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Archive | September, 2014

Cover Crops for Pest Management

sunflower.tifTwo small farmers in Florida are partnering with University of Florida Extension to determine how cover crops can be used to manage insect pests. In a newly funded Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education On-Farm Research Grant, “Establishing and Evaluating Selected Cover Crops on Small Farms to Increase the Impact of Beneficial Arthropods on Crop Pests,” strips of sunflower and buckwheat are being incorporated into crop fields to act as trap crops for pests and as attractants for beneficial predatory insects and pollinators.

Bradley Hoover, of Hoover Farms, owns 20 acres of about 50 different types of vegetables, all certified organically grown and sold in the wholesale market. In his field of tomatoes and peppers, Hoover, with the help of University of Florida Extension agents, has planted rows of sunflowers and buckwheat along the field perimeters, as well as additional rows of buckwheat in the center. The study compares the cover crops to the control (no cover crop plantings) to see where they fit into Integrated Pest Management practices.

The sunflowers attract stinkbugs, specifically the leaf-footed bug, which aggressively attacks tomatoes and peppers. The sunflower is acting as a trap crop, keeping the pest away from the farm’s cash crop. In addition, buckwheat attracts a wide array of beneficial insects, including native pollinators.

Scott and Billie Rooney, with Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, are looking at the same two cover crops, but evaluating their effectiveness in fruit production. Stinkbugs easily make a meal of their U-pick blackberry and blueberry plants.

“We are only in our first year of the study, but we are not seeing as many stinkbugs in the berries as we’ve had in the past,” said Billie Rooney.

Billie and her husband have already made some keen observations participating in the project. For example, she said that the sunflowers bordering the woodland contain more leaf-footed bugs than the sunflowers bordering their hair sheep grazing pasture.

The Rooneys are also interested in planting the winter small grain triticale in their grazing pastures. Triticale, it turns out, also acts as a trap crop for stinkbugs and will attract the early flights of stinkbugs before the sunflower crop is planted and ready.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

More Accurate Soil Testing

soil testingSoil testing that determines needed fertilizer will measure nitrate in the soil, but tests don’t sufficiently account for soil microbes, which mineralize organic nitrogen and make more of it available to a crop. As a result, farmers often apply more fertilizer than necessary.

Richard Haney, a U.S. Department of Agriculture soil scientist in Temple, Texas, has developed soil test that replicates some of the natural processes that occur in a field and accounts for microbial activity, along with measuring nitrate, ammonium (NH4) and organic nitrogen.

The new soil test is known as the Soil Health Tool. It involves drying and rewetting soil to mimic the effects of precipitation. It also uses the same organic acids that plant roots use to acquire nutrients from the soil. The testing tool measures organic carbon and other nutrients, accounts for the effects of using cover crops and no-till practices and works for any crop produced with nitrogen or other types of nutrient fertilizer. For more information visit http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2014/140710.htm

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

From Coffee Grounds to Gourmet Mushrooms

oyster mushroom

Kansas State University researchers are taking used coffee grounds from a campus coffee shop and using them as compost to cultivate gourmet mushrooms at the K-State Student Farm. By composting alone, 50 pounds a week — or about 30 percent of the coffee shop’s total waste — has been diverted from landfills. “The goal of the project is to demonstrate our potential at Kansas State University to initiate a successful closed-loop recycling and composting program that diverts waste from landfills and produce a beneficial product,” Natalie Mladenov, assistant professor of civil engineering said. While developing the compost program, the researchers made an important discovery: coffee grounds make excellent compost for cultivating mushrooms, particularly gourmet mushrooms, such as oyster, shiitake and reishi. The United States gets nearly 45 percent of its mushrooms from China, and there is a need for more local suppliers of gourmet mushrooms, said Kaley Oldani, student leader for the project.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Meet an Eco-Farmer: Broad River Pastures

Broad River Pastures Eco-Farmer

Cathy R. Payne, Broad River Pastures

Why did you begin farming?

I have loved working with animals since childhood and have always been fascinated with genetics and breeding. My husband Jon and I became foodies and locavores and spent a lot of time on farm tours and at farm conferences because of our interest in quality food. We started promoting farm businesses on the Our Natural Life podcast, and woke up one day in October 2009 with the idea to move to the producer side. Eleven weeks later we owned a piece of land, and I retired from 33 years of teaching six months after that.

What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?

Our biggest hurdle was learning everything from the ground up, focusing on a niche market, learning business skills and the cost of implementing our infrastructure. Now we have systems, procedures and daily patterns on the farm that help keep things flowing smoothly.

Continue Reading →

Book Review: Exploring the Truth Behind Food Labels

Organic Book Review

Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling by Peter Laufer, Ph.D.

Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling, by Peter Laufer, Ph.D.

Review by Chris Walters

One day Peter Laufer’s wife, Shelia, brought home a bag of organic walnuts from Trader Joe’s. The nuts were rancid. Well, these things happen occasionally. Before returning them, Laufer took a look at the label. “Product of Kazakhstan,” it read. Kazakhstan? Really? A seasoned world traveler, veteran journalist and nobody’s fool, Laufer knew more than most people about the pervasive corruption of the remote central Asian nation, ruled by a capricious dictator ever since the Soviet Union crumbled. He decided to investigate.

Around the same time, the Laufers purchased a can of New Directions organic black beans at their local independent, Eugene, Oregon’s Market of Choice. The labels designate them as coming from Bolivia. Laufer’s antenna vibrated wildly. He knew Bolivia’s picaresque charms intimately from reporting on the cocaine wars. If not quite a dystopian hellhole like Kazakhstan, it was nonetheless a place riven by poverty, criminality and exploitation. Those beans were highly suspect. After inquiries to Trader Joe’s and New Directions yielded replies that amounted to “We’d rather not tell you anything,” Laufer heard the journalist’s call of the wild. Recalling the recent conviction of Harold Chase, an Oregon farmer who faked organic certificates and almost got away with hundreds of thousands in illicit profits, Laufer realized he had a global mystery to unlock. And it went straight to the heart of a business that generates tens of billions every year on the promise of selling millions of people food worth eating. Continue Reading →

Calf Rearing with the Madre Method

Photo by Laura Joseph

Photo by Laura Joseph

by Phyllis & Paul Van Amburgh

Madre Method: the unencumbered suckling of a calf on its own biological dam from birth to the age of 10 months.

There are three main commonalities of all successful dairy farms: the first is farmers that read and research, second is a good mineral and feed program for cows and soils (or nutrition program, as it may be called when incorporated in a feed ration), and the third is a good heifer program. Farms that do a top-notch job raising their replacements have healthier cows that perform and thrive. These farms suffer far fewer problems with their cows than the ones who lack proper management or the ones who rely on purchased, unknown, young stock.

Eight years ago we began raising our replacement heifers one-to-one on their mother. We have tried numerous other methods, but found all fall short. Most dairy farmers dismiss the technique of cows raising their own calf. They fear a financial disaster if they don’t sell all the milk from all of their cows.

We have seen that a cow raising her own calf for an entire lactation, as nature designed, is by far the best method of raising calves; it produces the healthiest, strongest, most disease-resistant, most resilient cows. In our opinion it is the only way to raise calves in a grain-free herd. It is also by far the most economical method for raising young stock. Continue Reading →