SA Newsletter Spring 2012

Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter

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Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Archive

College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
Volume 20, Issue 2 — Spring 2012

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The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) conducted a nationwide assessment of Land-Grant Universities to measure each institution’s level of commitment to organic agriculture.   

The University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus is one of only six land grant universities nationwide with a perfect score on the criteria: 

1. Certified Organic Research or Student Farm Ground
2. Organic experiment station ground
3. A student organic or "sustainable" farm that is a training site
4. An organic major, minor or certificate program
5. An organic course of any kind
6. A dedicated organic staff or faculty person
7. Organic Extension resources
8. An annual organic field day

The “Cornercopia” Student Organic Farm and the student farm internships program, both overseen by MISA staff member Courtney Tchida, are an important part of the U of MN’s high ranking in this assessment.  The Organic Ecology program at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton is another major piece, as is the Department of Horticultural Science’s Organic Horticulture and Local Food Program of Study.

The complete report from the Organic Farming Research Foundation:  link to report


Atina Diffley is an organic vegetable farmer who now educates consumers, farmers, and policymakers about organic farming through the consulting business Organic Farming Works LLC, owned by her and her husband, Martin. From 1973 through 2007, the Diffleys owned and operated Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest.

Atina’s new memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn, has been published by University of Minnesota Press.  The book is an account of growing a farm and all of the relationships that go with it, as well as the story of the confrontation between the Diffleys and their supporters, and Koch Industries when they proposed building a crude oil pipeline across Gardens of Eagan land. As Atina Diffley tells her David-versus-Goliath tale, she gives readers everything from expert instruction in organic farming to an entrepreneur’s manual on how to grow a business to a legal thriller about battling corporate arrogance to a love story about a single mother falling for a good, big-hearted man.

More about the book on the U of MN Press website: 
book reviews


Rainwater Catchment

Rainwater catchment systems have come a long way since the old “rainwater hogshead” set under the eaves of a building! The Leopold Center at Iowa State University has just released a new publication, “Rainwater Catchment from a High Tunnel for Irrigation Use.”  link to publication

The document details how to install a gutter system on a high tunnel to capture rainfall, along with storage tanks and a pumping system to use the collected water for irrigation of crops within the high tunnel.

The American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association ( is holding a workshop series in Minneapolis, June 13-15.  Visit their website for more information.

On-Farm Renewable Energy Links

Renewable Energy in Greenhouses and Hoop Houses-- A collection of case studies

Rural Minnesota Solar Initiative-- A resource for farmers and other rural small businesses

Calculating the Value of Manure

"What's Manure Worth?" is a new web-based tool developed by Dr. William F. Lazarus, Extension Economist and Professor in the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota.  The value of manure is based on crop nutrient needs for a specific field and crop rotation, fertilizer prices, manure hauling costs, manure type, and application method. 

Determining the economic value of the nutrients in livestock manure can be tricky. Commercial fertilizer supplies the amount and ratio of nutrients you need or ordered. With manure, you get the amount and ratio of nutrients that it contains. Nutrients in commercial fertilizer are acquired by paying for the nutrients and application.  With manure you, in effect, "acquire" nutrients by paying for the cost of application, even if you already have the manure. In the past, manure application costs often exceeded the value of the nutrients applied. Now, in many situations, the nutrient value in the manure exceeds the cost of application.

The web-based calculator is available at For more information about manure economics please visit:
Funding for the development of this tool was provided by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Section 319 Nonpoint Source (NPS) Management Program from the Environmental Protection Agency.


The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NCR-SARE; has been awarding grant for research and education, on-farm research and demonstration projects, and professional development projects since 1988. The goal of the program is to advance agricultural innovations that improve farm profitability, environmental stewardship and quality of life. NCR-SARE recently awarded five Farmer-Rancher grants in Minnesota:

Jan Voit, Heron Lake Watershed District Cover Crop Demonstration Project. This project will demonstrate cover crops on a farm in the Heron Lake Watershed District as they establish 37 acres of cereal rye, purple top turnips, and tillage radish cover crop to provide multiple benefits including erosion control, increased soil organic matter, and wildlife habitat.

Paul Sobocinski, Wabasso: Sustainable Straw Based Animal Welfare, Friendly Growing Unit for Hogs.  Paul will be converting a nursery/growing confinement building with pit to a deep bedded growing unit that will meet Niman Ranch standards.

Alexander Liebman, Minneapolis: Developing Soil Fertility Systems for Urban Agriculture in the Upper Midwest. This project will compare different cover cropping methods to determine optimal strategies for soil rehabilitation and improvement in marginalized, urban lands for ecologically resilient and financially sustainable small-scale food production.

Tim King, Long Prairie: Profile of Farmers in Sustainable Agriculture. Tim will create profiles of the members of the Whole Farm Cooperative and distribute them via various media to existing and new customers for the purpose of educating the customers about sustainable agriculture.

Jane Grimsbo Jewett, Palisade: Finishing Time And Weights Of Grass-Fed Beef Animals. Jane will collaborate with other graziers to document length of time to finish, finished live weight and carcass weight of beef produced. 

The NCR-SARE Youth and Youth Educator grant program awarded two grants in Minnesota:

Anna French, Community Youth Education Program through Stone's Throw Urban Farm

Kenny Dux, Managing Grazing Pasture with Cattle and Sheep

Please contact Betsy Wieland ( and 612-596-1175) or Kate Seager ( and 612-625-8235) with SARE in Minnesota for more information or visit


The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) is requesting preproposals for professional development projects that provide training to agricultural professionals and educators in the Cooperative Extension Service (CES), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), other governmental agencies, and educators in the profit and non-profit sector serving the food and fiber system.  The North Central Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Deadline for pre-proposals is May 16, 2012.  Visit the NCR-SARE website for more information:


The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program in which landowners receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term plantings to reduce erosion and help protect surface and ground water.  Acres enrolled in this program are often those with highly erodible soils, areas that are too wet for commodity crops, or areas adjoining rivers, streams, or lakes. CRP contracts run for 10 to15 years.  

USDA records show that there will be 291,265 acres of CRP in Minnesota expiring in 2012.  If contracts are allowed to expire, the landowners will no longer be required to keep those acres as grassland.  Good markets for commodity crops may pull some of these acres back into row crop production, but it is important to remember that those acres were enrolled in a conservation program like CRP for a reason.  These lands are still sensitive environmental areas if not managed carefully.  

One option to keep these acres as grassland is to re-enroll in CRP.  There are also some programs that allow for grazing of livestock and/or harvesting of hay or biomass.  Yet other programs offer tax breaks on grassland acres.   If you own CRP acres or are interested in converting to grassland, contact your local Farm Service Agency office.  Other programs are offered by:  Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and private organizations.

--Source: Jill Sackett - Extension Educator, Conservation Agronomist with University of Minnesota Extension and Rural Advantage, Fairmont, Minn. Contact them at 507.238.5449 or visit their website at for more information.


Weekly Crop & Weather Reports

The Minnesota Field Office of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA, NASS) has resumed issuing weekly reports containing the latest summary information on crop progress, crop conditions and weather across the state from the planting and growing seasons through harvest.   

The reports are posted on Mondays at 3:00 p.m. Central Daylight Time on the USDA, NASS/Minnesota Field Office webpage link to NASS page and are offered in both written and audio formats.  A “Weekly Crop Report” link is also available on the MDA’s home page at under “In the Spotlight.”  The information is published jointly by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and USDA, NASS.  

Driftwatch Registry

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced it will make the online Driftwatch™ sensitive crops registry available to Minnesota specialty crop producers for the 2012 growing season.

The idea behind Driftwatch™ is to help pesticide applicators and specialty crop producers communicate about the location of crops that are particularly sensitive to pesticides, such as vegetables, grapes and certified organic crops. Farmers can post information in the registry about the location and type of crop. The information is available to neighboring farmers as well as professional pesticide applicators, who can take steps to reduce the chance of accidentally injuring the sensitive crops. The registry can be accessed online at

Participation is voluntary and open to all Minnesota specialty crop producers and pesticide applicators. There is no cost for participation. Driftwatch™ is not intended for residential locations or sites with less than half an acre.

Registry data integrity is managed by an independent data steward, who receives and approves field sites prior to their posting on the Driftwatch™ map. For 2012, there will be Minnesota data stewards for certified organic farms, Christmas trees, fruits, grapes and vegetables. For more information or assistance, farmers can contact the MDA at 651-201-6349.


Interest in local meats has swept across the country. In fact, the National Restaurant Association annual survey of chefs predicted that locally sourced meats would be the "hottest" restaurant trend for 2012.

But what does this mean for Northern Minnesota? Are people interested in locally sourced meat? Are they buying it? Do they know where to find it? The Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (SFA) and the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota are conducting a survey to find out.

SFA and MISA are asking people who live in Northern Minnesota (North of Hwy 210/ Fergus Falls, Wadena, Brainerd, Duluth and further North) to take the survey online:  link to survey

Those who complete the survey by May 30 will be entered into a drawing. Three copies of the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook and two Sustainable Farming Association caps will be given away to survey respondents who enter the drawing by that date.

This project is supported by USDA's Farmers Market Promotion Program.

For more information contact: John Mesko Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, 763-260-0209,; or Jane Jewett, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, University of Minnesota, 218-845-2832,


Schools serving over 558,000 students—or more than 68 percent of the state’s K-12 student population—are now engaged in Farm to School, according to a pair of surveys released by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and the Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA).

Farm to School efforts make locally grown vegetables, fruits and other foods a part of school meals while educating students about where their food comes from. Participation in Farm to School has risen from fewer than 20 districts in 2006 to 145 in 2011, and about $1.3 million of Farm to School foods were purchased by Minnesota school districts last year. Looking ahead, 99 percent of participating school districts say they plan to either continue their Farm to School activities at a similar level or expand them, pointing to continued growth and enthusiasm for Farm to School.

Farm to School In Minnesota: Fourth Annual Survey of School Food Service Leaders.
link to document

Grower Perspectives on Farm to School: A Survey of Interested Farmers, Ranchers and Other Producers. link to document

A full list of participating schools is available online at


This newsletter is supported by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) - a partnership between the Sustainer's Coalition and the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS); 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).

Send story ideas to MISA, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle. St. Paul, MN 55108, 612- 625-8235, fax (612) 625-1268, e-mail: Editorial board members: Helene Murray, 612-625-0220,; Beth Nelson, 612-625-8217,; Bill Wilcke, 612-625-8205,; Jane Jewett,; and Kate Seager, (612) 625-8235, Please send address changes directly to: Kate Seager,, MISA, 411 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Buford Circle, St. Paul, MN 55108. You can find more University of Minnesota Extension Service educational information at Also check MISA's home page.

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.