Sustainable Ag News
To be added to SAWG’s mailing list, contact Charlie White at email@example.com or 814-863-9922.
Agroforestry, a suite of practices that blend agriculture and forestry, has been identified as an important strategy for forest restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but there’s a hefty barrier to widespread adoption: few region-specific resources are available to guide practitioners and advisers through successful agroforestry implementations. That’s about to change, thanks to a newly formed consortium of government agency, non-profit, and university personnel who have joined forces to develop and adapt educational materials for agroforestry practices compatible with Northeast conditions and farming traditions.
Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice which integrates rotationally grazed livestock with tree crops. The practice can yield short-term benefits, like shade and forage for grazing animals, and long-term benefits, like increased income from forest products. However, if not managed carefully, forest grazing can cause environmental degradation. A three-year silvopasture study is currently underway which explores the effects of management decisions and evaluates the challenges and opportunities posed by various silvopasture applications. The goal of the study is to develop evidence-based guidelines for Pennsylvania graziers.
Penn State’s “Reduced-Tillage Organic Systems Experiment (ROSE)” project organized two field days in October 2015 to highlight on-farm research and facilitate discussion among growers about strategies for integrating cover crops into organic grain rotations while reducing the frequency of tillage.
For Pennsylvania dairy farmers, producing feed grain on-farm requires significantly less energy than importing it from the Midwest, according to Penn State researchers whose findings may help dairy farmers save energy and money in the face of rising feed costs. The research, which is described in a Penn State News story, is part of a larger multi-year study evaluating ecological strategies for an average-sized, Pennsylvania dairy farm to produce all of its forage, feed, and tractor fuel needs, and to minimize off-farm inputs.
In the battle against weeds, tillage is one of the strongest weapons at the disposal of organic or ecologically based farmers. But, depending on when it is used, tillage can also be a strong driver of nitrogen losses that contribute to groundwater pollution, according to researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Denise Finney, a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Jason Kaye, associate professor of soil biogeochemistry, conducted the research described in this Penn State News story.
Most programs designed to promote soil health focus on encouraging farmers to adopt a prescribed set of practices, like cover cropping or nutrient management. Penn State Rural Sociology Doctoral Candidate Jennifer Hayden argues that a new approach is needed — one that instead works with farmers as they balance all the many influences particular to their own individual, unique farms. Hayden spent two years researching farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to understand agricultural soil health. Here, Hayden describes what she learned, and suggests a new model for helping farmers improve soil health.
Three students from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently completed internships with the Penn State Center - Engaging Philadelphia, where they were immersed in the city's urban agriculture scene. One of those students, Elizabeth Peterson, describes their experiences and the urban agriculture operations where they worked.
Not only insecticides but also some fungicides and herbicides are harmful to bees. The following are some general guidelines to protect bees from pesticides.
Where the craft brewing and local food movements intersect, an opportunity lies for Pennsylvania farmers, as brewers seek to purchase more locally sourced ingredients for their beers.
The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society has chosen Penn State faculty member Carolyn Sachs to receive its 2015 Richard P. Haynes Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in Agriculture, Food and Human Values Award. Sachs, professor of rural sociology and women's studies and head of the Women's Studies Department, will receive the award at the society's upcoming annual meeting and conference in Pittsburgh.
Use of a class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids, increased dramatically in the mid-2000s and was driven almost entirely by the use of corn and soybean seeds treated with the pesticides, according to researchers at Penn State. Margaret Douglas, graduate student in entomology, and John Tooker, associate professor of entomology, conducted the research, which was described in a recent Penn State News story.
Weed suppression, nutrient management, beneficial insect support — these are just a few of any number of benefits that cover crops can provide. In some cases, combining cover crop species into mixtures, or "cocktails," allows growers to meet multiple management objectives and to maximize returns on their cover crop investment. A new fact sheet, titled “Making the Most of Mixtures: Considerations for Winter Cover Crops in Temperate Climates,” offers an overview of the basic concepts to consider when planning winter cover crop mixtures.
“Vegetable Integrated Pest Management with an Emphasis on Biocontrol: A Guide for Growers in the Mid-Atlantic,” is the title of a new manual designed to help vegetable growers interested in managing insect pests using more biological controls and fewer pesticides. The 250-page manual was developed by the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, and contains pest fact sheets, photo charts of vegetable pests and beneficial insects, a control timing calendar, and sections on IPM basics, soil health and pest management, biological control, pests of vegetable crop families and beneficial insects. It is available for sale through the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences publications website.
Does “the more the merrier” apply to cover crops? What strategies work well for reducing tillage in organic grain systems? How does shrub willow perform as a biofuel crop? These were some of the questions addressed on March 27, 2015, during the fifth annual Sustainable Agriculture Cropping Systems Symposium, an event designed to provide scientists from several sustainable cropping systems research projects an opportunity to share their findings and plan collaborative activities.
Researchers believe that long term honey bee declines are a result of a complex set of factors. The primary suspects are: poor nutrition, pesticides, pathogens/ parasites, and poor quality genetic stock. Here we will consider recent research results describing how pesticides might affect pollinators.
If you are an organic-crop producer in the Northeast, or a farmer interested in transitioning to organic, there is a new resource available to provide the research-based information you need to be successful.
On February 8, Professor of Weed Ecology David Mortensen was awarded the 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Leadership Award by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). Presented as part of the PASAbilities Award Series at PASA’s 24th annual Farming for the Future conference, the award recognizes Mortensen for his research, teaching and leadership in the sustainable agriculture field.
The Northeast US is home to close to twenty land link programs that connect farmland owners — farmers, non-farming land owners, or public/institutional land owners — with farmers and aspiring farmers in search of suitable farmland.
On February 13, Mark Van Horn, director of the student farm at University of California-Davis, delivered the first lecture in the 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Seminar Series. During his talk, he explained why the farm was created, how it has evolved over its 37-year history, and the many ways in which students engage with the farm today. He also described the complementary Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major offered at UC Davis. A recording of his talk is now available online.
Extension Educator Tianna Dupont recently traveled to New Mexico as a fellow in the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Extension Educator Fellows Program. In this essay, Dupont reflects on what she learned about how climate and culture shape the meaning of "sustainable agriculture" in New Mexico.