Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Seed-based technology offers peace of mind from sorghum forage risk



Purdue’s Mitch Tuinstra (center) discusses the progress of prussic-acid free sorghum tests in west Texas with forage breeder Mauricio Barbosa (left) and molecular lab director Wayne Shen, both of S and W Seed Co. (Photo courtesy of Scott Staggenborg/S and W) 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Sorghum has served as a food and feed crop for thousands of years, yet it can become poisonous under drought or freezing conditions. The problem is dhurrin, which breaks down to form prussic acid, also known as hydrogen cyanide.

 But Purdue University’s Mitch Tuinstra, professor of plant breeding and genetics and scientific director of the Institute for Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture, has developed a dhurrin-free sorghum technology that will set farmers’ minds at ease. The S&W Seed Co. of Longmont, Colorado, has licensed the technology, which will be widely available to growers in 2023.

“Cyanide poisoning is something that people who graze cattle on sorghum always have to be concerned about. It doesn’t happen all that often. But when it does happen, it’s a serious thing. This technology eliminates that risk,” said Brent Bean, director of agronomy at the United Sorghum Checkoff Program in Lubbock, Texas. USCP is a producer-funded organization dedicated to improving the sorghum industry through research, promotion and education.

At $1,300 or more per steer, cattle are a big investment.

“You lose even one, that is a big downside to the bottom line,” Bean said.

Making cyanide helps sorghum fend off chewing insects and grazing animals. But farmers still use sorghum as a forage crop because it works well in high temperatures, it tolerates drought and it produces a lot of feed with fairly minimal input.


A field in west Texas where S and W Seed Co. is testing a prussic acid-free sorghum developed by Purdue’s Mitch Tuinstra. (Photo courtesy of Scott Staggenborg/S and W) 

“Sorghum is grown where it’s too hot and dry to grow other crops,” said Tuinstra, who also is Purdue’s Wickersham Chair of Excellence in Agriculture Research. “It’s grown where you don’t have other options. You can’t grow corn in these environments because it won’t survive.”

Farmers who grow sorghum in such environments have to manage it carefully to minimize the risk.

“Every farmer I talk to has stories about animals having problems, either small problems or major problems,” said Tuinstra. “This is a technology that can help alleviate that concern.”

Tuinstra began thinking about removing dhurrin from sorghum in late 2008.

“I thought that would be interesting because we know the genes, the enzymes, the biochemistry, but many questions about dhurrin metabolism remain unanswered,” he said. “So, the next summer, we started producing the genetic materials for this study.”

Sorghum is used worldwide, including in Africa, Australia, North and South America, and South Asia.

“Sorghum is an important crop in any place you have a hot, dry climate. And with climate change, that’s potentially very important,” said Jay Hulbert, president and CEO of Ag Alumni Seed in Romney, Indiana. “There are areas in the U.S. and globally where people grow other crops, especially corn, where they’d probably be better off growing sorghum.”

Scott Staggenborg, S&W’s sorghum product marketing manager for the Americas, expressed excitement for the technology because it solves a problem in a widely used product. Growers are also enthused.

“I have people saying, ‘I’ll buy every bag you have,” Staggenborg said. He noted that the technology can work in any type of sorghum, including sorghum-sudangrass, a summer annual with a robust yield that is hard to match.

“Lots of cattle are grown in semiarid and arid environments. Sorghum-sudangrass is important globally because of its drought tolerance and heat tolerance,” Staggenborg said.

Tuinstra partnered with Hulbert to develop prototype varieties, a patent and a business plan for the technology. They had considered launching a seed company in Indiana, but they learned that sorghum seed production works better in dry climates.

“Indiana is great for a lot of things, but not necessarily for making sorghum seed on a large scale,” Hulbert said. This led them to the S&W Seed Co., which is running trials this year in west Texas on Tuinstra’s most promising hybrids.

“This is a classic example of how university research is supposed to work,” Hulbert said. “Mitch had an idea and started working on something successful that none of the sorghum seed companies were working on. Then we find a way to take it to farmers through commercial channels to the private sector.”

Another key aspect of the technology was working with the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, an agency that certifies seed quality. The ICIA patented a new seed-quality assay using dhurrin-free sorghum as the prototype. The assay makes it possible to test large lots of seed with a high-tech, DNA sequencing-based approach to quality assurance.    

“At Purdue University, we’re interested in developing transformative technologies that solve farmer challenges, and we’re trying to do that very broadly within Indiana, the U.S. and internationally,” Tuinstra said.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Veteran Women for the Land Project Releases Report

Findings Highlight Tangible Recommendations for the 
Pacific Northwest and Beyond 

Washington, D.C. – The Veteran Women for the Land project -- a partnership between American Farmland Trust, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Farmer Veteran Coalition-Washington Chapter, Annie’s Project, Rogue Farm Corps, Washington State Department Veterans Affairs, Washington Farmland Trust, Oregon State University Extension Services Small Farms Program, and Insight for Action -- released Veteran Women in Agriculture: A regional needs assessment for the Pacific Northwest”, which provides a synthesis of research to determine how to better serve this community, a group, the study shows, has a diverse set of needs, challenges and opportunities. 

Women are growing in prominence in agriculture. Forty-three percent of U.S. farmland – nearly 388 million acres – is now farmed or co-farmed by women. Veteran women bring a unique skill set and, for many, a direct need for healing and connection to agriculture. Agricultural organizations have not served this community adequately in the past, but this is changing. 

“AFT is honored to have expanded its Women for the Land work to veteran women with the support of our partners, said Gabrielle Roesch-McNally PhD, AFT Women for the Land Director. “We are working to serve veteran women farmers and landowners who face specific challenges and barriers in accessing the much needed and now more plentiful resources available to them. We hope this report will help other organizations do the same. 

“While the recommendations contained in this report were informed by local research, they are highly relevant for a broader audience,” said Addie Candib, AFT’s regional director for the Pacific Northwest. “It is our intention that this report serve as a catalyst for nationwide conversations about how we can – collectively - better serve women veterans who farm or who aspire to do so. 

"Farmer Veteran Coalition believes that our nation's women veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems,” said Isa Marie McIntyre, Army Combat Veteran and Grants Manager for Farmer Veteran Coalition. “We understand that women veterans are a diverse group with a unique set of challenges and needs. Through this project we hope to learn how to address these challenges so that we may better serve women veterans as they embark on a journey to serve their country again by feeding it." 

“There is an urgent need to connect and organize relevant resources and service providers so that we can enhance support for women veterans in farming and ranching. These resources and services also need to be rooted in the unique and diverse needs of this group. Collective action and coordination can address the gaps and barriers to prevent the success of women veterans in farming. There is a lot of work to be done, and this project is moving us in the right direction! I am grateful for the opportunity to participate and look forward to the next phase of bringing women Veterans together to foster a network of support.” - Teagan Moran, Oregon State University Extension, Small Farms Program 

Researchers interviewed 23 veterans and technical service providers, focusing on questions related to outreach strategies and programmatic needs of veteran women and their challenges to access resources. An advisory committee of members, interviewees, and other project partners reviewed the results and helped refine recommendations.  

Core themes explored in the report include: 1) Veteran women farmers are a diverse group; 2) Intersectional and layered barriers exist for veteran women in agriculture; 3) Outreach to veterans and carefully curated spaces for education and networking are important.  

The report includes a discussion of the core themes, illustrative tables with qualitative data examples, and synthesized broader programmatic implications for veteran women in agriculture. Finally, the report lists eleven tangible recommendations that could support improved programming outreach and engagement with veteran women.  

A livestream discussion of the report will be held (Thursday, November 17, noon PT/3 p.m. ET), on Facebook, LinkedIn,YouTube.

Veteran women may sign up to be notified about upcoming opportunities in agriculture and to connect, learn and build community through the Veteran Women for the Land project 



American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families.     

Contact: Lori Sallet, E: lsallet@farmland.org ● P: (410) 708.5940   


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Since 2008 Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) has been serving and educating veterans returning from military service wishing to become farmers or ranchers. Now FVC represents over 35,000 veteran farmers and ranchers across the United States. We cultivate a new generation of farmers and food leaders and develop viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

USDA Releases Nationwide Farmer, Rancher and Forest Manager Prospective Customer Survey


Are you a farmer, rancher or forest manager? Please share your vital feedback with USDA by taking a nationwide survey at farmers.gov/survey! The survey is completely anonymous, will take about 10 minutes to complete, is available in multiple languages, and will be open until March 31, 2023. The survey focuses on gathering feedback about the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency.

All farmers, ranchers and forest managers are encouraged to take the survey. USDA would especially like to hear from prospective customers: those who don’t know about USDA or have yet to work with USDA, and those who were unable to participate in the past. The survey will help USDA enhance support, improve programs and services, increase access, and advance equity for new and existing customers.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Purdue conference to offer insights into grazing research


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Heart of America Grazing Conference will take place Feb. 20-21 at the Ferdinand Community Center in Ferdinand. Hosted by the Indiana Forage Council, with input from Purdue Extension, the annual event will feature forage and grazing experts from across the nation.

Speakers will lead discussions on cutting-edge research in grazing, soil science and grazing options with cattle and small ruminants, among other key topics.

Keith Johnson, professor of agronomy at Purdue University, says, “Participants will have the opportunity to interact with a team of presenters on what is needed to develop and put in place an effective grazing plan. Ways to improve grazing efficiency, how to develop and maintain healthy soil and important recordkeeping items will be shared. There will be ample opportunity to interact with input providers at the tradeshow and to make connections with other attendees.”

Highlighted speakers include Greg Halich, University of Kentucky; Alan Franzluebbers, USDA-ARS North Carolina; and Johnny Rogers, coordinator, Amazing Grazing Project and North Carolina State University.

Registration information and additional details to be posted on the IFC website and Facebook page.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

National Sustainable Agriculture Program Launches New Interactive Website for Farmers

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has launched a new, interactive website for its ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program which provides trusted and practical tools for farmers. Since 1987, ATTRA has been a key resource for sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers. The new website is at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.

“For 35 years, ATTRA has been helping sustainable farmers grow healthy foods, expand their market opportunities, and diversify their farm businesses through our trusted knowledge base of practical information,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “With the launch of our new website, farmers and ranchers will have even more access to the ATTRA tools they’ve come to rely on.” 

The new ATTRA website features nearly 400 practical digital publications on everything from growing organic tomatoes to becoming an agrotourism destination. Each publication is free, and most now include the ability to listen to a publication in a variety of languages. The site makes available archived episodes of ATTRA’s weekly podcast series, Voices from the Field, and hundreds of how-to videos.

“Not only is ATTRA known for providing no-nonsense sustainable agriculture information, we’re also a powerful connector,” said ATTRA Director Margo Hale. “We’re proud to launch a peer-to-peer forum on the new website where producers can share best practices and learn from each other, in addition to having access to real-time one-on-one support from our team of sustainable agriculture specialists.” 

The new website improves one of ATTRA’s most-used tools, its internship hub. Farmers can post internship opportunities for free, and those seeking internships can browse a nationwide database of opportunities.

In addition to a digital publication library, multimedia hub, and interactive forum, the new ATTRA website includes a topic index to search for specific sustainable agriculture information. Users can connect with our team of sustainable agriculture experts, sign up for ATTRA’s Weekly Harvest newsletter, and bookmark our events calendar filled with free learning opportunities.

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture is a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology and is funded through a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development.




THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has six regional offices in Arkansas, California, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Montana, and Texas. Learn more and become a friend of NCAT at NCAT.ORG.