SA Newsletter Sept 1997

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences
Volume 5, Issue 9 – September 1997

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Modifying cultivation equipment for organic vegetable production

It’s a nightmare. You’re growing some 30 to 40 vegetables organically, relying on mechanical weed control only. There’s everything from carrots to corn, beets and broccoli; the row spacings are all different. You’re also dealing with clay soils low in organic matter, which are prone to crusting and compaction.

That’s the challenge facing Joe Lancaster, a vegetable grower from Marine-on-St. Croix, MN. It’s also a problem for many other farmers making the transition from conventional to organic production. “Crusting, clumping and compaction are major factors deterring farmers from relying on mechanical rather than chemical weed control,” he says.

He’s received a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adapt and modify existing equipment for farmers who do sustainable, diversified vegetable production, or are in transition from conventional to organic production.

“With funding from the grant, we’re trying several different equipment combinations to find one that works well,” Lancaster says. The design and development of quick release systems will allow tool changes to be done quickly and more efficiently. The tools will be designed to adapt to a variety of soil conditions, vegetable types and variable row spacings.

To evaluate the project, Lancaster is comparing weed pressure between fields tilled with conventional methods and the adapted equipment. He’s also recording and comparing the number of passes, fuel usage and time spent per pass. The ratio of inputs will then be compared to outcomes and a cost/benefit analysis of equipment purchases will be made.

The farm consists of 100 acres, and is part of a 35-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization. “In the future we’d like to get to about 200 members. That will create a huge demand for good mechanical weed control systems,” he says. Lancaster is working with other CSAs to help them apply results of the project to their weed control programs.

About 20 acres of the farm are used for community gardens. The majority of the produce grown on the CSA is sent to St. Paul food shelves through support of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. Wilder also uses the farm as part of an environmental education program for the city of St. Paul. About 9,000 youth visit the farm every year.

Lancaster can be contacted at 14189 Ostlund Trail N., Marine-on-St. Croix, MN 55047; (612) 433-4463.

New on-farm monitoring project explores sustainable farming systems

A new on-farm monitoring project has been launched by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA). Supported by a $560,000 grant from the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources, it will explore the environmental and economic impacts of sustainable farming systems.

Scientists, farmers, nonprofit groups, Experiment Station personnel and government agencies are working together to conduct on-farm monitoring. And they’ll monitor everything from soils to profits, from crop yields to stream habitat, says Loni Kemp, senior policy analyst with the Minnesota Project. Kemp says at least eight farms will host intensive, quantitative monitoring of soils and water quality. In addition, roughly a dozen sites will conduct qualitative monitoring, based in part on another “toolbox” created by the MISA monitoring team.

The research will be conducted by local teams, each led by a local staff person, in three regions of Minnesota as follows:

  • The Chippewa River watershed in western Minnesota (Terry VanDerPol, Land Stewardship Project).
  • The southwestern corner of Minnesota (Ruth Ann Karty, Coteau Ridge chapter, Sustainable Farming Association).
  • A southeastern area focused on the Sand Creek watershed near Jordan, the biggest contributor of sediment pollution in the Minnesota River Basin (Richard Ness, Land Stewardship Project).

Kemp says the project is founded in the belief that sustainable agriculture must build bridges between scientific disciplines, farmers and scientists, and between farmers and the community. The goal is to build an interdisciplinary team to document the impacts of various types of cropping systems on environmental quality. Kemp is coordinating the project. She can be reached at or (507) 743-8300.

“Steadfast” is new commercial variety of birdsfoot trefoil

The first commercial variety of birdsfoot trefoil in the world with the ability to both spread and resist root diseases is now available. Birdsfoot trefoil is a fine-stemmed, yellow-flowered forage crop that resembles alfalfa, but tolerates poor soil conditions and abuse from grazing animals much better than alfalfa. It is palatable, nutritious and doesn’t cause bloating, according to Paul R. Beuselinck, plant geneticist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

“Steadfast is a fitting name for the new variety, because its ability to spread by rhizomes helps plants keep from being killed by root diseases that normally plague trefoil varieties,” he says. The variety should do well in areas of intensively managed animal grazing systems for producers wanting a nonbloating, cool-season legume as a component of their grass-based pastures.

“Producers can use it in grass or in unimproved acres,” says Beuselinck. Peterson Seed Company, Inc., in Savage, MN, has an exclusive license to sell and distribute Steadfast. Beuselinck can be contacted at 207 Waters Hall , University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, (573) 882-6406,

New books on sustainable agriculture resources, mechanical weed control

A comprehensive book just published by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) provides an information gateway to resources on sustainable agriculture topics in a variety of formats.

The Source Book of Sustainable Agriculture lists 559 resource materials covering the vast breadth of agriculture, from how to market sustainably grown vegetables to locating the latest sustainable research findings on the World Wide Web. The 136-page book covers print, electronic and video resources as well as contact information to order them.

“Across the United States, many organizations and individuals are doing great work in sustainable agriculture, but half the battle is knowing how to access those resources,” says Jim Hanson, extension program leader for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland. “The Source Book provides an easy-to-use directory to those important research and educational efforts.” Organized by state, the Source Book is ideal for educators and others who want to learn more about sustainable agriculture in their area.

Another new book from SAN is Steel in the Field, with practical details on how to choose and use weed-control implements. There’s information from engineers, agronomists, weed specialists and 22 farmers. Illustrations show 37 types of tools and 18 accessories.

You can access SAN materials, including other books and some free publications on the Web.

To order the Source Book of Sustainable Agriculture ($12) or Steel in the Field ($18), send a check or purchase order to: Sustainable Agriculture Publications, Hills Building, UVM, Burlington, VT 05405-0082. To inquire about bulk discounts and rush orders, call (802) 656-0471 or e-mail

Home *A* Syst can help you evaluate your home for environmental, safety risks

An environmental risk-assessment guide can help you manage your home to be more friendly to the environment. It’s called Home *A* Syst: An Environmental Risk-Assessment Guide for the Home, and is designed to help residents of rural and suburban areas evaluate their homes for safety and environmental risks.

Topics include evaluating a property for environmental risks, stormwater management, drinking water well management, household wastewater, hazardous household products, liquid fuels, indoor air quality and household waste management. Home *A* Syst also helps you see the “big picture”—how management practices around the home can affect the entire community. For example, the book explains how sweeping grass clippings into a storm sewer affects aquatic life in the stream down the street, how dumping motor oil on the ground can devastate a community’s drinking water, and how shopping with the environment in mind can help preserve natural resources and minimize waste.

It also illustrates ways that community activities can affect the individual. For example, a nearby gas station introduces potential risk. Careless neighbors, abandoned wells or underground fuel tanks can present risks. The book encourages residents to think of themselves as part of a community.

Single copies are available for $11.50, which includes postage and handling. Order from: NRAES-87, Cooperative Extension, 152 Riley-Robb Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-5701, (607) 255-7654,

MDA accepting applications for sustainable agriculture grants

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is accepting applications for grants from Minnesota farmers, researchers and educators with innovative ideas for sustainable farming systems. MDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Program has $210,000 for grant projects during this fiscal year. A new twist this year: previous grant recipients who have completed projects are now eligible to apply for funding to continue their projects or try new ideas.

Funding for up to $25,000 is available for three-year projects that benefit the environment, increase farm net profits and improve farm family quality of life. Successful grant projects in the past have included rotational grazing systems, Swedish-style deep litter bedding of hogs, weed control, alternative fertilizers, strip-cropping, processing and direct marketing strategies, tillage comparisons, composting and cover crops.

Projects must be conducted on Minnesota farms. Joint applications for watershed projects or from farmer groups are encouraged. Completed applications are due Monday, Dec. 15. For applications and more information, contact Wayne Monsen, Sustainable Agriculture Program, MDA, 90 W. Plato Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55107, (612) 282-2261.

Coming events…

Field day sponsors include the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Program, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) and the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA) of Minnesota.

Oct. 1, 1 p.m.- 3 p.m., Agroforest Wisconsin Pasture Walk, East-Central Wisconsin, Geoff King, (920) 528-8773.

Oct. 11, “Combining Agriculture and Trees for Profit: Emerging Agroforestry Opportunities in Minnesota,” Long Prairie, Jan Joannides, (612) 624-4299.

Oct. 21-22, “Going for Gold: Building Winning Food Marketing and Sales Strategies,” Earle Brown Center, U of M St. Paul Campus, Mavis Sievert, (612) 625-7019.

Oct. 23, noon, “Weathering the Embargo: Cuban Agriculture in the 1990s,” Kirby Ballroom, University of Minnesota-Duluth, (218) 727-1414.

Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., family dance & fund-raiser sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association, (218) 727-1414.

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.