SA Newsletter April 1999

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 7, Issue 4 – April 1999

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Biodiversity threatened by expanding human activities, scientists say

Land clearing, destruction of natural habitats, nutrient pollution and the introduction of exotic species are causing an unprecedented and rapid loss of biodiversity, according to a new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). By threatening biodiversity, these expanding human activities threaten the stability and sustainability of agriculture and society, the report says.

Scientists who wrote the report said a productive, efficient agriculture—the foundation of modern, successful societies—has depended on biological diversity. And agriculture will be even more dependent on biodiversity in the future.

The report recommended preserving biodiversity by preserving natural areas, including properly managed forests and grasslands, national and regional parks, wilderness areas, and privately held lands.

For agricultural areas, it recommended “increasing the capacity of rural landscapes to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services by maintaining hedgerows/windbreaks; leaving tracts of land in native habitat; planting a diversity of crops; decreasing the amount of tillage, using diverse, native grasslands, matching livestock to the production environment, and using integrated pest management techniques.”

CAST is a nonprofit organization that includes 36 scientific societies; a task force of 14 scientists compiled the report. The group was chaired by G. David Tilman, a widely respected ecology professor at the University of Minnesota, and Donald N. Duvick, Iowa State University professor and former research director at Pioneer Hi-Bred.

Changing crop rotations: Farmers need to seriously look forward to changes in crop rotations, Duvick said in an interview. Rotations of wheat and barley in the Minnesota-North Dakota Red River Valley, and the standard corn-soybean rotation throughout much of the Midwest can’t last forever, he added. Crop rotations have constantly changed throughout history. For example, wheat was the major crop in Iowa in the late 1800s, and it was only about 40 years ago when soybeans were a “new” crop.

To increase the effective use of biodiversity in agriculture, the report advocated the “whole ecosystem” concept, which treats production agriculture as one component in a complex and highly interdependent ecosystem encompassing all aspects of nature. Other recommendations for agriculture included broadening the use of genetic diversity to protect crops against pest and weather problems by introducing multiple genetic systems for coping with stress, and using biotechnology to improve and increase useful biodiversity in plants, microorganisms and animals.

The full report is available in print and on the CAST web site at Printed copies cost $15, but are free for journalists. Call (515) 292-2125, e-mail, for more information.

Partnership addresses economic and social crisis in rural Minnesota

Worsening economic and social problems in rural Minnesota have prompted a new partnership by five public and private organizations representing the state of Minnesota, county governments, the University of Minnesota and its Extension Service, and the Minnesota Bankers Association.

The purpose of the partnership is two-fold: first, to raise awareness of the economic and social conditions that continue to worsen in rural Minnesota and second, to bring concerned public and private organizations and individuals together for a coordinated response. The five agencies involved in the partnership are the University of Minnesota College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences; Minnesota Department of Agriculture; Association of Minnesota Counties; University of Minnesota Extension Service; and Minnesota Bankers Association.

Together, they will pool resources and work collaboratively to develop appropriate state and local responses to address short and long-term issues. The partnership intends to add more members as the effort moves forward.

Bob Byrnes, an educator in Lyon County at Marshall, Minn., will coordinate the new rural crisis program for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. He’ll also represent the Extension Service in developing coordinated programs with the other organizations.

“The raw economics are severe in many farming areas,” Byrnes says. “Many farm families have immediate needs for assistance to deal with family stress, cash flow and other farm management problems.

“And our rural institutions—the towns, cities, county governments and the people in them—need help. This is a serious situation for the state, and the Extension Service and our partner organizations must act quickly to help with this economic and social crisis.”

Byrnes says rural people are frustrated and feel few people are aware of their problems. The U.S. and Minnesota economy are doing well, but agriculture isn’t. “There’s a feeling that the media has not recognized the rural crisis. It’s important that rural people sense they have a future,” he says.

“We want to provide the resources and support to help farm families make important decisions. The cash flow projections on many farms do not meet production costs, and some farmers are considering ways to preserve their assets.”

In his new role, Byrnes will split time between Marshall, where Southwest State University has provided free office space, and the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. His appointment lasts through 1999.

Byrnes may be contacted at (507) 537-6702,

Casey named interim director of U of M Extension Service

Charles Casey, director of veterinary outreach programs in the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named interim dean and director of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, effective April 1. As the chief academic and administrative officer for Extension, Casey will provide overall leadership for educational programs and activities within the organization and with other collegiate units, campuses, public and private partnerships, the legislature, and rural and urban communities.

“Dr. Casey is a widely recognized leader throughout the state and nation for his commitment to research, education, and outreach responsibilities of land-grant institutions,” said Robert Bruininks, university executive vice president and provost. “He has outstanding experiences and relationships in urban, suburban and rural communities, and a rich appreciation of what Extension can accomplish.

As Extension collegiate program leader for the College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Casey has made connections with other colleges and understands the resources the University of Minnesota can provide for the citizens and communities in the state.”

Raised on a dairy farm in Scott County, Casey received a bachelor of science degree in 1961 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1963, both from the University of Minnesota. He has spent more than 27 years in rural veterinary medical practice and was a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents for 12 years (1979-91), serving as chair from 1989 to 1991. He currently serves as chair of the Extension collegiate program leaders.

Casey’s many awards include the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 1993, the County Agricultural Extension Agents Association Recognition Award in 1991, the Extension Service Director’s Distinguished Service Award in 1990, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award in 1990, the University of Minnesota-Crookston Torch and Shield Award in 1988 and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinarian of the Year Award in 1984.

Part-time field inspectors needed

The Minnesota Crop Improvement Association is looking for hard-working, part-time field inspectors to conduct field inspections of crops in early summer, mid-summer and fall. Various positions are available throughout the state of Minnesota. Call 1-800-510-6242 or (612) 625-7766 for details.

“Pigs and prosperity” television program starts in mid-April

“Pigs, Pork, and Prosperity” airs on Pioneer Public Television (from Appleton, Minn.) on Tuesday, April 13, 20, and 27 from 7-8 p.m. The three call-in town meetings will feature a round table discussion with producers and processors and the moderator, Tom Rothman of Minnesota News Network.

The first of the series will focus upon production with special emphasis on production techniques that are relatively low capital cost. The last two meetings will feature some of the recent and exciting opportunities in pork processing and marketing. The series is produced by Jim VanDerPol, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota. His project emphasis is working with the alternative swine research at the University.

The program may also run on Cable Channel 6 in the Twin Cities (pending at press time). For more information, e-mail VanDerPol also has a part-time appointment at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris, (320) 589-17ll.

Annual SFA meeting: an urban Sustainable Farming Association chapter?

On Friday, March 12, the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota hosted a Food Fair at the Earle Brown Center on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus. Over 100 people came to sample and purchase foods grown by upper Midwest farmers, listen to live music by Cutty Wren, and visit with farmers and informational vendors.

Among the many products featured were old-fashioned milk, tasty cheeses, spicy sausages, flavored honeys, grass-fed beef, free range chickens, beautiful brown eggs, and organic coffee, salad greens, popcorn and grains.

The Food Fair was the kick-off event for the SFA’s annual conference Saturday, March 13. The theme of the conference was “The Producer-Consumer Link-Making the Connection.” The opening speaker was Don Wyse from University of Minnesota. Don spoke about the critical role the sustainable farming community has played in developing a strong sustainable agriculture program at the University, and more recently in establishing the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. He also spoke on the importance of these true partnerships between citizens and the University to identify and address issues of significance to the people of the state.

Deborah Kane from the Food Alliance in Oregon was the keynote speaker. Deborah spoke about their efforts to develop an eco-labeling program, which links producers and consumers. The Food Alliance conducted consumer research and determined that many consumers were interested in sustainably grown food.

In response to these findings, the Food Alliance has developed a program that includes farmer certification and a successful public awareness and marketing campaign. Farmers are certified by the Food Alliance. Food grown by certified farmers is labeled with the Food Alliance seal. And the Food Alliance carries out an aggressive public awareness campaign to teach consumers what the Food Alliance seal means.

About 20 people attended the urban SFA breakout session. They included urban consumers, urban market gardeners, rural farmers, and representatives from organizations. Possible functions mentioned for an urban SFA chapter included:

  • Consumer-producer education (for urban people about farming; for rural people about urban markets).
  • Producer to producer education (urban food production and networking).
  • Marketing products (both urban and rural products), coalition building.

Attendees agreed that there is interest and momentum for an urban SFA chapter and efforts will be made to push this forward.

For more information about the event or to join the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, contact DeEtta Bilek at (218) 445-5475; To receive information about the urban SFA chapter (as it becomes available) contact Jan Joannides at (612) 624-4296;

About this newsletter…

For the past year we’ve been funded by the Minnesota Extension Service and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) with support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

We’re always looking for story ideas. Send them to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794. E-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray (612) 625-0220,; Tom Wegner (612) 374-8400,; and Bill Wilcke (612) 625-8205,

Our mission statement: To help bring people together to influence the future of agriculture and rural communities to achieve socially, environmentally and economically sustainable farms and communities.

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.