SA Newsletter Jan-Feb 2004

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 12, Issue 1 – January/February 2004

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Living snow fences can save lives, provide income for landowners

It's not exactly a secure feeling when you're driving in blowing and drifting snow. Winter weather is the natural disaster that claims the most lives in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management. From January 1984 to April 2002, hazardous driving conditions associated with blowing snow or soil resulted in 142 fatalities statewide.

"But strategic placement of living snow fences on Minnesota roads can improve driving conditions," says Gary Wyatt, regional educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Living snow fences eliminate or minimize snowdrifts and control blowing soil. Driver visibility improves dramatically, and the number of accidents is reduced. A study by the Wyoming Department of Transportation found a 70 percent reduction in auto accidents from installing structural snow fences to combat blowing and drifting snow.

Rural landowners and farmers have a golden opportunity to help control blowing snow on roadways, building sites and communities. Through the "Continuous" Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), landowners are paid cash rent prices for establishing living snow fences in snow drifting areas for a 10- or 15-year period. These living snow fences can be established with trees, shrubs or tall native grasses. Program signup and planting designs are through the county Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) recognizes the value of living snow fences and is paying farmers paying $1.50 per bushel over market price to leave corn standing in fields. More farmers are leaving corn standing parallel to highways to protect the road from blowing and drifting snow, Wyatt says. A typical corn living snow fence is 1/8 to 1/4 mile long, 40 feet wide and sits 120 to 240 feet from the highway. In the winter of 2002-2003 there were 46 standing corn sites that protected nearly 21 miles of highway.

Climatologists at the University of Minnesota monitored three living snow fence sites in central and southern Minnesota in the winter of 2000-2001. There were three major conclusions of the study: some spring soil temperatures were suppressed, there were no delays in tillage or planting, and no reductions in overall crop yield.

The main challenges in establishing living snow fence plantings include weed control, location of tile lines and management of post-emergence herbicides. Crop yields tend to increase due to environmental protection: corn, 12 percent; soybeans 8 percent; and alfalfa 80 percent.

To find out more about the "Continuous" CRP incentive and living snow fence plantings, contact your county NRCS or SWCD office. Information about designing and maintaining a living snow fence is available from the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agriculture Manangement. Please follow the link below or contact the Extension Service to obtain a copy of the publication Living Snow Fences.

To order the publication, call 612-624-4900 or (800) 876-8636 and ask for item number FO-07277.

Grants available for producers with sustainable ideas

"A lot of good ideas are generated at the producer level," says Jim Faulstich, a South Dakota cattle producer. He received a North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) producer grant in 2002.

Another round of producer grants totaling roughly $400,000 will become available Jan. 16, 2004. The projects must be environmentally sound, socially responsible, and likely profitable, and show a potential benefit to other farmers in the North Central Region. Limits for individuals are $6,000 and groups of three or more independent producers can receive up to $18,000.

NCR-SARE has accepted proposals for a variety of projects, including weed and pest management, reducing off-farm inputs, marketing, improving water and soil quality, sustainable grazing techniques, recycling farm waste, and hundreds of others. The only common theme is that the projects are good for farmers, the land, and communities.

Some of the more spectacular projects are good for dozens of farmers at once. In 2002, Wende Elliot had a great idea for an organic meat farmer coop, Wholesome Harvest. She needed funding to develop a business plan and start marketing her business. By 2004, she had 41 farms in four states working together, selling their products nationally. Next year, she intends to start selling internationally. "The grant gave me the psychological confidence that people believed in my idea and the money to try. If NCR-SARE hadn't come along to water the seed, Wholesome Harvest wouldn't have become the tree it is now," Elliott said.

Producers must live in the 12 state region-Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Grant proposals are due at NCR-SARE's office in Lincoln, Neb. by 4:30 pm March 24, 2004. The proposals are evaluated in the spring, applicants are notified in late summer, and funds are usually available early fall. Producers can go to NCR-SARE's website on Jan. 16 to download the application, or they can contact the NCR-SARE office to be put on the application mailing list. To contact NCR-SARE, call 402-472-7081 or e-mail

Graduate student proposals due Feb. 3

Graduate students in the North Central region can write proposals for up to $10,000 to fund sustainable agriculture projects that will be part of their graduate programs. The complete call for proposals is available on the NCR-SARE website; click on "calls for proposals" and scroll down the page to "graduate student program." Proposals are due in the Lincoln office of NCR-SARE by February 3, 2004.

Contact Bill Wilcke at or 612-625-8205 with questions.

NCR-SARE is one of four regional offices of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. The national SARE program was created by the 1985 Farm Bill, and funds producers, scientists, educators, students, and organizations researching methods for making farming more sustainable.

Genetically engineered crops are increasing pesticide use, report says

Genetically engineered crops are increasing pesticide use, report says. Some 550 million acres of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans and cotton have been planted in the U.S. since 1996 and have increased pesticide use by about 50 million pounds. That's according to a recent report by agricultural economist Charles Benbrook of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center.

The study draws on official USDA data on pesticide use by crop and state. The report calculates the difference between the average pounds of pesticides applied on acres planted to GE crops compared to the pounds applied to otherwise similar conventional crops. In the first three years of commercial sales (1996-1998), GE crops reduced pesticide use by about 25.4 million pounds. But in the last three years (2001-2003), over 73 million more pounds of pesticides were applied on GE acres.

Substantial increases in herbicide use on "Herbicide Tolerant" (HT) crops, especially soybeans, accounted for the increase in pesticide use on GE acres, compared to acres planted to conventional plant varieties. Many farmers have had to spray incrementally more herbicides on GE acres in order to keep up with shifts in weeds toward tougher-to-control species, coupled with the emergence of genetic resistance in certain weed populations.

According to Benbrook, the report concludes that crops engineered to produce the natural Bt insecticide continue to reduce insecticide use by 2 million to 2.5 million pounds annually. But Benbrook says the increase in herbicide use on HT crop acres far exceeds the modest reductions in insecticide use on acres planted to Bt crops, especially since 2001.

The press release is available at, and the 46-page report is posted on Ag BioTech InfoNet.

Cedar Summit Farm is "best dairy"

Cedar Summit Farm (CSF) has been voted "best dairy" in the Mpls./St.Paul magazine's "200 Best of the Year." CSF is a second generation dairy located in New Prague-a town that sits just 25 miles outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area-and one that rapidly is loosing its green acres to new housing development.

Owners Dave and Florence Minar practice Management Intensive Grazing-they rotate 150 cows daily on 200 acres of prime pasture. They rarely administer antibiotics to their herd and use no pesticides on their land. The Minars work full-time on the farm. The majority of their income traditionally has come from bulk milk sales to their local creamery at conventional prices and from some direct market meat sales to nearby residents. In 2000, the Minars decided to make some changes. They wanted to be able to niche market their grazier dairy products, and to create room in the business for several of their adult children. They decided to explore the idea of on-farm milk bottling and processing. They surveyed local retail and household buyers to come up with demand estimates for bottled milk, cream, soft cheeses, dips and ice cream, and traveled around the country visiting other on-farm bottling plants to learn more about input and equipment requirements.

One year later, Dave and Florence Minar broke ground on their creamery and processed their first batch of milk in Cedar Summit Farm glass bottles. Today they market their milk at the retail level through supermarkets, home delivery, farmers' markets, and from their on-farm store.

'Minnesota Grown' opportunity for growers, affiliated organizations

There are currently more than 750 growers licensed to use the trademarked Minnesota Grown logo. That membership has almost doubled in the past five years. Those growers use the logo because Minnesota consumers prefer to buy local, fresh products for their quality and because many consumers also have an interest in supporting sustainable, diversified farms and rural communities.

Growers can apply for a Minnesota Grown license, and a listing in the 2004 Minnesota Grown Directory at The deadline is Feb. 29.

The directory is a consumer guide to local agricultural products. A listing includes both a spot in the printed book and an online listing with map and direct web links. More than 160,000 Directories have been distributed statewide in 2003 by supporters, including many University of Minnesota Extension educators, to consumers looking for local (less road-weary) food and ornamental products. To order the popular, free guides:

The Minnesota Grown Program is also offering an opportunity for affiliated organizations to advertise in a special color center section of the 2004 Directory. Organizations interested in delivering a message to more than 160,000 targeted consumers while supporting family farms and rural communities, can get more information at Or, call Brian Erickson, Minnesota Grown Program, at (651) 296-4939.

Organic Agriculture Symposium CD available from MISA

Information presented at the Organic Agriculture Symposium held November 4-5 at the ASA-CSSA-SSSA annual meetings in Denver, CO. is available in CD format. The CD is free of charge, and can be obtained through Kate Seager in the MISA office at (612) 625-8235 or

Here's some good help for new farmers

The Growing New Farmers (GNF) project was developed for northeastern states, but it provides answers and support for new farmers anywhere. Check their web site at

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Conference: Realities and Opportunities will be held Saturday, March 27 at the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Kearney, NE. Concurrent workshops will be held on whole farm planning, estate planning, risk management insurance and more. Land Stewardship Project will sponsor a bus to the conference. For more information contact Heidi Busse, 507-523-3366 or visit

Appropriate Technology Transfer publications available from ATTRA

Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) is the sustainable agriculture information service of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). It has a new addition to its publications list titled "Bringing Local Food to Local People," which discuses the advantages and obstacles of marketing directly from farms to institutions, such as colleges and schools. It has a spreadsheet with contact information for about 40 farm-to-institution projects.

This and more than 230 other ATTRA publications are available free to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, market gardeners and others engaged in commercial agriculture. Call (800) 346-9140 or download them from the ATTRA Web site.

Upcoming Events

January 23-34. Minnesota Organic and Grazing Conference, St. Cloud. Keynote speaker Ben Bartlett, a Michigan Extension Grazing Specialist, will discuss holistic approaches to farm success and farmer satisfaction, humane livestock handling practices and lead a two hour workshop on intermediate grazing skills. The conference will also include numerous organic and grazing workshops. For more information, or to register, please contact Mary Hanks at the MDA at 651-296-1277 or Conference registration and program can be found at MDA's website.

January 30-31st. Sixth Annual Midwest Value Added Agriculture Conference Eau Claire WI
Heather Amundson
River Country Resource Conservation & Development
PO Box 207
1304 N. Hillcrest Pkwy
Altoona, WI 54720-0207
Ph: 715-834-9672

February 5-7th. Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society Annual Winter Conference: "25 Years of Community," at the Best Western Seven Seas Conference Center, Mandan, ND. NPSAS 25th anniversary celebration to feature Wendell Berry, the author of more than forty books of essays, poetry and novels, most recently a book of essays titled Citizenship Papers and David Kline, a farmer, naturalist, author and member of an Old Order Amish community. Kline will speak on "The Sustainability of Community."
9824 79th St. SE
Fullerton, ND 58441

February 21st. Sustainable Farming Association of MN 13th Annual Conference. Waldorf School, Mapplewood. MN. This theme is "The New Pioneers: Breaking New Ground with Wisdom and Innovation". The annual meeting will include various workshops will be topped off with a delicious locally grown meal prepared by Julie Bloor. For more information, contact Mary Jo Forbord,, 320-760-8732 or Julie Bloor,

February 26-28. Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference. LaCrosse, WI. The conference will include over forty-five workshops led by farmers and other experts, exhibitions by organizations and businesses and valuable resources. For more information contact the MOSES office at 715-772-3153, or

What we're about

This newsletter is supported by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA). It's also supported by the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCRSARE) Professional Development Program (PDP), and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). MISA is a partnership between the Sustainer's Coalition and the University of Minnesota College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences (COAFES).

Send story ideas to the editor: Jack Sperbeck, 405 Coffey Hall, 1420 Eckles Ave., University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 625-1794, fax (612) 625-2207, e-mail: Other editorial board members: Helene Murray, (612) 625-0220,; and Bill Wilcke, (612) 625-8205, Please send address changes directly to: Bill Wilcke, Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering, 1390 Eckles Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108.

Also check MISA's home page at

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.

To stimulate thinking and discussion about sustainability, we try to present items that reflect different points of view. This being the case, we aren't promoting and don't necessarily agree with everything we publish.

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.