Northeast SARE 2011 Funding Awards Announced

Posted: June 7, 2011

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.

Farmer Grants


Queen bee improvement program-building on the foundation of Pennsylvania survivor stock

Jeffrey Berta, Always Summer Herbs, Slippery Rock PA
Varroa mites and associated Colony Collapse Disorder have brought substantial losses to beekeepers, averaging about 30 percent mortality since 2006. But the recent discovery of a honeybee behavioral trait called varroa-sensitive hygiene, or VSH, breaks the lifecycle of the mites. There are two commercially available queen bee stocks that exhibit this trait, and the farmer will evaluate these queens against a control to see if the VSH behavior also coincides with adaptability to cold winters and humid summers. The longer-term goal is to selectively breed any superior VSH bees with Pennsylvania Survivor stock to reduce replacement costs and minimize the need for chemical treatments, leading to purer honey and a more stable honeybee population. Outreach will be via producer conferences and the farm web page, along with a summary handout that will be made available to extension, other beekeepers, and at farmers markets.


Feasibility of shift-trellis use for northern blackberry production

Roy Brubaker, Village Acres, Mifflintown PA
Shift trellises, while not in widespread use in the region, are designed to allow for different configurations according to the stage of bramble cane growth, flowering, and berry formation. They are also said to improve light penetration and overall vigor and can reduce labor and injury from thorns at harvest. The farmer will compare the shift trellis to conventional T-shaped posts and wire on two varieties of blackberries and compare berry count, quality, and ease of harvest over several pickings to see if the increased productivity and harvest claims justify wider adoption. Outreach will be through grower conferences and presentations and via the farm website.


Using new frames and foundations as a way to control disease in honeybee hives

Craig Cella, High Valley Farms, Loganton PA
This project seeks to confirm interesting findings from a previous SARE grant that tested the use of gamma irradiation as a way to improve colony hygiene and control diseases in honeybees. The technique was shown to work, but proved prohibitively expensive. The farmer will test a lower-cost system of hive hygiene that involves discarding infected brood combs and cleaning all wood components with a bleach solution combined with preventive feeding protocols for new hives during the first month. He will recruit and support eight cooperating beekeepers by providing frames, foundations, bees, and training, and the results will be disseminated through producer networks and the agricultural media.


Establishment of Miscanthus (Miscanthus X giganteus) as an alternate bedding supply

Steven Harnish, Central Manor Dairy, Washington Boro PA
Bedding with kiln-dried shavings is a common practice on dairy farms, but recently this byproduct has been diverted to the manufacture of wood pellets for heating, which affects price and supply. The farmer will test whether a sterile hybrid of Miscanthus can be used as replacement bedding—this low-input, low-maintenance crop is no longer as difficult to plant thanks to the availability of plugs from rooted stem cuttings. By evaluating the cost per ton and comparative bedding performance of chopped Miscanthus in a free-stall dairy, the farmer will gather data on its usefulness. Outreach will be through farm open houses, the agricultural media, and extension.


Evaluation of twelve yellow-flesh peach cultivars for organic production in the Northeast

James Travis, Apple Tree Vineyard and Farm, LLC, Fairfield PA
Bacterial spot and brown rot both limit organic peach production, and organic growers are at a disadvantage when managing this valuable crop. The farmer will evaluate selected peach cultivars for their susceptibility to these diseases and for overall vigor and firmness, and he will also use perpendicular-V tree training to increase exposure to sunlight and improve air circulation with the overall goal of optimizing peach production in an organic orchard. Outreach will be through extension, face-to-face contact with other farmers, and the agricultural media, and a final project summary will be distributed in response to inquiries.


Farmer-built spelt dehuller

Nigel Tudor, Weatherbury Farm, Avella PA
Spelt offers a diversification opportunity, especially for organic growers, but delhulling the grain so it can be used as a staple food or milled into flour is very hard to do on a small scale—commercial dehullers are simply too expensive. The farmer will build a prototype dehuller suitable for smaller acreage, scaling down and adapting existing technology for both cost and volume. Outreach will be through the distribution of plans, photographs, and project notes both in print and on line, and through field days, workshops, and an organic grain website.


Dynamic attachment frame system

Eric Vander Hyde, Barefoot Gardens, Doylestown PA
Small to midsized diversified farms, and in particular CSAs, call for a wide range of implements for different field tasks and thus a great deal of switching and adjusting, which uses both labor and time. The farmer will develop a new attachment frame system that uses a single frame with drop-in attachments that can be pre-set for seasonal tasks so that weed suppression, productivity, and crop quality can increase through all stages of production. Outreach will particularly target entry-level and small-scale farmers via a field day and farm-based workshop, the online and print agricultural media, and through demonstration videos posted to the web.


The use of Plumbagin as an organic anthelmintic against H. contortus in sheep

Samuel Yoder, Green Alchemy, Kutztown PA
Suppressing parasites in organic livestock grazing systems is challenging and calls for rotation, genetic selection, and reliance on organic wormers that may not always be effective. The farmer will study the efficacy of Plumbago zeylanica extract, or Plumbagin, to see if this natural substance can prevent or treat Haemonchus contortus in sheep. He will also gather information on the efficacy of other organic anthelmintics, including the results of this study, and produce a single reference useful to other farmers. This will be posted to the farm website, disseminated through a statewide sustainable farming association, and offered to extension.


From seed to sugar: A vertically integrated model for small-scale turbinado sugar production from GMO-free beets

Erik Andros, Boundbrook Farm, Ferrisburgh VT
A growing preference for local food creates new opportunities, and the farmer will test sugar production from non-GMO beets, reviving a regional industry that faltered in the 1970s. Drawing on trials done in Pennsylvania in 2008, he will grow and process three beet varieties and do market research at winter farmers markets by offering both baked goods and granular sugar to consumers and asking for scores on taste, texture, visual appeal, and potential price points. He will produce a handbook on how to process beets into consumer-grade sugar and a 20-minute film documenting the effort. He will also present his results at conferences, on his own and university websites, and through the agricultural print media.

Partnership Grants


A novel, labor-saving trellising system for grape tomatoes

Steve Bogash, Penn State University Cooperative Extension, Chambersburg PA
This project expands on a previous grant that tested a shake-based harvesting system for grape tomatoes. This technique continues to be promising, but the most widely-used trellis systems don’t accommodate shaking for harvest and are also hard to keep sterile, which is important to avoid the transfer of soil-borne pathogens to other parts of the farm. The project manager will test a new trellis system that works with the shake-based harvest equipment, requires less labor, and is easy to sterilize. Outreach will be through grower newsletters and magazines, winter meetings, field days, twilight meetings, and the web.


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

Alex Surcica, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Chambersburg PA
This project continues previous work to build habitat for wild bees and to see if floral and nesting resources for them can reduce or eliminate the need to import commercial honeybees, which are in crisis and becoming increasingly expensive. The project manager will sample bee populations on cooperating vegetable and small fruit farms to determine third-year changes in native bee diversity and density. Outreach will be through the agricultural print media, a university website, and at a winter grower meeting.

Research and Education Grants


Reducing losses and costs for corn silage in Pennsylvania dairy farms through improved harvest, storage and feed-out practices

Kenneth Griswold, Penn State Extension, Lancaster PA
Corn silage shrinkage can range from 10 to 20 percent, and silage can also emit volatile compounds like ethanol; together they represent feed loss and potential environmental hazards. Building on a previous award, the project manager will demonstrate a simple on-farm method for estimating and reducing dry matter losses in bunker silos and do an economic analysis of the costs and benefits of changing harvest, storage, and feed-out practices. As a result, 25 dairy farmers representing about 6,250 cows and 10,000 acres of cropland will change their corn silage harvest, storage, and feed-out practices, resulting in a 15 percent reduction in silage losses equal to  a $2 to $3  savings per ton produced, or $40 to $60 savings an acre. An extensive outreach effort will also support wider adoption.


Adding value to oilseed crops by producing food-quality oils

Douglas Schaufler, Penn State, University Park PA
Oilseed crops like sunflower and canola can be grown commercially in the Northeast, with most interest to date focused on producing biofuels, but there is also potential for pressing more profitable food-grade oils. These oils could be used for frying and then recycled into fuel, getting two products from a single crop. Currently, farmer-ready information on the small-scale production of edible oils is scarce, and the project manager will research degumming, bleaching, and storage life as they affect small-scale producers; he will also demonstrate production, food safety, and sanitation requirements using videos and webinars. As a result, 200 farmers will learn how to safely and profitably produce edible oils, and 20 will progress to production, increasing the value of their oil crop by $10 a gallon.


No-till, no-herbicide planting of spring vegetables using low-residue winter-killed cover crops

Ray Weil, University of Maryland, Collage Park MD
Cover crops can exacerbate problems with planting into cool, wet spring soils, and this is a challenge for no-till planting of vegetables using high-residue cover crops rather than herbicides to suppress weeds. The project manager will explore the use of  low-residue winterkilled cover crops like forage radish, that leave a friable, weed-free spring seedbed, eliminating the need for spring tillage and herbicides while speeding the warming of the soil. The goal is to capture the environmental and economic benefits of  cover crops and to gather data on the effect of these cover crops on different vegetables, planting dates, N dynamics, and farm economics.  As a result, 120 farmers growing 2,400 acres of spring-planted vegetables will use no-till on  half their acreage, reducing fall and winter N leaching, N inputs, tillage, herbicides, and erosion; farmers will also save $100 an acre in seedbed preparation and increase earnings by $500 an acre.