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SPECIAL EDITION

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF

AGRICULTURE FREE

2020 EDITION

CULTIVATING CHALLENGES Trade war, weather disrupt industry

HIGH-TECH HARVESTING Satellites, robots lead the way

EDUCATING FARMERS Diversity, inclusion, training are key

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CONTENTS

2020 S PECI A L E D ITI O N

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

26 DAIRY IN DISTRESS Ad campaigns unable to slow milk’s market decline

TZ KHA/USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN

FEATURES

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FARM FORECASTING Advanced technology improves weather information for farmers

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FEEDING THE FUTURE Universities address food insecurity on campuses and in communities

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BLOCKCHAIN MEETS FOOD CHAIN Cryptocurrency technology delivers transparency to the foods we eat


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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

CONTENTS This is a product of

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com

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NEWS

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EDUCATION

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SONNY PERDUE Agriculture secretary optimistic about the country’s farming future

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HEMP IN THE HEARTLAND

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STATE OF AFFAIRS

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Farmers struggle to recover from floods, fires and trade war fears

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NATIONAL FFA ORGANIZATION

GROWING THE NEXT GENERATION

CONNECT FOR SUCCESS Cooperative extensions support farmers, educate communities

TAKING ROOT Incubators offer low-risk option for beginning farmers

TECHNOLOGY

ON THE FARM

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SMART SOLUTIONS Farm chores performed more safely, efficiently by robots

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BROADBAND EXPANDS

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IRRIGATION REGULATION

USDA building new networks, connecting farm communities

Drones and sensors help conserve resources

mjwashington@usatoday.com

ISSUE EDITOR Debbie Williams ISSUE DESIGNER Gina Toole Saunders

National organization fosters hands-on agriscience learning

Newly regulated crop could be a boon for some farmers

MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington

EDITORS Amy Sinatra Ayres Tracy Scott Forson Harry Lister Megan Pannone DESIGNERS Hayleigh Corkey David Hyde Debra Moore Lisa Zilka CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Matt Alderton, Rick Barrett, Brian Barth, Sarah Bowman, Donnelle Eller, Amber Gibson, Jodi Helmer, Daniel Higgins, Quinisha Jackson-Wright, Patricia Kime, Robin Roenker, Adam Stone

TRACTOR TRENDS High-tech machines offer advanced features

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ENDANGERED FOODS

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FARM FRESH

ADVERTISING VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com

Agronomists are engineering DNA to save crops

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Vanessa Salvo | (703) 854-6499 vsalvo@usatoday.com

Markets offer a variety of local produce, many year-round

FINANCE Billing Coordinator Julie Marco ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY Network publication, Gannett Co. Inc. USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are the trademarks of Gannett Co. Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Copyright 2019, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Editorial and publication headquarters are at 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22108, and at (703) 854-3400.

ON THE COVER A drone monitors crop growth.

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PHOTOGRAPH Getty Images

JOHN DEERE

For accuracy questions, call or send an e-mail to accuracy@usatoday.com.


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NEWS

A Conversation with Sonny Perdue USDA chief champions the ‘most innovative entrepreneurs in the world’ By Brian Barth


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NEWS

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HE THREE YEARS SINCE

former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was sworn in as the 31st Secretary of the USDA have been some of the most difficult for American farmers in recent memory. But, he says there are some bright spots, particularly on the trade front. Perdue shared with USA TODAY some of the recent challenges facing the industry and how he stays optimistic about the future of farming:

Looking back on 2019, what are you most proud of at the USDA and in American agriculture, generally? PERDUE: I am proud of our farmers and ranchers. 2019 was a tough year — disasters, unfair trade retaliation and low prices squeezed every farmer in America, but farmers did what farmers always do: They persevered. But, it’s 2020, and a new decade can give us reason for optimism. President Donald Trump and Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer have been traveling around the world, negotiating deals left and right. We have a phase one deal with China with commitments of $40 to $50 billion in agriculture purchases over the next two years; a Japan trade deal that expands tariff-free access for $7 billion in American products; and President Trump signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), cementing increased market access to our number one and two trading partners.

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Perdue said the USDA is working to give farmers fair and open access to world markets. NIKOS FRAZIER

The trade war has been top of mind for everyone in agriculture, though it seems that the recent deal with China offers a significant reprieve. What are the next steps in the ongoing process of realigning our relationship with China, and what can farmers realistically expect in the coming year? America’s farmers know that China hasn’t been playing by the rules for a long time. And President Trump knows farmers have borne the brunt of China’s retaliation. That is why he authorized up to $28 billion in support payments and purchases over the last two years. The phase one agreement with China is a big win for our farmers, but we are continuing to look to open new markets: USDA has plans for North Africa, the Philippines, Spain, Portugal, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Peru and the United Arab Emirates. CONTI NUED


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NEWS

PRESTON KERES/USDA

Perdue met with local farmers and business owners at the Honor the Harvest Forum on Bunker Hill Farm in Newburg, Md., last June.

The second biggest agriculture headline in 2019 was arguably the bad weather. Some Midwestern farms were underwater for the entire growing season. What plans are in place to support flooded farmers as this saga continues? Our staff in local USDA service centers are eager to help connect customers with the vital services we offer, including USDA’s emergency loan program, the Emergency Conservation Program and the more than 40 direct loan, guaranteed loan, grant and technical assistance programs to help communities impacted by natural disasters. Last year, the safety net of crop insurance saw $8.1 billion in payments distributed to producers, along with $600 million in prevented planting “top-up” payments. That is in addition to the more than $890 million in WHIP (Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program) and WHIP Plus payments for natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. Some sectors of agriculture have struggled more than others of late, most notably dairy farmers. What is the agency’s strategy for resolving

this protracted problem? fraud, especially with organic grains. One of the key ways to bolster the What steps are being taken by the domestic dairy industry is to open new agency to safeguard the integrity of export markets. USDA is working closely the organic seal? with the dairy industry to expand export The USDA organic seal is — and opportunities and is also fighting for continues to be — the gold standard policies that give our producers fair and for organic products around the world. open access to world Over the last three years, markets. For instance, has implemented “2019 was a tough USDA under the USMCA, a robust risk-based Canada’s unfair “Class approach to enforcement. year (with) disas6” and “Class 7” milk We are using new tools ters, unfair trade pricing schemes will be and are partnering across eliminated. The deal will our agencies to leverage retaliation and also crack open additional resources departmentaccess for American dairy wide. USDA is committed low prices ... but into Canada, including to protecting the integrity farmers did what products like fluid milk, of the organic seal and cream, butter, skim milk delivering efficient, effecfarmers always do: and cheese. Also, the tive oversight of organic 2018 Farm Bill authorized They persevered. ” production practices to the new Dairy Margin ensure organic products Coverage Program. The meet consistent standards 2019 sign-up enrolled more than 23,000 for all producers, domestic and foreign. producers who will receive $310 million. Agriculture is awash in new gadgets. The organic industry continues to What emerging technology are you grow and evolve, but there are growmost excited about and why? ing pains, such as the emergence of Farmers are some of the most innova-

tive entrepreneurs in the world, and as I travel around the country I have come across some amazing technology. It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing I am excited about. What I’ve observed, however, is what I call the digitization of agriculture. Whether its sensor technology, optic technology or others — it’s making American farmers more productive with less inputs. Our best farmers have always had this smart algorithm on top of their shoulders that helps figure out how to do things best, but now with the type of data and digital inputs that we have, American farmers are even more productive. With all the challenges facing agriculture, how do you keep a positive attitude at work? What are your preferred forms of stress relief? For me, it’s spending time with my wife, Mary, our children and our 14 grandchildren. Additionally, I like to hunt. From childhood, I could often be found training my bird dogs in the fields and wing-shooting on our family farm. Hunting isn’t just a hobby for me; it’s a lifestyle.


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NEWS

Harvesting Hemp Experts advise farmers take chill approach to hot crop By Donnelle Eller

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HE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE released rules

last October that will govern how farmers grow industrial hemp, a crop that promises new revenue for financially struggling growers. The regulations will guide hemp production, including licensing farmers, crop testing and the possible destruction of plants that don’t meet THC requirements. THC is the active ingredient in

cannabis that gets people high. It’s a big step for farmers hoping to tap into a rapidly growing market for hemp-derived cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, used in everything from pet food to wine to creams that promise minor pain relief. According to market research company Brightfield Group, the $5 billion U.S. market is expected to grow to nearly $24 billion by 2023. Iowa officials are already developing a state hemp program and are reviewing the federal rule to ensure their work complies with it. The state plan also must receive USDA approval before Iowa’s program can become effective. Although promising, Robin Pruisner, the state entomologist who is helping lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s efforts to develop a hemp program, warned that the emerging market could be extremely risky for farmers. Not only are they growing a new crop, but they will also be selling it into a new market that can be tricky to navigate.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp, a strain of cannabis plant that contains low levels of THC. “I strongly, strongly, strongly promote the concept that no one should plant hemp unless they have a contract to sell it,” Pruisner said. “This isn’t like corn, that you can sell to the elevator or the ethanol plant. You need to know where it’s going and what their requirements are,” such as hitting certain levels for pesticides, heavy metals or other compounds. “It needs to be sold before you plant it, so you know exactly how to raise it,” Pruisner said. Iowa’s new law restricts farmers to growing just 40 acres of hemp. Farmers also need to make sure they understand how hemp is priced. For example, some farmers told Pruisner they didn’t get paid until their crops were processed, and the plant was backed up for a year. Producers will need to closely CONTI NUED

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MICHELLE PEMBERTON/INDIANAPOLIS STAR

Converse, Ind., farmer Mark Boyer has been growing hemp since 2018 as part of a Purdue University research study.

HEMP IN THE HEARTLAND

MICHELLE PEMBERTON/INDIANAPOLIS STAR

manage hemp as it grows, testing it to make sure THC levels don’t exceed 0.3 percent. Hemp with higher levels will be destroyed. An average of 30 percent of the hemp grown in Minnesota ends up exceeding the THC limit, Pruisner said. That leaves farmers with the costs to become licensed, grow and test a crop and no revenue. USDA officials said no crop insurance will cover losses due to high THC levels. “Farmers will really have to be on their game to manage this crop,” Pruisner said. “It’s not a crop you plant and walk away from.” Even before planting their first seeds, Iowa farmers will have to apply for a license, which requires them to submit their fingerprints for a background check.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said the number of 2019 hemp acres was expected to increase by about 420 percent as compared with 2018, to a total of around 500,000. “The experience producers (had last) fall harvesting their crop, handling their crop and finding buyers for their crop will be instructive as to whether we see continued growth in the hemp industry or whether growers take a step back,” Ibach said. Pruisner said it’s unclear if demand for hemp-derived CBDs and other products will keep pace with the growing supply. “I don’t know if prices will stay up,” she said.

Legal changes in the past year at both the federal and state level have opened the door on hemp production for the first time in decades. “We are just approaching the starting line,” said Mark Boyer, a farmer in Converse, Ind., on the forefront of growing hemp in his state. “Hemp is in a really awkward place right now, and we have to make a lot of mistakes first before we get this right.” Robert Waltz, the state chemist and seed commissioner who is overseeing hemp in Indiana, agrees that growers should exercise caution. “Growers need to look at this as a crop with a lot of risk with it,” he said. “That’s the reality, and I think there is a lot of promise, but a lot of homework needs to be done if we want to grow it successfully.” Indiana is considered the promised land for hemp: The climate is right, as is the soil. “If you look at hemp growing-potential,” Waltz said, “Indiana is the sweet spot.” Several states, including Indiana, were already growing hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to seek approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration to grow the crop purely for research. During the summer of 2018, Boyer planted about 10 acres on his farm, alongside his corn, sunflowers and canola, as part of a study with Purdue University. He was among just a few researchers who planted roughly 15 acres total that year. After the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production, Indiana made quick work of passing its own law during last year’s legislative session to begin the process of creating a state program. As part of Indiana’s law, an advisory committee will help craft a regulatory and licensing program. Boyer and Waltz sit on the committee. Hemp is a game changer in general, Boyer said, adding that it’s the biggest thing to happen to agriculture in Indiana in his lifetime. He doesn’t want to be seen as overly negative for preaching caution, but he wants to make sure building this industry is done right. “We may be a little late to the party,” Boyer said, “but we have the opportunity to show up best dressed.” — Sarah Bowman writes for the Indianapolis Star

— Donnelle Eller writes for the Des Moines (Iowa) Register


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Mixed Market Farmers challenged by trade war, volatile weather GETTY IMAGES

By Brian Barth

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FTER SEVERAL YEARS OF

cataclysmic headlines — dairy bankruptcies, rotting acres of soybeans, a spate of farmer suicides — 2020 brought a welcome reprieve with some good news for rural America. On Jan. 15, President Donald Trump signed a trade deal with China, the most significant truce to date in a dispute that has hit agriculture, especially soybean farmers, harder than any other industry in the country. Total U.S. farm exports to China

were cut nearly in half between 2017 and 2018, while soybean exports dropped about 75 percent. While the deal does not eliminate the tariffs that were already in place, it prevents a new round of tariffs from going into effect and gives a big, belated Christmas present to farmers: The deal commits China to the purchase of $200 billion worth of American goods over the next two years, including $40 billion in agricultural products — more than American farmers were exporting to the country before the trade war began. “It’s a great day for American agricul-

ture,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said of the deal. The federal aid doled out to farmers for the past two years to compensate for their losses would no longer be needed, he said. The trade war, coupled with recurrent flooding of Midwest farmland, led to a significant drop in planted corn and soybean acreage last year. While there’s no telling what Mother Nature will bring this year, farmers are gearing up to plant significantly more acres in hopes of reaping the benefits of the trade deal. But this is not to say that the agricultural economy is suddenly back to some

bucolic state. One bullet has been dodged, but heightened risk seems to be the new norm. Just ask the insurance industry. Michael Williams, an agribusiness insurance veteran who is a vice president at Travelers, said bad weather has become an ongoing woe for farmers across the country. “The No. 1 risk on our minds from an insurance carrier perspective — and I think on the minds of farmers and ranchers — is weather exposure. We see an increasing frequency and severity of damaging weather throughout the country, and our customers are feeling it.” Federal crop insurance addresses


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NEWS

Damaged soybean crop GETTY IMAGES

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weather-related losses to crops and livestock, but private companies like Travelers pick up the slack when it comes to property damage to buildings and equipment as a result of high winds, hail, flooding and wildfire, Williams said. The unfortunate reality of a changing climate is an increase in insurance rates. Otherwise, insurance companies would not be able to serve farmers in high-risk areas at all. But Williams said Travelers also advises its clients on ways they can mitigate their risks, and potentially lower their rates, including specialized construction methods for outbuildings and

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The deal commits China to the purchase of $200 billion worth of American goods over the next two years, including $40 billion in agricultural products — more than American farmers were exporting to the country before the trade war began. extra precautions for protecting valuable equipment. Williams advises farmers to consider insurance for things they might not have considered in the past. For example, hightech farm equipment, such as drones and driverless tractors, has introduced

enormous new liabilities, including the threat of data breaches. From a volatile trade climate to extreme weather, new risks drive up operating costs and threaten agricultural livelihoods, and can call into question whether the present food system is

fully sustainable. Eric Deeble, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said ecological and economic sustainability are deeply intertwined. “It’s an integrated system with integrated problems,” he said. “You can’t have sustainable agriculture without farms being able to sustain themselves, and everyone in agriculture right now is struggling to maintain an economically viable operation. We have to look at every point along the food system and make sure that both producers and consumers are treated equitably and that everybody gets what they need.”


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FERTILE

FORECASTS New technology is giving farmers better information to predict — and adapt to — the weather By Matt Alderton

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uman beings are obsessed with weather. They talk about it with restaurant servers and Uber drivers. They discuss it on the phone with loved ones, colleagues and customer service reps. They bring it up with neighbors on street corners and strangers at sporting events. They talk about it so much that the average person will spend 4 1/2 months of his or her life engaged in weather-related discourse, according to a 2018 study by England’s Bristol Airport, which found that the typical person converses about the weather an average of three times per day. What is small talk for most, however, is elemental for farmers, whose livelihoods hinge on accurate weather forecasts that help them decide the optimal times to plant, irrigate, fertilize and harvest. “Weather is important to everyone. But for farmers, reliable weather information is their lifeblood,” said Janice Stillman, editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been providing long-range weather forecasts since 1792. “Whether you’re a backyard gardener, a small grower or an industrial farmer, you benefit

from having some idea of what the weather’s going to be.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac — North America’s oldest continuously published periodical — uses a secret formula created by founding editor Robert B. Thomas, who based his methodology primarily on solar science. “Historically, when the sun is very active, temperatures on Earth have been higher. And when the sun is quiet, temperatures on Earth have been lower,” explained Stillman, who claims the Almanac has an 80 percent accuracy rate. “Right now, we’re in … one of the quietest solar cycles in history.” That means temperatures should be falling. Instead, they’re rising, observed Stillman, who said the Almanac has had to recalibrate its calculations to account for climate change. “Human activities like heat island effect and greenhouse gas emissions have introduced a certain amount of chaos into the atmosphere,” she remarked. Although not everyone believes in the Almanac’s techniques, the chaos of which Stillman speaks is real. Faced with growing climate instability and increased weather variability, farmers need more and better daily forecasts on which to base vital decisions. A new generation of technology is poised to provide them. CONTINUED

THE OLD FARMER’S ALMANAC; GETTY IMAGES


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“The average farmer in the United States is collecting

500,000 data points every day about their farm.” — Cameron Clayton, CEO of The Weather Company


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INTELLIGENT AGRICULTURE Third-generation farmer Roric Paulman of Sutherland, Neb., has seen firsthand the evolution of weather forecasting. When he began farming in 1985, the most accurate weather report he had — a three-day forecast published in the local newspaper — was based on data from a single weather station 40 miles away. “It was a shot in the dark, but it was the best we had,” said Paulman, owner of Paulman Farms, which grows corn, soybeans, sunflowers, chickpeas, lentils and other crops. Today, Paulman receives field-level forecasts with 15-day outlooks that are continuously updated based on near-real-time data. IBM subsidiary The Weather Company captures, consolidates and conveys that data for him using its Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, a technology solution that integrates weather information with farm-based data — imagery from drones, for example, and readings from soil sensors — then uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to extract actionable insights. “The average farmer in the United States is collecting 500,000 data points every day about their farm,” said Cameron Clayton, CEO of The Weather Company and general manager of IBM Watson Media and Weather. “We can’t make sense of all that data without help. That’s where machine learning and artificial intelligence comes in. It’s ingesting all that data, synthesizing it and making recommendations to farmers to help them make better decisions.” Consider Paulman, for instance, whose 10,000 acres generate 1 terabyte of data every month. Because he farms in a highly restricted water basin, irrigation and water stewardship are major concerns. To ensure his fields receive the moisture they need without depleting precious resources, he must simultaneously monitor precipitation in the sky and in the soil. By cross-referencing a hyperlocal weather forecast with real-time soil conditions, the Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture helps him determine whether he needs to irrigate, when and how much. “Weather is front and center. Because if it rains, you don’t have to irrigate,” said Paulman, who added that unnecessary irrigation wastes not only water, but also money. “Priority No. 1 is stewardship of natural resources. But when we save resources, we also save energy, and that trickles down to the bottom line.”

PROMISING PREDICTIONS Technology hasn’t just made weather forecasts more accessible and more actionable. It’s also made them better. “We’ve improved our forecast skill greatly over the last three decades,” said meteorologist Ray Wolf, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Davenport, Iowa. Wolf said modern-day meteorologists can CONTINUED

x ADVANCED MODELING A 2018 monsoon in India is shown at left by current weather modeling with 13-kilometer resolution. On the right, the new IBMÊGRAF modeling operates at a more precise 3-kilometer resolution and updates six to 12 times more frequently than current global models.

x WEATHER DATA The Operations Dashboard within IBM Decision Platform for Agriculture shows crop health analysis, detailed weather data and weather-based threshold alerts for specific areas.

uDISEASE IDENTIFICATION The Operations Dashboard also aids farmers with crop disease identification. Farmers can upload a photo of the affected plants and the software analyzes the image and delivers a diagnosis.

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“Priority

No.1 is stewardship of natural resources ... when we save resources ... that trickles down to the bottom line.” Paulman, .— Roric Farmer

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predict weather earlier and more accurately, thanks to a massive increase in weather observations, including surface observations from automated weather stations and volunteer weather observers, as well as aerial observations from NWS’ Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD), a national network of advanced Doppler radars that can detect wind, tornadoes, rainfall and hail. “All of our forecasts start with observed weather data, and our observing systems are much better than they used to be,” continued Wolf, who said forecasts are created using sophisticated computer models; when the models ingest better data, they generate better forecasts. Next to radar, the most transformative data source for weather models has been satellites. “The No. 1 thing that satellites allow us to do is track clouds,” said Dan Lindsey, a senior scientific adviser at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS). “Radar is good because it allows us to see precipitation falling, but it doesn’t see clouds. And not all clouds produce precipitation.” NOAA operates two types of satellites: Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES), which scan the entire globe several times daily, and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), which provide near-continuous observation of a targeted region. NOAA is upgrading both. The first of five satellites in the next iteration of POES, called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), was launched in 2017. Carrying five weather-monitoring instruments, it gathers global measurements of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions that help meteorologists predict the intensity and location of severe weather events days in advance. The next iteration of GOES, the GOES-R Series, launched its first two of four satellites in 2016 and 2018. Each carries six instruments designed to improve the detail and accuracy of weather forecasts, the most significant being the advanced baseline imager (ABI), which views Earth across 16 spectral bands and scans the entire Western Hemisphere every 10 minutes. The previous generation of GOES featured only five spectral bands and could image the Western Hemisphere once every 30 minutes. “We get really low-latency data and very frequent data, which allows us to watch clouds as they form,” explained Lindsey, who oversees the GOES-R program. “We also can learn more about the clouds themselves, like whether they’re composed of ice or liquid water. That brings a lot of extra capability to the table.”

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GOES-R satellite technology views Earth across

16 spectral bands and scans the entire Western Hemisphere once every 10 minutes.

ATMOSPHERIC IMPROVEMENTS Although GOES-R satellites generate 60 times more data than their predecessors, CONTINUED

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WEATHER FOR THE WORLD

IBM

Artist’s rendering of the GOES-16 and GOES-17 satellites.

that’s still not enough to satiate weather models’ voracious appetite. Scientists are therefore investing bullishly in yet another data source: radio occultation, which makes weather observations — including temperature, pressure and humidity — by measuring how GPS and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals are refracted, or bent, by the atmosphere. NOAA endorsed radio occultation in June 2019 when it launched the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate-2 (COSMIC-2), a network of six microsatellites that detects changes in radio signals as they pass through the atmosphere, also known as radio occultation. As part of its Commercial Weather Data Pilot program, the agency also is procuring data from commercial satellite companies that specialize in radio occultation. Among them are Spire Global, which currently operates a fleet of 86 satellites, and PlanetiQ, which plans to launch its first in a fleet of 20 satellites early this year. Because their platforms are small — the size of a shoebox and a piece of carry-on luggage, respectively — they can iterate technology more quickly and more affordably than the federal government. “Radio occultation provides us an incredibly precise understanding of global atmospheric conditions at any given point in time,” said John Lusk, Spire Global’s vice president and general manager. “It gives us better global weather visibility, allowing us to better predict disruptive and/or extreme weather events.”

What makes radio occultation so special is that it measures the atmosphere at virtually all altitudes, from the surface of the Earth to the top of the ionosphere. That means more and better inputs for weather models. “What that really comes down to is the ability to make accurate weather predictions further into the future,” said PlanetiQ CEO Steve Joanis. “The one-day forecast right now is very good. Having global, high-density readings that go from the surface of the Earth to the top of the atmosphere allows us to extend the accuracy of the one-day forecast to two or three days initially, then four or five days, and eventually to seven days. That can have a dramatic impact on agriculture.”

THE ‘GOLDEN AGE’ OF WEATHER Although climate change will continue wreaking havoc on global weather patterns, the convergence of new sensors and software with increased computing power promises to equip farmers with the forecasts they need to weather the storm — literally and figuratively. “If you study the history of science, you’ll see that each of the sciences has a sort of golden age during which it makes some really stellar, fundamental improvements. We’re in the middle of that golden age for weather,” Wolf said. “As our knowledge and computer capabilities improve, so will the complexity of our models. Things will just keep getting better.”

Like clean water, affordable energy improved forecasts to users in 2.5 and comfortable housing, it’s easy billion locations around the world to take accurate weather forecasts who can access them for free via IBM for granted. Sure, the forecast isn’t websites and apps, including weather. always perfect, but when a major com and Weather Underground. In storm’s brewing, Americans typiremote areas of Africa, Asia and South cally have ample warning to protect America, forecasts typically cover 6 themselves and their property. People to 10 square miles and are updated in developing countries don’t have the only two to four times per day; with same luxury. GRAF, forecasts zoom in to less than 2 “We have what we call a ‘meteorosquare miles and are updated hourly. logical divide,’” said Cameron Clayton, “It’s the first time in the world that CEO of IBM subsidiary The Weather there’s been a global weather model Company. “North America, Japan and the United Kingdom have all done a good job of investing in the science, satellites and infrastructure that make up the weather forecasting ecosystem. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has not kept pace.” Farmers in the developing world are therefore more vulnerable to IBM GLOBAL FORECASTS IBM GRAF offers advanced extreme weather weather modeling data for farmers in remote areas of events, the severAsia, Africa and South America. ity and frequency of which are increasing due to climate change. at such a high resolution,” according “Poor people are disproportionately to Clayton, who said GRAF’s secret impacted by climate change and by sauce is a powerful new supercomsevere weather,” Clayton continued. puter that ingests 10 terabytes worth “If you’re a farmer in Kenya who of weather observations each day, lives off of $100 a year, a monsoon and on which it performs roughly 2 falling on your field right as you plant trillion computations per second. your seed is fatal, whereas if you’re “We’ve always wanted to solve this a farmer in Kansas who lives off of problem, but we didn’t have the $150,000 year, it’s painful but not capacity to do it until our colleagues life-threatening.” at IBM Power Systems built us a The Weather Company recently supercomputer just for GRAF … we launched IBM GRAF — the Global know it’s going to help us make High-Resolution Atmosphere Forematerially better forecasts that will casting System. A high-resolution help people around the world make weather model that can predict better decisions — particularly as it hyperlocal weather conditions up applies to agriculture.” to 12 hours in advance, it delivers — Matt Alderton


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Clever ad slogans have failed to slow milk’s decline By Rick Barrett and Daniel Higgins


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THE ADVERTISING SLOGAN FIRST

appeared in 1993, followed two years later by white mustaches on celebrities’ upper lips. For the next two decades, “Got Milk?” ads were a staple of pop culture. The campaign captured multiple awards, branched out with Spanish and chocolate milk versions and ultimately featured about 300 big names in entertainment, media and sports. At one point, it was recognized by 9 out of 10 Americans. So, did more people actually get milk? No. Other than a short-lived turnaround in a few markets, overall consumption of milk failed to rise during a single year

of the national campaign, which came to a close in 2014. In fact, it’s barely risen since 1985, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Today, the dairy industry is undergoing seismic change. In 2018, more than 2,700 dairy farms in the U.S. went out of business, and last year, nearly 700 dairy farms were lost in Wisconsin alone. Much of the blame has been placed on collapsed milk prices fueled by runaway production and trade wars that have soured export markets. But another factor has been intractable: Milk isn’t as popular as it used to be. CONTINUED

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‘DRINK YOUR MILK; IT’S GOOD FOR YOU’ A century ago, declining milk consumption would have been difficult to comprehend. Delivery trucks traced the streets of America, bringing fresh bottles to doorsteps daily. In 1946, the National School Lunch Act mandated that any student receiving a subsidized lunch get the equivalent of a cup of whole milk, giving the dairy industry’s core product the endorsement of the government and, not incidentally, guaranteed sales. “When I grew up, my mom poured a glass of milk at every meal, and you were expected to drink it,” said Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “My mother would say, ‘Drink your milk because it is good for you,’ and scientists said ‘It’s good for you,’ and you believed them.” In 1977, the first edition of The Dietary Goals for the United States recommended lowering fat intake to reduce the incidences of coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke and early mortality. In 1985, the USDA recommended low-fat dairy. Families trying to improve their diets didn’t always get the desired results. Studies found that people consumed more food because it was low-calorie, defeating the purpose. “While they were well-intended, the U.S. low-fat guidelines made in 1977 caused an overhaul of both the food industry and the average American’s perception of a healthy diet, eventually contributing to an overall decline in health ... rather than the anticipated opposite result,” a 2016 University of Connecticut study concluded. Another hit came in the 1990s when a national controversy erupted over the practice of injecting dairy cows with rBGH — recombinant bovine growth hormone. The synthetic hormone was used by farmers to increase milk production and became the highest-selling pharmaceutical in the history of the dairy industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved rBGH as safe in 1993, and the dairy industry tried to reassure consumers that science couldn’t detect any difference in the milk from rBGHtreated cows. But research found that consumers had concerns about possible long-term health effects of drinking milk from rBGH-treated cows and believed it should carry a special label. Today, rBGH has nearly disappeared from dairy farms.

More than half of milk’s lost volume went to bottled water — a product that didn’t hit the market until the late ’90s.” — JEN WALSH, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin GETTY IMAGES

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DAIRY TIMELINE

1886 Oleomargarine Act Law imposes prohibitive licenses and fees on oleomargarine manufacturers. The state of Wisconsin bans sales altogether.

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1946 National School Lunch Act Mandates that students who receive subsidized lunches must be given the equivalent of a cup of whole milk.


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“Consumers are not averse to dairy,” said Jen Walsh, vice president of insights and strategy with the industry group Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. “More than 90 percent of households have milk in the fridge right now.” Still, a typical American today drinks about 40 percent less milk than in the 1970s.

RELENTLESS COMPETITION As diets changed, milk faced a tidal wave of new competitors. Beverage companies, seeking to please a multitude of palates, flooded the market with sports drinks, energy drinks, plant-based sodas, fruit juices and designer coffees. Just in the last six years, the average grocery store has added nearly 600 new beverage options to its coolers and shelves, according to Paul Ziemnisky, an executive vice president at Dairy Management Inc., a nonprofit funded by governmentmandated payments from dairy farmers to promote milk products. The primary nemesis has been even more elemental than milk itself: water. “The truth is that more than half of milk’s lost volume went to bottled water — a product that didn’t hit the market until the late ’90s and has radically changed the beverage market ever since,” Walsh said. Other competition has come from nondairy drinks with “milk” in their name. Soy. Almond. Cashew. Coconut. Rice. Flax. Even hemp. “In 2007, soy was nearly our only offering in the plant-based (beverage) category,” said James Hyland, vice president of public affairs for Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. “Almond milk now dominates the category in terms of selection and dollar sales, overtaking soy around 2011.”

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In 2017, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduced legislation to prevent plantbased drinks from being labeled as milk. The Dairy Pride Act would require the FDA to issue guidance for nationwide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products and report to Congress in two years on its progress. Supporters say some consumers mistakenly equate the nutritional value of flaxseed milk or almond milk with cow’s milk. Critics of the proposed law say it’s more about propping up the dairy industry than looking out for consumers. “Tragically, the dairy lobby is avoiding their industry’s real economic troubles of overproduction, consolidation ... and a lack of innovation,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, which represents more than 130 companies. “It may be easier to blame their troubles on the plant-based foods industry, but it’s a disingenuous distraction from real issues and a disservice to dairy farmers.”

THE BUTTER WARS This isn’t the first time the industry has faced a nondairy opponent. Oleomargarine, as it was known, arrived in the United States in the 1870s and stirred up enough anxiety that farmers lobbied government officials for help. In 1886, the federal Oleomargarine Act slapped prohibitive licenses and fees on manufacturers. Six states, including Wisconsin, went further, banning oleomargarine sales altogether. By 1902, more than 30 states had forced color restrictions on oleomargarine, which is white, preventing manufacturers from adding yellow to make it look more like butter. Vermont, New Hampshire and South Dakota demanded

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1953

USDA

1977

Sliced cheese Sargento

Dietary goals USDA recom-

Foods offers the first precut cheese product. In 1955, it introduces vacuum-sealed packages and in 1958 adds shredded cheese.

mends lowering fat intake as a way to reduce the incidences of coronary artery disease, diabetes, stroke and early mortality.

that margarine be dyed pink to try to make it seem unpalatable. Nevertheless, with the butter shortages of World War II, oleomargarine continued its inexorable climb. Some Wisconsinites drove across state lines to get margarine because it was cheaper than butter and, at least to some, tasted just as good. Eventually, all the state margarine laws were overturned. Wisconsin was the last holdout. But at least one remnant of the state’s margarine laws remains. Restaurants in Wisconsin cannot serve margarine as a substitute for butter unless it is ordered by the customer. The penalty: up to a $500 fine and three months in jail for the first offense; up to a year in jail for subsequent offenses.

A BRIGHT SPOT: CHEESE Amid the grim trends in milk consumption, cheese has acted as something of a safety net for dairy farmers, especially in Wisconsin. Over the past 30 years, cheese production in the state has ramped up, and today the state leads the U.S. in cheese production and makes more than most countries. If Wisconsin were its own nation, it would rank fourth in cheese production behind the United States (including Wisconsin), Germany and France. While fresh milk is highly perishable and must be consumed within about a week, cheese can remain in storage for years — purposefully for aging or to wait for a better price. Through innovation, the most successful cheesemakers have catered to convenience as well as taste. Paolo Sartori, co-founder of the Plymouth, Wis., cheese company that bears his last name, received a U.S. patent for a cheese curd machine in 1942 and then in

1946 received a patent for a curd mixing and kneading machine. In 1953, nearby Sargento Foods offered the first precut cheese. In 1955, it introduced vacuum-sealed packages and three years later became the first company to market shredded cheese. Innovations continued, including resealable packages and low-fat options. Other cheesemakers have developed niche specialties. Marieke Penterman, who grew up in Holland and lived for a time in Canada, began making Gouda on her Thorp, Wis., family farm in 2006. “When I started making this, I remember my neighbor saying, ‘What is Gouda?’ So, I had to explain first what Gouda was,” Penterman said. “Then the second question was, ‘But Marieke, do we have enough Dutch people in this area that will eat it?’” Penterman’s cheeses went on to win several national awards. The Penterman farm has 400 cows, and about 30 percent of the milk is made into Gouda. The cheesemaking operation is a separate business, but it gives the farm stability during extended periods of low milk prices. “It helps our farm. It’s a little insurance,” Penterman said.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING Even with robust cheese sales, there’s too much of it stored in warehouses. The USDA reported last June that almost 1.4 billion pounds was in refrigerated storage around the country. That glut of cheese in the ’80s was brought on by overproduction of milk, which was fueled by billions of dollars in government subsidies to farmers. The government bought the excess cheese CONTI NUED

AP PHOTO/MILK PROCESSORS OF AMERICA

1993 Got milk? The award-winning ad campaign would span two decades and feature approximately 300 celebrities in entertainment, media and sports.

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2017 Milk alternatives Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., introduces legislation to prevent plant-based drinks from being labeled as milk.


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More Milk Woes

Milk Declines as Nondairy Alternatives See Major Growth Dairy milk

and was stuck with a massive stockpile it had no easy way to unload. Under President Ronald Reagan, the government launched a program that gave away 5-pound blocks of processed cheese to low-income people, the elderly and social service organizations. The program lasted into the 1990s, when the amount of cheese in storage fell below 500 million pounds and the milk supply and farmers’ milk prices stabilized. Now, the stockpiles have grown again. “It is pretty much impossible to know, from the USDA data, what amount is cheese that is in storage on purpose and what is there because you couldn’t find a buyer,” said Andrew Novakovic, an agricultural economics professor at Cornell University.

$20 billion Estimated change 2013-2023 15

10

-27%

5

0 2014

2016

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE Critics of the dairy industry say it lost sight of consumer tastes and instead put too much emphasis on boosting bovine genetics to get more milk per cow. “It’s in trouble because it has focused on cows instead of consum-

2020

2022

Forecast

YOGURT SALES HELP, BUT JUST A LITTLE Another bright spot — of sorts — for the industry has been yogurt sales. In 1990, the average American consumed 3.9 pounds of yogurt. That had increased to nearly 15 pounds in 2013 and 2014, before slipping to 13.4 pounds in 2018. The drawback: It takes about 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, while it takes only a pound of milk to make a pound of yogurt, meaning dairy farmers don’t benefit as much. What’s more, experts say the yogurt segment of the market has matured. Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst with The NPD Group, a market research firm, said lack of innovation has been partially to blame. “By 2010, nothing new was coming out in the yogurt segment,” he said, adding that yogurt began to lose its newfound seat at the breakfast table. “Eggs made a comeback because we’re not as concerned about fats.” Like milk, yogurt is also facing plantbased competition. Danone North America, which sells Dannon yogurt, recently announced a line of oat-milk yogurt alternatives under its Silk brand, which helped fuel the nation’s craving for soy milk back in the late 1970s.

2018

Nondairy alternatives +108%

$2.5 billion 0 2014

2016

2018

2020

2022

Forecast

SOURCES: IRI InfoScan Reviews; CSPDailynews.com; U.S. Census Bureau; Economic Census/Mintel

ers,” said Hank Cardello, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of its Obesity Solutions Initiatives. “Having been in the soft drinks business, I was there when we surpassed milk as the No. 1 beverage,” he said. “It should have been their wake-up call.” Some players in the dairy industry have hedged their bets on alternative beverages. In 2016, New York City’s last legacy dairy called it quits — only to reopen as a plant-based beverage maker. Elmhurst 1925, named after the year it was founded, stated on its website that “more and more people were eating healthier, adopting plant-based alternatives.” Lately, there’s been a flurry of activity with milk that is laser-focused on health benefits. Organic Valley, a La Farge, Wis.based cooperative with more than 2,000 farm members in 34 states, launched an organic milk that claims to have 50 percent more protein, 45 percent more calcium and 50 percent less sugar than regular milk. And it’s lactose-free. The cooperative has pushed the boundary with milk, including a variety

ANDREW MOLLICA

with fish oil added that aims to capitalize on omega-3 fatty acid’s association with brain health. There’s also “A-2” milk, which is like conventional milk but doesn’t have an “A-1” beta-casein protein, which studies have said makes milk less digestible for some people. And consumers could see more nonrefrigerated dairy products. The Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison recently received grants to work with companies developing shelf-stable milk products, such as ready-to-drink coffee with creamer or milk-based workout recovery drinks. With a longer expiration date, these products could be shipped overseas. Cardello said milk could yet make a comeback. “I’ve seen enough brands reverse their course to say it’s never too late,” he said. “And milk still has a wholesomeness to it that you don’t find in most products.” Rick Barrett and Daniel Higgins write for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Their Dairyland in Distress series is produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center.

Dean Foods files for bankruptcy In November, dairy giant Dean Foods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. With more than 50 brands that include Dean’s, Land O’ Lakes and Country Fresh, the company said it intends to continue operating and “is engaged in advanced discussions” for a sale to Dairy Farmers of America, a national milk cooperative representing farmers, producers and brands such as Borden cheese and Kemps Dairy. The Dallas-based company, which has about 15,000 employees, said it has been unable to escape the effects of traditional milk’s decline as consumers seek alternatives. “Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption,” CEO Eric Beringause said in a statement. “Importantly, we are continuing to provide customers with an uninterrupted supply of high-quality dairy products, as well as supporting our dairy suppliers and other partners.” In 2018, Dairy Farmers of America, which represents about 30 percent of total U.S. milk production, reported a 7.5 percent decrease in sales to $14.7 billion. The organization said the decline was “primarily” due to lower milk prices. Dean Foods said it had lined up about $850 million in bankruptcy financing to continue operating while it arranges a deal. — Nathan Bomey


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Feeding the future Universities address food insecurity on campus and in their local communities

By Quinisha Jackson-Wright ood insecurity is a growing crisis for today’s college students. Last April, the National #RealCollege Survey Report — conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, a nonprofit research team — surveyed nearly CONTI NUED

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DILLARD UNIVERSITY New Orleans

86,000 students across the United States about their access to basic needs. Forty-five percent reported that they had experienced food insecurity within 30 days of being surveyed. These numbers only increased when factors such as racial and ethnic background were considered. The same report found that the overall rate of food insecurity for African American students was 58 percent, 8 percentage points higher than that of Latino students, and 19 points higher than the rate of white students. Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have spent years working to address the issue of food insecurity on campus and within local communities. Over the past several decades, several HBCUs have conducted research and implemented programs to advance agriculture and food sustainability in the black community. These institutions, referred to as land-grant universities under the Morrill Act of 1890, were granted public land in exchange for establishing at least one college dedicated to agriculture education. Today there are 19 HBCUs with land-grant status under the Morrill Act; all are public, with the exception of Tuskegee University.

ROOT ISSUES Many HBCUs have followed the footsteps of land-grant institutions in their continued focus on food insecurity. Dillard University, a liberal arts HBCU located in New Orleans, offers resources to educate students about sustainable food options and the history of Southern agriculture. Among the university’s most prominent programs is the Ray Charles Program in African American Material Culture, founded in 2003 by Charles, a legendary musician and philanthropist. “(Charles) wanted to do something with a big focus on food,” said Zella Palmer, director and chair of the Ray Charles Program. “He felt like younger people are now the microwave and fast-food generation, and they don’t know how to grow their own food and aren’t cooking the way (older generations) used to.” While the program’s mission is to “research, document, disseminate, preserve and celebrate African American culture and foodways in the South,” Palmer, who became chair in 2014, said she and her colleagues saw a need CONTI NUED

GETTY IMAGES; SABREE HILL (2); ZELLA PALMER


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PAUL QUINN COLLEGE Dallas

to further educate students. The university’s new food studies minor program began offering classes this spring. The 18-credit-hour program teaches students about the foundation of food culture and systems and helps them explore potential career opportunities in foodways, including policy, law and journalism. Dillard University is one of two HBCUs that offer a food studies program; the other is Spelman College in Atlanta. “There aren’t enough of us telling our stories and making policy to address food insecurity and food scarcity in our neighborhoods, nationally or internationally,” Palmer explained. In the meantime, to provide education on healthy food options, Dillard regularly invites national chefs to campus to provide cooking demos, as well as food scholars who speak about sustainable living. When asked how the university is able to gauge interest from busy “microwave generation” students on the go, Palmer’s answer was simple: “Students are always hungry, so when we say there’s free food, they will come,” she said with a laugh. She also said that the department coordinates off-campus field trips, as well as internship opportunities for students to gain handson experience working with African American professionals in the food and beverage industry.

FARM SENSE While Dillard’s programs study food culture and how it integrates with business and policy, other HBCUs take an approach that focuses on produce farming. In 2010, Paul Quinn College, a historically black Methodist college in Dallas, converted its football field into a sustainable farm, now known as the “We Over Me Farm.” Since its transformation, the farm has provided more than 30,000 pounds of organic produce for its community members, local charitable organizations, restaurants and grocers, and even provides food services for the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. “We provide produce for farmers markets in the community on the first and third Friday of each month,” said Kim High, farm director at Paul Quinn College. “From this past June through September, we have provided over 500 pounds of produce each week.” High said CONTI NUED

GETTY IMAGES; KIM HIGH/PAUL QUINN COLLEGE; PAUL QUINN COLLEGE (3)


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Money Matters In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided more than $18.9 million in renewal awards to construct or improve research facilities and equipment for agricultural programs at historically black land-grant universities. Here are some ways the universities have utilized this and other funding:

Spelman College student garden, circa 1920

Prairie View A&M University Located in Texas, Prairie View has used funding from the USDA to update its International Goat Research Center, which conducts various projects on value-added processing, food safety and nutrition of dairy and meat goat production for the Cooperative Agriculture Research Center.

Florida A&M University Grant dollars have contributed to the Florida A&M University College of Agriculture and Food Sciences and its cooperative extension programs to improve facilities, equipment and research libraries. Funds will also help faculty stay current with agricultural trends and help students receive hands-on laboratory experience.

Tuskegee University The College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences at Tuskegee University in Alabama has received grant awards to help strengthen the organic farming infrastructure in the Southeast. To meet consumer demands, the university will aid in growing the organic farming industry through consumer education, market development and educational support. — Quinisha Jackson-Wright

of students reported that they had experienced food insecurity within 30 days of being surveyed. SOURCE: National #RealCollege Survey Report

another goal of the farm is to educate the community on the importance of eating healthier. “We’ve created this farm and we want it to be a model for other HBCUs,” High said. “African Americans have some of the highest rates of high blood pressure and diabetes. It’s important to educate our community about what goes into our bodies. Once we get on the path of eating better, it will help us not only feel and work better, but live better.” Citing education and more access to resources as ways to combat food insecurity, High plans to implement workshops and cooking classes to teach students and community members how to prepare healthy food. “Paul Quinn is a work program college, and our students work in various places around campus to get their hours,” High explained. “The farm is one of the places they work, and this semester I had 28 students. Some of them had no (prior) knowledge of farming or what a garden is, so we educate them, and hopefully they will share that knowledge with their friends.”

GETTY IMAGES; COURTESY OF THE SPELMAN COLLEGE ARCHIVES; PROVIDED BY THE COLLEGES


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BLOCKCHAIN MEETS

FOOD CHAIN THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND CRYPTOCURRENCY PROMISES TO BRING TRUST, TRANSPARENCY TO FOOD By Matt Alderton HE OLD DATING AXIOM is

true: There really are plenty of fish in the sea. But when one of them ends up on your dinner plate, you can’t help but wonder whether it’s fresh and where it’s from. And for good reason, suggests the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a food safety watchdog that said fish and shellfish cause more foodborne illness per bite than

any other food. According to CSPI, 85 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, and the FDA inspects only 1.2 percent of these imports. What’s more, an estimated one-third of all seafood is mislabeled by fraudsters seeking to cheat consumers or engage in illegal fishing, reports ocean conservation group Oceana. As North America’s largest branded shelf-stable seafood company, packaged tuna purveyor Bumble Bee Foods has been fighting seafood chicanery for years. In 2018, it decided to enter a

new era of high-tech traceability by a surprising solution: blockchain. Although it originally was designed for cryptocurrency, the secure technology behind Bitcoin turns out to be as useful for tracking food as exchanging money, according to Eric Somitsch, senior director of industry solution management for consumer product and agribusiness at software company SAP. “Blockchain is a concept and an CONTI NUED

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architecture based on distributed-ledger technology,” explained Somitsch, who said software built on top of a blockchain allows information to be captured and communicated instantly and immutably across a disparate network of divergent users. “It’s a tool that provides trust and transparency because everyone in a supply chain can provide and access data, and because there’s no one party in the middle that controls everything. It’s a democratic approach to data sharing.” That makes it an ideal mechanism for tracking seafood from the ocean to the table, according to Bumble Bee Foods Chief Information “(Blockchain Officer Tony Costa. technology) “Consumers connects conwant to know that their fish sumers and was caught producers to sustainably, that it’s one another high quality and that it’s so that we can safe to eat,” vote with our Costa said. “Blockchain dollars and is the perfect make decisions platform for about our food that.” Because based on real the appetite for safe, information sustainable rather than seafood is so fish is marketing spin. great, low-hanging That’s a really fruit for powerful thing.” nascent blockchain technology. — ERIK OBERHOLTZER, And what chef and food activist works well at sea could also transform agricultural supply chains on land — and already is, thanks to forward-thinking partnerships between farmers, retailers and tech companies.

foods. Bumble Bee Foods began looking for a new way to sate this appetite after its 2013 acquisition of frozen seafood company Anova Food. Hoping to optimize Anova’s supply chain — which originates in Southeast Asia — Costa made several trips to familiarize himself with it. “Once I’d made one or two visits, it became really obvious that we had an incredible opportunity to leverage the latest and greatest technology to bring traceability to fruition,” explained Costa, who subsequently partnered with SAP to test and implement its SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service, which became operational in spring 2019 for Bumble Bee’s Natural Blue by Anova frozen yellowfin tuna steaks. “It starts with fishermen. They go out, catch the fish and take it to a local buyer. That buyer takes it over to a processing plant, which will then send it to our finished goods plant, where at the conclusion of producing the finished goods we put a QR code on the back of the package. The consumer can then scan the QR code with their cellphone, and we will tell them where the fish was caught, how it was caught, the species that’s in the package, as well as if it’s Fair Trade-certified.” At every link in the supply chain, stakeholders upload and validate the data that eventually reaches consumers — oftentimes using a simple smartphone app that allows even the smallest fishermen to contribute. “Blockchain technology is so intuitive, so necessary and so clearly appropriate for the problems we have to solve around supply chain transparency and integrity,” said chef and food activist Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder and former CEO of farm-to-fork restaurant chain Tender Greens and now a regenerative farmer in Berks County, Pa. “It connects consumers and producers to one another so that we can vote with our dollars and make decisions about our food based on real information rather than marketing spin. That’s a really powerful thing.”

TRACKING TUNA

SAFETY FIRST

More companies are responding to consumer demand to know precisely where their food comes from. Marketing firm Response Media reported that 99 percent of people want transparency in fresh foods and 98 percent in packaged

Walmart, the world’s largest bricksand-mortar retailer, also has recognized blockchain’s benefits. In 2017, it joined the IBM Food Trust consortium, a

FISHERMAN

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blockchain-based cloud network that brings traceability to food supply chains. A diverse group of retailers and suppliers — including Walmart, Tyson Foods, Dole Food Co., Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger Co., McCormick & Co., Nestle and Unilever — spent 18 months testing the platform, which currently spans more than 200 member companies tracking more than 350 products. Walmart formally implemented it in September 2018 by requiring all of its leafy greens suppliers to use it, and this summer it will extend the same mandate to green bell peppers, with more foods to follow. “We gave all our suppliers one year to get on the blockchain and enable visibility all the way back to the farm for every shipment of leafy greens we receive,” said Tejas Bhatt, senior director for food safety and innovation at Walmart, which started with leafy greens suppliers because of the E. coli outbreak that happened in March 2018 with romaine lettuce from Yuma, Ariz. In the event of a similar outbreak, IBM Food Trust will help Walmart and its suppliers quickly identify the outbreak’s source and remove contaminated products from shelves. Walmart tested the platform with sliced mangos from Mexico, for example, and found that it could trace fruit’s origin in 2.2 seconds using IBM Food Trust compared with nearly seven days without it. “That changes the entire dynamic for outbreak investigation,” continued Bhatt, who said food recalls can now be more surgical in order to spare innocent suppliers. “As important as it is to identify which farms and products have been infected, it’s equally important that we identify CONTINUED

HOW BLOCKCHAIN COULD MEND OUR FRACTURED GLOBAL FOOD SUPPLY Ever open up a pack of blueberries only to discover that mold has already set in? Better food safety and freshness are just two benefits that can come from applying blockchain technology to the global food industry. By creating a decentralized ledger that records transactions in a global network, IBM Food Trust can be used to help participants find new ways to reduce food fraud and costly batch recalls and provide greater governance over the food ecosystem that suffers from a lack of transparency.

BLOCKCHAIN ENABLES FARMERS TO DOCUMENT THE SOURCE OF THEIR PRODUCE

BLOCKCHAIN DIGITIZES DATA ON A SECURE, IMMUTABLE LEDGER

This helps ensure the origin of foods so they can be traced back to the contamination source in the event of a recall. The ability to store proof of origin and compliance data helps confirm that producers have been fully vetted and conform to a set of standards.

Better access to up-to-date information that’s endorsed by multiple parties increases visibility into adverse conditions that could affect food shipments in transit.

BLOCKCHAIN HELPS RETAILERS GAUGE THE FRESHNESS OF PRODUCE Maximizing freshness reduces the amount of food that’s thrown away. It also makes business operations more efficient.

When a foodborne disease outbreak occurs, food recalls become needlessly expansive because the source of contamination can’t be immediately identified. Better tracking at this stage can help pinpoint the source of contamination, limit the number of consumers affected and reduce global food waste. SOURCE: IBM

MILLIONS OF PRODUCTS SOLD TO DATE HAVE PASSED THROUGH IBM FOOD TRUST BLOCKCHAIN CAN REDUCE THE TIME IT TAKES TO TRACE THE SOURCE OF FOOD FROM 7 DAYS TO 2.2 SECONDS A RECALL WILL COST A FOOD COMPANY AN AVERAGE OF $10M, NOT INCLUDING BRAND DAMAGE AND LOST SALES


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which farms and products are safe so we can continue selling them to our customers.” But food safety isn’t the only problem. Another is food waste. During its mango pilot, for instance, Walmart discovered a bottleneck in the supply chain. “It was taking four days for mangos to cross the (Mexico) border into the United States. That’s four days of shelf life that we could give back to the consumer, which could have a huge impact on food waste,” continued Bhatt, who said Walmart is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to explore ways to streamline the importing process — including data sharing via blockchain.

HELPING PURVEYORS PROSPER

BLOCKCHAIN AT WALMART Walmart has begun using blockchain to track its leafy greens suppliers. In the event of a foodborne illness event, IBM Food Trust will help Walmart and its suppliers quickly identify the outbreak’s source and remove contaminated products from shelves.

Producers have as much to gain from blockchain as consumers, according to Bhatt, who said blockchain requires the entire supply chain to be digitized, which yields new and valuable data that can benefit even the smallest growers. “While we are asking for visibility from them going back to the farm, in exchange we are giving them visibility on how their food is deploying from our distribution centers to our stores — which is valuable information for suppliers,” Bhatt said. “With that information, they can do better demand forecasting, for example, and better marketing.” Data also can be used for economic development. In the case of fish, buyers who used to do business on a handshake now have digital records of how much fish they procured on any given day from any given fisherman. “By capturing that information, they have at their fingertips the ability to look at historical trends,” said Costa. “We can then partner with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to look at why some fishing communities are catching more fish than other fishing communities, using these data analytics to increase successful fishing and help fishermen be productive. Because if they go fishing and don’t catch any fish, nobody wins.” Producers and purveyors might also be able to charge a premium, suggests Response Media, which found that consumers overwhelmingly are willing to pay more for fresh and packaged items that have a high degree of food chain transparency. In fact, coffee

industry consortium Farmer Connect partnered with IBM in January to launch a mobile app called Thank My Farmer, which allows consumers who purchase 1850 brand premium single-origin coffee to tip the farmers who grow it by leveraging the traceability that blockchain affords. “Imagine I buy a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop. It costs me $2. How much of that does the farmer get? Typically, 5 cents,” said Ramesh Gopinath, vice president of blockchain solutions and research at IBM. “As an end consumer, I might be willing to pay an extra 5 cents for my coffee if I know all of it will go back to the farmer. That’s precisely what this application does.” The ability to reward farmers for their work could transform food for the better. “It allows consumers to send a message back down the supply chain that said, ‘We like what you’re doing, and if you do more of it, we’ll pay for it,’” Oberholtzer said.

BLOCKCHAIN 2.0 As it matures, blockchain can offer more sophisticated metrics, such as the temperatures at which the product was stored and how it was transported to market. As a result, consumers eventually will be able to reward food suppliers and brands based on the freshness of their products or the size of their carbon footprint. SAP provided a further glimpse into the future of blockchain last year when it launched its latest solution: SAP Logistics Business Network, material traceability option — a blockchain application that allows food companies to trace multi-ingredient products. “By working with companies that produce complex processed foods, we can ensure traceability not only of an apple from the orchard or a fish from the sea, but also something a lot more complicated, like a pizza with 50 ingredients and sub-ingredients,” said Somitsch. Ultimately, more traceability of more products will give consumers more choice. And perhaps even better health. “I see blockchain right now as 1993 internet,” said Oberholtzer. “We’re still very much in dial-up, but I’m excited to see how it will transform the world in the decade ahead.”

WALMART


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TECHNOLOGY

Remote-Controlled Cultivation Robots are proving to be valuable farmhands By Adam Stone

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T MID-SOUTH FAMILY FARMS

in Ripley, Tenn., owner Scott Fullen wants to know more about the health of his crops. “We can go out in the field and look, but I can’t walk every field, and we are making general assumptions based on just a limited area,” he said. “We get good information now, but I think that this could give us better information, quicker.” “This” is a TerraSentia robot, manufactured by EarthSense. Rigged with sensors, it zips between Fullen’s rows of cotton, corn and soybeans, measuring plant health and other key factors. “It’s got cameras to take pictures on the ground, even below the canopy, and then it has algorithms to analyze those pictures,” Fullen said. “It shows us where things are happening at a very detailed level.” Fullen is not alone. Farmers increasingly are turning to robots to generate information and help support routine tasks at a time when labor is in short supply. “The demand for food is increasing, while the number of qualified people to tend the crops is decreasing,” said Usha Haley, an expert on global agricultural issues GEORGIA TECH

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The Grow Out robot is being programmed to monitor the temperature of a henhouse and remove eggs from the ground.


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VISION ROBOTICS

Robotic thinners save hours of manual labor by automatically identifying and removing weaker seedlings from produce fields.

“We are spraying various pesticides, fungicides, things like that, and while the employees all get protective equipment, there is always a chance for accidental exposure to those materials.” — GARY THOMPSON, chief operating officer, GUSS Automation

at Wichita State University. With the help of robots, “there are a lot of routine, rote things that can be delegated, freeing up the farmers to work on more strategic issues.” The market for agricultural robots is expected to reach $20.6 billion by 2025, according to researchers at MarketsAndMarkets. These emerging machines will carry out a wide range of tasks. San Diego-based Vision Robotics Corporation is developing robots to perform “thinning” — ensuring seeds are spaced far enough apart during planting so crops will grow faster. “In the case of lettuce, many growers plant seeds 2 inches apart even though they want 10-inch spacing. They over-plant because not every seed germinates into a nice plant,” said Vision Robotics co-founder Tony Koselka. The company’s robot takes pictures

of germinating plants, analyzes them for health and vigor and plucks the weaker ones. “It can do two-and-ahalf acres an hour and can replace 50 or 60 people,” Koselka said. That’s a boon to farmers facing an unreliable labor supply. “Having a robotic solution means they have the certainty in knowing that they will be able to get it done.” Gary Wishnatzki encountered labor shortages as head of Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla., an operation that supplies strawberries and blueberries year-round. “We were leaving millions of dollars in the field because we couldn’t get them harvested. We didn’t have enough labor to pick,” he said. That led him to co-found Harvest CROO, where he is helping to develop a robotic strawberry picker. Notoriously labor-intensive, strawberry picking is also complex.

Harvest CROO’s machine, now in prototype, can scoot along the rows and lift leaves to see the fruit. It images the berries and analyzes their ripeness, then extends pincers to pick only the ripe fruit. “It has a leaf-grabbing system to clear the leaves, and we also have a patented picking wheel, which allows us to get to commercial speed. The wheel has a series of claws on it, so it can pick without a lot of wasted motion: It picks and then another claw comes in right away and picks the next berry,” Wishnatzki said. All this is mounted onto a 30,000-pound vehicle that extends over four beds simultaneously for a total of 16 robots working in tandem. It’s massively efficient. “Pickers only work during daylight hours, where these machines can work throughout CONTI NUED


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Harvest’s CROO machine HARVEST CROO ROBOTICS

A FARMER MIGHT ONLY HAVE TIME TO GO THROUGH A HENHOUSE TWICE A DAY, BUT A ROBOT CAN MONITOR ACTIVITY

24/7

Global Unmanned Spray System (GUSS) GUSS AUTOMATION

the night and early morning. It’s the equivalent of a 25- or 30-person crew,” he said. Rather than try and sell the machine to cash-strapped farmers, Harvest CROO’s business model calls for the delivery of harvesting as a service. “We will own the machines, and the growers will pay us weekly on a per-box basis, the same way they pay their workers now. There won’t be any capital outlays for growers to worry about,” Wishnatzki said. Money is likewise a prime con-

sideration at EarthSense. “Our goal is to bring the cost to under $5,000 (per robot) when it is produced in mass quantities, which should be in a couple of years,” said co-founder and chief technical officer Girish Chowdhary. In addition to aiding farmers, Chowdhary said his robot could help seed developers to more effectively test new varieties of plants. “Soil, rainfall and temperature in Illinois will be very different from the conditions in Texas, so the seed

companies have to go through this very complicated development process, planting hundreds of different categories in different places,” he said. A robot could analyze data from those test beds far more efficiently than a human. Then there are the chickens. The funny thing is they will all lay eggs in boxes, just like they are supposed to, until one lays an egg on the ground. Then they all start doing it, according to Doug Britton, manager of the agricultural technology research program at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Britton thinks he has a solution to this problem. He’s developing a robot, dubbed the Grow Out, that rolls through a grow house checking the temperature, looking for disease and scooping stray eggs off the ground to return them to their boxes. “That’s just what the farmer would do, but the farmer (might) only go through twice a day, where a robot can be in the house 24/7,” he said. And at Homestead Dairy in Plymouth, Ind., co-owners Brian and Jill Houin have installed a robotic milking system. In their fully automated dairy barn, a cow is fed a treat, has its udders washed and gets milked — all in less than 7 minutes. “It makes the job better for the employees. It’s not as monotonous, and it’s less physically demanding, so we have less turnover,” Jill Houin said. “It also gives them more time to spend looking at the cows and their health.” Others are looking at robots to alleviate safety concerns. Take for instance GUSS — the Global Unmanned Spray System. “We are spraying various pesticides, fungicides, things like that, and while the employees all get protective equipment, there is always a chance for accidental exposure to those materials,” said Gary Thompson, chief operating officer at Kingsburg, Calif.based GUSS Automation. Robotic orchard spraying means a safer work environment. All these different robots could help to reshape the way farmers operate, making their land more productive and their businesses more successful. “The promise is that there will be more crops, and more hardy crops, and the farmers will have more time to focus on their businesses, rather than being out in the fields from morning until night,” Haley said.


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JAMES PENDLETON/USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT

A worker strings lines for broadband for Southwest Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, near Texarkana, Ark.

Connecting the Country Program helps deliver broadband to rural America

By Patricia Kime

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HEN CABLE, DIGITAL AND fiber-optic lines

began replacing dial-up internet access to homes and businesses across the country earlier this century, residents of Mecklenburg, Va., and neighboring counties patiently waited for Comcast, Verizon or another provider to bring service to their communities. But it never happened. And 20 years later, this remote region between Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C., remains a high-speed internet desert. Households

and farms struggle to connect, often relying on cellular hotspots or satellite connections that come with data limits, buffering problems and unreliability. “You hear those stories that our kids have to go to the library where there is broadband or a fast-food restaurant to complete homework, downloading files in parking lots (when the places are closed). It’s true,” said David Lipscomb, vice president of member and energy services at Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative (MEC) in Chase City, Va. Seeing the digital revolution pass by CONTI NUED


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JAMES PENDLETON/USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT

The USDA’s ReConnect program is providing the resources for cotton farmers in Clinton, N.C., to utilize new technology and analyze crop data.

— Lipscomb said many for connectivity and its in the area don’t even impact on economic know they can access development on farms NEARLY instructional videos on and in rural communihousehold and equipties, USDA established ment repairs on YouTube ReConnect, a grant and or elsewhere — MEC loan program designed customers began asking to help towns, internet in 2016 whether the service providers, company could help. MILLION AMERICANS telecommunications Its leadership said yes. companies and electrical LACK ACCESS TO “Rural America co-ops build broadband BROADBAND matters. Our kids deserve networks in the regions SOURCE: Microsoft the same opportunities where they operate. that kids do elsewhere,” The first year USDA Lipscomb said. “This solicited applications for gives us the opportunity to help level the what was expected to be $600 million in playing field … we can bring this to our grants, loans or a combination of both, communities.” it received $1.4 billion in requests — 146 As of January, MEC has established a applications from 41 states, according to portion of a 135-mile “backbone” fiberUSDA Rural Utilities Service Administraoptic line that eventually could serve up tor Chad Rupe. to 25,000 customers. And they’ve done it, Rupe said most of the applications in part, with funds from the U.S. Departcame from the small companies that ment of Agriculture’s Rural Development provide electricity or telephone service to Broadband ReConnect Program. In late 2018, recognizing the need CO NTINUED

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CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE As small companies and co-ops expand into the internet service provider field, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking steps to improve access in rural communities, putting new rules on its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program that will make sure new networks in rural communities will be able to keep up with future demand. The FCC has been seeking comment on its program that would direct up to $20.4 billion to expand broadband access. “If FCC ultimately approves these proposals, millions more rural homes and small businesses would be connected to high-speed broadband networks providing up to gigabit speeds,” FCC officials said in a release. The plan is to distribute the funding in two waves following two rounds of reverse auctions: $16 billion to start in 2021 and more than $4 billion in the second wave. But some lawmakers and advocates are concerned that the FCC’s efforts, which could take up to a decade to implement, will not keep pace with the speed of technology. “It would be an inefficient use of resources to promote services that cannot keep pace with consumer demand and the evolution of broadband in urban areas,” Sens. Amy Klobuchar and John Thune stated in a Dec. 9, 2019, letter to the FCC. — Patricia Kime


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TECHNOLOGY rural areas. luxury; it’s a necessity. In one area, it’s “The reason rural Americans got quality of life – schools, hospitals and electrification in the 1930s is because of telemedicine, which is critical, connectivthe Rural Electrification Act and a comity for first responders and social convermitment by these providers to provide sations and dialogue,” said R.J. Karney, that service to these areas. We often director of congressional relations at the find these companies have a strong American Farm Bureau Federation. commitment … to go out and serve their But he added that it’s also necessary to neighbors,” Rupe said. improve farm yield and build and sustain USDA chose 25 recipients in 17 states rural communities. Precision agriculture, for the funds in the first round. To date, which uses technology to determine the the program has distributed $230 milmost efficient land, water, fertilizer and lion of the planned $600 million. USDA herbicide and insecticide use, and access now is moving into its second round to the economy and global marketplace, of ReConnect awards and was seeking requires speedy internet connections to applications through this March for up homes, farms and ranches. to $550 million in funding. “Farms aren’t just empty fields where According to Rupe, there will be just crops are growing. Farmers need another round next year, thanks to fundconnectivity in their offices, at the dairy, ing provided in the omnibus spending downloading the tractor information, GPS bill signed by President … having reliable, affordable Donald Trump on Dec. broadband access is critical 20. to the farmer and rancher,” “Rural America “We’re here to finance Karney said. matters. Our kids sustainable, feasible For those living and doing operations. We want business in rural America, deserve the same high-speed good management. We internet can’t want good partners. We opportunities that come fast enough. In Surry, want people to deliver Va., just 12 miles from kids do elsewhere. the College of William & what they say they are going to do,” Rupe said. Mary in Williamsburg, few This gives us the Awardees are chosen households or businesses opportunity to based on their ability to have reliable internet provide reliable service to connections, let alone help level the farms and ranches, small broadband. businesses, health care Cindy Scott is a partner playing field … we facilities and for educaat Chris C. Scott Logging can bring this to tion and quality-of-life in Waverly, Va. “The lack improvements. They also internet service of any our communities.” of must build infrastructure kind is hard. It’s hard that will supply consum— DAVID LIPSCOMB, to pay taxes online and ers access at speeds of Mecklenburg Electric make ...updates with at least 25 megabits per Cooperative Quickbooks,” she said. “If second download and something is not done we 3 megabits per second will have to move business upload. to another county.” At their fastest, dial-up modems Even with ReConnect funds and busiperform at 56 kilobytes per second. nesses willing to build the infrastructure, “When we are looking at an area, we the process is not quick. want to invest once and not have to MEC first began exploring the broadinvest over and over again to provide band business in 2017. A Virginia Tobacco long-term sustainability,” Rupe said. Region Revitalization Commission grant “We want to make sure that we get a and the ReConnect loan helped jumpbackbone into the area to offer that start the backbone line that eventually opportunity as technology advances.” will serve 3,000 customers living within The Federal Communications Com1,000 feet of the main line. mission (FCC) estimates that 25 million Then it will build offshoots from the Americans lack access to broadband. In main line to reach other customers. its definition of access, the FCC includes So far, just 60 customers have been residents who have a school or library in connected, Lipscomb said. “This is their census district that has high-speed important to us. We really want to internet. In a new report, Microsoft said bring internet to our customers without that the figure is much higher: nearly 163 building the infrastructure on their backs. million Americans. Programs like ReConnect make it a “In 2020, broadband is no longer a doable project.”

JAMES PENDLETON/USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Linemen from Beehive Broadband work on a project in Rush Valley, Utah.


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DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The USDA analyzes images captured by drones, including the one held by intern Alex Olsen, to monitor the irrigation levels required for crops planted along the Colorado River.

Irrigation Regulation Farmers, researchers use drones to help save endangered Colorado River

By Dan Elliott

A

DRONE SOARED OVER a

blazing hot cornfield in northeastern Colorado last July, snapping images with an infrared camera to help researchers decide how much water they would give the crops the next day. After a brief, snaking flight above the field, the drone landed and the researchers removed a handful of memory cards. Back at their computers, they analyzed the images for signs the corn was stressed from a lack of water. This U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) station outside Greeley, Colo., and other sites across the Southwest are

experimenting with drones, specialized cameras and other technology to squeeze the most out of every drop of water in the Colorado River — a vital but beleaguered waterway that serves an estimated 40 million people. Remote sensors measure soil moisture and relay the readings by Wi-Fi. Cellphone apps collect data from agricultural weather stations and calculate how much water different crops are consuming. Researchers deliberately cut back on water for some crops, trying to get the best harvest with the least amount of moisture — a practice called deficit irrigation. CONTI NUED


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DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

USDA researchers Kevin Yemoto, left, and Huihui Zhang use cameras, sensors and other technology to chart crop growth and conserve water.

In the future, tiny needles attached to plants could directly measure how much water they contain and signal irrigation systems to automatically switch on or off. “It’s like almost every month somebody’s coming up with something here and there,” said Don Ackley, water management supervisor for the Coachella Valley Water District in Southern California. “You almost can’t keep up with it.” Researchers and farmers are running similar experiments in arid regions around the world. The need is especially pressing in seven U.S. states that rely on the Colorado River: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The river had plenty of water last summer after an unusually snowy winter in the mountains of the West. But climatologists warn the river’s long-term outlook is uncertain at best and dire at worst, and competition for water will only intensify as the population grows and the climate changes. The World Resources Institute said the seven Colorado River states have some of the highest levels of water stress in the nation, based on the percentage of available supplies they use in a year. New Mexico was the only state experiencing extremely high water stress. The river supplies more than 7,000 square miles of farmland and supports a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry, including a significant share of the nation’s winter vegetables, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which

experimenting with reduced water for manages many of the big dams and the midsummer crop, which requires reservoirs in the Western states. more irrigation but produces lower The Pacific Institute, an environyields. mental group, says the river also Sensors placed over the test irrigates about 700 square miles in plots indirectly measure how Mexico. much water the plants are Agriculture accounts for using, and the harvested crop approximately 80 percent is weighed to determine the of water consumption in AGRICULTURE the U.S., according to yield. ACCOUNTS FOR “The question then the USDA. The problem facing policymakers is becomes, what’s the economic value of the how to divert some of that water to meet the lost crop versus the needs of growing cities economic value of the saved water?” said without drying up farms, ranches and the Bart Fisher, a thirdOF WATER generation farmer environment. CONSUMPTION and a member of the PRECISION IS KEY irrigation district board. IN THE U.S. The researchers’ goal Blaine Carian, who SOURCE: USDA is understanding crops, soil grows grapes, lemons and and weather so completely that dates in Coachella, Calif., farmers know exactly when and how already uses deficit irrigation. He said much to irrigate. withholding water at key times improves “We call it precision agriculture, the flavor of his grapes by speeding up precision irrigation,” said Huihui the production of sugar. Zhang, a USDA engineer who conducts He also uses on-farm weather stations experiments at the Greeley research and soil moisture monitors, keeping track farm. “Right amount at the right time at of the data on his cellphone. His drip and the right location.” microspray irrigation systems deliver The Palo Verde Irrigation District in water directly to the base of a plant or its Southern California is trying deficit roots instead of saturating an entire field. irrigation on alfalfa, the most widely SAVING WATER AND MONEY grown crop in the Colorado River Basin. For Carian and many other farmers, Alfalfa, which is harvested as hay the appeal of technology is as much to feed horses and cattle, can be cut about economics as saving water. and baled several times a year in some “The conservation’s just a byproduct. climates. The Palo Verde district is

80%

We’re getting better crops, and we are, in general, saving money,” he said. But researchers say water-saving technology could determine whether some farms can stay in business at all, especially in Arizona, which faces cuts in its portion of Colorado River water under a drought contingency plan the seven states hammered out last year. Drone-mounted cameras and yield monitors — which measure the density of crops like corn and wheat as they pass through harvesting equipment — can show a farmer land that is productive and soil that is not, said Ed Martin, a professor and extension specialist at the University of Arizona. “If we’re going to take stuff out of production because we don’t have enough water, I think these technologies could help identify which (crops) you should be taking out,” Martin said. Each technology has benefits and limits, said Kendall DeJonge, another agriculture department engineer who does research at the Greeley farm. Soil moisture monitors measure a single point, but a farm has a range of conditions and soil types. Infrared images can spot thirsty crops, but only after they need water. Agricultural weather stations provide a wealth of data on the recent past, but they can’t predict the future. “All of these things are tools in the toolbox,” DeJonge said. “None of them are a silver bullet.” Dan Elliott writes for The Associated Press.


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GETTY IMAGES

Growing the Next Generation National organization fosters hands-on agriscience learning

By Robin Roenker

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ATELYN HILL, A SENIOR at Delaware’s Delmar High School, didn’t grow up on a farm, so it came as a bit of a surprise when she discovered her passion for animal husbandry and agriculture — thanks entirely to her participation in her school’s National FFA Organization program. Delmar High School’s FFA goat program — in which students raise, care for and show goats competitively — has taught Hill responsibility and increased her self-confidence and leadership skills, she said. Plus, it’s CONTI NUED


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EDUCATION given her a career focus: She hopes to major in agriculture education at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore this fall. “I was kind of scared of big crowds, but after showing goats for the first time, it kind of took that nervousness away,” said Hill, who is serving as her school’s FFA chapter president this year. “It just made my confidence come out.”

school as a way to expose students to agriculture and to give them real-life business experience in marketing and selling excess eggs — beyond what’s donated to the school’s food pantry weekly as a way to combat student food insecurity. When Carpenter started Hudson’s Bay’s FFA chapter nine years ago, she had around 12 active participants. Now, she has almost 60. INCREASING DIVERSITY At first, it took some time to educate Launched in 1928 as Future Farmers students and their families that “FFA is of America but known since 1988 as not just about farmers,” Carpenter said. the National FFA Organization, today’s “But once we hook the kids, they’re all in. FFA embraces students from an array of They’re starting to see different career backgrounds — rural, urban and suburban pathways that they never thought about — who bring with them a broad spectrum before. Their aspirations are reaching of career interests, from traditional higher, and educationally, their academproduction farming to jobs in horticulics are improving.” ture, landscaping, veterinary science, From skills-building opportunities ag education, agribusiness, natural such as supervised agricultural resources management and more. experiences — yearlong, individual, “When I came on board with FFA ag-related projects students can in 2016, our board challenged me to complete — to statewide and national help create FFA of the 21st century,” competitions and leadership positions said CEO Mark at the local, state Poeschl. “Not only is and national levels, agriculture changFFA offers students ing, but the types ample platforms BY THE NUMBERS of students we’re to grow their working with is ATTENDEES AT THE 2019 NATIONAL talents in a range changing. Technolof ag-related career FFA CONVENTION & EXPO: ogy and innovation fields. are playing such “One of my former important roles in students received the overall industry a communications of agriculture.” proficiency award Today, even from FFA at the students living state level and in America’s went on to earn his largest urban centers have access to both meteorology degree and become our local classroom-based and hands-on agricultural weatherman,” said Donna Nesbitt, Delmar education opportunities thanks to FFA. High’s agriscience teacher and FFA adviser. “We have agricultural education and FFA “We have another student currently workchapters in 24 of the 25 largest cities in the ing on her master’s in turf and sod manageUnited States,” Poeschl said. “We’re very ment. I have former students working proud that 40 percent of our 8,600 FFA toward their veterinary degrees, one who is chapters are now in urban centers around working for a local ag chemical company. the country. We’re reaching a much broader They’re all over, doing great things.” audience with our agricultural instruc“FFA’s mission is preparing the next tion — and it can be around production, generation of leaders who are going to (or) it can be around the science, business change the world,” said Kolesen McCoy, a and entrepreneurial opportunities that are native of Springfield, Ohio, who is currently available in agriculture or ag-related fields.” serving as FFA’s national president. “A leader can look like a farmer who is out in EMPOWERING STUDENT SUCCESS the field tending to crops or livestock. That Amy Carpenter is an FFA adviser and ag can also look like someone in agribusiness, educator at Hudson’s Bay High School in (such as) a person directly involved in the Vancouver, Wash., an urban school that science and chemistry of fungicide or other serves a large percentage of economically chemical applications,” said McCoy, who disadvantaged youth, many of whom are is pursuing a degree in agribusiness and “in and out of foster care, or in and out of applied economics at Ohio State University. homelessness,” she said. “You name it — from putting food on the In 2018, Carpenter launched an FFA table to national security — agriculture is program to raise around 20 hens at the there.”

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NATIONAL FFA ORGANIZATION (2); GETTY IMAGES

FFA’s annual convention programming offers networking and information sessions as well as virtual reality and hands-on learning opportunities.

EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY At the annual National FFA Convention & Expo, held in Indianapolis, students can experience the “Blue Room,” which showcases cuttingedge technology and innovation in agriculture. Students not able to attend the annual convention can investigate high-tech career paths in agriculture through FFA’s Blue 365 online portal (ffa.org/blue365). “It’s spotlighting experiences that apply in a very relevant way to today’s ag industry,” FFA CEO Mark Poeschl said. Through FFA’s Ag Explorer website (agexplorer.com), students can also learn about dozens of diverse agriculture-centered careers, as well as the education paths required to achieve them. — Robin Roenker


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Connect for Success

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Cooperative extensions support farmers, educate communities

became a part of land-grant university programming more than 100 years ago, it served as a way to deliver new developments in science and technology from academic institutions to the farmers who needed it. Today, it’s still bringing practical information to farmers, but it also helps teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to children through 4-H clubs and addresses community food security and nutrition challenges. And the extension representatives embedded in communities inform the universities about obstacles local farmers are facing. There are extension offices in or near most of the 3,000 counties across the nation. While some large corporations might have in-house research and training departments, the federal government, in coordination with state and local jurisdictions, stepped in to fill this role in agriculture. “Agriculture was different because it was millions of independent farmers around the country that we’re coordinating in that way,” said J. Scott Angle, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). “We needed something like this as a way to get (farmers) the information, get them the solutions they need through research and then deliver that information through the extension service.” Many of the extension systems are based at agricultural colleges but have reach throughout the states where they’re located. The University of Georgia Extension, for example, seeks to “foster a healthy and prosperous Georgia” in all of the state’s 159 counties — from the urban areas of Atlanta to the row crop producers further south, said Laura Perry Johnson, the university’s associate dean for extension. One important part of this extension is that it delivers 4-H youth programming primarily in schools during instructional time to more than 238,000 students, Johnson said. The content is specific to the area where the school is located. “These days, school systems are asking for a lot of programming in science-related topics, STEM education,” she said. “We also do things like financial literacy and health and wellness programming … embedded in all of those subject matter areas are things like public speaking,

JOSH PAINE/UGA EXTENSION

Jennifer Miller, a University of Georgia extension representative, works with a local farmer to measure soil moisture.

HEN THE COOPERATIVE EXTENSION System

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R.J. ANDERSON/CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION

The Cornell Cooperative Extension in New York teaches kids about healthy eating habits through educational outreach, 4-H clubs and urban farming programs.

citizenship, leadership.” director. “Whether it’s robotics, it’s The extension is also working to bring computer coding, it’s data management farmers solutions to far-reaching issues and analysis and manipulation — all of including irrigation and those skills are in really water conservation, enhigh demand. What we’re vironmentally conscious trying to do is introduce “These days, pesticide application, these skills and technolschool systems access to healthy foods ogy to youth to get them in rural communities and engaged and interested are asking for a nutrition and wellness, in it.” lot of programJohnson said. The Purdue Extension “When you really boil it has also implemented ming in sciencedown, what we do is try farmers markets in food to solve problems at the deserts and engaged local related topics, most local level,” she said. children in volunteering STEM education.” and education programThe extension program at Indiana’s Purdue ming, which has led to — LAURA PERRY JOHNSON, University also has many additional 4-H clubs. associate dean for extenfunctions, including The Cornell Cooperative sion, University of Georgia offering 4-H programming Extension in New York is with a focus on STEM. linking farms directly to “Those are the skills that when we talk to schools to help supply healthy lunches employers, they’re always talking about,” and provide programming to teach kids said Jason Henderson, the extension’s about better eating habits.

The extension also has a large urban focus in New York City, including 4-H programs to foster STEM skills and special projects such as Juntos, a national 4-H initiative to engage Latino middle school students and their parents, said Jennifer Tiffany, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension. It also has a long history of seeding the development of community gardens for new farmers, she said. Meanwhile, extensions across the country have recognized the stress on farmers and the resulting mental health challenges. They’re partnering with experts to bring resources to farmers who need them. “It’s a tough time in rural America right now,” Angle said. “Prices have been down. We’ve had a lot of climatic problems, whether it’s a drought or fires. There are all kinds of things that have caused this last year to be particularly difficult for farmers. ... They don’t

like to ask for help. That’s not part of heir culture.” NIFA has funded several counseling centers nationwide that will be part of an extension or have a strong extension component to them, Angle said, and they’ll be run by people who are part of the communities. “They know the farmers. They know what the stresses are. They know what people are going through when times are tough,” he said. The extension system is built to provide support for farming communities to succeed, explained Henderson, likening it to creating an ecosystem where good crops can grow. “You have to have the right infrastructure around; you have to have the right people, the right educational systems, the right health. For us it’s about how do we work with our partners within our community to strengthen that ecosystem, to allow people and businesses and farms to thrive.”


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A Place to Grow Incubators offer low-risk option for beginning farmers to take root By Jodi Helmer

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ENNY HAUF WAS NO stranger to getting her hands dirty. Before starting Muddy River Herbals in Canton, Mass., in 2015, she had worked on farms in Virginia, Oregon, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, sowing seeds, pulling weeds and harvesting fresh herbs. Although she was gaining valuable hands-on experience, Hauf knew that working as a farmhand was not the same as operating her own farm. “It takes so much skill to grow anything well and manage the land well, and I had a strong foundation in those things, but I had no idea how to run a business,” she said. Hauf applied for the Incubator Farm Training Program offered through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts University and spent the next two years participating in educational programming, growing medicinal herbs on leased land and gathering advice on how to start and run a successful farm.

CULTIVATING OPPORTUNITIES Incubator farms are designed to bring together beginning farmers and mentors for hands-on training, education and technical assistance. The U.S. is home to more than 200 incubator farms, according to the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative. Through the intensive programs, beginning farmers receive temporary and affordable access to small parcels of land and farm infrastructure including tractors, tools and walk-in coolers. The setup is designed to help farmers generate enough momentum (and revenue) to go out on their own. The latest data shows that 42 percent of beginning farmers who participated in incubator programs are now principal farm operators, and 37 percent of incubator graduates are working on farms. “People have become a lot more cognizant of where their food comes from and ... (that there are) different models for (the) raising of our food and taking care of the land and creating community … those ZOE JEKA

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Jenny Hauf participated in an incubator program before launching her Muddy River Herbals farm.


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EDUCATION

CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN

Beginning farmers who participate in the Windy City Harvest Farm Incubator at Chicago Botanic Garden have access to land and infrastructure to cultivate crops.

42% OF BEGINNING FARMERS WHO PARTICIPATED IN INCUBATOR PROGRAMS ARE NOW PRINCIPAL FARM OPERATORS

trends have supported the opportunities for beginning farmers who want to get into this business to serve that need,” explained Jennifer Hashley, director of Tufts’ New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. “(Farm incubators) can support beginning farmers and help them figure out how to leverage their skills and knowledge.” To be accepted into a farm incubator, beginning farmers must submit detailed applications that might include a business plan, proof of previous farming experience and a willingness to commit at least 20 hours per week to launching their new farming operations. The hosting organizations include universities, nonprofit organiza-

tions and working farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has provided funding to support farm incubators through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Hilltop Urban Farm in Pittsburgh launched a farmer incubation program as part of a 2019 pilot project. Interested applicants were required to attend a working session to learn more about the program, participate in a tour of the 5.75-acre farm, undergo an interview and submit a business plan. Once accepted, participants are granted affordable leases for quarter-acre parcels of land for up to three years.

“Farming is hard work and requires major investments, and even experienced farmers can struggle to make it work,” said John Bixler, executive director for Hilltop Urban Farm. “We wanted to provide a low-risk opportunity for beginning farmers to get an idea of whether farming was really right for them.” Five farmers signed on to be part of Hilltop’s incubator program in its first year. Two vegetable producers dropped out due to issues with the soil, but a beekeeper, compost producer and cut-flower grower completed the season and plan to return in the spring. CONTI NUED


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EDUCATION THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS The three-year-plus land leases associated with many incubator programs are intentional. “The USDA Farm Service Agency requires three years of production history in order to be eligible for their traditional Farm Service Agency loan program,” Hashley explained. “We felt like if people could get into the incubator and start their business and keep good records for three years, then they would be eligible for these loans that would potentially allow them to buy their own land (when their time in the incubator ended).” But access to land in major urban areas is often limited. Recognizing the challenge, the Chicago Botanic Garden launched the Windy City Harvest Farm Incubator program in 2013. Beginning farmers work quarter-acre plots of land using intensive production methods to grow high-value annual vegetable and cut flower crops. “Illinois is a big farm state … but, in Chicago, there were very few opportunities for urban residents to get involved with agriculture in a meaningful capacity,” said Kelly Larsen, operations director of Windy City Harvest. “We looked at (the incubator) as a solution to that gap.” Larsen said 10 farmers who graduated from the incubator are still farming, and 70 percent of their farm businesses remain in Chicago. Farm incubators can provide important resources to beginning farmers, but Hashley noted that the process is still daunting to many. She said that thousands of participants have taken crop production and farm business planning courses through Tufts’ New Entry Incubator Farm Training Program, but only 116 have enrolled in the incubator program, and the number of beginning farmers who have completed the program is even lower. “Some of (the farmers) don’t even make it all three years; (but) we look at that as a success because they didn’t go into great debt to buy land and tractors only to figure out it’s not right for them,” Hashley said. “I think a lot of what the incubator offers is that stage space to try out the business.” Hauf credits the incubator for her success with Muddy River Herbals. She cultivates echinacea, mint, calendula, ashwagandha, thyme and other medicinal herbs, selling her bulk herbs, teas and tinctures through farmers markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions and online. “Without New Entry, I would have made more mistakes and struggled a lot more to navigate the challenges,” Hauf said. “The incubator gave me such a foundation to get the business going. I would not be where I am without it.”

CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN

The Chicago Botanic Garden operates the Windy City Harvest Farm Incubator on a 2.5-acre plot of land that was once the site of a public housing development.

FIND YOUR FARM Incubator farms offer a range of services, infrastructure and support to fit a variety of business goals. Most host information nights and tours to give prospective farmers a chance to meet the staff, see the farm and ask questions. Here are just a few of the many incubator programs available nationwide:

plot plus additional fees, including technical assistance ($350), cooler use ($180) and greenhouse access ($330)

Hilltop Urban Farmer Incubator Program, Pittsburgh Length of program: Three years Prerequisites: Completion of a farm business planning class Cost: $600 per year plus water

Windy City Harvest Farm Incubator, Chicago Length of program: Two years (with the option to enroll in an advanced incubator for an additional five years) Prerequisites: Graduation from a nine-month program through City Colleges of Chicago and completion of a Chicago Small Business Association business course Cost: $1,000 per quarter-acre plot

New Entry Incubator Farm Training Program, Tufts University, Beverly, Mass. Length of program: Three years Cost: $315 per quarter-acre

Headwaters Incubator Program, Portland, Ore. Length of program: Five years Prerequisites: Completion of a farm business plan

Cost: $600 per acre/per year plus $500 annual participation fee and additional fees for infrastructure, equipment and professional services Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Lomax Farm, Concord, N.C. Length of program: Three to five years Prerequisites: At least 80 hours of production experience Cost: $1,925 per year Nettle Valley Farm Incubator Program, Spring Grove, Minn. Length of program: One to three years Prerequisites: Must have LLC Cost: At least 20 hours of labor per month plus additional fees for large equipment rentals — Jodi Helmer


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ON THE FARM

Harvest Helpers Today’s tractors offer ultra-engineered features, data-driven technology

John Deere 8RX JOHN DEERE

By Adam Stone

T

RACTORS ARE GETTING SMARTER all the time.

“There are a lot of things that a human operator doesn’t have the ability to sense and respond to,” said Alex Thomasson, a professor in the department of biological and agricultural engineering at Texas A&M University. “A machine can do steering better than a person. There is also a lot of work going on with collec-

tion, storage, analysis and transport of data.” The global market for tractors above the 100 horsepower range is expected to top $175 billion by 2024, according to research firm Mordor Intelligence. Judging by the 2020 offerings, farmers will likely see these big machines getting increasingly more efficient and more capable. Manufacturer Case IH recently introduced the AFS Pro 1200 Display on its AFS Connect Magnum Tractor.

“There’s a lot of peace of mind that comes with these systems. The farmers know they are putting themselves in the best possible position for farming.” — ERIC BROADBENT, Kinze senior director, North America sales

“We are trying to make the displays more user-friendly, to make them easy and intuitive,” said Case IH commercial training manager Leo Bose. The new display “allows the operator to interact intuitively, like on an Android phone, to see things like ground speed, implement engagements or disengagement. It also allows you to customize the front and rear lighting,” Bose said. Others are introducing new technologies to make tractors more versatile. CLAAS of America, for example, recently released its Axion 900 TT, with wheels in the front and rubber belt treads on the back. By incorporating the wide, flat tread, “we can get more traction without adding weight, even as these tractors get larger and larger in horsepower. We also get better flotation, meaning it doesn’t sink in the mud or sand or peat,” said Drew Fletcher, product manager for tractors at CLAAS of America. The treads can even help to extend the harvest season. “If you get a half-inch of rain, a wheeled tractor often can’t go out for a week or two, until it starts to dry out,” Fletcher said. “With this, you can get in a day earlier and pick up production even in marginal soil conditions.” CLAAS is active on the data front, too. Last year the company joined with John Deere, CNH Industrial and 365FarmNet to release a cross-platform tool for sharing agricultural data. “Right now, there is a lot of time and complexity involved in the data manipulation. The farmer needs to be able to see the passes that the CLAAS tractor made and overlay that with the yield map from the Deere combine and with his sprayer map from the Case IH sprayer,” Fletcher said. The new tool makes it easier to share data across formerly proprietary platforms. John Deere also has been innovating its products to enhance operator comfort and convenience. In the company’s 6M model “there is an updated cab with electronic hydraulic controls, bringing some of the controls closer to the operator for convenience and comfort. The transmission controls in some configurations are moved into the armrest so you don’t have to reach as far to interact with those,” said Douglas Felter, a product marketing manager at John Deere. The company has also introduced its Autotrac precision steering feature for the first time on smaller models. “The precision technologies that are now almost common on large tractors are CONTI NUED


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ON THE FARM beginning to move into smaller machines,” Felter said. In bigger tractors like the 8RX, meanwhile, digital tools that used to be offered as add-on features now come standard. “Every large tractor we sell is coming from the factory with a full precision-ag suite, with a digital display and a GPS receiver and at minimum a guidance activation system. You can take this tractor and be operating with guidance almost immediately,” Felter said. Deere also recently unveiled its HarvestLab 3000, a digital tool to help farmers more accurately apply liquid manure. Users can analyze, adjust and document gallons applied per acre on-the-go to better manage fertilizer usage. Other ag manufacturers are also offering new technologies in support of smarter tractors. Kinze Manufacturing recently rolled out its Blue Vantage product, a digital interface between the planter and the tractor. “It is the control for all things that are being done by the planter,” said Eric Broadbent, Kinze senior director of North America sales. “As you are going through a field, if you want to apply different rates of feed or fertilizer depending on the soil condition, the map shows you the different areas so that you can make adjustments as you go.” As with many of this year’s new tractor technologies, this micro level of management should give farmers a greater sense of control. “There’s a lot of peace of mind that comes with these systems,” Broadbent said. “The farmers know they are putting themselves in the best possible position for farming.”

CASE IH

Case IH’s AFS Connect Magnum 380 tractor features advanced technology that includes multiple camera feeds.

outfitted with cutting-edge technology for increased connectivity, ease of operation and remote monitoring and management. The line includes models from 180 to 400 horsepower. Starting at $329,626.

Xerion Trac TS CLAAS OF AMERICA

TRACTOR TRENDS For many farmers, purchasing a tractor can be as expensive as buying a home. These state-ofthe-art machines offer impressive features to match their price tags:

Case IH AFS Connect Magnum series The AFS Connect Magnum tractor series gives farmers the freedom to manage, monitor, adjust and transfer data. Powered by Case IH’s Advanced Farming Systems, each tractor is

John Deere 8RX For model year 2020, John Deere has introduced a new 8 Family Tractor lineup including the all-new 8RX, equipped with an integrated Gen 4 4600 CommandCenter display, StarFire 6000 integrated receiver and AutoTrac activation. The new StarFire 6000 integrated receiver requires no calibration of the Terrain Compensation Module, is more accurate than previous models and is less vulnerable to theft, the

company said. The 8RX is equipped to prepare precise seedbeds, handle variable-rate seeding and manage fertilizer prescriptions. Starting at $486,694. CLAAS XERION TRAC TS The new Xerion Trac TS tractor with crawler tracks is designed to deliver reliable tractive power and minimize ground pressure in almost all conditions. Equipped with a pendular suspension system, the crawler tracks adapt to the terrain and ensure a high level of driver comfort when combined with the cab suspension. Starting in the low $300,000s. — Adam Stone


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ON THE FARM

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is an international research project that is engineering crops to be more productive by improving photosynthesis. HALEY AHLERS

Green Genes Agronomists are engineering DNA to save some foods from extinction By Matt Alderton

C

LIMATE CHANGE FEELS LIKE

an unprecedented global challenge. But the truth is, humanity has been here before — approximately 11,000 years ago. That’s when the last Ice Age ended.

Enormous ice sheets had spent the preceding millennia engulfing continents like a glacial conflagration. Then, suddenly, Earth began to warm. Ice melted, altering the jet streams that shape global weather patterns. Precipitation patterns changed, transforming lush grasslands into dense forests and barren deserts. Their habitats vanquished and

large herbivores perished along with their predators. Among the losses were saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, dire wolves and ground sloths, each of which was consigned to the annals of extinction. Although the circumstances are different, with most scientists agreeing that modern-day climate change is the

result of human activity, global warming today looks a lot like it did then. This time, however, humans have a lot more to lose. Like prehistoric fauna, they could see dramatic shifts in their food supply due to changing weather patterns. At risk are commodity crops CONTI NUED


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ON THE FARM like corn, wheat, soy and rice, as well as specialty crops like avocados, coffee, cocoa, peaches, berries and wine grapes, just to name a few. “We have very major problems ahead with food supply,” said Stephen Long, endowed chair of crop sciences and plant biology at the University of Illinois. “We probably are going to lose some crops, and others are going to become far less productive.” But don’t mourn your favorite snacks just yet. Scientists like Long already are cultivating solutions to rescue them. One of the most promising lies inside the foods themselves, many of which possess climate-resistant genes that could be exploited to make imperiled crops impervious.

CROPS IN CRISIS Average temperatures in the contiguous United States have been rising since 1901, with an increased rate of warming over the last three decades, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The effect on farming can be dramatic: An increase in temperature of just 1 degree Celsius causes a decrease in crop yields of approximately 3 percent to 8 percent, according to the National Academy of Sciences. “That’s a lot in a world where the population is growing and you actually have to produce more food, not less,” says Hannes Dempewolf, senior scientist and head of global initiatives at the Crop Trust, an international organization with the mission of ensuring crop diversity for global food security. Stressing the food system even further are floods and droughts, both of which are becoming more common in certain vulnerable regions — including parts of the United States. At any given time over the past 20 years, roughly 20 percent to 70 percent of the country has experienced abnormally dry conditions, according to the EPA. Impacts abound. “For example, Montana has been experiencing decreased annual snowpack, which means less consistent water for irrigating commodity and staple crops such as sugar beets, barley and potatoes,” said Nicole Wagner, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural Sciences at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. “Another example is that a major commodity crop like corn … is threatened in the lower Midwest states due to more frequent heat waves.” The coasts are not immune. In California, for example, eyes are on avocados. “Avocado habitat is likely getting warmer

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS

Many scientists believe the answer to crop security is mapping and manipulating plant DNA.

and dryer, and that will impact both water, but will die if they’re completely disease profiles and fruit yield,” said covered for more than three days,” said Victor A. Albert, professor of biology at Pamela Ronald, a distinguished professor the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. in the Department of Plant Pathology “Disease is probably the biggest problem at the University of California, Davis. avocado is facing: Climate “That’s a big problem in change means new India and Bangladesh, “There will never pests might move in that where 4 million tons of avocado varieties ... aren’t rice — enough to feed 30 be one solution, well adapted to.” million people — is lost but genetic On the East Coast, peaevery year to flooding. nuts are in peril. “Peanuts Because of climate strategies are an tend to be grown in sandy change, that flooding soil, which is vulnerable is predicted to increase important tool in to dry conditions,” said in both frequency and the toolbox.” Thomas Sinclair, an intensity.” adjunct professor in the When crops are lost, — Pamela Ronald, Department of Crop and hunger is just the first professor in the Department Soil Sciences at North of many consequences, of Plant Pathology, Carolina State University according to Long, who University of California, Davis in Raleigh. recalls the Arab Spring of While American 2011, a major impetus of agronomists are rightly concerned, which was a wheat shortage that caused stakes are greatest in developing nations. an increase in global grain prices that Consider rice crops in Asia, for example. pinched vulnerable people in Islamic “Most rice varieties grow well in standing countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

“If wheat prices tripled, it wouldn’t have a big effect for most people in the United States,” Long said. “But in the poorest countries in the world, it could be a catastrophe that leads to civil unrest and mass migration.”

SOWING STRONGER GENES At home and abroad, the road to crop security is paved in DNA. “There will never be one solution, but genetic strategies are an important tool in the toolbox,” suggested Ronald, who said genetic solutions are attractive because they don’t require farmers to change their practices; all they have to do is sow new seeds. Scientists have been deploying genetic strategies for more than 100 years in the form of conventional plant breeding, wherein plants with desirable characteristics are isolated, then crosspollinated to produce new varieties that possess their progenitors’ best traits. CONTI NUED


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ON THE FARM Unfortunately, conventional breeding is slow, often taking decades to yield results. Modern breeders have therefore developed a shortcut known as marker-assisted breeding, in which the individual genes that are responsible for specific characteristics are identified and “marked” at the molecular level. These markers make it easy for breeders to determine when plant progeny have inherited the desired genes, thereby accelerating the breeding process. Marker-assisted breeding has enormous potential in the context of climate change, according to Ronald, who in 1996 commenced a 10-year study of an ancient rice variety that could survive weeks underwater instead of days. When her laboratory eventually isolated the crop’s “submergence tolerance” gene, researchers used marker-assisted breeding to propagate new varieties of flood-resistant rice that more than 6 million farmers are now cultivating. Scientists are dissecting other crops’ DNA in pursuit of similar results. Sinclair, for example, has identified a water-conservation gene in peanuts that has been bred into a new variety of drought-resistant legume that will arrive on peanut farms this year. Albert, meanwhile, recently sequenced the avocado genome. “An avocado genome paves the way to mapping, understanding and utilizing knowledge of disease-resistance genes to breed more resistant avocados — perhaps also ones that are more drought-resistant, or even less temperature-sensitive — so that the fruits can be produced better in drier and even more northerly climates,” Albert said. As was the case in Ronald’s rice project, coveted genes often exist in ancient plant varieties, which themselves are endangered due to urbanization, deforestation and other environmental encroachments. To conserve them, along with their desirable genetic traits, the Crop Trust recently sponsored a sixyear project during which researchers from approximately two dozen nations searched the remote corners of their countries to find the rare wild relatives of important food crops like bananas, carrots, eggplants, oats and potatoes. Although these heirloom crops bear little resemblance to their domesticated offspring, their DNA could be the silver bullet that helps contemporary foods survive. “The wild relatives of crops are proCLAIRE BENJAMIN/UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS

RIPE project researchers are working to modify the growing process to boost the yield of cowpea, cassava, rice and soybeans.

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ON THE FARM

Stephen Long is leading studies in crop science at the University of Illinois. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS BOARD OF TRUSTEES

genitors of domesticated crops, just like the wolf is related to the dog,” Dempewolf said. “We’re utilizing the diversity from these wild plants to get interesting traits back into domesticated cultivators to make them more resilient.” Another strategy to make crops more resilient is to engineer a plant’s genome by deleting, altering or inserting DNA. Long, for instance, leads Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), a multinational research project with the objective of genetically engineering crops that consume less energy during photosynthesis. Last year, RIPE researchers announced that they had successfully “hacked” photosynthesis in tobacco by utilizing genes from bacteria and algae, the addition of which streamlined the process so much that plants grew 40 percent larger. The team is now testing the same approach

in soybeans, cowpeas, rice, potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants, future varieties of which could be engineered to produce higher yields with fewer resources.

ALIMENTARY OPPORTUNITIES While scientists insist that genetic engineering is an important — and safe — means of protecting the food supply, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remain controversial among consumers. Still, Long asserted that the research must proceed: “If we develop a transgenic technology now, it won’t be available to farmers at scale for 15 or 20 years, so we need to be doing (research and development) now. That way, if the world starts running short on food in 10 to 15 years, it can make the decision then whether or not it wants to use this tested technology. If we wait, it will be too late,” he said. But genetic strategies aren’t the only

answer. Wagner, for example, supports ecological approaches like increasing soil organic matter. “The lack of crop resiliency — like a human whose immune system is weakened — relates back to the health of the soil … A healthy living soil holds more water, thus increasing yields and nutrient density even before employing technologies such as gene editing.” Wagner said another potential solution for some crops — such as greens, herbs, tomatoes and strawberries — could be indoor farming, which removes weather as a variable and has been shown to reduce water use by up to 95 percent. Finally, the food system must invest as much into cultivating unfamiliar crops as it does rescuing favorite ones. That’s the goal of efforts like the Crop Trust’s Food Forever initiative. Its objective is promoting and preserving food diversity by encouraging farmers, grocers, chefs

and consumers to embrace the “foods of the future,” such as chayote, an heirloom squash that’s common in Mexico; amaranth, an ancient grain that was a staple for indigenous peoples in Latin America; cassava, a tropical root vegetable; and millet, a hardy ancient grain from Africa that thrives in water-scarce regions. “There are 30,000 edible plant species globally. We’re only eating 120 of them, and just 12 account for 80 percent of our calories,” said Food Forever campaign manager Rodrigo Barrios. “What we’re trying to do is promote these underutilized, neglected species … many of which have huge potential for becoming staple crops that help us tackle the most pressing issues related to climate change.” The message is clear, even if the effects of climate change aren’t: In order to feed the future, both agriculture and appetites must adapt.


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ON THE FARM

Farm Fresh Markets offer a variety of local produce, many year-round By Amber Gibson

O

FTEN, FARMERS MARKETS ARE the heart of a city’s culinary scene,

where chefs get inspiration for seasonal specials and diners can connect with the tireless workers growing their food. Support local agriculture and sample fresh produce and artisan foods at these markets, rated by USA TODAY’s 10Best as worthy of a visit:

1

BOULDER COUNTY FARMERS MARKET, COLORADO

From professional farmers with hundreds of acres to backyard gardeners and hobbyists, all are welcome to sell directly to the public on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings to a soundtrack of live music in downtown Boulder. Along with unique produce like seedless yellow watermelon, white eggplant, purple beans and golden beets, you’ll find honey, farm-fresh eggs, roasted chilies, flowers, chocolate and prepared food and drink. Farmers from Western Slope orchards make the trip each week to share tree-ripened fruits, and you can buy pork, charcuterie and produce from Eric Skokan of Black Cat, who is both a chef and farmer.

ILLUSTRATION: HAYLEIGH CORKEY; BOULDER CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU


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ON THE FARM

FERRY PLAZA FARMERS MARKET, SAN FRANCISCO

2

The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on the San Francisco waterfront has been around since 1993 — a decade before the indoor marketplace shops opened. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, farmers and food crafters gather year-round (rain or shine) to share a bounty of Bay Area deliciousness, including free cooking demos by local chefs. Saturdays get the biggest turnout, and in peak summer season there are more than 100 vendors.

3

SOUTH OF THE JAMES MARKET, RICHMOND, VA.

Richmond’s producer-only South of the James Market runs year-round on Saturdays in Forest Hill Park, showcasing nearly 100 vendors including farmers, food producers and artisans. Along with fruits, veggies, eggs and meat, there are breakfast sandwiches, quinoa bowls and baked goods to snack on. Cool off with heirloom apple cider or cold brew kombucha, plus a scoop of honey lavender goat’s milk ice cream.

4

EASTERN MARKET, DETROIT As one of the country’s oldest and largest year-round farmers markets, Eastern Market boasts more than 200 vendors spread out across five sheds every Saturday, even spilling over into outdoor areas in summer. Michigan cherries, juicy peaches, jewel-like blueberries and heaps of sweet corn greet you throughout the summer, and the prepared foods and snacks are excellent, too. Try Dancy’s Fancy Butter, stoneground bean-to-bar Ecuadorian chocolate from Mindo Chocolate and innovative bonbons from Bon Bon Bon. Visit Germack across the street for the best roasted nuts and nut butters in the city. In the summer, there’s also a Sunday craft and artisan market and Thursday night market for food, drinks, music, art and shopping.

5

SATURDAY MARKET, ASPEN, COLO.

Aspen Saturday Market was established in 1998 and occupies three square blocks of downtown Aspen on Saturdays from mid-June until mid-October. Around a dozen farmers from Aspen to Palisade and Paonia participate, along with wineries, bakeries, cheesemakers and Marble Distilling. Try the beet- and horseradish-flavored cheese from Jumpin Good Goat Dairy, farm-tobar dark chocolate from Fiji at Bolea Chocolate and dehydrated organic fruits and veggies at Aspen Crunch, a company created by a high school student. There are a lot of offerings beyond food as well, including locally made arts and crafts, glass figurines, leather goods and apparel.

AMANDA LYNN PHOTOGRAPHY; AMBER GIBSON; BILL BOWEN; C2 PHOTOGRAPHY


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ON THE FARM

7

DANE COUNTY FARMERS MARKET, MADISON, WIS.

Dane County Farmers Market is the largest producers-only market in the country, founded in 1972 and operating each summer around Capitol Square in Madison. Expect ample world-class cheeses and cheese curds, with lots of opportunities for sampling. While the market has approximately 265 members, visitors will find 130 to 150 vendors on any given Saturday. Snack on hot and spicy cheese bread from Stella’s Bakery and look for favorite brands like Marsden’s Pure Honey, Brunkow Cheese and Harmony Valley Farm.

8

For more than 30 years, the Rogue Valley Growers Market has been a small but mighty market in Southern Oregon, alternating between Medford’s beautifully renovated Hawthorne Park (Thursdays) and Ashland (Tuesdays and Saturdays) with up to 80 stalls on the weekends. The outdoor market runs from March through November with a winter Thursday market from November through February. Marketgoers will find a bounty of locally grown and handcrafted food, master gardeners, nonprofit booths, buskers and Mikey Balloonman for entertainment. There’s plenty of grassy area to lay down a blanket and enjoy a market picnic.

GREEN CITY MARKET, CHICAGO Since 2008, Green City Market has been Chicago’s largest and only year-round farmers market with a mission of supporting local farmers and sustainable agricultural practices. From May through October, the market is outdoors in Lincoln Park every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. You’ll find many of Chicago’s top chefs making the rounds for inspiration for their seasonal menus. Along with honey, maple syrup and a colorful array of produce — including heirloom varieties you won’t find in grocery stores — try Gayle V’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese and wash down your sandwich with Arize Kombucha.

6

10

ROGUE VALLEY GROWERS MARKET, OREGON

HEADHOUSE FARMERS MARKET, PHILADELPHIA

Of the more than 20 farmers markets in Philadelphia operated by The Food Trust, Headhouse Farmers Market is the largest outdoor market in the city, located under an early 1800s market shed with a headhouse known as the Shambles in Society Hill. A special guest rings the opening bell each Sunday morning, and the party begins, with more than 40 fresh food, flower and artisan craft vendors, live music and a photo booth.

10Best.com is your source for what’s top in travel, food and culture, providing inspiration to explore the world around you.

9

HOPE STREET FARMERS MARKET, PROVIDENCE, R.I.

The Hope Street Farmers Market runs May through October on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings in Lippitt Memorial Park with 48 full-time and four guest vendors. There’s organic produce, freshly caught seafood, flowers, locally roasted coffee, small-batch cheese and pasture-raised meat. Try not to get caught on a dog leash as you sip a juice from Fully Rooted, which features cold-pressed produce from many of the surrounding vendors.

GREEN CITY MARKET; FOCAL FLAME PHOTOGRAPHY; LANESSA PIERCE; MARNI MACLEAN KARRO; VISIT PHILADELPHIA


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Profile for STUDIO Gannett

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE 2020  

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