Update: You can now download any of our technical materials for FREE!

Latest News

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is reminding historically underserved producers participating in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) of the advance payment option. This option allows beginning, veteran, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to get conservation practice payments in advance of practice implementation. Under the advance payment option, such producers may request payments when they have final designs and job sheets and are ready to begin their EQIP practices. Advance payments provide at least 50% of the payment rate for each practice and must be spent within 90 days.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published a new proposed rule in the Federal Register, specifying four criteria the Agency would consider when determining whether an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage has occurred in violation of the Packers and Stockyards (P&S) Act. According to the rule, USDA would test for undue preference using these four criteria: cannot be justified on the basis of a cost savings related to dealing with different producers, sellers, or growers; cannot be justified on the basis of meeting a competitor's prices; cannot be justified on the basis of meeting other terms offered by a competitor; and, cannot be justified as a reasonable business decision that would be customary in the industry. AMS invites public comment on the proposed criteria until March 13, 2020.

A multi-stakeholder initiative led by Croatan Institute received a $700,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS. The project is aimed at developing an innovative, place-based financing model to support the adoption of farming systems that improve "soil wealth." According to a press release, this project will develop the emerging concept of rural regenerative organic agricultural districts, also known as ROADs, to help agricultural producers and landowners finance soil wealth using land-secured financing mechanisms and other place-based investing approaches that could unlock new sources of capital for implementing conservation practices with regenerative agricultural features. The national project will focus on four particular areas and products: diversified farming in North Carolina, grain and livestock systems in Wisconsin, perennial crops and dairy in Oregon and Washington, and diversified grain and livestock in Kansas and Missouri.

Scientists with Texas A&M AgriLife Research completed a study that shows plants produce healthier fruit when their leaves have been wounded by insects. Researchers found that when strawberry plant leaves were damaged to mimic insect feeding, plants activated a defense mechanism that resulted in more antioxidants in their fruit. The study had its origins in a theory that organically grown produce could have higher levels of beneficial compounds due to a higher incidence of insect activity. Researchers say the results of this study could affect the way that both conventional and organic produce is grown, by introducing pre-harvest stress tools that improve antioxidant levels.

USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released The Fate of Land in Expiring Conservation Reserve Program Contracts, 2013-16. The report tracks what happened to 7.6 million acres of land that expired from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) during this period. Under the CRP, landowners voluntarily retire environmentally sensitive cropland for 10 to 15 years in exchange for an annual rental payment. The report shows that 36% of land under expired contracts was reenrolled, while 51% was put into some type of crop production. About 13% of expiring CRP land was kept in grass cover or tree cover, with a small amount of this enrolled in non-CRP conservation programs or put to other uses.

The California city of Anaheim is using grazing goats as part of its fire-prevention plan, reports KQED. Goats are able to navigate the steep terrain of city hillsides, and they consume invasive grasses and plants that experts say are making fire danger worse. The company Environmental Land Management contracts with the city for grazing services. Even though some challenge the effectiveness of goats for protecting homes from fire, company Operations Manager Johnny Gonzales notes soaring demand for goat-grazing services. "It's not an underestimation to say that we got over 100 calls a month from private individuals with smaller parcels, little lots or things from an acre, two acres requesting the goats," Gonzales says. "And unfortunately, as a commercial herd, I can't take on all these private lots."

National Seed Swap Day is set for the last Saturday of January each year; this year's date is January 25, 2020. Organizations across the country are invited to host seed swap events for gardeners and farmers. A list of currently scheduled events is available online, including seed trading opportunities and educational programs.

The Natural Resources Institute at Texas A&M has published Status Update and Trends of Texas Working Lands 1997–2017. The report, based on Census of Agriculture datasets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, is in its fifth iteration. The report reveals significant population growth in Texas, as well as increases in land values in proximity to major metropolitan areas. Texas gained approximately 1,000 new working farms and ranches per year from 1997 to 2017, although average ownership size decreased from 581 acres in 1997 to 509 acres in 2017. The report also notes that from 1997 to 2017, Texas lost approximately 2.2 million acres of working lands by way of those lands being converted to non-agricultural uses.

Mt-Glen farms, owned and operated by Dean and Rebecca Jackson, received the 2019 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award of $10,000 and a crystal award. Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters in 20 states who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working land. Mt-Glen Farms is known for protecting the environment while raising high-quality dairy cattle. The Jacksons use agricultural conservation practices that retain nutrients on the soil while protecting water quality.

Members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) are inviting individual farmers and ranchers to sign on in support of the Farmer Letter on Climate Change Solutions in Agriculture. This letter will be sent to Congressional members and leaders with USDA in the spring of 2020 to lift up farmer voices to speak about the impact of a changing climate on their communities and the solutions agriculture has to offer. The letter does not endorse specific policy proposals but broadly calls for investments in agricultural solutions to the climate crisis, including soil health, farmland conservation, on-farm renewable energy, sustainable livestock production and more.

Solar energy project owners are increasingly using grazing animals as an alternative to mowing their solar sites, reports Solar Power World. Owners find that grazing animals cost considerably less than fossil-fuel-powered mowing over the life of a project. What's more, they reduce carbon production of projects and help support a healthy local agricultural economy. Solar projects in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and other states have successfully employed sheep for site maintenance. Some solar projects are also changing the plantings on site to include more diversity, pollinator-friendly plants, and more native species.

More than 70 scientists from 21 countries collaborated on a road map to insect conservation and recovery, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. They say that all over the world, insect species are suffering from multiple human-induced stress factors: habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and overharvesting. The scientists state that "insects are vitally important in a wide range of ecosystem services of which some are indispensible for food production and security, as in pest control." The road map calls for immediate, mid-term, and long-term actions. The scientific experts involved in the road map agree that insect declines are a serious threat that society cannot postpone addressing any longer.

USDA approved the first set of plans submitted by states and Indian tribes for the domestic production of hemp under the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. Plans were submitted by the states of Louisiana, New Jersey, and Ohio, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux, Santa Rosa Cahuilla, and La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indian Tribes. To produce hemp, growers must be licensed or authorized under a state, tribe, or USDA production program. USDA maintains a list of plans under review and approved plans on its website.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets commissioned market research on Vermont maple syrup and value-added maple products to determine market conditions, trends in consumer demand, and current distribution channels. The report, completed by Atlantic Corporation, identified a growing role for maple syrup as a healthy alternative sweetener and recognized its health benefits. The report also noted an increasing role for maple syrup as an ingredient in more food products, and pointed out a number of new food products containing maple. The goal of this research is to provide Vermont maple producers a potential roadmap for moving Vermont maple forward in a global marketplace, while ensuring that Vermont maple businesses remain competitive, high-quality, and continue to support the agriculture economy.

Managed Grazing Innovation Center (MGIC), an online school created by Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA), is opening its courses to the general public beginning Spring Semester 2020. MGIC is offering anyone the same slate of six classes required for Apprentices: Dairy Cattle Health and Wellness; Milk Quality; Dairy Cattle Nutrition, Feeds and Feeding; Soil and Water Resources Management; Farm Business Management; and Managed Grazing Systems for Dairy Cattle. Students can take courses individually or complete all six within five years to earn a Managed Grazing Dairy Certificate. The one-credit Spring Semester classes began January 6, 2020, and run through March 28, 2020.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued an updated guideline on documentation needed to support animal-raising claims made on meat or poultry product labeling. The updated guideline, which was published in the Federal Register on December 27, 2019, includes changes made in response to comments on the guideline posted in October 2016. The guidance addresses the use of animal-raising claims such as "vegetarian-fed," "grass-fed," and "raised without the use of antibiotics" on product labels. This guideline is intended to facilitate the approval process for labels bearing animal-raising claims.

University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences published results of research on irrigation efficiency for container-grown plants in the journal HortScience. Researchers compared container irrigation guided by leaching fraction with evapotranspiration-based irrigation scheduling that used real-time weather information. The researchers found that small daily adjustments to the amount of water applied based on evapotranspiration were not beneficial for saving water compared to adjustments made every one to three weeks, based on leaching fraction tests. The leaching fraction is determined simply by dividing the amount of container drainage by the amount of irrigation water applied to the container.

Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG) has released Volume 6 of its updated 7th edition of the Farmers' Guide to Disaster Assistance. This volume focuses on USDA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). The 64-page PDF publication provides basic information on NAP, including eligibility and coverage, how to apply, collecting benefits, and appeal rights. It is available free online.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The interim rule includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill. Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include the following: authorizing assistance to partners who pursue "Buy-Protect-Sell" transactions, requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement, and increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements. ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands, and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are exploring the yield potential of "lost crops," productive plants that were grown in North America for thousands of years before being abandoned. Historical evidence shows that people purposefully tended crops of goosefoot, erect knotweed, maygrass, little barley, and sumpweed. Natalie Mueller leads research that is trying to rediscover how these crops were grown and how well they produced. In the Journal of Ethnobiology Mueller reported research results showing that growing goosefoot and erect knotweed together is more productive than growing either one alone. In fact, when grown together, the two plants have higher yields than global averages for closely related domesticated crops such as quinoa and buckwheat, leading researchers to conclude that crops of these plants could historically have fed thousands of people.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) updated its guideline on how establishments can make label claims concerning the fact that bioengineered or genetically-modified (GM) ingredients or animal feed were not used in the production of meat, poultry, or egg products. These "negative claims" are termed a special statement or claim that must be submitted to FSIS for approval before it may be used on a product distributed in commerce. However, the updated guideline specifies that certified organic products may be labeled with negative claims without additional third-party certification or documentation when the negative claim is connected with an asterisk or other symbol to the explanatory statement "Produced in compliance with the USDA Organic Regulations" and that the website of the certifying entity does not always need to appear on the label.

Oregon State University (OSU) plant pathologist Jennifer Parke found that soil solarization may offer Northwest organic farmers an effective way to control soil pathogens and weeds, reports Organic Farmer. Although the technique has proven effective in hotter climates, it didn't work in the cooler Pacific Northwest until Parke tried using new, non-condensing film made for the greenhouse industry. Using the film for solarization heats the soil by about 10°C: enough to kill pathogens but not beneficial microorganisms. Field testing in nurseries showed dramatic reductions in weeds and produced healthier plants. Parke's research team is now testing the minimum amount of time needed for effective solarization.

A three-year research project funded by Northeast SARE looks at the whole health and resilience of the farmer(s) and farm employee(s). It's the project of a research team that includes Leslie Forstadt from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Anu Rangarajan and Violet Stone from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Jennifer Hashley from Tufts-New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Rachel and Steffan Schneider from the Institute for Mindful Agriculture/Hawthorne Valley, and Daniel MacPhee from Blackbird Rise Farm. The project will focus on creating reflective spaces for farmers to gather and contemplate how elements of wellness play out in their lives and businesses. This effort begins with a 90-minute farmer focus group at the NOFA New York Conference in January.

A report from the University of Illinois, published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, explored the feasibility of regional phosphorus recycling in the Midwest. Mined phosphorus is used as an agricultural fertilizer, and there is some concern about the longevity of these supplies. At the same time, phosphorus runoff from fields and phosphorus from livestock manure, ethanol and soybean processing, and wastewater poses a water-quality problem. The University of Illinois study found that phosphorus can be recovered from water and altered into a plant-accessible form, but the cost of doing so exceeds the current cost of mined phosphorus. Nonetheless, the researchers believe a circular phosphorus economy is ultimately feasible for the Midwest, noting that phosphorus trading schemes, similar to carbon credits, could be part of the solution, as water-quality concerns generate a willingness to pay for effective phosphorus capture and recycling.

Penn State Extension has developed food safety training curriculum materials tailored specifically for Amish and Mennonite growers. According to a press release, the educational materials are aimed at accommodating Amish produce growers who do not prefer computer or other electronic training materials. They are designed to be presented in a way that reflects the unique farming practices and learning preferences of these farmers. The curriculum materials include a FSMA Produce Grower Training slide set and a Training Flip Chart for Amish Harvesters and Handlers of Fresh Produce.

Speakers during the Minnesota Cattlemen's Convention held in December highlighted the soil health benefits of rotational grazing, reports Minnesota Farm Guide. Several speakers demonstrated how rotationally grazed pastures prevent erosion and increase the soil's water-storage capacity. Brian Pfarr, Redwood County SWCD resource specialist, explained how cost-share funding through NRCS helped him put the fencing and water infrastructure in place to begin rotational grazing. After eight years he has nearly halved the amount of pasture it takes to feed a cow-calf pair, and 23 native species of plants and flowers have returned to the pastures, while large stands of thistle were out-competed by the grass.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture, along with several Kansas ag partners, unveiled KansasAgStress.org, a new website to provide resources and support to those dealing with ag-related stress. The website addresses the challenges that Kansas farmers, ranchers, and their families face, such as natural disasters, depressed commodity prices, and other issues that can lead to mental and emotional distress, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Visitors to the website can find local and national resources for those issues, as well as support in areas ranging from stress management to financial and legal challenges.

Chipotle Cultivate Foundation has announced a new Seed Grants program in partnership with the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) and Niman Ranch. The foundation donated $250,000 raised through sales in Chipotle restaurants on December 6, 2019, its first "Farmer Friday," to the National Young Farmers Coalition to help start the new Seed Grants Program for young farmers. The Seed Grants program will offer startup grants to young farmers under age 40. Support can go towards needs such as a new barn, new equipment, or a just a day-to-day jumpstart. In addition, during the Rose Parade on January 1, 2020, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation will donate $1 for every tweet with #farmer, up to $250,000, to the National Young Farmers Coalition.

Trials at Carrington Research Extension Center in North Dakota demonstrate how intercropping can increase yields, reports Farm and Ranch Guide. Research agronomist Mike Ostlie notes that today's equipment makes it possible to plant two crops at once, harvest them at once, and then separate them. Intercropping works best with a large-seeded crop and a small-seeded crop. Some examples are field peas and canola or chick peas and flax. With intercropping, the farmer is able to gain more yield in a given amount of space, because the different crop plants utilize different resources. However, the cost of separating and marketing the crops must be more than offset by the sale price of the companion crop for the practice to be profitable.

The California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) awarded nearly $57 million for agricultural land use planning and land conservation to promote infill development and keep the state's valuable farm and ranch lands available for agricultural production. The investment of California cap-and-trade dollars in the fifth round of SGC's Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) will fund six planning grants and 31 agricultural conservation easements in regions across the state. SGC awarded more than $55.5 million to land trusts and local governments working with farm and ranch owners to implement agricultural easements to conserve their properties. These projects were selected based on their risk of being converted to other uses, their potential to promote infill development, as well as their agricultural, economic, and ecological values. The Council also awarded more than $1.4 million in planning grants to help local governments prepare to conserve agricultural lands while planning for increased housing and other critical needs.

ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is encouraging consumers to participate in a week-long Factory Farm Detox consumer challenge to eliminate factory-farmed foods and replace them with more humane and sustainable alternatives. Participants can choose any week during January to participate in the challenge. Participants can opt for products bearing meaningful animal welfare certifications, including Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, Certified Humane, and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) 2+, or plant-based products. Participants receive support via a text-based helpline that aids them in finding more humane food, online label guides, discussion starters, and more.

USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) announced a new crop insurance option for hemp growers in select counties of 21 states in 2020. The pilot insurance program will provide Actual Production History (APH) coverage under 508(h) Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) for eligible producers in certain counties in Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The MPCI coverage is for hemp grown for fiber, grain, or CBD oil for the 2020 crop year. It is in addition to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection coverage available to hemp growers. To be eligible for the MPCI pilot program, among other requirements, a hemp producer must comply with applicable state, tribal, or federal regulations for hemp production, have at least one year of history producing the crop, and have a contract for the sale of the insured hemp. Producers also must be a part of a Section 7606 state or university research pilot, as authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, or be licensed under a state, tribal, or federal program approved under the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) interim final rule issued in October 2019.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service updated its High Plains Crop Profitability Analyzer budgeting tool for 2020. The spreadsheet contains four sections: enterprise budgets that require user input, break-even price estimates, comparative returns, and optimal irrigation analysis. Irrigated crops available for analysis are alfalfa, canola, corn, corn silage, cotton, peanuts, sorghum, sorghum seed, sorghum silage, sorghum Sudan grass, soybeans, sunflowers, triticale, and wheat. Dryland crops include canola, cotton, sorghum, sorghum Sudan grass, sunflowers, and wheat. Though budgets are for the High Plains, the tool is flexible enough to modify for use in other areas of the country, as well.

The USDA National Agroforestry Center has posted a Story Map that provides an overview of windbreaks in the Great Plains. Little information is available regarding the status of windbreaks. USDA National Agroforestry Center and partners at the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station Forest Inventory & Analysis are developing methods to inventory and map these trees. Working with partners at state forestry agencies, the partners are producing high-resolution mapping outputs that provide information to assess the status of these trees and monitor trends towards the future. This Story Map provides an overview of the benefits, types, and trends of windbreaks, highlights the inventory and mapping work being done, and shows other innovative ways windbreaks can provide benefits.

Two guides to help landowners navigate solar leases are available from the National Agricultural Law Center. The Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing helps landowners understand solar energy development and the solar leasing process. It covers topics such as property taxes, government programs, common legal documents, and more. A second publication, Understanding Solar Energy Agreements, provides information for landowners considering and negotiating leases. Topics addressed include conflicting land uses, responsibilities of each party, and typical payment structures. Both publications are available online.

Profiles in Land and Management, a project funded by the McKnight Foundation, the NoRegrets Initiative, and TomKat Ranch, features profiles showcasing land managers who are using livestock as a positive tool to achieve their goals. The profiles feature large and small operations on public and private lands across the West. However, they share the theme of innovative land managers thoughtfully harnessing the impact of grazing livestock as a valuable tool for ecological management to improve soil health, decrease bare ground, and increases water infiltration and retention.

Soil Centric has introduced a beta version of its Pathfinder Tool, designed to help identify regenerative opportunities. The tool lists opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and land stewards, as well as nonfarmers. For farmers, opportunity categories include improving soil health, incorporating agroforestry, and integrating animals. The listings range from information resources to internships to online courses. Nonfarmer opportunities range from volunteering to eating at carbon-neutral restaurants.

The Idaho Statesman reports that even as Idaho farmland is lost to development, the number of small farms is increasing in some counties. Some of these small farmers are able to sell what they produce locally, thanks to a network of robust farmers markets. Idaho has 47 registered farmers markets, ranging from small to large, but even the smaller ones can help farmers generate a significant portion of their income. On the large end of the scale, the Boise Farmers Market boasts 115 vendors and more than $1 million in sales each season. The feature notes that markets also play a strong role in building community, and in helping to reduce food insecurity by accepting EBT and SNAP. They also play a role in helping beginning farmers connect with the farming community and develop markets for their produce.

University of Vermont Extension has introduced The Ag Engineering Podcast. This series of 10- to 20-minute, in-depth podcasts chats with small-scale fruit and vegetable farmers who share tools, tips, and techniques to improve the sustainability of your farm. The first three episodes address caterpillar tunnels, managing multiple sales channels, and forming habits that create a sustainable farm business.

The Ecological Farming Association will present the Steward of Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Susties), the Advocates for Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture Awards (Justies), and the Golden Pliers Award at the EcoFarm Awards Dinner Banquet on January 24, 2020, as part of the 40th EcoFarm Conference. The Sustie Award honors those who have been actively and critically involved in ecologically-sustainable agriculture and have demonstrated their long term, significant contributions to the well-being of agriculture and the planet. This year's recipients are Lynn Coody, Leonard Diggs, and Rosie and Ward Burroughs. Meanwhile, the Justie Award honors those who has been active advocates for social justice as a critical aspect of ecologically sustainable agriculture and food systems. This year's recipients are Joy Moore and Lauren Augusta.

Cornell University researchers have published a study that examined how organic farming practices affected soil health in the long term. The study also explored how different aspects of soil health affected crop productivity. For example, it found that measuring soil invertebrate populations can indicate soil health. The study compared four cropping systems following 12 years of organic management and found that past nutrient inputs, how much soils had been disturbed, weed management, and the preceding crop all produced lasting productivity effects. In particular, the study found that low microbial activity and reduced soil aggregate stability can limit crop productivity even when soil nutrients are at acceptable levels.

A feature from Purdue University showcases the development of FieldWatch, a voluntary program that allows participants to register crops on a public database to help protect them from pesticide drift. The program began as an effort to protect specialty crops by alerting neighbors and pesticide applicators to the presence of sensitive crops. Later it expanded to include listings of row crops and bee hive locations. The program has grown to cover 22 states and a Canadian province, and plans further expansion. More than 30,000 individual FieldWatch users have enrolled more than 1.3 million acres in the program. Participants call the effort a model of stewardship because it engages and meets the needs of very different stakeholders, including growers, pesticide applicators, chemical manufacturers, and other stakeholders.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is accepting public comments on its draft Request for Grant Applications for the next round of healthy soils funding to be awarded through its Climate Smart Agriculture Incentives Programs. These programs include the Healthy Soils Program (HSP) Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects. The draft RGAs establish parameters by which competitive grants for the HSP Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects must be submitted and evaluated. Public comments on the draft guidelines will be accepted until January 7, 2020. "We hope these changes will make this program more accessible to a larger number of farmers and ranchers in California," said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. "As one of the first programs in the nation to focus on carbon sequestration using working private lands in California, we hope to contribute to greenhouse gas reductions and ensure our agricultural soils are healthy and productive into the future."

A study by University of California Cooperative Extension examined how wildfire smoke affected wine grapes near burned areas. After 2018 wildfires in California, many growers scrambled to find new markets for grape crops that buyers feared were tainted with smoke. This study showed that wind direction and speed, temperature, and a vineyard's proximity to an active fire are factors that can help growers and winemakers predict smoke damage to fruit. For example, tests revealed that grapes from some smoke-filled vineyards were not discernibly affected by smoke, because they were far enough from fires that the volatile gases that most affect grape taste were no longer present in the smoke. Testing also revealed that riper fruit was more susceptible to smoke taint, and further tests established thresholds for volatile-gas content below which tasters could not discern a taste impairment.

A new study from Iowa State University shows that livestock grazing can be integrated with organic crops without posing a significant food safety risk. The study involved experimental organic farming systems in Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania on which corn and soy crops were rotated with cattle grazing on small grains. Researchers found no traces of common strains of E. coli or salmonella on the meat produced in the experiments, and pathogens detected in feed, fecal, and hide samples remained below thresholds commonly detected in conventional production systems. Iowa State University professor Kathleen Delate, one of the authors of the study, said the results show promise for the potential of farmers integrating animal and crop production. Experiments have shown such arrangements can help farmers realize a number of benefits, including better soil health.

Cover crops can help the sustainability of star fruit farms, according to research reported by the American Society of Agronomy. Florida International University researcher Ariel Freidenreich says star fruit, or carambola, is becoming more popular as a crop in south Florida. It offers an alternative to citrus and avocado, crops that are challenged by disease in Florida. In this study, the research team explored how cover crops of sunn hemp and velvet bean contribute organic matter to the soil and improve nutrient availability for the cash crop. The cover crops can also provide mulch to help protect carambola tree roots from cold temperatures, and sunn hemp can help provide a windbreak for the wind-sensitive star fruit crop.

Researchers from Cornell University found that consumer perception of produce was influenced by having a label that identified it as locally grown. In a blind taste test of broccoli, consumers rated California broccoli higher than local broccoli on taste and appearance. However, when the produce was labeled as locally grown, consumers ranked its flavor higher and indicated their willingness to pay more for it. The study results could have implications for efforts to develop an East Coast broccoli industry using varieties with an appearance different from the standard California broccoli. Researchers say the study results could also influence efforts to market other local produce.

Colorado State University announced creation of the Sustainable Livestock Systems Collaborative, a first-of-its-kind collaborative to support profitable, sustainable, and healthy livestock production. CSU livestock and animal health experts will work alongside industry, government, and other stakeholders in addressing 21st-century challenges, as well as training livestock industry professionals. The collaborative will look at enhancing sustainable and healthy livestock systems through the examination of new technologies and disease treatments as well as soil, plant, animal, and atmospheric microbiomes, among other areas. The collaborative is spearheaded by College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and includes Colorado Beef Council, Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Colorado Livestock Association, as well as the Warner College of Natural Resources, the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, and CSU Extension.

Through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) grant, researchers at Furman University studied the feasibility of transforming forested land on southern farms to silvopasture systems. Professor John Quinn and colleagues studied suitable understory forage mixtures specifically for grazing pigs, removed invasive weed plant species to determine how that impacted wildlife nesting and foraging habitat, and compared soil quality of managed and unmanaged forested land. They found that some forage mixtures did not provide enough forage or provide for soil retention. They also found little difference in soil quality in this short-term study. "The results suggest that forest soils, like the pastures, are still recovering from degradation caused by intensive tillage cultivation," said Quinn. "Removal of invasive plants and increased rotational grazing combined with cover crops may improve soil quality as measured by carbon and nitrogen content."

Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) announced that Lauren Langworthy will serve as the new executive director of the organization. Langworthy was the program director before taking on the role of interim executive director in March. Langworthy joined the staff at MOSES in early 2015. She and her husband also own a 153-acre farm in Wheeler, Wisconsin, with rotationally grazed sheep and Highland cattle. MOSES is a nonprofit organization that supports organic and sustainable agriculture and is well-known for the annual MOSES Organic Farming Conference, the country's largest event focused on organic and sustainable farming.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is awarding about $12.5 million to 19 projects through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program. The program supports the development of innovative systems and technologies for private lands conservation. In 2019, the program focused on four priority areas: water quantity, urban agriculture, pollinator habitat, and accelerating the pace and scale of conservation adoption. A full list of recipients, with brief project descriptions, is available online.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting public comments on its interim rule for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill. These include creating incentive contracts and payments for incentive practices to better support locally led conservation needs, as well as requiring NRCS to offer an advance payment option for historically underserved producers. The interim rule also raises the payment cap for producers participating in the Organic Initiative to $140,000. Additionally, it expands the Conservation Innovation Grant program, which is funded through EQIP, to include opportunities for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials and Soil Health Demonstration Trials. NRCS invites comments on the interim EQIP rule through February 17, 2020.

A wide range of food stakeholders met recently in Wyoming for a Conference on Forming a Wyoming Food Coalition and Action Agenda, reports the Casper Star-Tribune. Wyoming is the only state that doesn't have a food council, and participants in this meeting were looking at how the private sector and state nonprofits could collaborate to address several different food-system issues. Farmers and ranchers are operating on narrow margins, yet comparatively little of the produce purchased in the state is grown there. Though 13% of state residents experience hunger, Wyoming has a low rate of participation in the SNAP program. Participants in the recent conference looked at ways for the state to develop local food production systems that would support economic growth and help address hunger.

University of Maine at Presque Isle, University of Maine at Farmington, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Jasper Wyman & Sons, and Sodexo are partnering on a project that will increase capacity to process locally grown vegetables in Maine, reports Mainebiz. The project received funding from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation through the New England Food Vision Prize. The project will help connect sustainably grown New England vegetables with the institutional market, as well as with hunger-relief programs in schools and at food banks. This project is one of six funded by the New England Food Vision Prize, which is designed to help New England achieve the goal of producing at least 50% of its own food by 2060.

The Better Cotton Innovation Challenge is a global project seeking innovative ideas and solutions to improve sustainable cotton farming practices around the world. Sponsored by the The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), with the support of Dalberg Advisors, the challenge calls for innovators to submit disruptive solutions to enable effective and customized farmer training and efficient data collection. The challenge team invites innovators from universities, research and development labs, start-ups and nonprofit organizations to apply. Innovators will undergo three competitive application stages, receive mentorship from experts, and gain access to networking opportunities with industry leaders. The finalists will have the opportunity to pilot test their solution on the ground with BCI Farmers. Entries are due by January 15, 2020.

USDA Economic Research Service has released America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition. This report provides an overview of U.S. farms, including the latest statistics on production, financial performance, and farm household characteristics by farm size. Among the findings, 98% of U.S. farms are family farms, and these accounted for 88% of farm production in 2018. Although 90% of farms are considered small, they accounted for only 21% of production.

The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) at Vermont Law School is making available a free online Farm Lease Builder as part of its Farmland Access Legal Toolkit. The Farm Lease Builder creates a free customized lease draft for farmers based on their specific needs, significantly reducing the cost of legal services. "This tool provides a comprehensive process for helping farmers and landowners think through how they'd like to handle issues that commonly arise in a farm lease situation," explains Amanda Heyman, CAFS project partner and consultant. The tool walks farmers through the decision-making process and creates a draft lease.

California Farm Academy's Beginning Farmer Training Program is accepting applications for 2020. The program runs from February 18, 2020, through the end of September. Classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 4:30-7:30 p.m., and two Saturdays per month at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, California, or at other nearby locations. In this immersive educational program, students have the opportunity to gain farm production and business knowledge through lectures by farmers and agricultural professionals, hands-on field experience, and farm visits. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the class is full.

The American Lamb Board has introduced a suite of new tools that focus on why consumers can feel good about eating American lamb, highlight sheep and lamb production throughout history, emphasize how sheep and lamb are intrinsic to our existence, and explain the unique relationship among sheep, humans and other animals. A 9-minute video serves as the central storytelling tool, but the suite of materials includes a 2-minute version of the video, six shorter-form social media clips, photography, and a print narrative. The full video is featured on the new americanlamb.com website.

Drones could play an important role in the future of sustainable agriculture, according to a researcher from the University of California, Davis. Elvira De Lange's review article notes that drones can be used in Integrated Pest Management to patrol fields for signs of pest activity and to deliver biological control agents or highly targeted pesticides. Another potential application for drones is assessing plant health and need for fertilizer.

A Stanford University study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that Midwest farmers who reduced tillage increased corn and soybean yields while improving soil health and lowering production costs. The research team used machine learning and satellite datasets to develop satellite-based crop yield models. Researchers calculated that, across nine Midwest states between 2005 and 2016, corn yields improved an average of 3.3% and soybeans by 0.74% on fields managed with long-term conservation tillage practices. The researchers calculated that it takes 11 years for corn farmers to see full benefits of reduced tillage, and twice that long for soybean growers. However, reduced tillage lowered production costs from the start, due to reduced need for labor, fuel, and farming equipment.

Penn State Extension has created a set of free online tools for small-scale cheesemakers, to help them develop food safety systems for their facilities and conduct risk assessments of their processes. The tools include a Guide for Implementing a Food Safety System in Small-Scale and Raw Milk Cheese Plants, which provides an overview of what is needed and how to approach setting up a food safety system and conducting a hazard analysis. Another tool is the Food Safety Plan for Raw Milk Gouda Cheese Teaching Example, which provides a comprehensive hazard analysis that can be adapted by cheesemakers. A blank template for building a food safety plan is also available. Printed copies are available for cheesemakers who do not have access to the Internet.

Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation, and National Farmers Union are partnering on a program to train individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers to recognize signs of stress and offer help. Based on the farm stress program Michigan State University Extension developed for the USDA Farm Service Agency, this combination of online and in-person trainings is designed specifically for individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers. It provides participants the skills to understand the sources of stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies, reduce stigma related to mental health concerns, and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is launching endorsements for soil health, integrated pest management, and wildlife in addition to the 10-year water quality certification a farmer or landowner receives in the program. MAWQCP is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect water. Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years. The MAWQCP partnered with various non-profit organizations, such as Pheasants Forever and the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, and state agencies to develop the three new endorsements. Certified producers who achieve an endorsement will receive an additional sign for their farm and recognition for their conservation excellence.

The Savanna Institute has released Overcoming Bottlenecks in the Midwest Hazelnut Industry: An Impact Investment Plan. The 63-page free report represents the first stage in Savanna Institute's push to catalyze the Midwest hazelnut industry. It provides a roadmap for connecting capital with the key practitioners, researchers, and educators on the ground. The report gathers critical information from across the community of hazelnut stakeholders, identifies the industry's central development bottlenecks, considers the competing priorities and merits of various approaches to these hurdles, and conducts an object assessment and ranking of priorities for impact investment.

USDA has announced a $237 million investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The current round of funding will support 640 awards to applicants in all 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Western Pacific. Recipients can use REAP funding for energy audits and to install renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. The funding can also be used to increase energy efficiency by making improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration.

Bloomberg reports that a livestock feed supplement developed by Swiss agritech company Mootral reduces emissions enough to qualify the farmers who use it for carbon-offset credits. The credits are offered through the nonprofit organization Verra, whose VCS Program allows vetted projects to turn their greenhouse gas emissions reductions into tradable carbon credits. The garlic-and-citrus feed supplement has been proven to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by dairy cows in England by 38%. Mootral expects the first "CowCredits" to be generated next year, and plans to expand to sheep and goats in the future.

A study led by the University of Vermont is inviting farmers throughout the country to participate in a 10- to 15-minute survey on agritourism. The data will be used by cooperative extension and research personnel to develop resources to help increase the success of small- and medium-sized farms that offer on-farm direct sales, education, hospitality, recreation, entertainment, and other types of agritourism. In addition to demographic and farm information, the survey is collecting data on direct sales and agritourism experiences offered, visitor numbers and goals, successes, challenges, and future plans for agritourism. Farmers can also provide input on the types of support needed to achieve success with agritourism, including on-farm direct sales.

The University of Connecticut is collaborating with other New England institutions to put together a USDA grant on Agriculture and Food Research Initiatives. The focus is on sustainable poultry production to help small, medium, and large poultry farmers, processors and industry personnel to increase profitability, reduce input costs, increase productivity, and reduce losses due to environmental and biological stresses. In addition, this grant would help develop tools to enhance rural prosperity and health by ensuring access to affordable, safe, and nutritious poultry products to sustain healthy lifestyles. Long-term, the project seeks to ensure the sustainability of antibiotic-restricted broiler production by enhancing bird, human, and environmental health, and ultimately increasing consumer acceptability and economic returns to farmers. Project collaborators are collecting information on needs for poultry research, education, and outreach in the region through a three- to five-minute online survey questionnaire.

USDA has announced the award of $23.5 million in grant funding through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). The programs are designed to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets. There were 49 projects funded under the FMPP and 42 projects through the LFPP. Lists of the recipients are available online, along with brief descriptions of the projects selected for funding.

USDA is opening signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on December 9, 2019. The signup deadline for general CRP is February 28, 2020, although signup for continuous CRP is ongoing. A separate CRP Grasslands signup will be held after the general signup. Farmers and ranchers who enroll in CRP receive a yearly rental payment for voluntarily establishing long-term, resource-conserving plant species to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and develop wildlife habitat on marginally productive agricultural lands. CRP already has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term.

USDA has announced five new members for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Nathaniel Powell-Palm of Cold Springs Organics in Belgrade, Montana, will serve on the Board in a farmer seat. Kimberly Huseman, the Director of Specialty Ingredients for Pilgrim's, will serve in a handler seat, as will Gerard D'Amore of Munger Farms. Eastside Food Co-op Grocery Manager Mindee Jeffery will serve on the Board in the retailer seat. Lastly, the Senior Vice President of Sustainability for Agriculture Capital, Wood Turner, will serve in an environmental protection and resource conservation seat. These new members will serve five-year terms beginning in January 2020.

A blog post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition highlights three different farm operations that received Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) to expand their businesses. The post explains how a dairy farm in Alabama, a hog farm in Georgia, and a farmer-led cooperative in Minnesota utilized the VAPG program, and it includes videos of the grant recipients discussing how VAPG helped them. These grant recipients have all successfully utilized VAPG more than once. The post also notes that this year's application period is expected to open soon.

Colorado is considering a statewide soil health program that will support farmers and ranchers in efforts to implement regenerative agriculture practices, reports The Colorado Sun. The state's governor has requested funding for the program from the legislature, and the Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils is trying to envision the program's role and how it would work. It's a group of farmers, ranchers, and stakeholders from across the state that is exploring ways to encourage and incentivize soil management practices. Agency employees, consultants, and farmers and ranchers themselves recognize that change isn't easy for agricultural producers who are already struggling economically. They say a statewide program could help provide the knowledge and financial incentives that producers need to develop practices that will be effective at improving soil health on their particular operations.

A paper published in Ecology Letters by Washington State University scientists shows that small farms with more plant diversity attract more visits by pollinating bees. The researchers say that having a variety of plants that flower at different times and offer beneficial traits is the best way to increase pollinator activity. Increasing bee visits to a farm in turn increases pollinator efficiency. The study showed the effect held true for both honey bees and wild pollinators. "If a farmer is thinking about buying more bees, planting more diverse crops could be an alternative," said study co-author Elias Bloom.

University of Kentucky researchers led a study published in the journal Insects that demonstrated the potential of fine-mesh netting for insect control in blackberries. The fine-mesh exclusion netting reduced the abundance of numerous insect pests and resulted in a higher yield of marketable fruit, compared to organic spinosad insecticide treatment. The researchers point out that fine-mesh netting can be substituted for netting conventionally used to keep birds out of small-fruit crops, because it excludes bird as well as insects. Therefore, using the fine-mesh netting could be particularly feasible for producers of grapes, caneberries, and blueberries who already utilize netting to exclude birds.

Researchers at Washington State University have developed a deicer solution made from grape skins and other agricultural waste. The new combination causes less damage to concrete and asphalt than salt-based deicer, and also poses less risk to water bodies. What's more, its manufacture creates no waste, and it melts ice faster than other alternatives. The production process can be modified to use other agricultural wastes, as well. Professor Xianming Shi explains, "We can use this same platform technology in different regions of the country but choose a different agricultural product, depending on what source of waste is available."

Scientists at Colorado State University have determined that there are two broad categories of soil organic matter that are different in origin and makeup. "Particulate organic matter" is made up of lightweight, partly decomposed plants and fungi residues that are short-lived and not well protected, while "mineral-associated organic matter" is largely made of byproducts of the decomposition of microbes that chemically bind to minerals in the soil. Professor Francesca Cotrufo explains that particulate organic matter is like the "checking account" of soils: it turns over continuously and supports nutrient cycling but requires regular deposits to stay vital. Mineral-associated organic matter, meanwhile, is the "savings account" that gets a smaller fraction of deposits but is inherently more stable. Conventional agriculture, Cotrufo says, has caused us to exhaust our checking account and start living off our savings.

A program of the Pennsylvania Farm Bill has awarded $500,000 in Small Meat Processor Grants to fund 15 projects to improve the supply of locally produced meat in the commonwealth. The grants include funding for a mobile poultry processing trailer, an organic processing facility, value-added product equipment, and numerous processing facilities to serve nearby farms. At least one farm will implement on-farm meat processing through the grant program. The funded projects will create local jobs and open new markets for farmers.

A study led by Los Alamos National Laboratory and published in Nature Climate Change shows that not only will droughts become more frequent under future climates, but more of those events will be extreme, adding to the reduction of plant production essential to human and animal populations. "Even though plants can, in many cases, benefit from increased levels of carbon dioxide that are predicted for the future atmosphere, the impact of severe drought on destroying these plants will be extreme, especially in the Amazon, South Africa, Mediterranean, Australia, and southwest USA," said lead study author Chonggang Xu. The combination of low soil water availability, heat stress, and disturbances associated with droughts could offset any benefits plants might gain from fertilization by higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

Good Food 100 Restaurants has announced its 2019 Good Food Farmer and Purveyor of the Year Award recipients. The awards honor producers and purveyors from seven regions of the country who are committed to sustainability and transparency. This year's recipients: Carne Locale (New England); PrairiErth Farm (Great Lakes); Good Shepherd Poultry (Plains); White Oak Pastures (Southeast); Niman Ranch (Southwest); Croft Family Farm (Rocky Mountain); and Produce Express-Distributor (West). The awards honor and celebrate one farmer, rancher, fisherman or one purveyor/distributor nominated by the participating 2019 Good Food 100 chefs in each region. Winners are selected by the Good Food Media Network team based on their commitment to sustainability, transparency, and advancing good food practices, as well as quantity and quality of the nomination forms.

After a full year of providing education and support to help farmers and ranchers transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture, the Soil Health Academy (SHA) announced that it has become a federally recognized, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. SHA's three-day schools feature instruction by David Brandt, Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Allen Williams, Ph.D., Shane New, and other technical consultants, all of whom are widely considered to be among the most preeminent pioneers, innovators, and advocates in today's soil health and regenerative agricultural movement. As a nonprofit, SHA President David Brandt said, the organization will be better positioned, long-term, to deliver programs and services to help farmers make the successful transition from chemically dependent conventional farming methods to nature-mimicking regenerative methods.

Alabama farmer Annie Dee is one of the early participants in an incentive program for carbon sequestration, reports AL.com. Dee enrolled in Indigo Agriculture's Terraton Initiative, which pays $15 per ton of carbon sequestered in the soil she farms. Dee is already a no-till farmer who uses cover crops and crop rotations, so she will collect payment for practices already in place. Indigo Ag predicts that farmers who implement its full suite of regenerative growing practices, including cover crops, no-till, reducing fertilizer and chemical inputs, crop rotation, and integrating livestock, could sequester two to three tons of carbon per acre, per year. Indigo Ag says farmers have committed more than 12 million acres to its program to date.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a silk coating for seeds that both protects the seeds and helps them to germinate even in saline soil conditions. The silk coatings are also treated with rhizobacteria that convert nitrogen from the air to a form that plants can uptake, providing fertilizer that helps get the plants off to a good start. Researchers say the seed coating could be applied as a dip or spray, and could make it possible to grow food crops in marginal soil. Next, the team intends to explore coatings that could help seeds germinate and thrive in drought conditions by absorbing water from the soil.

The popularity of hemp farming has exploded in the United States this past year, reports National Public Radio, but the young industry is experiencing struggles. About 90% of hemp is grown for cannabidiol, but growers are challenged with production of a crop that can turn from being high quality to having illegal concentrations of THC overnight. If THC goes over the legal limit, crops must be destroyed, resulting in losses for the grower. Also, a glut of hemp on the market has overwhelmed processors and caused prices paid to farmers to drop. Some farmers have opted for the long-term fiber and seed market, but these producers also face equipment, processing, and marketing challenges in a young industry.

Some Massachusetts dairy farmers are combining manure with food waste to produce renewable energy, reports PBS. Dairy farmers are diversifying their operations, working with a renewable energy company that builds anaerobic digesters on their farms. The digesters not only help farmers manage manure, but also take in food waste from the surrounding area. Unsold produce, spent distillers grains, and food-processing waste are trucked to the farms, ground, and used to produce energy for the farms and surrounding communities. The feature notes that a state ban on food waste in landfills and renewable energy incentives helped launch the operations and make them economically feasible.

University of California researchers found that hedgerows bordering farmland support beneficial, bug-eating birds that help with pest control. A study published in Ecosphere tested how access to habitat improved the predation success of birds on codling moth cocoons. Not only hedgerows, but also the presence of mature walnut trees, helped birds reduce codling moth populations. The study authors also point out that, in addition to birds, hedgerows can attract beneficial insects to a farm, including pollinators.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has developed a global map that illustrates the sustainability of food systems on a country-by-country basis. The assessment was based on 20 indicators in four dimensions: environment, economic, social, and food and nutrition. According to CIAT, the tool can be used to track changes in sustainability over time and has the potential to guide policy and action as climate change, rising populations, and increased demand for food place unprecedented pressure on global food systems. Christophe Béné, the study's lead author, commented, "Our research highlights how little is currently known about food systems. [N]ational statistical systems, in both high- and lower-income countries, are collecting only a small portion of the information that is needed to build a comprehensive picture of the whole system."

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced the award of more than $24 million in grants through On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials, a new component of the Conservation Innovation Grants program. NRCS announced that 16 projects are receiving these funding awards, including nine awards under the Soil Health Demonstration Trial. These nine projects focus on the adoption and evaluation of soil health management systems and practices. The remaining seven projects focus on irrigation water management, precision agriculture, and a variety of management technologies. A complete list of recipients is available online.

Registration is now open for the 10th Organic Seed Growers Conference, scheduled to take place in Corvallis, Oregon, February 12-15, 2020. The conference is the largest event focused solely on organic seed in North America, bringing together hundreds of farmers, plant breeders, researchers, food companies, seed companies, and others. The biennial conference has been convening the organic seed community for nearly two decades and includes a packed agenda of presentations, panel discussions, networking events, and celebration. Farm tours and short courses are held prior to the full two-day conference.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is one of 33 organizations that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has selected for Climate Smart Agriculture Technical Assistance awards totaling $2.1 million. With these funds, the recipients will provide technical assistance to the applicants and awardees of CDFA's Alternative Manure Management Program and the Healthy Soils Program. Grant recipients will perform outreach for the programs and assist farmers in many application-related tasks such as developing a project design, estimating the benefits of proposals, and submitting applications. "These technical assistance grants are so important to supporting farmers and ranchers of every size and in every region of our state understand the application requirements as well as the kinds of climate smart agriculture projects that qualify," said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University say that forest farming could provide a model for the future of forest botanical supply chains. They say that transitioning from wild collection to forest farming as a source of medicinal herbs such as ginseng would create a sustainable supply chain, not only in terms of the environment, but also in terms of social justice for people who harvest the plants. The researchers point out that forest farming would allow more transparency in the supply chain, which could lead not only to better-quality herbal products, but also to a reliable and stable income for forest farmers.

In December, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will be mailing surveys to more than 22,000 U.S. producers involved in certified or transitioning-to-certified organic farming. The 2019 Organic Survey results will expand on the 2017 Census of Agriculture data by looking at several aspects of organic agriculture during the 2019 calendar year, including production, marketing practices, income, expenses, and more. Producers who receive the 2019 Organic Survey are required to respond by federal law. Farmers and ranchers are asked to complete their surveys online via the secure NASS website by January 10, 2020.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have been studying how well honey bees do in agricultural areas. They found that although bee colonies thrive on the soybean flowers and corn pollen early in the summer, the lack of flowering plants later in the summer causes populations to crash. Later in the summer, bees forage primarily on clover near field edges. The researchers found that when bees were moved to restored prairie with more blooming plants, colonies rebounded to healthy levels. The scientists say there's not enough prairie available to "rescue" all the bee colonies from agricultural land, so they recommend installing strips of prairie within or alongside agricultural fields to support healthy bee populations.

A report in The Christian Science Monitor explains the benefits that farmers are finding in practicing silvopasture. Advocates say that combining trees and livestock helps sequester carbon, improves soil health, and helps protect the livestock from heat stress. Silvopasture is apparently on the rise in the United States, and some universities are offering farmers technical help and incentives to try the practice. Experts advise, however, that simply turning animals into a woodlot is not the same as implementing a silvopasture system that maximizes the health of both trees and animals.

The Climate Adaptation Fellowship has posted a Climate Adaptation Curriculum on its website. The curriculum includes four separate modules tailored for northeastern land managers (farmers or foresters) and the advisors who work with them. Modules are designed to address the specific issues and concerns of vegetable/small fruit producers, dairy producers, tree fruit producers, or foresters who live and work in the northeastern United States. Each module was created by a team of researchers, outreach and technical service providers, and land managers and will be refined based on utilization. The modules include education lessons and hands-on activities.

Researchers from Washington State University recently published results of a study on the food safety of using dairy manure as fertilizer on red raspberries. The study evaluated a number of manure-derived fertilizers: anaerobically digested liquid effluent, aerobically composted dairy manure, and more concentrated refined fertilizers, such as ammonium sulfate and phosphorus solids. The study found no Shiga toxin-producing E. coli or Listeria monocytogenes in any soil samples. Though Salmonella was found in some fertilizer samples, it was not present in soil, foliar, or fruit samples taken after two or four months. Based on results of this study, the researchers concluded that application of manure-derived fertilizers to raspberry plots four months prior to harvest under GAP did not introduce microbiological safety risk.

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) has published a newsletter highlighting several recently completed projects funded by its Farmer Grants. These include production of verijuice from unripe grapes, exploration of materials for seasonal wreaths, disease management in hops using sheep, and a test of the feasibility of organic Belgian endive as a winter crop.

Wisconsin's fifth round of Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants has been awarded to 27 groups of farmers by the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). Farmers will work with conservation agencies and organizations to address soil and water issues specific to their local conditions. Grants range from just over $7,500 to $40,000 for conservation practice incentives, education and outreach, and water quality testing and monitoring efforts. All projects are led by farmers in collaboration with local partner agencies and organizations to increase conservation activities in their watersheds.

Environmental Defense Fund has released a new report, How Conservation Makes Dairy Farms More Resilient, Especially in a Lean Agricultural Economy. Four Pennsylvania dairy farmers opened their books to allow for a comparative analysis of how their conservation practices impacted their budgets. The overriding lesson learned from this analysis is that conservation contributes to the economic well-being and resilience of dairy farms. The report also finds that conservation practices can pay at the farm level, often in unanticipated ways. The report also offers recommendations for increasing educational, technical, and financial resources for farmers to make adoption of conservation practices more viable.

Whitney Economics has released "The Field of Dreams: An Economic Survey of the United States Hemp Cultivation Industry," a cultivation and processing report. The survey concludes that hemp has the potential to become the third-largest agricultural crop in the United States by revenue, second only to corn and soy. According to the report, the total value of the hemp biomass is an estimated $11.3 billion or roughly 6% of the total value of the entire U.S. cash crops. However, the report also reveals that 65% of farmers who responded to the national survey did not have a buyer, and that there is one processor for every four growers. This means the average land area per processor is 138 acres, signifying a major constraint in the hemp supply chain. The full results of the survey are available online.

With funding from the first-ever Pennsylvania Farm Bill, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and PennAg Industries are launching the Center for Poultry and Livestock Excellence to assist swine, poultry, and small ruminant producers with everything from expanding processing capacity to biosecurity planning. The center will provide the following resources and investments to the industry: biosecurity education and planning assistance; biosecurity implementation grants; regional workshops for strategic and emergency communications planning; buildout of statewide animal agriculture infrastructure; research to approve hemp for animal feed; and Investments in improved food safety infrastructure.

University of Minnesota research published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution evaluated the productivity and biodiversity of land that had once been used for agriculture and then abandoned. The study considered grasslands and savannas in Minnesota that were abandoned for agricultural use as recently as one year previously to as long as 91 years ago. Researchers found that local grassland plant diversity increased significantly over time, but incompletely recovered, and plant productivity did not significantly recover. Even 91 years after abandonment, the fields had just 73% of the plant diversity and 53% of the plant productivity of neighboring land that was never plowed. Study authors suggest that the findings support active restoration efforts to restore biodiversity on abandoned agricultural land worldwide, in order to prevent plant extinctions.

The American Society for Horticultural Science reports that researchers from the University of Florida have published a review of literature exploring how controlled-environment production can be applied to urban agriculture. Celina Gómez and her fellow researchers delved into the likelihood that controlled environments will revolutionize urban food systems and the techniques that can be employed for them to do so. The review identifies many factors worthy of consideration regarding controlled-environment production in urban areas: local demand and supply of food, location, population density, facility design, and crops produced. Additionally, there are market considerations: sustainability for these urban farms requires understanding of capital investment and operating costs, production volume, product quality and consistency, and local market trends.

Purdue University is receiving about $1 million of a $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant awarded to North Carolina State University through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Purdue scientists are part of a team of researchers who will examine the benefits of cover crops in corn, soybeans, and cotton during the five-year study. Purdue scientists are interested in how much nitrogen cover crops can add to soil. As part of the study, researchers will be monitoring the impact of cover crops on water movement through soil, soil temperature, soil moisture, and other factors that can affect soil organic matter, nutrient losses, and irrigation needs.

A paper published by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that diversifying crop production can make the food supply more nutritious, reduce resource demand and greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance climate resilience without reducing calorie production or requiring more land. This conclusion is based on assessment that used rice production in India as an example. Scientists note that, over time, the diversity of cultivated crops has narrowed considerably, with many producers opting to shift away from more nutritious cereals to high-yielding crops like rice. They say that planting less rice and more nutritious and environmentally friendly crops such as finger millet, pearl millet, and sorghum would benefit nutrition, farmers, and the environment.

DISARM, an active European network dedicated to finding innovative solutions for antibiotic resistance, has launched a new range of platforms inviting farmers, veterinarians, agricultural advisors, and others to join discussions about farmed-animal health and antibiotic usage. The DISARM Project brings people together from agricultural sectors across Europe to share knowledge and ideas. It aims to reduce the need for antibiotic treatments in livestock farming by keeping animals healthy, preventing disease, and promoting appropriate, prudent use of antibiotic treatments. New resources developed by the network include a dedicated DISARM website www.disarmproject.eu, which provides details on events and workshops, and the DISARM Community of Practice, a Facebook-based discussion group where members can ask questions and share their ideas and experiences. The first official DISARM event, in Brussels on December 3, 2019, and available via livestream, will present the project and include a discussion forum and Q&A session.

A group of botanical experts has published a paper in the journal Planta Medica, warning of the effects of climate change on medicinal plants. In Scientists' Warning on Climate Change and Medicinal Plants, they write that "populations may be threatened by changing temperature and precipitation regimes, disruption of commensal relationships, and increases in pests and pathogens, combined with anthropogenic habitat fragmentation that impedes migration." The paper warns that these effects, combined with unsustainable harvest, could push many plant populations to extinction. Furthermore, they note that increased environmental stresses could alter the chemical content of medicinal plants. The authors recommend measures such as conservation and cultivation of plants, harvester education, and efforts to mitigate climate change.

A feature in Knowable Magazine explores a role for low-input agriculture as a middle road between organic and conventional agriculture. The article discusses the extent of the organic agriculture yield gap, the relationship between organic agriculture and biodiversity, the performance of organic agriculture in aspects other than yield, and the failings of conventional agriculture. It identifies a need for more research to advance organic agriculture and highlights the production potential and environmental benefits of greater use of low-input agriculture.

Research at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the United Kingdom, published in Environmental Pollution, found that high concentrations of microplastics in soil can reduce worm fertility by 50%. Ecotoxicologist and study leader Dr. Elma Lahive explained that the smaller the plastics, the greater the reduction in reproduction, which could be linked to ingestion of plastics by the worms. "Given we know that microplastics are accumulating in our soils and can stay there for a very long time, we clearly need to understand the effect they are having on our soil ecosystems and the long-term risks they may pose," said Lahive.

A new paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) addresses the risks associated with the dwindling genetic diversity of livestock and poultry. Protecting Food Animal Gene Pools for Future Generations—A paper in the series on The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050 is available free online from CAST as a 24-page PDF. In it, authors argue for greater efforts to protect the genes of animal livestock breeds, noting that "up to 25% of global livestock breeds are either at risk of being lost, or have already been lost." The paper includes five recommendations that build on current conservation practices, including preservation of breeds with diverse properties and research on genetic and phenotypic diversity.

Organic Farming Research Foundation shared results from a project it funded to assess resistance among selected cucumber and muskmelon seedstocks to the problematic diseases Bacterial Wilt and Cucurbit Downy Mildew. The first year of the project (2018) identified cucumber seedstocks that performed well, and a second grant in 2019 supported testing those varieties more broadly with a goal of releasing the varieties with best resistance in 2020.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has published a white paper on the environmental footprint of beef production in the United States. Data in the report shows that only 3.7% of U.S. greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions come directly from beef cattle. This report also offers data showing that all agriculture accounts for 8.4% of U.S. GHG emissions, while the transportation sector is responsible for 28% of U.S. GHG emissions. The white paper also discusses improved efficiencies in beef cattle that are credited with reducing the environmental impact of U.S. production. A lifecycle assessment that evaluates sustainability achievements and opportunities across the entire beef lifecycle was conducted in partnership with USDA and is set to be released in the first half of 2020.

The Savanna Institute has produced a new series of free "Key Perennial Crop" information sheets in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the USDA-SARE program. The information sheets offer descriptions of 12 key Midwestern agroforestry crops: Aronia, Asian Pear, Black Currant, Black Walnut, Chinese Chestnut, Cider Apple, Elderberry, Hazelnut, Honeyberry, Northern Pecan, Pawpaw, and Serviceberry. They are available free online.

The Center for Rural Affairs has released several Conservation Innovation Grants farmer case studies. The case studies feature new, experienced, and veteran farmers who raise a variety of livestock, grow crops, and are involved in agritourism. Each PDF case study includes an overview of the farming operation, a statement from the farmer about the value of conservation, and the advice they would offer to a beginning farmer.

Iowa State University scientists published a study in Global Change Biology Bioenergy that showed cover crops stimulating microbes deep in the soil can lead to improved water quality by preventing nutrient loss. However, the study also found that because the stimulated microbes consume the carbon in the cover crop, carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere and that carbon is not sequestered in the soil. "Greater plant growth doesn't necessarily mean gains in carbon sequestration if microbial activity also increases," explained co-author Steven Hall.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released a new report of policy and practice recommendations based on the latest climate science: Agriculture and Climate Change: Policy Imperatives and Opportunities to Help Producers Meet the Challenge. The paper, developed by NSAC's Subcommittee on Climate Change, explores both the impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture, as well as the contribution of U.S. agriculture to global climate change mitigation. Several key issues are analyzed: the impact of confined animal feeding operations on climate and environment; the relationship between the climate crisis and overproduction; how the structure of the federal crop insurance system contributes to overproduction and by extension climate change; and sustainable production practices that make an impact, including perennial cropping systems, resource-conserving crop rotations, and management intensive grazing. The 78-page report is available free online in PDF.

Researchers with the Multi-Use Naked Barley for Organic Systems project funded by a 2017 Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant have posted results of a national survey of organic barley growers. The project surveyed 81 organic barley producers on how many acres they are growing, what varieties they grow, what markets they are growing barley for, whether they receive a price premium for organic barley, whether they are growing or would be interested in growing multi-use naked barley, what production challenges they face, and what traits they would like to see improved. A 20-page PDF report on the results is available online.

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to North Carolina State University and USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) to lead a collaborative, nationwide effort to enhance agricultural systems through the use of cover crops and precision agriculture technology. The interdisciplinary team of nearly 100 scientists at 36 institutions in 23 states will research how cover crops can impact key factors like pest and disease pressure, water use, soil nutrient levels, and overall yield of cash crops. An existing research network, called Precision Sustainable Agriculture, will expand in order to collect more types of data from more locations, with diverse climates and different soil types. The project aims to accelerate the adoption of cover crops to address challenges in agriculture and to create more sustainable and adaptable growing systems in the face of declining soil fertility, water scarcity, and climate change.

Farm Beginnings is a farmer and rancher-led training and support program offered by Dakota Rural Action (DRA) that provides participants an opportunity to learn first-hand about low-cost, sustainable methods of farming and offers the tools to successfully launch a small or large farm enterprise. This is the 10th year DRA has offered the Farm Beginnings course in South Dakota, and classes will be held every other Saturday from January until early May in Rapid City. Farm tours and skills sessions will follow during the growing season. The deadline for applications is December 22, 2019.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has announced Cultiv@te, a global technology and innovation initiative for sustainable agriculture. Cultiv@te—an innovation initiative of UNDP supported by the Singapore Government—will curate multi-stakeholder coalitions to tackle key challenges faced by developing countries across the globe and explore opportunities in urban agriculture, climate resilience, and livestock farming. According to UNDP, "the program offers mature growth-stage startups and R&D teams from academic institutions a unique opportunity to work in a number of emerging markets with immense potential and needs. The global cohort will join local innovators, technology experts, corporate mentors, and financiers to co-design solutions with farmers and policy makers." Applications are now open via www.cultivate.technology.

A group of scientists published an opinion in Nature Sustainability, saying that debate over quantifying the potential for soil carbon to mitigate climate change is obscuring additional reasons to implement policies that build soil carbon. "The benefits of soil carbon go beyond climate mitigation," said Stephen Wood, soil scientist at The Nature Conservancy and associate research scientist at Yale. "Rebuilding soil carbon on agricultural lands is important to building sustainable and resilient agricultural systems. We need to make sure that the debate about how to mitigate climate change doesn't undermine efforts to build soil health for the many other things we care about, like agricultural productivity and water quality."

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comments on its interim final rule for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through January 13, 2020. Changes to the program in this rule include increasing payment rates for adoption of cover crop rotations, introducing a new supplemental payment for advanced grazing management, creating one-time payment for developing a comprehensive conservation plan, and providing specific support for organic and transitioning to organic production activities. NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.

A 20-year study by Iowa State University researchers showed that fertilizing crops with poultry manure can benefit soil health and farm profits when compared to a commercial fertilizer. In the study's first decade, experiments compared three treatments in a corn-soybean rotation, and in the second 10 years, treatments for continuous corn cropping were compared. After 20 years, the study found particulate organic matter and several other measures of soil quality were significantly better in the manured plots. Corn yields increased from manure treatment during the continuous corn phase of the study, and were similar during the corn-soybean phase. Although the manure treatment was generally more expensive, the increased yields helped offset this cost. Additionally, nitrate-nitrogen losses were 7% to 16% lower from the cropland fertilized with manure.

A feature in Tri-State Neighbor profiles a new demonstration farm in Huron, South Dakota. Ducks Unlimited signed the 310-acre farm over to Beadle Conservation District, which will both manage it as a demonstration farm and maintain hunter access. The farm will highlight use of cover crops, grazing to promote wetland management, soil health, no-till, and improving farm income. A team including representatives from Beadle Conservation District, Ducks Unlimited, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, South Dakota State University, and other partners will make management decisions. The farm is already offering a management example for neighborhood farmers, as soil quality improves.

USDA has announced that it will make available $800 million to agricultural producers in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia affected by hurricanes Michael and Florence. The state block grants are part of a broader $3 billion package to help producers recover from 2018 and 2019 natural disasters, which includes the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+), as well as programs for loss of milk and stored commodities. USDA and the governor's office in Florida and the state departments of agriculture in the other two states are working out final details for the grants, which will cover qualifying losses not covered by other USDA disaster programs. Grant funding will cover losses of timber, cattle, poultry, as well as for necessary expenses related to losses of horticulture crops and present-value losses associated with pecan production.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking nominees to serve on the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee (FRRCC). Established in 2008, the FRRCC provides independent policy advice, information, and recommendations to EPA's Administrator on a range of environmental issues and policies that are of importance to agriculture and rural communities. Members may represent allied industries and stakeholders including farm groups, rural suppliers, marketers, processors, academia/researchers; state, local, and tribal government; and nongovernmental organizations. EPA will consider qualifications such as the following: whether candidates are actively engaged in farming, hold leadership positions in ag-related organizations, possess a demonstrated ability to examine and analyze complicated environmental issues with objectivity and integrity, have experience working on issues where building consensus is necessary, and are able to volunteer several hours per month to the committee's activities. EPA is specifically seeking 20 to 30 members for two- to three-year terms, and the Committee expects to meet approximately twice a year. Nominations must be received by December 31, 2019.

The Midwest Cover Crops Council has developed a series of free PDF "recipes" for growing cover crops, available on its website. The site has recipes for Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota that explain how and why to add cover crops into a corn-soybean rotation. The cover crop recipe guides tell how to plan for cover crops, choose corn and soybean hybrids, and purchase seed. They also explain crop sensitivity to selected hybrids and effects of residual herbicides. The simple, three-page guides tell what field work must be done in fall and spring for best results and provide details such as seeding rates and nutrient applications.

Pennsylvania State University is constructing a solar farm of more than 150,000 solar panels on 500 acres leased from local landowners that will provide 25% of the school's purchased electricity over the next 25 years. The project is designed to be reduce energy costs, lower greenhouse-gas emissions, support local communities and farmers, and be regenerative, in terms of providing wildlife habitat and improving soil. Part of that effort includes planting pollinator habitat among the panels and hedgerows around the edge to provide honeybee habitat. One site will incorporate mixed flowers and low-growing vegetation below the solar arrays to support grazing livestock.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis reports on a study published in the journal Nature Communications that found human impacts have greatly reduced plant-fungus symbioses, or mycorrhiza. These play a key role in sequestering carbon in soils, encompassing storage of some 350 gigatons of carbon globally. Researchers say that restoring these mycorrhizal ecosystems more broadly could help slow climate change, and they suggest restoring native vegetation to abandoned agricultural and barren land to enhance soil carbon storage.

California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the Organic Produce Network (OPN) will honor long-time organic rice growers Lundberg Family Farms as the recipient of the third annual Organic Grower Summit's Grower of the Year. According to a press release, Lundberg Family Farms was selected based on the company's ongoing commitment and dedication to excellence in organic production and organic industry leadership and innovation. The award will be presented at the Organic Grower Summit, December 4-5, 2019, in Monterey, California. "Not only has the Lundberg Family's decades of work to encourage water conservation, rotate crops, grow cover crops, and use natural methods for pest control made them leaders in organic rice production and wildlife-friendly farming, but they have always found ways to share information about those practices with other organic farmers. This dedication to the environment and community is what makes the organic sector special, so the Lundberg Family could not be more deserving of the title of Grower of the Year," said Kelly Damewood, CEO of CCOF.

Rabo AgriFinance is offering a new loan product designed to make it more financially viable for farmers to seek organic certification. With guidance from Pipeline Foods, a specialty grain supply-chain company, Rabo AgriFinance has developed a financial framework that gives farmers the flexibility to receive the capital needed for upfront costs associated with changing production practices. Farmers can schedule repayments when they receive the additional revenue from selling certified organic goods. "There is demand from consumers and food companies for organic food and ingredients, but farmers repeatedly run into a wall trying to pencil out how they are going to survive the transition period," said Eric Jackson, founder and chairman of Pipeline Foods.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists have determined that produce can be scanned for nutrient content using a handheld Raman spectrometer. In their study, the team scanned corn kernels and were able to calculate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and carotenoids quickly and without destroying the sample. The technology could be used to assess qualities of grain in the field, and the same scan can help identify diseases in plants even before symptoms appear.

Australian research published in Weed Science shows that planting wheat at the commercially recommended density helps to reduce both weed biomass and weed seed production. Increasing the crop density further, to 400 plants per square meter, led to even greater reductions in weeds, and caused weeds to have an upright growth habit that limited seed spread.

American Farmland Trust (AFT) has released the first of 11 state fact sheets summarizing results from its Non-Operating Landowners Survey. These first results, from Ohio, demonstrate that landowners care about their land and are keenly interested in stewarding it well— keeping it in farming and altering lease terms to support conservation. AFT concludes that the survey results are good news for farmers who want to try new conservation practices on land they rent. AFT will release a full report this winter on conclusions from all surveyed states.

The National Young Farmers Coalition, Farm Aid, and Vermont Farm First received $480,000 from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for the establishment of a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network in the Northeast Region. This program will improve behavioral health awareness, literacy, access, and outcomes for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in the Northeast. The program will convene a network of farmer service providers in the region to build connection and collaboration, gather resources, and provide feedback on regional needs; develop an online clearinghouse to share available resources and referrals with farmers and service providers; and train service providers on the network, available resources, and best practices for working with farmers under stress.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University has announced Paul Mugge as the 2019 winner of the Spencer Award. The annual $1,000 award recognizes farmers, researchers, and teachers who have contributed significantly to the environmental and economic stability of the Iowa farming community. Mugge raises organic corn, soybeans, small grains and alfalfa on the 300-acre farm he took over from his father, and he has been particularly active with Practical Farmers of Iowa in conducting numerous field trials and hosting field days.

Research published in HortTechnology by Montana State University's Roland Ebel examined how the ancient Aztec use of "chinampas" could inform modern urban agriculture. Chinampas are raised vegetable fields on artificial floating islands in lakes, where vegetables can be grown year-round. Similar systems are in use today in Mexico City and elsewhere in the world. Benefits include low irrigation needs, a microclimate favorable for a variety of crops, high fertility generated by surrounding canals, provision of ecosystem services, and potential for tourism revenue.

Scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed and released a true red spinach variety. The new variety, "USDA Red," has red leaves, not just red veins. The red color comes from betacyanin, a powerful antioxidant, and testing showed the antioxidant capacity of USDA Red was 42–53% higher than other spinach cultivars. In addition, the red leaves offer eye appeal for salad mixes. ARS has applied for a Plant Variety Protection certificate for USDA Red and the agency is seeking a partner to license production of seeds for the market.

Through the James Harrison Hill, Sr. Young Scholar Enhancement Grant program, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) gives high school and undergraduate students the opportunity to work with researchers on SSARE-funded projects. Research and Education Grant research recipients with open and on-going SSARE funded projects are qualified to apply for the James Harrison Hill, Sr. Young Scholar Enhancement Grant Program to hire high school or college students to participate in their research programs. This year, participants in the program worked with researchers in Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia on projects ranging from soil health to organic pest control to farmers markets.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has opened public registration for the inaugural Soil Health Innovations Conference, March 30-31, 2020, in Bozeman, Montana. The forum will bring together leading experts and innovative farmers from around the United States to share the latest in soil science, best practices in soil management, and the emerging technologies that will drive the future of sustainable and regenerative agriculture. NCAT is sponsoring the conference in cooperation with USDA Rural Development, Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and Montana State University. The goal of the conference, NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said, is to provide an opportunity for producers and educators to examine current practices as well as the concepts, techniques, and practical applications that may be available in the future.

A panel of organic farmers testifying before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research urged strong governmental support for organic agriculture and the stringent enforcement of organic standards, reports the Organic Trade Association. The panel included Jeff Huckaby, president of Grimmway Farms/Cal-Organic vegetable farms, and Steve Pierson, organic dairy farmer from Oregon and member of the Organic Valley cooperative, as well as organic vegetable, flower, and herb grower Benjamin Whalen of Maine, organic cotton farmer Jeremy Brown of Texas, and organic fruit and vegetable grower Shelli Brin of the Virgin Islands. The organic growers, from all locations and both large and small operations, all stressed the importance of strong and consistent support from the government for organic agriculture.

Entomologists at Michigan State University have published a review of recent research, showing that beneficial insects are more abundant in an agricultural landscape with smaller fields and more diversity. "One of the take-homes from our review is that natural enemies can be more abundant when agricultural landscapes are made up of smaller farm fields," explained study co-author Nate Haan. "Some natural enemies need resources found in other habitats or in crop field edges. We think when habitat patches are small, they are more likely to find their way back and forth between these habitats and crop fields, or from one crop field into another." The results could help farmers save money on pest suppression by planning agricultural landscapes that include more diversity.

National Public Radio's The Salt reported on efforts by Practical Farmers of Iowa and Sustainable Food Lab to help corn and soy farmers diversify by growing small grains. Although farmers are interested and adding small grains in rotation can improve water quality and soil quality, farmers need markets for the crops. Some companies are interested in alternative crops for products such as an oat-based drink, but the primary market for these crops could be livestock feed. Research is underway on how small grains perform as feed for commercial livestock. In one experiment, a Montana goat dairy had to pay more for a diverse feed, but the goats produced more milk on the feed and it, in turn, produced more cheese.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Oxford University published a report that says foods with positive health outcomes have among the lowest environmental impacts. The report showed that almost all foods associated with positive health outcomes (e.g., whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and olive oil) have the lowest environmental impacts. Meanwhile, the research found that foods with the largest increases in disease risks—primarily unprocessed and processed red meat such as pork, beef, mutton and goat—are consistently associated with the largest negative environmental impacts.

The Taste NY program, begun in 2013, promotes food, beverages, and gifts made by New York farmers, processors, and artisans. The program retails products from more than 1,100 vendors in 70 locations including retail stores at welcome centers and concessions at state parks and train stations, as well as pop-up sites. Cornell Cooperative Extension is a partner in the effort, operating a dozen retail stores that help connect growers and producers with customers that can help farms and businesses become self-sustaining. In 2018, Taste NY had $17.8 million in sales. Cornell Extension participants credit the program with helping farms and small businesses scale up, expand production, and provide jobs.