California secures more than $12 million in USDA invasive species funding

Dozer with his handler, Jennifer Berger

California’s Detector Dog Program is receiving more than $3 million for its vitally important work to detect invasive species at shipping and postal facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has allocated $58.25 million from Section 10007 of the 2014 Farm Bill. This money will support 434 projects that prevent the introduction or spread of plant pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and the environment and ensure the availability of a healthy supply of clean plant stock in the United States. Funding will be provided to 50 States plus Guam and Puerto Rico to implement projects suggested by universities, States, Federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, non-profits and Tribal organizations.

California, as the largest agricultural producer in the country, will receive more than $12.3 million for 36 projects, including $3,180,597 for its Detector Dog Program, $3 million for crucial and ongoing exotic fruit fly surveys, and $1,750,961 for emergency response plant health programs.

Since the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted, APHIS has funded more than 1,200 projects that have played a significant role in our efforts to protect American agriculture. Collectively, these projects make it possible for us to quickly detect and rapidly respond to invasive pests.

They also help our country maintain the infrastructure necessary for making sure that disease-free, certified planting materials are available to U.S. specialty crop producers.

The Farm Bill provided $62.5 million for these programs in fiscal year 2016, though funding was reduced by sequestration. The FY 2016 Section 10007 of the 2014 Farm Bill spending plan is available on the APHIS Web site at www.aphis.usda.gov/farmbill.

The public can help protect America’s agricultural and natural resources by being aware of invasive pests and the damage they cause. APHIS created the Hungry Pests public outreach program to empower Americans with the knowledge they need to leave these “hungry pests” behind. Visit www.HungryPests.com to learn more about invasive plant pest and diseases impacting your area and how you can help, and check out CDFA’s Report A Pest site with links to additional resources.

Link to news release

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Scientists identify new method to turn Ag waste into useful products – from Phys.org

In the lab, researchers use engineered bacteria to brew green chemicals that can be used in a wide range of useful products. Credit: University of Minnesota

In the lab, researchers use engineered bacteria to brew ‘green’ chemicals that can be used in a wide range of useful products. Credit: University of Minnesota

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have engineered a new synthetic biopathway that can more efficiently and cost-effectively turn agricultural waste, like corn stover and orange peels, into a variety of useful products ranging from spandex to chicken feed.

The groundbreaking study was published (this week) in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

For years, have been looking for more sustainable sources for the raw materials used to make the products we use every day. Recently, biomass made from corn or sugarcane is used in manufacturing of a wide range of non- products from plastics to fuel. However, use of food to make inedible products is controversial because it affects the food supply and can elevate food prices.

 

n this study, researchers looked at turning inedible biological byproducts, that scientists call lignocelluloslic biomass, to produce useful products to avoid the “food versus chemical” purposes. They specifically looked at the process to use to produce butanediol (BDO) that is used to produce more than 1 billion pounds of spandex each year used in clothing and home furnishings. In 2010, it was estimated that spandex was used in 80 percent of all clothing.

To establish the platform pathway, researchers examined the gene sequences from bacteria and fungi that turn the biomass into tricarboxylic acid (TCA) intermediates. The researchers call this new metabolism “nonphosphorylative metabolism,” which enables the production of useful products from TCA cycle with less than five steps, compared to previous 10 steps. Less steps in the process resulted in a 70 percent higher yield in production and a process that is overall better for the environment.

What excited researchers the most was that this pathway could be used for more than just producing BDO for spandex. It can be used to produce a variety of useful products.

“We found that this new platform could be used to convert to chemicals that can be used for many other ranging from chicken feed to flavor enhancers in food,” said the study’s lead researcher Kechun Zhang, a chemical engineering and materials science assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering.

“The pathway we developed was sustainable so it is better for the environment. This study is also one of the few examples of artificial metabolic pathways constructed so far,” Zhang added.

Explore further: Researchers improve process to create renewable chemicals from plants (w/ Video)

More information: Engineering nonphosphorylative metabolism to generate lignocellulose-derived products, Nature Chemical Biology, DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.2020

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-02-scientists-synthetic-biopathway-agriculture-green.html#jCp

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USDA releases Preliminary Grape Crush Report for California

SACRAMENTO, February 10, 2016 – The 2015 crush totaled 3,862,385 tons, down 7 percent from the 2014 crush of 4,144,534 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,037,083 tons, down 5 percent from 2014. The 2015 white wine variety crush totaled 1,662,159 tons, down 5 percent from 2014. Tons crushed of raisin type varieties totaled 92,432, down 41 percent from 2014, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 70,711, down 25 percent from 2014. The 2015 average price of all varieties was $667.31, down 10 percent from 2014. Average prices for the 2015 crop by type were as follows: red wine grapes, $783.58, down 12 percent from 2014; white wine grapes, $538.67, down 10 percent from 2014; raisin grapes, $247.52, up 6 percent; and table grapes, $252.63, up 8 percent.

2015CaliforniaGrapeCrushDollarsPerTon

In 2015, Chardonnay continued to account for the largest percentage of the total crush volume with 16.4 percent. Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for the second leading percentage of crush with 11.8 percent. The next eight highest percentages of grapes crushed included only wine grape varieties. Thompson Seedless, the leading raisin grape variety crushed for 2015, held 2.0 percent of the total crush.

2015LeadingGrapeVarietiesCrushed

Grapes produced in District 4 (Napa County) received the highest average price of $4,328.75 per ton, up 6 percent from 2014. District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties) received the second highest return of $2,440.74, up 5 percent from 2014. The 2015 Chardonnay price of $785.87 was down 9 percent from 2014, and the Cabernet Sauvignon price of $1,302.74 was also down 9 percent from 2014. The 2015 average price for Zinfandel was $573.33, down 8 percent from 2014, while the Merlot average price was down 5 percent from 2014 at $738.08 per ton. The Preliminary Grape Crush Report includes all grape tonnage crushed during the 2015 season. It also includes purchased tonnage and pricing information for grapes with final prices prior to January 10, 2015. The March 10, 2016 Final Grape Crush Report will contain any late reports or corrections to the preliminary report. The entire Grape Crush Report is available online at www.nass.usda.gov/ca.

 

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Cover crops, a farming revolution with deep roots in the past – from the New York Times

Rye

By Stephanie Strom

When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.

What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.

Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.

But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained.

So in 2010 the family decided to humor Mark by sowing some 1,200 acres, which Mark describes as highly eroded farmland, with wheat cleanings and cereal rye. Additionally, they spread some cover crops to eroded areas in a few fields.

The next spring, Doug had to admit that the soil texture on that strip was better. And the water that ran off it during a rainstorm was clear, a sign that the roots of the cover crops were anchoring valuable topsoil in place.

But Doug didn’t become a believer until 2013, when the family was grappling with a terrible drought. “In the part of a field where we had planted cover crops, we were getting 20 to 25 bushels of corn more per acre than in places where no cover crops had been planted,” he said. “That showed me it made financial sense to do this.”

Now some 13,000 of the 20,000 acres that the family farms across nine counties are planted with cover crops after harvesting, and farmers around them are beginning to embrace the practice.

Cover crops are coming back in other areas of the country, too. The practice of seeding fields between harvests not only keeps topsoil in place, it also adds carbon to the soil and helps the beneficial microbes, fungus, bacteria and worms in it thrive.

These properties have led philanthropies like the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to underwrite research on cover crops, while Monsanto, together with the Walton Family Foundation, recently put up the money to support the Soil Health Partnership, a five-year project of the National Corn Growers Association to identify, test and measure the impact of cover cropping and other practices to improve soil health.

Cover cropping is still used only by a small minority of farmers. When the Agriculture Department asked for the first time about cover cropping for its 2012 Census of Agriculture report, just 10.3 million acres — out of about 390 million total acres of farmland sown in crops — on 133,124 farms were planted with cover crops. The next census won’t be done until 2017, but experts say that the practice has spread. In an annual survey of about 1,200 farmers, the mean acreage reported as being sown in cover crops was 259 in 2014. That was double the mean reported by respondents in 2010, though results are not directly comparable because different farmers may have been involved in the surveys, said a spokesman for the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, a federal government program, which conducted the survey.

Interest in cover crops is coming from buyers, too. Dan Barber, a prominent chef who uses locally grown foods, has championed incorporating cover crops like clover and millet into cuisine as a way of encouraging farmers to grow them.

The Blue Ox Malthouse in Maine was established to coax farmers there to grow barley as a cover crop, which the company then turns into malt that is sold to the state’s craft beer industry. Half a dozen farmers are producing good-quality barley as a cover crop, and others “are interested in turning the grains they’ve been growing as cover crops into something there’s a value-added market for,” said Joel Alex, Blue Ox’s founder and maltster.

One measure of how rapidly the practice is growing is the booming demand for cover crop seeds. Keith Berns, a fourth-generation family farmer in central Nebraska, started making cover-crop seed mixtures in 2010, and the business “just kind of took off,” Mr. Berns said.

He and his brother, Brian, turned what started as a hobby into a thriving enterprise. This year, Green Cover Seed, their company, will sell enough seed to cover 500,000 acres in cover crops.

Last fall, the Berns brothers were recognized as White House Champions of Change for Sustainable and Climate-Smart Agriculture. “We have been kind of surprised at how fast our business has grown,” Keith said. “The reason is that because it’s working agronomically and doing what it’s advertised to do.”

Modern farming practices like applying fertilizer and herbicides and not tilling their fields, or “no till,” have helped farmers increase yields and reduced labor, but they have also unintentionally interfered with root systems, increased erosion and disrupted underground microbial activity and insect life that are vital to plant and soil health. (Many farmers deploying cover crops continue to use herbicides, although often less than they did in the past, but they often can do without fertilizers.)

“We’ve concentrated on the physical and chemical aspects of farming but not the biological,” said Dan DeSutter, who farms 5,000 acres near Attica, Ind.

Mr. DeSutter began fooling around with cover crops about 17 years ago, after Purdue University used one of his fields for research trials. One spring he was repairing a drainage tile in the test field and came across the deep, webbed root system that some Oregon ryegrass had put into the soil.

“I thought to myself, I have been pulling the guts out of my tractor to remove compaction 14 inches deep with a ripper,” Mr. DeSutter said, “and this plant has just bored a system of micropores four feet deep between cash crops all on its own.”

Today, all 5,000 acres he farms are sown after the harvest of corn and soy with a mixture of as many as 12 different crops, including sunflower, sorghum, buckwheat, turnips and hairy vetch, each of which delivers a different benefit. Most die off in the winter and decompose, leaving behind a rich layer of organic matter that gradually sinks into the earth. Farmers use a planter or seed drill to punch the seeds for their cash crops into the decaying cover crop.

Before cultivation, Indiana was blanketed in prairie grasses and forest, and the carbon content of the soil was as high as 10 percent in places. Today, after decades of tillage, which moves carbon from the soil into the atmosphere, and monocropping, the level on many farms is below 2 percent, Mr. Fisher said. Cover crops restore organic matter back into the soil, at a rate of about 1 percent every five years.

“As we put carbon back into the soil, it gives us a bigger tank to store water naturally,” Mr. DeSutter said. “This is one way we build resilience into the system.”

The adoption of cover cropping has been especially rapid in Indiana — about one million of the 12.5 million acres of farmland there are planted with cover crops between harvests. A strong collaboration between Purdue University and state and federal farm services gave birth to the Indiana Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative, a program that offers education and research to farmers in the state.

Rob Myers, director of extension programs for the north central region of SARE, and a professor at the University of Missouri, said Maryland also ranked high in the use of cover crops. The state reimburses farmers for the cost of cover crop seed and has been informing them about the impact that fertilizer runoff has on Chesapeake Bay.

Despite the support for cover cropping in Indiana, there is still resistance to change. Farmers are notoriously reluctant to offer their neighbors advice about farming, and cover cropping carries with it an implicit criticism of practices — reliance on fertilizers and pesticides, and so forth — that farmers for the last generation have used to increase productivity and reduce work.

“All those old guys sitting around shooting the breeze at the feed store get real quiet when I pull up,” Mr. DeSutter said, only half in jest.

Neighbors have made pointed comments about his “messy” fields. The fields sown with a cover crop cocktail are often blanketed in dying, decaying and thriving plants at the same time. In December, spindly black stalks, the remnants of sunflowers, shot up here and there from one of Mr. DeSutter’s fields, which were covered in a yellowing broadleaf and bright green hairy vetch.

But the biggest obstacle to more farmers adopting cover crops is the lack of data and research on their benefits. “Fewer of our neighbors think we’re crazy than when we started planting cover crops, but there’s still a lot of skepticism out there,” said Rodney Rulon, whose family farms 6,200 acres in northeastern Indiana and plants about four-fifths of them with cover crops.

Rulon Enterprises, the family business, has begun collecting data on some of its fields. He has found, for instance, an increase in organic matter and higher corn yields — an average of 12.8 bushels an acre more in one of his cover-cropped fields, said Mr. Rulon, who shared some of this data in December at the 70th Corn & Sorghum Seed Research Conference.

“You really start seeing a difference in your soil within two or three years,” Mr. Rulon said.

The Rulons spend about $100,000 a year on cover crop seed, or about $26 an acre. But they also saved about $57,000 on fertilizer they no longer needed, and bigger yields mean about $107,000 in extra income.

Including the value of improved soil quality, less erosion and other improvements, Mr. Rulon estimates that Rulon Enterprises gets about $244,000 of net economic benefit from cover crops annually, or a little more than $69 an acre.

The federal government is mulling ways to persuade farmers to adopt cover cropping. There is a small subsidy system; Rulon Enterprises, for instance, gets $40,000 to help offset the cost of cover crops and support other conservation practices.

But Mr. Rulon and Mr. DeSutter believe that landowners are the real key to taking cover crops mainstream. Most farmers work some fields leased from absentee owners, and thus have less incentive to maintain and invest in improving soil quality on that land.

“Why should landowners see the value of their land diminished because the soil on it has become unhealthy?” said Mr. DeSutter. “I’d like to see landowners give preferential treatment to farmers who are working to improve the value of the land they lease by using cover crops.”

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World Ag Expo underway in Tulare

CDFA Undersecretary Jim Houston (left of podium) at today's opening ceremonies for the annual World Ag Expo in Tulare.

CDFA Undersecretary Jim Houston (left of podium) at today’s opening ceremonies for the annual World Ag Expo in Tulare.

CDFA presence at the World Ag Expo includes this booth to promote citrus health and provide information about the Department's Asian citrus psyllid/huanglongbing program

CDFA’s presence includes this booth to promote citrus health and provide information about the Department’s Asian citrus psyllid/huanglongbing program

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USDA awards $20 million in grants for huanglongbing research

oranges

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded $20.1 million in grants to university researchers for research and extension projects to help citrus producers fight Huanglongbing (HLB), commonly known as citrus greening disease. This funding is available through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program (CDRE), which was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

“Citrus greening has affected more than 75 percent of Florida citrus crops and threatens production all across the United States,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The research and extension projects funded today bring us one step closer to providing growers real tools to fight this disease, from early detection to creating long-term solutions for the industry, producers and workers.”

The SCRI program addresses critical needs of the specialty crop industry by awarding grants to support research and extension activities that address key challenges of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.

HLB was initially detected in Florida in 2005 and has since affected the vast majority of Florida’s citrus-producing areas. It has also been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas and several residential trees in California. It has also been detected in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 14 states in Mexico. A total of 15 U.S. states or territories are under full or partial quarantine due to the detected presence of the Asian citrus psyllid, a vector for HLB. Those states include Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Fiscal year 2015 grants include:

  • University of California, Riverside, Calif., $3,990,772
  • University of Central Florida, Orlando, Fla., $1,975,000
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $2,800,000
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $3,999,508
  • USDA Agricultural Research Service, Ithaca, N.Y., $1,951,763
  • New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos, N.M., $3,320,000
  • Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $2,115,000

Research at the University of California will use virulence proteins from the pathogen to detect its presence before symptoms appear and to develop strategies for creating citrus rootstocks that are immune to HLB. Research at the University of Florida and Washington State University will focus on growing the putative pathogenic bacterium in artificial culture, which will greatly facilitate research efforts to manage HLB. Another project at the University of Florida will develop morpholino-based bactericides to reduce pathogen transmission and eliminate infections in existing trees. Information about all of the projects funded this year can be found online.

Link to news release

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Souper Bowl of Caring raises more than $1.7 million (so far) to help fight hunger

logoEach Super Bowl season the charity organization Souper Bowl of Caring mobilizes to raise money to help fight hunger. The group came together in 1990, driven largely by the energy of young people collecting donations and sending the money directly to local charities like soup kitchens and food banks. More than $100 million has been raised over the last 26 years, including more than $1.7 million (and going up) this year.

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The Super Bowl and chicken, joined at the wing

Super Bowl - Chicken

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Meet a former NFL player who chose farming instead – from CBS News

This is a profile in 2014 of Jason Brown, who walked away from an NFL career to become a farmer with a commitment to feed the hungry.

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Converting Feed to Dairy Foods, illustrated

CDRF-Infographic-8.5-x-11-in

Link to California Dairy Research Foundation

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