Project Highlight: High Tunnels Extend Local Food Production
In 2010, Idaho’s farmers, researchers and educators launched a collaborative effort to achieve the goal of having 20 percent of the state’s food produced locally by 2020. At the same time, a survey of local food vendors revealed that the single largest roadblock to making this goal a reality is Idaho’s short growing season.
This prompted the University of Idaho’s Stephen Love to organize a team of horticulture specialists to expand farmers’ use of high tunnels in the state. Funded by a SARE grant, the team collaborated with three experienced high tunnel growers in different parts of the state to evaluate high tunnel designs and the profitability of growing various crops in them.
The experience at the three farms gave the team important information to share with growers around the state. On one farm, eggplants grown inside the tunnels were superior economically to ones grown outside, but for cucumbers the results were mixed. On another farm, there was a clear advantage to growing tomatoes, garlic and peppers in high tunnels. The third farm showed that medicinal crops otherwise unsuited to Idaho’s climate can be grown in high tunnels. It also evaluated structures specially designed by engineering students to withstand harsh winter conditions.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number OW13-043.
Project Highlight: Giving aquaculture a boost with solar energy
The Northern Mariana Islands have one of the highest electrical utility rates in the United States, which is a huge barrier to profitability for shrimp and tilapia farmers, who must run air and water pumps 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With SARE funding, aquaculture farmer Pedro Ariola is showing his peers that solar power can be the solution.
With a 2009 SARE grant, Ariola installed solar panels that have taken him off the grid for 12 hours each day, cutting his monthly energy bill in half. This is significant considering energy accounts for 40 percent of aquaculture production costs.
When Ariola began this project, he was slowed by a lack of capacity to assist with renewable energy projects such as this—in fact, this project was the first of its kind in the Northern Mariana Islands. He had to go out and find the people with the expertise to help with design and installation of the system, and he had to purchase much of his equipment from the mainland United States.
Ariola’s experience has paid off in more ways than one. His success has caught the attention of other farmers who were discouraged with the high costs of aquaculture production. He is now fielding regular inquiries from fellow farmers and hosts tours of his operation. At least one other farmer has installed solar equipment as a result.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number FW09-006.
Project Highlight: Success with Marine Ornamental Farming Training
The people of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands have skills and resources for aquaculture, agriculture and agroforestry, but the islands’ economic development lags far behind their potential. According to Simon Ellis, director of the Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei, one of the most successful aquaculture enterprises to date has been the farming of marine ornamental invertebrates for home aquariums abroad.
So, Ellis used a SARE grant to expand the area’s ornamental fish farming industry by providing training to the Extension professionals who work with aquaculture operations. The project included a weeklong training and tours of operations, with the aim of improving knowledge and collaboration between Extension, producers and distributors. The training included 15 participants and addressed topics such as production, marketing, shipping, permitting and sustainability.
In an exit survey, all the participants indicated they had a better understanding of the marine ornamental industry, and the majority planned to use their new knowledge in their work. The project created new partnerships between producers and exporters that remained in place at the project’s completion. In 2013, two years into the project, ornamental fish exporters reported record sales, a feat that Ellis does not take complete credit for but one which he thinks the project contributed to.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number EW11-001.
Project Highlight: Sheet Mulch Using Cardboard and NFTs
Weeds grow at a very fast pace in Guam. Hand weeding, herbicides, and bush cutting (commercial high powered gas trimmers) are common methods to suppress weeds. However, bush cutters can damage crops and be costly and hand weeding takes a lot of labor.
In this project, farmer Glen Takai proposed testing sheet mulch and nitrogen fixing trees (NFTs) as a solution. Sheet mulching is a layered method of mulching. Typical sheet mulching methods consists of initially laying single or multiple layers of cardboard over a targeted area. Cardboard layers can be topped with shredded/chipped organic waste material. Cardboard is an abundant resource on this remote island due to high imports, and it creates much waste into the landfill. The use of cardboard and NFTs as sheet mulch to manage weeds could also improve soil quality through adding organic matter.
The project has demonstrated significant differences in labor cost savings using sheet mulch compared to not using sheet mulch. Yield data shows that plants using sheet mulch produced significantly higher than plants not mulched. The common use of herbicides was completely eliminated. Lastly, the project promotes the idea of reduce, reuse, and recycle.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number FW19-348.
Project Highlight: Agricultural productivity of Kratky's non-circulating hydroponics method in cropping specialty vegetables for limited resource growers in Manu'a
Growing vegetables hydroponically, such as bok choy or lettuce, can improve access to fresh produce in remote communities dependent on imported food. Additionally, the quality of locally grown produce can be higher than imported produce that can wilt during shipping.
A Western SARE funded project in American Samoa researched and quantified benefits of a non-circulating hydroponics system for limited-resource growers. Later demonstrations to farmers, village groups and government agencies, as well as a companion Teachers Hydroponics Resource Kit, documented a modern method of farming – while raising awareness of healthy lifestyles, developments in sustainable agriculture, and food security.
The project, led by Toni Leano of Maun'a Leta Creative farm, found the benefits to be:
• Crop yields higher than using conventional growing methods
• Better protection from pests
• Protection from extreme weather, such as heavy rain
• Ability to supply and monitor required nutrients easily
• Easy to adopt system for limited resource growers
• Provide access for local communities to fresh nutritious food
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number FW19-352.
Project Highlight: A Better Way to Identify Livestock Disease
Despite measures that had successfully eradicated brucellosis in cattle and stopped its spread to humans, the deadly disease can still be found in elk and bison in the greater Yellowstone area. Over the past 10 years, the disease began spreading to local livestock, leading to expensive quarantines and economic losses to producers as they choose to, or are required to, euthanize cattle to undergo imperfect and time-consuming diagnostic testing. A positive result from the currently used test does not guarantee that the animal was in fact infected.
To reduce these burdens on ranchers, University of Wyoming graduate student Noah Hull worked to increase the ability to identify animals infected with brucellosis in the greater Yellowstone area by creating and validating a new molecular assay. As the project progressed, Hull found that this test was twice as effective as the traditional method at identifying animals that were truly infected. Perhaps more meaningfully to producers, the new testing procedure can be done on animals while still alive, which could lead to a reduction in culling. The turnaround time for results is much faster as well. To spread the word about his findings, Hull held four stakeholder meetings in the state that reached 120 participants.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number GW16-038.
Project Highlight: Fostering Better, More Sustainable Forests
Private timber lands in the Pacific Northwest are declining faster than in any other area of the country. The Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG) works with private landowners to promote a sustainable, environmentally sound economy in the region’s forestlands.
NNRG received three SARE grants to provide education on forest conservation practices to professionals and producers. The first project trained more than 111 individuals involved in forestry about the value-added benefit of Forest Stewardship Council-certified products and market opportunities for such products. Twenty-six members became FSC-certified, representing 112,000 acres. NNRG then followed up with another training for 100 natural resources professionals to help them assist landowners with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a USDA conservation program. More than 68 forest producers reported that they applied for EQIP funds. These producers used the funds to develop management plans and conduct conservation practices to enhance timber quality and overall productivity.
In their final project, NNRG partnered with EcoTrust to provide producers with tools and examples that would help them make decisions and consider active forest management. Through their outreach, eight farmers changed or adopted a practice with 25 farmers planning to change their practices.
For more information on these projects, see sare.org/projects, and search for project numbers EW10-016, EW12-026 and OW14-003.
Project Highlight: Better Onions, Fewer Inputs
Onions are a high-value crop, but high fertilizer rates and aggressive use of pesticides to suppress weeds, diseases and insects threaten the sustainability of onion production. In Utah, growers and researchers are working to show how changes in management practices can allow farmers to maintain profitable yields while lowering their use of inputs.
In 2013 a SARE-funded team led by Utah State University’s Diane Alston studied the effect of certain changes on onion yields, in particular fertilization rates and crop rotations. They were following the lead of a small group of onion producers in the state who were finding they could reduce their use of pesticides by lowering their use of fertilizers and still achieve good yields.
The team pursued multiple objectives and developed a body of information that is helping Utah’s producers adopt more sustainable practices. They surveyed nearly 60 farms to better understand production system predictors of pests and yield; conducted field experiments that showed reducing fertilizer rates could reduce pest densities; and created an interactive production modeling tool.
In an assessment of producers conducted near the end of the project, 67 percent said the information they learned would help them diversify their operation, and 80 percent felt it would help them reduce their use of off-farm inputs.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number SW13-034.
Project Highlight: Insect Pathogens Control Clover Pest
Red clover seed is produced commercially in western Oregon and Washington, and one of its major pests is the clover root borer. The clover root borer develops underground in the roots of red clover and controlling it has proven to be very difficult. Growers once used toxic organochlorine insecticides to battle the borer, but they have been banned from use. Since then, growers have seen a return of the root borer and typically manage it by rotating fields every two years.
With SARE funding, Oregon State University graduate student Anis Lestari studied whether insect pathogens, in particular naturally occurring fungi, have potential as biocontrol agents for controlling the root borer. Lestari collected clover root borers from four local Willamette Valley farms and isolated and identified pathogens associated with adults and larvae. She compared their virulence against the pest with commercially available microbial products and found that entomopathogenic fungi (a fungus that can act as a parasite) have the potential for use as a biological control of the clover root borer in western Oregon red clover fields.
More research and validation are needed before official recommendations can be made, but Lestari’s promising results show that a sustainable method for controlling the clover root borer is possible.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number GW15-018.
Project Highlight: Hill-Climbing Cows May Benefit Ranchers
Most would say that cows don’t go up steep slopes, climb hills or travel far from water, but some just take off for the hills. As grazers, cattle provide ecological benefits to natural areas and help control invasive weeds, but overgrazing can damage riparian areas and can affect downstream water quality. A possible solution? Hill-climbing cattle, which could increase ranchers’ stocking rates as much as 30 percent and improve the productivity of rangeland in the western United States.
New Mexico State University Range Science Professor Derek Bailey and his team of scientists across the West used SARE funding to look at the genetics of behavior—specifically to identify the genes linked to hill climbing—to develop an inexpensive screening test that allows ranchers to select stock with a genetic disposition to wander and climb. By tagging cattle on ranches with GPS collars, tracking their every move and drawing blood from the hill-climbers to identify genetic commonalities, Bailey’s team collected and analyzed enough data to believe that an affordable screening test is possible and that the hill-climbing trait does not come with significant genetic downsides. More hill-climbing cows would allow ranchers across the West to use harder-to-reach areas for grazing and to thus better manage their rangeland.
For more information on these projects, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number SW15-015.
Project Highlight: Gaining a Better Understanding of Ag Complexities on Reservations
In the United States, more than one in three farms benefits from a range of direct payments by the federal government, according to USDA statistics. But when it comes to farms operated by American Indians, that figure plummets to nearly one in 10.
Missing out on these programs is one glaring example of how USDA professionals have long struggled to serve agricultural producers on American Indian reservations. And it is one reason why University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Educators Loretta Singletary and Staci Emm used a SARE grant to develop a broad-based curriculum that helps USDA service providers in four western states understand the unique needs and complexities of agriculture on reservations.
Reception to the 178-page teaching guide, called People of the Land, has been so positive that USDA agencies and state departments of agriculture in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have begun adopting it, and its authors have had to print a second run. To develop the curriculum, Emm and Singletary started by assessing the agricultural needs of American Indians on the 10 largest reservations in their four-state region, and by speaking with the agricultural professionals who serve them. Their work also earned them the 2011 National Extension Diversity Award.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number EW11-006.
Project Highlight: Improving the Benefits of Applied Nitrogen
Broadcast applications of urea are a common management practice for large-acreage, no-till, dryland winter wheat producers in Montana. But when urea is applied to the soil surface, a significant amount of nitrogen can be lost when it converts to ammonia gas and enters the atmosphere in a process known as volatilization. Farmers face economic losses due to reduced yield or crop quality from inadequate nitrogen fertility, and ammonia emissions contribute to environmental pollution and nitrogen enrichment of natural ecosystems.
With SARE funding to address the problem, Montana State soil scientist Richard Engel conducted on-farm trials over four seasons to identify soil and environmental conditions under which urea applications were most susceptible to ammonia loss, and to identify management practices to reduce those losses. Based on the findings, Engel’s team recommends against surface-applying fertilizer to frozen or wet ground, particularly during the over-winter period. Applying it during the spring following thaw resulted in lower ammonia volatilization loss. By following the team’s recommendations to fertilize in the spring and incorporate the fertilizer into the soil when possible, a majority of Montana’s wheat growers are reducing air pollution and saving about $5 million a year through reduced fertilizer loss and increased yields.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number SW10-050.
Project Highlight: Finding Success with Local Fertilizers
Because they rely on imported food, Hawaii and the other Pacific Islands face food insecurity issues. Pacific Island farmers also rely on expensive imported fertilizers with prices that continue to increase substantially. The issue is so important that participants in a 2008 Western SARE listening session in Hawaii ranked replacing imported fertilizers with local resources as the highest research, education and development priority. Local organic sources of nutrients have promise—including compost, tankage (rendered animal products), biochar and seaweeds—but more research is needed on their use.
Three SARE-funded projects on locally produced organic fertilizers are taking a step in that direction. One project evaluated quality, maturity, nitrogen-release pattern and crop growth for 10 composts through a series of lab, greenhouse and on-farm trials. It led to an increased demand for locally produced tankage and a reported increase in taro and sweet potato yields and quality when using invasive algae as a fertilizer.
The second project followed up on the promise of tankage but using it as a solution for fertigation. There was some benefit from using this recipe compared to imported liquid organic fertilizer. The third project is continuing the momentum by evaluating biochar combined with compost.
For more information on these projects, see sare.org/projects, and search for project numbers SW11-055, SW14-026 and SW16-021.
Project Highlight: Dryland Cropping Intensification Shows Benefits
In the Great Plains region of Colorado, a scarce supply of water is the chief limiting factor in dryland cropping yields. This concern over limited water availability prompts many farmers in the area to adopt a winter wheat-fallow rotation, yet this approach worsens soil productivity over the long term.
Intensifying production and using no-till could actually improve yields and profitability by building up soil health and improving moisture retention. Using a SARE grant, Colorado State University graduate student Steven Rosenzweig set out to both quantify the benefits of reducing fallow frequency and understand the barriers to adoption. He compared different dryland rotation intensities and found that reducing fallow improved soil health, which ultimately allowed farmers to improve grain production with a similar amount of fertilizer.
He also conducted in-depth interviews with 30 farmers, and identified risk, profitability and crop insurance policy as top perceived barriers to reducing fallow frequency. He also identified strategies for helping farmers overcome the barriers, such as changing the way agronomic researchers approach their work to be more inclusive of long-term viewpoints and profitability. The identified benefits, barriers and strategies for change were widely disseminated, including a website, blog and an upcoming film.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number GW16-020.
Project Highlight: Nitrogen-Management Tools Position Limited-Resource Farmers for Success
Managing nitrogen (N) effectively helps farmers raise a high-quality crop, avoid wasting dollars and protect water quality. Yet in the highly productive Salinas Valley of Monterey County, many farmers who use organic practices lack complete information on effective N management. This is particularly true of beginning farmers and those who have a language barrier or otherwise have limited access to support services. Organic agriculture is booming in Monterey County: organic sales volume was $151 million in 2012. Ensuring that all organic growers have the best opportunity to succeed in a lucrative market was the motivation behind the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association’s (ALBA) SARE grant.
ALBA collaborated with experienced farmers and Extension specialists to hold workshops on organic N management and on-farm research principles. It also provided in-depth, bilingual training and support to nine beginning farmers participating in its incubator program. ALBA’s grant allowed 500 growers and educators to benefit from workshops and publications focused on N management, and 91 percent of surveyed farmers reported adopting at least one new practice. By improving their knowledge on the subject and integrating new practices, the growers have positioned themselves for success.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number OW13-062.
Project Highlight: Collaborative Training for Southwest Grassland Restoration under Environmental Uncertainty
Early settlers’ descriptions of southeast Arizona told of uninterrupted grassland stretching from one mountain range to another.
That’s changed. Today much of that land has been invaded by mesquite and other woody shrubs and the ecological services provided by the grassland – including water recharge into the underground aquifers – has been diminished.
One reason for the change has been fire – or more specifically the lack of it. Once viewed as natural to the landscape as rain, total fire suppression became standard practice in the early 1900s throughout the West. Without frequent fires to control their growth, the woody shrubs spread across desert southwest grasslands.
But as the importance of preserving the grasslands became more apparent, university researchers, conservationists, ranchers, government agencies and others began looking for ways to preserve these important landscapes, even in the face to today’s climate uncertainty.
Western SARE helped the effort by funding an important professional development project to bring all those experts and other interested people together for three day-long workshops looking at the history of the Southwest grasslands and management methods and options for controlling brush and woody species.
One thing that came out of the workshops was a Brush Management Matrix – a decision-support tool for ranchers and land managers to consult when considering brush-management projects. To extend the reach of the project, all of the presentations were recorded and posted on the web, and a series of six videos were produced.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number EW17-006.
Project Highlight: Training-the-Trainer on High Tunnel Production
Farmers use high tunnels to extend the growing season for high-value crops by several weeks. The practice is especially beneficial in Alaska, a state with short and intense growing seasons. High tunnels are so popular that over 400 have been built in the state since 2010, and the Kenai Peninsula district has the most high tunnels per farmer in the nation.
To help farmers take full advantage of these season-extending structures they need access to well-trained agriculture agents, which is not so easy in a state so large. To increase capacity, University of Alaska’s Casey Matney used a SARE grant that provided training to 20 people, including all of the state’s Extension agriculture specialists and professionals from other organizations.
They participated in a workshop addressing nutrient management, integrated pest management, crop selection, irrigation, and construction and maintenance considerations in high tunnel production. More ag professionals and farmers have access to the information through a bulletin and video that Matney’s team produced. Each Extension agent who participated continues to offer high tunnel training in their district.
For more information on this project, see sare.org/projects, and search for project number EW15-022.