Northeast SARE Funded Projects in Pennsylvania for 2010

Posted: September 29, 2009

The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA recently announced its funded projects for 2010. Twelve projects were funded in Pennsylvania for a total of $536,000.

Lehigh Valley Composting Initiative

William McFadden, Lehigh Valley Conservation District, Allentown PA

Food waste often ends up in landfills, and diverting waste lengthens the landfill’s useful life. The project manager will create a pilot composting project involving three restaurants, a delivery service, one farm, and one municipality with the goal of reducing the waste stream, improving agricultural soils, and exploring the best models that support composting on a wider scale. Outreach will be through partnering groups and organizations, reports and presentations, brochures, newsletters, and the local media.

Pennsylvania Food for Profit online

Winifred McGee, Penn State Extension, Southeast Region, Lebanon PA

A training module on adding value, Food for Profit, has been available in a workshop format since 1992 with good results, and clients are now asking for a self-guided and self-paced online version.  The project manager will call for farmer review of the content, develop case studies, convert existing materials into web-friendly formats, and put interactive elements in place that allow farmers and food entrepreneurs to learn about adding value on line. Outreach will be through the media, extension, print materials, and e-communications.

Reading the Farm: Discovering whole-farm interactions

Mary Barbercheck, Penn State, University Park PA

Farm advisors, who are typically trained in specialized disciplines such as agronomy, animal health, business management, or environmental resources, often make recommendations based on their specialty area, but without a rich understanding of how complex farm systems interact. “Reading the Farm” offers a comprehensive, integrated approach to understanding whole-farm systems. The project manager will assemble a multidisciplinary team to conduct a three-day workshop on two dairy farms in Pennsylvania to demonstrate and clarify key concepts. As a result, 15 farm advisors will develop and deliver educational programming to 200 of their peers, who will in turn use their knowledge to enrich and inform their work with their farmer clientele, and grant products will help others conduct similar workshops.

Honeybee hive equipment sterilization

Craig Cella, High Valley Farms, Logantown PA

The applicant observed while working as a honeybee inspector that viruses can be controlled through gamma irradiation, but this hasn’t been confirmed through controlled field trials. The farmer will work with other beekeepers to both test and disseminate the practice, which disinfects hives but leaves no residuals; the goal is to encourage beekeepers to adopt hygiene guidelines to control and prevent virus infection. Outreach will be through cooperating farmers, presentations, workshops, and a producer journal.

Development of a low-cost vertical patternator

R. Martin Keen, Landey Vineyards, Manheim PA

It’s been estimated that only about 55 percent of pesticide spray actually reaches its target because improperly positioned nozzles or defective equipment, and patternators are a tool for showing precisely where spray is deposited. This allows farmers to make sprayer adjustments that can reduce both drift and inputs. The farmer will design an easy-to-build, low-cost patternator that addresses certain design flaws in ones currently available. Outreach will be through a field day, grower meetings, and extension.

Comparison of incorporated and non-incorporated cover cropping with an organic sunflower fuel

Samuel Yoder, Yoders’s Silver Maple Limousin Beef Farm, Kutztown PA

Energy production on the farm and for the farm offers simplicity, increased efficiency, and fewer emissions. The farmer will test the viability of sunflowers as an organic oilseed crop, establish on-site fuel processing and production, and concurrently capture production data on sunflowers for weed suppression and nutrient flow in rotation with rye and field peas in both a roller-crimping/no-till system and in a traditional planting and cultivation scheme. The overall goal is to test an integrated agricultural and energy production model that has the potential to act as model for other farmers. Outreach will be through conferences and energy festivals, workshops, and field days, and a production handbook.

Assessing bee pollination requirements in pumpkins

Alexandru Surcica, Penn State Extension, Southeast Region, Chambersburg PA

Pumpkins are a key crop, but their flowers are short-lived and tend to rely mainly on squash bees for reproduction. At the same time, growers can pay up to $120 an acre for honeybee rental. The project manager will assess pumpkin pollination requirements by comparing yields from plots where specific bees are present or excluded to find out whether there is a need for rented bees or whether wild bees will provide adequate pollination, saving farmers a production cost. Outreach will be through a regional newsletter, the agricultural media, the web, and at grower meetings and field days.

Native bee habitat rehabilitation: Encouraging greater adoption of sustainable pollination, part II

Alexandru Surcica, Penn State Extension, Chambersburg PA

Honeybees are declining due to stress from pests and pathogens, yet pollination is critical for food production. The project manager will investigate the costs and returns per square foot that attach to native bee habitat restoration and support farmers as they learn to attract and reward native bees and reduce dependence on pollination services. Outreach will be through a regional newsletter, the agricultural media, the web, and at grower meetings and field days.

Maximizing natural-enemy-provided pest control in no-till field crop systems

John Tooker, Penn State Extension, University Park PA

Each spring many growers treat their fields with prophylactic insecticides, which tends to reduce the populations of beneficial insects. The project manager will demonstrate and replicate an innovative, farmer-developed practice where corn is underseeded with clover and rye; this farmer has also stopped using insecticides. These tactics have the potential to support pest predators and decrease pest populations, and the goal is to confirm efficacy. Outreach will be through field days, farmer-to-farmer presentations, and through discussions and publications geared toward extension staff and other service providers.

Reducing plastic mulch use by expanding adoption of cover-crop-based no-till systems for vegetable production

Alison Grantham, Rodale Institute, Kutzown PA

The goals of this project are to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic mulches, improve soil quality, and maintain or improve fertility and weed and disease resistance through the use of biological systems, thus improving profitability. The project manager will work with farmers to test cover crop combinations and cover crop termination techniques and will compare weed suppression and fertility on organic and conventional crop rotations to develop best management practices. This project aims to inform at least 3000 growers about the system and 25 regional farmers will implement the cover crop no-till system on 20 acres, resulting in decreased input costs and erosion-inducing surface area while increasing net income and improving soil quality and allowing equivalent yields relative to their plastic mulch systems. Further, eight extension agents will acquire new information on cover-crop use and termination, which they will incorporate into their training programs and reach another 400 farmers.

Identification, assessment, and management of soil-borne plant pathogens in vegetable production systems in the Northeast

Beth Gugino, Penn State, University Park PA

Root diseases damage vegetable crops across the region, and they also interact with other soil-borne pathogens and non-pathogens to trigger severe disease complexes. The project manager will develop and deliver intensive, hands-on workshops on the biology, prevalence, and symptoms of major root pathogens and offer sustainable solutions that emphasize disease management and improved soil health. As a result, 100 farm educators will incorporate key information about soil-borne pathogens into their work with farmers, reaching 7000 growers, and 30 will actively work with their clients to address disease issues; an additional 20 growers will adopt sustainable solutions to diseases affecting their farms, and case studies will document field results and act as a long-term resource.

Development and implementation of an equine environmental stewardship program

Ann Swinker, Penn State, University Park PA

Horse farm operators do not necessarily come from a strong agricultural background, and there can be a knowledge gap on what the best practices are for managing vegetative cover, pasture quality, nutrients, and sediment loss; many traditional farm service agencies do not have experience working with horse farm operations. The project manager will deliver education, outreach, and pasture evaluation tools collaboratively with NRCS and USDA to 10,000 horse farm operators, with 400 completing a short course and 28 serving as on-farm cooperators for trials and demonstrations. Ten farms will increase canopy cover to 70 to 80 percent, reducing sediment loss by over a ton per acre per year, resulting in a potential soil loss savings of 37 tons per farm.