Blogs | September 2015

USDA Expands Farm Safety Net, Offers Greater Flexibility for Organic and other Farmers

September 17, 2015 - One of the challenges facing U.S. organic farmers is the lack of coverage, or limited risk protection, available through the federal crop insurance program. The standard practices of organic farmers have not fit well into an insurance framework created to serve conventional agriculture.

But thanks to provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, organic growers could soon see much-improved options for crop insurance; such as coverage for diversified farm operations and reimbursement rates that cover organic’s higher costs.

The farm bill required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish organic price elections for all organic crops by the 2015 crop insurance year, which began in July 2014. Risk protection options have also improved in recent years through the efforts of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA).

A recent announcement by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden revealed several changes that will benefit organic farmers.

Organic Strawberries are Profitable, Risky Business

September 17, 2015 - Organic strawberries are a small but fast-growing sector of U.S. agriculture, with numbers of growers and acres steadily increasing year over year. But while financial returns can be impressive, growing organic strawberries is not for the faint of heart. Initial investment is high, management is complex, and even a flawless crop can fall victim to worker shortages, especially  at harvest. 

A report just released by the University of California Cooperative Extension, “Sample Costs to Produce Organic Strawberries, 2014,” breaks down the financial risks and rewards of growing organic berries on California’s Central Coast, the predominant strawberry-growing region in the U.S. But amid the rows of figures, the report also gives an insider’s look at the elaborate measures required to bring organic berries to market, from hand-culling and weeding to sucking up insects with a tractor-sized vacuum cleaner.

Carcinogenic Glysophate? Organic Farming Offers Alternatives

September 17, 2015 - Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is the most intensively used pesticide in the United States. Following a 2015 report that classified the herbicide as a probable carcinogen from the United Nation’s International Agency for Research and Cancer, the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has published its intent to list glyphosate as a known carcinogen in California.

The concerns that glyphosate is a carcinogen and that it is used so intensively enhance the importance of organic weed management, and reducing our dependence on glyphosate in agriculture. Weed control techniques used by more than 19,000 organic operations in the U.S. can be powerful tools available to all farmers in order to reduce the use of glyphosate and other herbicides.

“Innovation Challenge” Seeks Apps to Analyze Food Resiliency, Climate Change

September 17, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Microsoft to launch the “Innovation Challenge,” a contest inviting entrants to develop and publish applications and tools that can tap into data sets compiled by government agencies such as USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAA) and the United State Geological Survey (USGS), with the goal of modeling the future of food supply and production.

The challenge offers $60,000 in prizes, including a top prize of $25,000, for apps that make use of USDA data and provide actionable insights to farmers, agriculture businesses, scientists or consumers. In addition, Miscrosoft is granting cloud-computing awards to aid university researchers and students who wish to take part in the challenge. Key data sets are now hosted on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform.

The deadline for entries is Nov. 20, 2015, and winners will be announced in December. 

USDA releases results from 2014 Organic Production Survey

September 18, 2015 - The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) has released findings from its 2014 Organic Production Survey, a survey of all known organic producers in the U.S. as part of the Census of Agriculture program. The results provide valuable information on organic farms, sales, and practices.

Farmers and Advocates Gather at Farm Aid in Chicago

OFRF’s Executive Director Brise Tencer has just returned from Chicago, IL, where she attended the longest-running concert for a cause in America: Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary. The event continues what began as a one-off benefit concert in 1985, and the relevance of the message still rings clear today: we need to support justice, democracy, diversity, and sustainability in the food system. 

The gathering included pre-concert sessions on what it means to be a farm advocate, how we can continue to use grassroots organizing power to yield policy gains, and how to engage mentors to strengthen networks and achieve lasting change.