General

Organic Seed Key to Healthy Productive Crops

An article in Modern Farmer discussing the importance of organic seed to the future of agriculture, featured several organic researchers and farmers whose work provided the ingredients for a dinner in St. Helena, California benefitting Seed Matters. 

Seed Matters, an initiative of the Clif Bar Family Foundation, is working to improve the viability and availability of organic seed to ensure healthy, nutritious and productive crops. Their goal is to take the whole farm-to-table movement one layer deeper—from seed-to-farm-to-table. Matthew Dillon, who oversees the Seed Matters initiative, emphasized the importance of organic methods, “Seeds created in a conventional, chemically dependent environment yield far less resilient plants.”

Soil Health Institute Announced in Washington

To ensure that soil continues to be a vital natural resource for generations to come, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and Farm Foundation announced the formation of the Soil Health Institute at an event on December 3, 2015.

USDA Announces Funding for Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Programs

On December 10, 2015, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $17.6 million in funding to support research and outreach activities that will help growers, producers and processors find innovative ways to improve organic agriculture. The grants are being funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), a program that is administered by USDA’s National Institutes of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

World Leaders Look to Curb Climate Change with Carbon Farming

At the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this week, carbon farming became a major component of the global response to the climate crisis. Commenting on the decision, André Leu, President of IFOAM - Organics International, an organization that promotes organic agriculture and carbon farming worldwide, said, “This is a game changer because soil carbon is now central to how the world manages climate change.”

Retailers Turn Down Genetically-Modified Salmon, GMO Labeling Debate Continues

Even though AquAdvantage salmon, the first major genetically modified animal product deemed safe for human consumption by the FDA, won’t be available for two years, several major retailers have already taken a stand. Among others, Costco, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Target have said they will not sell the GMO fish produced by Massachusetts-based company, AquaBounty.

Organic Farming Improves Soil Health

Organic soil management practices contribute to soil health and provide ecosystem services such as the minimization of nutrient losses to the environment and the reduction of plant susceptibility to disease. The journal article “Soil Health and Related Ecosystem Services in Organic Agriculture,” by Lynette K. Abbott and David A.C. Manning provides a useful review of the soil building benefits of organic farming.

New Farmers Focus on Sustainability with Help from USDA

Cameron Green and Eric Wittenbach bought their 8.5 acre farm in Okanogan, Washington eight years ago, with the intention to make it as sustainable as possible. However, as beginning small-scale famers, they knew they would need some help.

Their work with a local forestland owner led them to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), where they began working with a conservation planner to develop a strategy for growing organic crops on their land now, and return it to a native, natural system in the future.

Organic Farming Handbook Available from USDA

The National Organic Farming Handbook published by USDA is now available to download. It provides an overview of organic agriculture and the National Organic Program (NOP), as well as information on conservation planning and activities.

FDA Releases New Food Safety Rules

On November 13th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced major steps toward preventing foodborne illness by finalizing rules implementing the bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act. These safety standards are a significant step toward strengthening our food safety system.

Foodborne illness affects roughly 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) in the United States each year. The objective of these rules is to help prevent problems across the entire food system, rather than waiting to act until illness occurs. The rules apply to produce farms and make importers accountable for verifying that imported food meets U.S. safety standards.

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