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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.


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.

Turning Pollution Into Crop Nutrients

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Madison, WI (Morning Ag Clips, March 16, 2015):  As agricultural groups and government agencies continue to tackle the vexing problem of nutrient pollution entering waterways, Penn State Extension is hosting an event in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay watershed aimed at helping producers to reduce negative impacts of excess manure nutrients.

The 2015 North American Manure Expo will take place July 14-15 near Chambersburg, Franklin County. The event provides an opportunity for commercial applicators and livestock producers to advance their knowledge about manure-nutrient utilization, while showcasing the latest technology in manure handling, treatment and application, according to expo co-chairman Robb Meinen.

"Manure Expo combines a one-of-a-kind trade show with educational sessions where researchers, extension educators, government agency personnel, vendors, certified haulers and farmers can share important information surrounding this critical area of animal production," said Meinen, a senior extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences who specializes in nutrient and manure management.

The 2015 expo's theme, "Manure than You Can Handle," is a play on words that reflects the wide range of continuing-education opportunities the event offers, Meinen said.

On Tuesday, July 14, the expo will feature tours of area farms that are implementing advanced manure technologies, followed by demonstrations of manure agitation and dragline equipment and evening educational sessions. Activities on Wednesday, July 15, will include a trade show, educational seminars and field demonstrations.

How To Make Local Food More Affordable

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New York, NY (Huffinton Post, March 13, 2015):  It is widely accepted that eating fresh, local foods is healthier and more nutritious. Smaller farms are generally more responsible with methods of production and when these products move through a shorter supply chain, it is easier to track them for food safety purposes--not to mention that the food maintains its freshness and retains vital nutrients. However, despite their best intentions, many consumers balk at one aspect of buying local foods: the hefty price tag.

Imagine if local farmers and producers could cut back on some of the costs of getting their harvest from the field to the market and, by doing so, make their products more affordable to consumers.

One of the most expensive obstacles these farmers face is a lack of infrastructure through which food can be quickly and efficiently distributed. So the question becomes: how can we move food more directly from local farms to the end consumer, ensuring that a greater number of people are able to afford these fresh, healthy products?

Rather than building expensive new infrastructure, I would argue that the answer lies in more efficient use of trucks already on the road, neighboring barns with storage, and sales platforms that are already designed to bring seller and buyer together. We need to bring the Uber and Airbnb sharing economy to the food distribution industry. The real power of these technology platforms is that they provide a way for people to access resources that others already have, while letting the owners of those resources find customers that they wouldn't otherwise be able to access.

Happy National Agriculture Day

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Lenexa, KS (Ag Professional, March 18, 2015):  Agriculture is essential to everyday life. America's farmers and ranchers share a commitment to protecting the land and meeting the demands of a growing population. They are up before the sun, day in and day out, to put food on the table for the nation.

March 18, 2015 is National Ag Day, a nationwide effort to tell the true story of American agriculture, reminding citizens that agriculture is critical to our livelihood and showing the importance of agriculture education for today's youth. Educating the youth at an early age about the importance of agriculture is vital to future sustainability.

"Every American should understand how the food we eat and the seemingly endless stream of goods from agriculture are produced," said Bill Buckner, president and CEO of the Noble Foundation. "We must value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy. Nothing is more fundamental to our existence than food and the land it springs from."

Over the course of the next 40 years, the Earth's total population will increase from 7.3 billion to more than 9 billion, meaning that global agricultural producers will need to increase food production by 70 percent to meet demand. At face value, the challenge is daunting enough, but the agriculture crisis is compounded by decreased availability of quality land (due to increased desertification and urban sprawl), decreased water and soil resources, and the need for more efficient input use.

"These are real challenges that will affect us all. We cannot run from them. We must face them together," Buckner said. "We must increase our commitment to agricultural research and our support to our farmers and ranchers. That is why we celebrate National Ag Day. These men and women are the stewards of the land. For generations, they have provided safe, affordable, abundant food for our families. In the next generation, they will have to do even more."

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