On the Lookout for Smut

This season (2018), the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Team is interested in collecting smut infected grain heads with a goal of identifying all smut disease that are present in the Northeast. If you find smut infected grain heads in your field(s) please contact Erica Cummings at Erica.cummings@uvm.edu or 802-656-5392.

Smuts are one of the easiest grain diseases to spot in the field.smutphoto1

As winter and spring grains begin to head out and flower, you can start to see the visual signs of smut. There are several types of the smut pathogen found in the Northeast: Loose smut (Wheat = Ustilago tritici / Barley = U. nuda), False loose smut (Barley = U. nigra / Oats = U. avenae), and Covered smut (Barley = U. hordei).

Loose smut: During spike or head emergence, diseased heads emerge slightly earlier than healthy ones and appear as a mass of dark brown spores covered with paper-like membrane. This membrane tears easily as healthy plants begin to flower, and windblown spores infect the embryos of developing seed. After the fungus invades the grain seed embryo, it remains dormant until the seed is planted and germinates. Infected plants appear to be normal, but develop smutted heads.

Covered smut: Infected plants are often stunted and heads may not completely emerge. During spike or head emergence, diseased heads emerge at the same time, or slightly later than healthy ones and appear as mass of dark brown spores covered with paper-like membrane. This membrane ruptures at plant maturity or during threshing, and the spores infect healthy seed and soil. Covered smut spores are not typically wind-dispersed. The fungal spores remain dormant on seed coat until the seed is planted and germinates. Infected plants appear to be normal, but develop smutted heads.

Planting contaminated seed, especially in organic systems, can exponentially increase grain infection rates, resulting in yield reductions; 100% of the smutted heads are lost. Eating smut infected grain poses no harmful health effects and doesn’t appear to impact baking quality.

Control

  • If you find smutted heads in your fields, do not save the seed.
  • Plant certified or otherwise high-quality, disease-free seed.
  • Plant resistant varieties.
  • Infected seed can be treated with various fungicides in conventional systems.

**If you find smutted heads in your fields, please contact Erica Cummings, erica.cummings@uvm.edu, phone: (802) 656-5392.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Does Crop Insurance pay in Vermont?

The severe dust storms that occurred during “The Dust Bowl” in the 1930’s caused catastrophic damage to the American and Canadian plains ecology. In response to the devastating agricultural losses due to those drought conditions, Congress established the first Federal Crop Insurance Program.  The early crop insurance efforts were not very successful, and the programs have evolved greatly over the decades.

Visit the NCIS web site – that’s National Crop Insurance Services – and you can find a great deal of information about the “hows” and “whys” of all the federally supported crop insurance programs.  They report that more than 90% of insurable farmland in the United States is now protected through the federal crop insurance program.

However, Vermont farms are considered to be “underserved” by crop insurance. Farms in Vermont and all the northeastern states are typically different than the farms and ranches in other regions of the country.  Many of the enterprises are smaller in total acres and produce more diversified commodities.

NCIS indicates that Vermont crops contribute $889 million to the state’s economy and in 2017, farmers purchased 344 crop insurance policies to cover 70,883 acres, which provided $24.5 million in liability protection. Farmers paid $1 million for this insurance coverage and Crop insurers paid $3.5 million to cover crop losses.

The USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) administers the Federal Crop Insurance Program. A public-private partnership between the U.S. government and private insurance companies combines private sector delivery systems with regulatory and financial support of the federal government.  Crop insurance premiums are subsidized by the federal government to make coverage more affordable for agricultural producers.

Should YOU have crop insurance coverage? First, consider all of the potential production and marketing risks for your enterprise.  Then, meet with an agent licensed to sell crop insurance in your state to learn about all the options available for your operation.  Crop insurance may be the right risk management tool for your farm business plan.

For more information, contact Jake Jacobs, UVM Agricultural Risk Management and Crop Insurance Education Coordinator, Morrill Hall, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, email jake.jacobs@uvm.edu, phone 802-656-7356.

Visit the NCIS website:   https://cropinsuranceinamerica.org/

Visit the USDA RMA web site:   https://www.rma.usda.gov/

Photo credit: http://kbaela7.blogspot.com/2014/01/monday-11314-out-of-dust-poem-and.html

This material is funded in partnership with USDA, Risk Management Agency, under award number RM17RMETS524005. Any reference to commercial products, trade names, or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. University of Vermont Extension, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.

Posted in Insurance, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Risk management

What Are USDA Risk Management Programs? 

by Jake Jacobs, UVM Crop Insurance Education Coordinator

Farming is risky business. No matter how well your farm is managed, or the steps you take to reduce the risks in your operation, unexpected events can cause losses that may severely impact your farm’s viability. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides programs for farmers and ranchers to help manage the many types of agricultural risk that they routinely face operating their enterprises and to moderate potential losses. 

jake-jacobs.9-17

Jake Jacobs, UVM Crop Insurance Education Coordinator

Crop Insurance USDA crop insurance programs are available to producers as a tool to help manage production and market risks on farming operations. Crop insurance programs are administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) and are available only from private insurance agents licensed by USDA. Like other types of insurance, you need to decide what risks you want to cover and enroll prior to any loss. Once you find out about your crop insurance options, you can then make an informed decision about enrolling or managing those risks some other way. 

Disaster Assistance  USDA also provides disaster assistance programs through the Farm Service Agency (FSA). These programs help agricultural producers recover from natural disasters that cause losses not covered by other programs. An example of a disaster assistance program available through FSA is the Noninsured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). 

Price Support  Through FSA, farmers and ranchers can access programs and services that provide financial assistance in the form of loans or market loss assistance. Examples include Commodity Loans, Facility Loans and the Dairy Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers (MPP-Dairy). 

Your Risk Management Plan The only truly predictable part of farming is how unpredictable it can be! Consider those factors that pose a risk to your enterprise and make decisions about how you can minimize losses caused by unplanned weather or market events. 

An insurance agent can present all the insurance options and programs available for your farm. To find an agent licensed to sell crop insurance in Vermont, go to the RMA Agent locator.

This material is funded in partnership with USDA, Risk Management Agency, under award number RM17RMETS524005. Any reference to commercial products, trade names, or brand names is for information only, and no endorsement or approval is intended. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. University of Vermont Extension, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or familial status.

USDA LogoLogo for the University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

 

Posted in Financial Mgmt, Insurance, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Risk management

Spotlight on Golden Well: A Farm offering much more than vegetables

Early season rains are one of the pragmatic reasons why Nicole and Ryan have been looking differently at their farm, which they purchased in 2015.  For two years running, their farm, Golden Well, suffered a loss. In 2016, the bridge and road to their farm in New Haven, Vermont was shut down for repairs, so customers had minimal access and in 2017, the New Haven River hopped the banks and flooded their planted fields.  Now, in spring 2018 with the New Haven River running high, Nicole and Ryan are prepared.

As Nicole says, “When you put numbers on paper you expect the projections to come true.  But things happen.  In our first year, the bridge out and the closed road foiled all our plans. How do you build a farmstand when people can’t get there?”

Golden Well New Haven River

New Haven river bordering Golden Well

Nicole and Ryan have figured out this challenge. Because of flooding and marketing risk, they have shifted to growing berries and fruits, and instead of a traditional CSA, they offer farmstand credits.

For example, you buy credit for $200 or $300 and then you can pick what you want, when you want with a bonus of 10% extra credit. This also means more flexibility for Golden Well to offer the produce that they have when they have it without being constrained by a growing season that is different than they expected

This coming season, farm events with prepared foods are new features including farm to ballet and the Community Farming Project where the community is invited to come get their hands dirty – an intersection between CSA and a community garden.  Golden Well also offers Airbnb stays at the farm. Overall, farming now represents only a small slice, of Golden Well’s income. Its number one earner is its Kombucha called “Apis” now selling in over 20 shops in Vermont. Ryan, working with a distributor this year to expand sales, says, “Everyone I know who is farming has job off the farm or another enterprise.”

Golden Well Kombucha

Apis Honey Kombucha at Golden Well

How did young farmers with big ideas afford their farm?

Nicole and Ryan worked closely with Steve Paddock, Vermont Small Business Development Center to create an enterprise budge and business plan for the next five years. With this in hand, they were able to apply for a loan to purchase their farm from VEDA and FSA loan as co-lenders.   They also received an operating loan at 1% from FSA through their young farming program. Another requirement for this operating loan was to show three years of filing Schedule F for farming income on their tax returns. For more information on loans, see FSA’s Farm Loan Compass.

With financing in place for their farm purchase, Nicole and Ryan were able to combine their two pursuits, wellness and farming, which started off in separate locations, to one integrated place – Golden Well Sanctuary for Spirit and Nature.  Nicole now runs a popular nine-month course called “Women’s Wisdom – Voices of the Well.”  She has put to great use her entrepreneurial and creative skills, many of which she learned from her mother who ran a fashion business. As Nicole describes, “The way I was raised gave me confidence. I was not boxed in to certain way of living or thinking.  Exposed to lots of cultures. I had spirit of adventure.  I visited my grandmother in Vermont. She sewed, gardened, and made pies, eight at a time. She could can all her food for the winter.”

Golden Well farm house

Golden Well farm house and barn

What advice do Ryan and Nicole give to new farmers considering farming or a farm purchase?

Nicole and Ryan say, “Maybe we would have bought this place with partners.”  Nicole adds, “I work an 80-hour week and have a young daughter so there’s a lot of pressure.” Ryan mentions, “Surviving as a small farm is very difficult. If we want to farm in that way, we need to form more cooperatives to reach wider and larger markets. It’s hard to meet the demands when you’re dealing with massive distribution channels, which have constant availability and consistency.  Through cooperatives, this could be possible.”

Nicole and Ryan also point to NOFA-VT farmer services . They worked with a farm mentor, Mimi Ornstein, who helped them set realistic goals. As Nicole describes, “these were not just monetary, but also lifestyle oriented – what’s sustainable in terms of hours for our lifestyle. We updated our business plan and made projections and matched up hours with outcomes and we started managing time according to what’s financially sustainable.”

Vermont has “amazing” resources on offer to help farms in enterprise and business planning including Vermont Small Business Development Center and UVM’s Farm Viability Program.  Nicole advises, “As tempting as agritourism may sound, make sure you know about the red tape with your town.”   When considering a new enterprise, in addition to the finances, some legal  questions to address are:

  • What are the permitted uses in your town’s zoning regulations for your property?
  • What uses require applications with the State?
  • Is a yurt or other farm-related structure considered an accessory unit?
  • Are farm-to-table dinners a farm use or a business use?

It’s worth reading your town’s plan ahead of time to learn about your town’s strategic goals so you’re working with them, not tilting at windmills.  Working more closely with town planners early on can avoid problems later.   If agreements are made, Nicole suggests getting them in writing, as memories can be short.

Summing up, Nicole adds, “With small farming, the margins are small and nature is unpredictable, so it’s important to find ways to diversify and grow relations with your community of farmers, colleagues, customers, and mentors.  And just as important is having enough of a relationship with your land to understand its rhythms and its unique gifts.”

Posted in Farmer Profiles, Financial Mgmt, Goals, Land access, Marketing, Quality of Life, Resources for Beginning Farmers, Scaling up

Spotlight on Golden Well: Bees and Floods Bring New Life to Farm & Sanctuary

By Suzy Hodgson, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Moving beyond farming and their apiary, Nicole and Ryan have created a novel healing center, retreat, and event space “devoted to re-potentiating our relationship with the living earth.” Their place is called Golden Well Sanctuary for Spirit and Nature in New Haven, Vermont.

Nicole describes what she means by re-potentiate, “living in a relationship with the earth rather than extracting and dominating the earth as we’ve done for hundreds of of years.” Her inspiration comes from looking back at indigenous ancient ways of interacting with the earth. She tells me why she was first attracted to the New Haven location, “We were magnetized by this place. It was synchronicity to us getting here.  I liked the diversity of landscape – river, wetlands, ecology, and social aspects. We can invite people to enjoy the river.”  But the river proved to be both a blessing and a curse.

Golden Well Nicole & Ryan

Nicole Burke & Ryan Miller, Golden Well Sanctuary

As Ryan her husband describes, “We were looking for a place for our bees, and this place just happened to be awesome – we didn’t have a checklist of must haves.”  In 2012, they moved their bees, six hives with about 80,000 bees in each hive to the New Haven farm.

While originally only a home for bees, the owner then offered Ryan and Nicole some land for planting a garden.  In the fall of 2012, they planted 1000 bulbs of garlic.  Expecting a baby, Nicole’s thoughts turned to how she could plant enough food to feed her growing family.  The first season was a successful one; planting a ¼ of an acre, Nicole and Ryan fed their family and sold surplus produce at the Vergennes farmers market.  To supplement their farm income, Ryan worked making hard cider at Champlain Orchards.

Building on this successful start, Golden Well launched their CSA in 2013 with 15 members, growing to 25 members in 2014, 35 members in 2015 and by 2017, their CSA had 50 members.  But in June 2017, disaster struck. The New Haven River hopped the bank and flooded all four acres, which they’d planted, bar 1/3 of an acre.  Their emerging crops were underwater.

“The original concept of a CSA had changed … people want a return.”

Some CSA members were understanding and empathic in accepting the loss, but others were not and expected refunds. As Ryan describes,  “The original concept of a CSA as a community-supported farm has changed and is more like a commodity these days, not really shared.  People have spent money on a CSA share and they want a return.”

Faced with mixed responses to a really tough CSA season, when the flood hit, Nicole and Ryan also lost their wholesale contracts and had no produce for two farmers markets and their own farmstand.  While Nicole and Ryan thought they had crop insurance coverage with the Farm Service Agency, it appears that the disaster relief coverage they had was far from sufficient.  “We lost $50,000 worth of produce, a seed purchase of $4000, but we were reimbursed for only $1400.”  This could mean the time to reassess different types of risks  a farm faces and find an insurance product, which covers these risks adequately.

While Nicole and Ryan took a closer look at the risks and rewards of farming, they decided to make a shift away from more crop production, and instead are finding rewards by “refocusing on community as the heart of agriculture and sustainability.”  As Nicole describes, “we’re bringing food security and accessibility to the forefront and we’re doing this by growing with people. This year is the start of our Community Farming Project.

Golden Well Kombucha

Apis Honey Kombucha at Golden Well

More like a community garden with experiential learning, Nicole says, “we’ve had loads of enthusiasm.”  People are interested in participating for a number of reasons, some love vegetable gardening but find it can be lonely; others are too busy to grow their own food but want to have some connection, and others enjoy CSA produce but find buying a share upfront, too much of an investment.   Nicole and Ryan also offer participatory farming, farm-to-table meals, healing sessions, women-centered courses, airbnb, and brew honey kombucha.

“Having a diversity of enterprises can be a way to manage risks”

In surviving the flood and crop losses of June 2017, Nicole and Ryan learned resiliency and how having a diversity of enterprises can be a way to manage risks.  Now, as kombucha sales take off and healing courses fill up,  actual vegetable production has shrunk to be a small part of Golden Well.  Though small in dollar terms, growing food remains an essential part of the whole experience. Nicole is sanguine about future prospects, “Food is gift from nature not a commodity – we take care of her, she takes care of us. It’s reciprocity.”

Posted in Farmer Profiles, Financial Mgmt, Goals, Insurance, Quality of Life, Risk management | Tagged , ,