Apply for the 2015 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

Photo: © Patty O'Brien / www.summercrowphotos.com

Photo: © Patty O’Brien / www.summercrowphotos.com

The deadline is approaching for the 2015 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers this program, which funds initiatives aimed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers. Individual are not eligible for this program. Groups like State Cooperative Extension Services, community based organizations, non-profits, and colleges and universities may apply for a grant to support educational courses, technical assistance programming, and outreach initiatives.

The deadline for applications is 5:00 pm EST on Friday, March 13th.

Click here for more information about this program, and view the request for applications on NIFA’s website.

NRCS Webinar: Transitioning to Organic

If you’re curious about making the transition to organic production, tune into the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s upcoming webinar. This webinar will cover different types of NRCS support that producers can utilize for the transition. Specifically, how producers can use a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) 138 to help identify conservation practices that are a good match for their operation.

The webinar is scheduled for Feb 18th at 3:00pm EST. For more information and to join the webinar, visit the USDA’s Science & Technology Training Library.

U.S. Composting Council Conference this Week!

2015 is the international year of soils; so what better way to celebrate than to join the U.S. Composting Council for their 23rd annual conference. The conference, which is titled Organics on the Rise, attracts more than 1,000 attendees to its innovative workshops, presentations, equipment training, and trade show. Industry leaders will explain new techniques on collecting and using compost and ways to produce renewable energy from organics. Technical sessions include: The Status and Future of Community Composting; Commercial Vermicomposting; Bioenergy: Advances in Heat Recovery and AD On-site Microsystems; Home and School Composting Programs: Development and Successes; and Right-Sizing the Compost Operation: From On-Site on Up, and many more. The conference will be held in Austin, TX at the Renaissance Hotel. Click here for more information.

 

 

 

Organic Farmers: Be heard through the Organic Seed Survey

It’s the peak of the growing season, with farmers out on their land plucking off tomatoes and digging up carrots. But come winter, these farmers will be tucked away in their offices planning next year’s crop. Will they use organic seeds? How will they source them?

Since 2008 the top eight global seed firms have gobbled up 70-plus smaller seed companies. Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta control over half of the market—a sharp increase from the mid 1990’s when the top three seed corporations controlled 22 percent of the industry.[1] (Check out this excellent infographic for more). That consolidation over seeds – the genetic source of all the food we eat – has had dramatic impact on family farmers, and organic farmers in particular.

The Organic Seed Alliance’s national seed survey aims to understand the impact of those most affected by this consolidation: organic farmers. Every five years, OSA’s survey results highlight the needs of organic farmers and the availability of organic seeds and seed quality to inform future policy and research. The findings are published in their State of Organic Seed report.  View the 2011 report here.

OSA’s last survey gathered responses from 1,027 organic farmers in 45 states and demonstrated a lack of availability and quantity of organic seeds. Nearly 80% of respondents said they were having some degree of difficulty sourcing organic seeds. Contributing factors included: concentration in the seed industry, cutbacks in plant breeding programs, and disagreement and confusion over how to implement the National Organic Program. Concentration in the industry is particularly problematic for organic farmers, as it leads to a dearth of organic seeds and varieties.

OSA’s national seed survey is vital in determining the barriers and the opportunities in the organic seed industry and in discovering how farmers are using, or not using, organic seeds.

If you are a certified organic crop producer, please consider taking this confidential survey.

The deadline for responding is October 3, 2014. Access the survey here.

Sources:

1. Wendy, Banks (2013). “Biotech Infographic Shows Global Consolidation Of Seed Industry.” The Sleuth Journal. October 15, 2013. Available:http://www.thesleuthjournal.com/biotech-infographic-shows-global-consolidation-seed-industry/

Ohio Manure Science Review Course

Spruce up your manure practices at an all-day program this Thursday. Workshops will include: Nutrient Variability of Liquid Manure in Storage, Winter Runoff: Do Setbacks Work?, Economic Value of Manure, and Subsurface Band Application of Poultry Litter, among others. There will also be field demonstrations on application methods.

The Manure Science Review program qualifies for the following continuing education credits:

  • ODA Certified Livestock Manager (CLM): 5.5 continuing education hours (CEU’s)
  • Certified Crop Advisor (CCA): 3.0 Soil & Water Management CEU’s, 2.5 Nutrient Management CEU’s
  • Professional Engineer (PE): 2.0 continuing professional development hours (CPD’s)

Details

Manure Science Review
Thursday, August 14, 2014
8:45 am to 3:30 pm
Rupp Vue Farm
14636 Seville Road, Sterling, Ohio

Click here to register or for more information.

 

USDA Webinar for Small-Scale Livestock Producers

Coming up next week: the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) will hold a webinar to discuss the Grass-Fed Program for Small and Very Small (SVS) Producers–a program that aims to create more opportunities for small-scale livestock produces.

The webinar will go over eligibility and how to market products as USDA Certified Grass Fed Beef in a way that is less costly and more in tune with the needs of small-scale producers. In order to get this certification, weaned animals must be fed only grass and forage and no grain or grain byproducts. Ruminants must also have access to pasture throughout the growing season.

AMS announced this new program for small grass-fed producers this past spring. Read more on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog and on the USDA’s blog.

 

Who: Small-scale and niche market livestock producers (those marketing less than 49 head of cattle each year).

What: AMS webinar about the Grass-Fed Program for Small and Very Small Producers.

Where: Listen in via phone or computer: Phone: 866.740.1260, access code 72020000; Computerhttp://www.readytalk.com On the left side of the screen enter participant access code: 72020000.

When: Tuesday August 5th; 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Eastern Time

**Send questions for the presenters to Jennifer.Turpin@ams.usda.gov

USDA Announces Funding for Organic Certification Costs

Getting certified by the USDA National Organic Program is expensive. That’s why the USDA recently shelled out nearly $13 million to help bring costs down. This is a win for small producers and handlers, many of whom have been growing organic products but haven’t been able to afford certification.

The money, which is made possible through the Farm Bill, covers up to 75 percent of certification costs, up to 750 dollars. These funds may be used for certification-related expenses spent between this past October and September 30, 2014.

Visit the NOP Cost Share Website for information on how to apply for these funds. Questions should be directed to Dana Stahl the USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program Manager at Dana.Stahl@ams.usda.gov, (540) 361-1126.

All About Soil Health

As stewards of the land, farmers are responsible for maintaining fertile land for future generations. A big part of this is preserving rich, healthy soil, which is important not only for a sustainable future but also for the crops these farmers grow. Soil health is a science and can be tricky to master, but there are plenty of resources available to farmers to help.

Not sure how the quality of soil impacts you? The Rodale Institute created a Soil Biology webinar to explain why healthy soil is important to individuals and the ecosystem as a whole. “The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” J.I. Rodale wrote in Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms.” The webinar goes on to explain what elements should be abundant in soil and how to maintain those levels.

A crucial aspect to preserving healthy soil is testing. Cooperative Extension offers soil testing resources and guides to help with this process. Click here to find an Extension agent near you. Many Cooperative Extensions provide online educational resources. University of Maine Extension offers this publication with a step-by-step guide to soil testing. Cornell University Cooperative Extension has an entire webpage for soil health, including the “Cornell Soil Health Assessment Training Manual,” a soil health management plan and informative videos dedicated to proper soil testing. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension also offers a soil health webpage with various publications, updated news on soil health science and a list of websites that can provide further help.

While these organizations provide an overview of how to sustain soil health, there are many outlets that offer information on the nitty-gritty of related topics. The Rodale Institute compiled reports and publications related to soil health research discussing specific issues the organization is working on. Many of these can be viewed online here. Rodale also provides an informative, focused webinar, “Impacts of Plastic and Cover Crop Mulches on Weeds, Soil Quality, Yields and Season Length for Tomatoes.”

ATTRA also compiled a list of publications the organization created that discuss specific topics surrounding soil health, ranging from “A Brief Overview of Nutrient Cycling in Pastures” to “Rye as a Cover Crop” to “Alternative Soil Amendments.” ATTRA also offers two educational webinars discussing soil health: “Organic Research and Needs: Cover Crops, Crop Rotation and Soil Health” and “Innovative No-Till: Using Multi-Species Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health.”

Growing Change: Family Farm Defenders

It’s no secret that today’s global food system doesn’t do its best by family farmers or eaters. Most of the world’s food economy is designed as a commodity market that drives down the price paid to farmers and drives up the cost of food to consumers. This thought of food a commodity like any other widget is just one concept that Family Farm Defenders (FFD) is working to dismantle in pursuit of food sovereignty and a more just and sustainable food system in America and across the world.

Family Farm Defenders, a small yet unyielding organization based in Wisconsin, would not exist without its late founder John Kinsman, who passed away at age 87 this January. After nearly dying from chemical exposure to agricultural pesticides, he made the switch to organic farming decades ago. But that was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before Kinsman transformed from a dairy farmer in Wisconsin with 36 cows to a global advocate for a just food system.

Food sovereignty rooted much of John Kinsman’s and Family Farm Defenders’ work. The term food sovereignty was coined by La Via Campesina, an international group that began in 1993 as a collection of peasants and farmers working to defend sustainable agriculture as a means of gaining global social justice. After travelling with Via Campesina and aiding in its formation, Kinsman brought the idea of food sovereignty back to FFD. While FFD had really started as a grassroots reaction to pressing issues related to milk and dairy farmers, the notion of food sovereignty broadened the organization’s mission and found resonance with several other organizations fighting for a just food system in the U.S., in no small part because of John’s dedicated work.

John Kinsman

There was magic in Kinsman’s seemingly effortless ability to unify individuals in a common fight — a fight against “corporate agri-business and institutionalized oppression,” as John Peck, the current executive director of Family Farm Defenders, puts it. “Meeting peasant leaders from all around the world, [Kinsman] saw that we have more commonalities with, say, peasant farmers in Mexico than we do with someone working for Monsanto here in the U.S.,” Peck explains. “Our farm workers and farmers together are both struggling for a living wage and dignity.”

Family Farm Defenders’ work expanded to include other threats American family farmers face. One of those concerns is land grabs, whereby corporations and wealthy investors buy up farmland. These investments drive up the cost of farmland so that farmers can no longer afford it and are driven out of business. In Wisconsin, where natural resources are so abundant, this has become a major problem with the growth of the natural gas and mining industries. The folks at FFD offer a listening ear for farmers in need and a grassroots approach to rallying against this kind of corporate power.

Family Farm Defenders also promotes the concept of “fair trade” (as opposed to free trade). Beginning in 1996, Kinsman spearheaded the Family Farmer Fair Trade Project. At the time, Peck was a University of Wisconsin-Madison student involved in a campaign to bring Fair Trade Certified coffee to campus. With Kinsman as his mentor, Peck questioned why Fair Trade only applies to foreign goods. Shouldn’t farmers here in the U.S. also benefit from fair trade? In response, Kinsman created FFD’s own Fair Trade Certification that applied to Wisconsin cheeses. Farmers with the certification doubled their profit per pound of cheese sold, when compared to their regular markets. Though FFD no longer sells the Fair Trade cheese, the model stands as a successful method for farmers to secure a fair price for their products.

Through this work, Family Farm Defenders’ strength has resided in educating and organizing. FFD works locally through town hall meetings and pushes for local ordinances that give the community control over their own resources. The organization hosts a number of farm tours — or as Peck calls them, “farm reality tours” — for the public, including many international visitors. FFD also leads protests related to its campaigns, primarily holding them in Chicago where many citizens they encounter have never met a family farmer before. The group is active at conferences across the country and holds its own annual meeting in Wisconsin. To educate the public, FFD hosts forums, panels, church groups and does outreach to bring awareness to its constituents.

Family Farm Defenders Protest Photo
Family Farm Defenders lead a rally in support of family farmers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the day before Farm Aid 25. Photo © Paul Natkin.

Today, Peck is the only Family Farm Defenders employee, but a team of dedicated volunteers and passionate board members join him in carrying on the work. The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary at its annual meeting this March, where the winner of the annual John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Award will be presented. While the future of FFD remains uncertain, Peck is confident that Kinsman’s work and legacy will endure.

Mentored for years by Kinsman, Peck sums him up this way, “He was able to take all of that negative energy and awareness and turn it into something positive, to try to figure out how we can build coalitions around the struggle, how we can change. He was a quintessential grassroots organizer. He was very good at telling stories that were empowering and gave people hope… He made connections between people that maybe didn’t know they had anything in common. If they sat down and talked together they realized that they all care about dignity and justice and fairness and peace in the world.”

Learn More

Season extension resource roundup

Winter is just around the corner, but just because the season is ending doesn’t mean the growing season needs to go with it. Luckily, there are season extension techniques that farmers and gardeners can implement in order to stretch a crop’s natural outdoor growing season or store crops through the winter.

There are plenty of easy, inexpensive practices available to farmers and gardeners for season extension. Many organizations put together tips on how to extend the growing season well beyond its natural time:

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) provides an extensive look at season extension. The resource includes information on everything from irrigation to transplants to plasticulture to heat as it applies to soil and moisture. The guide offers preparation and logistical information for various practices right for farmers or gardeners at any level, whether that is mulches or high tunnels or anything in-between. The resource also contains input on how to calculate the economics behind different practices and implementation.

The North Carolina State University organized basic concepts to remember in order to effectively extend a crop’s growing season. Most importantly, NC Cooperative Extension explains that growers must understand the principles behind heat and cold, as well as its impact on plants. Among other ideas, the university’s guide points out the ground retains heat that protects plants in cold temperatures, but wet ground preserves more heat than wet ground. The guide also addresses: temperature thresholds for different crops, different cultural practices for season extension and information on fabrics and structures commonly used.

University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension provides a look at various inexpensive methods of season extension. The guide provides insight into low tunnels and winter storage for post-harvest storage methods. Through video demonstrations, the UMass Extension site also displays various how-tos on building and maintaining a hoophouse.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) put together an overview of information involving season extension, with particular focus on high tunnels, greenhouses and nurseries. SARE provides an outline of different topics with access to case studies, course information, fact sheets, multimedia packets and links to other organization’s websites. The guide delves into basic winter storage units, as well as information on marketing products and the economics behind season extension. The SARE website explains the basic fertility, pest and water management during cold months.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) provides individual results from farmers that conducted research on various topics surrounding winter growing and storage. Five farmers researched methods of winter storage delving into the following issues: broccoli under row covers, watering impacts on soil temperature, bed pitch impact on soil temperatures, row cover comparisons and row cover heights. Three farmers looked into differing issues with winter storage techniques: winter carrot storage to maintain quality and minimize staining, carrot storage systems and post-harvest winter squash treatments.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension organized a guide for farmers in Maine climate areas. The site is dedicated to educating farmers on how to make appropriate decisions for a particular farm situation. The resource explicates different techniques separated by no or low-cost practices and those that require investment. The site provides cost estimates for the techniques and offers links to resources on specified topics from other outlets.

In the same realm, Maine Rural Partners has a season extension program in place that focuses on food and energy. The program focuses on assisting women, elder and limited resource farmers in overcoming a multitude of common challenges: high energy costs, low daylight, market uncertainty, low volume compared to input costs, financing and institutional purchasing challenges.

The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension provides a short, but comprehensive overview of various tools to implement for effective season extension including: cold frames, garden fabrics, high tunnels, Walls O’ Water, hot caps and greenhouse umbrellas. The site explains how to use these techniques leading up to and proceeding frost dates.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service often provides hightunnel cost-share support for limited resource farmers.

Just because winter is coming doesn’t mean it’s the end for fruit and veggies. It is important to recognize that different season extension techniques are suited for different types of farms and climates. There are many inexpensive, basic methods of season extension, such as winter storage, that any farmer can easily implement into his farming or gardening.