Monday, June 7, 2021

Western Drought Forces Farmers to Make Tough Decisions

As water sources dry up, farmers are culling herds, stripping trees of fruit and forgoing planting crops this year.

By Shelby Vittek, Modern Farmer

Due to the worsening drought sweeping across the West, Sonoma County farmers David and Kayta Plescia were forced to cancel their vegetable CSA program. The couple, who run Green Valley Community Farm in Sebastopol, says they simply didn’t have enough water to plant the necessary vegetables this year.

“We got a third of the usual rainfall [during the rainy season] and that was after last year, which was also very low,” says David. “The two combined did a number on people’s water sources.”

The farm’s catchment pond, their irrigation source, didn’t fill with water this year. “That’s the first time it’s ever happened,” he says. “We have one-twentieth of the water we usually have.”

Farmers of all kinds are being forced to make similarly tough decisions as water supplies dwindle. Ranchers are trying to stay ahead of the curve by culling their herds. Apple growers are dropping fruit on young trees in an attempt to keep them alive. Almond and peach growers are doing the same.

According to the most recent US Drought Monitor report, 96 percent of the West is suffering from at least some level of drought. California and Nevada are now 100 percent in drought after two years of exceptionally dry conditions. Reservoir levels in both states are dismally low, intensifying the concern for wildfire season, which runs between May and October. Already, there have been more fires and acres burned in California than this time last year.

Farmers in other states are affected too. In January, New Mexico officials warned farmers and ranchers who rely on water from the Rio Grande and other rivers to prepare to go without it this year, recommending “that farmers along the Rio Chama and in the Middle Valley that don’t absolutely need to farm this year, do not farm.” Utah irrigation water providers are implementing increased fines for overuse. And in Idaho, which isn’t faring as badly as other states, farmers in central and southern counties are preparing for crop disaster losses.

Conditions are especially dire in California, where 41 of 58 counties are under a drought state of emergency. This year’s drought is similar to years past, with one caveat, says Dan Sumner, UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. “Sonoma County has been hit more this time,” he says, “and that is less common.”

It’s also affecting the farm counties of the Central Valley, home to some of California’s richest agricultural land, where farmers have long relied on water from the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project (CVP) for irrigation. Last week, the bureau cut allocations for some farmers to zero.

“Water is very hard to come by,” says Vincent Ricchiuti, chief operations officer for P-R Farms and Enzo Olive Oil in Fresno, California. “This year is drastically worse [than last year].”

The persistent droughts led Ricchiuti to install a new system called AgMonitor in 2015. The technology takes into account the weather, age of tree and type of soil, and uses additional data from probes that measure soil moisture to determine how much water to distribute. “The goal is not to overwater or underwater,” he says. “It’s to really zero in on irrigation.” That helps a limited water supply last longer.

Ricchiuti says the droughts mean farmers have to be more conscious about what they’re planting and where they’re planting it. At Green Valley Community Farm, the Plescias have applied for a cannabis permit, which would allow them to grow a crop that requires much less water. They’re also considering moving their vegetable farm.

“The site that we’re on is untenable for a vegetable farm business, we’ve realized,” says David, who says he’s eyeing another location that has a more reliable water supply. As renters, the Plescias have more flexibility than landowners, some of whom operate on family farms that have run on the same land for several generations.

California’s recurring drought and wildfire conditions led fiber artist and farmer Leslie Adkins to relocate her Heartfelt Fiber Farm. Last year, as the wildfires ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties, she made the difficult decision to move her small flock of sheep, goats and alpaca from California to Illinois. 

“We were originally thinking of Oregon or Washington, but the writing on the wall in the West, with the megadrought, has been there for a while,” says Adkins, who has a graduate degree in environmental studies. “My family decided we needed to go somewhere, somewhere where we could start over, maybe on a smaller scale, that would be less affected farming-wise by this climate change that’s everywhere.”

Adkins believes we’ll continue to see more farmers become climate refugees as droughts and rising temperatures persist. “I just reached my own personal conclusion, and I’m an optimist by nature, but I have concluded that there’s not a future for farming in California,” she says.

UC Davis’ Sumner says it’s not time to worry just yet. “It could become more severe, but that is a few years away,” he says. “Droughts in California have been part of agriculture for a very long time…California is a wonderful place for many crops and that has not changed at all.”


Thursday, June 3, 2021

10 Tips for Resource Stewardship Planning on Your Farm





By Nate Birt

Vice President

Trust In Food, a Farm Journal initiative

 

Jun 03, 2021


American farmers are conservationists at heart, but it can be a challenge to know where to start when it comes to conservation planning. Finding the right technical assistance and determining whether a conservation practice actually works for your land isn’t always easy.


The new Resource Stewardship Planning Guide, backed by NRCS science and developed by the editors at Farm Journal, is now available to help. This free workbook is the first in a three-part series published as part of America’s Conservation Ag Movement, a public-private partnership that helps producers use profitable and conservation-minded practices. The Soil Health Guide is currently available, and a Water Quality Guide will be available soon.

Here are 10 tips from this new interactive workbook—available in digital format to download for free.


Tip 1: See what other farmers are doing

Learning from other producers’ conservation experiences is a great way to evaluate what might work in for you. In this workbook, you’ll find plenty of stories from farmers across the U.S., including row crop producers from the Midwest, cattle ranchers from the Plains, and more.


Tip 2: Make a plan and write it down

Check out pages 4-7 for a primer on the process of conservation planning. Then fill out workbook pages 8-10 to see where your own farm stands and to identify some practical next steps you might take. There’s a cheat sheet on page 11 with some examples to get those gears turning!


Tip 3: Same farm, different land types

A farm is rarely composed of a single giant parcel. Instead, it often spans soil types, terrains, and counties. That’s why it’s important to know where you are and what type of land within a field you’re dealing with. Page 12 breaks down four common categories: cropland; associated agricultural lands; grazing, pastureland, and rangeland; and animal feeding operations.


Tip 4: Scout for conservation opportunities with cropland

If you raise crops such as corn or soybeans, pages 13-16 are for you. Starting with a soil loss assessment, you can begin to identify where conservation in your fields can deliver the strongest ROI. This section will also help you take stock of unique attributes of individual fields, such as proximity to adjacent bodies of water. The flow chart on page 15 can help you determine what you need and who can help.


Tip 5: Reduce costs through associated ag lands

Some spots in fields have notorious problems like ponding, erosion, or poor productivity. In these places, it might make sense to consider how you might save a precious resource—capital. Pages 17-21 provide insights on associated ag lands and illustrate how farmers are reimaging them for better lands and a better bottom line.


Tip 6: Grazing opportunities

Fencing is an infrastructure investment that NRCS programs can use to help livestock producers. From pages 23-27, you’ll discover that conservation planning isn’t just for  row crop—it applies to every farm or ranch, albeit with its own specific toolbox of best management practices.


Tip 7: Stewardship spans feed, manure, and more

If you raise livestock, then feed handling, waste management, and other activities have a central role in conservation planning. Learn how to integrate stewardship into these staples of farm life from pages 28-36. Then meet hog producers from South Dakota who are putting these principles to work.


Tip 8: Rent land? Engage the owner

Conservation might seem like a big investment of time and money, but in many cases, stewardship begins with an evaluation of what you—and your landlord—care most about when it comes to the farm. Pages 37-40 illustrate practical ways to start a conservation about rented land to ensure both parties benefit.


Tip 9: Pencil it out

If you’re skeptical about whether conservation can have positive financial benefits, check out page 41. There is a step-by-step example of how stewardship can be a win-win for your business and the natural resources you manage.


Tip 10: Find a trusted adviser

Now that you’ve explored the many ways in which conservation planning can make a difference for farms like yours, it’s time to ask: Who can help me do that? From pages 43-46, you’ll find practical tips for locating the right kind of technical service provider in your local area. There are plenty of links so that you can do your own research online.


Interested in learning more about how conservation can help your farm? Click here to get your free guide to explore what the next step of your own conservation journey might be.


More Information

America’s Conservation Ag Movement is organized by Trust In Food, a Farm Journalinitiative, in partnership with the Farm Journal Foundation. Financial and technical support is provided by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and leading agribusinesses, food companies and nonprofit organizations.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

USDA Expands and Renews Conservation Reserve Program in Effort to Boost Enrollment and Address Climate Change

 


USDA Also Announces Investments in Partner Programs to Support Climate-Smart Policies

WASHINGTON, April 21, 2021 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Secretary Vilsack made the announcement today at the White House National Climate Task Force meeting to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

The Biden-Harris Administration is working to leverage USDA conservation programs for climate mitigation, including continuing to invest in innovation partnership programs like RCPP and On-Farm Trials as well as strengthening programs like CRP to enhance their impacts.

“Sometimes the best solutions are right in front of you. With CRP, the United States has one of the world’s most successful voluntary conservation programs. We need to invest in CRP and let it do what it does best—preserve topsoil, sequester carbon, and reduce the impacts of climate change,” said Vilsack. “We also recognize that we can’t do it alone. At the White House Climate Leaders Summit this week, we will engage leaders from all around the world to partner with us on addressing climate change. Here at home, we’re working in partnership with producers and local organizations through USDA programs to bring new voices and communities to the table to help combat climate change.”

Conservation Reserve Program

USDA’s goal is to enroll up to 4 million new acres in CRP by raising rental payment rates and expanding the number of incentivized environmental practices allowed under the program. CRP is one of the world’s largest voluntary conservation programs with a long track record of preserving topsoil, sequestering carbon, and reducing nitrogen runoff, as well providing healthy habitat for wildlife.

CRP is a powerful tool when it comes to climate mitigation, and acres currently enrolled in the program mitigate more than 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If USDA reaches its goal of enrolling an additional 4 million acres into the program, it will mitigate an additional 3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent and prevent 90 million pounds of nitrogen and 33 million tons of sediment from running into our waterways each year.

“We want to make sure CRP continues to be a valuable and effective conservation resource for our producers for decades to come,” said Vilsack. “USDA will continue to find new and creative ways of putting producers and landowners at the center of climate-smart practices that generate revenue and benefit our planet.”

CRP’s long-term goal is to establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, improve soil health and carbon sequestration, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers a number of signups, including the general signup and continuous signup, which are both open now, as well as a CRP Grasslands and pilot programs focused on soil health and clean water.

New Climate-Smart Practice Incentive

To target the program on climate change mitigation, FSA is introducing a new Climate-Smart Practice Incentive for CRP general and continuous signups that aims to increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-Smart CRP practices include establishment of trees and permanent grasses, development of wildlife habitat, and wetland restoration. The Climate-Smart Practice Incentive is annual, and the amount is based on the benefits of each practice type.

Higher Rental Rates and New Incentives

In 2021, CRP is capped at 25 million acres, and currently 20.8 million acres are enrolled. Furthermore, the cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres by 2023. To help increase producer interest and enrollment, FSA is:

  • Adjusting soil rental rates. This enables additional flexibility for rate adjustments, including a possible increase in rates where appropriate.
  • Increasing payments for Practice Incentives from 20% to 50%. This incentive for continuous CRP practices is based on the cost of establishment and is in addition to cost share payments.
  • Increasing payments for water quality practices. Rates are increasing from 10% to 20% for certain water quality benefiting practices available through the CRP continuous signup, such as grassed waterways, riparian buffers, and filter strips.
  • Establishing a CRP Grassland minimum rental rate. This benefits more than 1,300 counties with rates currently below the minimum.

Enhanced Natural Resource Benefits

To boost impacts for natural resources, FSA is:

  • Moving State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practices to the CRP continuous signup. Unlike the general signup, producers can sign up year-round for the continuous signup and be eligible for additional incentives.
  • Establishing National Grassland Priority Zones. This aims to increase enrollment of grasslands in migratory corridors and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Making Highly Erodible Land Initiative (HELI) practices available in both the general and continuous signups.

Expanding Prairie Pothole Soil Health and Watershed Programs

CRP has two pilot programs ― the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP) and the Clean Lakes, Estuaries and Rivers 30-year contracts (CLEAR30).

  • For SHIPP, which is a short-term option (3, 4, or 5-year contracts) for farmers to plant cover on less productive agricultural lands, FSA will hold a 2021 signup in the Prairie Pothole states.
  • The CLEAR30 pilot, a long-term option through CRP, will be expanded from the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay pilot regions to nationwide.

Increasing Technical Assistance Capacity to Establish Robust Mechanisms for Measurement, Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of Soil Carbon

USDA technical assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is critical to enable producers to plan and implement appropriate conservation practices for their needs. Under this initiative, NRCS will also initiate a soil sampling protocol to help establish a baseline for soil carbon on land enrolled in CRP. To ensure increased enrollment and support for producers, USDA is increasing NRCS technical assistance capacity for CRP by $140 million.

Additionally, in order to better target the program toward climate outcomes, USDA will invest $10 million in the CRP Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation (MAE) program to measure and monitor the soil carbon and climate resilience impacts of conservation practices over the life of new CRP contracts. This will enable the agency to further refine the program and practices to provide producers tools for increased climate resilience.

To learn more about updates to CRP, download our “What’s New with CRP” fact sheet(PDF, 122 KB).

Partnership Programs Contribute to Priorities

In addition to changes to CRP, Secretary Vilsack also announced significant investments for climate-smart policies. First, NRCS is investing $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to address climate change and other natural resources challenges. NRCS will announce more details on the RCPP project selections on April 26.

Second, NRCS is investing $25 million in proposals for On-Farm Trials, which are part of the Conservation Innovation Grants program. NRCS is seeking proposals through June 21. Project priorities include climate-smart agricultural solutions and soil health practices.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity, and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including state, local, and tribal governments.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Manage cool-season perennial grasses now for a successful grazing season

 

 

By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture

 

Fast Facts:

·       Many grasses can be fertilized throughout the spring and summer

·       Some deficiencies may not be apparent to the naked eye

·       Soil testing key to meeting the needs of the pasture

 

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With spring temperatures on the horizon, many ranchers and pasture managers are looking to their calendar, deciding when to turn cattle out for grazing or planning that first cut of hay. 

 

Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said producers should first take look at the condition of their pastures, and make sure they’re setting themselves up for success.

 

“It’s time to give your pastures some love,” Philipp said. 

 

He said the first step for producers to ensure a good grazing season is to walk through their pastures and assess the condition of the forage base, asking a few key questions along the way.

 

“Did the species composition change from the year prior?” Philipp said. “Do you see any kind of novel weed plants you normally don’t see there? Do you still have a 75 percent or greater coverage of your main forage base?”

 

Producers who plan to sell hay such as bermudagrass, and are looking to establish a clean stand of forage, should apply herbicides while both the grass and weeds are still dormant, Philipp said.

 

“Take a soil sample if you forgot to do so last fall,” he said. “This will help in assessing the needs for replacing macro-nutrients besides the nitrogen. Don’t let major nutrient deficiencies crop up over the years — it is very expensive to correct major deficiencies, especially potassium.

 

“Fescue is resilient, and you may not be able to judge deficiencies just from looking at the foliage such as is the case with orchardgrass,” Philipp said. 

 

If growers haven’t already been applying nitrogen fertilizers to cool-season perennial grasses, time is running out on that opportunity, Phillip said. 

 

“Ideally, you would apply 60-70 pounds of nitrogen in early to mid-March,” he said. “Orchardgrass, especially, is very responsive to nitrogen fertilization and will lose vigor rapidly if not fertilized.”

 

Philipp said growers should look for yellowish leaves and weak growth in orchardgrass, which are tell-tale signs that nitrogen is missing. However, hope is not lost if March came and went without fertilization.

 

“You can apply nitrogen fertilizer anytime during spring, but you obviously want to catch the major growth phase between March and early Summer,” he said.  

 

Additionally, some forages require calibrated management to thrive. Forages such as orchardgrass, for example, need to be defoliated to maintain a healthy stand and to avoid a buildup of decayed leaves.

 

Philipp recommended stocking cattle on cool-season perennials when the canopy is about 18–24 inches. 

 

“What’s important is to start grazing in the vegetative phase before plants reach maturity, but remove animals on time to retain enough leaf material for regrowth,” he said. “This means producers should find the ‘sweet spot,’ moving cattle to new paddocks and then removing them before the canopy becomes grazed too short.”

 

To learn more about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu

 

 

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

 

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Overcoming obstacles: farm security and legal updates to be provided at 2021 Virtual Summit

 

Register before rates increase April 16!

 

April 6, 2021 – Animal rights activists continue to create obstacles for farms, processing facilities, grocery stores, animal agriculture companies and others involved in the supply chain working to provide consumers with safe, affordable animal protein. Panels at the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s 2021 Virtual Summit will address new activist trends that have emerged and provide best practices to protect farms and facilities. 

The Alliance’s annual Summit brings together thought leaders in the agriculture and food industries to discuss hot-button issues and out-of-the-box ideas to connect everyone along the food chain, engage influencers and protect the future of animal agriculture. The 2021 event, themed “Obstacles to Opportunities,” is scheduled for May 5-6 with preconference webinars planned for the five business days prior, beginning Wednesday, April 28. 

 

“Taking advantage of people when they are most vulnerable is a disgrace, but that’s just what animal rights activists have done during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hannah Thompson-Weeman, Alliance vice president of strategic engagement. “While the rest of the world was focused on mitigating the effects of the global public health crisis, these groups continued to mercilessly push their vegan and anti-animal agriculture agendas. Our security and legal panels will discuss the obstacles created by animal rights groups over the past year and dive into opportunities to safeguard the future of the animal agriculture community.”

 

In the “Overcoming Obstacles: Activist Update & Security Advice” panel, speakers will provide an update on animal rights activists’ efforts to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis, protests outside of company CEO’s homes, trespasses onto farms and more. But, most importantly they will share how attendees can overcome these obstacles by implementing proactive security and crisis planning measures. The expert panel includes:

 

  • John Sancenito, President, INA, Inc.
  • Jim Naugle, Assistant Sheriff, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
  • Nancy Daigneault, Principal & Founder, On Point Communications

 

Directly following the security panel, legal updates will be provided as part of the “Navigating the Legal Landscape” session. Animal agriculture is on trial in the court of public opinion as animal rights activists spread misinformation about animal welfare, sustainability and other key issues. However, animal rights activists are also taking their plight to the actual courtroom as they bring coordinated litigation against farms and companies. Attendees will learn about the topics and trends that affect your businesses and organizations, including proactive steps that may be taken to avoid litigation issues and best practices on how to navigate the legal landscape with these groups. Seasoned agriculture law attorneys serving on the panel include:

 

  • Michelle Pardo, Partner, Duane Morris LLP
  • Brianna Schroeder, Partner, Janzen Schroeder Ag Law

 

The full Virtual Summit agenda is available on the Virtual Summit registration website. Sessions will highlight ways to position animal agriculture as a path forward to climate neutrality, how to elevate the voices of farmers in dialogues surrounding food and agriculture, and strategies for virtual stakeholder and influencer engagement.

 

Be sure to check the Virtual Summit website for the most up-to-date information and to register. You can also follow the hashtag #AAA21 for periodic updates about the event. For general questions about the Summit please contact summit@animalagalliance.org or call (703) 562-5160.

 

Get involved:

Show your support for the Alliance’s outreach efforts by becoming an official Summit sponsor today! For 2021 sponsorship opportunities, please visithttps://animalagalliance.org/initiatives/stakeholders-summit/For more information, contact Casey Kinler at ckinler@animalagalliance.org.  

 

Thank you to our 2021 Summit sponsors: Watt Global Media, Farm Journal, Meatingplace, National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Smithfield, National Pork Board, American Feed Industry Association, United Soybean Board, United Egg Producers, Country Folks, Dairy MAX, Farm Credit, National Biodiesel Board, Cobb Vantress, Inc., Protect the Harvest, Progressive Dairy, The National Provisioner, Kemin, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Veal Association, National Chicken Council, Trans Ova Genetics, Vivayic, Mountaire Farms, North Carolina Farm Bureau and Eggland’s Best.

 

The Alliance also thanks the following members for their continued support of Summit and other Alliance programs: U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, Zoetis, Merck Animal Health, C.O.nxt, Diamond V, Genus PLC – PIC/ABS, Aviagen Group, Boehringer Ingelheim, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, Hendrix Genetics, Hy-Line North America, LLC, Iowa Soybean Association, Midwest Dairy, National Turkey Federation, Nutrien, Provimi North America, Inc., Seaboard Foods and Tyson Foods Inc.

 

About the Alliance:

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is an industry-united, nonprofit organization that helps bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. We connect key food industry stakeholders to arm them with responses to emerging issues. We engage food chain influencers and promote consumer choice by helping them better understand modern animal agriculture. We protect by exposing those who threaten our nation’s food security with damaging misinformation. 


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