On June 25th, the “Weed Management, Environmental Quality, and Profitability in Organic Feed and Forage Production Systems” project organized a field day in partnership with the Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Association (PASA) Farm-Based Education program. Almost 40 people took part in the full day of hands-on activities at the Russell E. Larson Research Center at Rock Springs to learn about how short- and long-term management legacies influence soil, weed, and insect populations.
A mix of Ag Producers, Industry, Agency, Extension, and Educators gathered on June 22, 2011 to learn about the new NESARE Sustainable Dairy Cropping Systems Project at Penn State. The project goal is to sustainably produce all of the food and forage for a 65 cow dairy herd, as well as the fuel for a straight vegetable oil (SVO) tractor.
Carl Schmidt, a member of the Central Susquehanna Valley Organic Crop Growers Network, has been growing a rotation of alfalfa, corn and soybeans on his organic crop farm in Muncy, PA for decades. Now, after seeing small grain crops growing at a fellow network members farm last year, Carl has added winter wheat to his rotation to break up weed cycles, create a spot for a red clover cover crop, and pursue high-value artisan wheat markets. Carl hosted a twilight network meeting on July 7 at his farm to look at the mature wheat crop and discuss his production strategies for corn and soybeans.
Twenty organic grain farmers met at Summit Valley Farm in New Holland, PA in July. Part of Penn State Extension's new Organic Crop Producer Study Circle series, the focus was on organic weed management for corn, soybeans, spelt and hay.
As part of a national initiative to reduce food insecurity, faculty in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences will direct a new $5 million project to study whether greater reliance on regionally produced foods could improve food access and affordability for disadvantaged communities, while also benefiting farmers and others in the food supply chain.
“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” It was fitting that Jeff Moyer, Farm Manager for the Rodale Institute, kicked off his workshop on organic no-till practices with this bit of ancient wisdom from Xenophon's Oeconomicus, written cerca 400 B.C. Moyer was speaking to a packed audience at the 2011 “Farming for the Future” conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. If there is one thing organic and no-till advocates have in common, it is a passion for soil health. Of course, deciphering the soil’s mysteries and reconciling them with crop management is no less daunting today than in Xenophon’s time.
In late March 2011, the Central Susquehanna Valley Organic Crop Growers Network met over breakfast to discuss tillage and pest management practices. The meeting was hosted by Columbia County Extension Educator, Dave Hartman, at the Watson Inn in Watsontown, PA. Three members of the network shared presentations with the group about their experience with various tillage and pest management practices.
March 16, 2011 is a day to remember in the history of organic agriculture as it marked the start of the first USDA conference dedicated to organic farming. The Organic Farming Systems Research Conference: Exploring Agronomic, Economic, Ecological, and Social Dimensions was the result of a cooperative effort by multiple entities within USDA (ERS, ARS, NIFA, OSEC, OCS) and stakeholder organizations the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Organic Trade Association. One of the goals of the conference was to bring together research experts and industry representatives from across the country to review the science on organic agriculture and develop a research agenda for the future. The organizers really hit their mark, as the conference was packed with fascinating material ranging from hard data from prominent researchers to real-life experiences from outstanding organic famers.
The halls of the Penn Stater Conference Center bustled with excited people from all walks of life who came to learn about and show support for sustainable agriculture at the 20th annual Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, a funding and outreach program of the USDA, recently announced the 2011 awards to farmers, educators, and agricultural community organizations in the Northeast. Pennsylvania will host 12 projects with a total funding level of $406,284. Additionally, Penn State Extension is collaborating with projects awarded to principal investigators based in Vermont and Maryland.
Computer simulation studies by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than its more sheltered sisters. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Al Rotz led a team that evaluated how different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm would affect the environment.
The man behind Lady Moon Farms is as enthusiastic as they come; and even after 22 years, you can clearly see the joy that farming brings him. His seminar was as much about life as it was organic farming, and that only made his story more compelling.
An active sustainable agriculture research and extension community has been quietly growing in size at Penn State. This was evident on the afternoon of February 25th when faculty, cooperative extension, post-doctoral researchers, and graduate students came together to meet one other, share ideas, and discuss ways to foster collaboration between three groups working on sustainable cropping systems research and extension projects.
As a leading cause of foodborne illnesses, fresh fruits and vegetables have received national attention, recently highlighted by the Food Safety Modernization Act which was signed into law in early 2011 by President Obama.
Organic milk, meat, poultry and eggs represent some of the fastest growing sectors of the organic market. Because agricultural feed ingredients in the diets of certified livestock must be organically produced, continued growth in the retail market has resulted in increasing demand for organic feed grains. Many organic producers in Pennsylvania produce feed grains for their own livestock or dairy operations. There are also off-farm marketing options for organic grain producers, including direct to local organic livestock producers, organic feed manufacturers, co-ops, brokers and merchandisers, with or without an advance contract. Typically, there is a price premium for organic feed grains. In the past, prices for organic feed grains have reached 50 to 150% above conventional prices.
Based on preliminary findings from work funded through a 2010 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE-SARE) Partnership grant, squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) appear to be the most important pumpkin pollinators in south-central Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, most pumpkin growers are unaware of the free services provided by squash bees and follow the standard practices of renting up to two honeybee colonies per acre of pumpkins.
Farming is difficult, and organic farming can be even more of a challenge. Farmers growing agronomic crops – corn, soy, wheat, rye, and forages met in Gap, PA this December to discuss challenges and work together to identify solutions. The topic was weeds – one of the greatest nemeses of organic farmers.
Penn State Extension recently teamed up with PA Farmlink and the Seed Farm – a Lehigh County agricultural incubator project – to help increase the success of beginning farmers’ through abundant educational programming and materials. They offer 19 courses in production and marketing techniques, web based information and blogs, individual consultation and on farm training. At the Seed Farm, new farmers are starting their businesses on county-owned land with guidance and mentorship from an experienced farm manager.
Organic production is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. Certified organic production provides farmers a way to lower input costs, decrease reliance on nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets and premium prices, and boost farm income. At Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Research Center at Rock Springs, PA, research on organic crop production is being conducted to support those growers who are already organic, considering transitioning to organic, or interested in reducing the use of synthetic inputs on their farms. During the 2010 growing season, a short-season organic corn variety trial was conducted at Rock Springs, Centre Co., on certified organic land, and on conventionally managed land at Rock Springs and the Southeast Ag Research and Extension Center in Landisville, Lancaster Co.
The Pennsylvania State University’s Small Farm project has updated four Agricultural Alternatives publications and has launched a new web site for new and beginning or existing farmers.
Few words make me cringe more than dreaded allusions to the “ivory tower of academia.” Like many graduate students interested in sustainable agriculture, I returned to school to produce practical research that could help farmers and eaters. To produce such useful knowledge, I learned early on how important it was to bridge the gap between research on campus and what is new and exciting in farmers’ fields and on eaters’ plates.