Thursday, April 10, 2014

Clemson Extension Research Farm

Today I returned to the Clemson Extension Research Center with my friend Madeline. We got the opportunity to see the cover crops and the wheat fully grown. We learned about the different research projects going on at the site as well. For example, we learned about the project they are doing with "Amy's Kitchen", which is an organic food company. It was interesting to hear about the different ways to receive grants for the program, which are given through the state and the federal government. We learned that the average grant they receive for a project is around $28,000, which covers a full-time field hand and the tools necessary for the study. 

In addition, we also learned about the crimson clover, which they were using as a cover crop. It was really pretty to see in the fields- we were told that they glean a couple hundred of pounds of the pink clovers, which are then shipped to other farms. 

Lastly, we learned a lot about nitrogen nodules- a major part of all healthy plants. These small nodules are visible on the roots of plants, and they produce a ton of nitrogen for the environment to use. 

Crimson Clover

Nitrogen Nodules

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Southern SARE Stories and Accomplishments

Southern SARE provides farmers, ranchers, and communities with financial backing to sustainable and innovative projects throughout the Southern regions. Southern SARE bridges the gap between farmers and buyers by funding a range of projects that improve farmers' ability to process, market, and deliver their products locally.
For example, Jonny Harris received grant money for crop cover research on his farm in Screvens, GA. "Georgia's soils are sandy and low in organic matter, which means they do a bad job in holding water and plant nutrients. In the trials, his soil's water- holding capacity has increased 15-20%, and soil organic matter has increased as much as 1%." In his trials, he planted 45 acre combinations of ryegrass, triticale, and crimson clover, followed by a cotton crop. As a result of planting a cover crop of ryegrass, his cotton yields amounted to 1,600 pounds of lint per acre. In comparison, he only had 1,100 pounds of lint per acre without the cover crop. Thanks to Southern SARE,  Jonny Harris found that forage cover crops improve soil health and provide high- quality hay for livestock.
To read more Southern SARE stories, use the following link to read 2013/2014 Report from the Field:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Overview of Organic Certification for Growers

The Cornell Small Farms Program Newsletter linked me to a publication by The National Young Farmers Coalition titled "Vegetable Grower's Guide to Organic Certification", which was a comprehensive and informative guide to the steps of becoming a certified organic grower.

Firstly I would like to inform readers that I am not necessarily pushing growers to become certified organic. Besides NOP (USDA's National Organic Program), there are other options for environmentally conscious farmers such as Certified Naturally Grown (, Certified Biodynamic (, and others.

Here are the basic rules for organic certification:
1. A minimum of 3 years without use of prohibited substances
2. Sufficient buffer zone between operation and conventional plots
3. Must maintain and build soil organic matter/ no erosion
4. Fertility management
5. No soil/ groundwater leaching, no water pollution
6. Raw manure must be applied at least 120 days before harvest for plants on ground an 90 days before harvest for plants not on the ground.
7. Organic seed must be used when available.
8. No use of treated seeds
9. Use of strictly organic transplants
10. Organic planting stock when available
11. Manual control of disease and pest prevention
12. Mechanical weed control
13. Use of approved substances only when mechanical prevention isn't working
14. No treated lumber in presence of growing medium
15. Must clean equipment before and after use
16. No GMO
17. No irradiation or sewer sludge
*all of these practices must be adequately documented for your certification application
*These rules are applicable to both the paper certification process as well as the on-site inspection process

Things to Have for Your Certifier
1. An Organic System Plan (contamination prevention plan, soil building program, etc)
2. At least 5 years of previous records (soil tests, field maps, seed and transplant orders, etc)
3. Crop rotation, planting, and harvesting schedules
4. Recorded pest and disease observations, treatments, etc
*Go to to find and choose a certifier


Monday, March 10, 2014

New Tool to Test Organic Matter in Soil

Researchers from Ohio State University have developed a new tool that enables farmers to easily test the organic matter in their soil. The soil organic matter calculator is a spreadsheet- based tool that includes a user guide, a data manager, a calculator for the prediction of soil organic matter, and printed test results. 

The calculator is based on the following: crop rotation, yields, tillage type, tillage depth, erosion rate, manure applications and cover crops. With all of these factors, the calculator is able to predict annual soil organic matter dynamics and parameters for up to 50 years. 

Due to the increasing demand for crop residue from the biofuels industry, farmers are in business with this new calculator tool. The tool additionally predicts the revenue from residue sales and the amount of carbon emitted as carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. 

While there are other similar tools already in existence, the calculator is easy and inexpensive. 
Islam (the Soil, Water, Bioenergy Resources Program Leader at Ohio State) and his co-workers are also working towards the addition of the following features to the calculator tool: liming and irrigation applications, nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics, soil compaction management, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil health. 

More information is available online at Select “SOM Soil Organic Matter Calculator” under the Extension menu. 

Link to article: 
If you are especially interested, contact Islam at Ohio State University 
Rafiq Islam
740-289-2071, ext. 147 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Conservation Grazing

Why would a conservation organization want to implement grazing practices? A few benefits include the enhancement of neighbor/community relations, revenue generation, and habitat management. In the US, there are currently 770 million acres of grazing land that are not considered parts of conservation efforts. However, with the rising concern for agricultural conservation, many efforts are planning to incorporate grazing practices into their strategies. Many conservation organizations are creating partnerships to compliment each others' work. For example, two organizations might create a partnership in which one organization concentrates on a grazing operation while the other concentrates on a cattle system to restore the ecosystem.
Other conservation methods, such as mow brush encroaching in a prairie, calls for lots of fuel and transportation. These methods don't seem like the most efficient in terms of cost or ecological purpose. Many farmers who use the alternative methods to grazing believe that habitat loss and species endangerment are two great risks of grazing methods. However, with an additional focus on biodiversity. Studies actually show that populations are benefited by grazing techniques. For example, in one study provided in this document, the Greater Prairie Chicken and the Bobwhite Quail species were actually shown to increase in population size during the presence of grazing methods and decrease after the methods were removed from the habitat.
*The studies on rotational grazing included in this document were conducted by the National Audubon Society.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cornell's Study on the Economic Impacts of Food Hubs

The USDA Agriculture Marketing Survey and The National Institute for Food and Agriculture recently funded a Cornell project to conduct a comprehensive study on the economic effects of food hubs. I read about this study from an article titled Study: Food Hubs' Support for Local Economy is Mixed from The Cornell Chronicle 
Cornell found that food hubs provide a wide variety of crops to their local population. In addition to ameliorating the diet of local consumers, food hubs also promote local farm aggregation and and distribution businesses. Food hubs have somewhat of a "multiplier" impact. For every dollar that is spent on a food hub, more money stays and is re-spent in the local economy.
Other businesses, however, do suffer. Research shows that businesses that sell substitute products suffer a 10% decrease in sales.
Lastly, Cornell's research also showed that middle- sized farms are the ones that benefit most from food hubs. This makes sense because these are the farms that have outgrown sales at a street stand market but are too small to be distributed by large corporations such as Walmart.
Customer survey results from Cornell's study revealed room for improvement in the food hub sector in terms of logistics; specifically a need for lower minimum order sizes and increased frequency of deliveries.