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Breaking News

Permalink Minnesota Organic Conference Issues Call for Proposals and Presentations

Minnesota Department of Agriculture invites proposals and suggestions for educational breakout sessions at the 2017 Minnesota Organic Conference, set for January 12-13. Ideas for presenters or proposals for presentations can be submitted via a simple online form by June 15. A planning committee will review all the suggestions and recommend a variety they think will interest prospective, beginning, experienced, and expert organic farmers of all types and farm sizes. The department pays for presenters' conference registrations and can reimburse mileage. A $100 honorarium is also given to presenters who are farmers.

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Permalink Comment Period Extended for Proposed Rule on Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices

USDA logoThe U. S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has extended the comment period for the proposed rule to amend organic livestock and poultry practices until July 13, 2016, to allow stakeholders additional time to provide feedback on the proposed rule. The rule was published in the Federal Register on April 13, 2016. The proposed changes are based on recommendations by the National Organic Standards Board and incorporate years of public comment and suggestions by stakeholders. The organic community, stakeholders, and consumers are invited to submit written comments on the proposed rule online or by mail.

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Permalink Western IPM Center Launches YouTube Channel to Better Promote Integrated Pest Management

Tthe Western IPM Center is utilizing video to promote integrated pest management in new ways and to new audiences. Six short videos shot in Montana have been posted on the organization's new YouTube channel, including a segment on teaching integrated pest management, one on planting flower strips for native bees, and one on biocontrol for dalmation toadflax.

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Permalink Experts Urge Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems has issued a report entitled From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. In the report, a group of the world’s foremost experts on food security, agro-ecosystems, and nutrition say that to put global food systems onto sustainable footing, we must diversify agriculture and reorient it around ecological practices. The report identifies obstacles to changing agricultural systems and maps out steps to break current cycles and bring about change. The experts concluded that a fundamental shift toward what they define as diversified agroecological farming can deliver simultaneous benefits for productivity, the environment, and society. Both an executive summary and the full report are available online.

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Permalink Finger Millet Could Serve as Water-Efficient Dairy Feed

USDA logoUSDA researchers have been evaluating finger millet as a potential feed for dairy cattle in the Southern High Plains region of the United States. Studies in India show that finger millet uses 10 to 20% less water than sorghum and grows on marginal land. Testing by USDA Agricultural Research Service showed that finger millet contained significant levels of important nutrients, but it produced lower forage yields than corn or sorghum. However, researchers concluded that finger millet could be fed to dairy animals as a supplement to corn, thereby saving water.

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Permalink Minnesota Organic Advisory Task Force Accpeting Applications

The Minnesota Legislature reauthorized the Minnesota Organic Advisory Task Force (OATF) during the 2016 legislative session and all 15 positions are now open for appointment. The OATF advises the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the University of Minnesota (U of M) about policies and programs that will improve organic agriculture in the state. Members serve three-year terms. Applicants who submit their materials by June 28 will receive first consideration.

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Permalink SARE Offers Free Online Sustainable Agriculture Courses

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) is offering three free, online, self-paced sustainable agriculture courses that cover core concepts. The course offerings have been updated and expanded. Sustainable Agriculture Principles and Concept Overview provides an overview of sustainable agriculture, tracing its origins and exploring its relevance to farmers, ranchers, and agricultural professionals nationwide. Strategic Farm/Ranch Planning and Marketing covers farm/ranch planning and business development, marketing opportunities and strategies, and managing for long-term success. A new course on Agricultural Ecosystem Management focuses on how to apply ecological principles in the management of crop and livestock systems, including tools and resources to achieve production goals, enhance stewardship of watersheds and wildlife, and improve farm profitability. This program is designed primarily for Cooperative Extension and Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, and is open to farmers, ranchers and other agricultural professionals nationwide.

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Permalink USDA Expands Access to Capital for Rural Businesses

USDA logoUSDA has announced changes that make it easier for rural businesses to qualify for loans in USDA's Business & Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program. The changes allow businesses to use the New Markets Tax Credit as a form of equity, and allow, for the first time, employees of a business to qualify for loan guarantees to purchase stock in a business by forming an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or worker cooperative. In addition, there is expanded loan eligibility, including in urban areas, for projects that process, distribute, aggregate, store, and/or market locally or regionally produced foods. For a complete overview of the new rules, see page 35984 of the June 3, 2016, Federal Register.

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Permalink California Apps for Ag Competitive Hackathon Planned

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the California State Fair will host California Apps for Ag, the fourth competitive hackathon in a series, July 15-17. Software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, farmers, farm consultants, and others in the agricultural industry are encouraged to participate in the hackathon. Participants will compete for cash prizes at a "pitchfest" in front of a live audience at the California State Fair on Sunday, July 17. Prizes will be awarded to the top three apps: first place wins $5,000, second place $3,000, and third place $1,500. People who work in agriculture should bring ideas for problems that technology may help solve.

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Permalink Rodale Institute Launches Vegetable Systems Trial

Rodale Institute has announced that Dr. Andrew Smith will serve as the Director of its new Vegetable Systems Trial (VST). The VST is a side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional vegetable production systems. As Director of VST, Andrew oversees the project, measuring soil quality, economic profit, insect damage and weed tolerance, and nutritional quality (quantity of nutrients and other components) in organic versus conventional vegetables.

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Permalink Advice Offered on Making a Farm More Sustainable

Growing Produce has posted advice from Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina, on eight ways to make a farming operation be more sustainable. This advice encompasses not only protecting soil and water, but also preserving the farmer's quality of life, training future farmers, and educating the public.

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Permalink Adding Peas to Wheat Rotation Increases Income Stability

American Society of Agronomy reported on research from Montana State University that shows how planting nitrogen-fixing pea crops in wheat rotations can help stabilize year-to-year income for farmers. Growing a nitrogen-fixing crop helps reduce reliance on fertilizer inputs and build soil organic matter that can boost yields. This can help stabilize income for farmers who face varying premiums for their high-protein wheat crops. Furthermore, growing peas in rotation helps break weed and disease cycles.

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Permalink ERS Report Examines Changes in Organic Price Premiums

USDA logoUSDA Economic Research Service has released Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010. This study found that retail-level organic price premiums were more than 20% of the nonorganic price for all but 1 (spinach) of the 17 products analyzed in this study. Between 2004 and 2010, most premiums fluctuated—i.e., they did not steadily increase or decrease. Eggs and dairy had the highest premiums in 2010, ranging from 52% of the nonorganic price for yogurt to 82% for eggs. Fresh fruits and vegetables, generally recognized as the largest part of the organic market, had the widest spread of premiums (ranging from 7% for spinach to 60% for salad mix). Processed food premiums ranged from 22% for granola to 54% for canned beans. The share of organic product sold (of the total market) increased steadily for all products studied.

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Permalink NOSB Spring Meeting Recommendations Available

USDA logoMaterials from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting held in Washington, DC, April 25-27, 2016, are now available on the National Organic Program pages of the AMS website. All formal recommendations made by the NOSB regarding crops, handling, livestock and policy development have been posted, along with meeting and voting summaries, as well as transcripts, presentations, and other background materials.

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Permalink Hudson Valley Farm and Food Business Accelerator Launched

Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC) has announced its inaugural Farm and Food Business Accelerator (FFBA) Program, an intensive training program designed to help farmers and food entrepreneurs develop the necessary skills and materials to scale their business, build sales, and access financial sources. The six-month curriculum will begin in October 2016, and culminate with participants having the opportunity to pitch potential funders in spring 2017. Participants will have the opportunity to connect with the growing network of New York City and Hudson Valley-based funders that are seeking to invest in ventures that support the local food system. Applications are being accepted through August 15 for this exclusive program.

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Permalink Honey Bees Collecting Pollen Contaminated with Pesticides

A Purdue University study shows that honeybees are collecting pollen that is consistently contaminated with a host of agricultural and urban pesticides. Pollen from Indiana honeybee hives, collected at three sites over 16 weeks, represented up to 30 plant families and contained residues from pesticides spanning nine chemical classes. The study found that overall levels of pesticide exposure were higher than previously thought, and that bees were exposed to pollen and pesticides from non-crop plants even when their hives were adjacent to crop fields. The most common chemical products found in pollen from each site were fungicides and herbicides, but neonicotinoid and pyrethroid insecticides were also found. "These findings really illustrate how honeybees are chronically exposed to numerous pesticides throughout the season, making pesticides an important long-term stress factor for bees," study co-author Elizabeth Long said.

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Permalink Eastern Sustainable Cucurbit Project Shares Trial Results

The Eastern Sustainable Cucurbit Project has published results of variety trials for cucumbers, summer squash, and melon, conducted in 2014 and 2015. Trials were conducted on research farms at Cornell University, Auburn University, Clemson University, and North Carolina State University. Additional trials were conducted on commercial farms in New York, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The 10-page report on the variety trials is available online.

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Permalink UNEP Report Identifies Crop Toxicity as Emerging Environmental Issue

A new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), called Frontiers, highlights and offers solutions to six of the world's key emerging environmental issues. One of these is crop toxicity, including accumulation of nitrates and hydrogen cyanide and increase in aflatoxin at higher latitudes. The report looks at how drought and high temperatures associated with climate change can trigger the accumulation in crops of chemical compounds that are toxic to animals and humans.

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Permalink Second "Growing Maine" Video Highlights Farm Family

University of Maine Cooperative Extension has released the second installment of "Growing Maine," a series of short documentaries highlighting Maine food producers and farm families. The second video in the series tells the story of lamb producers Doreen and John Simmons of Stoneheart Farm and two invaluable members of their farm family — border collies Gwen and Bea. The video series helps consumers get to know their food sources better, as farmers and producers share their behind-the-scenes perspectives. For those aspiring to farm, the videos are a way to hear directly from farmers and producers about what is most important to them. Videos in the series can be viewed online.

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Permalink Factsheet Highlights How Agroforestry Can Help Landowners Adapt to Intense Rainfall

USDA logoA two-page Working Trees Infosheet titled How can agroforestry help landowners adapt to increased rain intensity? is available online from the USDA National Agroforestry Center. The fact sheet notes that many regions of the United States are experiencing rain events of increasing intensity, and says that agroforestry systems can help landowners adapt to this change and lessen negative impacts. The agroforestry practice of establishing riparian forest buffers can help preserve water quality and reduce erosion. Other agroforestry practices such as windbreaks and alley cropping can also reduce erosion and flooding.

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Permalink Iowans Asked to Participate in Developing Identity Standard for Aronia Berry Products

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach food safety specialists have asked for Iowans' help in acquiring samples of aronia berry jam and jelly for an upcoming ISU Extension and Outreach research project titled "Establishing a Standard of Identity for Jams and Jellies Made from Aronia Berries." Currently, aronia berries are not among the fruits approved for making jams or jellies under the Food and Drug Administration Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 Part 150 Section 150.160, and cannot be sold to any market without validation that the recipe meets the standard of identity for fruit preserves, jams or jellies. The ISU Extension and Outreach research team wants to collect samples with the goal of providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with guidance related to the aronia berry being added to the approved fruit list. ISU is asking for jam and jelly samples, along with recipes and a sample of the berry from which the product was made. Participants will receive a cost and shipping stipend. This research project is funded by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Services Specialty Crop Block Grant Program through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

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Permalink Research Links Economic Health with Organic Agriculture

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has released research that links economic health at the county level to organic agriculture, and shows that organic food and crop production creates real and long-lasting regional economic opportunities. A White Paper titled "U.S. Organic Hotspots and their Benefit to Local Economies," was prepared for OTA by Penn State Agricultural Economist Dr. Edward Jaenicke. It found that organic hotspots--counties with high levels of organic agricultural activity whose neighboring counties also have high organic activity--boost median household incomes by an average of $2,000 and reduce poverty levels by an average of 1.3 percentage points. The White Paper identifies 225 counties across the United States as organic hotspots, then looks at how these organic hotspots impact two key county-level economic indicators: the county poverty rate and median household income. It also identifies what factors create organic hotspots, how the effect of organic agricultural hotspots compare with those of general agriculture (combined organic and conventional agriculture), and finally recommends specific policies to foster more organic economic hotspots throughout the nation.

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Permalink Organic Farming Research Foundation Awards Research Grants

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has announced the award of six research grants for 2016. Grantees were selected based on the relevance of their proposed research project to fostering the improvement or adoption of organic farming systems, as well as ways in which organic farmers or ranchers can utilize proposed results in their operations. The projects funded this year will explore irrigation management for organic tomato processing, peach production in the Southeast, using flowering plants in strawberry fields to improve pest control and fruit quality, enhancing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi associations, nutrient budgeting in organic grain production, and compost extracts for organic weed suppression.

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Permalink Cornell's "Farm Ops" Helps Veterans Learn Agriculture

Cornell University's "Farm Ops" initiative gives returning veterans the opportunity to learn agriculture via their G.I. Bill benefits. Cornell Chronicle explains that the program allows earned military benefits to be deployed in agriculture training. Through the program, veterans receive six to 24 months of on-the-job training experience at approved pilot farm sites across the state. The veterans learn all aspects of a particular farm enterprise, such as dairy or orchard management. In this program, veterans can use their military housing allowances to support their on-the-job training. This initiative is part of Cornell's efforts to train returning veterans in agriculture, which include short-term educational opportunities such as the week-long Armed to Farm training offered in partnership with the National Center for Appropriate Technology in August.

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Permalink Researchers Find Cover Crops Can Aid in Pest Control

Research led by USDA-ARS under a grant from Southern SARE shows that cover crops used as refuges in vegetable plantings can help control insect pests by hosting enemies and competitors. Specifically, the study looked at whether bidens and blue lupine can control Western flower thrips and tobacco thrips in tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Results were mixed depending on the specific trial year and crop combinations and are available online in the project report. "Results indicate that cover and companion crops could promote sustainability in vegetable farmscapes by enhancing biotic resistance," said research entomologist and project leader Stephen Hight.

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Permalink New York Schools to Purchase More than $2 Million in Local Fruits and Vegetables

New York State Office of General Services has announced that school districts across the state have made a commitment to dedicate at least $2.1 million in USDA funds toward the federal agency's Pilot Project for the Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables during the 2016-17 school year. New York was one of eight states selected for a USDA pilot program that began in 2014, for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables by schools. Now, in the third year of the pilot, at least 134 districts have made commitments to spend from $107 to $500,000, to purchase unprocessed fruits and vegetables in 2016-17. Efforts are ongoing to grow interest in the pilot and get more schools and food vendors to participate. There are currently 18 vendors on the USDA-approved vendor list that are eligible to participate in the pilot in New York State. Those vendors include farmers, growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors.

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Permalink Investment Potential of Organic Agriculture Highlighted

A feature in Wall Street Daily explores why organic agriculture may be attractive to investors, and describes the approach of companies that base their investment approach on supporting ecological farming or investing in organic farmland and supporting organic crop development. Some investors have benefited from price premiums on organic products, lower input costs for organic production, and consumer demand for non-GMO products.

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Permalink EU Investigates Ecological Intensification of Agriculture

A European Union research project called "LIBERATION" is exploring how to use services provided by nature to benefit farmers, reports Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine. For example farmers can plant semi-natural wildflower habitats on their farms to attract beneficial insects such as pollinators. LIBERATION aims to provide facts that can be used to convince farmers to adopt ecological intensification measures. A related project, OSCAR, also EU-funded, had a team of economists who explored the profitability of farmers switching to ecological intensification. This project showed farmers that switching to minimum tillage and cover crops had a positive economic effect. More information and results from both projects are available online.

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Permalink Biomass Crop Assistance Program Offering Incentives

USDA logoUSDA Farm Service Agency has announced the availability of incentive funds through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Facilities seeking to be qualified by USDA to accept biomass can enroll until June 6, 2016. BCAP provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who establish and maintain new crops of energy biomass, or who harvest and deliver forest or agricultural residues to a USDA-approved facility that creates energy or biobased products. Between June 15 and August 4, 2016, USDA will accept applications from foresters and farmers seeking incentives to remove biomass residues from fields or national forests for delivery to energy generation facilities. The retrieval payments are provided at match of $1 for $1, up to $20 per dry ton. Eligible crops include corn residue, diseased or insect-infested wood materials, or orchard waste.

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Permalink Schools in Each State Honored for "One in a Melon" Farm to School Programs

USDA logoUSDA Food and Nutrition Service has announced the schools in each state that received the "One in a Melon" award for innovative farm to school programs. Parents, teachers, community stakeholders, students, and others nominated and voted for school districts with noteworthy programs. The winners included schools with gardens that involve students and families, cafeterias that serve a range of local foods, and even a school district that issues "farmer trading cards" from local farms that provide its produce.

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