National uncertainty, community hope, and pruning

By Harrison Topp, Topp Fruit

All winter I’ve been going to conferences, having potlucks, and generally reveling in the amazing farmer community we have here in Colorado. But now it’s time to start farming, which means the fun is over. Okay, that’s not true, but the rolling of the season brings us into a new cycle of long hours and hard work. Just as the buds are beginning to swell, so are the knots in my lower back and shoulders. Hello, spring.

Actually, this is the time of the year when I can’t contain my excitement for the growing season. Winter is a time of reflection and education. As a community organizer, I’ve been living my life one meeting at a time. We’ve been having great discussions about soil health and climate-smart agriculture with a broad spectrum of producers. Big operations and small ones are taking these conversations seriously and adopting practices that conserve water, build soil, and protect our environment. Most of my role models right now come from the world of traditional ag, which I think is a strong indicator of a more progressive attitude throughout agriculture. It makes me proud to be part of this industry and part of the system that sustains the people of this planet. (more…)

My climate change plan: foster community

Casey distributes CSA shares.

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

Last season was different. A noticeable shift. And based on what I’ve heard from other farmers, they’ve noticed it too. A term that describes what’s happening is on our tongues: climate change. It is impacting our plans for next season as well as our outlook for the future. My plans will be based on which crops I’ve seen do the best last season with an awareness of what will build towards greater overall sustainability for the farm.

Casey and Fawn

All the beans but the Dragon’s Tongue did awful last year, so this year I’ll definitely grow the Dragon’s Tongue again as well as a solid green bean like the Provider and a new variety that hails from my region—perhaps a tepary bean. These beans are accustomed to dry heat and very little water, so with an eye toward the future, it would be wise for me to start learning how to grow them. Of course, even though I have hesitations, I’ll continue to grow tomatoes. But I won’t be growing all of the same types. With the heat and drought we have been experiencing, there are definitely varieties that simply won’t work. Instead we’ll try to find tomato varieties that grow in other desert regions and see how they do here. This is the same principal behind our own seed saving—farmers in other desert regions have bred similar desirable traits into their fruit, and hopefully that will give us a leg up. (more…)

Is Whole Farm Revenue Insurance right for your farm?

Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) is a new national crop insurance program for farmers. Since it is so new, lots of people are unclear about how it works.

Traditionally, CSA and market farmers didn’t buy crop insurance because the crops they grew weren’t covered, the paperwork was mountainous, or the coverage amounts were based on wholesale or commodity crop pricing. Crop insurance was also viewed as less crucial to those with diversified farms and direct-market sales because they are exposed to less single-crop risk and they can sell their products for higher prices.

In 2003 the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) implemented a pilot program for diversified farmers called the Adjusted Gross Revenue Program (AGR and AGR-Lite), but participation was low. In recent years, sustainable ag groups, like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, saw this gap and collaborated with RMA to develop a better option. In late 2014, the USDA rolled out a new insurance option, Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), to reach small and diversified growers. CSA, farmers market, and wholesale producers can be covered under this insurance plan. In fact, it was created with those groups in mind. And it isn’t just for crops— it applies to dairy and meat farmers, too!

Whole Farm Revenue Protection is subsidized to be affordable, and an individual farm’s diversification raises the level of subsidy available. Farmers base their insured revenue on their own previous sales records, so the farmer is able to set the worth of their crop. WFRP is administered by RMA and sold and serviced by private insurance agents. Also, if you’re considering FSA loans, WFRP will meet the FSA insurance requirement.

A team at Cornell has worked to create an online tool that helps farmers compare premiums, levels of coverage, and indemnity payments. In order to buy insurance, you’ll have to speak with a crop insurance agent.

Here at NYFC, we’re trying to help farmers better understand this opportunity and identify if it works for their farm. Are you having a hard time understanding how WFRP works? Are there barriers that keep you from using it? Are small, beginning farmers inherently opposed to crop insurance? Are the premiums or the payouts too confusing? We want to help you understand this option, and figure out if it is a good fit for your farm. Check out this introduction to WFRP and a new online tool developed by Cornell University’s Ag Analytics team to evaluate the program’s usefulness on your farm.

Cornell University Professor Jennifer Ifft invites farmers with questions or feedback about crop insurance to contact her for one-on-one information sessions between now and the March 15th sign-up deadline. Reach her via email at jifft@cornell.edu or phone at (607) 255-4769. She should be available during the following times, or you can call to set up a specific time:

March 6: 2-4pm
March 7: 9am-11am
March 9: 2-4pm
March 11: 9am-11am

If WFRP is a good fit for your farm, there’s still time to sign up for 2017! The final day to sign up for WFRP for the 2017 crop year is March 15th. If it isn’t a good fit, please help us understand what needs to be changed to make it more helpful for beginning farmers. Please contact Cara or write a comment on this post if you have crop insurance feedback.

This article is a part of the activities of the New York Crop Insurance Education and Risk Management Project, which is managed by Cornell University in partnership with the USDA Risk Management Agency to deliver crop insurance education in New York State.

NYFC and State Policymakers Take Action on Student Debt

As young farmers and ranchers across the country celebrated the reintroduction of the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060) in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the issue was also taken up in several state capitals. The burden of student loan debt on young farmers is too important an issue to address solely on the federal level. This year, NYFC and farmer leaders in multiple states are working to advance state legislation to provide student debt relief to young people who are feeding their communities.

State Senator Kerry Donovan meets with NYFC’s Southwest Organizer Cassidy Tawse-Garcia and local farmers during NYFC’s CO legislative meet & greet last week.

Across the country, states are taking action to invest in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, rural communities, and our nation’s food security by helping young people better manage their student loan debt. Several states already offer programs that help with student loan repayment to encourage eligible graduates to pursue careers in agriculture, and to do so in their state. The New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program, for example, provides student loan repayments (up to $50,000 over the course of the program) to individuals who obtain an undergraduate degree and commit to operating a farm in New York State, on a full-time basis, for five years. Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Education Loan Forgiveness Program provides a similar service. These programs are designed to attract new farmers and ranchers to the state, thus promoting the sustainable growth and long-term viability of the agriculture industry and rural communities.

Leanna Mulvihill received loan forgiveness through the New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program.

NYFC is a strong advocate for these programs and is in the process of working with several states to develop new student loan repayment programs and ensure that these programs work for young farmers and ranchers.

In Wisconsin, for example, NYFC is working with a state representative this session to reintroduce a bill that would establish a New Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program. Once established, the program would provide grants up to $30,000/person over a period of 5 years to help cover the cost of repaying student loans and interest. The program would be available to state residents who have graduated from an accredited institution of higher education (not limited to Wisconsin schools) whose primary occupation is operating a small farm, defined as between $35,000 and $500,000 in gross annual sales. Applicants must also have started to operate a small farm no later than 5 years after obtaining a degree and commit to operating a small farm in the state for at least 5 years after applying to the program.

Similar efforts are underway in New Jersey, Montana, and New Mexico.
We can’t do this alone. As we work to build support in Congress for the Young Farmer Success Act, taking similar actions on the state level helps to multiply these efforts and broaden the scope of solutions to this critical challenge.  If you are a young or aspiring farmer or rancher who is struggling with student debt, please reach to NYFC to learn more about opportunities to find out how you can engage with policymakers in your state to tackle this problem, and how NYFC can help! become engaged on these issues and access resources to promote similar programs in your state!!

If you’re interested in state-level advocacy on this or any issues facing young farmers, please contact Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director, andrew@youngfarmers.org.

Farming is an art of adaptation

Tyler and Kendra on a warm day last summer. Photo by Eva Verbeeck

By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

On the whole, I would consider this past year a success. We expanded our market reach tremendously, turned a little bit of a profit overall, made it through our on-farm wedding, and had fun pretty much the entire time. We are looking forward to another productive and fruitful season in 2017.

Currently we are having one of the best winters on record as far as water is concerned. Our overall snowpack in the Mancos area has been hovering between 150-200 percent of average all winter, which has been a true blessing. The tremendous amount of moisture has made for some excellent skiing at higher elevations, and we anticipate full reservoirs this summer.

Yet, all of this water has also come with challenges. This has been one of the warmest winters on the books for our area, which means that most of our precipitation has come as rain instead of snow. That means endless “mud season.” In a typical winter, we would not be able to see the ground until late March, and we would be making endless ski-skin laps on our hill in the back forty. Not this year. We have had multiple rain events, even in the high country, which is antithetical to the definition of our continental snowpack. We’ve been doing lots of trench digging for water diversion and less on-farm skiing this winter.

Farming is an art of constant adaptation. Farmers have to continually adapt and evolve with changing environmental conditions, markets, consumer demands, rules and regulations. This will be our focus in the upcoming season. We will be changing the directional layout of our gardens (from predominantly north-south rows to east-west) in order to better harvest sunlight, as well as to allow for better drainage. We are slightly modifying the crops at our market stand to follow consumer demand and capitalize on niche products: more snap and snow peas, eggs, greens, onions, and cucumbers, and fewer tomatoes, peppers, and corn. Our property is just too cold to produce some crops well, so we will focus on what grows best. We will also be redesigning our drip system to create more sustained pressure and to better harness our limited amount of water and more efficiently water our crops.

The event space after a winter snow.

We will also be delving into the world of agritourism. Our wedding this summer was a test run for our new event center. We always believed that weddings were a giant waste of money, so we invested most of our wedding funds into our future by building a beautiful space for people to celebrate their own special events in a farm setting. I had a great conversation with a brilliant farmer friend a while back about how we (as farmers) can sell not only an agricultural product but also an aesthetic and a lifestyle. From the market stand to the fields, people are yearning for experiences outside of the city and outside of their comfort zone—dirt and farm smells included. We are keen to heed that call.

In order to adapt, we focus on diversification at Green Table Farm. Diversity in crops, practices, and growing zones on the farm enables us to maximize our space and take advantage of environmental factors. Aside from diversification, we are continually honing our snow dance because water is what really keeps our world turning.

 

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About this series: This year, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico have been blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

NYFC Statement on Immigration Enforcement

The National Young Farmers Coalition is led by, and centered on, the needs and priorities of the next generation of farmers in America.

We aim to be inclusive of all of our nation’s farmers and ranchers–that includes both owner-operators and all hired farmworkers, farm managers, migrant workers, guest workers, and apprentices. We are all farmers.

Immigrants are critically important to agriculture in the United States. Current estimates indicate that over three-quarters of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign born, and nearly half are undocumented. In short, although immigrant farmers and ranchers may not be as visible, they are the majority of the agricultural workforce, and are vital to our agricultural economy and food system. But most importantly, it is essential that we uphold American values and ensure that the rights of immigrant farmers are protected, and that they have the opportunity to pursue good livelihoods for themselves and their families.

For these reasons, Congress and the President must fix our broken immigration system with a comprehensive reform package that protects all workers, provides a legal pathway to citizenship, and creates a guestworker program that ensures an adequate and highly-skilled agricultural workforce. We strongly and unequivocally oppose any immigration policies, actions, and orders that prioritize enforcement, deportation, and intimidation of undocumented families and communities of color. Such an approach is detrimental to the agricultural economy and puts the future of the U.S. food system at risk. More importantly, it violates basic human rights and compromises the core values of America, a nation built on the premise of inclusivity and refuge.

NYFC encourages its members and supporters to prepare for increased ICE enforcement activity by reviewing these documents from the National Immigration Law Center: “How to Be Prepared for an Immigration Raid” / “Como prepararse para una redada de inmigración

Young Farmer Success Act Reintroduced in Congress

Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives took action to address our urgent national need for more young farmers by reintroducing the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060).  

The National Young Farmers Coalition first worked with members of Congress in 2015 to tackle one of the greatest barriers to young farmer success: student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act was introduced in October 2015 and today, that bill was reintroduced with key bipartisan support.

As an entire generation of farmers nears retirement, and with nearly two-thirds of our nation’s working farmland expected to change hands in the next two decades, our entire agricultural economy and food supply are at stake. Providing a viable path for young entrepreneurs to apply their energy and grit toward feeding their communities must become a national priority. And with a new Congress and a new President, now is the time to act.

“America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “The number of new farmers entering the field of agriculture has dropped by 20 percent, while the average farmer age has risen above 58-years-old. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, and do it now.” (more…)

To save water, first save soil and heirloom plants

By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

In August we had our first big monsoon of the summer, which was a blessing because we had not seen any precipitation for nearly a month. Our first few storms of the monsoon season in the Southwest can be incredibly violent, quick moving, and drop lots of water on the sunbaked soil. During this first storm, we received just under 1.5 inches of water in about an hour, which is a perfect recipe for erosion, flash flooding, and general water deluge.

When I went outside to survey our property after the storm, I noticed quite a bit of erosion around drainpipes, along roadways, and at the high mark on our creek, but the soil in our fields looked great. There was hardly any runoff. For three seasons now we have been adding compost and other high-carbon materials (leaves, wood chips, straw) to our soil as well as rotating our animals, cover cropping, and mulching. The benefits of adding organic matter can be seen, smelled, and probably even tasted, if you wanted to go that far.

Since increasing a field’s organic matter increases its water carrying capacity, incorporating more organic matter will be beneficial for our irrigation practices. The more our soils can bank water during these heavy precipitation events, the less we will have to irrigate later when things dry out. We can lose about 1/4-inch of water from our soil every day that the sun shines, which is why the less water we have running off our fields, the better. (more…)

Take the National Young Farmer Survey

Through our first national survey in 2011, young farmers and ranchers came together to tell the nation—citizens, advocates, and policy makers—who they were and what they needed in order to succeed. The results from that survey inspired new programs and influenced policies in every state. Now we have the opportunity to speak up again.

Help us tell Congress that #FarmersCount by taking the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey:

Your participation will help us understand and elevate the issues that matter most to young farmers. It is crucial that the survey results represent all young farmers and aspiring farmers, no matter where they live or what they grow.

Here are a few things you should know about the survey:

  • All personal data is completely confidential.
  • The survey only happens every five years.
  • NYFC is partnering with George Washington University and former US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Kathleen Merrigan on survey design and analysis.
  • Esta encuesta está disponible en español.
  • Taking the survey is one of the most important things you can do to advance our movement.  

To show our appreciation for your time, survey takers who provide their mailing address will receive a bundle of coupons from our partners, including Harney & Sons, Chobani, and Kashi. Coupons are optional and offered while supplies last.

Help us tell Congress that young #FarmersCount – take the survey today!

I need more information: Balancing rain and irrigation

holland_driptape_cropped

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

The monsoons finally arrived in August. They were more than a month later than usual, but I am grateful for them all the same. It was apparent that everything growing in our fields was equally grateful for the reprieve from the oppressive summer heat. For the first time in almost two months, the temperature was consistently under 100 degrees for longer than a week. All of our crops were much greener and had a certain vibrancy they lacked back when they were just fighting to stay alive. The outdoor tomatoes finally set fruit and rapidly increased in height. The sweet potatoes grew lush and quintupled in size.

Unfortunately, the weeds loved the rain, too, and grew at an even faster pace. There were more insects buzzing about, there was an unfamiliar humidity in the air, and the farm had a beautiful tranquility in the early morning before the rest of the city had woken up. Even though a main city road is just a few dozen feet away from our okra patch, standing there made me feel like I was transported back to a time before automobiles. The full bounty of the season had finally arrived.

holland_harvesting_croppedThe rain always throws an interesting conundrum into planning our water use on the farm. To water or not to water? Every time we get rain, it allows us to pull less from the well. But how much less well water should we use? We always go back and forth, depending on data from the weather service, about how much rain we received versus how much we can expect to receive in the coming days. Sometimes a rain is deep and soaks in enough that it can get us through a few days without needing supplementary irrigation. Other rains just sprinkle the fields and only make the plants thirsty for more.

Based on the research I have been doing, most of our vegetable crops demand about two inches of water a week in order to survive. If it’s windy or extremely hot, like it tends to be out here in New Mexico, that amount can increase to almost three inches. But how many inches did we actually get in that last rainstorm? How many inches of water per hour does our drip line deliver to the crops? (more…)