Project Highlight: Establishing populations of ground-nesting native bees (Colletes) for orchard pollination services
In Jeffersonville, Vermont, John Hayden of The Farm Between is leading a group of researchers to try and improve native bee pollination services in Northeastern orchards. Unfortunately, due to climate change and other environmental factors, pollinator populations are declining, leading many farmers to worry about the pollination and production of spring flowering crops. To address this, Hayden and his team attempted to create suitable habitats for native ground nesting bee species, such as the Colletes bee, in hopes of managing production and improving crop yield.
After obtaining a SARE grant, Hayden was able to fund the testing of three experimental methods to determine if they would be able to establish native bee populations. These methods included 1) attempting to naturally bring in bees by removing vegetation and creating sand patches, 2) bringing newly emerged and captured adult bees to the orchards and 3) digging up bee pupae from heavily populated areas and bringing them to the orchards. The researchers faced many challenges throughout the experiment; however, they were able to gain a new understanding of the intricacies behind bee habitats. This research provides a solid foundation for producers looking to enhance their awareness of management practices for maintaining local pollinators.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE17-871.
Project Highlight: Low Cost Self-Sustaining Year-Round High Tunnel Temperature Control
A group of researchers from Caldwell, West Virginia, worked with SARE to discover if they can use solar and wind energy to power temperature-controlled farming tunnels. For years, farmers who live in climates with highly variable weather conditions have struggled to maintain stable crop production. As a result, many producers whose farms are susceptible to these extreme temperature conditions have turned to temperature-controlled tunnels as a solution. Unfortunately, the energy costs that it takes to maintain these tunnels are very expensive and are therefore not readily available to most producers. To combat this, Tommye Rafes from T. L. Fruits and Vegetables LLC partnered with SARE to fund an experiment to see if powering the tunnels with solar and wind energy would be more cost effective.
After obtaining a SARE grant, Rafes and his team compared the cost of operating the tunnels using three different energy sources: 1) a propane/natural gas heating system, 2) a geothermal network that is not self-sustaining and 3) a self-sustaining solar/wind energy system. The researchers compared and analyzed every aspect of these three conditions, including energy output, equipment and installation costs, labor fees, etc. to find out which type of tunnel would be most beneficial for producers. This research provides a great insight into the costs and benefits of each method, providing producers with an educational resource that they can use to help decide which type of energy would be best for them. Overall, the data collected indicated that solar energy was the most cost effective and provided the most sustainable source of energy for farmers who want to grow crops in extreme weather conditions.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number
Project Highlight: Women for the Land: New Voices for Conservation and Water Quality in Virginia
The American Farmland Trust (AFT) is enacting a new program that is designed to provide women in agriculture with the resources they need to be successful. Over the years, the population of female farmers has significantly increased, with about one third of the nation’s farmland currently managed by women. Research suggests that this number is only going to increase, with an estimated seventy percent of the nation’s farmland to be operated by women in the next twenty years. Despite their growing numbers, women are underrecognized for their tremendous contribution to farming and are fundamentally underserved by the programs that provide farmers with advice, funds and resources. To address this, the American Farmland Trust obtained a SARE grant to fund an educational program designed specifically for women to learn how to incorporate sustainable agriculture practices on their farms.
The AFT invited women agricultural landowners to engage in a three-part learning program about local conservation agencies and how to integrate sustainable farm practices on their land. The program used participatory, women-only Learning Circles designed to build confidence and to empower women to take conservation action. The participants were also provided with an abundance of resources on how to maintain a sustainable yet profitable production strategy. Over the course of this project, fifty six women successfully completed the program, with several of them going on to successfully implement the strategies and practices they learned. This project provides a model for how other organizations can actively include women in the agricultural field while increasing conservation efforts.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number EDS19-304.
Project Highlight: Evaluation of Microclover Black Beauty as a Semi-Permanent Cover Crop and Living Mulch in Organic Tomato Production
Sodco, a Rhode Island turf farm, is making strides towards improving productivity on their farm by testing the effects of using Microclover Black Beauty sod as a living mulch and cover crop. Many farmers use cover crops between production crops to replenish soil nutrients and biological activity. However, this can be challenging on small-scale farms like Sodco where land is scarce, making it difficult to fit cover crops into profitable vegetable crop rotation. To address this, John Eidson, the farm manager at Sodco, led a research project to see if planting Microclover Black Beauty could increase crop productivity while improving soil health.
With the help of a SARE grant, Eidson and his team planted organic tomato crops in three Microclover Black Beauty treatment areas to see how it would impact fruit yield and soil nutrient status. The results did not show a noticeable difference in nutrient status or yield between experiment and control groups; however, the use of the treatment had multiple other benefits. The research showed that Microclover Black Beauty promotes better rainfall filtration, soil structure and organic matter accumulation. Microclover Black Beauty is also a more cost effective fertilizer option that naturally suppresses weeds between the rows, sparing farmers the labor and cost to mulch or cultivate the weeds by other means. Overall, the use of Microclover Black Beauty has potential to improve soil health and reduce input costs, making it a potentially viable option for improving profitability.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE19-927.
Project Highlight: On-Farm Demonstration and Evaluation on the Use of Landscape Fabric in Mixed Produce and Cut Flower Production
At Full Circle Farms in Spring Mills, Pennsylvania, a group of researchers conducted an experiment to explore how landscape fabric can impact crop productivity and weed management. Many farmers use black plastic mulch to manage weeds and mitigate soil erosion; however, this method has the potential to damage the health of the soil and the environment. To combat this, Sabine Carey from Full Circle Farms obtained a SARE grant to fund a project that demonstrated the effectiveness of using landscape fabric for supporting healthy soil while creating less plastic waste, requiring less tillage and reducing soil erosion.
To accomplish this, Ms. Carey and her team tested the use of landscape fabric in mixed produce and cut flower production on three Pennsylvania farms. The researchers measured a variety of factors including soil pH, overall cost and time spent weeding. These measurements were then compared to black mulch and typical straw/hay mulch in order to demonstrate that the use of landscape fabric is beneficial for developing a sound production system. The results from this project will allow farmers to make a more informed decision on the use of landscape fabric as they evaluate methods to reduce weeds, tillage and use of non-renewable resources such as black plastic.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE20-949.
Project Highlight: To Improve the Soil, First to Know the Soil
The importance of soil health cannot be overstated. It supports vigorous plant growth by promoting the efficient use of nutrients and water, protecting against erosion and compaction, and aiding in disease and pest management. Soil health drives farm productivity and resilience against weather extremes. But the soil is an incredibly complex environment, and for farmers to improve their ground, they first need to learn about its condition.
That is why, with SARE funding, a multidisciplinary team from Cornell University created a new kind of soil assessment. Traditional soil tests, which are also important management tools, are typically limited to measuring nutrient levels and pH. They do not reveal anything about the physical structure or microbial life present in the soil, yet such characteristics strongly influence crop yields as well as the efficiency of inputs such as water and fertilizer. In contrast, Cornell’s soil health assessment reports typically include management recommendations to address specifically identified constraints and promote soil-building practices such as cover cropping, reduced tillage, the use of compost or manure, and diversified rotations that include perennial crops.
The Cornell lab handles about 2,000 samples a year and is expanding in use.
For more information, see sare.org/projects, and search for project numbers LNE03-175, LNE06-235 and ENE09-110.
Project Highlight: Reduced-Tillage and Tarping for Small Scale Commercial Potato Growing in New York
Nook & Cranny Farm in Brooktondale, New York, participated in a research project to assess the effects of reduced tillage, tarping and mulching on potato production. To grow potatoes, most farmers depend heavily on tillage for soil preparation and weed management despite the potential negative impacts that deep tillage can have on soil health. Recently, a new method called tarping has gained a lot of attention from potato farmers due to its potential to improve soil health, reduce labor costs and increase productivity. Since tarping is a relatively new method, many farmers do not know how to successfully integrate it into their crop rotation. This inspired Dr. Tuori, the head of Nook & Cranny Farm, to conduct a series of experiments that explore the short- and long-term benefits of tarping on small-scale commercial farms.
Dr. Tuori and his team planted potatoes in a reduced-tillage strip and compared three experimental growing methods: tarping with mulching, tarping without mulching and no tarping with mulching. The researchers analyzed the effects of the different growing methods by measuring biological indicators of the soil. Ultimately, the experiments indicated that the tarping method offers a more environmentally sustainable approach to small-scale potato production than conventional tillage and hilling methods. This research shows that when done correctly, tarping is an accessible and versatile tool that small-scale farmers can use to produce a marketable potato yield while also fostering healthy soils.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE21-995.
Project Highlight: Exploring the Feasibility of Growing Microgreens in a Modified Cold Storage Room
Jennifer Wilhelm led a team of researchers at Fat Peach Farm in New Hampshire to determine if growing microgreens in a modified cold storage room can increase farm revenue. In the Northeast, producers are challenged with bringing in sufficient crop yield while facing significantly shorter growing seasons. Most small-scale farms have cold storage rooms that are only in use during the summer months to keep products fresh for market, but they remain untouched during the colder months. This gives New Hampshire farmers the opportunity to extend their growing season and increase profits by modifying their cold storage rooms to grow microgreens.
To explore the viability of this venture, researchers at Fat Peach Farm obtained a SARE grant to determine the economic benefits and shortcomings of growing microgreens in modified storage rooms. With this grant, the recipients were able to fund a series of experiments aimed at evaluating different production methods for producing microgreens in a controlled indoor environment. The researchers tested four varieties of microgreens under two different methods of light treatment in order to determine the crop viability. To assess economic profitability, the researchers tracked start-up costs as well as all production costs including electricity for heat, fans and lighting. Ultimately, the research found that microgreens provide a simple and efficient way for producers to increase the sustainability and profitability of their farms.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE20-966.
Project Highlight: The Weed Weasel Prototype: Electric Walking Tractor
Jan Yoder of Woodmetalcanvas in Westport, MA, collaborated with local farmers to build, test and refine a light electric walking tractor to increase production efficiency. Weed management is crucial on vegetable farms of all scales, but it can be particularly challenging for small-scale farms as hand weeding is time consuming and tractor cultivation may not fit with smaller acreages. To address this, Yoder developed the Weed Weasel, an electric walking tractor that can be used for quickly cultivating beds of vegetables and other produce.
With the help of a SARE grant, Yoder was able to fund the construction and testing of three Weed Weasels, as well as to provide support to local farms in their adaptation and use of the Weed Weasel. The trial runs Yoder did during this project showed that the Weed Weasel is safe, creates no pollution in the field and minimizes soil compaction, making it the perfect tool to assist farmers in creating more sustainable and efficient crop production. The success of the Weed Weasel drove Yoder to develop step-by-step instructions that farmers can use to build their own Weed Weasel.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number ONE18-324.
Project Highlight: Maryland Extension Training: Solar Photovoltaic Options, Opportunities and Challenges
A team of researchers and educators at the University of Maryland collaborated to create an in-depth training curriculum to help producers learn about the options, opportunities and challenges associated with on-farm solar power. Due to increasing energy costs and decreasing costs of solar technology, many farms in Maryland are considering solar electric installations to power their operations. However, only 7.25% of farms in Maryland currently have solar panels installed, with many agricultural communities lacking the knowledge, technical expertise and experience necessary to facilitate this demand for on-farm solar. To address these challenges, Dr. Drew Schiavone, an energy conservation and technology specialist at the University of Maryland, obtained a SARE grant to create an educational training initiative.
The project launched a series of four regional “train-the-trainer” workshops designed to provide Extension educators and other agricultural service providers with the technical skills, knowledge, attitude and awareness needed to conduct training programs. In conjunction with these workshops, the University of Maryland also created a catalog of videos that are a great resource for farmers or anyone else looking to install solar panels. The educational curriculum and associated workshops explore the basic principles of solar PV technology and its appropriate on-farm applications, and provide an overview of solar contracts and leasing options relevant to Maryland farmers. By expanding access to this type of training, more producers will be able to produce clean energy and increase the sustainability of their farms.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number ENE20-165.
Project Highlight: Assessment of Nursery Gear Technology to Optimize Growth, Survival and Economic Efficiency in Farming Atlantic Sea Scallops
Dr. Christopher Davis led a team of researchers at Pemaquid Oyster Company to study how producers can use nursery gear technology to develop new aquaculture businesses in Maine. For years, Maine has been characterized by a longstanding economic and cultural tradition of scallop fishing due to its ideal environmental conditions for sea scallop populations. Although there are numerous established Maine business entities with sea scallops, the abundance and profit opportunity of scallop harvesting indicates that this industry will continue to grow for years to come. To support the growth of this industry, Dr. Davis studied nursery technology to develop an innovative production strategy for sea scallop harvesters.
With the help of a SARE grant, Dr. Davis assessed five different nursery gear technologies by comparing growth rates, survival rates and the costs of using the different gear types. The results of this project are valuable to farmers looking to enter the sea scallop sector, especially existing aquaculture operations looking to diversify income and fishermen who rely on the competitive wild-caught market. The data from the study has the potential to optimize growth rates and survival of sea scallops, and may enable Maine sea-farmers to take advantage of the economic growth promised by sustainable sea scallop aquaculture.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number FNE21-976.
Project Highlight: Using Drones to Measure Cover Crop Biomass as a Predictor of Soil Nitrogen And Corn Emergence Issues
Jamie Taraila, a graduate student at the University of Delaware, is using drone technology to investigate how seeding rates of cover crops impact crop yields. Cover crops are a common soil health management practice adopted by Delaware farmers who seek to capitalize on ecosystem services like N fixation, nutrient scavenging and soil cover. The services that cover crops provide make them valuable for increasing crop productivity; however, the timing of cover crop termination plays a significant role in the level of ecosystem services provided. The goal of this project was to integrate consumer drone technology into cover crop scouting to figure out how to improve productivity while maximizing the soil health benefits of cover crops.
With the help of a SARE grant, Taraila and a team of researchers from the University of Delaware used drone imaging technology to observe and compare cover crop biomass readings and stand counts. By using drones, the researchers were able to rapidly collect and analyze cover crop data to identify what termination timing and seeding rate provide the most opportunity for ecosystem services. This research will help producers improve crop productivity and will support future uses of drone technology for sustainable agriculture research.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number GNE20-241.
Project Highlight: Assessment of a Composite Herbal Feed Additive on Reducing Haemonchus contortus in a Dual Purpose Sheep Operation
Dr. Erin Masurn, a veterinarian at Fork You Farms in Bantam, Connecticut, led a team of researchers to see if the herbal formula “Early Bird” could treat harmful parasites in sheep. Gastrointestinal nematodes are a type of parasite that can negatively impact the health and reproductive ability of sheep herds. “Early Bird” has shown to be successful at preventing gastrointestinal nematode propagation; however, researchers at Fork You Farms want to test the efficacy of “Early Bird" as a treatment method for sheep that have already been affected.
With the help of a Northeast SARE grant, Dr. Masurn ran an experiment to test how sheep infected with various parasites respond to the “Early Bird” treatment. According to researchers, “Early Bird” has the potential to increase the meat, fiber and dairy productivity of small ruminant and camelid operations by diminishing overall parasite burden. Using different species with varying parasite burdens gives producers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the limits of herbal parasite control. This project will help veterinarians develop protocols for the usage of the product and help farmers determine its worth to their specific operations.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects and search for project number ONE21-399.