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Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs - January 28, 2009

Weekly sustainable agriculture news and resources gleaned from the Internet by NCAT staff for the ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Web site. The Weekly Harvest Newsletter is also available online.

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News & Resources
* Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack Discusses Priorities
* eXtension Website Launches Organic Agriculture Resource Area
* Environmental Quality Incentives Program Changes Announced
* Interim Final Rule Amends Farm and Ranchland Protection Program
* National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Outlines Opposition to Naturally
  Raised Standard
* Keystone Alliance Releases Report on Agricultural Resource Efficiency


Funding Opportunities
* Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
* Conservation Innovation Grants
* Microloan Fund for New England Farmers


Coming Events
* Going the Distance...and Shortening It: From Farm to Cafeteria
* Mississippi Greenhouse Tomato Short Course
* Energize Your Farm's Future



News & Resources

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack Discusses Priorities
Incoming Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed his priorities as Secretary of Agriculture during a teleconference call January 26 with agriculture and other reporters across the country. Among his announcements were that the Department does not plan to implement a proposal developed by the previous Administration that would have cut more than $3 million from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Priorities that Vilsack addressed during the call include combating childhood obesity and enhancing health and nutrition; support for biofuels, wind power, and other renewable energy sources; supporting the profitability of farmers and ranchers by providing a safety net that works for all of agriculture, including independent producers and local and organic agriculture; and quickly implementing the 2008 Farm Bill.

eXtension Website Launches Organic Agriculture Resource Area
The eXtension website has added a new resource area on Organic Agriculture to its extensive online information offerings. This resource, created by the eOrganic Community of Practice, is designed for farmers, ranchers, agricultural professionals, certifiers, researchers and educators seeking reliable information on organic agriculture, published research results, farmer experiences, and certification. Current content is focused on general organic agriculture, dairy production, and vegetable production. The content is collaboratively authored and reviewed by a community of University researchers and Extension personnel, agricultural professionals, farmers, and certifiers with experience and expertise in organic agriculture. Site features include a calendar, news, expert answers to queries, and published resources on specific topics.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program Changes Announced
USDA published an interim final rule containing the statutory changes to EQIP in the Federal Register on January 15. USDA is seeking public comment on the rule through March 16, 2009. Under the amended EQIP, socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as well as beginning and limited resource producers are authorized to receive payments of up to 90 percent of the costs of installing or implementing a conservation practice. EQIP will offer financial and technical assistance for conservation practices to certified organic farmers and ranchers as well as producers interested in transitioning to organic farming. Organic producers must develop and carry out an organic system plan. These producers can receive a maximum payment of $20,000 annually, or $80,000 over six years to apply or carry out approved conservation practices contained in that plan.

Interim Final Rule Amends Farm and Ranchland Protection Program
USDA is seeking public comments on changes to the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). An interim final rule that contains the changes appeared January 16 and will be open for public comment until March 17. The Farm Bill contains several significant changes to FRPP. The program's purpose changed from protecting topsoil to protecting agricultural use. USDA will provide funding to purchase easements; however, it will no longer purchase easements on its own. Churches, universities and hospitals are now eligible as cooperating entities to purchase easements. Forestland and land that supports the policies of a state or local farm and ranch land protection program are eligible for FRPP.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Outlines Opposition to Naturally Raised Standard
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is calling on the new Administration to revoke the recently published federal standard for a "naturally raised" livestock marketing label. They contend that the "naturally raised" label would confuse consumers because it is so similar to the "natural" label that relates to meat processing, rather than how the animals are raised. In addition, they have expressed concern that consumers expect the term "naturally raised" to encompass more production conditions than the standard actually addresses. The new standard has been published, but has not yet taken effect.

Keystone Alliance Releases Report on Agricultural Resource Efficiency
The Keystone Center and American Farm Bureau Federation recently released Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance’s initial report on U.S. ag resource efficiency in corn, cotton, soybean and wheat production from 1987 through 2007. The Colorado-based Keystone Center examined five resource indicators: land use, soil loss, irrigation water use, net carbon emissions and energy use. Applying its cumulative data, the Keystone Center is developing a natural resource calculator tool that will provide growers with comparative benchmarks for reducing soil loss and improving water and energy efficiency.

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Funding Opportunities

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
The OREI seeks to solve critical organic agriculture issues, priorities, or problems through the integration of research and extension activities. The purpose of this program is to fund projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products. Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics. The OREI is particularly interested in projects that emphasize research and outreach that assist farmers and ranchers with whole farm planning and ecosystem integration. Award ceiling is $3 million. Institutes of higher education, nonprofits, for-profit businesses and individuals are eligible to apply.
Proposals are due March 9, 2009.

Conservation Innovation Grants
NRCS requests applications for Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. Applications are accepted from all 50 States, the Caribbean Area (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands), and the Pacific Islands Area (Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). NRCS anticipates that the amount available for support of this program in FY 2009 will be approximately $20 million. Funds will be awarded through a nationwide competitive grants process. There are four CIG categories available in FY 2009: Natural Resource Concerns Category, Technology Category, Chesapeake Bay Watershed Category, and Grant Leveraging Category.
Proposals are due March 2, 2009.

Microloan Fund for New England Farmers
The Carrot Project, in partnership with Strolling of the Heifers and Chittenden Bank, has created The Microloan Fund for New England Farmers. Loan applications for amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, for terms of up to five years, will be accepted. For this initial, pilot round of loans, applications will be limited to farms located in Vermont or in Western Massachusetts (Berkshire, Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin counties), with a primary focus on loans to small- and mid-sized farms that use sustainable or organic methods (or are moving toward them), and that are marketing at least a portion of their products to local markets. In future years, as the fund grows, it will expand loan activities to all the New England states. Eligibility is limited to farms with 250 or fewer acres in active production, and annual gross revenue of $250,000 or less.
Proposals are due February 7, 2009.

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Coming Events

Going the Distance...and Shortening It: From Farm to Cafeteria
March 19-21, 2009
Portland, Oregon

The 4th national Farm to Cafeteria conference is hosted by the Community Food Security Coalition and the National Farm to School Network. During this year’s conference you’ll have the opportunity to explore the challenges and opportunities that come with the success of the movement. The event includes field trips to local farms, school lunchrooms and processing facilities; short courses covering topics such as grant writing and research and evaluation; an open space session; 32 workshops on issues such as federal and state policy, experiential education, sustainability and economic development and sessions geared towards youth, producers, and food service providers.


Mississippi Greenhouse Tomato Short Course
March 10-12, 2009
Raymond, Mississippi

Participating in this program will be the best way to learn all about producing greenhouse tomatoes. Special topics of focus this year will be 1) new and sustainable heating systems for greenhouses, 2) season extension with high tunnels, and 3) a pest management workshop. Exhibitors from across the U.S. and Canada will be available to show you their products and discuss how to use them. All aspects of production will be thoroughly covered.


Energize Your Farm's Future
March 7, 2009
Dighton, Massachusetts

This one-day conference and resource fair offers workshops on farm energy, farm transfer, season extension, grassfed poultry and meats, and pest management.


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