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Agriculture News

A Staten Island Urban Farmer

The New York Times | Posted on March 23, 2017

Zaro Bates operates and lives on a 5,000-square-foot farm on Staten Island, which may make her the city’s only commercial farmer-in-residence. But instead of a shingled farmhouse surrounded by acres of fields, Ms. Bates lives in a second-floor studio in a midrise apartment complex built on the site of a former naval base overlooking New York Bay. The farm itself sits in a courtyard between two buildings at Urby, a development with 571 rental apartments that opened in Stapleton last year. Ms. Bates draws a modest salary and gets free housing, which sounds like a good deal until you discover how much work she has to put in.The 26-year-old oversees a weekly farmstand on the complex premises from May through November and donates to food banks. In her repertory? Some 50 types of produce — greens, summer vegetables, flowers, herbs and roots. She does this with help from her business partner and husband, Asher Landes, 29.Let the doubters doubt.“A lot of people instinctively call it a garden, but we really try to manage it for a commercial market,” Ms. Bates said. “It’s funny that people have different kinds of notions of what a farm is. Some people think it needs to have animals, that it needs to have acreage. We intensively crop this space so that we can produce for market, and that’s why we call it a farm.”

Organic farming matters - just not in the way you think

The Huffington Post | Posted on March 22, 2017

We discovered that organic farming does matter – just not in the way most people think. What’s good: Organic farms provide higher biodiversity, hosting more bees, birds and butterflies. They also have higher soil and water quality and emit fewer greenhouse gases. What’s not-so-good: Organic farming typically yields less product – about 19-25% less. Once we account for that efficiency difference and examine environmental performance per amount of food produced, the organic advantage becomes less certain (few studies have examined this question). Indeed, on some variables, such as water quality and greenhouse gas emissions, organic farms may perform worse than conventional farms, because lower yields per hectare can translate into more environmentally damaging land-clearing.  Consumer benefits The jury’s still out on whether the comsumer is better off, too.What’s good: For consumers in countries with weak pesticide regulations, like India, organic food reduces pesticide exposure. Organic ingredients also most likely have slightly higher levels of some vitamins and secondary metabolites. What’s not-so-good: Scientists can’t confirm whether these minor micronutrient differences actually matter for our health. Because the difference in the nutritional value of organic and conventional food is so small, you’d do better just eating an extra apple every day, whether it’s organic or not. Organic food is also more expensive than conventional food at present and therefore inaccessible to poor consumers. The takeaway. In short, we cannot determine yet whether organic agriculture could feed the world and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture while providing decent jobs and giving consumers affordable, nutritious food.

The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture

Science Advances | Posted on March 22, 2017

Organic agriculture is often proposed as a more sustainable alternative to current conventional agriculture. We assess the current understanding of the costs and benefits of organic agriculture across multiple production, environmental, producer, and consumer dimensions. Organic agriculture shows many potential benefits (including higher biodiversity and improved soil and water quality per unit area, enhanced profitability, and higher nutritional value) as well as many potential costs including lower yields and higher consumer prices. However, numerous important dimensions have high uncertainty, particularly the environmental performance when controlling for lower organic yields, but also yield stability, soil erosion, water use, and labor conditions. We identify conditions that influence the relative performance of organic systems, highlighting areas for increased research and policy support.

Judge moves ABC 'pink slime' lawsuit to trial

Feedstuffs | Posted on March 22, 2017

South Dakota circuit court Judge Cheryle Gering of the Union County Circuit Court in Elk Point, S.D., this week advanced a potential $5.7 billion defamation lawsuit against American Broadcasting Companies Inc. (ABC) that alleges that ABC damaged Beef Products Inc. (BPI) by referring to its signature product, lean finely textured beef (LFTB), as "pink slime" in an ABC news series. The judge did dismiss claims against anchor Diane Sawyer but said ABC and reporter Jim Avila must present a defense against the allegations.

The Mushroom Sustainability Story | Posted on March 22, 2017

The mighty mushroom not only is healthy on the plate, it's also gentle on the planet – according to a new study measuring the water, energy and carbon emissions required to grow and harvest fresh mushrooms in the United States. The study finds production of a pound of mushrooms requires only 1.8 gallons of water and 1.0 kilowatt hours of energy, and generates only .7 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions. In addition, the annual average yield of mushrooms is 7.1 pounds per square foot – meaning up to 1 million pounds of mushrooms can be produced on just one acre. The Mushroom Sustainability Story: Water, Energy and Climate Environmental Metrics 2017 study is the result of a two-year initiative to document mushroom production environment metrics.

Milk Men Documentary Delivers

Daily Yonder | Posted on March 22, 2017

Milk Men: The Life and Times of Dairy Farmers: Simplistic notions about dairy farming melt like butter in a frying pan in Jan Haaken’s documentary “Milk Men.”  The 2016 film allows viewers into the barns, businesses, and family rooms of a range of dairy farmers in the Pacific Northwest. From the 100-cow organic operation of Mesman Farm in La Conner, Washington, up to the 36,000-cow farm of Threemile Canyon Dairy in Oregon, Haaken looks at the complexity of business, family, and the modern food-production system.Unlike a lot of documentaries about food, the film does not definitively answer the question of what’s the “best” for farmers, animals, and consumers. Rather, it prepares the viewer to have an intelligent conversation about the business, ethics, and culture of dairy farming. And it ensures that the farmer’s voice is front and center.Haaken is a clinical psychologist and emeritus professor of psychology at Portland State University. She uses documentary filmmaking as a way to bring community psychology issues into the classroom. Her work has focused on jobs that cause unusual amounts of stress. That dairy farmers fall into the category of stressed workers should be a pretty big hint that things are not what they may seem to be in the countryside.Though the farmers and their families are universally calm in demeanor, the strains of their work show. There’s the competition and business decisions that have wide ranging implications, such as “will I own the farm this time next year.” There’s the demanding and absolutely rigid schedule of milking, though technology is helping with that, in some cases. There’s pressure to “get big or get out.” There are long-term capital needs, short-term bills, and intermediate-term issues of succession and family relationships.

What makes farmers try new practices?

University of Illinois | Posted on March 21, 2017

Change is never easy. But when it comes to adopting new agricultural practices, some farmers are easier to convince than others. A group of researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to know which farmers are most likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping systems—trees, shrubs, or grasses that simultaneously benefit the environment and generate high-value products that can be harvested for a profit.“We surveyed farmers in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed in Illinois to learn their attitudes about growing MPCs on marginal land. We then looked at their demographic data to classify people into different categories related to their adoption potential,” says University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.Using statistical clustering techniques, the team discovered that survey respondents fell into six categories. The “educated networkers” and “young innovators” were most likely to adopt MPCs. On the other end of the spectrum, survey respondents classified as “money motivated” and “hands-off” were least likely to adopt the new cropping systems.  The goal of categorizing farmers was to tailor strategies for each group, given their general attitudes. “If they’re very unlikely to adopt at all, we probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about those groups,” Lovell explains.

Oklahoma wildfires kill thousands of pigs at Smithfield, Seaboard farms

Reuters | Posted on March 19, 2017

Wildfires devastated a Smithfield Foods Inc hog farm in Laverne, Oklahoma, killing at least several thousand pigs, company and local officials said on Friday.  The exact number of swine killed in the Oklahoma fire, which began on Monday, was not immediately known. Smithfield did not say how many died in the blaze, but said no workers were harmed. The Smithfield farm housed about 45,000 sows, according to the company's website.Luke Kanclerz, spokesman for the Oklahoma Forestry Services, said on Friday that several thousand hogs "were lost.""Such a large area was impacted by these fires, it's taking time to collect information," he said. "There are no accurate numbers yet."Kanclerz said state officials were at the Smithfield farm on Friday, collecting information on how many animals had died and other data.

Third case of avian influenza in southern Tennessee

Watt Ag Net | Posted on March 19, 2017

A third case of avian influenza has struck southern Tennessee, confirmed the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on March 16. The highly pathogenic H7N9 infection occurred in a commercial breeder flock in Lincoln County, Tennessee, where the state’s first 2017 case occurred. 

Plains Wildfire Update

DTN | Posted on March 18, 2017

The enormous damage wrought by the wildfires that tore across the Southern Plains last week has spurred an outpouring of donations and aid from farmers and ranchers across the country. "We've been overwhelmed by the love of the ag community," said David Clawson, president of the Kansas Livestock Association and a rancher and farmer himself. "The hay started rolling in before the fires were even out," he told DTN. In a matter of minutes and hours, the fires destroyed homes, farms and ranching operations that some producers had spent decades building in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. An estimated 1.5 million acres were affected there, and fires also burned in Nebraska and Colorado. The most pressing needs for livestock that survived the fires are hay and fencing. Clawson said enough hay has been donated in his area to last a week, but grass won't show up for another 45 to 60 days -- and that's only if the region receives rain.Clawson said ranchers continue to monitor their cattle. Some cattle are turning up blind and singed and must be euthanized."Hats off to those ranchers and vets who had to euthanize cattle last week" Clawson said. "We had to get them (cattle) out of their misery."