January 2011

A male squash bee.

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.

Average yields from our short season organic corn variety trial on certified organic land at Rock Springs, PA were 169 bu/ac.  Photo by Mary Barbercheck

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.