Author Archives: james58

Invasive fly threatening U.S. fruit crops

Berry picking is pretty good in the Northern Piedmont right now and that has pushed the Drosophila to the front of my thoughts.  The article below is informative and its contents correspond with information shared by grower, Bill Green of Hartland Orchards  during a recent farm tour.

Apr. 2, 2013 By Matt Shipman, North Caroina State University

Humans aren’t the only species with a sweet tooth.

Research from North Carolina State University shows that the invasive spotted-wing vinegar fly (Drosophila suzukii) also prefers sweet, soft fruit — giving us new insight into a species that has spread across the United States over the past four years and threatens to cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to U.S. fruit crops.

“Because we know that D. suzukii prefers softer, sweeter fruit, we can focus our research efforts into which wild fruits may serve as reservoirs for this species and help identify new crops that might be at risk,” says Hannah Burrack, an assistant professor of entomology at North Carolina State and lead author of a paper on the research.

“These findings may also be a starting point for plant breeders interested in developing new fruit varieties that are more resistant to D. suzukii.”

Originally from east Asia, D. suzukii were first detected in California in 2008. They have since spread to states from Wisconsin to North Carolina to Florida.

The female flies use serrated blades on the tip of their abdomens to cut through the skin of ripe fruit and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on the flesh of the fruit until they reach maturity — ruining the fruit in the process.

Sellers go to great pains to remove infested fruit before it reaches the marketplace, so consumers won’t notice a difference in fruit quality.

But infestations can cause significant economic problems for fruit growers. For example, researchers estimate that D. suzukii has the potential to destroy 40 percent of blackberry and raspberry crops in the eastern U.S., which would affect berry prices and availability.

D. suzukiialready causes tens of millions of dollars in crop damage annually to cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. But researchers estimate that losses could climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year if the pest can’t be controlled.

While ongoing studies explore pesticide-based approaches to control D. suzukii, the new research from North Carolina State should help scientists and farmers with other control options.

For example, the study found that D. suzukii are more likely to infest certain varieties of raspberries and blackberries. This means growers may be able to limit crop damage by planting more of the varieties that D. suzukii tend to avoid.

Similarly, this information allows farmers to focus pesticide treatment on varieties that are most susceptible to infestation.

The three-year study evaluated D. suzukii impacts in commercial blackberry and raspberry crops in North Carolina, and also encompassed laboratory experiments to help researchers determine which characteristics made fruits more likely to be infested.

The work was supported by the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium, North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, North Carolina Department of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture and North Carolina Blueberry Council.

The paper, “Variation in selection and utilization of host crops in the field and laboratory by Drosophila suzuki iMatsumara (Diptera: Drosophilidae), an invasive frugivore,” was published online March 14 in Pest Management Science. Co-authors are Gina Fernandez, a professor of horticultural science at North Carolina State; Taylor Spivey, an undergraduate at Brevard College; and Dylan Kraus, an undergraduate at North Carolina State.

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Long-Term Agriculture Science Investment Is Seeing Pay-offs in Georgia

(It can pay off in Virginia too)

Originally Posted to by Sonny Ramaswamy, Director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, on June 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Today, I am in Athens, Georgia, visiting the University of Georgia (UGA) and meeting with university leaders, faculty, and students to learn about the great work being done here to advance agriculture and solve some of our most pressing challenges.

NIFA has a long history of investing in agricultural science, and for much of the research it takes years to see the payoff. I’d like to highlight two projects at the University of Georgia NIFA has funded that are seeing real outcomes today.

Dr. Scott Nesmith, a professor of horticulture at UGA, began receiving funding from USDA in 2001 to develop blueberry cultivars adapted to the South. His work has resulted in new varieties of blueberries that are thriving in Georgia climate and soil. Three of his cultivars, Suzibel, Rebel and Camellia, are popular with growers and individuals. Rebel was bred to be an early crop blueberry whereas Camellia was bred as a late-season blueberry. The best part is Suzibel has a higher yield, on average 25 percent higher than industry standards.

Blueberry production in Georgia has increased from 3,500 acres to more than 20,000 acres over the past 10 years with annual farm gate values easily approaching $254 million. The blueberry has become Georgia’s number one fruit crop, surpassing peaches, and Georgia may well become the number one producer of blueberries in the country this year.

The second project at UGA I would like to highlight was originally supported in 2005 to track the entry of bacteria in poultry into the food chain. Research recently published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that high levels of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria on the farm corresponded to high levels on carcasses at the processing plant. Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria cause an estimated 1.9 million food-borne illnesses in the United States annually, and poultry is a major source of both.

As UGA professor of food animal and health management Roy Berghaus notes in the study, this has big implications on the methods used to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Most efforts in risk reduction focus on the processing plant, however, the study suggests more efforts to eliminate bacteria on the farm would go a long way in reducing the number of foodborne illnesses we see each year.

As these two projects show, long-term investment in agricultural science goes a long way toward increasing agriculture production and food security and protecting the safety of America’s food supply.

– See more at:

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Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013

Investing in the future of American agriculture

H.R.1727 and S.837

Originally posted by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Agriculture is a vibrant sector of our nation’s economy, yet high barriers to entry make farming and ranching one of the hardest careers to pursue. Limited access to land and markets, hyperinflation in land prices, high input costs, farm and tax policy disadvantages, and lack of training discourage many would-be producers from entering agriculture. As a result, the average American farmer is now 57-years-old, and the fastest growing group of farm operators are those 65 years and older. Despite these significant hurdles, there are dedicated people who see great opportunities in agriculture today and want to start their own farm or ranch businesses.

We need a national strategy and commitment to support beginning farmer and ranchers entering agriculture. With an aging farm population, now is the time to invest in the future of American agriculture by nurturing new agriculture start-ups.

Bill Basics

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 will invest in the next generation of American producers by:

Enabling access to land, credit and technical assistance for new producers.

Assisting new producers to launch and strengthen new farm and value-added businesses.

Helping new producers become good land stewards.

Providing training, mentoring, and research that beginning farmers and ranchers need to be successful.

Conducting outreach on agricultural job opportunities for military veterans.

Why It Matters

The future of family farming and ranching in America – and the viability of our nation’s food supply – depends upon removing existing obstacles to entry into farming so that more people can start to farm.

This bill encompasses a national strategy for addressing those barriers, focusing on the issues that consistently rank as the greatest challenges for beginning producers.

This bill makes an important investment in the next generation of farmers and ranchers at a cost of just a fraction of one percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s budget. The Act is a bipartisan and bicameral bill that was recently introduced in both the House and Senate in April 2013.

The bill is a result of strategic collaboration among many individuals and farmer advocacy organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and many NSAC member groups, including Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic

More information available at

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Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack: Climate change will soon affect agriculture

Have you ever wondered whether Virginia will become the new North Carolina?

Here is a portion of an article that communicates Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack’s message regarding climate change and the need for farmers to take note and get ready.

Washington D.C. — U.S. farmers and ranchers must adapt or risk getting left behind as climate change becomes an increasingly influential part of the agricultural landscape, the head of the U.S. Agriculture Department said Wednesday.

During a speech in Washington, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said better technological advancements through products such as seed so far have been enough to maintain production levels despite more intense storms, forest fires and an increase in invasive species.

But Vilsack, who served two terms as Iowa’s governor, called the threat of a changing climate “much different than anything we’ve ever tackled” and warned that without more drastic changes the accelerating pace and intensity of global warming during the next few decades may soon begin to significantly affect agriculture.

“If we do not adapt and mitigate climate impacts, it could have an impact on yields, it could have an impact on where we grow, what we grow in the future,” Vilsack told reporters after a speech on the effects of climate change on agriculture. “This is not something that is a next week issue or a next year issue, but this is something that over the next several decades we’re going to continue to confront.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States since record-keeping began in 1895, surpassing the previous high by a full degree Fahrenheit.

The country was battered by the worst drought to hit the United States in more than 50 years, leaving some crops to wither away in bone-dry fields across the Midwest. Plentiful spring rains have nearly eradicated drought across Iowa. Currently, 2 percent of the state is mired in a drought, compared to all of Iowa at the start of 2013.

Vilsack noted the impact climate change has had on various regions of the country. In the Midwest and Great Plains, the growing season has been extended by nearly two weeks during his lifetime.

As temperatures climb, he said, future crop production will change, depending on water availability and other factors. In areas where water-intensive fruit and vegetables are grown, drought-resistant row crops may one day be planted.

“I am not here today to give a scientific lecture on climate change,” Vilsack said during his speech. “I’m here to tell you what we’re seeing on the ground.”

Vilsack announced a series of initiatives the USDA is implementing to help producers, including the creation of so-called “Regional Climate Hubs” to work with producers and foresters in different parts of the country on ways to reduce the impact of climate change on their operations. USDA also has a database to help farmers see how conservation practices would change their greenhouse emissions and boost the capture of carbon from the atmosphere.

Originally published by the Desmoine Register.|head


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Conservation Districts Are Like Noses: Everybody Has One

New to your area or food production in general?  After meeting the Virginia Cooperative Extension agent serving your area, make plans to visit  the local conservation district office.  Your extension agent and your conservation district employees should be among the all-stars on your farm team.

In my area, we look to John Marshall Soil & Water Conservation District but in Rockingham County, Shenandoah Valley Soil & Water Conservation District supports local residents.  The point is, everyone in Virginia enjoys the support of a local conservation district for those things relating to “. . . locally-driven solutions to natural resource concerns.” (National Association of Conservation Districts).

I thought that it is interesting and worth sharing that a national-level organization exists for the 3,000 local conservation districts in the United States.   See the contributions of conservation districts at your national, state, and local levels at

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Who Represents Your Farm Interests?

Photo From

Photo From

Thought it might be useful to include the following American Farmland Trust tool to help readers identify their representing politicians.

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Future Harvest – Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture


For maps and registration for these field days, visit or call (410) 549-7878.

May 29 – Organic Orchard and Value-Added Farm Products

4:00 – 7:30 pm, Country Pleasures Farm – 6219 Harley Road, Middletown, MD 21769

Future Harvest CASA Members – $20; Nonmembers – $30

Rain or shine!

Processing and selling value-added products from the fruits and vegetables grown at Country Pleasures Farm is one of the successful farm profitability strategies pursued by organic farmers Eric and Lori Rice. “If we grow it, we make something from it!” Eric says.

The Rices will take attendees on a tour of their fields, hoophouses and orchard, the oldest certified organic orchard in Maryland. They will also talk about the development of farm kitchen processing rules in Maryland, differences in farm processing and commercial kitchen processing, and organic certification as both a stewardship commitment and a value-added strategy. Guest speaker Juli Obudzinski of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition will talk about available funding programs that can help with value-added production, including Value Added Producer Grants, the FSA microloan program, and SARE and other research funding.

A light lunch donated by Whole Foods Market Kentlands, along with a grassfed beef dish provided by Country Pleasures will be included.

June 22 – Retail Farming for Success on the Delmarva

10:00 – 1:30 pm, Greenbranch Farm – 5075 Nutters Cross Road, Salisbury, MD 21804

Future Harvest CASA Members – $20; Nonmembers – $30

Ted and Julia Wycall have transformed Greenbranch Farm, a former commodity farm where corn, soybeans and confinement chickens had been raised by Ted’s grandfather, into a diversified organic operation with a retail marketing model. All their sales come through retail/direct marketing channels, i.e., farmers markets, a CSA with more than 200 subscribers, and an on-farm store.

Their farm story includes tailoring their diverse product line, which includes produce and meats to attract the retail customer, pursuing methods that have relatively low start-up costs, and using production techniques that enhance long-term soil fertility.

July 13 – Engaging the Public Through Farm-Based Education
9:30 – 3:30 pm, Fox Haven Farm – 4855 Broad Run Road, Jefferson, MD 21755
Future Harvest CASA Members – $20; Nonmembers – $30

Optional workshops and Kids Program available for an additional fee.

How can you tap into the public’s fascination with agriculture and farms by offering farm-based educational programs? This field day at Fox Haven Farm will demonstrate some of the strategies for successful farm-based education.

Field day registration includes a walking tour of the farm led by Mark Eyestone and Dick Bittner, along with a discussion of conservation and alternative energy elements being demonstrated throughout the property; a presentation in the learning barn on engaging children through sustainable food and farming education by Peggy Eppig of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation; and a light lunch.

After lunch, optional workshops allow you to participate in some of the farm-based educational programs offered by MAEF and Fox Haven Farm. Each one-hour workshop is an additional $20.

• Beekeeping with Peggy Eppig of MAEF and Maryland State Apiarist Jerry Fischer

• Food Forests and Rainwater Gardens with Greg Zahn and Mark Eyestone

• Herbs for Wellness and Food with Susan Hirsch

• The Seasonal Plate (cooking a truly local, seasonal meal) with Homeshed Kitchens (Jeanette Warne and Robin Grasso)

Bring the kids along! For only $20 for the entire day, your young ones will participate in fun activities such as a creek walk and scavenger hunt. You’ll all have fun learning all day!

July 21 – Farm Longevity and Multi-Farm CSA

2:00 – 4:30 pm, Potomac Vegetable Farms East – 9627 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, VA 22182

Future Harvest CASA Members – $10; Nonmembers – $20

In operation by the Newcomb family since the 1960s, Potomac Vegetable Farms on Route 7 near Tyson’s Corner is now the only commercial farm still operating in Fairfax County, Virginia. The farm has grown and prospered through a mix of hard work, perseverance and adaptations to changing markets over the years. This field day will focus on direct-market strategies that have proven successful for the farm, including farmers markets, a farmstand on Route 7, and a 550-member CSA, which includes produce from several cooperating farms in the area. The field day will take place during the cooperating farms’ weekly delivery time, so attendees can see how the various contributions add up to a full CSA share, and learn more about the mutual benefit to the farms that participate.

For maps and registration for these field days, visit

or call (410) 549-7878.

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As farmers age, planning for the future of their business grows

Christopher Doering, Gannett Washington Bureau11:07 a.m. EDT May 19, 2013

The aging farming population is forcing more operators to deal with the complexities of how to pass along the business to the next generation. Advocacy groups are trying to provide training.

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Catching the “Slippery Fish” on the Farm and Doing Good for Water

Originally posted

When it comes to balancing a farmer’s need to grow healthy crops and preserve water quality, nitrogen—an important component of fertilizer—can be quite a “slippery fish.” Many factors influence how fertilizer cycles in and out of soil, water, plants and the air. The Nutrient BMP Challenge®, a risk management tool that American Farmland Trust is implementing across the nation to encourage on-farm conservation and reduce the amount of fertilizer flowing from farm fields into our waterways, helps address some of that risky behavior. We recently visited a Virginia farmer and BMP Challenge participant who pitted his wits against a special soil test to predict how much, or how little, fertilizer his corn would actually need.
Farmers use a range of techniques to determine the right amount of fertilizer to apply to their crop; some use high-tech tools, others apply a rule of thumb. The risk protection of the BMP Challenge offers farmers peace of mind when trying something new. The program reaches out to farmers who are interested in adopting conservation practices to reduce the amount of fertilizer used and help preserve water quality but who may be nervous about the risk to their crop yield. A number of these practices provide farmers with techniques to get a better handle on that slippery fish and to use fertilizer as efficiently as possible.

“Now is the Time to Protect the Land”

Our visit to Kevin Craun on his farm in the Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley helps demonstrate this process. We met him in the corn field that he enrolled in the BMP Challenge this year. Craun has been an active participant in various soil conservation practices and farmland protection for some time now. As we stood in his cornfield above the creek, he pointed out fencing he had installed along the stream to keep out his cattle. A buffer of grass and trees varying from 50 to 100 feet in width protects the banks and can absorb nutrients that might runoff his filed in a storm. He is also participating in the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) on 40 acres of his property and has a conservation easement on additional sections of the property, which means that they can never be converted to development. He noted the assistance of American Farmland Trust when he and other community members were developing a farmland protection program for the county. “Now is the time to protect the land when the land prices are low,” remarked Craun.

Doing Good for the Water

The purpose of our visit was to take a soil sample to determine how much nitrogen was in the field before Craun made the final application of fertilizer. This information would allow him to apply an amount closer to what the corn actually needed rather than following a fixed formula. Being more accurate in this way would not only benefit the environment, but would help his profits by not paying for more fertilizer than the crop could use. Matt Heldreth, who took the soil samples and testing along with Jeffery Cline, Nutrient Management Specialist with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is a senior at Virginia Tech and a farmer himself and noted that “techniques such as the PSNT (Pre-Sidedress Nitrogen Test) help farmers match their management to the needs of their individual fields, crop selections and whole farm operation, allowing them to do well economically while they do good for the water.”
As we left, Heldreth asked Craun how much nitrogen he thought his corn would need. “Well,” said Craun, squinting thoughtfully at the knee high plants nestled in the rolling hills. “Maybe 80 pounds?” Wouldn’t you know, the PSNT test agreed! The test and his experience came up with the same estimate for the amount of fertilizer to add to his soil.

As our work with farmers across the country using the BMP Challenge increases, we hope to continue to expand on-farm conservation practices and, in turn, work to preserve water quality in more and more critical locations. Conservation has both public and private benefits, which are being generated by the farmers themselves. And now, as our Virginia farmer put it, we need to “get the story out there of what farmers are doing.”

About the Authors:

Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

Delancey Nelson is a Marketing Intern with American Farmland Trust. She has worked on numerous farms and vineyards abroad and holds a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning from the College of Charleston. She is also the market manager of the Lauraville Farmers Market in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Demand For Agriculture Education

A good article that spotlights the need for and value of agriculture education in our schools.

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