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Sustainable Agriculture News Briefs - February 1, 2006

Weekly sustainable agriculture news and resources gleaned from the Internet by NCAT staff for the ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service Web site.

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News & Resources
* USDA Issues Grants to Assist Minority Farmers and Ranchers
* New SARE Publication Provides Advice for Beef Direct Marketing
* Researchers Find GE Contamination in Canola
* Green Roof Movement Creates a Unique Urban Market
* Interest in No-Till Rises with Fuel Costs
* Booming Ethanol Market Attracts Farmers

Funding Opportunities
* Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program
* Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy
* Collaborative Diesel Emissions Reductions

Coming Events
* Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference and Organic University
* Arkansas Women in Agriculture Conference
* American Forage and Grassland Council Conference

News & Resources

USDA Issues Grants to Assist Minority Farmers and Ranchers
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) is awarding $5 million in competitive grants aimed at helping minority farmers and ranchers. As part of the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, the grants will help organizations conduct outreach and technical assistance to encourage and assist socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to own and operate farms and ranches and to deliver a wide range of support activities including farm management, financial management and marketing. Several universities and nonprofit organizations were among the 22 grantees.

New SARE Publication Provides Advice for Beef Direct Marketing
The latest publication from the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the outreach arm of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, is titled How to Direct Market Your Beef. The book portrays how one couple used their family’s ranch to launch a profitable, grass-based beef operation focused on direct market sales. The book is filled with examples of real-life experiences and provides valuable tips for direct marketing beef from slaughtering to sales. It also has a special Entrepreneurs section that highlights farmers and ranchers who have marketed their sustainably raised food in innovative ways. The book is available as a PDF / 2 MB, or in print for $14.95. Call (301) 374-9696 to order.

Researchers Find GE Contamination in Canola
In tests conducted last fall on crops in Maine and Vermont, researchers found that conventional crops and seeds contained genetically engineered DNA, reports the Bangor Daily News. Researchers planted both conventional and genetically modified canola on three separate research plots last year and then harvested and tested 4,500 conventional plants. They found contamination or genetic resistance to herbicides in five out of six of the genetic lines, a condition that could not be caused simply by drift from the adjacent genetically modified plants. The discoveries could have severe implications for organic growers, particularly for those who export to countries with a zero-tolerance policy for genetically altered agricultural products.

Green Roof Movement Creates a Unique Urban Market
Grower Ed Snodgrass has tapped into a potentially lucrative niche market, according to an AP story carried by Forbes and numerous other news outlets. On his Harford County farm in Maryland, Snodgrass uses greenhouses to grow hardy varieties appropriate for the green roofs that are sprouting across the nation. Green roofs help reduce both the urban heat island effect and stormwater runoff. Many of the plants Snodgrass sells are native to rocky alpine environments, grow in shallow soil, and don’t require a lot of water. He has been growing plants for the green roof market since 1999, and his farm now generates about $400,000 in revenue per year.

Interest in No-Till Rises with Fuel Costs
As fuel costs rise, more farmers are considering no-till cropping systems, says an article in the Blairsville Dispatch. The no-till system reduces the number of times a farmer has to drive over a field, thereby saving fuel. Farmer Fred Slezak, who has practiced no-till farming for many years, says that it improves the soil structure and decreases erosion. He warns, though, that farmers who decide to adopt no-till may have to go through several years of struggling to adapt, and acquire specialized equipment. In no-till farming, the pH of the top soil layer is especially important, as are cover crop choices and crop rotations, notes Slezak.
Related ATTRA Publication: Pursuing Conservation Tillage Systems for Organic Crop Production

Booming Ethanol Market Attracts Farmers
State and federal clean air and green fuel laws are pushing significant growth in the ethanol market, according to a Reuters news story on Planet Ark. Not only are corn farmers happy to have the market for their product, but many of them are investors in ethanol production. The story reports that more than 45 percent of all the ethanol produced in the United States now comes from farmer-owned plants. Fuel industry specialists run ethanol production plants on behalf of farmer investors. The arrangement has allowed groups of farmers to compete with large corporations in the ethanol business. Meanwhile, a decade-long debate over the energy consumption of ethanol production received new fuel when a study by California researchers appeared in the journal Science on January 27. The Los Angeles Times reports that the new study standardizes previous studies on energy consumed in ethanol production, and concludes that when production byproducts are accounted for, ethanol production delivers 20 percent more energy than is consumed in production.

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Funding Opportunities

Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program
The Commodity Credit Corporation announces the availability of funding for the 2006 Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program. This announcement is intended to solicit applications from the private sector and from government agencies for participation in the FY 2006 TASC Program. The TASC Program is designed to assist U.S. organizations by providing funding for private and public sector projects and technical assistance that address sanitary, phytosanitary, and technical barriers that prohibit or threaten the export of U.S. specialty crops. In prior years, the amount of funding per proposal has ranged from $13,000 to $250,000, the maximum allowed. Proposals are evaluated on a semi-annual basis, with submission cut-off dates of February 1 and July 1.
Proposals are due July 1, 2006.

Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), National Research Initiative (NRI) have announced their interest in receiving applications for genomics-based research that will lead to the improved use of biomass and plant feedstocks for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Specifically, applications are sought for fundamental research on plants that will improve biomass characteristics, biomass yield, or that will facilitate lignocellulosic degradation. Systems biology approaches to identify genetic indicators enabling plants to be efficiently bred or manipulated, or research that yields fundamental knowledge of the structure, function and organization of plant genomes leading to improved feedstock characterization and sustainability are also encouraged.
Proposals are due February 23, 2006.

Collaborative Diesel Emissions Reductions
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regions 9 and 10 are currently soliciting proposals to fund projects that will demonstrate new, innovative or experimental applications, technologies, methods or approaches to reducing diesel emissions as part of the West Coast Collaborative. Funding will be in the form of cooperative agreements or grants for projects that reduce diesel emissions and protect human health and the environment. Projects may include, but are not limited to, a variety of emissions reductions solutions such as: add-on technology, engine replacement, idle reduction technologies or strategies, or cleaner fuel use. Cleaner fuel use may include, but is not limited to, renewable fuel types such as biodiesel, bio-methane made from animal waste, and ethanol from crops.
Proposals are due March 23, 2006.

> More Funding Opportunities

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Coming Events

Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference and Organic University
February 23-25, 2006
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Midwest Organic
& Sustainable Education Service presents this conference featuring nine in-depth Organic University courses, more than 45 workshops, and exhibitors. The UMOFC is the largest organic farming conference in the nation, drawing more than 1,800 participants from throughout the region and across the nation. This year's theme is "Growing More Organic."

Arkansas Women in Agriculture Conference
March 6-7, 2006
Hot Springs, Arkansas

The second statewide conference for Arkansas Women in Agriculture will feature Ms. Jolene Brown as a keynote speaker and 30 sessions related to agricultural business and production skills, family-work-community management skills, and just-for-women topics.

American Forage and Grassland Council Conference
March 10-14, 2006
San Antonio, Texas

This conference will highlight San Antonio and Texas’ forage and grassland agriculture to a national and international audience and inspire enthusiasm about the future of the forage industry. Forage producers, industry representatives, scientists, educators, and anyone interested in learning and sharing information about forage agriculture are invited to attend.

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