MAY - JUNE 1993
Sustainable Ag Tour
The 13th annual Sustainable Agriculture Tour will be held in south central
Nebraska on August 5, 1993. The tour begins at the South Central Research
and Extension Center (SCREC) near Clay Center, and includes visits to Oak
Creek Farms (Edgar), Loschen Farm (Hildreth), Starr Farms (Hastings) and
The Grain Place (Marquette). Among other things participants will see white
corn and waxy corn for the specialty markets, confectionary and oil type
sunflowers, mungbeans, cotton, production and application of compost, seed
soybeans, commercial marketing of blue and white corn including corn chips,
sunflowers, beefaloes, organic crop production and a world-class processing
and marketing operation that now markets across the U.S. and elsewhere.
Participants may join the tour from Clay Center or Lincoln. The bus will
leave Lincoln from the Nebraska Center (33rd & Holdrege) at 6:30 a.m. and
arrive at the SCREC by 8:15. Deadline for receipt of the $25 registration fee
is July 26. The tour is co-sponsored by the CSAS and the Nebraska
Sustainable Agriculture Society. Contact the CSAS for more information.
ERS Sustainable Ag Initiative
The following report was submitted to SANET (an electronic mail group on
sustainable agriculture) by Gabriel Hegyes with the National Agricultural
Library on May 6. The report is an update on sustainable agriculture research
provided by the Research and Technology Division (RTD) of the Economic
Research Service, USDA.
RTD's research program has emphasized long-term concerns about resource
use and changes in environmental quality. The new research program on
sustainable agriculture will reinforce this orientation. Indeed, the raison
d'tre of sustainable agriculture is the belief that conventional agricultural
production systems may not be sustained in the long term because of their
consequences for environmental quality and because of their inability to
achieve an equitable intergenerational allocation of resources.
RTD's New Section. The focus of work within the new Sustainable
Production Systems Section will be to examine the economic tradeoffs
associated with the adoption of sustainable agricultural systems, defined as
systems of production which: reduce environmental damage in general and
agrichemical use in particular, consider other intergenerational allocations of
resources, and maintain economic viability of farming and farm communities.
The Section's research program will include examination of agricultural and
trade policies and programs that are seen to affect sustainable production
systems and, by implication, the structure of the food-agricultural sector.
Research will seek to determine the interactions between the current structure
of production systems and supporting agricultural services as they relate to
sustainability in the U.S. Environmental and intergenerational resource
allocation effects of sustainable systems will also be evaluated.
What About Intergenerational Equity? Sustainable agriculture research looks
beyond conventional economic models that view sustainability as an
"externalities" problem to focus on the underlying issue of intergenerational
equity. An efficient path of resource depletion,given the existing
intergenerational distribution of rights to those resources, is optimal only
with respect to that existing distribution. Hence it may not be sustainable.
Similarly,advocates of sustainable agriculture argue that the current system of
farming is guilty of disregard for the interests of future generations. This
suggests a need to address equity considerations in economic analyses of
A database is being developed to produce a profile of sustainable production
systems that describes sustainable farms and producers' perceptions of the
benefits and costs of sustainable production systems. To accomplish this
objective, we are beginning with a review of existing data sources, including
results compiled from surveys conducted by the American Farmland Trust,
Rodale Institute, and American Farm Bureau Federation. The Section also will
explore opportunities for collaborating on existing surveys that target
sustainable farm operations. Another option is to design an independent
national survey of alternative agriculture which would provide data to support
A project to analyze the economics of adopting sustainable production
practices has been initiated. These studies are (1) developing a national
accounting system of plant nutrients,
(2) an economic and environmental assessment of the adoption of nitrogen
inhibitors, and (3)estimating costs to producers of reducing agrichemical use in
In addition to RTD's research effort, staff have initiated jointly with the
Commodity Economics Division (CED) a Sustainable Agriculture Seminar
Series which has been quite successful, featuring speakers from universities,
independent institutes, and from within ERS. RTD and CED staff collaborated
on a Symposium on Measuring Sustainability at the AAEA meetings with
inputs from economists, sociologists, and agricultural scientists. RTD and
CED are also collaborating on an ongoing basis in Agriculture in Concert with
the Environment (ACE), EPA-CSRS funded cooperative research projects on
Highlights from "Farm Bill" Seminar Series
The four-part seminar series titled "Designing the 1995 Farm Bill: Implications
for Nebraska" concluded March 31. Single copies of the 70-page document
containing the transcripts are available at no charge to those within Nebraska.
Those outside of Nebraska may purchase a copy for $10. We will send a copy
of the executive summary to anyone at no charge. Contact the CSAS, sponsor
of the series, for more information. The following are highlights from the
executive summary written by series moderator, Dr. A.L. (Roy)Frederick,
Professor and Extension Economist Public Policy in the UNL Department of
Both presenters and participants in the seminars considered trade-offs that
might occur. The consensus was that traditional farm price and income
support provisions may be the first target of cuts. No one suggested,
however, that price and income supports might be eliminated.
Everyone agreed that preserving natural resources was a high national priority.
Such an emphasis began in the 1985 farm bill and was strengthened in the
1990 legislation. But budget concerns still dominate. Of particular concern,
ten-year contracts under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which has
taken more than 35 million acres of mostly highly erodible land out of
production, begin to expire in fiscal year 1996. Almost certainly,the federal
government will not be willing to pay an equivalent annual "rental" fee on
such and in the future, although most participants agreed that it would be in
the national interest to keep much of this land out of crop production.
Questions were raised about the Wetlands Reserve Program, conservation
compliance and other conservation-related measures. In the case of
conservation compliance, some wondered whether price and income supports
might be allowed to drift so low that farmers would leave the program,
thereby effectively cancelling the government's ability to require conservation
plans on highly erodible lands.
Everyone recognized that farm bills are the product of the political process,
and with farm families now accounting for only about two percent of the
population, it will continue to be necessary to form coalitions with other
groups to pass acceptable farm bills. Food stamps and other food assistance
programs provide considerable political grease to assure that farm bills receive
appropriate attention. Equally significant, those with close ties to production
agriculture also affirmed the importance of human resource provisions in farm
bills on ethical grounds.
Natural Resources and the Environment
Bob Warrick, chair of the Sierra Club agriculture committee, challenged
seminar participants early on with this statement: ".... the way commodity
programs are structured is probably one of the most singularly destructive
things to the natural environment that we have in rural Nebraska." He said
the government encourages the same crops to be planted year after year,
whereas diversity (crop rotation) should be the goal.
Jim Barr, an agricultural producer and agricultural and natural resources
coordinator for Congressman Doug Bereuter, while not directly supporting
Warrick's observation, said that perhaps commodity price and income support
programs should focus more on good stewardship and less on production
Biodiversity is likely to be addressed in the next farm bill, according to Gary
Hergenrader, head of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife at
UNL. It already receives attention in the Endangered Species Act, but
coordination would be enhanced by including it in the farm bill as well.
Terry Kubicek, deputy director, Natural Resources Commission, said there
will be a limitation on how much government can demand in the way of
conservation practices, e.g., terraces and waterways, without government
cost-sharing at the federal, state and local levels. At the same time, Kubicek
speculated that the pesticide record-keeping mandated by the 1990 farm bill
may only be the tip of iceberg; in the future, environmentalists will insist
that a record of fertilizer and irrigation practices be kept as well.
Animal Production Systems
Steven Waller, a UNL faculty member and regional coordinator of USDA's
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, emphasized that the 12
states of the North Central Region have been aggressive about integrating
animal agriculture into sustainable agriculture research programs, mostly
through forages and livestock grazing. However, in a policy context, many
people do not yet appreciate the value of livestock in sustainable systems.
UNL agricultural economist Maurice Baker focused his remarks on the one
million acres of Nebraska land that could come back into crop production if
the CRP is not continued. The relative prices of crops and feeder cattle would
be important determinants of how much came back into crop production, as
would the cost of meeting conservation compliance standards for crop
production on highly erodible land. However, Baker also posed this thought-
provoking question: How many producers would feel comfortable with a
livestock enterprise if they have not had one for several years?
Elton Aberle, head of the Department of Animal Science at UNL, observed
that those in the poultry and swine industries as well as commercial feedlots
have yet to address how their animals will fit into sustainable systems.
However, there has been progress with ruminant animals that forage. Aberle
believes it will be very difficult to generate the level of cash flow out of
CRP land with a livestock grazing or haying operation that could be obtained
from grain production.
State Senator Roger Wehrbein, who also farms and raises livestock,
commented that if too much CRP land is used for cattle grazing, it could
eventually reduce beef prices. Beyond that, in keeping with some of the
economic and social aspects of sustainable agricultural systems, Senator
Wehrbein questioned whether moderate-size producers will have difficulty
finding open, competitive markets in the future. Perhaps, he said, the next
farm bill should offer some sort of marketing agreements for those whose
operations are not large enough to contract directly with handlers/processors.
Crop Production Systems
Randy Cruse, farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association,
also expects the 1995 farm bill to be more budget-driven than ever before. He
asked participants whether a means test for program benefits might be
acceptable. Another possibility, he said, is for program benefits to be
decoupled from current production, perhaps with payments being made on a
flat per acre basis.
Concern about the economic importance of pesticides prompted Earle Raun,
president of PMC Pest Management Company, to advocate that some
pesticides be made available in the future on a prescription basis.
Richard Clark, UNL agricultural economist, provided an overview of recent
economic trends in Nebraska agriculture and linked those trends to government
programs and regulations. He said we are facing trade-offs between short-run
economics and long-run environmental viability of agriculture.
A pitch for alternative crops was the primary message of Robert Raun, farmer
and former director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Human Resources and Rural Communities
Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs, expressed disappointment that all
of the "people purposes" of the 1990 legislation had not been fully
implemented. Sustainable agriculture research and extension are notable
Based on his many years of professional work in the area of soil and water
conservation, Tony Vrana said that to provide for sustainability in
agriculture, we should tax those things which in the long run we want less of
and subsidize other things we want more of.
Don Macke, director of the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, shared
two of his frustrations: (1) rural development needs and opportunities vary
widely across the country and, therefore, federal initiatives must have more
flexibility; and (2) overlap occurs among public agencies trying to do rural
development work in Nebraska. For example, there are no less than six
federal agencies with rural development initiatives in Nebraska.
Maxine Moul, Lieutenant Governor and chair of the Nebraska Rural
Development Commission, echoed the "one size fits all" problem with federal
programs. Even unemployment statistics mean something far different in
Nebraska than on either coast. As delivery problems for rural development
programs are addressed, she also would like to see more federal attention
given to infrastructure, housing and micro-enterprise needs of rural
Food assistance programs, including food stamps, account for a far larger
share of the total cost of farm bills than is generally assumed, according to
Roy Frederick, Extension public policy specialist at UNL. Commodity
distribution programs at one time were nothing more than a way of disposing
of excess government stocks; now, the primary purpose of these programs is
to meet the nutritional needs of people. Speakers involved in administering
food assistance programs expressed frustration with a federal bureaucracy that
causes both government workers and assistance recipients to deal with
multiple agencies with varying rules. Whether all welfare programs should be
placed under a single agency at the federal level is a question that is
currently being considered by a national welfare simplification committee.
Some seminar participants worried more about efficiency than the political
desirability of keeping most food assistance programs in USDA. Participants
also learned about the role of churches and community-based agencies in
Rural Policy Symposium Proceedings
On March 4, 1993 the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR)
hosted the rural policy symposium, "Implications of the New Research and
Extension Dimensions of the 1990 Farm Bill." Among the presenters were:
Duane Acker, immediate past Assistant Secretary for Science and Education,
USDA; Terry Nipp, president of Aesop Enterprises (Washington, DC); Kathleen
Merrigan, senior staff member of the U.S. Senate agriculture committee from
1987 to 1992; Chuck Hassebrook with the Center for Rural Affairs; and
Chuck Schroeder, Nebraska representative to the Council for Agricultural
Research, Extension and Teaching. Participants had the opportunity to ask
questions of the speaker panel. The proceedings document from this
symposium will be available in late June. IANR employees should contact
John Allen (402-472-8012) for a copy of either the proceedings or the taped
presentations. Others should contact the Rural Policy Research Institute, 131
Mumford Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, 314-882-0316.
SARE Grant Programs
The producer grant program is again being offered by the North Central
Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program.
Grants up to $5,000 are awarded on a competitive basis to help producers
overcome specific problems in converting to sustainable practices. Last year
Nebraska producers received three of the 25 grants in the 12-state region.
While producers need to lead and manage the projects, agents or specialists
may be cooperators. The application deadline is July 15. For application
forms or information, contact the SARE office, 207 Ag Hall, University of
Nebraska-Lincoln, 68583-0701, 402-472-7081. Also, watch for this year's
call for preproposals for SARE research and education grants the first week in
July. If you would like to discuss the possibility of submitting a proposal
for an interdisciplinary project through the Center for Sustainable
Agricultural Systems, contact Chuck Francis, CSAS Director, at 402-472-1581.
SARE Funding - Chapters 2 & 3
Discussions during a May 5 conference call sponsored by USDA's Sustainable
Agriculture Initiative Team centered on sections of the 1990 farm bill relating
to funding sustainable agriculture activities. The following summary of the
conference, was made available electronically by Jill Auburn with the
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) at the
University of California-Davis.
Jim Bushnell, the leader of the team from the Extension Service, described the
$3 million earmarked for new sustainable agriculture activities in the
President's budget for the USDA. Both Bushnell and Ferd Hoefner,
Washington representative for a coalition of sustainable agriculture nonprofit
organizations, expressed hope that the final figure might be even higher. The
funds are expected to be used for Chapters 2 (Integrated Management Systems)
and/or 3 (Education & Training) of the sustainable agriculture section of the
1990 farm bill, each of which is authorized for up to $20 million in funding
but has received no funding to date.
George Bird, Cooperative State Research Service director of the national
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program (Chapter 1
of the same farm bill), reported that the $6.725 million that the program
currently receives leverages approximately $15 million more in matching funds
from grant recipients. The National Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Council
(NSAAC), appointed to advise the USDA on sustainable agriculture, holds its
first meeting June 9-11 in Omaha, Nebraska. Administrative changes in the
program include a change in the host institution for the Southern region SARE
program from Louisiana State University to a new (as yet unannounced) site,
and the appointment of a new director as Bird returns to his nematology
position at Michigan State University in September. Despite the end of his
two-year term as director, Bird will maintain his involvement in sustainable
agriculture with CSRS at a 20% appointment. Of particular interest is the
review of "sustainable agriculture relevancy" of research beyond the SARE
program (e.g. research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service;
research funded by the National Research Initiative), stimulated by Senator
Daschle's hearings last September.
Jim Bushnell reported on the draft guidelines being developed for the
administration of Chapters 2 and 3, if they are funded. Chapter 3 includes
regional training centers for training extension workers and other agricultural
professionals, competitive grants for educational programs, and technical
guides and handbooks. The training center funds would not be for "mortar
and bricks," he emphasized, but would involve faculty from universities and
nonprofit organizations throughout each region. Farmers and ranchers would
be involved as teachers, and their farms might be satellite centers for the
training. The ad hoc group developing the guidelines will be seeking broad
input over the coming months.
While most of the several dozen participants in the May call were from
universities, the quarterly conference calls are open to any and all
participants on a first-come, first-serve basis (40 lines available). The
dates and telephone number to call, along with other timely information and
dialogue about sustainable agriculture, are shared through the computer
electronic mail group "sanet-mg," accessible via the Internet computer network.
The e-mail group is sponsored by the national Sustainable Agriculture Network
(SAN) chaired by UC SAREP's Jill Auburn, and staffed by Gabriel Hegyes at the
National Agricultural Library. For more information about SAN, contact Hegyes
at 301/504-6425 (Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Sustainable Agriculture Directory of Expertise
The CSAS has just received its copy of the above directory which lists
hundreds of people and groups that can be contacted for advice on building
soil health, broadening your arsenal of pest-control tools, diversifying cash
flow and much more. According to the ATTRA (Appropriate Technology
Transfer in Rural Areas) organization, which produced the directory in
cooperation with the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Network, it is the most
thorough and comprehensive work of its type. The 300+ publication has
seven indexes allowing the reader to search for information by state,
individual, organization, crop/livestock enterprise, subject matter expertise,
available product/service, and management service. The directory is available
for $14.95 from: Sustainable Agriculture Publications, Hills Building, Rm.
12, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405.
Integrated Farm Projects - ARDC
The CSAS is coordinating the efforts of many researchers in several
departments in establishing the Integrated Farm (IF) at the Agricultural
Research and Development Center near Mead. Terry Klopfenstein, Charles
Francis, Jim Brandle, Gary Lesoing and Dan Duncan are providing leadership
for this program. Several research projects established previously by
departments are being included as part of the IF. These include crop choice
and cultural practice strategies to increase productivity of rotational
patterns, contour strip intercropping and rotations to reduce soil erosion and
energy costs, shelterbelt ecology the roles for windbreaks and other tree
plantings in livestock protection, crop production enhancement, commercial
harvest on a diversified farm, and long-term integrated beef production and
crop production systems.
A project initiated in 1992 was a strip intercropping rotation of corn-grain
sorghum-soybean, with different maturities and planting dates of each crop
evaluated for their effect on crop yield. Following harvest, calves were
allowed to graze the crop residue from this experiment. Exclosures were
placed in strips of each crop to measure the effect of grazing on bulk density
and subsequent crop yields in 1993. An experiment conducted in cooperation
with Biological Systems Engineering and the Cow/Calf Unit at the ARDC
utilized two center pivot-irrigated fields. These fields will be in corn in so
irrigated corn yields will be measured in grazed and ungrazed areas of the
A new experiment was initiated on the linear move irrigation system in 1992
to evaluate the effect of tillage system (disk-plant vs. ridge-till) on
livestock and crop production. Corn stalks were grazed by calves under both
tillage systems in the fall-winter of 1992. The muddy conditions early in the
grazing season and the early snow cover reduced grazing days, particularly for
the ridge-till system. Cattle gained .15 lb/day more on the disk-plant system
compared to the ridge-till. Corn yields will be measured under both tillage
systems for grazed and ungrazed areas in 1993.
A six-year crop rotation of corn silage-wheat/turnips-corn grain-soybean-corn
grain-grain sorghum-soybean or corn was implemented on the dryland acres of
the IF. We included wheat in the rotation because it is grown on many farms
in southeast Nebraska, provides diversity to the crop rotation, and is a good
cash crop. Following wheat grain harvest, straw will be baled for livestock
feed, and turnips will be planted to provide fall grazing for cattle. A new
LISA-funded project will evaluate the effect of different strip cropping
systems on erosion control. A wheat/soybean relay and double cropping
experiment will be conducted on another field.
One of the most important goals of the Integrated Farm is to make more
efficient use of the livestock wastes generated at the ARDC, based on numbers
of livestock and a manure-crop balance. Assuming approximately 1200
dryland acres within the IF, 14 tons of animal wastes will be applied in two
applications of 7 tons each in the six-year rotation. Manure from the dairy,
feedlot, individual feeding barn, and the sheep unit will be composted. Resi-
due for composting with the dairy and individual barn manure will be collected
from around the ARDC, although we will be looking for other sources. The
compost site is east of the swine lagoon, south of Highway 63. The benefits
of a more stable and weed-free product were factors favoring composting. We
will monitor costs of composting to determine economic feasibility.
Another project initiated in 1992 involved the integration of crops and
livestock. The fate of nitrogen from manure and urine from livestock grazing
throughout the fall and winter is being investigated. Little information is
available on how much nitrogen is lost from animal wastes through the winter.
We simulated a grazing situation during the fall and winter. Experiments such
as these will continue in 1993 at different sites under various conditions.
Results will provide a better understanding of nitrogen recycling in a
crop-livestock grazing system.
In 1992 cattle grazed turnips on the forestry section. The effect of grazing
and spring tillage on crop yield will be measured in 1993. Plans are to
evaluate grazing within the windbreak system to determine this effect on cattle
performance compared to cattle grazing in the unprotected fields. Forestry has
also been conducting research on the effects of windbreaks on corn, grain
sorghum, soybean, and wheat production. Researchers in forestry and
horticulture are evaluating windbreaks and vegetable production (asparagus,
cantaloupe, and cabbage).
Forestry, along with other agencies, is seeking funding to establish riparian
buffer strips along the large drainage ditch that leads into Silver Creek and
along the creek by the feedlot. Other possible projects for 1993 include:
evaluation of different grass and grass mixture strips south of Silver Creek to
determine which is most adapted to this site, and development of a swine
waste utilization project. The swine waste project would involve use of waste
water from the lagoon for irrigation and use of solid wastes from the lagoon
for composting. This would require outside funding and cooperation with
engineering, animal science, and agronomy. We are getting a good start on
reaching our goals of the Integrated Farm, but we need to continue working
together to meet these goals.Submitted by Gary Lesoing
Study of Farm Family Health
The following is excerpted from a release issued March 12, 1993 by the
Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service (PANUPS), which
is a pesticide-related news service from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN)
North American Regional Center located in California. For more information
about the study or PAN, contact Pam Murray in the CSAS office.
Three national agencies are launching a project to monitor the health of
farmers, farm workers, and their families, in what will be the largest
agriculture-related health study ever undertaken in the U.S. The Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will collaborate on this
project, which will last ten years, or longer if funding is available.
NCI comments that farmers are chronically exposed to "potentially harmful
compounds such as pesticides. . .chemical solvents, engine exhausts, animal
viruses, sunlight, and other substances common to agriculture." The new
project should provide important data on the health effects of these exposures
The project is a prospective epidemiological study (one in which an identified
group, or cohort, is studied over a specified period of time) that will follow
two cohorts of farm families: one in Iowa, and one in North Carolina. The
project will include up to 100,000 people, including male and female farmers,
farmers' spouses, agricultural pesticide applicators, and their children.
Prior studies have shown that U.S. farmers have higher-than-normal rates of
several types of cancer. Past studies of farm health by NCI and other health
monitoring agencies have generally been case-control studies, in which a
selected group of "cases" of those manifesting a particular condition are
compared with "controls," a selected group of those who do not have the
condition under study. In launching a prospective study that will examine the
cumulative health status of the farm cohorts over many years, investigators
will be able to study many types of cancer and non-cancer health events in a
consistent population. Another advantage of a prospective study such as this is
that it will gather information on health events and exposures as they occur.
This eliminates some of the problems associated with retrospective health
surveys that rely heavily on recall of past events.
Conference on Science and Sustainability
The Western Region SARE Program and the Center for Sustaining Agriculture
and Natural Resources at Washington State University are co-sponsoring
"Conference on Science and Sustainability: Reshaping Agricultural Research
and Education." It will be held October 24-26, 1993 in Seattle. The
conference will focus on quantitative and qualitative methodologies for solving
critical production, environmental and social problems associated with the
establishment and continuation of sustainable agricultural systems. The
program will feature innovative integrated research projects, nontraditional
research and education methodologies, institutional strategies for increasing
interdisciplinary research, and a poster session. For registration
information, contact Norma Fuentes-Scott at 509-335-2921.
Did You Know?
The American Farmland Trust says the U.S. loses an average of 42,300 acres
of productive farmland each week to development.
According to USDA, farmers used an estimated 95 million acre-feet of water
for irrigation on nearly 53 million acres of farmland in 1992. Irrigated
agriculture continues to dominate the use of water in the U. S., accounting for
81% of total consumption.
Exports of banned and hazardous pesticides from U.S. ports rose by 12% in
1991 compared to 1990 figures, according to U.S. government records
analyzed by the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education in
the recently released study "Exporting Banned and Hazardous Pesticide, 1991
Statistics." The exports include the insecticide DDT, banned in the U.S. more
than 20 years ago.