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Start Up Takes Vertical Farming Mainstream

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Harlan, IA (Co. Exist, April 7, 2015):  A vacant steel factory in Newark is turning into the world's largest-producing vertical farm. After it begins running later this year, the farm's indoor system of modular, stacked trays will grow around 2 million pounds of baby greens annually.

The $30 million building will be the headquarters of AeroFarms, a company that has been developing vertical farm tech for the last decade. But the company sees the project as just the beginning—and hopes to build 25 farms in the next five years. AeroFarms already has eight smaller farms and five in the pipeline.

"This isn't about one farm, this is about changing the way we grow food as a society," says CEO David Rosenberg. "So this is a showcase, where it's not just about demonstrating the technology but how we grow and how we get to economies of scale to make the economics work."

Rosenberg is convinced that vertical farming will become an important part of agriculture. "It's not going to supplant traditional farming," he says. "But it's going to be part of the picture. By 2050, we need to double our food-growing capabilities. Part of that solution is vertical farming."

While the technology doesn't make sense for row crops like corn and wheat, it works well for something like leafy greens, which sell for more in the grocery store—making it feasible to grow them in or near a city. They also often tend to wilt when they travel thousands of miles from a farm in California to a far away place like New York.

Why We Need Honey Bees To Live

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Washington, DC (RawStory, April 7, 2015):  Between their buzzing sounds, sharp stinger, and the fact they're insects, it's easy to find a reason to run away from bees. Then there are some people who kill them if they get the chance.

You might have noticed over the past two or three years that there haven't been as many flying around during the summer. No, it's not because of those people on the streets killing them, but rather because of a number of other factors including pests, pesticides, fungus, and other factors. There's also a mysterious problem affecting hives across the country called Colony Collapse Disorder, which is characterized by a colony containing only the queen and immature bees — all the adult bees are dead and missing.

It might seem like no big deal all the bees have been dying — in 2006, beekeepers were reporting losses of 30 to 90 percent of their hives — but we really need bees to support our own lives. They're a crucial part of the food chain, pollinating over $15 billion in crops each year, or about one in three mouthfuls from our diets. That's a lot of food, and it includes fruits, like apples and oranges; vegetables, berries, and tree nuts. In fact, bees are entirely responsible for almond pollination.

"There is an important link between the health of American agriculture and the health of our honeybees for our country's long-term agricultural productivity," said Kathleen Merrigan, agriculture deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a 2012 report.

 

Who Let The Hens Out?

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Hudson, NY (Modern Farmer, April 3, 2015):  Dunkin' Donuts says 10 percent of all the eggs used in its breakfast sandwiches in the U.S. will be from cage-free chickens by the end of the year, and is studying the feasibility of transitioning to 100 percent cage-free eggs in its more than 10,000 stores worldwide.

Michelle King, the senior director of global public relations for Dunkin' Brands, says the company will be mapping out its international supply chain "to understand the feasibility of transitioning to 100 percent cage-free eggs globally, and, based on this assessment, establish a global target" with benchmarks moving toward the ultimate goal.

"Cage free" refers to eggs from chickens that are housed in barns that allow them to engage in natural behavior such as roaming, nesting and stretching their wings. It doesn't necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors.
The company also plans to source all its pork products for its more than 7,000 U.S. stores from suppliers that do not use controversial gestation crates that keep sows in confined spaces so small they are unable to turn around. The move to gestation crate-free pork is scheduled to be completed by 2022, says the company.

Dunkin' Brands, Dunkin' Donuts' parent company, is working with its suppliers and the Humane Society of the United States to improve its animal welfare policy and meet its target goals, according to the company.

Global AgInvesting: Ten key trends in U.S. agriculture

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Lenexa, KS (AgProfessional, March 30, 2015):  Each year, prognosticators put together trend forecasts for stakeholders in almost every industry. But one of the biggest pitfalls to such measurements is that few companies and individuals are altering their budgets and business strategies well into January. For this reason, monitoring trends in the month's first year as they pertain to the concluding months of the previous year can provide a better expectation of the next 11 months on the calendar.

Here are 10 major trends setting the tone for 2015.

1. Falling Incomes to Hit Farmers

Considering all of the major trends affecting the agricultural sector, farmers are expected to see a steep decline in net income in 2015. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported recently that farmers can expect a decline in net income of roughly 32% in 2015. Declining farm values and falling soy and corn prices are expected to carve into profitability.

This would be the second-straight year that incomes have fallen. The USDA said that net incomes slipped by 16% from 2013 to 2014. The agency predicts that land-owning farmers with low production costs will be able to turn a profit. However, farmers renting at higher levels will see difficulty this year. As a result, farmers will likely seek to cut costs in inputs including fertilizers. Falling incomes are also central to decisions by farmers on whether they will purchase equipment this year.

What Can We Do To Encourage Native Bees?

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State College, PA (March 20, 2015):  Pollinators need a diverse, abundant food source and a place to build their nests and rear their young. As land managers, if we keep these two elements in mind we can encourage native bee populations.

Natural Areas

Diverse and abundant native bee populations are found in areas where there are many patches of natural habitat. Specifically, studies indicate fields 1,000 to 6,000 yards from the nearest natural patch will have the most pollination from native bees [8, 9].

Provide Forage

Pollinator habitat should have a diversity of flowers that bloom at different times to sustain a diverse group of pollinators throughout the growing season. Flowering plants in your hedgerows, riparian buffers, set-aside areas and gardens can all provide essential food. Not all flowering plants are equal! Some species provide lots of nectar, others provide lots of pollen, and pollen nutrients of different plants vary. It is important to encourage the growth of a wide variety of flowering plant species to best feed your bees, especially generalists like bumble bees. For specialists, like the squash bee, the specific host (squash or pumpkin) must be in the landscape.

Nesting Sites

Nearly 70 percent of bee species nest underground. Most other bees choose to nest in wood tunnels, occupying existing holes in snags or chewing into the pithy center of stems [10]. Because many ground dwelling bees only range a few hundred yards from their nest, it can be even more important for land managers to provide nesting habitats directly on the farm. Bumble bees often prefer undisturbed areas such as hay fields and pasture [11]. Many bees prefer to nest in sunny, bare patches of soil [12]. When you excavate a pond or ditch leave the piles of excavated earth. Ground dwelling bees may nest in bare areas of mounded earth. Consider keeping some dead snags. Some solitary bees nest in abandoned beetle tunnels in snags.

Cover Crops

Include flowering plants in your cover crop mixtures and give them time to flower to provide additional bee forage. Penn State's Dr Shelby Fleischer is working on building summer and fall cover crop mixtures that flower successively providing continuous forage for bumble bees and honey bees. The current summer mix trial includes buckwheat, mustard, sunflower, sunhemp and cowpea. The fall planted mix includes peas, vetch, clover and an oat nurse crop. We are still learning about cover crops for bee forage.

Reduced Tillage

Many native bees nest in the ground. Sometimes they nest right in the area where the crop is grown and other times in attractive areas in field edges. Think about ways to avoid disrupting this nesting habitat in some areas of the farmscape. For example in one study farms that practiced no-till had triple the rate of squash bee visitation rates [13]. In other studies farms with pastures or hayfields had more bumble bees.

Irrigation

During times of drought, irrigation may also encourage native bee pollinators. In one of two years (a dry year) of a study of pumpkin pollinators in Virginia, fields with irrigation had significantly more squash bees than those that did not [14]. Researchers don't know why irrigation might increase ground dwelling native bees, but they speculate it might be differences in soil temperature or ease of making a nest.

FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Potatoes, Apples As Safe

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Madison, WI (Manufacturing.net, March 20, 2015):  Potatoes that won't bruise and apples that won't brown are a step closer to grocery store aisles.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the genetically engineered foods, saying they are "as safe and nutritious as their conventional counterparts."

The approval covers six varieties of potatoes by Boise, Idaho-based J. R. Simplot Co. and two varieties of apples from the Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.

Okanagan, based in British Columbia, is trying to make apples a more convenient snack with its non-browning version. The company says bagged apples wouldn't have to be washed in antioxidants like they are now, a process that can affect taste. Neal Carter, the company's founder, says they want to see bagged apples become as prolific as bagged baby carrots.

"We know that in a convenience-driven world, a whole apple is too big of a commitment," Carter said.

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