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New crop production guide aimed at helping farmers tap growing organic markets

March 5, 2015 Comments off

New crop production guide aimed at helping farmers tap growing organic markets
Source: Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences

If you are an organic-crop producer in the Northeast or a farmer interested in transitioning to organic, there is a new resource available to provide the research-based information you need to be successful.

The newly published Penn State Organic Crop Production Guide — believed to be the first and only organic field-crop production guide tailored to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions — is among the most comprehensive university-produced guides in the country, according to Charlie White, sustainable agriculture extension associate in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Hat tip: PW

Reducing food waste could save the global economy $300 billion a year

February 27, 2015 Comments off

Reducing food waste could save the global economy $300 billion a year
Source: Waste & Resources Action Programme and Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Reducing consumer food waste could save between US$120 and 300 billion per year by 2030 according to a new report by WRAP (The Waste & Resources Action Programme) and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. To achieve this would require a 20-50% reduction in consumer food waste.

One third of all food produced in the world ends up as waste, while the value of global consumer food waste is more than US$400 billion per year. As the global middle class expands over the course of the decade, the cost could rise to US$600 billion, according to new research conducted by WRAP for the Global Commission.

Their report, Strategies to achieve economic and environmental gains by reducing food waste, also identifies significant opportunities to improve economic performance and tackle climate change by reducing the amount of food that is wasted in agriculture, transport, storage and consumption.

CRS — U.S. Farm Income Outlook for 2015 (February 18, 2015)

February 25, 2015 Comments off

U.S. Farm Income Outlook for 2015 (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

According to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), national net farm income—a key indicator of U.S. farm well-being—is forecast at $73.6 billion in 2015, down 32% from last year’s level of $108.0 billion. The 2015 forecast would be the lowest since 2009. Net cash income is projected down 22.4% in 2015 to $89.4 billion.

The forecast for lower net farm income and net cash income is primarily a result of the outlook for lower crop and livestock receipts—down a combined 6.3%. The fall in cash receipts comes despite record corn and soybean harvests in 2014, as commodity prices plunged in the last half of 2014 and are expected to remain at substantially lower levels compared with the period of 2012- 2014, when prices for many major program crops experienced record or near-record highs.

Government payments are projected up by 15% to $12.4 billion, which partially offsets the $25.8 billion decline in crop and livestock receipts. The 2014 farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014; P.L. 113-79) eliminated direct payments of nearly $5 billion per year and replaced them with a new suite of price and revenue support programs. In particular, the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program replaced the previous Counter-Cyclical Price (CCP) program, but with a set of reference prices based on substantially higher support levels for most program crops. Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) relies on a five-year moving average price trigger in its payment calculation, but also adopts the PLC reference price as the minimum guarantee in years when market prices fall below it. The higher relative support levels of PLC and ARC are expected to trigger payments of $6.2 billion in 2015.

Options for Improving Conservation Programs: Insights from Auction Theory and Economic Experiments

February 25, 2015 Comments off

Options for Improving Conservation Programs: Insights from Auction Theory and Economic Experiments
Source: USDA Economic Research Service

USDA spends over $5 billion per year on conservation programs, mostly on voluntary programs that pay farmers and landowners to provide environmental services. This report studies the use of auctions in conservation programs to determine if auction design can reduce Government expenditures or encourage landowners to provide greater environmental services.

Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy

February 24, 2015 Comments off

Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy
Source: New England Journal of Medicine

Background
The prevalence of peanut allergy among children in Western countries has doubled in the past 10 years, and peanut allergy is becoming apparent in Africa and Asia. We evaluated strategies of peanut consumption and avoidance to determine which strategy is most effective in preventing the development of peanut allergy in infants at high risk for the allergy.

Methods
We randomly assigned 640 infants with severe eczema, egg allergy, or both to consume or avoid peanuts until 60 months of age. Participants, who were at least 4 months but younger than 11 months of age at randomization, were assigned to separate study cohorts on the basis of preexisting sensitivity to peanut extract, which was determined with the use of a skin-prick test — one consisting of participants with no measurable wheal after testing and the other consisting of those with a wheal measuring 1 to 4 mm in diameter. The primary outcome, which was assessed independently in each cohort, was the proportion of participants with peanut allergy at 60 months of age.

Results
Among the 530 infants in the intention-to-treat population who initially had negative results on the skin-prick test, the prevalence of peanut allergy at 60 months of age was 13.7% in the avoidance group and 1.9% in the consumption group (P<0.001). Among the 98 participants in the intention-to-treat population who initially had positive test results, the prevalence of peanut allergy was 35.3% in the avoidance group and 10.6% in the consumption group (P=0.004). There was no significant between-group difference in the incidence of serious adverse events. Increases in levels of peanut-specific IgG4 antibody occurred predominantly in the consumption group; a greater percentage of participants in the avoidance group had elevated titers of peanut-specific IgE antibody. A larger wheal on the skin-prick test and a lower ratio of peanut-specific IgG4:IgE were associated with peanut allergy.

Conclusions
The early introduction of peanuts significantly decreased the frequency of the development of peanut allergy among children at high risk for this allergy and modulated immune responses to peanuts. (Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00329784.)

CRS — The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): In Brief (January 16, 2015)

February 24, 2015 Comments off

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): In Brief (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which mandates that U.S. transportation fuel must contain a minimum volume of biofuel, is a federal statutory requirement. The mandated minimum volume increases annually, and can be met using both corn-starch ethanol and advanced biofuels. In order for a biofuel to be applied toward the mandate, it must meet certain environmental and biomass feedstock criteria. A variety of factors (e.g., infrastructure, technology, weather, the “blend wall,” and federal assistance) have led to challenges, including delays by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in setting the annual volume standards and a lack of cellulosic biofuel production. Further, it is not clear how declining oil and gasoline prices will impact the biofuel industry. Challenges in implementing the RFS have led to investigations of the RFS by some in Congress, and to court rulings. More specifically, the 113th Congress held seven hearings where the RFS or renewable fuels was the focus or a recurring topic of discussion, and since 2010 there have been five legal challenges regarding EPA’s administration of the RFS. Because of concerns about the implementation and feasibility of the RFS, some Members of Congress have questioned whether it is time to amend or repeal the RFS, or to maintain the status quo.

This report provides a basic description of the RFS, including some of the widely discussed issues.

CRS — Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (February 9, 2015)

February 23, 2015 Comments off

Bee Health: The Role of Pesticides (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Over the past few decades there has been heightened concern about the plight of honey bees as well as other bee species. Given the importance of honey bees and other bee species to food production, many have expressed concern about whether a “pollinator crisis” has been occurring in recent decades. Although honey bee colony losses due to bee pests, parasites, pathogens, and disease are not uncommon, there is the perception that bee health has been declining more rapidly than in prior years, both in the United States and globally. This situation gained increased attention in 2006 as some commercial beekeepers began reporting sharp declines in their honey bee colonies. Because of the severity and unusual circumstances of these colony declines, scientists named this phenomenon colony collapse disorder (CCD). Since then, honey bee colonies have continued to dwindle each year, for reasons not solely attributable to CCD. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that CCD may not be the only or even the major cause of bee colony losses in recent years. In the United States, USDA estimates of overwinter colony losses from all causes have averaged nearly 30% annually since 2006.

The precise reasons for honey bee losses are not yet known. USDA and most scientists working on the subject seem to agree that no research conclusively points to one single cause for the large number of honey bee deaths. This general conclusion was reconfirmed in a 2013 joint report by USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Reasons cited for bee declines include a wide range of possible factors thought to be negatively affecting pollinator species. However, one issue widely noted is the role that pesticides—in particular, neonicotinoid pesticides—might play in overall bee health. Pesticides are the focus of this report. Pesticides are among many identified factors known to affect bee health, including pests and diseases, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and other environmental stressors, and beekeeping management issues, as well as the possibility that bees are being negatively affected by cumulative, multiple exposures and/or the interactive effects of several of these factors.

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