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Organic Broadcaster Online Issue 20.6 November/December 2012
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Table of Contents
- Walters Transition Dairy to Increase Profits
- Who is MOSES
- News From MOSES - Consider a Holiday Gift From the MOSES Bookstore!
- Inside Organics - Working Together Builds Resiliency
- Sourcing Organic Seed Just Got Easier
- Book Review - A Visit to the MOSES Bookstore!
- Farm Volunteers: Legal Concerns, Legal Solutions
- Proof Positive - The Stanford Nutritional Analysis - Missing the Point(s)
- Call for Participants! MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program
- USDA Creates Organic Literacy Initiative
- Got questions? Get answers from MOSES Organic Fact Sheets
- News Briefs
- 2013 Organic Farming Conference
- Organic Grain Report
Walters Transition Dairy to Increase Profits
By Gigi Digiacamo
Nate and Angie Walter operate a 100-cow transitioning dairy in Villard, Minn. They have two young children, ages 4 and 7, whom they hope will take over the farm someday and/or join the business with new enterprises. “We dream of building a successful family farm,” says Nate.
Nate grew up on the Villard farm but left after high school to work as a welder. He returned home in 2002, after marrying Angie, and purchased the farm business at full market value from his father: 160 acres of pasture/cropland, 80 cows, 80 young stock, equipment and buildings. Assets were financed through a long-term loan guaranteed by the Farm Service Agency.
Decision to Transition
Nate and Angie had been considering organic certification for five years before eventually making the decision to switch in October 2010. “We went to an organic field day in 2005,” recalls Angie. “I was really excited about it but Nate wasn’t so sure.” So they waited … until 2009 when their Farm Business Management instructor ran some numbers showing them that the farm would have “grossed another $180,000 that year if we’d been organic,” says Nate. That extra money would have helped the Walters reach their goal of becoming debt-free. Going organic “was a way for us to remain a family farm,” says Angie. “Otherwise we were considering growing the farm [conventionally]; getting bigger in hopes of paying off our debt,” explains Nate. “We knew that that might be a losing proposition.”
The Walters began transitioning all of their land in spring 2011. They added 20 cows and acquired another 80 acres to support forage needs for the dairy herd. They will begin transitioning their cows in the fall of 2012 so that land and animals can be certified in October 2013.
The Walters currently run a five-year rotation that includes two years of corn and three years of alfalfa hay. Their management strategy is to raise all forage and some grain on farm. When beginning to transition their land, the Walters purchased a 12-row cultivator and burner for weed control and since have been able to rent out the equipment to neighboring farmers to partially cover the equipment costs. They custom hire a neighbor to chop hay silage. “We are about 80 percent there with hay in terms of organic management,” Nate says. “Corn has been our learning curve. But it’s gone better than expected.”
Other than new equipment and weed management strategies, the Walters have not had to make many changes in the way they manage the farm – particularly when it comes to the dairy enterprise. “We were always doing 85 percent of the organic work and just not getting paid for it,” explains Angie. “We’ve never believed in hormones and rarely have used antibiotics. I don’t want to give this stuff to my kids or my cows. We weren’t typical conventional farmers before [the transition].”
Prior to transition the Walters began using a three-way cross (Norwegian Red- Guernsey-Red Holstein) to achieve genetics that they believe are better suited to organic management. They raise their own replacements. Angie handles calf feeding while Nate manages the pastures and milking. They have a New Zealand “Swing 10” parlor and one part-time milker to help with two evening shifts each week. All animals are housed outdoors year-round.
The Walters feed all the corn that they produce. It supplies approximately 60 percent of the herd’s energy ration. They purchase needed grain, protein and straw. “We’re nervous about having to buy all this organic feed [during transition],” says Nate echoing the concerns of many transitioning farmers. “We’ll get a slight transition premium for milk [from Organic Valley] during our third year but it’s not enough to compensate for the [higher] feed prices.” Organic corn and soybean prices averaged $10.72 and $21.63, respectively, in 2011 compared to $5.67 and $11.41 for conventional corn and soybeans according to the Farm Business Management (FBM) annual financial reports.
The Walters have been working with their FBM Program instructor from Alexandria Technical College to develop cash flow plans that will allow them to balance the need for certified organic grain during their last year of transition with projected income from future organic milk sales. (Farmers are required to feed grain and forage from their own third-year transitional land or from a certified organic supplier when transitioning animals.)
Nate also is uneasy about certification itself – he worries about interpreting the standards correctly. “A lot of the rules are not black and white,” he explains. “I think you should get inspected during transition so that you can make changes right away [if necessary]. [Certifiers] give you a packet and tell you to keep crop records and seed tags but don’t come out until you are ready for certification. [During transition] is when we most need the advice and guidance.”
The Walters hired a consultant to answer some of their transition questions and to review their Organic System Plan early on. They also have contacted their future certifier, Midwest Organic Services Association, with occasional questions.
Advice and Outlook
“Information is knowledge,” says Nate. “Make sure you network.” The Walters are diligent about asking questions, researching ideas, and trying to “get it right” when it comes to production and finances. They rely heavily on their FBM instructor to guide them through alternative strategies and to identify information sources. “FBM has been the center spoke for all of our networking,” says Angie. “They led us to Dairy Diagnostics.” Dairy Diagnostics is a resource program created by the Minnesota Dairy Initiatives program and supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and University of Minnesota Extension. Program objectives include the development of advisory committees – often consisting of veterinarians, nutritionists, other producers, and financial consultants – to guide dairy producers through a major change in operations. “We could not make the transition without the advice and help of so many people,” says Nate.
This profile was prepared for the Tools for Transition project - a four-year research and education effort funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Tools for Transition scholarships are available for Minn. row crop and dairy farmers participating in the Farm Business Management Education Program. Contact Meg Moynihan for scholarship information: 651-201-6616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tools for Transition Project is managed by an interdisciplinary team that includes representatives from the University of Minn. Department of Applied Economics, the Center for Farm Financial Management, the Minn. Department of Agriculture, the Minn. State Colleges and Universities’ Farm Business Management Program, and the Minn. Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.
Who is MOSES?
By Jody Padgham
I’ve worked for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) for over 10 years, and have certainly seen a lot of change in that time. In recent conversation with a colleague, I realized that who MOSES is, what we do, and why, is not as clear to everyone as it is to me. With that in mind, I recently sat down with MOSES Executive Director Faye Jones and had a conversation about just those things. I share here what she had to say.
JP: Tell us a little about how MOSES got started.
FJ: The Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference had been going strong for several years, and needed somewhere to be housed. Many people don’t realize that MOSES is eleven years old, but the conference is 24! A group of farmers, including Dave Engel (now of Nature’s International Certification Services) helped to transition MOSES from the WI Chapter OCIA #1 Education Fund, which had been overseeing the conference. MOSES was incorporated as a Wisconsin non-member, 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in 1999. The organization was started to serve the needs of farmers in the Midwest who were interested in using organic and sustainable farming practices.
JP: What are the most important ways that MOSES has changed over the years?
FJ: We’ve really grown rapidly. We started with one employee (Faye, to oversee the conference), and now have ten; that is ten employees in ten years, an average of one new position every year. When we started MOSES was entirely about the conference, but now the conference is only about 40% of what we do. There are lots of other ways we now help farmers: field days, booths and trade shows, the mentor program and New Organic Stewards project, our expanded website, print resources, and lots more. Although we’ve always worked on the conference year-round, we now also offer education for farmers all year.
JP: MOSES has a board selected from the community. Tell me a little about who they are and what they do.
FJ: Yes, as a nonprofit we are required to have a board of directors to oversee the organization. I am very proud to say that it is in our bylaws that at least 50% of the board members must be certified organic farmers. The seven-to-eleven members of the board are selected to represent the people that we serve, and complete three-year terms. The board meets in person for two and a half day meetings in the spring and fall, and several times in between on the phone, to provide leadership and governance to the organization.
A few years ago we introduced a process of “Planning to be Strategic” to the board, as a form of strategic planning. Working with a book by David La Piana called “The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution,” we did a lot of work to develop a Strategy Road Map (defining the organization), a Strategy Screen (to evaluate projects and initiatives), and a Logic Model (a living document of goals and strategies). The board and I assess and modify each of these tools at least annually, and the staff has been contributing thoughts and ideas, keeping the logic model relevant and dynamic. All of this work has been very exciting and empowering to everyone involved, and the tools help the board in its governance role.
JP: The board recently changed the MOSES mission. What do you most like about it?
FJ: I really love the new mission statement: “MOSES educates, inspires, and empowers farmers to thrive in a sustainable, organic system of agriculture.” Last fall the board refined this out of the founding mission. Our new mission is succinct, and hits what we are about right on the head. There has never been any struggle to live up to our mission–even as we continue to grow. All of our programs and activities relate closely to our mission.
JP: Help us understand how MOSES is supported–where the money comes from.
FJ: MOSES is very fortunate and unique in the nonprofit world, in that we have a very diverse income stream. We have strong program income (from the conference, trainings, book sales, special projects), and are also supported by government, business and foundation grants. Most importantly, though, are our individual givers. The money we get from farmers, consumers and others who support us is critical to the organization, as these funds are flexible and can be used to expand or respond to emerging issues. This money can be used where the most critical need is. I’d love to see more individuals financially supporting MOSES, be it in small or large amounts–whatever they can afford. Since we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit, donations are tax deductable.
JP: What MOSES activities do these funds support?
FJ: We have so many programs and resources now it is hard to quickly describe them all, but folks can find out about them from our great website, www.mosesorganic.org. There you’ll find out about everything from our field day program to the online Organic Resource Directory, great fact sheets and this Organic Broadcaster, which we now distribute free six times per year. Even I am surprised at how much MOSES has to offer, and accomplishes each year!
We design our projects and initiatives based on feedback from those using our programs. This is what led us to our Farmer-to-Farmer Mentor program, and our New Organic Stewards program. We know that farmers love to learn from other farmers, and so most of our programs directly involve successful farmers as teachers/mentors/examples to others.
I am also very proud that we have three organic specialists–experienced and knowledgeable people dedicating a majority of their time to talking to and listening to farmers as a part of our “Grow Organic” program. I think MOSES is unique in providing this critical service. We know that it really makes a difference to the success of organic and sustainable farmers.
Two years ago we moved into an older office building in the small town of Spring Valley, Wis. This office has added a lot to the organization, as we have a very comfortable work environment, with plenty of cost-effective space for all the staff, and room to grow.
JP: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing MOSES moving into the next 5 years?
FJ: I think that keeping up with technology, and maintaining the balance between web-based and print materials keeps us on our toes. We need to meet the needs of all our constituents–both those who use computers and those who don’t. Finding the balance of where to put time can be tricky.
I want to close by saying that we have a fantastic staff team, and that I see a very strong and productive future for MOSES, and through us, the farmers that we serve. Thanks to all the remarkable farmers and others out there that support us and participate in our programs.
JP: Thanks Faye, for taking the time to help everyone understand MOSES’ good work a little better!
News from MOSES
Happy fall everyone. I hope that your harvesting has been going well, that bins and barns are full. As Harriet notes on the next page, the weather challenges this summer are creating a domino-effect of change with the need for many to buy feed amid crazy prices. As she recommends, talking to and working with others can go a long way to helping not feel alone in overcoming difficulties. I hope many of you are planning to join us in February in La Crosse at the Organic Farming Conference, that will be a great dose of cheer to help overcome any winter blahs.
Be well, Jody Padgham, Organic Broadcaster Editor
Consider a Holiday Gift From the MOSES Bookstore!
As the harvest winds down, you might find yourself with time to catch up on reading–something many of us look forward to during the long nights of winter. If you are looking for inspiration, visit the MOSES bookstore, either online at www.mosesorganic.org (click on “Store”) or at the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference, Feb. 21-23 in La Crosse, Wis.
The online MOSES Bookstore has almost 30 “best sellers” available year-round. Here you’ll find a selection of books useful in every organic farmer’s library. From livestock, soil management and crop production to farm systems, farm business, farm stories, politics and cookbooks, the MOSES Bookstore has a little bit of everything. To spark your reading interest, we’ve included a list on page 5 with short descriptions of the selection of books available online.
Those planning to join us at the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference can shop a much larger collection of books relevant to organic production, politics, marketing and related issues. We’ll feature over 500 titles you can browse. Nowhere else will you find this diverse collection of books specifically appropriate to your farming and lifestyle interests. From growing beer ingredients to raising hogs, from hoophouse management to crop rotations, you will find a book of interest for everyone in your family.
With the winter holidays coming up, we encourage you to consider giving a Gift Certificate to the MOSES Conference Bookstore. A good book is the gift that “keeps on giving.” If your friends or relatives are planning to be at the conference, a gift certificate will be the perfect holiday gift. To purchase a gift certificate, fill out the form below and send into the MOSES office with payment.
Take advantage of this easy and inspiring holiday gift idea!
Inside Organics - Working Together Builds Resiliency
By Harriet Behar
Many in the Upper Midwest have been affected by the drought of 2012. Even those not in drought areas have felt the impact due to high prices and limited availability of hay, corn, beans and small grains. Livestock producers are especially feeling stressed, trying to line up enough feed to get their livestock through the winter. The profit margin on milk, meat or eggs has become slim to nonexistent due to the very high cost of feed. These challenges highlight the weak link in our systems: we have not built the support systems we need to be resilient in times of stress. While we can ask consumers to pay more for food to help cover our increased costs, continually raising retail prices is not a sustainable solution on its own.
Farmers have a reputation of being individualistic and independent. A typical farmer’s job description includes soil agronomist, mechanic, weed- and pest-management specialist, accountant, and marketer. Those with livestock add basic animal health management, nutritionist, manure management specialist and more. After years of running an operation, producers learn that the more they can do for themselves, the more money goes into their bank accounts. An operator knows best how improvements or changes can or do affect his or her farm as a whole, and in many cases will be the best one to perform a given task. Conventional wisdom states that a sustainable farmer should lessen reliance on outside inputs as much as possible.
Beyond Doing it all Yourself
I take a different view on all of this. I think each of us, and society overall, benefits from the sharing of skills and utilization of specialization. We should take advantage of the fact that we are all part of a larger community. Centuries of experience supports a system where some farmers specialize in raising livestock and buy some of their feed from a crop-growing neighbor. Exchanges such as this build strong ties within a region, offering numerous operators a consistent and stable market for their production from year to year. We know the benefits of recycling nutrients on our farms. It is beneficial to recycle dollars in our own communities by buying from each other, too.
Our current farm economy is focused on consolidations of feed stocks in centralized areas to be shipped around the country (or the world). We have moved away from direct connections between buyers and sellers. Even the organic world has fallen into the trap of buying lower-priced commodities from other countries, rather than supporting our home-grown suppliers. This is not building the strong community foundation we need for future growth and stability. In addition, a consolidated system does not facilitate the use of manures on land where feed crops are being grown, since crops may be grown many states (or continents) away from where livestock are being raised.
Learning From Consumers
In contrast, on the human food side many consumers have awakened to the benefits of local food production. They are learning to encourage a healthy farming community near their homes. Many now have personal relationships with farmers. The USDA-sponsored initiative “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” (www.usda.gov) has opened many doors for farmers and consumers to interact. With a personal connection, consumers better understand price increases due to drought, floods, or whatever else may be causing a disruption in production. Many consumers are proud to be building this type of farmer-consumer community, and are willing to share both abundance and challenges. It is time for rural communities to re-learn from this success.
Change Creates Opportunity
The landscape in rural America is changing. Much of the land is not being farmed by the owner; often it is being rented out to the highest bidder by an absentee landlord. The good news is that this creates opportunities if we are willing to reach out to our neighbors, especially those that are not operating the land themselves. I receive many phone calls from landowners who have either received land as an inheritance or have purchased a farm where they plan to retire. They take pride in being organic food consumers—it pains them to rent out their land to conventional farmers. Some of these folks have rented out their land and have been unhappy by poor stewardship provided by the previous renter. These landowners are not looking for the highest price, but want someone who will care for their land on a long-term basis in a responsible way.
Connecting with landowners such as these can provide opportunity to build resiliency into our organic farming operations. Nearby landowners also might have fallow land or land coming out of CRP that could offer another opportunity to make your operation more resilient. This winter is a good time to contact the owners to ask what their plans may be for the land. Even if you can’t take on any more land management, you might be able to have access to this land’s production in a way that does not add much more work, such as pasturing your young stock or hiring someone to custom bale the hay. These landowners may have the needed financial cushion to hire someone to prepare, plant, cultivate and harvest row crops or small grains, or this could be done on shares with a hired operator. It is time to be creative, especially since we cannot assume that things are going to get any easier next year. Whether or not you use the production of any rental land in the future, it is a benefit to you to have more organic farmland in your neighborhood.
If you plan to rent land, first check the regulations in your state. Many states have a law that landowners must notify current farm renters before January 1 if they wish to discontinue a past arrangement.
MOSES has listings of landowners who are looking for organic farmers to rent their land and vice versa. See http://mosesorganic.org/landlinkup.html. The powerpoint presentation “Leasing Farm Land in Minnesota” from the Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG, http://www.flaginc.org/) also may be useful, even if you don’t live in Minnesota.
New initiatives from the Valley Stewardship Network in Viroqua WI (http://www.kickapoovsn.org/) and the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota (http://landstewardshipproject.org/) encourage non-operator landowners to work with grass-based systems on their farms, rather than renting for continuous row crops.
Before the NOP regulations were implemented most organic certification agencies were very membership focused, and certified operators met regularly to share production tips and challenges. Unfortunately, this was seen as a conflict of interest by the USDA, so these types of regional farmer interactions hosted by certifiers have become a thing of the past. However, every certification agency must list all of their certified organic operations either on their own website or on the National Organic Program’s website, http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/. You can use these resources to find other organic farmers in your area so you can build your own supportive community.
Many certified organic farmers have told me they don’t know even one of the other certified organic farmers in their county. We need to change that if we want to create organic farming operations that can withstand challenges like those presented by this year’s drought. Find, meet and talk to the other organic farmers near you. These relationships offer great potential benefits–you could join forces to purchase larger amounts of feed or seed at reduced rates, or share in other mutually beneficial ventures. These types of interactions are not new, but over the years we seem to have gotten so focused on our own farm’s needs that we have forgotten to seek out opportunities for cooperation.
This tough season has taught us that we are not as resilient as we need to be to increase organic production in the United States. Even though organic farming can contribute to the health of our environment, we cannot completely protect ourselves from negative climatic events. While farmers must compete in the marketplace, there are ways we can work together that can be beneficial to everyone even in this competitive environment. We can work on building stronger organic communities within our own region, where farmers recognize the needs and challenges of their neighbors and work together to provide the crops and dollars that each need to have a sustainable operation.
Harriet Behar (email@example.com) is a MOSES Organic Specialist.
Sourcing Organic Seed Just Got Easier
By Kristina Hubbard
Despite continued growth in the organic food industry, certified organic seed is used on a smaller percentage of organic farmland than one might think.
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) conducted a nationwide analysis in 2010 and concluded that the organic sector is underserved in seed specifically adapted to organic systems, regional climates, and market niches. Our survey showed, for example, that only 19 percent of organic vegetable producers who responded use all organic seed. For organic varieties available, many farmers reported challenges with quantities.
There are a number of reasons why certified organic seed isn’t planted to more acres. Among these reasons – which range from the organic rule’s allowance of untreated conventional seed when an organic equivalent isn’t available to a lack of public and private investments in organic seed – is a basic lack of data on organic seed availability and performance. This lack of information serves as a barrier to building the organic seed sector and supporting farmers’ ability to consistently meet the National Organic Program’s organic seed requirement. Fortunately, this barrier can be remedied through collaborative education, investments, and tools.
The tool at the top of the organic community’s priority list has long been a new organic seed database. The National Organic Standards Board recommended establishing a database in 2005 and reiterated this priority again in 2008. This database was also one of the highest priority action items requested by participants at OSA’s 2009 State of Organic Seed symposium.
Last year, OSA launched a working group to develop and implement a new organic seed database to meet this need – and with much success.
Organic Seed Finder, hosted and managed by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA), was launched on Oct. 1, 2012, and serves as a free resource for farmers, certifiers, and other stakeholders looking to access reliable organic seed availability information. The database, found at www.organicseedfinder.org, provides a central place for seed companies of all sizes to list their organic varieties.
OSA believes the integrity of organic agriculture relies on a viable seed sector that responds to the diverse needs of organic farmers to ensure their success. When farmers find seed that is optimal for their farms, the entire organic food industry benefits.
Companies and organizations can showcase support for the organic seed industry by becoming a sponsor of this database. For more information, contact AOSCA at firstname.lastname@example.org. Seed companies interested in posting their organic varieties through an annual database membership should also contact AOSCA.
Kristina Hubbard is the director of advocacy and communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, www.seedalliance.org.
Book Review: A Visit to the MOSES Bookstore
MOSES offers almost 30 “best seller” book titles through our online store. With a range of topics, there will be a book in this collection for everyone interested in organic production, marketing and sustainable living.
Those planning to come to the MOSES Organic Farming Conference (OFC) can look forward to browsing an additional 500 interesting books. Check out the opportunity to purchase a gift certificate for someone attending the OFC on page 2. A great holiday gift idea!
The following books are available through the MOSES online bookstore:
• Alternative Treatments for Ruminant Animals by Paul Dettloff, D.V.M. A hands-on reference by a large animal veterinarian.
• Treating Dairy Cows Naturally: Thoughts and Strategies by Hubert Karreman, D.V.M. Natural treatments for common dairy cow diseases.
• Organic Dairy Farming: A Resource for Farmers by MOSES. The basics of production and certification for organic dairy.
• Transitioning to Organic Dairy: A Self-Assessment Workbook by NOFA NY. A worksbook introducing the basic requirements for managing a certified organic dairy.
• How to Direct Market Your Beef. Jan and Will Holder transform their real-life experiences into a compelling narrative rich with practical tips.
• Raising Poultry on Pasture: Ten Years of Success by APPPA. Everything you need to know about raising pastured poultry.
Soil Management and Crop Production:
• Soil Biology Primer by the Soil and Water Conservation Society. An introduction to the living component of soil and how it contributes to agricultural productivity
• Building Soils for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es. An explanation of how ecological soil management boosts fertility yields while reducing pest pressures and environmental impacts.
• Crop Rotation On Organic Farms by the Natural Resource, Agriculture and Engineering Service (NRAES). An indepth review of crop rotation and its many applications.
• Managing Cover Crops Profitably by Bowman, Shirley and Cramer. Detailed information on how to select cover crops to fit your farm.
• Weeds and Why They Grow by Jay L. McCaman.Hundreds of weeds detailed with chemical analysis and other conditions of accompanying soils.
• The Hoophouse Handbook by Lynn Byczinski. Choosing and raising crops, buying, siting & building the hoophouse.
• The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman. How to successfully–and profitably–harvest fresh vegetables all year-round.
• The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener by Eliot Coleman. Simple, sustainable ways of growing top-quality organic vegetables.
• The Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen. A comprehensive guide to growing, certifying, and marketing organic produce, grains, meat, and dairy.
• Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Farming by Canadian Organic Growers. Valuable, practical advice for conventional, transitional and organic farmers.
• Fearless Farm Finances by MOSES. An explanation of basic financial management for your farm.
• Building a Sustainable Business by MISA and SAN. A practical guide for developing business plans, strategic planning, and more.
• Organic Farmers Business Handbook by Richard Wiswall. Step-by-step business suggestions with worksheets and tools for vegetable farmers.
• Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En. Insights into making CSA a viable economic model.
Farm Stories, Politics and Cookbooks:
• Turn Here, Sweet Corn by Atina Diffley. A firsthand history of getting in at the “ground level” of organic farming.
• Deeply Rooted by Lisa Hamilton. Stories from people who grow our food about how industrialization has left the food system broken.
• Good Growing: Why Organic Farming Works by Leslie A. Duram, A well researched analysis of the ecological, economic and health benefits of organic food production.
• Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill by Daniel Imhoff. A concise and witty analysis deconstructing this complex and fundamental policy.
• Farmstead Chef by Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko. Homegrown and homemade cooking, preserving the harvest, stocking the pantry and building local community.
• Renewing the Countryside - Wisconsin by Renewing the Countryside. Stories of how Wis. is leading the country in sustainable rural businesses.
• Rural Renaissance by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist. Tales of country living for contemporary times.
Farm Volunteers: Legal Concerns, Legal Solutions
By Rachel Armstrong and A. Brayn Enders
Many farms work with volunteers, whether the motivation is a burdensome task–assembling a new hoop house, putting up hay, or getting the pumpkins out of the field–or a desire to deepen relationships with buyers, neighbors, and friends. From the occasional helper to a regular worker share crew, volunteers often are eager to get involved on organic and sustainable farms. But, as mutually beneficial as it seems, farms are taking on risk by working with volunteers. Accidents can and do happen. And when they do, the volunteer, or their insurance company, may file a lawsuit claiming that the farmer was negligent. By being prepared for injuries, farmers can avoid a big headache and potentially, bigger financial losses.
Farms can limit their risk exposure in a few ways while still building positive volunteer relationships. Liability waivers and workers’ compensation insurance are two such options. But, before getting into the details, let’s address a couple reasons why many farmers aren’t already using waivers, insurance, or volunteer agreements.
Some farmers work only with volunteers whom they know or who have personal health insurance, which makes them believe a lawsuit won’t be filed. However, the good will of the volunteer won’t necessarily flow through to the insurance company. When there’s an accident and the volunteer talks with his or her doctor about treatment, the health insurance company will catch wind that the accident occurred on a farm. To the health insurance company, that offers an opportunity for reimbursement of associated medical bills. A lawsuit will be the insurance company’s decision, regardless of the volunteer’s wishes.
Many farmers also assume that their farm or business insurance will cover accidents that happen to volunteers. This may be true, but if a farmer hasn’t shared the precise details of their volunteer program with his or her insurance agent, it might not be. For example, farm liability insurance often doesn’t extend off the farm to, for example, the farmers’ market. Also, many insurance companies will deny claims for which the farm was required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Many farmers will be surprised to learn that volunteers sometimes need workers’ compensation coverage under their state’s laws, an issue addressed in more detail below. Even after farmers have discussed coverage for volunteers in detail with their insurance agent, farmers are wise to ask for a signed letter from the agent stating that volunteers are covered under the policy.
At this point, readers are probably thinking, “Why should I talk with my insurance agent? My premium will just go up.” There’s two ways to think about that. First, if you are buying insurance at all, the best deal is the one that covers your needs. Second, negotiate with knowledge and a plan. For example, you might be able to get a discount if you talk with your agent about a waiver.
Reducing Risk with Waivers
For farms that host volunteers occasionally and without providing any compensation in return, a liability waiver may be a good risk management option. Just about everyone has signed a waiver before so the idea is familiar. But, it can feel a bit uncomfortable. A farm doesn’t want to appear litigious when the point of a volunteer program is to build relationships. Fortunately, there’s more to a waiver than giving up rights.
One legal purpose of a volunteer liability waiver is to alert volunteers that a farm has many potential, unknown hazards. Many people who haven’t grown up on a farm don’t intuitively recognize the inherent risks of animals, machinery, rustic pathways, barbed or electric fences, old buildings, and any number of other farm conditions. Volunteers should know that accidents are a real possibility. The volunteer’s signature on a waiver is evidence that he or she knew and accepted the risks. Such a conscious choice will serve farmer and volunteer well by creating more awareness, just as it creates a legal assignment of responsibility. A waiver makes it much harder for the volunteer (or the insurance company) to prove that the farmer was the negligent one.
Reducing Risk with Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Most people think workers’ compensation insurance (often called “workers’ comp”) is a risk-reduction strategy that primarily benefits employees. But that’s not the whole story. In addition to compensating employees for injuries, workers’ comp also protects employers from lawsuits because it acts like a waiver. If workers’ comp is available to the volunteer, then the volunteer cannot sue the farmer for that injury regardless of whether the farmer was negligent. Farmers with workers’ comp have the peace of mind that injuries are covered and no other lawsuit looms.
Workers’ comp also may be required for volunteers; sixteen states have such laws. The remaining states don’t require workers’ comp for volunteers, but that exception only may apply to “true” uncompensated volunteers. For example, many farms with a CSA program offer “worker shares,” which are an opportunity to work once per week on the farm in exchange for membership in the farm. These arrangements are terrific for the farmer because regular volunteers may be more efficient and dedicated. However, from a legal perspective, a worker share program can be more like employment than volunteerism. Several states exempt agricultural workers from workers’ comp so the distinction may be moot. But just like with farm or business insurance, the definition of “agricultural work” is important. The workers’ comp exemption may apply only to on-farm work and not to farmers’ markets or CSA deliveries. Depending on the specific task, compensated farm volunteers may still need workers’ comp insurance.
Understanding waivers and workers’ compensation coverage can be tricky. We have written sample volunteer waivers and worker share agreements with notes on adapting the form for an individual farm. These forms, and much more information specific to Illinois farmers, are available at www.directfarmbusiness.org. Also, we are hosting an upcoming webinar on legal issues in running a CSA program on December 10th 2012. Everyone is welcome to register for the webinar at www.farmcommons.org.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship between the reader and author. Important information may be excluded in the interest of space or clarity. Always consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.
Rachel Armstrong is the Executive Director of Farm Commons, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to farmers. Bryan Endres is an Associate Professor of Agricultural Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
Proof Positive - The Stanford Nutritional Analysis - Missing the Point(s)
By Joe Pedretti
The now infamous Stanford University nutritional meta-analysis comparing nutritional levels of organic and conventional foods set off a firestorm of discussion from both ends of the spectrum. In “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review,” the conclusion of the authors of the analysis was that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
Those in favor of “feeding the world” with high-input, high-production methods struck first, taking little time to question the benefits of organic foods and organic food production systems. The headlines that followed speak for themselves:
“Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce” NY Times
“The Organic Fable” Roger Cohen, NY Times
“Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods” Stanford School of Medicine
“Organic Food No Healthier” TG Daily
The reaction from the organic community was equally as strong, pointing out the many flaws in the analysis and the incorrect assumptions about the benefits of organic foods:
“Why the Stanford Organic Food Meta-Analysis is ‘Scientific’ Nonsense” Bob Silvestri
“New Junk Science Study Dismisses Nutritional Value of Organic Foods” Alliance for Natural Health
“Organic foods study flawed” Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota
“Organic Produce Reduces Exposure to Pesticides, Research Confirms” Environmental Working Group
The most important thing to remember about the Stanford meta-analysis is that no new research was conducted. The review only looked at previously conducted research from other sources, some which predated the 2002 unification of organic standards in the United States under the USDA National Organic Standards.
Here is a condensed synopsis of the various flaws, downplayed findings and incorrect conclusions of the Stanford meta-analysis:
The analysis did find statistically significant nutritional benefits for organic dairy, with some reviewed studies showing significantly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk.
Similar, more discerning meta-analysis studies have found significant differences in nutrient levels. The University of Newcastle in England conducted a similar meta-analysis in 2011 and found that secondary metabolites such as vitamins and antioxidants were 12-16% higher in organic produce.
The nutritional content of food is one of the most highly variable factors you can possibly research, due to the large number of factors that can affect the nutrient levels. Soil quality, weather, climate, plant variety, even harvest date and time spent in post-harvest handling can affect nutritional levels. Organic agriculture is the only type of agriculture that is required by law to maintain and improve soil quality. A mineral-balanced, biologically active soil is the best way to produce nutrient-dense foods.
Studies have shown that nutrient levels in food have been decreasing over time, primarily due to declining soil quality and the move to varieties of plants with good storage and cosmetic qualities at the expense of nutritional levels. Organic farmers should be commended (and encouraged) for their work at building and protecting soils and experimenting with heirloom varieties and less common crops with potentially superior nutritional qualities. Some buyers are now paying growers based on brix (sugar) and mineral levels rather than simply by weight. As consumers become more and more savvy, they will expect the labeling of this nutritional information and will reward those growers that produce nutrient-dense foods.
What is needed–and welcomed by the organic community–is well designed, side-by-side, long-term experiments that can isolate factors that contribute to nutrient density. The underlying truth to this whole discussion about nutrient levels is the need for all farmers, organic and conventional alike, to consider nutrient density as an important goal; potentially just as important as yield.
Pesticide Exposure & Food Safety
The Stanford analysis downplayed the pesticide results by using the nonsensical “risk differential” measurement. The Stanford analysis stated that organic produce had a 30% lower risk differential of one or more pesticide residues when compared to conventional produce. This “30% lower risk” was frequently cited in several of the news articles and was calculated by subtracting the percentage of organic produce with residues from the percentage of conventional produce. Nonorganic foods contained pesticide residues 37 percent of the time and organic foods 7 percent of the time (37%-7%= 30%RD). That is a problem however, as this is not the correct way to compute the percentage risk difference between two factors.
The correct way to calculate the difference is 37%-7% divided by 37% = .81 x 100 = 81%. To be accurate, a consumer of organic food reduces their chance of exposure to one or more pesticide residues by 81%, not 30%!
Another interesting finding was that conventional food, when testing positive for pesticide residues, frequently contained two to five different residues, and 10% of the time contained eight or more residues. Organic produce had much lower levels of pesticide residue and rarely the highest risk pesticides.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, former Chief Scientist for the Organic Center and now researcher at Washington State University, came to this conclusion in his own analysis of the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program: “I found that the overall pesticide risk level in the conventional brands was 17.5-times higher than in the organic brands. The differences translate into a 94% reduction in health risk from the selection of organic brands.”
Initial Reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine Paper “Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review” By Charles Benbrook.
The Stanford analysis and the media that covered the story further diluted the pesticide data results by stating that the level of pesticide residues were below the EPA tolerance thresholds. While that may be true, the EPA sets thresholds based on adult exposure to individual pesticides. These thresholds do not consider the cumulative effect of exposure to multiple chemicals nor do they consider the effects on humans at critical life stages such as fetal development. Organophosphate insecticides in particular have been well studied and are known to increase the risk of birth defects and developmental disorders in children. A switch to an organic diet was shown to “virtually eliminate” organophosphate metabolites from children’s bodies. Organophosphate insecticides are of course prohibited under organic standards.
The people at the highest risk of exposure to pesticides are farm families and farm workers who handle these chemicals or are exposed to them in the course of farm work. Several studies have shown much higher rates of certain diseases in farm workers due to this increased exposure. Organic farming, by law, eliminates the vast majority of synthetic pesticides, greatly reducing this exposure. In addition, organic agriculture has kept millions of pounds of these synthetic chemicals out of our shared water, soil and air. The value of these benefits to human health and to our environment were not considered in the Stanford analysis, but are nonetheless a critical positive aspect of organic agriculture.
A statistically important finding of the Stanford study, unfortunately frequently downplayed in the reporting, was that organic meat products contained far less antibiotic-resistant bacteria than their conventional counterparts. Conventional livestock production has been and continues to be very reliant upon the use of antibiotics. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “every year livestock producers in the United States use 24.6 million pounds of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic purposes. Our estimates of 24.6 million pounds in animal agriculture and 3 million pounds in human medicine suggests that 8 times more antimicrobials are used for non-therapeutic purposes in the three major livestock sectors than in human medicine.”
This reliance on antibiotics as a growth promoter and disease-prevention strategy, instead of only being used to treat disease, contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is a grave threat to human health. In the Stanford analysis, they found “the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was 33% higher among conventional chicken and pork than organic alternatives.” The problem is that again they use the “Risk Differential” measurement. If we use the correct method of calculating a % reduction in risk we see that the actual number is 66% (48%-16%/48%=.66x100=66%).
Antibiotic use in livestock is prohibited in organic agriculture, so organic farmers do not contribute to the growing and alarming problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Other Important Points not Covered by Stanford
Organic agriculture bans the use of genetically modified crops and inputs. Recent research from France shows potential negative human health effects from eating GMO foods. “Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and colleagues said rats fed on a diet containing NK603–a seed variety made tolerant to dousings of Roundup–or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the United States died earlier than those on a standard diet.” Reuters, Sept. 19th, 2012
Organic foods cannot contain artificial sweeteners, dyes or preservatives, some of which have been implicated in adverse effects on human health.
Organic livestock producers cannot use growth-promoting or reproductive hormones. Hormones act on parts per billion levels and are used in large quantities in the conventional livestock model to accelerate growth and to coordinate reproductive cycles. Research has been sparse, but suggests that their use increases the risk of breast, prostate and colon-rectal cancers. Livestock hormones have also been shown to have negative effects on aquatic ecosystems, causing reduced fish populations and genetic deformities in fish and amphibians.
Organic agriculture is the only type of agriculture in the United States with a uniform set of rules, the National Organic Standards, and a system of verification that these standards are being followed. Consumers can trust the “USDA Organic” seal–it really means something and is not just marketing hype as has been suggested by some of the naysayers.
Dr. Charles Benbrook puts it must succinctly, again from his “Initial Reflections” article:
“When an individual decides to switch to healthy dietary choices from clearly unhealthy ones, and also consistently chooses organic foods, the odds of achieving “clinically significant” improvements in health are substantially increased. The most significant, proven benefits of organic food and farming are: (1) a reduction in chemical-driven, epigenetic changes during fetal and childhood development, especially from pre-natal exposures to endocrine disrupting pesticides (2) the markedly more healthy balance of omega-6 and -3 fatty acids in organic dairy products and meat, and (3) the virtual elimination of agriculture’s significant and ongoing contribution to the pool of antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently posing increasing threats to the treatment of human infectious disease.
The Stanford team’s study design precluded assessment of much of the evidence supporting these benefits, and hence their findings understate the health benefits that can follow a switch to a predominantly organic diet, organic farming methods, and the animal health promoting practices common on organically managed livestock farms.”
Ultimately, even as more and more research lends credibility to our efforts in the organic community, we will continue to lead by adhering to the “precautionary principle” which states “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.” In other words, it falls upon those using questionable inputs (synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and GMOs) to prove that they are doing no harm, not for the organic community to justify the benefits of not using them. We will, of course, both welcome and encourage more research on the benefits and safety of organic foods–we are not Luddites after all.
Joe Pedretti (email@example.com) is a MOSES Organic Specialist.
Dr. Charles Benbrook, Washington State University.
“Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review”
The Environmental Working Group
The Facts about Organic Farming, MOSES Fact Sheet:
Union of Concerned Scientists
Call for Participants! MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program
By Harriet Behar
Entering farm life can be a tumultuous transition, but with the year-long MOSES mentoring program, a new farmer can find the support, guidance, and technical assistance he or she needs to deal with everything from drought to debt. There is nothing like having one-on-one communication throughout the year, about both the overall farm business as well as specific challenges, to advance the farm’s maturity from a fledgling operation to one more rooted in a stable foundation.
New farmers, whether from the young generation or those seeking a farming career later in life, face a steep learning curve when first stepping into this challenging yet rewarding way of life. There are many obstacles to success, from the uncertainty of how to manage the farm’s diverse production activities to the need for a workable yet nimble business plan. The MOSES Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program has been linking experienced farmers with emerging farmers for the past five years, rewarding both sets of participants by building valuable relationships and providing resources for current and future success.
MOSES mentee farmers gain knowledge and skills from those who have years of experience in their specific area of production. Mentors and mentees visit each others’ farms a few times through the year, discussing opportunities and challenges. At times, this will generate a surprise, such as a mentor saying to a mentee, “You want to do what?” This type of interaction can open the door for deeper discussions of long-term plans, and a holistic view of what is realistic within what time frame.
New farmers tend to be full of great ideas, but may not have the long-term vision on how to implement them in a way that makes sense, both for their monetary capabilities as well as their sanity. Mentors can bring this long-term perspective and help with the important prioritization needed for sustained success. By visiting mentors’ farms, mentees have the opportunity to see mature operations and learn from the various experiments the mentors have explored on their operations. Consistently MOSES mentees state that mentors have helped make their first organic inspection more enjoyable, as they were well prepared. Many have remarked that the whole certification process went quite smoothly.
MOSES also is partnering with the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings™ graduates, offering them not only a production-oriented mentor, but also someone who will work with them on their farm’s business planning. By taking this step in building their farms’ business they will benefit from the attention to capital budgets, figuring out the costs and returns on various enterprises and more. Provided with both production and financial mentorship, these farmers will have the information they need for smart decision making.
In recognition that not everything can be learned from books, nor from one mentor, the MOSES Mentor Program also provides attendance to the Organic Farming Conference and the Organic University for our participants. This allows mentor and mentee to attend sessions, and discuss what they have learned, and stimulates discussions beyond what was covered in workshops. Participants can visit the Exhibit Hall, Research Forum, and bookstore while at the conference, discussing the merits of various suppliers, buyers and the cutting edge technologies available.
Beginning farmers bring a lot of passion to their burgeoning operations. With a MOSES mentor, they can realize their vision by asking questions and seeking advice they may not feel comfortable asking elsewhere. Mentees can reach out whenever they aren’t sure about something, and for critically timed problem solving. If you, or someone you know would benefit from this program, please have them contact MOSES!
Our mentoring program pairs mentors and mentees in January of each year. Our 2013 program will stop accepting applications on Dec. 10, 2012. We accept participants in the states of Wis., Min., N.D., S.D., Iowa, Ill. and Mich. Applications and further information are available here or by contacting Harriet Behar, MOSES organic specialist firstname.lastname@example.org, or toll-free 888-551-4769.
USDA Creates Organic Literacy Initiative
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently launched its Organic Literacy Initiative to make it easier for farmers, processors and consumers to access information about organic certification. The Initiative pulls together resources and educational tools to explain the certification process and the value of the USDA Organic Seal.
The Initiative offers a series of webpages, publications, training modules, a blog, email notices, newsletters and more to make information about organic certification clear and accessible to certified organic farmers and processors, those interested in certification, and consumers. Housed within the website of the National Organic Program (NOP), the Organic Literacy Initiative opens with the question, “Is Organic an Option for Me?” at www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/organicinfo.
A key element of the Initiative is the USDA Organic Resource Guide 2012. This 45-page booklet outlines all of the USDA resources and programs relevant to organic producers and processors. Included is information about USDA agencies that serve producers directly (National Organic Program, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Risk Management Agency, Ag Marketing Service); those concerned with organic research, data collection and information; those offering marketing information and services; and other agencies with resources and programs with general application to organic producers and consumers. Organized by agency, the booklet offers clear explanations about each program, particularly highlighting those of interest to organic producers, with hotlinks to specific program webpages and contacts.
Under the direction of the organic working group, supported by USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, representatives from numerous federal agencies met and developed the Initiative and resources. Soo Kim, USDA spokesperson, explains that the goal is to coordinate and streamline information available from various USDA agencies so that organic producers can easily access information, find out where to go for assistance, how to get certified, and lots more.
There are also elements designed to help consumers understand organic, to aid in their buying decisions. “The Organic 101 Blog Series was designed so consumers can understand the teeth behind the certification process,” Soo Kim notes. “We want them to understand that organic means very specific things, and is very comprehensive; that farmers put in a lot of effort to become organic.” The Blog translates the law into easy to understand language and concepts, introduced with “Organic 101: Five Steps to Organic Certification” by Miles McEvoy, the NOP Deputy Director. (http://blogs.usda.gov/tag/organic-101/)
Another feature of the Initiative are training modules, titled “Organic 101” offering the fundamentals of organic agriculture, and “Organic 201” detailing organic standards, certification and enforcement. These straight forward, clear and comprehensive voiced slide presentations are available in both “public” versions and versions crafted specifically for USDA personnel. One of the primary goals of the Initiative is to help USDA staff around the U.S. to be better equipped to help farmers, ranchers, and processors understand organic certification and access relevant USDA services, Soo said.
The USDA Organic Literacy Initiative has been well thought out and carefully prepared. “It is a joy to see government agencies effectively working together to make access to the plethora of resources and services easier to those who need them. MOSES applauds the USDA and the many staff who worked hard for the past few years to develop this resource,“ says MOSES Executive Director Faye Jones.
To check out the Initiative, go to www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/organicinfo.You can download the Resource Guide and get plugged into the diverse set of USDA programs and resources useful for your organic operation. Those without web access can call the NOP at 202-720-3252 for information on how to access the Initiative’s resources.
Got Questions? Get answers from MOSES Organic Fact Sheets
By Jody Padgham
What options do you have if your organic field gets sprayed by the neighbor’s pesticide applicator? What are the rules for raising organic beef, or sheep, or chickens? What are the best ways to manage an organic crop to avoid or decrease pest problems?
These questions, and hundreds more, are answered in the MOSES Organic Fact Sheet collection. Readily available from the MOSES website, over 30 two-to-six-page fact sheets offer condensed details on key topics identified by our team of organic specialists. Designed to give a quick, yet detailed view of specific topics, the entire collection of MOSES organic fact sheets has recently been updated. Joining the updated collection are five new fact sheets introduced this summer on very current and relevant subjects: What You Should be Saying About Organic Farming, The Facts About Organic Agriculture, Organic Farming CAN Feed the World, Protect Livestock in Hot Weather, and Rural Women’s Project.
What You Should Be Saying About Organic Farming outlines the many ways to keep a positive dialogue going about organic production–from highlighting environmental benefits to your animals’ and family’s health.
The Facts About Organic Agriculture outlines common myths and allegations about organic and provides numerous talking points useful to counteract them. This sheet includes information about the Rodale Institute’s 30-year side-by-side farming trial of organic and conventional crops. It also gives results from Iowa State University long-term research showing organic crop yields equal to or greater than conventional.
Organic Farming CAN Feed the World offers resources and research that can be used to positively respond to myths about organic production and yields.
Protect Livestock in Hot Weather provides suggestions of ways to offer relief, and how to recognize heat stress in your animals.
Rural Women’s Project fact sheet outlines the dynamic offerings and background of the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, which supports women farmers and food-based entrepreneurs with resources and networking.
The MOSES Organic Fact Sheet collection is grouped into several topic areas: Crops, Economics and Education, Livestock, and Orchard, with several publications within each area.
Useful for farmers, educators, students, or anyone wishing to pass on basic information about organic to friends, colleagues and neighbors, these fact sheets are designed to be printed off and shared with others. Available for free on the web farmers can also pick up print copies at events MOSES attends, or by contacting the MOSES office.
As the weather turns chilly, this may be the perfect time to check out the MOSES Organic Fact Sheet collection to see what will be most useful to you.
California’s Prop 37 Could Pave Way for GM Labeling
Californians are voting on Proposition 37, the Right to Know law, requiring labeling for foods containing genetically modified organisms. If Prop 37 passes, it paves the way for other states to pass similar laws to allow people to know if the food they eat has been genetically modified –something that 50 other countries already require. French researchers just released results from the first long-term study of GM corn, which showed rats fed GM corn and water with “safe” amounts of Roundup grew tumors, had kidney and liver damage and died earlier than the control group. Environmental problems associated with genetically engineered crops are well documented, including biodiversity loss, an overall increase in pesticide use, the emergence of super weeds and super bugs that are threatening millions of acres of farmland, and the unintentional contamination of organic and non-GM crops. Advocates are hopeful that California voters will approve Proposition 37. In addition to California’s Proposition, 15 states have formed the Coalition of States for Mandatory Labeling with a goal to pass laws to label genetically modified foods in every state and build support for a national labeling law. More at justlabelit.org/ and www.carighttoknow.org.
New Research: Pesticide Use Increases with GMO Crops
A study published in early October by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook finds that the use of herbicides in the production of three genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops — cotton, soybeans and corn — has actually increased. This counterintuitive finding is based on an exhaustive analysis of publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service. Benbrook’s analysis is the first peer-reviewed, published estimate of the impacts of genetically engineered (GE) herbicide-resistant (HT) crops on pesticide use. A detailed summary of the study’s major findings is at http://bit.ly/esebenbrookmajor.
NOP Updates Certifier List
The updated list of certifiers for the USDA organic standard is at www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nopacas, searchable by name or location.
USDA Organic Literacy Initiative
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a series of resources under its new Organic Literacy Initiative, an effort to help connect current and prospective organic farmers, ranchers, and processors with USDA resources. The materials available include: An Organic 101 training about what the organic label means and how certification works; A brochure that contains information about organic standards and certification and a brief description of USDA resources; An Organic Resource Guide that outlines how each USDA agency supports organic agriculture and provides relevant USDA contact information; and A USDA blog that highlights organic topics. More at www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/organicinfo.
NOP Publishes Final Rule on Methionine
The USDA National Organic Program published a final rule that extends the allowance for synthetic methionine in organic poultry production at reduced levels after Oct. 1, 2012. The rule provides for basic maintenance requirements while urging the organic poultry industry to continue to find commercially sufficient, yet allowable, natural methionine sources. Details at the AMS website, www.ams.usda.gov.
Claims Period Open for Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers
Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination by the USDA in past decades can file claims between Sept. 24, 2012 and March 25, 2013. The process offers a voluntary alternative to litigation for each Hispanic or female farmer and rancher who can prove that USDA denied their applications for loan or loan servicing assistance for discriminatory reasons for certain time periods between 1981 and 2000. There are no filing fees to participate in the program. Call 1-888-508-4429 to receive information about submitting a claim.
Online Courses for Beginning Farmers
Cornell University offers a series of interactive 5-7 week courses for aspiring, new and experienced farmers on a broad diversity of topics. See http://nebeginningfarmers.org/online-courses/.
Steps to Success Organic Assessment Tool
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has a new farm management resource, Organic Farmers: Steps to Success, containing five simple worksheets designed to help organic producers assess their own management and financial strengths and identify areas they improve. The booklet is free at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic or by calling 651-201-6012.
Organic Fruit and Vegetable Storage Guide
Cornell University has added a new title to its collection of organic production guides that outline general practices for growing vegetable, livestock and fruit crops using organic management techniques. 2012 Production Guide for Storage of Organic Fruits and Vegetables is available free online as a PDF file. View all the guides at www.nysipm.cornell.edu/organic_guide/default.asp.
New Labor, Organic Contract Guides
Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) has released two new publications: The Farmers’ Guide to Organic Contracts, written to help farmers make informed decisions at every stage of the contract relationships. And, Farmers’ Guide to Farm Employees: Federal and Minnesota Labor and Employment Law for Small-Scale Family Farms, intended for family-run specialty crop operations that gross less than $500,000 per year and rely extensively on family labor. Both are available for free download at www.flaginc.org. or call 651-223-5400.
New Resources from eOrganic
Organic Mulching Materials for Weed Management, by Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming. www.extension.org/pages/65025
Synthetic Mulching Materials for Weed Management, by Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming. www.extension.org/pages/65191
Video: Healthy Cow Check-Up—How to Perform a Physical Exam. Dr. Hubert Karreman, Penn Dutch Cow Care. Available at www.extension.org/pages/64752
Cultivation Tools for
Organic Vegetable Farmers
A blog from Penn State Extension shares tips on small farm equipment. The first in a series of three articles addresses hoes, cultivators and other weeding tools, and row-marking equipment. http://extension.psu.edu/start-farming/news/2012/vegetable-equipment-considerations-for-new-organic-farmers.
2012 Horizon Organic Farmer Awards
The Horizon Organic Producer Education (HOPE) Award, given to those who advocate for organic agriculture, went to Pete and Anita Ruegemer of Villard, Minn., and the National Quality Award, recognizing the Horizon farmer who produces the highest quality organic milk in the entire Horizon milk supply, went to Stephen and Hope Galens of Clifton Springs, N.Y. Awards were presented on Sept 22, 2012 at the Farm Aid concert in Hershey, Pa.
IFOAM Leadership Course
The North American Organic Leadership Course from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) starts in March, with 10 web-based seminars and two full-time residential sessions. Konrad Hauptfleisch, IFOAM Academy Manager, will lead the course along with eminent North American leaders. Apply no later than Jan. 1, 2013. View the application at www.ifoam.org/academy.
WI AG Enterprise Areas
Wis. farmers and local officials can now apply for 2013 Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA) designation. AEAs are blocks of land that are primarily in agricultural use, either for farming or for businesses that serve the farming sector, created when local governments working with at least five local landowners petition the Wis. DATCP, and are approved. Benefits include tax credits and farmland preservation. Applications are at http://workinglands.wi.gov or call Lisa Schultz at 608-224-4604. Due March 29, 2013.
SARE Farmer-Rancher Grants
The 2013 NCR SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Call for Proposals is now available. Proposals are due November 29, 2012. More at www.northcentralsare.org/
ATTRA For Smartphones
The ATTRA website home page, www.attra.ncat.org, now features a “Mobile” view, which automatically appears when smartphone and tablet users visit the site. The “Mobile” view offers the same features as the regular “Desktop” view, but a friendlier size for smartphones.
Long-Term Iowa Study Shows Many
Benefits of Longer Rotations
Analysis of data collected since 2003 at Iowa State University research plots comparing two-year corn-soybean rotations with longer-term rotations reveals many advantages, including higher yields, lower energy use and effective weed and pest management with far fewer chemicals, while providing comparable economic returns. The paper is available at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0047149
2011 Certified Organic Survey
USDA certified organic growers in the United States sold more than $3.5 billion organically grown agricultural commodities in 2011, according to the results of the 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey, released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The full results of the survey are available online at http://bit.ly/2011OrganicSurvey
Visit our new Online Organic Classified page!
Do you have something to buy or sell? Your classified ad will reach over 9,500 households in the print edition, and be available in both the pdf and online version. available online. Go to the Organic Broadcaster website to submit an ad electronically.
2013 Organic Farming Conference
Upper Midwest Organic Grains and Feedstuffs Report