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Reinventing Cooperative Extensions

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Northampton, MA (Gazette.net, October 3, 2014):  For most of the past 15 years, Seth Wilner was the go-to guy for any and all questions about growing plants and animals in Sullivan County, N.H.

"Used to be, someone in my county called up and said, 'I have a llama and two goats, can you come out and look at my pasture?'" Wilner said of his former role as an educator with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, his state's version of a century-old, national effort to spread the latest livestock and agriculture knowledge from universities to farmers.

But after New Hampshire legislators cut the extension's budget by 23 percent in 2011, UNH revamped it.

Today, Wilner works out of an office in Sullivan County, but he travels all around the state advising farmers on the business of farming. He and the other field specialists still drive to farms to build relationships, but they also rely on technology like Google Chat and Skype and offer online tutorials and webinars.

Similar transformations are happening across the country as state cooperative extensions work to stay relevant in a time of smaller budgets, fewer farmers, a more diverse population and modern technology.

Young Farmers: Why Agriculture Is Booming

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New York, NY (The Guardian, October 3, 2014):  At the Three Counties Show, the shearing competition is in full swing. Tucked into one corner of the vast showground in Malvern, Worcestershire, is a stage into which are fitted six little booths like the starting gates on a racecourse. Each one has a number, a chalked-up name and an electrical point into which the competitors fit their shears. Six men line up and on the signal each one opens the gate, extracts a sheep, flips it on to its back, wedges its head between their thighs, bends over and starts shearing, belly first. The ewes do not seem quite as happy with this arrangement as the audience does.

Each shearer is trying to remove the fleece as quick and clean as pulling off a jersey, no nicks or cuts, and no more than three minutes per sheep (the current British record stands at 30 seconds). The spectators see six pairs of spindly legs splayed out like the wrong end of a hen party, while the commentators' voice rises and falls in one seamless sentence: "And they're going at it hammer and tongs here ladies and gents number five's already into the first front shoulder and number four's turning to come down and that's a Blue Leicester over in number six useless breed buy 'em in the morning snuffed it by the evening and number three's streaking ahead down the last side easy home run and we've got the man from mid-Wales out to beat the English champion looks like number three's going to be first out ooooh bad luck he's got hold of a real wriggler she's gone all Michael Flatley on him see tap-dancing all over the place shame about that cost him a couple of seconds and number one's gone in for his second ewe looks like it's going to be very tight here..."

The voice of the commentary recedes. A few rows away in the New Holland stand, a boy of about three detaches himself from his parents and hurtles towards the tractor display. "Daddy! Daddy!" he yells, halting at the largest one. "I want to buy one of those!" The tractor's back wheels are five times taller than him, but his father isn't looking at the tractor. He's looking at the star of the arrangement, the combine harvester. It is hornet yellow and as big as Liverpool. One by one, groups of young farmers detach themselves from the walkways and come to look at it. One of the combine's covers has been left open, revealing its mechanical innards. Beneath it, the men talk reverently to each other, as if the combine's sheer immensity somehow makes it sacred.

This combine is 25 tonnes, costs £383,000 and is apparently the standard size for farms in the Cotswolds. New Holland and its competitors would be happy to make combines bigger than this; the only thing stopping them is that the roads can't cope. It runs on tracks like a tank and takes 1,000 litres of fuel at a time. It's got a fridge, a coolbox and is fitted with a satnav and autopilot system, which allows the farmer to set the coordinates, plot the field he's working on, sit back and forget it. The only thing he has to do is turn the corners at the top of the field; with some models, you don't even have to do that. Several manufacturers are already at work on drone combines, unmanned machines that can be programmed to bring in the harvest on their own.

The stock pens are on the western edge of the showground, sheep in one, cattle in another and pigs in the last, each animal waiting its time to be shown. Farming families sit on picnic chairs beside their animals, gossiping and sharing packed lunches. Many of the individual pens have been decorated with plants and rosettes; most have banners describing the different breed qualities. Dexter cattle, for instance, are the Shetland ponies of the cattle world, small, native, hardy, dual-purpose (both beef and dairy), ideal sucklers and good for conservation grazing.

Judge Tosses 6-State Suit Over Egg Law

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Tulsa, OK (Tulsa World, October 3, 2014):  A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by Missouri and five other states asking the court to strike down a California law barring the sale of eggs in the state produced by hens in cramped living conditions.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the suit Thursday, giving California a major victory in a cross-country battle that pitted animal protections against the economic interests of farmers in the South and Midwest.

Mueller said the states lacked legal standing to sue because they failed to show that the California law does genuine harm to their citizenry instead of just possible future damage to some egg producers.

"It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state's egg farmers," Mueller wrote in the decision, "not on behalf of each state's population generally."

She also ruled that the suit can't be refiled or amended, though the states can appeal.

New Approach to Calf Milk Replacer Formula

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Land O'Lakes introduces protein blend calf milk replacers

Greenwich, NY (Morning Ag Clips, October 9, 2014):  Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products introduces a new approach to calf milk replacer formulation with protein blend calf milk replacers.

Growing demand for whey protein drives both milk prices and the input costs of calf milk replacer protein – an opportunity for dairy producers and a challenge for the dairy industry.

"Not long ago, whey protein was a waste product of cheese manufacturing," says Dr. Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services, Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products. "Today, whey is one of the dairy industry's most valuable products being used in sports drinks, energy bars, shakes and supplements. Consumer demand for these products continues to grow."

Seeing this challenge, as a leader in the market, Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products made it a research priority to develop calf milk replacer formulations featuring a blend of proteins that can save on dairy producers' and calf and heifer raisers' investment cost without sacrificing calf performance. The new protein blend formulation utilizes a similar approach as is used in baby formulas and is based on a blend of highly digestible proteins that complement each other.

Research conducted by Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products showed equal performance with their full potential protein blend calf milk replacers compared to the original formulation.[1]

Growing Food Four Times Faster

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New York, NY (Times, October 1, 2014):  Caleb Harper, founder of the CITYFarm Research Project, and his team at MIT's Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass. appear to have found a way to grow food four times faster than it does in nature, using a new farming method called "Aeroponics."

Unlike regular hydroponics, a growing method that uses water instead of soil, the plants at CITYFarm do not sit in still water, but rather have their roots suspended in a "fog chamber" which sprays a nutrient-rich mist.

The CITYFarmers take great care to monitor each aspect of the plants' growth, to see which conditions work the best, including a technique of limiting light to red and blue.

"This is the spectrum of light that the plants need to grow extra plant material," Harper explains–and the rest of the spectrum besides red and blue only serves to provide heat.

Harper believes that Aeoroponics not only grows fuller, more developed plants, but could be a solution to local farmers looking to provide sustenance to booming city populations.

California May Impose Steep Restrictions On Common Pesticide

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Fresno, CA (Associated Press, September 26, 2014):  California farmers who spray a widely used insecticide on some of the state's most abundant crops may soon have to overcome the nation's steepest restrictions or find another pest killer, officials said Thursday.

Regulators are proposing heavy restrictions — but not an all-out ban — on chlorpyrifos, used to treat crops like grapes and almonds. The pesticide, in use since 1965, has sickened dozens of farmworkers in recent years. Traces have been found in waterways, threatening fish, and regulators say overuse could make targeted insects immune to the pesticide.

"We've come up with a clear idea of when it's really needed and what are the alternatives," said Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. "We want to preserve this tool for when you really need it."

But he expects pushback from across California's agricultural industry, which leads the nation in production.

Joel Nelson, president of the California Citrus Mutual, said that because somebody misused the pesticide, everybody shouldn't be punished with restrictions. Nelson said regulators in Sacramento want to apply a "broad-brush approach," which isn't right. Alternatives pesticides exist, but he said they're not as effective and are more expensive.

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