knowledge they need to get started. However, the new Farm Bill contains some provisions that may help young farmers get the training they need to succeed. There are also federal, state, and local efforts underway to help young farmers access land, ranging from the Conservation Reserve Program's Transition Incentives Program to Maryland's Next Generation Farmland Acquisition Program.

Kentucky State University researchers working under a grant from Southern SARE have used grafting on pawpaws to improve fruit production. A video is available online that explains the technique of bark-inlay grafting that the researchers used on pawpaws. The work was successful in producing higher-yielding, higher-quality fruit in pawpaws, as part of an effort to develop a low-input system for small-scale pawpaw production. Study results showed that pawpaw cultivars had a higher success rate, greater growth, and more precocious flowering and fruit production when the bark inlay grafting was performed in early May as opposed to late May.

Penn State researchers recently led a workshop to identify ways to accelerate the planting of riparian buffers to reduce farm runoff from Pennsylvania flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Riparian buffers have been identified as a way to keep nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from flowing into the Bay and other waterways worldwide. Workshop participants identified ways to make buffers more workable and economically viable for landowners and communities. For example, buffers planted with willows can not only prevent crop losses, but can also generate farm income.

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program has posted a research update with data to help maple and birch syrup producers respond to variable climate conditions. The project has established baseline data for continuing efforts to determine the optimal time to begin tapping birch trees in conjunction with maple production. The trials conducted in January through May of 2018 included the tapping of paper and yellow birch trees immediately after finishing the tapping of maple trees, during mid-maple season, and post-maple production season. Research results are available online.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is releasing a five-part series of blog posts analyzing different aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill that has been passed by Congress. The posts explore the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill with respect to research and seed breeding, conservation and crop insurance and commodity subsidies, local and regional food systems and rural development, organic agriculture, and beginning/socially disadvantaged farmers.

Montana State University and co-investigators at Washington State University, Oregon State University, North Dakota State University, and the USDA Agricultural Research Station in Sidney, Montana, have received a $2 million Organic Research and Extension Initiative grant to find control methods for field bindweed and creeping thistle in organic farming systems. These two weeds have been identified by Montana organic farmers as their top challenges, and they also challenge conventional farmers. Montana organic farmers will be included in the project consortium and will conduct in-field research trials. The project will take a multi-faceted approach to weed control that includes experiments with livestock grazing, cropping rotations, soil microbiology, tillage, and plant genetics.

LSU AgCenter begins Grow Louisiana, a free yearlong training program for beginning Louisiana farmers, in January in New Orleans. Grow Louisiana provides whole-farm planning, horticulture and business training, online resources, support and mentoring. Classes are held weekly for eight weeks in the spring and eight weeks in the fall. Participation is free, and travel to the annual Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Convention is included. Applications to participate are due by December 14, 2018.