India’s bold plan to achieve 33 per cent tree cover through agroforestry

(World Congress on Agroforesty) There is a sanskrit verse that includes the words ‘ten sons are equal to one tree’. If India is to achieve its ambitious goal of 33 per cent tree cover through agroforestry, then a great many sons (and daughters too) need to be involved. (More).

Policies and pollinators: How the feds deepen the precipitous decline of monarchs

(Kate Langlois for High Country News) The numbers are in from Mexico, and they ain’t pretty. Every fall, monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles from the Great Plains to their winter grounds in central Mexico, where they’re scrupulously counted by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1996, the overwintering monarchs blanketed 45 acres of forest. This year, they cover only about 1.6 acres, and the population – already at its lowest ever recorded – has dropped by half again since just last year. Scientists fear that one of North America’s greatest migrations is in its death throes. (More).

Agroecology as an organizing principle

(by Gawain Kripke - Oxfam America)

What I knew or had heard about agroecology was pretty jumbled and a bit vague. So I spent a couple of days learning what agroecology really means from colleagues and experts, and also thinking about how an organization like Oxfam can approach this idea.

I came a away with a rough idea that agroecological approaches are characterized by:

  • making maximal use of indigenous knowledge, techniques, nutrients, biomass, and localized resources;
  • minimizing loss of soil nutrients and orient towards close-loop systems;
  • improving and restoring soil conditions, coverage, increasing soil organic matter and nutrients;
  • understanding and promoting biodiversity, and biological interactions and synergies; and
  • seeking to align agricultural production strategies to take advantage – and facilitate – these for purposes like pest management, weed control, waste management.


Traditional Apple Production in Japan

Photographer Jane Alden Stevens has a beautiful photo essay on traditional apple production in Japan that is absolutely worth checking out here.


It’s interesting to me that wild bee numbers are as scarce as they are—requiring hand pollination of these crops (I do know of other apple growers in Aomori who use native mason bees for pollination). Having lived in the rural south of Japan, I’ve been pretty awestruck at the wild insect populations in that part of the country. Aomori is a much cooler climate, which is no doubt a factor.

In any case, enjoy. -EM

Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raises Hope and Fear in Farming

Interesting article from the NYT on the future of pesticides. As the next generation of GMO technology, this is worth paying attention. The battle for our age will be the fight to wrestle food production away from technocrats, to re-democratize it, and to build a new foundation based upon the principles of ecology. Food isn’t a video game. Anyway, enough ranting, here is the article. -EM

Soil water sensors can help give precise irrigation needs

This is an interesting article for growers looking to reduce irrigation costs and conserve water. As the article mentions, NRCS cost share funds may be available for the acquisition/adoption of these units. I’m typically skeptical of technological fixes for conservation farming, but in a climate change era, this type of technology at first glance looks scalable, meaningful, and profitable. - EM


(Gary Stone, University of Nebraska Extension) Soil water sensors are instruments placed in a field to monitor soil water content and crop water use from a growing crop. They can also be placed in fallow or just-harvested dryland winter wheat fields to monitor off-season soil water content from trapped precipitation.

A number of different soil water sensors can be used to manage irrigation water, including individual resistance type and capacitance type. (More)

Cover Crops and Soil Health Forum to take place this winter at hundreds of locations nationwide

(From the fine folks at SARE!) The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program is conducting a free, live broadcast of the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health and discuss how to build soil health, improve yields, curb erosion, manage pests and build resilience in your farming system. On Feb. 18, locations in every state across the country will host Cover Crops and Soil Health Forums where farmers will have the opportunity to learn from one another while exploring local and national perspectives on cover crops.

Facilitated discussions on local issues pertaining to cover crops will follow a live-streamed broadcast of opening sessions from the national conference, including a dialogue with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (invited) and Howard G. Buffett, plus a panel discussion with expert farmers. Because the national conference attendance is limited, the local forums represent a way to include farmers, educators and researchers across the country in the emerging conversation about the use and benefits of cover crops.

"This will be a great opportunity for farmers interested in cover crops and soil health to meet up with like-minded individuals from their local area to discuss both local and national issues related to cover crops," said Dr. Rob Myers, conference chairman and Regional Director of Extension Programs, North Central Region SARE. "We hope that farmers will come prepared with questions and ideas that they can feed back to USDA about programs and assistance needed for cover crops and soil health."

Attendees of the local forums will also have the opportunity to contribute ideas and comments on cover crops and soil health back to the leadership group at the national conference. These comments will be collected by staff at the local sites as part of the local discussion process.

The Cover Crops and Soil Health Forums will be held on Feb. 18 at over 200 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Extension offices nationwide, and are being organized in conjunction with the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Neb. Both the national conference and the local forums are jointly funded by SARE and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, with planning support from NRCS, the Midwest Cover Crops Council and the Soil and Water Conservation Society. The Omaha conference is invitation only; the local forums are open to the public.

For more information about the Cover Crops and Soil Health Forums and a list of forum locations, visit

North Central SARE funded a national survey of farmers who have grown cover crops, and found that during the 2012 drought, corn and soybean fields that had been cover cropped yielded 9.6 percent to 14.3 percent better than fields that had not been cover cropped. And with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million acres of cover crops planted in 2012, the practice is increasingly recognized as key to sustainability, productivity and profitability.

Please RSVP to ensure adequate seating and to get specific details about the forum as programs will vary by location. Live streaming from the national conference will begin at forum locations at 9 am Central Standard Time, except at Pacific Standard Time locations, where the broadcast will begin at 10 am.

Profitable Prairie Restoration: The EcoSun Prairie Farm Experiment

(Journal of Soil and Water Conservation)  Ongoing conversion of grassland to cropland in the northern Great Plains, declining wildlife populations and worsening soil and water quality prompted a South Dakota group to search for agricultural practices that would balance environmental concerns with farm economics. Thus was born the EcoSun Prairie Farm, an experimental working farm based on the land ethic and philosophy of Aldo Leopold. (More)

Pesticide ‘contaminating’ Prairie Wetlands

(CBC Radio Canada) A University of Saskatchewan biologist says many wetlands across the Prairies are being contaminated by a relatively new pesticide that is threatening the ecosystem.

Christy Morrissey says that over the past few years neonicotinoids have been used increasingly on crops in Western Canada and the chemical is making its way into wetlands, potentially having a devastating “domino effect” on insects and the birds that rely on them.

'The impact on biodiversity could be probably bigger than we've ever seen before.'—​Christy Morrissey, biologist

Morrissey is just a year and a half into a four-year study, but she’s alarmed by what she’s finding.

"This is huge" Morrissey said. "The impact on biodiversity could be probably bigger than we’ve ever seen before if we keep going at this rate." (More)

The Future is Agroecology

(Colin Tudge and Graham Harvey for the Ecologist)

The way to a sustainable, people-centred agriculture lies in agroecology - farming based on ecological principles, taking account of the interdependence of all living things. (more)

Ethanol causing problems across the Midwest

(Associated Press) CORYDON, Iowa — The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.

Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. (More)

Agroforestry vs. Wine in Oregon

In Oregon’s Wine Country, Family Holds Onto Oak Tradition

(Northwest News Network)

In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, you don’t see a lot of oak trees anymore. Spacious oak savannas have been replaced by farms and vineyards. Economists are predicting a global wine shortage, and that means demand for Northwest grapes will only grow. (More)

Grasslands Get Squeezed As Another 1.6 Million Acres Go Into Crops

(From NPR News)

Today’s number: 1.6 million.

That’s 1.6 million acres — about the area of the state of Delaware.

That’s how much land was removed this year from the federal , or CRP, which pays farmers to keep land covered with native grasses or sometimes trees. Most of that land now will produce crops like corn or wheat.

It’s a sign of the shifting economic tides that are transforming America’s farming landscape. (more)



Environmental Ruin and Plantation Labor in America’s 50th State

By Eric Lee-Mäder

“Sir, do you have any papayas, mangos, avocados, or other fruit in your luggage?” I’m standing in the Honolulu airport security checkpoint after making my way through the various scanning devices that x-ray my luggage and take nude pictures of me through my clothes. I’m just a few feet away from the sanctioned anonymity of fast food counters and duty-free perfume, but there’s a uniformed USDA inspector trying to pull me aside.

“Sir, do you have any papayas, mangos, avocados, or other fruit in your luggage?”

I try not to make eye contact, and for a moment, I think about running. But the guy continues to motion for me. “Sir…”

Before I get on my flight back to the mainland, I will know more about the airport security process than I ever wanted to know. And I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on exactly how I became an avocado smuggler. The story is tied up in the history of the islands themselves—and the history of Hawaiian agriculture in particular—which to this day, has retained many colonial characteristics like low wages, institutional racism, and trashed native ecosystems. But for a moment, let’s stick with avocados.

Read More

National Webinar Announced on New USDA Cover Crop Termination Policy

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will host a national webinar on January 23, 2014, to discuss the USDA’s recent efforts to assure greater uniformity and clarity on its policy related to farmers who currently grow cover crops or may grow them in the future.

The webinar will address the critical question that the new policy is designed to answer:

  • When and how can cover crops be terminated without jeopardizing valuable crop insurance coverage of the cash crops grown with them?

This policy arose out of the concern that farmers planting cover crops could lose their eligibility for crop insurance coverage of the following crop. The new policy addresses this concern, using science-based cover crop management guidelines accepted across USDA agencies.

The webinar will feature speakers from the USDA task force that crafted the new cover crop termination policy, and there will be ample opportunity for farmers and other webinar participants to ask questions about how the policy will work on the ground.

The webinar is funded in part by the USDA Risk Management Agency through the Risk Management Education Partnership Program and will bring together four cover crop policy experts: 

Rob Myers, Regional Director of Extension Programs for the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program, will introduce the topic by providing background on cover crop use and the need for termination policy change. 

Tim Hoffmann, Director of Product Administration and Standards Division with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA), will discuss the policy as it relates to crop insurance coverage and compliance. 

Norm Widman, National Agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will walk participants through the new guidelines and how they implicate existing conservation practices.

Jeff Schahczenski, Agriculture Policy and Funding Research Director with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), will kick off the extensive question and answer period by addressing some specific issues with the new policy˙s impact on grain farmers in the Great Plains, where wheat-fallow rotations remain a persistent practice. 

Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director, and Sophia Kruszewski, NSAC Policy Specialist, will be on hand to moderate questions.

The Webinar will take place on January 23, 2014, between 2:00 and 3:30 pm EST. 

The first half hour will consist of presentations by the four panelists, with the remaining time allocated for a question and answer session.  The webinar is primarily geared toward providing answers to questions from farmers and farm organizations, but participation is open to all, including certified crop advisors, crop insurance agents, and others.

The webinar is free and accessible by visiting: