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Historic Win for Minnesota Young and Beginning Farmers

June 7, 2017

Historic Win for Minnesota Young and Beginning Farmers

First in the nation land access bill for young and beginning farmers signed by Governor Dayton – bipartisan and agricultural groups supporting.

Saint Paul, Minnesota – On Tuesday evening, Governor Mark Dayton signed ten budget bills that included a first-of-its-kind beginning farmer tax credit. Authored by Rep. Nels Pierson (R-Rochester) and Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Redwing), the bill supports the transition of land to young and beginning farmers through a tax credit incentive.

Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition co-founder (CMNYFC) Matthew Fitzgerald, an organic grain farmer, said, “This bill offers a win-win solution for the future of farming in Minnesota. This is also the first bill to include an incentive for the sale of farmland – making it a historic win.” Co-founder and conventional hops farmer Eric Sannerud added, “Less than four percent of Minnesota farmers are under the age of 35 and access to land is the number one barrier to getting started. This bill offers a tangible way to address pressing problems.”

Through the bill, landowners receive a state income tax credit when they sell or rent land or agricultural assets to a beginning farmer. The credit equals five percent of the sale price or ten percent of the cash rent, or fifteen percent for a cash share agreement. In turn, the beginning farmer must take a farm management course to qualify for the tax incentive and would be eligible for a tax credit covering the full cost of training. The tax credit is effective in the 2018 tax year and is funded at 12 million dollars for the 2020-2021 biennium. The funds are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Finally, the sunset for the credit is 2023 with the Rural Finance Authority issuing a report on the effectiveness of the credit no later than Feb. 1, 2022.

Beginning farmer and Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition co-leader Andrew Barsness talked about the organizing effort to pass the bill: “Young farmers across the state worked hard to see this pass. We organized, testified, and worked with the authors to get a good piece of legislation. For many of us, this was our first time getting political. This effort showed that by working with a broad coalition and staying focused on practical solutions, beginning farmers have a voice and power.”

The bill had bi-partisan support: House File 608 was co-authored by Representatives Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), Josh Heintzeman (R-Baxter), Mary Franson (R-Alexandria), Greg Davids (R-Preston), Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) and David Bly (DFL-Northfield). In the Senate, the bill (SF 1414) was chief authored by Sen. Michael Goggin (R-Redwing) and co-authored by Senators Andrew Mathews (R-Milaca), Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake), Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) and Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin).

Additionally, the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition worked with major agricultural groups that included: Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, and the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Rachel Brann, a beginning cut-flower farmer, summarized the impact of the bills by saying: “More beginning farmers on the land means stronger communities for Minnesota. This bill helps all farmers -big or small, rural or urban, conventional or organic.”

Founded in 2016, the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition is a membership organization of farmers from Benton, Grant, Sterns, Meeker, Milaca, McLeod, Wright, Carver, and Rice counties. A local chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, the group meets regularly to socialize, network, and advocate for young and beginning farmers.

2017 Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series Guide Available

June 5, 2017

Columbus, OH—The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 2017 farm tour, workshop, and event line up offers a multitude of experiences, including: strolling through organic fields and pastures, acquiring basic homesteading skills, learning from early career growers following their farm dreams, hearing stories from Ohio’s founding sustainable farmers, grasping the ins and outs of growing food in the city and on reclaimed urban lots, scaling up vegetable production, choosing the right farm equipment, and processing poultry.

OEFFA’s 27 summer farm tours, workshops, and other special events are part of the 2017 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series. Five of these events focus on urban agriculture and are presented by Central State University Cooperative Extension.

Ruling in favor of Native American farmers

June 2, 2017

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of a class of Native American farmers and ranchers who were discriminated against by the federal government. The D.C. Circuit ruling affirms the district court’s decision approving the plan for distribution of the remaining $380 million from the settlement fund that was established following a high-profile settlement between the farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That ruling provides for an additional payment of $21,275 to each prevailing claimant; the balance of the funds will be distributed to not-for-profit organizations providing services to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The decision puts an end to a landmark case. Native American farmers and ranchers filed a class action suit against the USDA in 1999, alleging that the USDA discriminated against Native American applicants in the farm loan program.

Below is a statement from Joseph M. Sellers of Cohen Milstein, who argued for the appellees.

“We are pleased that the court has approved the distribution of these funds to serve thousands of Native American farmers and ranchers whose work is an essential part of our nation’s economy and traditions. We look forward to putting this money to work to support farming and ranching among America’s first farmers. Native American farmers and ranchers who have been fighting for themselves and their families for nearly a decade can finally bring this case to a close.”

Vermont Open Farm Week Returns August 14-20, Celebrates Local Food Origins

May 31, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. – For the third consecutive year, farmers across Vermont will open their barn doors and garden gates to welcome the public for a behind-the-scenes look at Vermont’s vibrant working landscapes. Vermont Open Farm Week 2017 will be held Monday, August 14, through Sunday, August 20, at dozens of farms in Vermont.

Open Farm Week is a celebration of Vermont farms offering visitors a backstage pass to learn more about local food origins, authentic agritourism experiences, and the chance to build relationships with local farmers. Activities vary and may include milking cows and goats, harvesting vegetables, collecting eggs, tasting farm fresh food, scavenger hunts, hayrides, farm dinners, and live music.

Media members interested in arranging Open Farm Week visits this year can submit their media trip requests through the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. Overnight stays for journalists are possible in some locations.

Each Open Farm Week event is created by a farmer and focused on highlighting the unique character of the host farm. Below are some highlights for the 2017 schedule:

  • Pickle Making Workshop: Learn to make and preserve your own pickles from scratch. All materials will be provided. Participants will go home with seven jars of dill pickles. Saturday, August 19th at Crossmolina Farm, Corinth, Vermont.
  • Meet the Parris Hill Farm Alpacas: Learn all about the alpaca anatomy, husbandry, evolution, migration, history, fleece, and products. Saturday, August 19th and Sunday, August 20th at Parris Hill Farm, Brownsville, Vermont.
  • Junior Sugarmaker Learning and Quiz: Children and adults can sample maple syrup, walk the maple trail, visit the sugar house and learn how maple syrup is made. Earn a sugarmaker certificate after finding the answers to a 10-question quiz. Monday, August 14th at Sugarbush Maple & Cheese Farm, Woodstock, Vermont.

Open Farm Week Events will be posted on DigInVT.com starting in June and finalized by July. Many events will be free. Not all farms are open every day, so be sure to check in July for detailed scheduling information to help plan a visit. Everyone is invited to join the Open Farm Week conversation on social media using the hashtag #VTOpenFarm.

Open Farm Week is a collaborative statewide agritourism project presented by the University of Vermont Extension, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Farm to Plate Network, Vermont Fresh Network, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing, Shelburne Farms and Farm-Based Education, NOFA-VT, and City Market.

Vermont Open Farm Week is made possible by the generous support of its Premiere Sponsor, City Market/Onion River Coop.

President’s 2018 budget undercuts rural communities

May 29, 2017

Center for Rural Affairs says the budget zeroes out programs that address challenges of rural communities

Lyons, Neb. – Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson said today that President Trump’s 2018 budget does not support rural America and its communities. The budget was released in its final form this morning.

“The president’s budget demonstrates President Trump’s lack of understanding and prioritization of the struggles of rural communities,” she said. “Although President Trump won the presidency with broad support from rural voters, his budget proposes to zero out several programs that address the challenges of rural communities. Proposed cuts include reducing or eliminating support for rural small businesses and entrepreneurs and compromising anti-poverty programs that lead to healthy families.”

“Economic opportunity is a central struggle in rural communities: 85 percent of counties with persistent poverty are in rural areas and rural communities still have not recovered the jobs they lost during the recession,” she continued. “Nearly one in four nonelderly rural residents are covered by Medicaid, a figure that grew nearly six percent with Medicaid expansion. Programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) also serve as a lifeline for those living with limited incomes in rural areas, where an estimated 15 percent of households receive SNAP assistance. These critical assistance programs are both slated for decimating cuts under the proposed budget.”

Johnson stated the budget retains deep cuts to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discretionary spending included in the budget blueprint, including eliminating activities of the government agency that builds rural economic opportunity: the Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

“The Rural Business-Cooperative Service administers several programs – including one that provides low-interest loans to rural entrepreneurs – all zeroed out in this budget proposal,” she said. “Today’s final budget goes a step further by eliminating additional mandatory spending, including support for the Rural Economic Development Program.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue proposed a reorganization of USDA that would eliminate the Undersecretary for Rural Development.

“He has described it as an ‘elevation’ of this function, but this promise rings hollow given the level of proposed funding cuts to rural development programs,” Johnson said.

The president’s 2018 budget also proposes cuts that would reduce farmers’ and ranchers’ abilities to expand conservation practices.

“Although many farmers and ranchers would like to enroll in conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, they face regular bottlenecks when local conservation offices are understaffed or overburdened,” Johnson said. “The president’s proposal to reduce funding for conservation programs and for local conservation staff would increase the backlog of conservation program delivery.”

Johnson continues:

“President Trump came to the presidency with the stated goal of ‘draining the swamp’ and cutting federal spending. Instead, the new administration’s first budget proposal would drain support for rural America. We fear that these actions represent a lack of understanding of rural voters’ struggles. We urge President Trump, Secretary Perdue, and their teams to cease these actions that undercut rural Americans and rural communities.”

What To Expect When You’re Expecting To Own A Farm

May 28, 2017

Building Healthy Soils for Organic Production

May 26, 2017

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is excited to announce a new series of educational guides designed to help organic farmers and ranchers enhance the soil health and overall resilience of their operations. “These guides to practical organic soil health management will assist farmers in selecting the best practices for their particular circumstances, while leading the way toward more sustainable agricultural systems,” said Diana Jerkins, Research Program Director at OFRF.

Each guide begins with tools and practices set in the context of the challenges and opportunities identified by organic producers in OFRF’s 2016 National Organic Research Agenda. For those interested in taking a deeper dive, the guides also include reviews of USDA funded organic research, future research priorities, and scientific literature references.

The first three guides in the series are now available to download free of charge at ofrf.org. The remaining four guides will be released over the coming weeks. This summer, a limited number of printed copies will be available upon request. The complete series includes:

Now available:

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Building Organic Matter for Healthy Soils: An Overview
A discussion of the attributes of healthy soil, the central role of organic matter, and how to monitor and enhance soil organic matter and soil health in organic production.

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Weed Management: An Ecological Approach
An ecological approach to integrated weed management tools that reduce the need for soil disturbance.

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Practical Conservation Tillage
The impacts of tillage on soil health, including practical, soil-friendly tillage practices for organic systems.

Coming soon:

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Cover Crops: Selection and Management
Selecting the best cover crops, mixes, and management methods for soil health, including crop rotations and cropping system biodiversity.

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Plant Genetics: Plant Breeding and Variety Selection
Plant breeding and variety selection for performance in sustainable organic systems, including potential benefits to soil biology and soil health.

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Water Management and Water Quality
The role of soil health and organic soil management in water conservation and water quality.

Soil Health and Organic Farming
Nutrient Management for Crops, Soil, and the Environment
The role of soil health and the soil food web, including practical guidelines for adapting soil test-based nutrient recommendations (especially N) for organic systems.

OFRF thanks the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, whose mission is to protect and improve the quality of life through support of programs in the environment, human health, education and the arts. This project would not have been possible without their generous support.

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is a non-profit foundation that works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.

NEW MARKET STUDY OUTLINES POTENTIAL FOR U.S. GRASSFED BEEF

April 27, 2017

NEW MARKET STUDY OUTLINES POTENTIAL FOR U.S. GRASSFED BEEF

Consumer demand rising; continued growth depends on accurate labeling, education and year-round availability of high-quality product from American farmers

Pocantico Hills, NY (April 19, 2017) – Triggered by explosive growth in the U.S. grassfed beef market, a new study finds an urgent need for accurate labeling to ensure that consumers are getting what they think they are buying, including the humane treatment of animals and environmental and health benefits. The study follows on the heels of recent consumer demands for improved practices, including cage-free eggs and antibiotic-free meat.

The study reveals that much of the meat sold in the United States as “grassfed” is from cattle raised in enclosed environments, where they are fed grass pellets in “grass feedlots,” rather than grazed on healthy pastures. “The U.S. market for grassfed beef has grown at 100 percent per year for the past four years, yet consumers don’t realize that much of this beef is coming from cattle that haven’t actually spent the whole of their lives on open pasture, eating real grass,” said Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, one of the partners behind the study.

“Back to Grass: The Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef” offers a comprehensive look at the U.S. grassfed beef sector, with a focus on market and economic dynamics. It bridges the gaps that currently exist between the USDA’s data on grassfed beef production prices and the pockets of information held by private sector organizations.

Among its findings: The price of grassfed beef could come down significantly if the industry were to establish well-managed grass-finishing operations that take advantage of economies of scale in processing, distribution and marketing. But these operations must be based on high standards for the humane treatment of animals and for land and water stewardship.

“We need a stronger standard for grassfed beef so that consumers know what they’re buying,” said Bill Niman, founder and president of BN Ranch. “Producers who follow best practices stand to earn a premium, but we need to first iron out the inconsistencies and confusion.” Currently a number of labels and standards confuse the marketplace and the consumer, as they conflate excellent management practices with poor ones.

The report brings together available data on the current state of the grassfed beef sector, identifies barriers to growth and highlights actions that will help propel further expansion. It examines whether grassfed beef can scale up to the point where it could displace a significant portion of the conventional, grain-fed beef system in the United States.

With input from one of the world’s leading chefs, the report also takes on some misconceptions about taste. “Grassfed beef has a taste that’s clean and rich, and undeniably beefy,” said Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world. “It’s flat-out wrong to believe grassfed beef is chewy or dry. It’s not, if it’s prepared right. And whereas a grain-fed steak tastes the same whether it’s raised in New York or New Mexico, grassfed beef tastes different based on the pasture the cattle were eating—which means it varies by farm and even time of year.”

The report was produced through a collaboration of Stone Barns Center, Armonia LLC, Bonterra Partners and SLM Partners. On April 19, Stone Barns Center hosted a one-day summit to introduce the overarching benefits of grassfed beef to more than 100 chefs and beef purchasers and retailers from around the country—people who have the ability to influence the development of a more robust market for grassfed beef in the United States.

Read the report online here.

For more information, contact:
Martha Hodgkins
Communications Director
434.249.9907
marthah@stonebarnscenter.org

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a nonprofit organization working to advance sustainable agriculture and create a culture of eating that can support it. In our quest to change the way America eats and farms, we train farmers, educate food citizens, convene change makers and experiment with agroecological farming practices. stonebarnscenter.org

Armonia LLC is a certified B-Corp with a mission to restore harmony through long-term investments. armoniallc.com

Bonterra Partners is an investment consulting firm specializing in sustainable agriculture and other natural capital investments. bonterrapartners.com

SLM Partners is an investment management firm that focuses on ecological farming systems. slmpartners.com

A better way to manage phosphorus?

April 26, 2017

A better way to manage phosphorus?

Improvements in science brings improved index

All living things – from bacteria and fungi to plants and animals – need phosphorus. But extra phosphorus in the wrong place can harm the environment. For example, when too much phosphorus enters a lake or stream, it can lead to excessive weed growth and algal blooms. Low-oxygen dead zones can form.

Runoff from agricultural sites can be an important source of phosphorus pollution. To help evaluate and reduce this risk, the USDA first proposed a phosphorus index concept in the early 1990s.

Since then, science progressed and methods improved. In New York State, scientists and agency staff developed and released a phosphorus index in 2003. Now, a new project proposes a restructured index to build on phosphorus management efforts in that state and beyond.

“The idea is to account for the characteristics of a field, and help evaluate the risk of phosphorus runoff from that location,” says Quirine Ketterings. Ketterings is lead author of the new study.

The new index structure improves upon previous approaches. It focuses on the existing risk of phosphorus runoff from a field based on the location and how it is currently managed. Qualities like ground cover, erosion potential, and distance to a stream or waterbody all come into play. The index also highlights best management practices to reduce this risk.

“The new index approach will direct farmers toward an increasingly safer series of practices,” says Ketterings. “Higher-risk fields require more and safer practices to reduce and manage phosphorus runoff.”

Ketterings directs the Nutrient Management Spear program at Cornell University. She and her colleagues used a combination of surveys, computer-generated examples, and old-fashioned number crunching. They used characteristics of thousands of farm fields to develop the new index. Involving farmers and farm advisors was also a key step.

“As stakeholders, farmers and farm advisors are more likely to make changes if they understand why,” says Ketterings. “Plus, they have experience and knowledge that folks in academia and in governmental agencies often do not.”

This field experience can be vital. “Involving stakeholders in decision-making and getting their feedback makes the final product more workable,” says Ketterings. “It may also prevent mistakes that limit implementation and effectiveness.”

Ketterings stresses that the previous index was not wrong, “Farming is a business of continuous improvement and so is science,” she says. “The initial index was based on the best scientific understanding available at that time. Our new index builds and improves upon the experience and scientific knowledge we have accumulated since the first index was implemented. It is likely this new index will be updated in the future as our knowledge evolves.”

The previous index approach could be somewhat time-consuming for planners, according to Ketterings. Further, it didn’t always help identify the most effective practices for farmers. The new approach addresses both of these issues. “We wanted the new index to be practical to use,” she says. “The best index has no value if people cannot or will not implement it.”

In some circumstances of low or medium soil test phosphorus, the original New York state phosphorus index allowed farms to apply manure and fertilizer in what we now consider to be potentially high-risk settings. “The new index approach proposes soil test phosphorus cutoffs and also encourages placing manure below the soil surface,” says Ketterings. “These changes will bring improvements in phosphorus utilization and management across the farm.”

Ketterings also thinks that the new index is more intuitive. “It allows for ranking of fields based on their inherent risk of phosphorus transport if manure was applied,” she says. “It really emphasizes implementing best management practices to reduce phosphorus losses from fields.”

In addition, the proposed index approach could make it easier to develop similar indices across state lines, according to Ketterings. This makes sense, since watersheds don’t follow state boundaries. Growers could use different practices, if deemed appropriate, for different regions.

Read more about Ketterings’ work in Journal of Environmental Quality. Two USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants funded this project.

American Veterinary Medical Association: AVMA applauds introduction of bill to increase access to veterinary care in underserved areas

April 25, 2017

American Veterinary Medical Association: AVMA applauds introduction of bill to increase access to veterinary care in underserved areas

The AVMA welcomes the introduction of S. 487, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act (VMLRPEA), by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). This bill will increase funding available for grants through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), which implements loan forgiveness for veterinarians who commit to serving in federally designated veterinary shortage areas. Representatives Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) introduced companion legislation, H.R. 1268, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act, Senate bill 487, is a loan relief program for veterinarians who commit to serve in federally designated shortage areas.Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced the bill to strengthen rural economies and to protect the health and welfare of livestock as well as the safety of our food supply. Representatives Adrian Smith (R-Neb) and Ron Kind (D-Wis)introduced companion legislation in the House, H.R. 1268.

“The VMLRP is a win-win for veterinarians and rural economies because it provides loan relief while also helping alleviate veterinary shortages in areas that lack adequate access to veterinary services for livestock animals,” said AVMA President Dr. Tom Meyer. “Unfortunately, the heavy tax applied to VMLRP awards decreases the number of awards that can be made and the number of rural communities that can benefit from increased services. We’re grateful our leaders in Congress are again supporting legislation to remove this tax and maximize the effectiveness of the VMLRP. The AVMA played a key role in implementing the VMLRP and will continue our strong support of the VMLRPEA during 2017.”

Student loan debt for graduates of veterinary colleges in 2015 topped $140,000 on average. This significant debt can make starting a veterinary practice in a rural shortage area cost prohibitive for recent graduates. As a result, many new graduates are unable to practice in underserved areas where they are most needed.

The VMLRP makes practice in rural underserved areas more financially feasible for recent graduates by providing up to $75,000 in loan repayments in exchange for at least three years of service in designated veterinary shortage areas. Since the program’s implementation in 2010, more than 350 veterinarians have participated across 45 states, Puerto Rico and U.S. federal lands. However, a 39 percent income withholding tax is applied to each award, which significantly lowers the number of awards that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can make each year. If this tax had been removed, more than 100 additional veterinarians – and rural communities – could have benefitted from the VMLRP. If passed, the VMLRPEA will implement this important change.

“Access to animal care is critical to Idaho’s agricultural economy,” said Senator Crapo. “But too often, ranchers and farmers can’t access the care they need because they live in areas where demand for veterinary services exceeds availability. This legislation will increase the number of veterinarians able to serve in the areas where they are needed most, which will help strengthen rural economies and protect the safety of our food supply.”

“Veterinarians are vital to animal welfare and our nation’s agricultural economy,” said Senator Stabenow. “Unfortunately, many small towns and rural communities in Michigan and across the country don’t have access to the veterinary services they need most. This bill creates important incentives for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply.”

“Animal health is critical to maintaining the United States’ world-leading standards for food safety, with veterinarians and producers working together to ensure livestock are appropriately cared for,” said Representative Smith. “However, shortages of large-animal veterinarians in many of the rural areas where our meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are produced make this work more challenging. This legislation addresses an inconsistency in our tax code involving the treatment of student loan repayment programs while ensuring the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program’s limited funding is more directly focused on bringing animal health providers to the areas where they are most needed.”

“Large animal veterinarians provide critical services to communities in western and central Wisconsin. They are critical in helping maintain both the safety of our food and the health and welfare of our livestock,” said Representative Kind. “However, there are a number of areas across western and central Wisconsin where there is a shortage of veterinarians. This legislation would help our communities attract and retain quality veterinarians in the places of highest need.”

The legislation has broad support from more than 160 veterinary, commodity and agriculture-related organizations. Learn more about the bill, read stories from program participants and view infographics and other resources on AVMA’s website.

The AVMA, founded in 1863, is one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations in the world, with more than 89,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine.

Magic cover crop carpet?

April 24, 2017

Magic cover crop carpet?

Cover crop prevents weeds, protects soil

Organic farmers have to make hard choices between protecting soil from erosion and controlling weeds. For example, large-scale organic farming relies heavily on tillage. Tilling breaks up the soil to kill weeds and prepare for planting. But intense tillage can compact soil, cause erosion, and deplete nutrients. As a result, some organic farmers are turning to cover crops for weed control.

Farmers roll a hairy vetch-triticale cover crop into a thick mat which serves as a mulch and weed-suppressant. Photo credit Clair Keene.Cover crops are planted after harvest as an in-between crop. Cover crops improve the soil with living roots that protect it from erosion and add nutrients. Cover crops are usually plowed down, but another option is flattening the cover crop to form a thick carpet, or mat. They do this with a roller crimper—a heavy, rolling drum attached to a tractor.

The farmer then uses a no-till planter to plant seeds into the flattened mat for the next season. The new crop grows through the cover crop residue, which helps suppress weeds.

This method—called cover crop-based organic rotational no-till—allows farmers to skip spring tillage and weeding. By simply flattening a cover crop, farmers don’t have to disturb the soil for a new crop. The flattened cover crop suppresses weeds and retains soil moisture.

However, like many farming practices, this method has trade-offs. For example, if you flatten it too late, the cover crop might produce seeds. The result is a volunteer, or weedy, cover crop competing with next season’s cash crop. And if you flatten the cover crop too early, it may regrow.

“It’s all in the timing,” says crop scientist Clair Keene. Keene is a researcher at The Pennsylvania State University.

Keene and her colleagues wanted to find that perfect timing. So they planted an experiment in three different states: Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. For three years, they planted cover crops like hairy vetch-triticale and cereal rye, followed by cash crops like corn and soybeans.

The researchers flattened the cover crops at different stages of growth to find the right combination. Was it possible to have a cover crop that was big enough to suppress weeds, but not so big that it produced seeds?

They found that generally, letting the cover crop grow longer produces the best, if not perfect, results.

“There’s always trade-offs,” said Keene. “A bigger cover crop is better at suppressing weeds as a mulch, but that comes with the cost of letting that crop grow longer, restricting the growing season for the corn or soybean.”

Farmers want to plant their cash crop as early as possible, especially in northern states. If the cover crop is too small to be flattened, then they have to till it under, which defeats the purpose of improving soil quality. But if a cover crop reigns in a field for too long, it might start to produce seeds.

Every cover crop is a little different. For instance, the group found that cereal rye needs to be rolled in the middle of grain fill so that it doesn’t produce seed and show up when it isn’t wanted. And although hairy vetch is great at adding nitrogen to the soil, it can survive the roller crimper and compete with cash crops.

The researchers also found rolling the cover crops twice instead of once helped ensure the cover crops were killed.

Despite the tricky timing, Keene says rolling cover crops to form a mat has a lot of potential. Without it, “you’d have to plow the field multiple times, harrow it, plant it, and do a lot of weeding,” she warns. “That’s a lot of time in the tractor and a lot of diesel fuel.”

Read the full results of their experiment in Agronomy Journal. Funding for the reduced-tillage organic systems experiment was provided by USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative.

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Announces Listening Tour Response Plan

April 18, 2017

Vermont Agency of Agriculture Announces Listening Tour Response Plan

Input Gathered at Statewide Tour will help Shape 2017 Agenda

Throughout February and March, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets held a Listening Tour to gather feedback and ideas about farming in our state. Over the course of six weeks, the Agency hosted meetings in Lyndonville, Brattleboro, Middlebury, St. Albans, and Montpelier. More than 300 farmers and community members attended. Today, the Agency is announcing a plan to address the Listening Tour feedback.

“The suggestions and ideas shared by participants were insightful, and covered a wide range of topics,” said Ag Secretary, Anson Tebbetts. “The feedback was diverse, but four main themes emerged.”

On the whole, here’s what was shared, and how the Agency of Agriculture plans to address it:

The Next Generation:
What we heard: Vermonters want to ensure the next generation has opportunities to work in agriculture, and has access to land. They want young people to feel excited and optimistic about careers in agriculture.
What we’ll do: We will work with UVM, Extension, Vermont Technical College, Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, and the career centers to promote educational programs that get future farmers ready to take the reins. There are many existing programs, like 4-H, that do great work to get young people engaged – we’ll work hard to promote these opportunities and build awareness, to get more kids involved. We’ll also continue to partner with the Vermont Housing Conservation Board and Land Trust to improve access to land.

Rules and Regulations:
What we heard: Many of the folks who spoke up at the Listening Session told us they feel burdened and overwhelmed by regulations.
What we’ll do: The current administration has made a commitment to limit new regulations. The Required Ag Practices (RAPs) were adopted in December of 2016. We are committed to working with farmers to implement them in a way that is fair. We have recently formed the RAP Advisory Committee, which includes farmer representatives and stakeholders involved in water quality issues. The role of this board will be to advise the Agency on the roll-out of the RAPs, to ensure they are effective, attainable, and take into account real-farm practices.

Customer Service & Relationships:
What we heard: Some folks told us they find it difficult to get in touch with key Agency of Agriculture staff, and that the Agency needs to do a better job with customer service. They also felt we need to work harder to build positive relationships across the entire farming community.
What we’ll do: We have begun an Agency-wide audit of our customer service practices. Over the next three months, we will be working closely with managers, inspectors, and technical assistance providers to identify the ways in which we can improve customer service across the Agency, and improve relationships. As a first step, this week, we published a contact list for all Agency personnel on our website. You can find it at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/contact_us .This will help ensure you are able to contact the right person to help address your need. We are committed to improvement.

Communications:
What we heard: There’s a lot going on, and sometimes farmers find it hard to get the information they need. The Agency needs to do a better job communicating.
What we’ll do: In order to ensure farmers have timely access to the information they need, we are now mailing complimentary copies of our Agency newspaper, Agriview, to all Vermont farmers on a monthly basis. Over the course of the next year, we will also redesign our website, so that it is more user-friendly. The Agency is also encouraging people to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to get instant access to daily news, resources, and agricultural information.

“This is just the beginning. Each comment shared with us at these meetings helps inform the decisions we, as a new administration, make each day on the job here in Montpelier,” said Alyson Eastman, Deputy Secretary.

“We are committed to working with our farming community, to grow the economy, make Vermont affordable, and enrich our communities,” added Secretary Tebbetts. “Thanks to all who came out to share their thoughts.”

Center for Rural Affairs submits comments on Farmer Fair Practice rules

April 6, 2017

The Center for Rural Affairs submitted comments last week to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the Farmer Fair Practice Rules, an interim final rule and two proposed rules implementing provisions of the Packers & Stockyards Act. The comment period ended March 24.

The Center applauds the advancement of these rules and urges the USDA to finalize the two proposed rules. For many years, the organization has advocated for the rights of independent livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers.

“Livestock and poultry production has long been a pillar of economic opportunity for rural communities,” said Anna Johnson, policy program associate. “For too long, the lack of clarity on what constitutes as unfair practices or undue burdens has unfairly limited poultry and livestock producers’ ability to conduct business with packers on fair and equal terms. These rules represent an opportunity to level the playing field for hard-working poultry and livestock producers.”

An excerpt of submitted comments:

“We applaud the positive impact these rules will have for the poultry, hog and cattle industries. Our supporters are particularly concerned with the positive impact it will have on the hog industry. Many of the farmers and ranchers we work with once raised hogs but had to give them up when the industry moved toward favoring and prioritizing large scale contract hog production. Because basic protections for producers like those in these rules were not in place, many producers were unable to confront the meatpacking companies about unfair treatment they were receiving. This trend is not limited to our supporters – the number of hog producers in the U.S. has dwindled drastically over the past few decades. In 1980, there were over 666,000 hog farms in the U.S.; the 2012 Census of Agriculture reported 63,246 farms with hogs and pigs, a decline of over 90 percent. This decline the financial viability of hog farms has helped to undercut the health of many rural communities. These rules will help ensure that the remaining contract hog producers are able to receive fairer treatment from packing companies.”

To view the submitted comments, please visit www.cfra.org/news/FarmerFairPracticeComments.

Another record year for organic agriculture worldwide

March 2, 2017

Another record year for organic agriculture worldwide – 50.9 million hectares of organic agricultural land – organic market grows to more than 80 billion US Dollars

The latest global data on organic farming worldwide is presented by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and IFOAM – Organics International in the statistical yearbook “The World of Organic Agriculture”.

The positive trend seen in the past years continues: Consumer demand is increasing, reflected in the significant market growth of 11 percent in the United States, the world’s largest organic market. More farmers cultivate organically, more land is certified organic, and 179 countries report organic farming activities (up from 172), as shown in the 2017 edition of the study “The World of Organic Agriculture” (data per end of 2015) published by FiBL and IFOAM – Organics International. The survey is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), and NürnbergMesse, the organizers of the BIOFACH fair.

The global organic market continues to grow worldwide

The market research company Organic Monitor estimates the global market for organic food to have reached 81.6 billion US dollars in 2015 (approximately 75 billion euros). The United States is the leading market with 35.9 billion euros, followed by Germany (8.6 billion euros), France (5.5 billion euros), and China (4.7 billion euros). In 2015, most of the major markets showed double-digit growth rates The highest per capita spending was in Switzerland (262 Euros), and Denmark has the highest organic market share (8.4 percent of the total food market).

More than two million producers

In 2015, 2.4 million organic producers were reported. India continues to be the country with the highest number of producers (585’200), followed by Ethiopia (203’602), and Mexico (200’039).

More than 50 million hectares of organic farmland

A total of 50.9 million hectares were organically managed at the end of 2015, representing a growth of 6.5 million hectares over 2014, the largest growth ever recorded. Australia is the country with the largest organic agricultural area (22.7 million hectares), followed by Argentina (3.1 million hectares), and the United States of America (2 million hectares).

Forty-five percent of the global organic agricultural land is in Oceania (22.8 million hectares), followed by Europe (25 percent; 12.7 million hectares), and Latin America (13 percent; 6.7 million hectares).

Ten percent or more of the farmland is organic in eleven countries

The countries with the largest share of organic agricultural land of their total farmland are the Liechtenstein (30.2 percent), Austria (21.3 percent), and Sweden (16.9 percent). In eleven countries 10 percent or more of all agricultural land is organic.

www.organic-world.net

Popping potential of sorghum

February 17, 2017

Popping potential of sorghum

Is a new snack coming to a theater near you?

Eating popcorn has long been synonymous with watching movies. But soon you might find yourself reaching for another popped snack option—popped sorghum.

Sorghum is a cereal grain that is becoming more popular in the United States because it’s gluten free and nutritious. Compared to popcorn, popped sorghum kernels are smaller in size. But they are no less tasty according to Nicholas Ace Pugh, a researcher in Bill Rooney’s laboratory in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University. However, more needs to be known about the best sorghum for popping.

Here, popcorn has an advantage. Growers have bred popcorn specifically for its popping capacity. However, sorghum’s popping potential hadn’t previously been promoted. There is a wide variety of genotypes, or genetic lines,of sorghum, and those specific qualities still need to be pondered.

Pugh was in pursuit. To look at the genotypes available, he planted 130 different varieties of sorghum. He also wanted to know what environments are best for growing popping sorghum. So he planted all of the varieties in three different environments. Once the plants had grown and were harvested, Pugh and his team got to popping!

But how do you pop sorghum in a scientifically useful way? First, they analyzed the characteristics of each of the different varieties of sorghum and measured the hardness of the kernels. Then they counted out 500 kernels of each variety and measured the sample’s volume. Those 500 kernel samples were heated in hot air poppers.

Originally, Pugh had planned on using ordinary air poppers. “Unfortunately, these poppers are not made for sorghum: it kept flying out of the machine!” Pugh had to outfit the poppers with wire mesh to keep the sorghum inside the devices.

With seeds safely contained in the poppers, Pugh and his team heated the kernels for two minutes and 15 seconds. Just like home popcorn poppers have observed, there were sorghum kernels that refused to pop. The team counted the number of unpopped kernels, and measured the volume of the popped kernels. All of this data demonstrated the level of popping success: percent of popped kernels and the popped volume.

The findings suggests nature may have the final say. “I was pretty surprised by just how large of a role that environment and its effect on genotype played!” Pugh says. “The results essentially showed that the environment that sorghum is grown in is perhaps one of the largest factors in determining how it will pop.”

The best environment for popping sorghum? In this experiment, the sorghum grown in Halfway, Texas popped the best. Pugh thinks this is because Halfway had the lowest average humidity. Less humidity could mean less mold on the grain. Less mold could mean less damage to the grain. And less damage to the grain could mean better popping!

Of the different varieties, the sorghum that performed the best was RIL #65, also known as “Sorg Pop.” Sorg Pop performed consistently in all three environments.

But Pugh is not satisfied with proclaiming Sorg Pop the prizewinner just yet. “It was clear from these findings that popping is highly complex in sorghum and is likely influenced by several more traits that I didn’t get to examine.”

And what does a researcher do with 390 batches of popped sorghum? “Well, you can certainly eat it. It has a fun miniature size and the taste is delicious! Of course, I might be a bit biased,” Pugh says.

Pugh has already started working on a follow-up study, so the popping continues.

Read more about Pugh’s work in Crop Science.

Cornell University Small Farms Program seeks Farmer Stories for a new column

February 15, 2017

The Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming and the Cornell Small Farms Program have teamed up to create a new column called “Lessons from the Land,” which first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Small Farm Quarterly.

“Lessons from the Land” captures and shares the stories of and lessons learned from farmers, homesteaders and land workers around New York and the Northeast.

Too often, farmers and homesteaders exist in isolation; working long hard days, both overcoming significant and unpredictable challenges and also witnessing earth’s abundance. Stories are a way to connect, unite, and share ideas, information and experiences.

We want to hear stories from growers of all types and sizes, on real topics, that matter!

Each issue has a theme (see below for upcoming topics). Submissions of 400 – 800 words may be submitted online at www.groundswellcenter.org/lessons-from-the-land. We will publish only nonfiction submissions. Feel free to submit your name, farm name, city and state or submit your piece as “anonymous” if it allows you to be more honest.

We reserve the right to edit your submission to meet space limitations or to be sensitive to privacy issues. We will share changes with you before publishing. Because of space limitations, we are unable to print all the submissions we receive. Selected entries will be published in each issue of the Small Farm Quarterly as well as online on the Groundswell Center and Small Farm Program websites. Selected authors will receive a one-year subscription to Small Farms Quarterly.

Founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery Given Vision Leadership Award

January 31, 2017

Founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery Given Vision Leadership Award

Albert Straus Recognized for Pioneering the Organic Milk Movement in the United States

Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery, was awarded one of this year’s Vision Leadership Awards by the Specialty Food Association for spearheading the organic milk movement in the United States in the early 1990s. The Straus family farm was the first certified organic dairy farm west of the Mississippi River. A family-owned and operated business, the Straus Family Creamery was the first 100 percent organic creamery in the United States.

The Specialty Food Association honors industry frontrunners who have gone above and beyond in advancing food standards by creating social, economic and environmental impact through innovation and vision. Two awards are given in each of the three categories: Business, Citizenship and Vision Leadership. The six recipients received the awards during a special reception at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award,” said Straus, who in addition to being CEO of Straus Family Creamery, still operates his own dairy farm. “More importantly, I am pleased that it shines a spotlight on the important work of leveraging organic family farming to revitalize rural communities everywhere. I encourage farmers and ranchers in rural areas throughout the world to learn about the positive impact organic farming can have on protecting the environment, mitigating climate change and improving the health for future generations,” Straus added.

Members of Specialty Food Association and others in the specialty food industry made nominations for the leadership awards. National Supplier Relationship Manager Bob Meyer of United Natural Foods said that nominating Albert Straus was an easy choice. “He is a rock star, and he changed the industry.” Meyer added it was an honor to nominate him, and he’s ecstatic that he won.

A panel of judges composed of industry experts and influencers selected the honorees from more than 50 nominees across the three categories. Phil Kafarakis, president of the Specialty Food Association said, “In our growing industry, leaders like these are paving the way for other companies to succeed and become recognized names. It’s our honor to acknowledge their achievements through the Leadership Awards.”

Straus Family Creamery has a longstanding commitment to sustaining family farming. When Straus converted his family’s dairy to organic production in 1994, becoming the first certified organic dairy west of the Mississippi, he pioneered a model that reflects the true costs of milk production and promotes sustainable land stewardship. Founding the Creamery the same year, Straus sought to create a market for local, organic milk, and develop a community of organic dairy farmers in the region. Today, more than 80 percent of the dairy farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties are certified organic. Straus Family Creamery continues to make business decisions based on its mission to help sustain family farms, revitalize rural communities and protect the environment.

About Straus Family Creamery

Straus Family Creamery is a Northern California, certified organic creamery offering milk, cream, yogurt, butter, sour cream, ice cream, and a variety of wholesale and specialty dairy products distributed throughout the Western United States. Based in Marshall, CA, the Creamery makes minimally-processed dairy products from organic milk supplied by family farms in Marin and Sonoma Counties, including the Straus dairy. Straus Family Creamery sustains collaborative relationships with the family farms that supply it milk, offering stable prices and predictability in what can otherwise be a volatile marketplace. Learn more at www.strausfamilycreamery.com.

About the Specialty Food Association

The Specialty Food Association is a thriving community of food artisans, importers and entrepreneurs. Established in 1952 in New York, the not-for-profit trade association provides its 3,400 members in the U.S. and abroad with resources, knowledge and connections to champion and nurture their companies in an always-evolving marketplace. The Association owns and produces the Winter and Summer Fancy Food Shows, and presents the sofi™ Awards honoring excellence in specialty food. Learn more at www.specialtyfood.com.

Homesteaders of America Conference 2017

January 27, 2017

Homesteaders of America and Piedmont Publishing Group Present the Homesteaders of America Conference 2017

Homesteaders of America will present the 2017 Homesteaders of America Conference, taking place at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds in Warrenton, VA on Saturday October 14, 2017. The conference will feature main speakers such as Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms), Lisa Steele (author of Fresh Eggs Daily), Esther Emery (off grider and author of What Falls From the Sky), and Doug & Stacy Colbert of Off Grid with Doug and Stacy.

There will also be multiple demonstrations and demonstrators speaking throughout the day, including demonstrations on blacksmithing, quilting, canning and preserving, wild game trapping, off grid living, solar power, gardening, holistic health, dairy animals, soaps and salves, ethical meat, bushcrafting, and much more.

Homesteaders of America is proud to bring this annual conference to Virginia for the first time ever, and hopes to launch a series of homestead conferences throughout the United States each year. Their new website (set to launch in Summer 2017) will also feature articles, blog posts, videos, and membership opportunities for homesteaders and farmers across the country and beyond.

Homesteaders of America is currently looking for vendors for the 2017 conference. If you are interested in becoming a vendor—for your business or to sell your goods and/or produce—please contact Amy Fewell at the below contact information, or submit your vendor application online.

Because this event is held by homesteaders, for homesteaders, we are delighted to partner with businesses both locally and across the country in an attempt to make this a completely self-sustainable event. One of our main sponsorships for 2017 is through our conference partner, Piedmont Publishing Group of Warrenton, VA. If your business is interested in joining with the conference and becoming a sponsor with special perks and widespread visibility, please contact Homesteaders of America as soon as possible.

Tickets are now on sale with two different tiers—general admission tickets, and speaker admission tickets (which includes general admission). The speaker admission ticket ensures that you see the main speakers indoors rather than fighting for a seat with other attendees. There are a limited amount of speaker tickets for 2017, so please purchase those soon. You can buy your tickets at www.homesteadersofamerica.com. Tickets will also be available at the gate, but attendees are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance as the attendance is projected to be in the thousands.

For more information, please visit the Homesteaders of America website, or join the Homesteaders of America Facebook page and Facebook Group.

Homesteaders of America
Amy Fewell, Founder
Phone: 540-827-8285
Email: amy@homesteadersofamerica.com
P.O. Box 555
Rixeyville, VA 22737

VT Agency of Ag Now Accepting Vendor Applications for 2017 Eastern States Expo (“Big E”)

January 25, 2017

VT Agency of Ag Now Accepting Vendor Applications for 2017 Eastern States Expo (“Big E”)

The Vermont Building Provides Local Companies Access to more than a Million Consumers

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) is now accepting proposals from Vermont businesses and organizations for vending and exhibiting space in the Vermont Building at the 2017 Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This 2017 fair dates are September 15th – October 1st. Approximately 1 million patrons passed through the Vermont Building during the 2016 Big E, spending $1.8 million on Vermont products. Learn more about the Big E on their website: http://www.thebige.com/

“The Vermont Building at The Big E, part of the Agency’s Domestic Export Program, is a special opportunity for Vermont businesses to connect with consumers throughout the region at our ‘embassy to the South’,” said Business Development Section Chief, Chelsea Lewis. “We’re looking for vendors who embody the Vermont brand and who want to share that with a million customers and potential visitors.”

The Big E is located in The Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts and is billed as “New England’s Great State Fair.” Founded in 1916 by Joshua Brooks, The Big E is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the fifth-largest fair in the nation. The Big E is inclusive of all six of the New England states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Each of the New England states is prominently represented at the fair in its own building, located along the “Avenue of the States.”

The 2016 Vermont vendors at The Big E included Long Trail Brewing, American Flatbread, Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association, Cold Hollow Cider, Champlain Orchards, Danforth Pewter, Vermont Smoke and Cure, and Vermont Flannel, among others. The application deadline for 2017 is Monday, January 23rd by 5 p.m. Vendors will be chosen in a competitive process and reviewed by an independent committee.

VAAFM extends warm wishes and many thanks to outgoing building manager, Sheila Masterson. After six years of service as building manager, and close to a decade of managing the Vermont Sugar Makers Association booth prior to that, she is retiring. Laura Streets, owner of LLS Events, will take the helm as the new building manager. Laura brings eight years of experience running the Vermont Brewers Festival.

Watch this video to learn more about the Vermont Building at the Big E, and the benefits of becoming a vendor: http://youtu.be/lVlwfsxAAnc

To apply for exhibition space in The Vermont Building at The Big E, visit: http://www.vermontbusinessregistry.com/BidPreview.aspx?BidID=19149

For more information, please contact Emma Hanson, Working Lands Coordinator, at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets at 802-522-3132 or emma.hanson@vermont.gov

Conservation Stewardship Program deadline is looming

January 24, 2017

Conservation Stewardship Program deadline is looming

Lyons, Neb. – Farmers and ranchers have until Feb. 3 to submit initial applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

The Conservation Stewardship Program is a national, voluntary stewardship incentives program administered by NRCS that is designed to reward farmers, ranchers and foresters for maintaining existing conservation, as well as for the adoption of additional conservation measures on their land. The program pays producers for continuing and expanding conservation efforts that support natural resource priorities such as clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency and others.

“In a time when there is more and more attention paid to the need to build healthy soil, improve water quality, and otherwise support natural resource conservation, the Conservation Stewardship Program offers farmers a great opportunity to ramp up conservation on their farm,” said Anna Johnson, Center for Rural Affairs policy associate.

Johnson said sample resource-conservation practices include planting cover crops, rotational grazing or ecologically-based pest management.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program also doesn’t forget smaller producers,” Johnson said. “For folks who qualify for the program, the minimum contract payment is $1,500, no matter the acreage. This is a major farmer and rancher funding opportunity.”

For Paul Ackley, in Taylor County, Iowa, enrolling in the program allowed him to implement conservation practices.

“On land he rented and owned, he noticed the soil was looking tired after several years of cropping – his beans even turned white in certain places where the soil was particularly depleted,” Johnson said. “With payments from CSP, Paul was able to add soft red winter wheat to his corn-soy rotation, and the soil started looking healthier. He also used payments to begin rotational grazing on part of his grazing land. Now his pastures are more diverse and he has more warm season grasses.”

Please call Johnson with questions, or to share your experiences with the Conservation Stewardship Program. She can be reached at 515.329.0172. Information on local NRCS offices can be found at nrcs.usda.gov.

Hill-Climbing Cows May Help Rangeland Sustainability

January 23, 2017

Hill-Climbing Cows May Help Rangeland Sustainability

by Diane Nelson, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

University of California Davis Latest Food & Agriculture News

Most of the 5 million cattle that graze on California’s rangelands like to dine in the valleys and hang out by creeks. This can lead to overgrazing in riparian areas and let perfectly good forage on hillsides go to waste.

But some cows are different. They prefer to climb hills and mountains and eat along the way. If more cattle followed the road less traveled, rangelands would be more productive and sustainable throughout California and the West.

That is why a team of researchers, including University of California, Davis, animal geneticist Juan Medrano, is working to develop an easy, inexpensive genetic test to help ranchers improve cattle distribution by breeding hill-climbing cows.

“It’s very exciting research,” said Medrano, a professor with the Department of Animal Science who is collaborating with scientists throughout the West. “DNA technology makes it relatively easy to test and breed for production traits like milk yield and growth rate. But it’s brand new to identify genetic markers linked to animal behavior. This could have a huge impact on food security and rangeland management.”

Nature and Nurture

One third of California — 38 million acres — is rangeland. Most of it is mountainous or hilly and managed for livestock production. Grazing on rangeland feeds livestock, but also offers many environmental benefits such as keeping weeds and other invasive species in check, providing water storage and carbon sequestration, and supporting habitat for animals and plants found nowhere else in the world.

Problems arise, though, when rangeland is overgrazed and cattle spend too much time near running water, where manure and calving can create water-quality risks for people downstream. That is especially true in California. Some 80 percent of the state’s drinking and irrigation water is stored on or passes through rangeland.

Researchers at UC Davis and beyond have been working for decades with ranchers to keep cattle from overgrazing and congregating by creeks. They build strategic fencing, for example, and provide water and salt licks on ridgetops away from running water. Cowhands often herd cattle from low-lying pastures, but that is labor-intensive and only a temporary fix.

A few years ago, Derek Bailey, a professor of range science at New Mexico State University and a colleague of Medrano, had an intriguing thought: What if we combine nature and nurture?

“I’ve been watching cattle for years, and there are always some cows that just take off for the hills, like they didn’t know they weren’t elk,” Bailey said. “They could be belly-deep in green grass, and just bolt for the hills. They like it up there. We can breed for other traits. Why not select for hill climbing?”

Bailey joined forces with Medrano and a team of researchers including animal genetics expert Milton Thomas at Colorado State University. Funded by a grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the group is close to developing a genetic test for whether a bull is likely to sire daughters who like to climb hills.

Locomotion, Motivation and Spatial Learning

To identify hill-climbing cattle, Bailey and his crew put GPS collars on 180 cows on seven ranches in three western states and took measurements every 10 minutes for months at a time. They tracked the cattle’s slope use, elevation gain and distance traveled from water. They also took blood samples that Medrano and his team analyzed for chromosomal commonalities. Medrano found overlap in genes linked to locomotion, motivation and spatial learning.

“Results so far are very encouraging,” Medrano said. “Soon we will be able to test and breed for hill-climbing behavior.”

With both plants and animals, breeding for one trait can sometimes produce unintended consequences like predisposition to disease or low calf weight. Researchers are looking closely at that possibility, and have so far found no correlation between hill-climbing behavior and undesired traits.

“We’ve looked at calf-weaning weights, pregnancy rates, blood pressure, even disposition,” Bailey said. “We had one theory that hill-climbing cows tended toward the meaner end of the scale, but that’s not the case.

“Some cows just prefer to climb more than other cows,” Bailey said. “And if breeding can move the bell curve in that direction, management tools like fencing and herding will be much more effective.”

California ranchers are intrigued by the possibility.

“I can see many ecological and economic benefits to breeding for cows who like to travel,” said Clayton Koopmann, a rancher and rangeland-management consultant who runs cattle on hilly ground throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. “Forage would be consumed more evenly, and that’s good for livestock production and for the environment.”

Farmers can learn how to add value to their products at one-day UC workshop

January 22, 2017

Farmers can learn how to add value to their products at one-day UC workshop

A one-day intensive workshop on Jan. 25 will provide small-scale farmers guidelines for increasing profits by applying value-added food production strategies. Value-added involves processing raw produce into a product that will sell for more, such as infused olive oil, baked goods, jams and specialty sauces.

The workshop provides an update on laws that govern value-added products and gives an introduction to the roles of retailers, distributors and brokers.

Three producers will share their challenges and successes in marketing organic, value-added products. The speakers are Magali Brecke, who cooks and jars batches of organic bone broth; Kathryn Lukas, who uses ancient fermentation traditions to produce fresh organic kraut; and Jenna Muller, who runs a processing and catering kitchen from an organic farm.

Additional speakers are Merrilee Olson of Preserve Farm Kitchens, Danielle Shaeffer of New Leaf Community Markets, Erin DiCaprio of the UC Davis Food Science and Technology Department, and Shermain Hardesty, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis.

The 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. workshop, organized by Hardesty, precedes the EcoFarm Conference at Asilomar, Pacific Grove. The workshop is open to EcoFarm registrants and all members of the public. Registration is $75 per person and includes an organic lunch.

Register on the EcoFarm Conference website at http://eco-farm.org/conference/2017/register-now. For more information about the workshop, contact Hardesty at shermain@primal.ucdavis.edu.

A couple of interesting links from the NYT

January 22, 2017

Grass-Fed Beef, Sold One Cow at a Time by Nick Wingfield for the New York Times

Life on the Farm Draws Some French Tired of Urban Rat Race by Benoît Morenne for the New York Times

Organic Advocate and Farmer Jim Riddle to Address Ohio’s Largest Sustainable Food and Farm Conference

December 20, 2016

The need for personal, societal, and political transformation in our food and farm system and the challenge of growing organic agriculture with integrity to meet consumer demand will be the focus of a keynote address by farmer and activist Jim Riddle at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) 38th annual conference, Growing Today, Transforming Tomorrow, this February in Dayton, Ohio.

In his February 10 keynote address, “Transform Organic Today, Grow with Integrity Tomorrow,” Riddle will explore the environmental and health problems associated with our current food system, the need for farmers and citizens to engage in organic policy issues, and solutions for change.

“I would like to see organic agriculture elevated to a high priority, fully integrated into long-term U.S. agricultural policy, recognizing the multiple benefits of environmental protection, climate change mitigation, food security, nutrition, health, biodiversity, and sustainable farm income,” Riddle told Natural Foods Merchandiser.

For more than 30 years, Riddle has been an organic farmer, inspector, educator, policy analyst, and activist.

From 2001 to 2006, Riddle served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, chairing the board from 2004 to 2005. In the years since, he has remained engaged on organic issues and GMO labeling, calling for attention to process, transparency, and integrity.

He is founding chair of the thriving Winona Farmers’ Market and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), and has served on the leadership team for eOrganic and on the boards of the International Organic Accreditation Service, Beyond Pesticides, and the Organic Processing Institute.

He served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force from 1991 to 2009, and was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark organic certification cost-share program in 1998 and a national organic certification cost-share program in 2002. From 2006 to 2013, he worked for the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center as Organic Outreach Coordinator.

From 2013 to 2016, Riddle coordinated organic research grant programs for the Ceres Trust. He has recently been appointed to chair the Minnesota Organic Advisory Task Force, which provides advice to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota. He and his wife also own and operate Blue Fruit Farm, a five acre fruit farm in southeastern Minnesota growing certified organic blueberries, elderberries, aronia berries, black currants, blue plums, honeyberries, and juneberries. The farm is part of a 360 acre organically-managed land cooperative.

“We’ve always tried to produce good, healthy food, educate and empower others to do the same, make sure that the word “organic” has meaning, and protect the beautiful planet that we’re lucky to live on,” Riddle told the Houston County News in 2013.

On February 9, Riddle will facilitate a full-day, pre-conference intensive workshop, titled, “Respect Your Elderberries: Growing and Selling Niche Fruit Crops from Aronia to Service Berries.”

He will also lead two 90 minute workshops as part of the conference: “Getting Started with Blue Fruits” on February 10 and “An Agenda for Organic America” on February 11.

“We’re excited to welcome Jim to this year’s conference, now in our new home in Dayton. He has been a leader in the organic movement and a knowledgeable, vocal advocate for strong and transparent standards for decades,” said OEFFA Program Director Renee Hunt.

Riddle will speak as part of the Ohio’s largest sustainable food and farm conference, which will run Thursday, February 9 through Saturday, February 11 at the Dayton Convention Center.

In addition to Riddle, this year’s conference will feature keynote speaker Robyn O’Brien on February 11; nearly 80 educational workshops; four pre-conference intensive workshops on February 9; a three-day trade show; networking events; activities for children and teens; locally-sourced meals; a raffle; book sales and signings, and more.

For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.oeffa.org/conference2017.

Critical Zone, Critical Research: Studies of Earth’s critical zone incorporate time, depth, coupling

December 13, 2016

The Earth’s critical zone isn’t called critical for nothing. Known as our planet’s outer skin, it is essential for human survival.

The critical zone extends from the top of the tallest tree down through the soil and into the water and rock beneath it. It stops at what’s called the weathering zone — or where soils first begin to develop. This zone allows crops to grow well and supports our buildings. It also allows for animals and microbes to live, and filters our water. These soil characteristics affect everything from the ground up.

Henry Lin of Pennsylvania State University follows the research on the critical zone and recently wrote a review on work in the area. Over the last five years there have been over 200 peer-reviewed articles published on topics related to the critical zone.

“The critical zone is where soil, rock, water, air, and living organisms all interact, which determines how many resources we are able to use,” Lin says. “The critical zone provides various services to human society.”

Lin explains the critical zone isn’t just something physical. It is also a research approach. Scientists can study the critical zone as a whole to understand the Earth’s layers across space and time. The approach also assists with long-term management of natural resources.

“The critical zone approach provides a framework for combining belowground and aboveground, non-living and living, and space and time in our ecosystems,” he says. “To truly understand this zone, research from many areas must be mixed into one framework. It includes perspectives on time, depth, and coupling.”

Each of these three concepts in the framework has specific impacts on the critical zone. For example, slow changes to soil over time lead to specific soil structures that control water movement. However, at the same time, each pulse of water moving through soil causes changes to the soil as well. How do these fast and slow processes affect each other?

When looking at depth, Lin points to an example of work being done using ground-penetrating radar to map what the critical zone looks like below what human eyes can see. Lastly, the coupled approach combines the study of the critical zone with its impact on natural resources and the benefits the ecosystem provides humans.

Lin says research in these three areas is important to understand the effects humans can have on the critical zone. By studying this zone, it is even possible to look at how it’s changed over time and predict what will happen to it down the road.

Looking to that future, Lin calls for more work to be done. For example, he would like to see the global community work together to create a network of critical zone study and develop a library of databases about the zone.

“With our ongoing development, the critical zone is under ever-increasing pressures from humans, such as rapid growth of human and livestock population, land use increases, and global environmental changes,” he says. “Possible negative effects include degraded soil health and water quality. It’s important to continue closely studying this area.”

Read Lin’s review in Vadose Zone Journal. His research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences Program and the Critical Zone Observatory Program. Our thanks to Venkat Lakshmi for contributions to this story.

This news release was provided by the Science Societies: American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America.

BLM Final Planning Rule a Mixed Bag for Local Participation

December 9, 2016

WASHINGTON – Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published its final planning rule, commonly referred to as “Planning 2.0,” in the Federal Register. The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) submitted comments on the proposed version of the planning rule in May 2016, and while it recognizes the agency has made improvements to the rule in its final form, it is still concerned the regulation inadequately acknowledges the critical importance of local involvement in the planning process.

“We commend the BLM for rising to the challenge and taking on a tremendously important topic: local participation in the management of public lands,” NACD President Lee McDaniel said. “That said, we are still concerned the final Planning 2.0 rule does not adequately foster local stakeholder participation in the planning process.”

“For one, the BLM’s rule would require that all land management plans used in the agency’s planning process be approved by local, state, or tribal governments. As an organization that represents thousands of local entities, we know just how resource-intensive and time consuming developing and approving these plans can be, and fear this provision could disincentivize local participation,” McDaniel continued. “In the past, local governments with policies and programs for public lands management were included in the BLM’s planning process, but now, unless they have an ‘official’ plan, these entities won’t be able to participate at the same level.”

NACD was also disappointed the final rule will not undergo a National Environmental Policy Act assessment, and it did not include a comprehensive update to the protest procedures.

NACD was pleased, however, with two major improvements made in the final rule. First, BLM upped the minimum durations for public comment periods on draft Environmental Impact Statements and Resource Management Plans from the proposed rule. It also designated BLM state directors the default “deciding officials” on multi-state projects on BLM managed land, allowing the BLM representative with the most intimate, local knowledge of the project area to manage the planning process.

“The BLM set out to increase local involvement in the planning process with this rule, and in part, has delivered on that mission,” NACD CEO Jeremy Peters said. “NACD believes a comprehensive, locally led-strategy is the best approach to public-lands management and will continue to work with BLM to enhance local governments’ contribution to the planning process.”

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The National Association of Conservation Districts is the non-profit organization that represents the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts, their state associations and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. For more than 70 years, local conservation districts have worked with cooperating landowners and managers of private working lands to help them plan and apply effective conservation practices. For more information about NACD, visit: www.nacdnet.org

Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Pioneers Farmer Training Program; Available for Interviews at Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference

November 28, 2016

Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Pioneers Farmer Training Program; Available for Interviews at Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference

What: The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) is the first formal Apprenticeship for farming in the nation. It offers veterans and other interested participants a structured system of training designed to prepare individuals for dairy farm management and/or ownership through on-farm employment and mentoring, related instruction, and networking.

Who: Joseph Tomandl, III, Executive Director, is available for interviews during the Farmers Veteran Stakeholders Conference.

Why: DGA currently has several veterans involved in its program. Returning service members receive work-based training in specialized dairy skills that can be applied to a lifelong career. Veterans are able to use their GI funding for classes and housing.

This program is especially appealing for veterans from rural areas – dairy farming can allow them to return to a familiar community and lifestyle after their service is complete.

DGA is a National Apprenticeship registered with the United States Department of Labor-Employment and Training Administration.

Aspiring dairy farmers face significant barriers and the new generation is not entering the profession at a rate that offsets the loss of retiring producers. DGA and its veteran participants help the industry address this challenge.

When/Where: Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference, November 30 – December 2, East Lansing, Michigan.

Pre-Show Media Contact: Jessica Krasin, (715)441, 5340, Jessica@groupleaf.com

During Conference Media Contact: Joseph Tomandl, III 715-560-0389, joe@dga-national.org; Brian Klinge (Apprentice), 715-623-6671; Andy Bures (Master Grazier), 715-623-0838, buresorganicfarm@yahoo.com

Please call, email or text to schedule an interview with Joe, or feel free to stop at the DGA booth 39, located in Big Ten BC at the Kellogg Conference Center.

More information at https://www.dga-national.org/

About Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship

The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) provides a pathway to independent dairy farm ownership, developing grazing careers and strengthening the economic and environmental well-being of rural communities in the dairy industry.

EPA Awards Environmental Education Grants to Oxbow Farm, Green River College, and Corvallis Environmental Center

November 17, 2016

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded environmental education grants to Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center in Carnation, Washington, Green River College in Auburn, Washington, and the Corvallis Environmental Center in Corvallis, Oregon. The grant funds will be used to provide kindergarteners with hands-on learning about growing and eating healthy food, help train college students in watershed outreach and restoration, and support energy and water science curriculum for middle school students.

Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center was awarded an environmental education grant of $90,474 to partner with a nearby school to provide 200 low-income minority kindergarteners with environmental science and outdoor learning experiences at Oxbow’s Kids’ Farm, in the classroom, and at school greenspaces installed with assistance from the project. Learning will focus on the connections between farming, conservation, and nature by teaching critical thinking through hands-on investigation outdoors. To amplify the project’s impact, Oxbow will share best practices and a compendium of education materials with environmental educators and stakeholders with help from University of Idaho McCall Outdoor School master’s students. More information about Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center: http://www.oxbow.org/.

Green River College was awarded an environmental education grant of $85,773 to train students to create and share environmental outreach materials about the Soos Creek watershed. Training will be conducted through partnerships with the Green River Coalition, Institute for Community Leadership, City of Kent, and Earth Corps. Students will also help to prepare and implement restoration plans with 28 property owners in the Soos Creek watershed. Students will present project data and best practices at environmental education conferences. More information about Green River College: http://www.greenriver.edu/academics/areas-of-study/details/natural-resources.htm.

Corvallis Environmental Center was awarded an environmental education grant of $91,000 to expand its Communities Take Charge online tool (http://www.communitiestakecharge.org/) for middle school students with the Carbon Transformations in Matter and Energy or CarbonTIME curriculum. Middle school educators in three Oregon counties will be provided with strategies to teach “tracing matter and energy through human energy systems” to over 1,500 middle school students through in-class and online sessions, and service learning with student-led projects. This work builds on the center’s previous successful EPA grant-funded project with an expanded curriculum and environmental priorities for energy and water. More information about the Corvallis Environmental Center: http://www.corvallisenvironmentalcenter.org/.

Since 1992, EPA has distributed between $2 million and $3.5 million in grant funding per year, for a total of over $68 million supporting more than 3,600 grant projects. This competitive grants program supports environmental education projects to increase public awareness about environmental issues and helps participants take responsible actions to protect the environment. The program provides financial support for projects that design, demonstrate or disseminate environmental education practices, methods or techniques.

More about EPA environmental grants: http://www2.epa.gov/education/environmental-education-ee-grants.

OTA Calls for Federal Policies to Ensure “Organic” Always Means “Organic”

October 24, 2016

Consumer trust in organic food is high, but “organic” claims in non-food aisles need clean-up

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The rigorous and proven regulatory system of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program has established a deep trust in USDA certified organic food products by American consumers. Now, consumers need to be able to carry over this well-earned trust in organic food to cosmetics, household cleaners and other non-food products claiming to be organic, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) will tell Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and USDA officials at a public roundtable Thursday.

The FTC and USDA will co-host a roundtable Oct 20 to help better understand how consumers perceive organic claims on items outside the food aisles, and to determine if the FTC needs to issue further guidance to makers of non-food products that use the organic claim or term, but do not use the USDA Organic seal or make any reference to organic certification.

Invited to participate in the discussion, OTA will present the findings of a research study recently conducted for OTA exploring consumers’ attitudes, understanding and expectations surrounding organic claims and specifically the labeling of organic non-food products and services.

“American consumers need to trust in the organic label and in organic claims, whether those labels are on organic produce and organic milk or on shampoo and sheets,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA. “Our survey shows consumers who are buying organic feel that both organic food products and non-food products claiming to be organic should be regulated in the same manner. Consumers are confident there are standards and government oversight on the organic label for food, and they deserve to have that same confidence for all products with the organic claim.”

A gap in the regulatory system
For more than 15 years, the National Organic Program (NOP) has regulated and enforced strict organic standards for agricultural products. However, NOP’s enforcement authority does not extend to certain types of non-food or non-agricultural products, such as personal care products, detergent and cosmetics. As a result, food products in stores have to be certified by USDA to carry the organic label, or risk being found guilty of fraud and slapped with civil penalties and other enforcement actions. But non-agricultural products like household cleaners or personal care items are able to use organic claims whether they are certified or not. If a non-agricultural product does not use the USDA Organic seal and does not make reference to certification, that product can still use the term “organic,” and do so without any federal oversight and enforcement.

“Consumers trust and understand that certified organic food products meet strict standards, and that those standards are regulated and enforced by the federal government,” said Angela Jagiello, OTA’s Associate Director for Conference and Product Development, who will present the findings of the OTA study at the roundtable. “The regulatory gap for non-agricultural products is a major hole in the organic regulatory system. It creates consumer confusion and unfair competition for companies that get their products certified, and ultimately undermines the organic label.”

The Federal Trade Commission, under its consumer protection jurisdiction, has authority to act on misleading or fraudulent “organic” claims on products that fall outside NOP’s purview but has not exercised that authority because FTC has said it is uncertain what consumers think when they see the term “organic.” OTA has been meeting regularly with FTC and NOP since 2012 to urge FTC to exercise its consumer protection authority regarding organic claims.

Protecting the integrity of organic
OTA has urged FTC to confer with NOP and develop a draft enforcement policy for organic claims on non-food products that are outside NOP’s authority, and has stressed that not enforcing organic claims in all products could risk diluting the integrity of and trust in the organic seal. As a result of OTA’s advocacy, FTC and USDA co-funded a survey in 2015 of more than 8,000 consumers on their understanding of organic claims on products outside NOP’s scope of authority. The results of that study show confusion as to whether organic claims on non-food products mean the same as on food products, and inaccurate understandings about USDA regulation and certification of organic claims for non-food products.

The FTC-USDA roundtable will discuss the findings of that survey and approaches to address potential misleading and deceptive claims.

“The information that FTC and USDA gather should ultimately provide the agencies with increased understanding on how and when to act on the fraudulent use of the term “organic” on products that fall outside of NOP’s authority,” said OTA’s Batcha. “Shoppers need to trust products labeled as “organic,” whether they are sold in the food aisle or the personal care aisle. Failure to require certification and enforce the use of the term “organic” on all products can lead to consumers mistrusting the integrity of the word “organic.”

Organic sales in the U.S. in 2015 posted new records, with total organic product sales hitting a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up a robust 11 percent from the previous year’s record level, according to OTA’s 2016 Organic Industry Survey. Of the $43.3 billion in total organic sales, $39.7 billion were organic food sales, up 11 percent from the previous year, with non-food organic products accounting for $3.6 billion, up 13 percent.

Thursday’s roundtable will be broadcast live by the FTC, and the webcast details will be published on the agency’s website. OTA’s study can be seen on FTC’s website as well.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA’s mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace.

Agriculture: Critical to our Communities, our Economy, and our Landscape

October 20, 2016

by Chuck Ross,
Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets

Agriculture is critical to our communities, our economy, our landscape, and our way of life here in Vermont. As Vermonters, we have grown accustomed to a vital and robust agricultural lifestyle. But when I leave our state, in my travels as Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets, I am always reminded that our local agriculture here in Vermont is special, and serves as a model for others.

Take our Farm to School program, for example. Today, 83% of Vermont students are engaged in Farm to School curriculum in their classrooms, cafeterias, and communities, compared to 42% nationally. We are creating opportunity for local farmers by serving healthy, local foods in our schools, while also providing kids access to nutritious meals and building their agricultural literacy. Our statewide Farm to School network just set the ambitious goal of providing nourishing universal meals to all Vermont students within the next ten years, purchasing at least 50% of that food from a socially just and environmentally and financially sustainable regional food system. Not only are we leading, but we are constantly pushing ourselves to do more, and do better.

Dairy is the backbone of our agricultural economy. It constitutes 70% of our agricultural sales, and 80% of total agricultural land. We are a small state, but we produce 63% of the total milk in New England. And yet the dairy industry is struggling because of persistent low prices, due to a complex and convoluted national pricing system, over which our hardworking dairy farmers have no control. Farmers must be paid a viable price for their milk. While the organic model is part of the solution, it is not the only solution. The recent proposed purchase of WhiteWave, the largest organic dairy brand in the country, by an international conglomerate, speaks to the fact that the organic market may not be immune from the consolidation we have seen plague the conventional processing market.

Despite challenging economic times for the industry, dairy in Vermont continues to be an important part of the fabric of Vermont. With over 15% of the total acres in Vermont dedicated to dairy farming, it is critical to our landscape. Our farms are growing more efficient and more sustainable, with a focus on stewardship and conservation, and producing quality products. Our cheesemakers are a force to be reckoned with nationally – this year Vermont took home fifteen blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society, as well as nine 2nd place and ten 3rd place finishes. We have more methane digesters per capita than any state in the country. Our dairy farmers are actively engaged in protecting water quality, soil building, energy production, nutrient removal, and marketing the Vermont brand. These are part of the path forward for Vermont dairy and Vermont agriculture writ large, and are good for our economy, environment, consumers, and brand.

All food, farm and forestry businesses play a critical role in our economy and our working landscape. Since Governor Shumlin took office, Vermont has added more than 5100 new jobs in the farm and food sectors. Our Agency has supported this growth through key initiatives, from working with institutional food purveyors to add local food to the menu at our colleges and in our correctional facilities, to furnishing technical assistance to dramatically increase the number of in-state meat and dairy processing facilities. We have provided grants and guidance to open new markets for local businesses, created networks for best practice sharing among producer organizations, and promoted the Vermont brand across the nation, and around the world. Everywhere we go, we are reminded, once again, that our reputation for quality food and farm products is unparalleled.

We have much to be proud of, but there is still work to do. We must continue to address agriculture and food system illiteracy and expand access to healthy food. Today, too few people understand where our food comes from, how its produced, who produces it, and what the choices and actions are required to produce food. We need to shift our priorities so that all of agriculture is understood and recognized for the critical role it plays in community health. Vermont is a leader in this regard but we must do better and more, as food insecurity and food related illnesses still haunt us here in Vermont, our region, and country.

We must also build upon, and continue to leverage, our great Vermont brand. There are millions of customers to our south who know and want Vermont products. We need to increase our efforts to connect these consumers with our outstanding farmers and food producers.

To that end, we must also support the current generation, and attract the next generation, of farmers, food entrepreneurs and innovators who understand that farming and food careers are exciting, rewarding and meaningful to our collective future. We need people who can make important contributions to our future challenges, ranging from nutrition, food security to climate change.

As I look toward the future, I have no doubt the future of agriculture in Vermont will be very bright. Vermont is on the cutting edge of community supported agriculture – we must maintain the momentum. Over the course of the past six years, I have been consistently impressed by the women and men engaged in Vermont’s food system. On our farms, in our schools, at our food hubs, here in Montpelier and across the state – some of Vermont’s best and brightest minds are at work advancing local agriculture and our role as a regional and national leader. There is tremendous opportunity for growth in this sector, and I truly believe we are poised to seize it. For our communities, for our economy, for our landscape, and for future generations, we must do all we can to support Vermont agriculture.

Chuck Ross has served as Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets since Jan. 2011. He resides in Hinesburg.

Soil: More Than Meets the Eye

October 17, 2016

Exploring dynamic interactions underfoot

Are you unaware of what is underfoot? Soil is all around us and easy to ignore. However, locked inside is a dynamic ecosystem of amazing complexity. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) October 1st Soils Matter blog post explains how soil’s physical, chemical, and biological activities make soil more than dirt.

Permafrost

An example of cryoturbation: Ice blister near Mt. Sukakpak, AK. It formed when water became trapped between permafrost and a freezing front from above. As this internal water froze, it expanded upward, pushing the earth up and out into a mound. Credit: M Tiedeman.

Blog author Mary Tiedeman, a scientist at Florida International University, explains. “All soils ­­are comprised of a few basic ingredients. These include minerals, organic materials (both living and dead), and pores filled with water and gas. When combined and subjected to external forces (such as gravity and climate), soil particles react with one another.”

“The importance of these soil particle reactions is tremendous! They contribute to the overall health and functionality of soil systems. In the short term, physical, biological, and chemical activities work in tandem to squeeze soil materials together, pull them apart, and transport them to different locations. They contribute to nutrient cycling and to the creation and decomposition of soil organic matter. Over hundreds, thousands, or millions of years, soil processes even contribute to shaping entire landscapes.”

Scientists are working to understand the many processes at work in soils. By learning more we can be better stewards of this precious resource for future generations.

To read the entire blog post, visit https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/in-what-way-is-the-soil-dynamic-rather-than-a-lifeless-static-body/ .

Follow SSSA on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SSSA.soils, Twitter at SSSA_Soils. SSSA has soils information on www.soils.org/discover-soils, for teachers at www.soils4teachers.org, and for students through 12th grade, www.soils4kids.org.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members and 1,000+ certified professionals dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. The Society provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

Study determines limits to chicken litter as fertilizer

October 13, 2016

There are more chickens in the United States than people in the entire world. Raising huge numbers of chickens generates large quantities of waste. This waste includes feces, feather, and bedding materials–collectively called chicken litter.

Each year, more than 14 million tons of chicken litter is generated in the U.S. Other poultry, such as turkeys, ducks, and geese, also contribute litter. Poultry litter is often recycled as manure by farmers. Studies have shown that using poultry litter to fertilize crops, such as cotton, can be as effective as using synthetic fertilizers.

In a new study, researchers at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service have calculated how much chicken litter farmers need to apply to cotton crops to maximize profits.

“Most research focuses on the amount of poultry litter needed to maximize crop yields,” says Haile Tewolde, lead author of the study. “We wanted to know if aiming for maximum yield always makes economic sense for farmers.”

Tewolde and his colleagues found that it doesn’t. Using less chicken litter than what was needed to maximize crop yields actually increased profits for farmers. Profits increased even though crop yields were lower.

It might appear that higher crop yields would lead to higher profits. But using more fertilizer also increases costs for farmers. The researchers predicted that once an optimal amount of fertilizer had been applied to crops, any more would raise costs more than profits.

The study was conducted in two farms in Mississippi. The researchers applied varying amounts of chicken litter as fertilizer on replicated farm plots. Then, they compared yield and profitability between the seven plots. They also compared the use of synthetic fertilizers and chicken litter.

They found that chicken litter applications over a certain level did not result in net economic gains. Instead, it led to economic losses even though yields were somewhat higher.

Maximum cotton yields were achieved by applying between 9,000 to 12,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre. In contrast, applying about 7,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre each year was enough to maximize profits.

The researchers also confirmed studies that showed chicken litter to be as effective – sometimes more so – than synthetic fertilizers.

Poultry litter contains high levels of nitrogen, an important nutrient for plants. It also contains other minerals needed by crops, including phosphates and potash. Using poultry litter as manure also recycles a waste product and can benefit the environment.

However, using too much poultry litter can cause environmental pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus in the poultry litter can dissolve in runoff from storms. These dissolved nutrients can pollute surface and ground waters. If farmers can use less poultry litter and still maximize profits, pollution can be managed more effectively.

“Ten to 15 years ago it was not common to use poultry litter as fertilizer for row crops such as cotton,” says Tewolde. Today, there is increasing acceptance of poultry litter as fertilizer, including in commercial farms. But research on the use of poultry litter as fertilizer is not often geared towards maximizing profit in larger, commercial farms.

“This is the first comprehensive study looking at chicken litter use and profitability in commercial farms,” says Tewolde. “We are the first to identify ways to calculate optimal rates of applying chicken litter manure and maximize earnings at this scale of farming.”

One benefit of conducting the study on commercial fields is that “farmers can start applying our findings straightaway,” says Tewolde.

Though the study was conducted in Mississippi, it has wider implications. “The approach we use to determine optimal rates of chicken litter application will be applicable in other cotton-growing areas around the country,” says Tewolde.

Read more about Tewolde’s research in Crop Science.

Tidy Farms, Healthy Streams

October 11, 2016

Tidy farms, healthy streams

Watershed moment brings streams back in Northern Ireland

In 1990, many streams in Northern Ireland were so polluted they couldn’t sustain fish. “Farmers said they were worried about their cows drinking from them,” says water scientist Chris Barry.

But cows were part of the problem. The impacted streams drain a grassland region that hosts mostly cattle farms. Streams feed into larger rivers, and for much of Northern Ireland these drain into two large lakes, Loughs Neagh and Erne, which are major drinking water sources.

The health of upriver streams, or headwaters, is vital to the function and biodiversity of downstream waters. By 1990, farm pollution had damaged over half of these small tributaries.

Over the next two decades, the government enacted broad reforms to lower the amount of pollution leaking into streams. Scientists from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, where Barry works, monitored the impact regional reforms had on stream health.

Starting in 1990, the team regularly sampled 40 streams split between two river basins. Researchers found two main problems. The first was excess nutrients. Both phosphorus and nitrogen were disrupting the ecological balance in streams. While nutrients occur naturally in the soil, in abundance they encourage algae growth. This chokes the streams and deprives trout and other aquatic life of enough oxygen to survive.

The second, and most obvious, problem was discharges of organic wastes from farmyards. This directly removes oxygen from the water and results in toxic concentrations of ammonium and other nutrients.

Here the biggest culprit was the discharge of silage effluent. Farmers in Northern Ireland use silage made from fermented grass as a winter cattle feed. The effluent is rich in organic acids and nutrients and can be devastating to streams. This is especially true in summer when river flows offer little dilution. A gradual shift in how silage is harvested limited the amount of liquid leaching out.

Tracking these scattered sources of pollution from farms can be tricky. It can trickle from leaky silage containers or percolate into them from farmyards. “It’s difficult to pull apart the data to identify a single source of pollution,” says Barry.

The reforms put in place by the government targeted both farmyard effluents and nutrients in runoff from fields. They included grants for better silage and manure storage facilities, and limits on fertilizer use. In 2005, a European Union policy denied farm subsidies to farmers who didn’t comply with environmental standards.

“On one level they were tidying up the farms,” says Barry.

Farmers have also been making better use of nutrients from livestock manures. Farm productivity has held up despite large reductions in the use of chemical fertilizers. Phosphorus sales, for example, are down by 79% and nitrogen by 37%.

Two decades of interventions have had positive impacts on streams. But these have been gradual and at times uneven. Pollution caused by organic wastes from farmyard effluents was substantially reduced by the late 1990s and was almost absent 10 years later. Nitrate concentrations have been in a long-term decline throughout the monitored streams.

In contrast, phosphorus only began to decline appreciably after 1998, but by 2008 reductions were widespread. This was most apparent in the streams draining land of moderate farming intensity used for beef production. It was less obvious in areas dominated by dairy farming. There remains a very strong relationship between livestock density and nutrient concentrations in these streams.

Despite this lingering impact of farming on water quality, Barry says he hopes the study will demonstrate the positive impacts of agricultural stewardship.

“Targeting all of the sources and how they are transferred to streams is paramount to bringing about long-term positive improvements,” says Barry.

In the future, Barry and his colleagues hope to use new technology to understand more precisely how and when pollutants reach streams. They also want to map areas where storm events are likely to cause problems for water pollution. This may help farmers make better use of nutrients applied to land as fertilizers and livestock manures.

Read more about Barry’s research in Journal of Environmental Quality. The research was funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Northern Ireland, with support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, Republic of Ireland) under the Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for the Environment (STRIVE) Program 2007-2013.

Oregon Farm Link Launched to Assist Oregon Farmers

October 10, 2016

Oregon Farm Link

Friends of Family Farmers is excited to announce the release of Oregon Farm Link, an online hub that connects beginning farmers and ranchers with land holders to help Oregon grow the next generation of family farmers. In addition to hosting land holder and land seeker listings, Oregon Farm Link serves as a portal for those interested in getting involved in agriculture, with a board of job listings and a comprehensive resource library designed to assist farmers of all experiences.

The average age of an Oregon farmer is 60 years old, and between 2007 and 2012, Oregon lost nearly 25% of its beginning farmers. As a result, the gap between farmers leaving agriculture and those entering is only increasing, leading to a looming crisis around who will grow our food in the future. Oregon Farm Link is one of the solutions to this growing Oregon land access crisis.

Oregon Farm Link is a major upgrade to Friends of Family Farmers’ iFarm land link program, which was originally created in 2009. Since that time, the iFarm program has facilitated more than 70 land matches around the state, but the site needed major improvements to handle the demands of hundreds of listings.

The program has been extremely popular. Chelsea Girimonte, farmer at Vee Cee Farm in Dayton, OR explains, “As first-generation farmers we’re not always sure how to access all the resources in our agricultural community, including land lease and partnership opportunities. iFarm helped us access landholders and start conversations we wouldn’t have had the opportunity for otherwise.”

Now is the time to cultivate the next generation of Oregon’s agrarians!

List your land, find land, look for a job, & locate resources on FoFF’s new Oregon Farm Link database

www.oregonfarmlink.org

Oregon Farm Link

Grubbly Farms is Introducing a New, Environmentally Responsible Way to Feed Animals

October 7, 2016

The founders of Grubbly Farms, a start-up in Atlanta, Georgia, are out to close the loop in our agricultural system by upcycling pre-consumer food waste to produce a sustainable and healthy source of protein for farm animals and pets to eat.

How do they plan on doing this you ask? Via the utilization of insects of course.

We have a massive food waste issue in the United States totaling to 52 million tons of food getting landfilled yearly costing roughly $1.3 billion. That combined with the interrupting of natural food chains by overfishing the oceans in pursuit of producing fish meal, a fish based protein ingredient used in animal feeds, is where Grubbly Farms model comes in.

Grubbly Farms is developing state-of-the-art insect farms as the solution for all of these problems. By feeding pre-consumer food waste to insects we can decrease the amount of volume required by landfills as well as reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The larvae themselves then can be used a healthy source of protein for an array of animals. This will reduce our dependency on the oceans as well as reduce the amount of land we need to dedicate to grow animal feed.

Grubbly Farms concept is in development phase now, but is close to being commercially viable thanks to the help of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Energy Technology. The state organization has helped Grubbly Farms find space at Kennesaw State University where it could use its greenhouses to grow its business. The Centers helped connect Grubbly with the UGA Small Business Development Center to help develop their business, introduced them to Walker County Schools for educational purposes and connected them with Arden’s Garden and Atlanta Bread Company as sources of pre-consumer food waste they could use to feed their insects with.

Tilth Conference: Change & Resiliency

October 6, 2016

What are the issues farmers face today in Washington State? How do farmers exhange ideas, address challenges and plan for the future? The Tilth Conference brings together hundreds of farmers, producers, researchers and food system professionals to network and learn from each other. This year’s Tilth Conference will explore change and resiliency in the Pacific Northwest organic and sustainble food and farming community, November 11-13 at the Wenatchee Convention Center.

Conference attendees will build on the 42 year tradition of the Tilth movement. On Friday, conference attendees can attend either a Soil Symposium or go on the Wenatchee-Leavenworth Farm Tour. On Saturday and Sunday, attendees can choose from over 25 workshops on organic production techniques, tree fruit management, education, policy, finance, marketing, the challenges facing the organic movement looking forward and being an advocate for sustainable agriculture.

Tilth Conference
November 11-13
Wenatchee Convention Center
121 N. Wenatchee Ave.
Wenatchee, WA 98801

Scholarships are available so that farmers may have a chance to attend the conference without financial hardship.

Keynote Address: Michael Phillips

Michael Phillips is known across the country for helping people grow healthy fruit. His keynote address on Saturday morning, Biological Resiliency: Finding Community in all the Right Places, will explore how nature intersects with soil health, bringing biological advantages to the foreground. Plant wisdom comes to life as Phillips discusses the different pathways for sustainable agriculture.

Over 25 Educational Workshops

Educational workshops include:

  • Climate & Resiliency
  • Tree Fruit Management
  • Versatile Livestock Operations
  • Organic Production
  • Finance & Marketing
  • Education & Policy

Farm Tour — Diversifying Production

Over the past decade, farmers have found ways to diversify crop production. Join us on farm tour with a lunch and discussion time with your fellow farmers. Participants will discover how a diversified product can help their bottom line and the emerging markets across Central Washington. The tour will include Gibbs Organic Farm and Stemilt’s packhouse.

Symposium — Soil: What’s It Worth?

Why do soils matter? Does the time spent improving soil quality on farm make a difference? Join a panel of Northwest researchers whose on-farm results directly point to the dollars and cents connection between soil management and farm economics. Learn how and why soil management decisions affect production, pests, fertility and produce quality to impact your bottom line at this daylong symposium, Soil: What’s It Worth?

Social Events

Tilth Conference is a great time to catch up with new and old friends, network with colleagues and enjoy the local Wenatchee scene! Start off the conference at the New Shoots & Deep Roots Mixer on Friday night. Don’t miss Saturday’s banquet dinner and annual presentation of the Farmer of the Year and Advocate of the Year awards. Then join us afterwards for a night of celebrating!

Call for Posters

Do you have innovations or agricultural research results that other farmers would benefit from? If so, we invite you to participate in the poster session and share your genius with others! We welcome participation by all stakeholders in the industry including academic researchers, farmers, graduate students and non-profit organizations.

REGISTER

17 Percent of the World’s Livestock Breeds Face Extinction

October 5, 2016

According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), close to 17 percent of the world’s livestock breeds face extinction. Many of these livestock breeds are indigenous, adapted to local conditions with long agricultural and pastoral traditions. Africa alone is home to more than 150 cataloged breeds of cattle.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) reports that up to 80 percent of the agricultural GDP in developing countries comes from livestock; 600 million rural poor people are dependent on livestock to feed themselves and their families. Poor farmers often raise indigenous breeds, managing herds both to maintain diversity and to support community livelihoods. This direct human involvement in cultivating agricultural biodiversity is “inherently linked to sustainable use,” according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Such “genetic diversity is a prerequisite for adaptation in the face of future challenges,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. A diverse population of livestock can spread risk across multiple levels. Not only do “local breeds have greater abilities to survive, produce, and maintain reproduction levels in harsh environments,” says Bertrand Dumont, researcher with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, but they tend to be less cost-intensive to raise.

In the face of challenges including climate change, disease, famine, drought, and land degradation, diverse indigenous breeds of livestock could be of great importance for food security, making “food production more resilient,” says Irene Hoffmann, the head of FAO’s Animal Genetic Resources Programme. A more diverse set of genetic material could help farmers and breeders adapt and respond to the ever-changing world around them.

However, the global rise in meat consumption has driven a shift to industrial meat production. In the past 10 years, worldwide meat production has risen by 20 percent. The FAO projects a 3.5 percent global increase in poultry trade in 2016 alone. About 67 percent of that poultry production comes from industrial animal operations or factory farms. And some 42 percent of global pork production is from factory farms.

Farming and pastoral communities, as well as many farmers’ organizations across the globe, are making an effort to promote the conservation and cultivation of indigenous breeds of livestock. The FAO reports an overall uptick in national investment in gene banks and information systems for the preservation of genetic material from livestock. The Livestock Conservancy, based in North Carolina, serves as a network and resource base for farmers and breeders across the nation. And the SVF Foundation, based in Rhode Island, conserves genetic material from rare breeds of livestock and plants.

Veterinarians Without Borders is currently working in Liberia, Uganda, and Ethiopia on programs that educate university students and smallholder farmers on animal husbandry techniques and human health. In sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, the Turing Foundation offers grants and funding to support sustainable livestock and agricultural practices. Through its focus on holistic systems, the Africa Centre for Holistic Management encourages the use of livestock in land restoration and conservation projects through on-site training and education. In addition, Slow Food International catalogs foods with cultural significance threatened by extinction in its database, Ark of Taste.

In communities all over the world, people are taking steps to conserve livestock. The Samburu Pastoralists of Northern Kenya raise herds of cattle, camels, goats, and sheep, moving from place to place following the patterns of rainfall. This practice can help to build community resistance against drought and celebrates the cultural and practical importance of indigenous livestock breeds. In cross breeding projects with non-indigenous breeds of cattle, Samburu community members found that despite higher yields of milk and meat, the new animals were “more susceptible to drought, disease, and less able to walk long distances…we have little specialist knowledge of these breeds, making us more dependent on inputs and information from outside.”

In the United States, Paul Willis, head of the pork division at Niman Ranch, raises a variety of free-range indigenous pigs in Iowa on a 100-percent vegetarian diet. And companies like Heritage Foods USA and Emmer & Co. connect producers raising heritage livestock and consumers eager to change the way they eat. Both facilitate access to indigenous breeds of livestock through online retail platforms.

Here is a list of 35 indigenous breeds of indigenous livestock that deserve to be protected:

Ankole-Watusi Cattle: Recognizable by their prominent long horns that help to disperse body heat, this breed of cattle is one of many breeds of the Sanga family. Sanga cattle, common throughout East Africa, first spread through the region some 2,000 years ago. The family is mixture of Egyptian Longhorn cattle and Zebu Longhorn cattle, from India. Full-grown Ankole-Watusi bulls can weigh between 1,000 and 1,600 pounds.

Brahma Chicken: The origins of this breed have been long-contested. According to the Livestock Conservancy, Brahma chickens were originally bred in the U.S. from birds imported from China. In 1852, the breeder George Burnham sent a selection of birds to the Queen of England, which sparked a quick rise in popularity and value. The Brahma lay eggs exceptionally well in the wintertime, and come in three colors.

Light Sussex Chicken: This variety of chicken is well known throughout the U.S. and the United Kingdom for being a particularly productive laying hen. Research suggests that Roman invaders may have brought the Sussex variety to England—it now takes its name from the region in southern England. In the 19th century, breeders crossed the Sussex chicken with a Mediterranean breed, creating the Light Sussex Chicken.

Venda Chicken: Originally from Limpopo Province in South Africa, this chicken lays unusually large eggs, typically white, black, and red in color. Skilled scavengers, the birds consume a variable diet, including grass, household scraps, and the occasional small rodent.

Ossabaw Island Hog: Nearly 500 years ago, Spanish Conquistadors left this breed of hog behind on Ossabaw Island, near Savannah, Georgia. Research suggests the hogs may originate in the West Indies—an important stop along trade routes between Europe and the Americas. The breed developed a unique system of fat metabolism that allows it to store a larger proportion of fat rich in Omega-3 fatty acids than any other hog.

Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig: Breeders developed this variety of pig in the 1800s in Gloucestershire, England. Likely a crossbreed of the now-extinct Gloucestershire and Berkshire pigs, black spots cover the white coats of this distinctive breed. These pigs are excellent foragers and grazers and thrive outdoors. The pigs became quite popular the early 20th century for their lean meat. Since World War II, they have fallen into the threatened category as production has restructured towards commercial livestock breeds.

Choctaw Hog: Bred in America, these hogs descend from Spanish stock, but also have a long association with the Choctaw tribe, who kept the hogs through forced migration. The hogs are on the smaller side (about 120 pounds), fast, and athletic. The Livestock Conservancy classifies the Choctaw as critically rare. Population estimates suggest just a few hundred animals.

St. Croix Sheep: St. Croix sheep come from the Virgin Islands, with likely origins in the Caribbean Hair breed family—itself a cross between two varieties brought to the Caribbean in the 16th and 17th centuries. Dr. Warren Foote brought 25 St. Croix sheep to the U.S. from the Virgin Islands in 1975, where breeders have since maintained purebred lines. The breed has high resistance to parasites, high tolerance for heat and humidity, and is well suited to low-input meat production.

American Buff Goose: This goose developed in North America, but its precise history is unclear. It descends from the wild Greylag goose, though research has yet to determine if the breed grew out of a mutation or intentional breeding project. It produces rich, dark meat and large, white eggs.

American Milking Devon Cattle: Not to be confused with Devon or Beef Devon cattle, the American Milking Devon is an extremely rare breed. In 1623, settlers brought the Milking Devon to New England from its home in Devonshire, England. The cattle were soon adopted throughout the colonies—reaching as far as Florida in the 18th and 19thcenturies, and extending west along the Oregon Trail. But, since the late 19th century, the breed began to grow less popular as breeders and farmers sought better beef cattle. Farmers began to distinguish between the Beef Devon and the Milking Devon. A small group set up the American Milking Devon Association, which defends the original colonial breed.

American Plains Bison: Weighing in at about 2,000 pounds, its immense size and the prominent upper back hump set the American Plains Bison apart. Although they nearly went extinct near the end of the 1800s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that today over 200,000 American Plains Bison live in private herds in the U.S.

Buckeye Chicken: This chicken has deep red plumage and thrives in a free-range environment. Developed in Ohio, Buckeye Chicken hens lay medium-sized brown eggs. Mrs. Nettie Metcalf developed the birds in Warren, Ohio, and they are the only bird known to be developed exclusively by a woman.

Bourbon Red Turkey: Named for their home in Bourbon County Kentucky, the Bourbon Red Turkey originated in the late 1800s. The Livestock Conservancy now categorizes the bird as threatened. The turkey produces rich, savory meat. It had a brief popularity as a commercial breed in the 1930s and 1940s, until it fell out of favor, replaced by broad-breasted alternatives.

Cotton Patch Goose: The Cotton Patch Goose was a multi-use bird in the US during the 1900s. Not only did they provide tasty meat and eggs, but farmers also used the birds to weed cornfields and cotton patches—as the name suggests. They were an important source of sustenance for corn and cotton farmers during the Great Depression.

Guinea Hog: This darkly colored breed of pig arrived in the U.S. in conjunction with the slave trade, brought from West Africa and the Canary Islands. Although they were once the most abundant species of pig in the southeastern U.S., the Livestock Conservancy now considers them threatened. The small guinea hog weighs a light 100 to 300 pounds.

Gulf Coast Sheep: In the 1500s, settlers brought this breed of sheep to the New World. The animals were an important source of wool and meat for household use in the Deep South. The Gulf Coast Sheep exhibits strong resistance to parasites—the Livestock Conservancy points to the rise of antibiotics and more productive sheep breeds as a primary threat to the livelihood of this breed. The SVF Foundation categorizes Gulf Coast Sheep as in critical condition.

Texas Longhorn Cattle: Spanish settlers brought these cattle with them as they established missions in the southwestern U.S. Settlers utilized this iconic breed of cattle for their meat, labor, tallow, and hides. Recent research from the University of Texas suggests the cows brought from Spain are related to breeds from the Middle East and India.

Karakul Sheep: This breed of sheep originates from Central Asia. The breed is named after the high-altitude village of Karakul, where water and food are scarce. The breed is celebrated for the value of its lambs’ pelts, often turned into lambskins, and the high-quality wool that can be produced from the coats of mature animals.

Kolbroek Pigs: Though the exact origins of this breed of pig remain unclear, they have lived in South Africa for several decades, where they are considered indigenous. Kolbroek pigs are good foragers, excellent swimmers, and produce exceptional quantities of fat.

Molo Mushunu Chicken: This chicken comes from the Molo district located in the Kenyan part of the Rift Valley, traditionally raised by the Kikuyu people. They are well behaved and appreciated for their delicious meat and eggs. These birds have a strange appearance: their long bodies extend into a featherless head and neck.

Navajo-Churro Sheep: The Navajo-Churro sheep was first brought to the southwestern U.S. by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The breed is widely regarded as the first domesticated sheep in the New World. The animals are highly adaptable and used for its quality wool. Through trading and conflict, the Navajo people adopted the Churro sheep, whose wool they used for weaving. Current efforts by the Navajo Sheep Project to revitalize the breed have been successful.

N’Dama Cattle: This breed originates from the Fouta-Djallon highlands of Guinea. Their meat is flavorful and low in fat content. The breed demonstrates exceptional heat and humidity tolerance. In West Africa, there are approximately 7 million N’Dama cattle to date.

Nguni Cattle: Nguni cattle thrive in southern Africa, where they have long played a key role for communal farmers. The FAO reports that few pure bred animals remain—many were mixed with commercial breeds in the 20th century. Rural farming communities have been largely responsible for the continuation of the Nguni cattle.

Plymouth Rock Chicken: The Plymouth Rock chicken is the quintessential American breed: a crossbreed of Dominiques and Black Javas developed in the mid-19th century, the birds come from the Boston area, though their precise origin remains unclear. Plymouth Rock chickens are dual-purpose, meaning farmers raise them for meat and for eggs.

Red Maasai Sheep: Indigenous to West Africa, Maasai pastoralists in Kenya and Tanzania are the predominant shepherds of the Red Maasai sheep. The sheep are particularly resistant to worms and other diseases.

Randall Lineback Cattle: The exact origins are unclear, but research suggests Randall Lineback cattle are a mixture of Dutch, English, and French varieties. The breed was once quite prevalent in the northeastern portion of the U.S., but much of the population disappeared in the 20th century as farmers and breeders crossed the animals with Holsteins. The Randall family in Vermont had maintained a line purebred of Lineback cattle for 80 years—only a small portion of that herd remains today.

Rhode Island Red Chicken, Old-Type: Another iconic American chicken, the Rhode Island Red is reddish brown in color. The hens lay 200 to 300 eggs per year. The bird was developed in New England, bred to be dual-purpose. Hens lay large round eggs and are a common table bird.

Royal Palm Turkey: These turkeys are white and black with a red or bluish head. Males weigh around 16 pounds, while the females weigh on average 10 pounds. The Livestock Conservancy classifies the Royal Palm threatened. Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds remain in the U.S.

Tennessee Fainting Goat: These goats don’t faint with any regularity, but the breed suffers from myotonia congenita, a condition that causes the muscles to contract when the goat is startled, sometimes making them fall over. Because of this condition, these goats have little body fat, which results in a mild meat.

American Rabbit: These rabbits were developed in California, and reside exclusively in North America. Until the 1950s these rabbits were abundant, hunted for their meat and fur. Now the American Rabbit is the rarest rabbit breed in America. The Livestock Conservancy classifies the rabbit as in critical condition.

Silver Fox Rabbit: Ohio breeder Walter B. Garland developed the Silver Fox for its high-quality meat and fur, which is silver in color. The rabbits are large—ranging from 10 to 12 pounds. The Silver Fox Rabbit is currently threatened in the U.S.

Wyandotte Chicken: Developed in New York in the 1800s, breeders named the Wyandotte Chicken after a regional Native American tribe. The heavy-set birds are poor fliers. In 2016, the bird moved off of the Livestock Conservancy’s priority list. It is now classified as a recovering breed.

Sebright Chicken (Gold and Silver): These birds are primarily ornamental birds. The feathers of both the gold and silver varieties are laced in black. Sebright chickens are good layers, providing small, white eggs. They are one of the most popular bantam breeds. The birds take the name of their breeder, John Sebright.

Dutch Gold Chicken: With origins the Netherlands, the Dutch Gold is also a bantam breed. The birds likely arrived in the Netherlands via trade routes to the Dutch East Indies. The hens lay a lot of small eggs—a trait thought to have been developed by farmers as a strategy to avoid the demands of Dutch landlords that all large eggs be given up as rent.

Zulu Sheep: This breed’s history dates back to 200 A.D. when they traveled with the Nguni people from North and Central Africa to the eastern coast of South Africa. Unfortunately, the Zulu are now an endangered species, but the Enaleni Farm in South Africa raises the sheep.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Applauds Action to Preserve Grassfed Label

October 4, 2016

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Applauds Action to Preserve Grassfed Label

Ongoing oversight will be needed to prevent against misleading label claims

Washington, DC – In response to significant criticism from producers and consumers of sustainable meats following their revocation of the grassfed label claim in early 2016, today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released an animal production claims guidance document intended to ward against misleading label claims.

For nearly a decade USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) had overseen a voluntary label program for grassfed livestock products that was well recognized by farmers and consumers alike. Earlier this year, however AMS withdrew the standard, claiming that USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) was actually the agency with the legal standing to oversee the label claim. Following AMS’ revocation of the standard, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), together with allied agricultural and consumer organizations, urged FSIS to adopt the rescinded AMS standard – a well-respected label claim that had been developed over three years with robust stakeholder participation

NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner, offered these comments on FSIS’ release of the guidance document:

We are pleased that FSIS has clarified through this guidance that any label claim using the term ‘grassfed’ must meet a 100% grassfed standard. Taking this action was necessary to preserve the label’s strong reputation, and we applaud FSIS’ swift response to producer and consumer concerns following AMS’ withdrawal of the standard earlier this year.

We also appreciate that FSIS has required access to pasture during the growing season as part of the grassfed definition. This was not part of the original AMS standard, but is certainly a valuable addition.

The guidance is not perfect, however, and subsequent grassfed claims will require stringent scrutiny. Even with this new guidance, FSIS can still approve lesser label claims, such as “75% grassfed” or “80% grassfed”. These claims are misleading for consumers and harmful to the farmers and ranchers who have built their reputations, and indeed an entire industry, on the 100% grassfed standard.

USDA needs the legal authority to not only enforce strong, pro-farmer, pro-consumer standards, but also to reject misleading claims. We will continue to support FSIS in upholding a strong 100% grassfed label claim standard, while also advocating for an improved process that does not leave the door open for misleading, lesser claims.

Lecture to discuss ag innovations in arid regions

October 3, 2016

Lecture to discuss ag innovations in arid regions

Unleashing the creativity of farmers and agroecologists

The challenges of climate change, water scarcity and land conversion and the social unrest they are generating are restructuring the face of agriculture in many regions of the world.

The “Innovations Happen on the (Arid) Margins” lecture planned at the Resilience Emerging from Scarcity and Abundance ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, will address this important topic. The symposium will be held Wednesday, November 8, 2016 at 8:30AM. The meeting is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

According to speaker Gary Nabhan, “many innovations are emerging both from farmers themselves and from agroecologists working with them in arid and semi-arid landscapes. These innovations may soon have relevance for fostering resilience in agricultural systems well beyond deserts themselves. Many of these resource-conserving innovations build on the concepts such as biomimicry, which metaphorically explore functional adaptations to desert heat and drought that have emerged among desert plants, habitats and cultures over the millennia. Importantly, they integrate ‘citizen science’ with both appropriate technologies and fruitful means of supporting farmer-scientist collaborations. Crop plant selection by farmers and collaborating breeders is now being done in the context of both traditional and novel agroecosystems that draw upon rainwater harvesting, greywater, and brackish water reuse for greater resilience and less dependence on external inputs.”

Nabhan, with The Southwest Center at the University of Arizona, will discuss examples from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, with its 4100 year history of drought-adapted agriculture, and from other semi-arid and arid landscapes in Africa and the Middle East. “The social processes of recognizing, fostering and honoring innovations made by farmers and their collaborators may be as important to the success of these innovations as are the agro-technologies themselves. Given the severity and pervasiveness of climate change impacts on agriculture already upon us, isn’t it time to unleash more of the creative and adaptive capacities of farmers themselves through democratic and collaborative processes?”

This lecture is endowed by the Betty Klepper Endowed Lectureship.

For more information about the Resilience Emerging from Scarcity and Abundance 2016 meeting, visit https://www.acsmeetings.org/.

Media are invited to attend the conference. Pre-registration by Oct. 26, 2016 is required. Visit https://www.acsmeetings.org/media for registration information.

For information about the “Innovations Happen on the (Arid) Margins” lecture, visit https://scisoc.confex.com/scisoc/2016am/webprogram/Session16160.html.

$2 million grant advances research on use of manure in organic farming

September 30, 2016

$2 million grant advances research on use of manure in organic farming

Research team collaborates to examine animal-based soil amendments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), awarded to a multidisciplinary team from the University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota, University of Maine, the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA’s Economic Research Service Resource and Rural Economics Division, the Produce Safety Alliance, and The Organic Center, will address one of the most pressing issues for the organic community—how to use manure effectively in organic farming in ways that foster healthy soil and minimize risks to food safety.

Announced on Wednesday by USDA with funding provided by its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), the grant (exact amount $1,999,848) will support research examining the relationship between manure use in improving soil health and food safety, concentrating on organic fresh produce production.

The new grant implements a research plan developed by UC Davis, The Organic Center, and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) during their 2016 OREI planning grant. The long-term goal of the project is to provide critical information for guidelines on risk mitigation of foodborne pathogens for organic and sustainable agriculture.

“With this grant, we can now engage in specific research using the knowledge base that we’ve built, and The Organic Center welcomes our role in helping to get the word out about this vital issue,” said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center.

The impetus for these grants has been the ongoing implementation process of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to improve food safety. In new rules implementing the FSMA regulations, changes were proposed relating to the use of compost and manure and the required interval that untreated manure could be applied and crops harvested. This is of particular importance for the organic sector, as many certified organic producers rely on animal-based soil amendments such as manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality instead of chemical fertilizers.

Several studies have shown that the use of manure and compost has multiple positive environmental impacts: increased soil health, higher soil biodiversity and reduced erosion. The improved soil health and microbial diversity in organic soils have the potential to control the presence of soil pathogens, which can impact food safety. But little research has examined the specific wait periods between manure application and crop harvest required to control pathogens, and how pathogen presence interacts with heathy soil.

“By developing an innovative, customized risk-assessment based on good agricultural practices used within the organic industry related to raw manure and soil health, the project will benefit organic farmers and consumers by providing strategies to maintain the value of raw manure soil amendments while limiting food safety risks,” said Professor Alda Pires, one of the team’s principal investigators from UC Davis.

For more information on The Organic Center and the science behind organic food and farming, visit www.organic-center.org.

Productive Riparian Buffers

September 29, 2016

Productive Riparian Buffers

Event to focus on riparian buffer design, cost-share options, and agroforestry possibilities

KIMBERTON, PA. In the next six years, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has set the goal of installing nearly 100,000 acres of riparian buffers throughout the state. Buffers protect water resources, reduce erosion, and add to biodiversity within the landscape, but are there any other ways these plantings can serve a farmer or landowner? What sort of assistance and support can farmers and landowners receive for installing riparian buffers?

This field day will be an in-depth look at a 5-year old riparian buffer that both follows Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) guidelines, as well as addresses different uses outside the CREP boundaries. Farm Service Agency employee Don English and wife, landscape architect Ann, have designed a buffer that uses a wide variety of native plants in the CREP area, such as elderberry, hollies, aronia, and viburnums, as well as a broader range of species outside the CREP area — including a number of heritage apples. Principles of buffer design, plant selection, working with government programs, and finding value in the buffer — ecological, social, and economic — will be discussed. The Englishes will also share the lessons they have learned over five years of buffer installation and management—what’s worked for them and what, in hindsight, they might have done differently.

Tracey Coulter, a representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will be present at this field day to discuss agroforestry initiatives within DCNR related to riparian buffer projects. Also present will be representatives of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Stroud Water Research Center, organizations that work with farmers and landowners in the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River watersheds in installing buffers by providing technical as well as access to financial assistance.

Any riparian buffer is helpful, but the most effective buffers include a combination of trees, shrubs, and grasses. Agriculturally productive buffers include all three, so they keep drinking water clean, provide wildlife habitat, prevent erosion, and help control flooding. Best of all, perhaps, you don’t have to give up prime agricultural land in order to grow a buffer. You can generate income from the buffer by growing fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, hay, and other perennial crops. – Liz Brownlee

This field day is a good event for any landowner or farmer who is considering planting a buffer on their land and is wondering what sort of productive potential there might be, what funding opportunities exist, and how, in general, to make the project work. The event will include a short presentation by each speaker, followed by a conversation between attendees and speakers as we tour the English’s buffer project and hear about their challenges and successes, as well as the work non-profits and government agencies are engaged in regarding riparian buffers. Registration includes lunch and can be found at: www.pasafarming.org/events/farm-based-education

Plate Of The Union Kicks Off “Battleground States Food Truck Tour” in New Hampshire

September 12, 2016

Plate of the Union

Plate of the Union Food Truck in Londonderry, NH on Thursday.

Plate of the Union Events in Portsmouth, Londonderry, and Hanover Call on the Next President to Reform our Food System

Londonderry, NH – This week, Plate of the Union, a collaborative campaign calling on the next president to take action to fix our nation’s food system, launched its “Battleground States Food Truck Tour” stopping in Portsmouth, Londonderry, and Hanover, New Hampshire. At Stonyfield in Londonderry yesterday, President of the New England Farmers Union Roger Noonan, Portsmouth-based Chef Evan Mallett, Dartmouth Professor and Union of Concerned Scientists Board Chair Anne Kapuscinski, and President of the Environmental Working Group and co-Founder of Food Policy Action Ken Cook spoke to a crowd of hundreds about the need for action to reform our food and agriculture system.

The event featured the Plate of the Union Food Truck, and a national petition signing calling for action from the presidential candidates in five key areas to reform the nation’s food and agriculture system. Attendees enjoyed healthy food prepared by James Beard Award semi-finalist Chef Evan Mallet of Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth, Rustic Crust Pizza of Pittsfield, NH, and Island Creek Oysters. Former Congresswoman Shea-Porter and senior staff from Governor Hassan’s, Senator Shaheen’s, and Representative Kuster’s offices were also in attendance.

“Our current food system is out of balance. Agricultural innovations have enabled American farmers to produce abundant crops, but 1 in 7 Americans are malnourished in our country – this is not right and must be fixed,” said Anne Kapuscinski, Dartmouth College and Union of Concerned Scientists Board Chair. “The entire nation feels and sees the effects of this broken system. This reality drives Plate of the Union to bring more people into the movement calling for food and farm policy reform. We need leadership to start with our next President to truly transform the system to produce healthy food on healthy farms with livable wages for all food workers, and I applaud Plate of the Union for bringing this conversation to the candidates.”

“The next President needs to know that food and agriculture are connected to many critical issues facing our nation — health, economy, immigration, labor and the environment. Americans want leadership to drive better food policies. With a better food system, we can improve our health, preserve our precious natural resources and farmland, protect our workers, and support farming and agriculture, all while saving taxpayer dollars. We must do better to ensure our food system is more balanced, sustainable, and produces real food that is accessible, affordable, and healthy,” Ken Cook, Co-Founder of Food Policy Action.

The Plate of the Union “Battleground States Food Truck Tour” will continue to make stops until election day with events in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, and North Carolina, bringing delicious food and an important message about how reform of food and farming policies can improve the health of our familes and our nation’s economy.

About Plate of the Union: Plate of the Union is a collaborative campaign driven by Food Policy Action, Food Policy Action Education Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the HEAL Food Alliance to raise the voice of Americans who care about food and farm issues during this election season. More can be found at www.plateoftheunion.com.

Helping Farmers Improve Air Quality

September 8, 2016

Helping Farmers Improve Air Quality

Aerial image showing farming in California’s Imperial Valley.

Helping Farmers Improve Air Quality

Researchers receive grant to study ways of reducing fertilizer use in high-temperature agriculture regions.

by Sean Nealon

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — High temperature agricultural regions are prevalent in the southern United States and the rest of the world and will become even more common with future warming.

However, high temperature environments (roughly defined as high temperatures above 95 degrees) present a challenge related to nitrogen, a common agricultural fertilizer. Those regions lose an unusual amount of nitrogen to the air.

This creates two big problems. One, farmers need to use more fertilizer, which is an added cost for them. Two, the fertilized soils produce large amounts of nitrogen oxides, which when released into the air plays an important role in the formation of ozone, a toxic air pollutant, and increases greenhouse gas emissions.

A team of scientists, led by Darrel Jenerette, a University of California, Riverside landscape ecologist, is addressing those problems. They have shown that modifying fertilization and irrigation practices in high temperature environments can reduce losses of nitrogen to the atmosphere by 50 percent.

Now, they have received a three-year, $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to further the work. They have three objectives:

  • To better identify the farming management practices that limit gaseous losses of reactive nitrogen in high temperature agricultural systems;
  • To evaluate improvements in air quality and greenhouse gas concentrations derived from implementing nitrogen emission management and use date to improve regional air quality models;
  • Develop a greenhouse gas offset protocol in the California Cap and Trade program that provides financial incentive to farmers using practices that limit nitrogen trace gas emissions.

“High temperature agriculture practices are underappreciated,” said Jenerette, an associate professor in the Department of Botany & Plant Sciences. “It is remarkable how different they can be compared to agriculture in temperate regions.”

With the grant funding, the researchers will conduct continuous, automated chamber measurements of nitrous oxide and nitrogen oxides in fields of alfalfa and sorghum, both common summertime crops, in the San Joaquin Valley and Imperial Valley in California. (The research will focus exclusively on summer crops, which are grown when temperatures are highest. Average high temperatures in the Imperial Valley during the summer are about 105 degrees.)

The researchers will test the effectiveness of different management techniques, such as: using lower amount of nitrogen fertilizer; applying nitrogen more frequently; using more organic fertilizers, such as urea; applying the fertilizer on the side instead of the top; and reducing the amount of flood irrigation.

The research that will be funded by the grant builds on previous work outlined in two recent papers, “Multivariate regulation of soil CO2 and N2O pulse emissions from agricultural soils,” published in Global Change Biology, and “Unusually high soil nitrogen oxide emissions influence air quality in a high-temperature agricultural region,” published in Nature Communications.

Both of these papers highlight how episodic soil wetting and subsequent drying lead to the occurrence and magnitude of “pulsed” biogeochemical activity.

While working in the Imperial Valley, the researchers found some of the highest soil nitrogen oxide emissions ever observed, exceeding previous measurements in agricultural and natural ecosystems and more than 68 times greater than predicted by standard models. The researchers found that soil nitrogen oxide emissions are capable of influencing regional air quality and can have a large contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Others involved with the grant are: Jun Wang and Cue Ge, both at the University of Iowa, and Patricia Oikawa of California State University, East Bay.

To view press release visit: https://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/37984

Cowpeas are the Answer. What’s the Question?

September 1, 2016

from Crop Science Society of America

Cowpeas Bring Benefits to Soil, Farmers, Consumers

Available cropland, and the growing season, is limited. Strained soils are in need of rejuvenation. Water can be scarce. Yet the world’s nutritional needs continue to grow, along with its population.

Enter the cowpea. A modest but versatile crop, cowpeas may provide an answer to demands on grower resources—and international appetites.

Cowpeas, also known as black-eyed peas, provide a vital source of protein and other nutrients to humans. They also benefit the farmer and soil. “With so many useful traits including 60-day maturity, cowpeas are becoming increasingly important legume,” researcher B.B. Singh asserts. “They complement other crops and ensure higher food production and family nutrition, without competing for land and other resources.”

Although contributing to agricultural science since the 1960s, Singh began focusing on cowpeas, also known as black-eyed peas, in 1979. Then, as now, popular crops of corn, wheat, and rice provided calorie-dense food. Their nutrition profiles, however, are limited. Cowpeas, with up to 30% protein and a strong following in diets across the globe, were ripe for development.

Snare Cowpeas are the Answer

Singh, on left, with researchers and growers in a cowpea field in India. Photo provided by B.B. Singh.

Just as important, cowpeas can fill the short growing time between other crops. Singh has developed over 100 varieties that fit into a tight 60 days, seed-to-harvest. Other crops can need twice as much growing time. This allows farmers to rotate cowpeas between other crops to maximize land, labor, and other resource use.

Niche performance is only one reason global production of cowpeas has increased 70% over a decade. The rising popularity is also testament to an ability to grow in challenging, heat- and drought-ridden conditions. Cowpeas grow anywhere with two months of temperatures between 59-104°F. Cowpeas are also shade tolerant, making them a good choice for growth alongside taller crops.

Further, they maximize the soil’s work while increasing soil health. It seems counterintuitive for a field to work harder and be healthier. However, cowpeas pull valued nitrogen out of the air for use in the root zone. Because part of this nitrogen, vital for all crop growth, remains in the soil, farmers can use less fertilizer for the next crop and come out with higher yields. Cowpeas’ roots also access phosphorus that may be limited in the soil. And, their quick growth and rapid ground cover prevent soil erosion.

Squeezing in this extra crop also benefits farming families. Farmers can sell the results of a cowpea planting twice: First the cowpea itself, and then the residue left in the field. This residue is a high-protein food source for livestock, meaning better weight gain and higher milk yields.

Singh defines the benefits of pulses in very tangible and personal ways. “In Nigeria, the extra income broke the poverty cycle for many farmers in two years, increased their purchasing power, and supported the schooling and health care of their children. Farmers are able to make efficient use of their land, machinery, and other resources during the period no other crop can be grown.”

Cowpeas also show promise in reducing world hunger and malnutrition. As an affordable source of protein, cowpeas go a long way to provide a major part of the recommended 50-70 grams of protein per person per day. “In Northern India alone, with 10 million hectares in wheat-rice rotations, cowpeas as a niche crop could produce between 10 and 15 million tons of cowpeas. That would double the availability of cowpeas to all people in India to 60 grams per day.”

Singh praises cowpeas’ nutritional package for all. Loaded with protein, fiber, iron, zinc, calcium, and antioxidants, cowpeas are a valued addition to any diet. In addition, their food contribution goes beyond use of the dried seeds. The leaves are similar to spinach. The immature green pods are also edible.

Singh presented his work with cowpeas at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Crop Science Society. The proceedings can be accessed here. Singh’s book, Cowpea: The Food Legume of the 21st Century, supports cowpeas’ place in global agriculture and in every diet. It is available online.

Dried beans such as cowpeas are part of a food group known as pulses. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP). In celebration, the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) created a web page for the public about pulses, www.crops.org/iyp. Special tabs for the public include K-12 Education, Beans in the News, Grown Your Own, and Delicious Ideas.

CSSA will release more information about pulses throughout the 2016 IYP celebration.

A Fool’s Guess at Weather

August 23, 2016

A farmer’s hesitant fall weather forecast for US, guessed at from several sources and cobbed together with a view towards answering our seasonal question: What do I need to do to prepare for winter this year.

Mid-Atlantic on up into New England might be warm and dry could mean leaves have less color and fall off quicker.

Florida on up to D.C and back into Tennessee Valley may have lots of moisture and some Atlantic hurricane activity (experts say above average number of storms).

Midwesterners should expect warmth turning to severe heat through the fall.

Great Plains warm and dry turning to a early snow season.

Pacific Northwest will have a cool fall with above average rainfall and early snow in the mountains.

California and westerners will be dry and drought will worsen.

Check back here in 5 months and see if I was right. LRM

On the Farm in the Field

August 6, 2016

ON THE FARM IN THE FIELD the days joined together, strung like beads on a necklace. All growth was a dream linking what had long slept in dark and damp to what might come to be, fed a warm soup of rain, new life rooted in decay, sun, wind and time.

IN A FIELD TILLED FOREVER there is always something coming up with the thaw. Each time you break ground you find hints and implications. Kind of a poem written in rust and bleached bone, in fossil, castoff, hand-me-down. Endless ends and beginnings. Secrets your pockets could never keep to themselves.

THE DIRT WAS DIFFERENT EVERY DAY, the farm stirred in motion all round its one fact of life. Some of it was always open, or about to be. Some mornings some was flaky, some still shined by yesterday’s plow, or crumbled by the cultivator, or was mud in the rain left untouched. It was only there to be worked if dry enough. Otherwise you did chores and marked time till the fields dried out enough to get back to. And after planting anything you held your breath until, harmless, drowsy and brave, the first plants poked up.

– Paul Hunter

Health Secrets of the Amish

August 5, 2016

In recent New York Times article Moises Velasquez-Manoff revealed results of a new study which indicated that Amish men, women and children are much less likely to have asthma and allergy problems than most every other sector of the population. It is felt that the small farm Amish lifestyle – which includes proximity to livestock, and especially cattle – results in a strengthened immune system. Deep down there is the suggestion that while this may prove to be a turning point in the soft war against asthma and allergies, the social and medical mechanics are completely unwilling to think of a small farm lifestyle as a real option for people. Instead we can expect to see pharmaceutical companies work to distill the essence of cow microbes as a powder people take in the morning with their orange juice, coffee or mimosas. – Lynn Miller

www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/opinion/health-secrets-of-the-amish

Non-GMO vs. Certified Organic: What You Gonna Call It?

August 4, 2016

Industrial agriculture’s image police are sitting back and smiling big these days. They are watching as the Non-GMO folks and the Certified Organic folks are doing friendly battle to try to win the hearts of consumers. And looks like the Non-GMO forces are winning. Dan Charles of NPR has a succinct new article entitled Organic Food Fights Back Against Non-GMO Rival.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/03/487905333/organic-food-fights-back-against-non-gmo-rival

Now isn’t that confusing as heck. Lots of folks think that Organic and Non-GMO are one in the same. Ain’t necessarily so. Chemically-intensive, industrial agriculture produces most of the labelled Non-GMO crops. And typically the Non-GMO is cheaper. What consumers don’t know is that it is likely to be hazardous to the environment and human health. So the semantic wrestling match continues and the result will likely be a significant loss in the gains Organic farming has experienced. Anyway you cook it we all lose. – Lynn Miller

Good Farming and Dying Societies

July 13, 2016

We may be out in the field thinning the carrots or raking the hay but the news and smell of these days still gets to us. Leaking out around the edges of the entertainment news focus and celebrity rhumba line, we learn every day of the rapidly expanding discontent of an enormous chunk of America. Many people have lost sight of who they are, stripped as they have been of gainful employment and positive community identification. And this loss of identity and self respect has stripped so many of our best selves down to raw bone making us susceptible to the bizarre lies and machinations of dead-hearted politicians of every party and stripe. An echo chamber of violence and horror fuels the stupidities. And we are right in wondering what is becoming of our society.

Starting at the local levels, where the very best of our society still works day by day to maintain respectful decency and social cleanliness, we need to grow our leadership class until it oozes out to the national stage. We need to restore capitalism in a return to openness, fairness and true competition. We need restoration of the humane to humanity. Good farming continues as one outstanding model forward. – Lynn Miller

No Qualified Person Has Applied To Be In Charge Of Us All

July 12, 2016

As farmers we must continue to take charge of our own lives, work, environs and future. Our example will win out. There is no other example with the heart and capability to win out. Leadership in its most ideal form is ultimately gardening. Governance in its best form is stewardship. And husbandry is the sane substitution for bureaucracy. Our leaders should be planning and planting and suggesting seed options. Our governors should be showing us how to make rules and regulations transparent and, in the main, unrestrictive. Our bureaucrats need to be ridiculously helpful to each and every citizen that crosses their path. Every one with gainful work and every job met with enthusiasm. No one hungry. No one kept from their own life without accepted cause. And justice always coming before the rule of law. Every disease a grounds for holiday. Every child allowed to work. Every adult allowed to play. And every old age a comfort to many. – Lynn Miller

Observations

July 8, 2016

The world is getting larger and larger and our scope of useful, vital attention gets smaller. I am not thinking of Uruguay or Rhodesia or Denmark or Mongolia – We are farming right here in our defined microclimate and watershed at the convergence of the bottom edge of the Columbia basin with the tail feathers of the Cascade mountains and the wash of the great basin. It is our fluffed NW version of the high desert.

We don’t think about the full-time visitors to the region, the campers and ‘outdoorsmen’ in search of definable, disposable elations. We think about the neighbors who are each and everyone working right this minute to add small increments of gain and decorate the inevitable pains of living here – all of us hopefully with the intent observations that reward with appreciation.

As the farming focuses intensely on the near: today’s growth of the barley and regrowth of alfalfa, the push coming with the late planted potatoes, the crazy increase in wild rabbits and gophers though the coyotes are everywhere, the behaviors of the irrigation water, the unusual gentleness of the weather. the worries over harvest and the mounting bills to pay – we live and observe right here.

Nature for our immediate region seems somewhat asleep for the month, weather has been moderate and perfect. No storms in 30 days. Very few insects, two earwigs when there would have been hundreds in the past, a couple dozen flies where there have been thousands, no mosquitos though we live on the edge of a pond, even frogs have thinned. In years past, summer evenings we would sit on the porch and watch the nighthawks and bats – none now. One nesting pair of wild mallards, no Cinnamon Teals this year, no wild geese. So far only one Bald Eagle, last summer we had five distinctly different Eagles. I did see a magnificent Goshawk swooping low over the hay field a month ago. The elk are the exception, returning early and in force, over a hundred head in the irrigated ground at night.

So our biological universe shifts and us in it. We are charged with being the best soft examples of natural world citizenry. Observe, record, and take greater care with every step. Lynn Miller

THOUGHT THIS MORNING

July 6, 2016

Thought this morning of socially-modified organisms and the fleeting “yum-factor”. And it is all so very far from what should matter.

Observation: a life embracing flux, deep in the thicket of diversity and interconnectedness gives us those fluttering edges that reach out and pull in any new ventures as natural, reach out and make of the new mix, the new edit, something all of the new piece, all of the parcel, all of the growing whole.

It is long past time for society (western) to escape its false liberation and rejoin structure, chosen routine, selected constructive memberships. Perhaps at the core of these “culture” wars rests or worms individual discomfort with ‘liberation’. Not speaking of equality which at its core is a machination of false governance.

Question: what part does cultural membership, the deepest sort where secrets and traditions are freely shared, what part does that play in keeping alive the natural ways of farming, medicine and song?

And then there are these digital manifestations of this new age of intense shallow. Is it just me? Is it my poison? Or these poisonous times? Heard a woman on the radio say it, we are in the thick inescapable middle of the biggest change in the collective human psyche since Guttenberg’s press five hundred years ago. Everyone has a chance at a voice in the public din. Very few wish to listen to any voice except their own. The absurdities fed and fed and fed by commerce.

And today the grandmothers of Venezuela have no food for their families but they have this damned internet.

So many examples, endless in fact, of how rampant capitalism continues to destroy humanity and the planet. Odd the bargain that we all feel, almost as if in a communist state, that every idea belongs to all of us so long as we are sitting back and watching the self-annointed devour what the ideas bring.

And between we working poor and the idle rich is the machinery of commerce and governance which dissolves common sense and honest effort in a slow persistent rust of control. Rampant capitalism persists because it rewards greed, stupidity and immorality. It feeds the rust it provides opportunity to. – Lynn Miller

The Sun Can Save Dying Bees

June 16, 2016

We have received news of a strategy for battling the Varroa mite, also reported by Reuters a while back. What follow is a press release from the inventors:

The discovery of a new type of beehive brings new hope for bees worldwide. The hive is able to kill the Varroa destructor mite with only heat from solar radiation. Varroa mites destroy bee colonies around the world and consist of a nightmare for beekeepers. The only defense thus far has been chemical drugs although their efficiency is not sufficient. The discovery, however, of Czech scientists has provided new hope in the fight against this parasite without the aid of chemical products.

”Our goal was to create a reliable method for treating Varroa without using any chemicals. It has been known for several decades that the Varroa destructor mite is extremely sensitive to increased temperature. We applied this knowledge and created a Thermosolar hive. It employs solar radiation to raise the temperature in the colony, thus killing the Varroa mites” states the inventor doctor Roman Linhart. The patented Thermosolar hive can, thanks to its special glassed parts, absorb sunlight and transform it into heat. This heat warms the bee colony inside the hive. The bees are not impacted by the higher temperature and the mites die. “The entire concept of a Thermosolar hive has been developed for 12 years and has passed thorough testing.” says Linhart.

The Thermosolar hive is equipped with unique mechanisms enabling it to utilize sunshine to heat the bee colony and honeycombs slowly. If we expose the mite to a temperature of 40°C(104°F) to 47°C (116.6°F) for about 150 minutes, the mite is killed. The heat does not harm the bees, brood or the honeycombs. It nevertheless kills all the Varroa mites inside the brood cells.

The hive has undergone university research and testing in recent years by almost a hundred beekeepers. One of them, Pavel Roubinek states that “beekeeping in this hive is healthy, ecological, without chemicals and without the Varroa mite.” Another beekeeper, Ludmila Kabelova, confirms: “It excludes the damaging influence of chemicals and perfectly exterminates mites in a sealed brood. When maintaining the methodology, the entire treatment is simple and safe. The bees are in great condition.”

“It is not only a beehive. It is a treatment device intended for year-long beekeeping without the use of chemicals. Hive is so easy to use that it is suitable for beginners. Furthermore, long term thermal support helps increase the honey amounts brought. That is because bees, which would otherwise have to stay in the hive to heat the brood, can fly for nectar flow.” Linhart adds. Inventor of the hive wants to promote the idea and seeks for support of beekeeping community through crowdfunding; afterwards he plans to produce the hives in larger volumes.

For more information please visit: http://thermosolarhive.com

The Reuters video:  http://www.reuters.com/video/2015/06/28/thermosolar-beehive-protects-against-mit?videoId=364750317

For further information, please contact:
Mr. Jan Raja
e-mail : jan.raja@thermosolarhive.com
tel : +420 777 883 792

Seaweed On Your Dinner Plate: The Next Kale Could Be Kelp

June 15, 2016

From NPR:

You’ve heard that you should eat more kale. Now a small but growing industry wants you to eat more kelp.

Seaweed production has long been a big industry in Asia. But recently, American entrepreneurs have launched new enterprises that grow fresh and frozen seaweed right here in the States.

Just off the Maine coast, I caught up with Peter Fischer, Peter Arnold and Seth Barker, whose new venture, Maine Fresh Sea Farms, is yielding its first full harvest. From a small skiff out in the clean waters of Maine’s Damariscotta estuary, they winch up a rope that’s heavy with floppy sheets of glistening kelp.

Back in September, they set tiny starter plants of three varieties of edible seaweed out here: kelp, dulse and alaria. Now they have several wide lines of biomass that extend out for yards, bulging just under the water’s surface.

“These have been growing really fast,” Arnold says, marveling at the seaweed’s speedy growth. “Some of them are well over 10 feet.”

Read more at NPR:  http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/05/480346509/seaweed-on-your-dinner-plate-the-next-kale-could-be-kelp

See, Taste, and Experience Life on the Farm During Annual Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series

May 27, 2016

Columbus, OH — Do you want to learn about sustainable beekeeping, biochar, profitable poultry production, raising high quality grass-fed beef, or improving your forages? Would you like to enjoy a leisurely stroll through organic fields and pastures and visit with farm animals? Or take a farm stand with an organic farmer threatened by pipeline development?

You’ll have opportunities to do all this and more during the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s 21 summer farm tours and workshops, which are part of the 2016 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series.

“This is a great chance for everyone interested in local foods to grow their farm knowledge and to build bridges with others who share a passion for sustainable agriculture,” said Lauren Ketcham, OEFFA’s Communications Coordinator. “These tours and workshops allow farmers and gardeners to share production and market know-how with each other and help consumers gain a greater understanding of how food gets from the field to the dinner table.”

Meet knowledgeable local farmers ready to share their wisdom, and experience sustainable agriculture up close during these farm tours:

  • Tuesday, June 7: Take an Organic Farm Stand Tour — Bluebird Farm, Harrison Co.
  • Saturday, June 25: Pasture-Raised, Rotationally Grazed Livestock Farm Tour — Pastured Providence Farmstead, Ross Co.
  • Saturday, July 9: Historic Farm Tour and Biochar Workshop — Gorman Heritage Farm, Hamilton Co.
  • Saturday, July 9: Sustainable Beekeeping Farm Tour and Workshop — Stratford Ecological Center, Delaware Co.
  • Friday, July 15: Quality Forage for Dairy Operations Farm Tour — Heckman Family Dairy, Darke Co.
  • Saturday, August 13: Quality Hay and Grass-Fed Beef Farm Tour — Wood Farm, IN
  • Friday, August 19: Organic Compost Farm Tour — Hirzel Canning Company and Farms, Wood Co.
  • Friday, September 16: On-Farm Research Farm Tour — Crumrine Farms, Ashland Co.
  • Saturday, October 11: Pasture-Raised Multi-Species Livestock Farm Tour — Sweet Grass Dairy, Knox Co.

Develop your production skills and gain important food safety knowledge during these practical on-farm workshops:

  • Saturday, June 11: Loin Eye Carcass Ultrasound Scanning — The Spicy Lamb Farm, Summit Co.
  • Monday, June 20: Find Your Path to Clean Water: Food Safety Water Quality Standards and Testing Protocols for Produce Growers — MTSO’s Seminary Hill Farm, Delaware Co.
  • Friday, June 24: Raising the Steaks: Finishing the Finest Beef on Grass — White Clover Farm, Highland Co.
  • Friday, August 5: Profitable Poultry in Motion: Maximizing Performance From Your Pastured Flock — Breakneck Acres, Portage Co.
  • Thursday, September 22 and November 10: Season Creation: Pay for Your High Tunnel in Six Months Harvesting Food Through the Winter — Mustard Seed Market at Highland Square, Summit Co., Gorman Heritage Farm, Franklin Co.

Visit with OEFFA member farms during these annual open houses:

  • Saturday, June 11: Snowville Creamery and Find A Way Farm, Meigs Co.
  • Sunday, June 26: Sunny Meadows Flower Farm, Franklin Co.
  • Sunday, September 18: Carriage House Farm, Hamilton Co.

This series is promoted in cooperation with The Ohio State University Extension Sustainable Agriculture Team, Advancing Eco Agriculture, Ashtabula Local Food Council, Columbus Agrarian Society, and Our Harvest Research and Education Institute, who are sponsoring additional tours and workshops.

All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise indicated in the series brochure.

For more information and complete details for all workshops and farm tours, click here.

Seeking Homesteaders!

May 25, 2016

Are you an off-grid homesteader? Are you open to sharing your story with a California-based filmmaker? Alternatively, do you know a family who is living on an off-grid homestead, or planning to build one? If so, please contact Steven Leckart: sl@stevenleckart.com

I’m a filmmaker working with Talos Films, a New York based production company. We’re investigating the world of DIY homesteaders all around the country.

Our goal is to produce a highly-cinematic, engaging television series about this fascinating community. We’re looking to find enthusiastic, inspiring homesteaders who are out in the wild now, or people and/or families who are about to become homesteaders soon.

We want viewers around the world to see that it is possible for people to live off the land and rely on their own ingenuity and persistence to thrive in nature.

Cost-Share Program Helps Make Organic Certification Affordable for Farmers and Processors

May 24, 2016

Columbus, OH — This May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that $369,100 is available through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to make organic certification more affordable for organic producers and handlers in Ohio. A total of approximately $11.6 million is available to organic operations across the country.

This funding covers as much as 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 annually per certification scope. Four scopes of certification are eligible for reimbursement: crops, wild crops, livestock, and handler.

“The organic market is booming, with more and more producers taking advantage of the economic opportunities it presents,” AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer said. “The cost-share program makes it easier for organic businesses throughout the supply chain to get certified, helping them meet growing consumer demand.”

Retail sales of organic products grew to more than $39 billion in the United States in 2014 and more than $75 billion worldwide, according to the USDA.

Since 2011, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has partnered with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) to administer Ohio’s cost-share program.

“The cost-share program is utilized by about 45 percent of Ohio’s nearly 800 organic farmers,” OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland said. “We encourage more organic farmers to take advantage of this opportunity, which can help make becoming — or staying — certified more affordable.”

Reimbursable costs include application fees, certification fees, travel costs for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments, and postage. The program is currently reimbursing for expenses paid between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016. Applications for reimbursement must be postmarked by November 15, 2016, although requests are processed monthly.

Organic farmers and processors in Ohio can access the reimbursement application from OEFFA’s website at http://certification.oeffa.org/costshare or by calling (614) 262-2022.

Certified organic producers and handlers outside of Ohio can find the contact information for their administrating agencies at www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing.

###

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1979 by farmers, gardeners, and conscientious eaters who committed to work together to create and promote a sustainable and healthful food and farming system. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.

Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
41 Croswell Rd., Columbus OH 43214
(614) 421-2022 www.oeffa.org

New “Farmers’ Guide” Helps Organic Producers Apply for Buffer Initiative

May 18, 2016

Washington, DC, May 13, 2016 – Today, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) announced the publication of their Organic Farmers’ Guide to the Conservation Reserve Program Field Border Buffer Initiative (PDF). The guide is intended to be a free resource, one of many free guides NSAC regularly produces for farmers and farm groups, for organic farmers interested in accessing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new Organic Buffer Initiative.

Read more on the NSAC website

LEFTOVERS TO THE HUNGRY

May 17, 2016

There is an organization in Mumbai, India, which gathers uneaten cooked wedding and event food and makes it available within an hour to the homeless and hungry. Through a network of 4,000 dabbawallas (translated as “the ones with boxes”) the city is crisscrossed with pushcarts and lunch boxes. This distribution force is volunteer and incredibly efficient. Research is underway to see if such a program may be expanded.

Read more at NPR

LAWNS INTO FARMS

May 16, 2016

Chris Castro of Orlando, Florida’s mayor’s office works after hours on developing a way to convert suburban and urban lawns into market gardens. Orlando allows residents to farm on up to 60 percent of their yard. His program is called Fleet Farming. The program volunteers ride bicycles from plot to plot to care for and harvest the gardens. This good idea is catching on around North America.

Read more at NPR

OUTLOOK

May 3, 2016

But we offer caution that time and energy must be spent studying the best farming practises. Good farming is about practise and legacy and planning, And of course successful farming begins and carries forward with enthusiasm.

DAIRY — Local demands for the flavors and varieties which spring of a region’s weather, soils, and history are fueling small independent dairy operations specializing in artisan approaches to all dairy products. These new farms are above and beyond the large commercial dairies which cannot compete at this level. As independence is protected this spectrum of dairy product will continue to grow in market share and profitability.

MEAT — Beef supplies are low stateside and the general demand is high, this translates to quite high prices into the future. Paradoxically the spread between highest quality artisan-produced beef and the top end of commercial beef with continue to shrink. Expect Lamb, Pork, Poultry, Goat and exotic meats to grow in market share for at least five years, and to gain in valuation as well. Meat based proteins will become more and more of a luxury for those people of low incomes. This may point to market difficulties within the decade unless the political will is found to address the widening disparity between the haves and have nots. Rich people alone aren’t going to purchase enough meat to keep the industry profitable.

ANIMAL POWER — Currently in a momentary slump, expect to see a growing number of people actively pursuing alternative motive power sources on the farm and identifying with horses, mules and oxen in increasing numbers. The future is bright for the long range planning that has farms raising and training fresh work stock for sale.

FIELD CROPS — The wild fluctuations in weather will continue to make long term farm planning insecure. Commodity agriculture as centered on corn, soybeans and wheat is in for a very rough ride in the US over the next five to ten years. Expect that the vagaries of  genetic engineering and chemical freak-shows will introduce bizarre new crop events and the chance of wholesale consumer boycotts the likes of which may well destroy entire sectors of agribusiness. And expect these same situations to increasingly entice agribusiness entities to move overseas, especially to India, Africa, and South America. These conditions bode exceedingly well for the small independent farmers who will be able to earn and keep the trust of local consumers – consumers hungry for good safe food especially as they offer a cornucopia of small grain, legume, and forage variety.

MARKET GARDEN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES — Already experiencing a renaissance and fueling the larger part of the local food movement, this sector will continue to grow and feed the profits of new farmers. Expect to see an increase in available varieties and artistic new approaches to serving the local food movements.

ROOT CROPS — Led by potatoes this segment of agricultural production is a sleeper destined to explode as more and more new farmers discover the astounding value of homegrown feeds as central to mixed crop and livestock operations.

SUGAR BUSH — If you are in the right region for maple syrup production you owe it to yourself to look into the phenomenal opportunities present in this colorful, flavorful and difficult farming treasure.

We’ve said it before, we say it again; There has never been a better time to become a farmer. The future for good farming is ripe, fertile, profitable and vibrant. LRM

MAY DAY MAY DAY MAY DAY 2016?

May 2, 2016

One tinker/farmer valued broken handles. She saw them as profit and evidence. Pitchfork handles, hammer handles, shovel handles. She reused them where possible. She rejoiced when not possible because it meant a bird poop dance. See, she planted the discard handles in her garden with best end pointing up and did a little private dance. She rejoiced that the birds would have another perch to poop on. But her well organized and conscientious neighbors labelled her ‘hippy hater’ because she refused to explain herself or be used as a conference example. She even insisted that bird poop dances be done at night with no one watching. “She must be a witch” they said because she will not join us in our just cause to right the wrongs. “Or worse, she’s probably a republican!” The inquisition mentality which says you are with us or you are against us is used without artistry by the Rifkinesque mob leaders of the politically correct as well as the Donalds.

Last time we looked in that special place we look to, logic was subject to context and interpretation and had no direct fertilizing value.

The concepts of business finance ala Dun & Bradstreet or extension MBA courses have less than no value for the farmer who worships his work and fertility. Because those plastic concepts scream out “there is no Return on Investment from Worship!”

Some of the nicest people I know think they are environmentalists. The bumper sticker said “Friends don’t let friends.” I refuse to rent you out. Ah, but the lawyers and members of the boards of the largest well-oiled environmental organizations barter for power and in the process are culpable for your entire list of ‘but we don’ts…’

To care passionately, even militantly, about the environment, does not automatically make you a member of this ‘thing’ (this body politic) that has come to steal the word ‘environmentalist’ just as the politicos at USDA have stolen the word ‘sustainable’.

Oh and by the way, Birkenstocks are out. I read where the new Roccoco Marxists will only don footwear made from the skins of windfall fruit!

LRM

Farmer brings new hope to food producers by developing environmentally friendly alternative to pesticide

April 21, 2016

With non-pesticide methods of farming perceived as ineffective, a Norwegian farmer has taken destiny into his own hands to combat the D. radicum ‘cabbage fly’ that destroys Brassica crops including cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. Svein Lilleengen has spent over 20 years researching D. radicum and has developed Fertibug – a solution designed to repel cabbage flies without killing them or using toxic chemicals.

D. radicum flies lay their eggs close to these plants and, when hatched, the migrating larvae feed off the root of the vegetable to grow. Farmers and gardeners in Europe, the US and Russia have long battled with the cabbage fly, which, if left untreated,can destroy up to half of their crop.

EU BANS PESTICIDES

Historically, this has been particularly problematic for Scandinavians who operate under strict guidelines around pesticides and use organic methods, but as the rest of Europe grapples with new EU regulations, which will ban the use of around 20 different pesticides, there has never been a more urgent time for scientists to discover and promote alternative technologies to support farmers in combatting crop infestation.

This week, the European Commission have banned two endocrine-disrupting weed killers that have been linked to thyroid cancer, infertility, reproductive problems and foetal malformations.

SAVING MONEY AND TIME

Following two decades of research and development, and supported by funding through the EU´s Seventh Framework Programme, Lilleengen developed a solution that repels cabbage flies without killing them or using toxic chemicals. Fertibug is a cost-effective, less labour-intensive alternative to current practices (such as using various kinds of nets to keep the flies away), which has yielded fantastic results in its trials.

“New ways of protecting the crops without harming the environment or people’s health had to be developed,” Lilleengen explains.

Combining a solid fertiliser based on the fibrous byproducts of biogas production with an algae that the flies cannot stand, Fertibug nourishes plants at the same time as protecting them. As one of the farmers involved in Lilleengen’s tests remarked: “I’ve never had a crop of cabbages so beautiful as the plot treated with FertiBug pellets”.

YIELDS GREAT RESULTS

Field trials in Spain and Hungary demonstrated a 100 per cent repellent effect. Consequently, Spanish crops of Savoy cabbage saw a 50 per cent increase in yield per hectare, and the Hungarian fields were between 20 and 80 per cent more productive.

Lilleengen hopes that this sustainably-produced, environmentally friendly and effective solution will appeal to both organic and traditional farmers across Europe as they contend with the new EU restrictions on pesticides.

For more information on Svein Lilleengen’s work visit the full article at http://www.internationalinnovation.com/

CO2 Shown To Reduce Bee Food Source

April 20, 2016

Purdue University reports that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have reduced protein in goldenrod pollen, a key late season food source of North American bees. Previous studies have shown that CO2 levels can lower nutritional value of wheat and rice — staples of the human diet.

Genetic Engineering Falters on the Political Front

April 19, 2016

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety listed, in his article for AlerNet, that Kellog’s, ConAgra, Mars and General Mills have joined Campbell’s to voluntarily label any Genetic Engineering in their food products. This comes in response to the failure in the US senate of the DARK act, a corporate attempt, by Monsanto and others, to reverse a GE labeling law in Vermont.

What Has Become of “Local” Became of “Sustainable” et al.

April 18, 2016

How do we value local foods when balanced against organic products from ’round the world? Because something is said to have been produced just down the road does not necessarily mean that it is better for us, or for the environment. And now we seem to be inviting in ad hoc groups of self-appointed food police who are prepared to publicly question restaurant and grocery claims of health, quality, locality, and intent. The cache’ of local and organic has become unquestionable in high-end restaurants around the world, so much so that the dollar return invites exaggeration and out-right lies. Because of this faltering record, claims of “Purity and Honesty” in these venues is fast inviting skepticism if not outright disbelief. As failed screenwriters and ad copy butchers apply the principles of deniability to menus and grocery placards we can expect to see an acutely astute underground movement in search of truth and sincerity. First casualties are the words. We’ve lost ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘natural’ and a raft of terms randomly applied to the health of the biosphere. Soon to follow will be ‘local’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘traditional’ and ‘elaboration’.

ALERT! The Armies of Profit Continue in Their March To Control Agriculture and World Food Supply.

April 7, 2016

Dateline April 7, 2016:

Multi-national corporate giants are poised to take even more control over seed industry. DuPont (Pioneer) is merging with Dow AgroSciences while Monsanto sets its sights on acquiring  Bayer CropScience.

IF these moves go forward three companies will control more than half of global seed sales.

Save for stockholders and over-paid executives who benefits here? Humanity? Nope. Biodiversity? Definitely not  – a big step back. Farmers? Absolutely not. The Planet? Nosiree. This is yet another poison arrow in the butt of earth.

For a good look at the back story see Dan Charles’ NPR article

31 Indigenous Crops Promoting Health and Contributing to Food Security

April 7, 2016

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), just twelve crops provide 75 percent of the world’s food. Three of these crops, rice, maize, and wheat contribute to nearly 60 percent of the protein and calories obtained by humans from plants. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost.

Restoring interest and investment in indigenous crops may offer a solution to food insecurity and the increasing loss of biodiversity. Some traditional plant varieties can help improve nutrition and health, improve local economies, create resilience to climate change, revitalize agricultural biodiversity, and help preserve tradition and culture.

Read more at FoodTank.com

Help Wanted

April 4, 2016

 

Seeking agricultural adviser for small remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Must reduce costly reliance on imported foods. No airport, no internet, good fishing. All land is communally owned. Ten year plan to become self sufficient in food and energy. Hoping to plant and sustain fruit orchards and improve the health of their animals. Minimum commitment of two years and a resilient nature.

Help Wanted

A view of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, the official name for the residential settlement on Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Vidar Bakken / Oceanwide Expeditions

Help Wanted

Tristan da Cunha is a seven-day boat ride away from the nearest city, Cape Town.

Help Wanted

The local cafe. Photo by Vidar Bakken

Help Wanted

Houses on Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Rob Tully

Help Wanted

Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha group of islands.

Help Wanted

A volcano dominates the island. Photo by Alexey German

Excerpted from the Toronto Star article:

by Sandro Contenta, Toronto Star

Want a job on the most remote inhabited island on Earth? If you’re an expert in agriculture, the 267 souls eking out a living on windswept Tristan da Cunha could use your help.

Tristan da Cunha is a tiny overseas territory of the United Kingdom, smack in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It is searching for an “agricultural adviser,” someone to help it “avoid insolvency” by reducing its costly reliance on imported foods, according to the island’s want ad. More than expertise is required. “You have to have a very resilient nature,” says administrator Alex Mitham, the island’s top official.

The stark facts: To the east, Tristan is about 2,800 kilometres from Cape Town, South Africa; to the west, Rio de Janeiro is 3,340 kilometres away. The nearest inhabited island is Saint Helena, 2,430 kilometres to the north.

The island has no airport. The only regular transportation is an old fishing trawler from Cape Town that makes the trip — it takes seven days, one-way — maybe eight times a year. And rough seas means the harbour is open only 60 or 70 days a year. Even emergency medical evacuation can take months, Mitham says. “In a world where you can fly anywhere within 24 hours, this is significantly a step beyond.”

Read more about it on the Toronto Star website.

Feds Taint Raw Milk Investigation; Soil Farmer’s Reputation

March 25, 2016

CDC Issues False Statement to Defame Raw Milk
Washington DC, March 24, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE)

In a March 18, 2016 press release, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claimed a link between a “Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis” and raw milk produced by Miller’s Organic Farm in Pennsylvania. According to CDC, the “outbreak” involved two illnesses with one death in 2014.

According to a family member of the deceased woman, the CDC’s statement is false and misleading.

“My family member was diagnosed with and died of cancer after a week of chemo,” says Peggy Stevenson, family member and caregiver of the deceased prior to her death. “I am outraged that the CDC is using our tragic situation to damage and try to destroy a farm we love and support.”

The FDA has spent years aggressively warning people against drinking raw milk with the claim that it causes hundreds more foodborne illness outbreaks than pasteurized milk. Yet, there have been no cases of listeriosis attributed to raw milk consumption going back forty years, or more. Unlike raw milk, pasteurized dairy has been linked to several deaths in the past ten years.

Prior to the false claim from the CDC, there have been no reported illnesses associated with Miller’s Organic Farm in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania.

“This recent release from the CDC is a deliberate attempt to tarnish raw milk and present false and defamatory information,” says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit based in Washington, DC. “This is a witch-hunt against raw milk. This is clearly not a case of illness associated with raw milk, but rather an agency with an agenda.”

The CDC recommends that people “drink and eat only pasteurized dairy products (including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt).”

“This is a weak attempt to shut down people’s choices,” says Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund. “It shows this bureaucracy is getting more desperate in trying to stop the growing demand for raw milk.”

About The Weston A. Price Foundation

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nutrition education foundation with the mission of disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health. Named after nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, DDS, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the Washington, DC-based Foundation publishes a quarterly journal for its 15,000 members, supports 600 local chapters worldwide and hosts a yearly international conference. The Foundation phone number is (202) 363-4394, www.westonaprice.org, info@westonaprice.org.

Letting (Some of ) India’s Women Own Land

March 23, 2016

On March 22 Tina Rosenberg penned an opinion piece for the New York Times by the above title. In it she examined a crack in the male dominated armor of Indian culture, something which may positively change centuries-old prejudice against women controlling their own destiny and owning farmland. She reports that more than 75% of the women in that country are farmers yet less than 13% of those women owned their own land. This effectively cements their status as second class citizens. While laws do exist to give women access opportunities, cultural barriers to change remain. Ms Rosenburg’s excellent article deserves a careful reading.

“Without title, female farmers acting on their own don’t have access to credit, subsidies, government programs for seeds, irrigation or fertilizer. They cannot get loans and do not invest to improve their yields. They live in fear that someone more powerful — which is everyone — can kick them off their land.

When women’s incomes suffer, so do their children. More than 40 percent of all children under 5 in India are malnourished. And India’s agricultural productivity is needlessly diminished.”

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/letting-some-of-indias-women-own-land

Seed Libraries in Pennsylvania Allowed to Engage in Free Seed Exchange

March 15, 2016

MILLHEIM, PA. March 15, 2016 – Thanks to a statewide coalition of concerned advocates, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has clarified that seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges are not subject to the cost-prohibitive licensing, labeling and testing requirements required of commercial seed distributors in the Seed Act of 2004 (Seed Act). In providing this clarification, Pennsylvania sets a precedent to protect and encourage seed libraries throughout the commonwealth.
The statewide coalition, led by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Grow Pittsburgh (GP), the Public Interest Law Center, and members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC), as well as individual growers and organizations, worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to clarify protocol about the Seed Act. The Act was originally applied to a seed library at the Joseph T. Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, PA, which severely limited its operations as a result.

Seed libraries are nonprofit, community-based organizations. Through seed libraries, growers maintain and increase biodiversity, as they save seeds from season to season, and share seeds with one another. The number of seed libraries has surged in recent years; there are an estimated 26 seed libraries across the Commonwealth, with more than 350 nationwide. Concern about the compliance with the Seed Act has been a deterrent to seed library operations in Pennsylvania.
In 2015, the coalition sent a letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell C. Redding, urging that PDA make clear its position. In the letter, the coalition argued the licensing, labeling, and testing requirements under the Seed Act were being misapplied to seed exchanges like the one proposed by the Simpson Library. Because seed exchanges, “operate on a noncommercial basis and do not sell, offer for sale, expose for sale, or transport seeds,” the letter’s cosigners contend, nonprofit seed exchanges are not subject to these sections of the law.

Upon review of the letter, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture “determined the Simpson Library does not meet the definition of a ‘distributor’ as defined in the Seed Law because, “they are not selling, offering for sale or exposing seed for sale,” concluding that the “edicts of the Seed Law do not apply.” In addition to clarifying their earlier decision, the department has invited a representative from Grow Pittsburgh to participate with a PDA staff member in a non-commercial seed-sharing work group organized by the Association of American Seed Control Officials (AASCO). The working group is drafting a proposal for the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) that formally exempts “Non-commercial Seed Sharing” from the cost-prohibitive licensing, labeling, and testing required of commercial seed exchanges.

Sue Erdman, Director of the Simpson Library, is “pleased that the Department of Agriculture officials worked with us to clarify the rules governing seed libraries. This means that we can continue working with the community to promote home gardening and preservation of heirloom seed varieties.”

PASA Executive Director Brian Snyder issued the following statement: “We need regulation in the seed industry to protect farmers and other, more casual consumers. But we also need communities working together to make our food systems more accessible to all people. Seeds are a basic element of human life and wellbeing. Without this kind of informal cooperation among neighbors, that wellbeing is very much at risk.”

In addition to PASA, representatives and/or members of the following organizations cosigned the letter to PDA: Chester County Sierra Club Sustainable Agriculture Committee; Churchview Farm; Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF); Eastern Pennsylvania Permaculture Guild; Experimental Farm Network; Food Revolution Pittsburgh Cooking Club; Garfield Community Farm; GMO Free PA; Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; Hazelwood Urban Farm; Lawrenceville United; Olde Allegheny Community Garden; Pennsylvania Farmers Union; Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council; Pittsburgh Public Market; Rodale Institute; Simpson Seed Library; Soil Generation; and The Greenhouse Project.

For more information, please contact:

Michele Spencer, PASA, michele@pasafarming.org, 814-349-9856 x17

Marisa Manheim, Grow Pittsburgh, marisa@growpittsburgh.org, 412-362-4769 x103

Amy Laura Cahn, Public Interest Law Center, acahn@pubintlaw.org, 267-546-1306

###

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) seeks to promote profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment. For more information, visit pasafarming.org.

Grow Pittsburgh (growpittsburgh.org) teaches people how to grow food and promotes the benefits gardens bring to our neighborhoods. We believe access to locally-grown, chemical-free fruits and vegetables is a right, not a privilege.

The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (pittsburghfoodpolicy.org) convenes over 100 members representing over 65 stakeholders to build a food system that benefits our communities, our economy and our environment in ways that are equitable and sustainable.

The Public Interest Law Center (pilcop.org) uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of the Philadelphia region’s most vulnerable populations by assuring that they have access to the resources and services that all of us need to lead our lives.

PHOSPHORUS FOR GRASSLANDS SEEN AS KEY

March 8, 2016

ADDING AND RETAINING PHOSPHORUS FOR GRASSLANDS SEEN AS KEY TO FEEDING FUTURE POPULATIONS

Netherlands research indicates that increasing phosphorus applications by as much as four times will improve the world’s grasslands and thereby meat and milk production. The key will be, at the same time, retaining that phosphorus and finding best organic methods to achieve the goals. lrm

This from Wageningen University in the Netherlands

Better grassland fertilisation can improve the world’s food supply

Global improvements in grassland management could see grasslands taking on a significantly more important role in food production. Better management would increase the production of meat and milk and prevent the need for additional feed for grazing livestock – feed in the form of grain crops that could otherwise be available for human consumption. Better management mainly involves proper fertilisation in order to retain sufficient amounts of, for instance, phosphorus in the soil. The phosphorus input will have to increase fourfold, if we are to meet production targets for the year 2050. These are the conclusions of scientists from Wageningen University, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Utrecht University and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in a new article published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Grasslands make up two thirds of the global agricultural area. The over three billion hectares of grassland are hardly managed at all, with the exception of some north-western European countries including The Netherlands. The fact that grasslands are rarely if ever fertilised is an even greater problem, as this means they become more exhausted every year, among other things, due to a lack of phosphorus. In their Nature Communication article, the scientists describe the scale of the phosphorus exhaustion and what is needed to improve this situation.

In order to grow, grasses require nutrients, such as phosphorus from the soil. Grasslands are then grazed by livestock and the phosphorus ends up in the animals’ stomachs. Some of this phosphorus is needed in the production of milk and meat and eventually, thus, is removed from the grassland. Much of the phosphorus intake leaves the animals again in the manure. Only half remains on the pastures, as the manure is also used to fertilise arable land for growing food crops such as grains, fruits and vegetables, or for other purposes.

In their publication, the scientists show the extent to which grasslands have become exhausted, over recent decades. However, these grasslands should be making a larger contribution to the future food supply, providing feed for livestock, to limit the use of grain crops that could otherwise be used for baking bread.

The scientists, therefore, advocate paying more attention to grassland management, with a specific focus on better soil fertilisation using organic and mineral fertilisers. For the coming decades, they suggest the use of four times the amount of phosphorus in fertiliser than is currently the case. Only then will grass growth reach a level that would allow meat and milk production to increase, considerably, without too many additional grain crops having to be used as feed for livestock.
The situation in The Netherlands and some other European countries is different, since the phosphate content in grassland soils is high due to long-term surpluses. Here extra fertilizer inputs are not needed in the coming years.

Contact information: Erik Toussaint, Wageningen University[Duplicate], t.a.v. Financiële Zaken, Droevendaalsesteeg 4, Wageningen, 6708 PB

40 years of science: Organic agriculture key to feeding the world

March 7, 2016

We’ve been saying it for 40 years. Organic farming can feed the world. Now comes a study.

 

40 years of science: Organic agriculture key to feeding the world.

 

Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers.

It is the first study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment and community well being.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic ag should play a role in feeding the world” said lead author Reganold (http://css.wsu.edu/people/faculty/john-p-reganold).

Organic production accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

“In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production. Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides, like pollination, and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food.

“If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Find this news release at WSU News online at news.wsu.edu.

Successful Breeding for a ‘Stand up’ Pinto Bean variety

March 2, 2016

Colorado State University’s plant breeding program has released a new Pinto Bean variety, “Long’s Peak” which improves harvesting ease. Could be a boon to wet-weather harvest areas. SFJ

The upstanding, outstanding pinto bean

This press release came mid-February from Crop Science Society of America

Pinto beans are the most common type of bean cultivated in the United States, accounting for more than a third of all edible, dry bean production. Harvesting them, however, has been a complicated ordeal–until now.

Researchers have released a new variety of upright pinto bean, Long’s Peak. Mark Brick, Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Colorado State University, led the researchers.

Long’s Peak combines upright architecture with high yields, excellent seed color and weight, and resistance to several diseases such as common rust. The upright architecture of Long’s Peak makes it faster and cheaper to harvest.

Traditionally, U.S. pinto varieties have “prostrate” architecture. “They would grow upright initially; then mid-season, when they started to show pods, they would vine out and grow horizontally along the ground,” says Brick.

Harvesting prostrate beans is a complex process. Harvesters cut the bean plants below the ground, pull them out, and lay them on the field to dry in piled rows. Finally, combine harvesters are used to thresh and harvest the dried beans.

“Each step in this harvesting process has the potential to decrease yields by shattering of the bean seeds,” says Brick. Additionally, while beans are drying in the fields they remain exposed to the weather, which can discolor seeds, damage yields or even ruin the crop completely.

Bean plants with upright architecture, such as Long’s Peak, can be direct-harvested using a combine-harvester. This one-step harvesting process saves time and fuel. It also increases yield by reducing shattering of bean seeds, and reduces the risk of damage through exposure to adverse weather.

The story of upright pinto bean varieties begins several thousand years ago, according to Brick. When humans domesticated dried beans across Central and South America, geographical variations gave rise to different bean varieties.

In the high plateaus of Mexico, Native Americans domesticated pinto and red beans that had large seeds and prostrate architecture. But in lowland tropical regions of Central America, white and black beans with upright architecture and small seeds were grown.

Breeding an upright pinto meant using the best of bean worlds. “We had to make crosses between the upright, tropical types with small seeds and the large-seeded highland varieties,” says Brick.
While the initial crosses yielded some plants with upright architecture, breeders had difficulties with seed size.

“Seed size is a vital feature of how marketable a bean variety is,” says Brick.

Researchers used a process called recurrent selection, where they continued to interbreed the upright plants with small seeds and select the offspring with the largest seeds for the next breeding cycle.

“Each generation of intercrossing, you can slowly make progress not only on seed size and upright architecture, but other traits such as yield and disease resistance,” says Brick.

Long’s Peak has been a long time in the making. Brick, and other researchers across the U.S., have been working for more than three decades to generate upright pinto beans with large seeds, high yield, good color, and pest resistance. “Plant breeders are patient people,” says Brick, “and as long as we see a tiny bit of progress, we persevere.”

Geography and weather play a role in growers’ bean selection. More than 70% of the bean crop in Michigan consists of upright varieties. “Where the risk of rain during harvest is relatively low, such as Colorado, growers have been have been slower in switching to upright varieties,” says Brick.

Brick continues to work on breeding bean varieties with increased disease resistance, higher yields, and more nutritional value. “Pulse crops, such as beans, are highly associated with health in people and we need to eat more of them,” he says.

Dry beans are a nutrient-dense food and a vital source of protein in large parts of the developing world. Beans also provide dietary fiber, which aids in maintaining digestive health and offers protection from developing certain kinds of cancer. Consumption of beans brings other health benefits, such as lowered blood cholesterol levels and reduced obesity.

Dried beans are part of a food group known as pulses. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP). In celebration, the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) created a web page for the public about pulses, www.crops.org/iyp. Special tabs for the public include K-12 Education, Beans in the News, Grown Your Own, and Delicious Ideas. CSSA has also compiled links to various recipes, so you can increase your consumption of pulses.

Read more about the new Long’s Peak variety in Journal of Plant Registrations.

DENTED CANS, STALE CAKES

March 1, 2016

DON’T THROW THAT STALE CAKE AWAY! SELL IT TO THE LADY IN THE FUR COAT.

Curious how our electrolicized, piggly-wiggly, dime-a-minute, fad-a-second, world is so quickly affecting commerce in the developed world (read hoity-toity) while injecting gasoline into culture wars and conflict urgencies in the needy world (read left-out). Over there in France they have the criminalizing of food waste (seems on the surface a potentially good idea) while just beyond in Denmark we have the race between profiteers and prophet-ors to glamorize the use of waste food.

Just this February France passed a law prohibiting supermarkets from destroying unsold food. It requires big food chains to donate surplus food to charity or give it to farmers to use as feed and/or compost. Big fines for cheaters. Potentially another growing headache for bureaucracies to administer. But easy to applaud feeding the poor and recycling as goals.

Right now in Denmark however, instead of criminalizing food waste the government is assisting brand new efforts like WeFood (similar to the DailyTable in Boston) in its nonprofit effort to get surplus food to the general public. The premise begins with the observation that a great deal of the food that is thrown away is still serviceable. And that “regular” people given the opportunity to buy food for less in an atmosphere of political correctness will line up for their turn. Dented cans and stale pastries are fast becoming fashionable. (“Let them eat cake” she hollered.)

While this may very well address “our” concern for food waste, how does it solve the far more pressing problem of starving people in Syria, South Sudan and many other parts of the world? We’ve long argued that there is NO global food shortage, there a shortage of collective will to give poor people food to eat. Hard for me to applaud. Selling turn-date meats at a discount to stock brokers wives does NOT feed the hungry. LRM

Global Food Supply Threatened by Loss of Birds and Bees

February 26, 2016

New York Times reports on findings of a quasi-scientific group affiliated with the United Nations. Their ‘qualified’ conclusion is that pollinators, including 20,000 species of wild bees and up to 16% of vertebrates like birds and bats, may be facing extinction. The primary threat is said to be farming and more specifically the exposure to pesticides with controversial chemicals, known as neonicotinoids, figuring prominently in the discussion. The group is made up of paid representatives of 124 countries including the U.S. and did not conduct new research but rather “synthesized” current studies and analysis to reach its wishy-washy conclusions. It should be noted that language was carefully couched, or spun, to say more research is required and that hasty conclusions shouldn’t be drawn. Odd that. On the one hand we are given a dire prognosis pointing to clear culprits while on the other hand told to be careful not to affix blame. If we “follow the money” we read that the chemical industry either applauds this report  or stands off to this side smiling and clapping. We have international tribunals dealing with crimes against humanity. Might be time to call for international tribunals to deal with crimes against biology. LRM

FDA’s Final Produce Rule Imposes Undue Burdens on Farmers

November 17, 2015

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final rule for farms that raise produce for human consumption, “is going to be very damaging for the growing local food movement, and the millions of American consumers who want more access, not less, to healthy local foods,” stated Judith McGeary, founder and Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, and a farmer herself.

The final rule comes after two rounds of proposed rulemaking, an unusual procedure taken by FDA in response to the outcry caused by the initial proposed rule. The final rule retains many of the positive changes that had been made in the second proposed rulemaking, but FDA made only a few additional changes.

“On the positive side, the final rule retains the changes relating to the use of compost and manure, as well as adding some clarification on grazing and the frequency required for water testing,” stated Ms. McGeary. “Unfortunately, the agency chose to ignore the comments it received about the unrealistic standard for irrigation water, as well as the scope of the qualified exemption.”

FDA’s final rule includes standards for irrigation water that are based on the standard that applies to recreational waters, such as streams that people swim in. Numerous organizations and experts argued that the standard was unnecessarily restrictive and impractical when applied to agricultural uses.

In addition, Congress included a “qualified exemption” in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), exempting small-scale direct-marketing farmers from the produce rule and setting a gross sales limit of half a million dollars a year. Although meat and grain products are not regulated under FSMA, under the final rule sales of such products will all be counted toward the gross sales limit.

“FDA’s decision to effectively narrow the scope of the Tester-Hagan qualified exemption is deeply disappointing,” contended Ms. McGeary. “In practical terms, this rule pressures grain and livestock farmers to avoid diversification, harming farmers financially and discouraging environmentally responsible land use. From a food safety standpoint, it does not make sense to treat the small-scale production of produce the same as large-scale production, simply because the same person is producing other types of food as well.”

Moreover, FDA’s final rule would allow a local FDA official to revoke a farmer’s exemption if the official claimed there were conditions at the farm or facility that posed a risk of foodborne illness, giving the agency extensive discretion. The agency did extend the deadlines for the farmer to respond as well as to come into compliance, but not as far as many commenters had urged.

“What sane person would start a small farm, knowing that he or she might have to comply with thousands of dollars of extra expense based on a bureaucrat’s say-so and very little due process?” asked Ms. McGeary. “This rule creates significant disincentives to farming, at a time when we need more farmers, not fewer.”

The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has committed to providing materials to help farmers navigate the rules and understand their impact.

About Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) is a national organization that supports independent family farmers and protects a healthy and productive food supply for American consumers. FARFA promotes common sense policies for local, diversified agricultural systems.

Good Farming and Justice Go Together

November 16, 2015

We watch today’s carnival of presidential hopefuls and lament that there is NO one of intelligence, capability, vision, passion, conviction, courage and justice offering to lead. We lament that the very concept of leadership, as it has morphed to be nothing more than a token postion over results-driven board management, is laughable at best. Justice belonging as it does to those with the most to lose, freedom as a notion – as in the freedom to farm – simply no longer exists (not out in the open). For us to be free to farm we must first find ways to insist on the right of justice for all. LRM – from Sprung 2015 SFJ editorial

Bees and Honey; Long a Part of the Human Experiment

November 12, 2015

Jeremy Cherfas’ article today on National Public Radio, Farmers Have Been Enjoying The Fruits Of Bee Labor For 9,000+ Years, chronicles a recent study published in the journal Nature and conducted by the organic chemistry unit of the University of Bristol in England. New discoveries peg honey and wax collection back to at least the seventh millennium B.C. in southern Anatolia suggesting humans struck up a deal of sorts of bees about the same time as settled farming developed. We can only hope that the excesses of poison-dependent agribusiness in this century can be quickly and sufficiently curtailed to avoid our causing the catastrophic loss of this vital flying farm worker. LRM

Demand for Good Food Creates Market Confusion and Hope for Small Farmers

November 10, 2015

McDonald’s restaurants are determined to offer cage-free eggs and real butter to its customers. Should be good news but the locomotive may have left the station before the cars were hooked up. The massive quantities of those products required by the global fast food chain cannot be met by agricultural systems of the world unless we rethink and recalibrate how food moves forward. Industrial agribusiness does not yet know how to raise cage-free laying hens in large quantities, and the dairy industry is all about volume not butterfat. Their aren’t enough Jersey, Guernsey, and Ayrshire milk cows to supply that amount of butter. Small farmers can do it and quickly but they need to be set free and encouraged. Plus there needs to be a return to small, localized egg and milk handling facilities with whole new approaches to storage and delivery. Fantastic opportunity with messy risks. The best outcomes are exciting to imagine but they could lead to nasty manifestations of greed as the unscrupulous rise to the occasion and bend rules to supply the demand. Whose to say whether the time calls for more or less regulation? LRM

Dividing By Zero: Brazil Uses Environmental Tragedy to Force Amazonian Small Farmers Off the Land

November 5, 2015

National Public Radio’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in her article entitled In The Amazon’s Fire Season, ‘You Either Burn or You Starve’. exposes Brazilian government’s spurious concern over the polluting effects of field and forest burning and how it is used to penalize small farmers. Unable to pay fines or survive, the limited resource landowners are forced to turn their holdings over to large industrial scale operations. Seems there is not the will to find alternatives so net losses to the environment and biological diversity are guaranteed to expand. With some applied creative thinking those small farmers could become the best tool to protecting remaining rainforest. LRM

Maremmas, Little Penguins and Swampy Marsh.

November 3, 2015

NY Times writer Austin Ramzy recently offered a bright example of the intelligence of small-scale farmers in the article entitled Australian Deploys Sheepdogs to Save a Penguin Colony. Foxes, imported years ago to feed Brit passion for fox hunting, have flourished down under. When it was discovered that they were eating Little Penguins to the point of near extinction it took a local chicken farmer named Swampy Marsh to come up with the idea of using predator control dogs, specifically Maremmas, to protect the little flightless birds. Seems Marsh’s free range chickens were being picked off until he employed the dogs and now the problem has vanished. The Little Penguin numbers had fallen to below 10 before the authorities took Swampy’s suggestion to heart now the little bird’s numbers on Middle Island have rebounded to 150. Small farmers saving life on the planet one silly little idea at a time. LRM

They Can’t See the Prejudice Cuz the Forest is Full of Expensive Confusion

November 2, 2015

(Italics ours) If we can agree that industrial agriculture and the scale it embraces is anethema to a safe culture of farming then why should we, as small farmers, be coerced to comply with industry-accepted food safety standards? Don’t we subscribe to and comply with a much higher standard? It is like asking that we as farmers comply with industry-accepted mining practices?

The Wallace Center at Winrock International (a good and valued entity) together with FoodLogiQ announced a partnership  to support the recently expanded U.S. Department of Agriculture GroupGAP program. The federal program, officially announced nationally last month at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, works to support small growers to become compliant with industry-accepted food safety standards.

Under the traditional “Good Agricultural Practices” – or GAP – programs, the USDA audits individual farms, but this process can be time consuming and costly for many small-to-medium sized farms. And with the increasing demand for locally sourced food, these growers have an amazing opportunity to expand their business – assuming they can become compliant with industry food safety standards.

(So, once again we’re being told that if we toe the industrial-line we as small farmers might get a piece of the pie. Smelly suppositions there, coated in questionable outcome. LRM)

Venezuelan Protection Racket for Food Back Fires

November 1, 2015

In Venezuela, government supermarkets sell price-controlled food making it far cheaper than private stores. But people are allowed in state-run supermarkets just two days per week, based on their ID card numbers. And the food supply is spotty and irregular forcing families to look to the black market hucksters to survive. The system was designed to prevent shoppers from buying more than they need and then reselling goods on the black market at a huge markup. Seems it has back-fired. LRM

The Little Guy Now Can Invest in Stocks and Help to Fund Farms

October 30, 2015

The Security and Exchange Commission, responsible for governing the stock markets, issued rules recently allowing small companies to court small investors. Restrictions from the 1930’s required that only those people with one million dollars in net worth, or annual income of $200,000 plus, were allowed to invest in start-ups. This is a major shift and should help small farms and small farm related enterprises. We say it’s about time. SFJ

Choice of Butter Bounces All ’round the Farm Market Landscape; Harbinger

October 26, 2015

I may have found the answer to why that feedlot west of Twin Falls Idaho last June was full of Jersey cows instead of the Holsteins that other dairy feedlots have. I think the answer comes with the fact that MacDonalds recently announced that they are switching from margarine to butter in all their products—which means MacDonalds will be buying five or six hundred million more pounds of milk per year, according to an article in the New Yorker online magazine. Somebody at that factory dairy operation knew that those brown cows have higher butterfat in their milk. And a nice herd of Holsteins might have gotten sold at a discount. PH

Bad Day for Bacon turns out to be Egg on the Face for New York Times plus National Public Radio and a Wormy Apple for Journalism

October 24, 2015

The World Health Organization, in an effort to get some limelight and attract grant funds, releases wishy washy findings on the correlation between processed meats and colon cancer (kinda like saying “Hey, dirty motor oil may cause cancer” or “there might be too much Mercury in that there fish”) Questions: 1. Who funded the research that resulted in these kinda-sorta findings? 2. Precisely what you talking about when you say ‘processed meat’? 3. What on earth are you talking about when you say you don’t know what the effect might be from direct flame cooking? And the sophomoric news media should be ashamed of themselves for the way they took this hesitant statement from WHO and made it into a definitive, declarative, condemnation. A well-constructed sentence should never be allowed to excuse poor journalism. As for red meat: if you so choose, eat grass-fed and know the person who turns your meat into sausage, or corned beef, or jerky, or bacon, or cured meats of any kind. If you trust what they do, support them. Demand that no antibiotics, growth hormones or synthetics be fed to the animals before slaughter. Insist on humane slaughter. And have someone or company that you trust do all the processing of your meats. It is our belief that it is not the meat itself which might be unsafe, it is the handling. LRM

Journal Guide