Stipends Available for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers to Attend

The National Center for Appropriate Technology, along with nationally recognized organic leaders, will offer an Organic Academy Road Show (OARS) training at the Mansfield Convention Center in Great Falls, Montana, on December 6 and 7, 2023. Beginning farmers and ranchers in the Northern Great Plains will have the opportunity to explore regenerative, certified organic production systems for livestock, grains, oilseeds, and pulses.

Thirty stipends for beginning farmers and ranchers are available for up to $200 each to defray the costs of attending. There is no registration fee, but registration is required. Online registration is available at NCAT.ORG/EVENTS.

This event will host intensive training sessions and one-on-one technical assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. Topics will include developing an organic system plan, the economics and markets for organic products, considerations when transitioning an operation, working with an organic consultant, and more. There will be time for questions and crowdsourcing ideas with experienced organic farmers and ranchers including Nate Powell-Palm, Doug Crabtree, Margaret Scoles, and others. Thursday’s session will conclude with a tour of an organic processing facility. The event schedule can be found here.

This series of educational opportunities is not just another farming training,” said Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree of Vilicus Farms in Montana.It is about leveraging training to further build the network of beginning organic producers who are farming and ranching at a scale that will have a tremendous impact on land stewardship across the Northern Great Plains.”

OARS attendees who are farmers and ranchers transitioning to organic can also apply for a complimentary two-day conference pass to the Montana Organic Association Conference, December 8-9, 2023, also at the Mansfield Convention Center.

The OARS sessions are part of the three-year federal Beginning Farmers and Rancher Development Program, Preparing a Resilient Future, in partnership with the Montana Organic Association, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Center for Rural Affairs, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, International Organic Inspectors Association, North Dakota State, and University of Wyoming.

The project targets medium to large-scale field crop and livestock operations, unlike most programs focused on beginning farmers and ranchers. This project was selected in a national competition under the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program funded through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Provides technical assistance and direct payments to producers.

 Cotton and wool producers in the states of California, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming are invited to apply to the new program “Climate Beneficial Fiber: Building New, Accessible, and Equitable Market Opportunities for Climate-Smart Wool and Cotton.”  

 With funding from USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Program, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and its partners — Carbon Cycle InstituteFibershedNew York Textile LabSeed2Shirt, and the Colorado State University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences — are ready to provide technical assistance and $18 million in direct payments to producers, enabling them to choose and adopt climate-smart conservation practices that fit with their farming operations and goals. 

 Participating farms and ranches will work with experts to create a tailored plan that identifies opportunities to bring more carbon into soils and vegetation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Participants will then receive incentive payments for adopting practices that — besides being “climate-smart” — have benefits such as increasing the water-holding capacity of soils, reducing the need for expensive synthetic fertilizers, and boosting overall farm productivity. 

 The program provides technical assistance and planning at no cost to producers and pays 75 to 90 percent of the average cost of implementing recommended practices. Over the next five years, the program hopes to sign up 100 agricultural operations and impact two million acres of land.  

 At least 40 percent of all program benefits will go to small and underserved farmers, and a special initiative is encouraging Black farmers in southern states to grow climate-smart cotton. “We’re making it a priority to reach and include folks who have not traditionally benefited from this type of program,” said NCAT Executive Director Fred Bahnson. “We strongly encourage cotton and wool producers of all sizes to apply.” 

 Building on the Climate Beneficial™ Verification program already developed by Fibershed, the program is also working with well-known clothing brands and textile manufacturers to expand markets for climate-smart wool and cotton. Growing concerns about textile-derived microplastics, land-use impacts, “fast fashion,” and human rights have prompted an industry-wide shift to seek natural fiber sources with verified benefits to land and climate.  

 “Our long-term goal is to create a self-sustaining consumer market and regional manufacturing systems that reward cotton and wool producers with price premiums for drawing down carbon from the atmosphere,” said Fibershed Executive Director Rebecca Burgess. “That’s good for rural communities as well as the planet.” 

 Producers interested in learning more can visit the Climate Beneficial Fiber Partnership website ( and fill out an interest form.

Brown cows graze in a freshly opened pasture that looks healthy with its tall grass.

Adaptive high stock-density grazing. Photo: Pasture Project

By Lee Rinehart, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist, NCAT Northeast

Back in the late 1990s, I was a new county Extension agent in Texas. I met a Brangus rancher who became a friend and demonstration cooperator, and I pitched him a topic that he became immediately interested in. We laid out 11 paddocks and began grazing 24 heifers in a daily rotational system. The lightbulb went on in my head when I looked about the paddock to assess how much they had grazed, and I noticed that all of the curly dock had been stripped bare. What I had observed was a change in grazing behavior, caused by a controlled grazing system that decreased the heifers’ grazing selectivity.

Fast forward to 2020, and the landscape of managed grazing has changed. We understand that we are dealing with a biological system driven by diversity. The powerful principles we learned from management intensive grazing have been refined into an adaptive system of livestock production that can actually regenerate the soil, the water cycle, and the land.

Adaptive grazing improves forage availability and ecosystem functioning, and strengthens grazing landscapes with diversity and resilience. ATTRA has brought together a suite of resources for farmers and ranchers, of all scales and for all species of grazing animals, who are interested in transitioning to an adaptive grazing system.

Consulting the Expert

Black cows move from the right of the photo, which is trampled and grazed pasture, to the left, which is lush and tall grass.

Cows moving to fresh pasture, Sieben Live Stock Company, Montana. Photo: Cooper Hibbard

Dr. Allen Williams, a leading expert in regenerative, adaptive grazing, recommends providing extended periods of rest between short, high stock-density grazing periods on diverse pastures.

This allows for optimum recovery of forages and increases overall forage dry matter production. It also contributes significantly to soil health through the addition of organic matter.

Williams (2019) speaks of three principles that characterize this system:

  1. The Principle of Compounding – our actions result in a series of compounding and cascading events that are either positive or negative.
  2. The Principle of Diversity – highly diverse and complex pastures create positive compounding effects.
  3. The Principle of Disruption – planned, purposeful disruptions build resilient systems with more vigor and diversity and create positive compounding effects.

As such, adaptive grazing is goal-oriented, focuses on stock density and not stocking rate, and is necessarily flexible.

A line of sheep move along a fence through tall, brown grass in front of a mountain backdrop.

Ewes making their way from night camp to the day’s grazing in a dryland meadow. Photo: Dave Scott, Montana Highland Lamb

Rotations, grazing-residue heights, rest periods, and grazing seasonality are never the same throughout the year. This grazing system uses frequent movement and adequate pasture rest for plant root-system recovery, and is highly reliant on temporary fencing (Williams, 2016).

ATTRA Can Help You With Your Grazing System

ATTRA offers detailed guidance on developing your grazing system through instructional videos, podcasts, and in-depth publications.


Video Series: Adaptive Grazing with Allen Williams

Recorded in November 2019 at the Piney Woods School in Mississippi, Allen Williams leads participants on a pasture walk and discusses the various elements good grazing and pastured livestock production with his engaging style.

  1. Soil evaluation, aggregation, and biology

    Grazing sheep disappear into the tall grass of a Montana flatland with a farmhouse and mountains in the background.

    Stockpiling grass for grazing in southwest Montana.
    Photo: Dave Scott, Montana Highland Lamb

  2. Mycorrhizal fungi
  3. Forage density, paddock size, and animal movement
  4. Forbs and medicinal compounds
  5. Animal density, nutrition, and parasite management
  6. Setting up an adaptive grazing system

Spring Pasture Management series with Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director, Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

  1. Winter Paddock Recovery
    Margo Hale provides a short tour of one of her pastures as spring approaches, and discusses how she manages winter paddock recovery after feeding round bales.
  2. Forage Diversity in Pastures
    Hale discusses the importance of forage diversity in pastures to provide high quality forage and to build pasture soil health.

Regenerative Grazing from the Ground Up highlights Greg and Forrest Stricker’s dairy herd grazing and their use of warm season annuals to supplement their herd with high quality forage while building soil health. Filmed at a Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Field Day at Spring Creek Farms in Wernersville, PA, September 19, 2019.


Allen Williams and Adaptive Stewardship Management Grazing

This podcast, recorded in November 2019, provides a “big picture” view of pastured livestock production and offers insight on the development of Allen’s techniques.

Regenerative Grazing: Outcomes and Obstacles

In this episode, Dave Scott and Lee Rinehart, both specialists with NCAT’s ATTRA – the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service – have a conversation about regenerative grazing.


Pasture, Rangeland, and Adaptive Grazing (IP306D)

This publication, published in 2020, contains an explanation of the principles and practices, and further resources, for the kind of grazing Allen advocates in the videos. It’s a good supplement to the videos for digging deeper into the intricacies of grazing and pasture management.

Nutrient Cycling in Pastures (IP136D)

This publication looks at the pathways and drivers that move nutrients into, out of, and within pasture systems. It attempts to provide a clear, holistic understanding of how nutrients cycle through pastures and what the producer can do to enhance the processes to create productive, regenerative, and resilient farm and ranch systems. Effective management of nutrient cycling in pastures is simply understanding how nature cycles nutrients in natural grasslands and then mimicking those processes.

Building Healthy Pasture Soils (IP546P)

This publication is a supplement to ATTRA’s Managed Grazing Tutorial session on Pasture Fertility, and introduces properties of soil, discusses evaluation and monitoring of soil quality, and introduces grazing management principles and techniques that promote healthy soil.


Managed Grazing

Have you heard that changing the way you manage your grazing animals can change the condition of your land and finances for the better? Interested in finding out more about how managing your livestock can improve your soil health, your pasture condition and your bottom line? This tutorial features sessions taught by National Center for Appropriate Technology specialists who are also livestock producers. They share years of experience managing their own pastures to inspire you to start wherever you are and build or refine your own managed grazing systems. Detailed presentations and real-world examples will get you on the road to managed grazing.


Brown cows grazing a pasture, but their heads cannot be seen the grass is so high. Also visible in the fields is a diversity of plant species.

High stock density removes grazing selectivity thereby utilizing forages more efficiently, and returns large amounts of carbon back to the soil through trampling of uneaten forage. Photo: Understanding Ag, LLC

Williams, Allen. 2016. Adaptive Grazing and Relationship to Soil Health (presentation).

Williams, Allen. 2019. Personal Communication.

Fremontodendron; a species that explodes with beautiful yellow flowers in the Spring.

NCAT’s Western office has completed the first year of its hedgerow planting project. NCAT secured funding to provide hedgerow plants and technical assistance to farmers across California, taking us from as far south as San Diego to Crescent City in the north. All told, we delivered to 80 farmers who ran the gamut of what California offers in terms of farming systems, scale, and crops grown.

As a resilient bunch of plants, these native species have been planted in the deserts east of Los Angeles, the fog draped regions of the redwood forests, and everywhere in between.

The goal of the project was to provide habitat to native species with a mix of 18 different hedgerow plants. A special addition of Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) was added to the mix in an effort to grow back a tiny portion of the Monarch butterfly habitat that has been removed in the name of development over recent decades.

Hedgerows can serve many functions. Historically, hedgerows were commonplace in several European countries. They were managed to mark property boundaries and provide a dense

Revegetating a burn scar caused by last year’s fires.

barrier to reduce unwanted traffic from predators and pen-in livestock. Some turned the practice of managing hedges into a specialized skill, even an artform. Many miles of these hedges were eventually replaced due to increasing labor costs and the popularity of labor-saving tools like wire fencing. Like many innovations, the replacement of hedgerows by a more “efficient” technology came with its costs. Erosion, wind, dust, and pest pressure increased, while biodiversity decreased greatly.

Of course, every farmer has their own reason for wanting to plant a hedgerow. As we came to learn, these reasons included privacy, protection against wind, noise reduction, habitat for animals and beneficial insects, soil stabilization, supplemental food production, and beauty.

All told, if we had been able to plant in a single row, this hedgerow project would span 26 miles. And we hope to make it longer. If you are a farmer and are interested in planting a hedgerow, please contact NCAT’s Western office at 530-792-7338. We are planning to secure funding for another project like this one and hope you might be a part of it.

This blog post is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This blog post was also made possible in-part by funding from ATTRA, CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant (Conservation stewardship training and demonstration for specialty crop growers; investing in your farm #18-0001-034-sc), Regenerative Ag. Foundation, and Environmental Defense Fund.  

Better Than I Feared but Worse Than It Looks

By Guy K. Ames, NCAT Horticulture Specialist

Photo at right: Peach flowers from a previous spring, a sight we won’t be seeing much of this year because of the deep freeze.

A dipping polar vortex delivered a cruel and chilling Valentine’s gift to the Midwest and South on Valentine’s Week 2021. The damage in Texas may be among the worst. It certainly garnered the most headlines. An estimated $300 million winter citrus crop in the Rio Grande Valley is gone. Gone. Worse, it’s likely that the trees in the valley suffered damage, the full extent of which won’t be known for weeks and possibly months. To the non-fruit-growing observer, the trees might look fine but they’re not. It’s worse than it looks.

Near Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I live and grow fruit, we broke the all-time winter cold record at our local airport, Drake Field, when we hit -20 degrees F. (The all-time Fayetteville low is -24 set in 1899.)  At my own ridgetop farm, by virtue of elevation about 500′ higher than Drake Field, we escaped the worst, recording -12. Still, that was about 12 degrees colder than the zero that was predicted, and I feared the worst for my muscadines and my two 3,000-gallon cisterns, which I hadn’t drained. Frankly, I feared those cisterns would be ruptured and rendered worthless (they weren’t). And like the Texas citrus growers, I won’t know the full extent of the damage to my muscadines for some weeks to come. They look okay, but I know from experience that they’re not.

Apple blossom
Luckily, the author’s apples are blooming this spring despite February’s freeze.

Climate change is laden with paradoxes. Overall, it’s clear that the planet is warming. To the Valley citrus grower seeing his oranges frozen and on the ground, it’s hard to believe that the polar vortex is a product of climate change, but it is. Climatologists can explain it in detail, but I hope it will suffice to say here that the added warmth to our planetary system leads to more extreme events: more severe storms, more severe droughts, more extreme heat events and even some extreme cold events. These extremes and the uncertainty surrounding them are worrisome for all farmers, but for the growers of perennial fruits the worry runs even deeper.

An apple grower can’t replant every time a late frost ruins one year’s crop. An apple tree takes years to produce its first crop, and it must produce several crops before it pays back the years of investment. By contrast, a soybean or corn grower might have a couple opportunities to replant in any given year if an untimely freeze wastes his first young seedlings. I’m not saying this is pleasant or comes without expense to the soybean or corn grower, but all is not lost!

But Valentine’s Week 2021 was not just a late frost. This was potentially a tree, bush, and vine killer. Apples, pears, peaches, blueberries, grapes, and all other deciduous perennial fruits have evolved physiological mechanisms to escape death from winter’s cold. Together these mechanisms are known as dormancy. The tree, vine or bush puts itself into a sort of deep sleep that keep it safe until better, warmer conditions return. These perennial plants, depending on the climate where they evolved, will have longer or shorter dormancy periods which can vary among plants. A species, or even a variety within a species, will have a “chilling requirement,” which means that that species or variety must have a certain amount of cold before it can come out of dormancy.

The trunk of a pawpaw tree, split in two places due to freeze damage.
Splits in a pawpaw’s trunk from a previous year’s damage. We won’t see this yet from this year’s cold snap—right now the trunks look fine. This type of damage may not become visible for weeks or months.

This is a safety mechanism keeping the plant from waking up too early when temperatures might still be fatally cold. This all works very smoothly in a more-or-less stable climate. But in an unstable climate characterized by too-warm winters, late spring freezes, and sudden and severe cold snaps, the plant can become confused and come out of dormancy partially or completely and get damaged or killed.

The increasing frequency of such freeze damage events in fruit crops is well-documented and presented in ATTRA’s Climate Change and Perennial Fruit and Nut Production: Investing in Reslience in Uncertain Times. The most common form of this damage is frost killing the flowers, and thus the crop, of fruit plants. This is because the warmer winters are inducing earlier bloomtimes for these crops while the dates of the last killing frost remain roughly the same. For instance, apples might bloom in March now in NW Arkansas—a month earlier than 50 years ago—only to have the flowers or young fruitlets killed by a frost on April 10. This very thing has happened to me with varying degrees of crop loss the last three seasons!

But a more serious form of damage is the potential loss of whole plants when warm winter temperatures render the plants’ tissues tender…and then a cold snap roars in like this one on Valentine’s Week 2021.

It turns out that, for me, this extreme event was not as bad as I had feared.  The pears, apples, bunch grapes and blackberries all look okay, though damage could still manifest later.  Looks like I’m going to have some trunk cracking on a few pawpaw trees. Blackberry and blueberry plants probably lost some fruit buds, but it looks like the plants were spared. The peaches suffered worse, with 99% of the flowers lost in the bud (before they could even open), but the trees seem largely undamaged. And this is exactly how nature planned it. Most of these cold hardy species came through just fine. Even if the crop is lost or partially lost, the plant will live to try again next year.

A muscadine trunk killed by the cold in a previous year is surrounded by new growth sent up from the roots.
The main trunk of this muscadine was killed by the cold in a previous year, but the roots sent up new growth.

I can’t tell quite yet how bad the damage is to the muscadines, but I expect that I probably lost some whole vines, at least to the ground. Resprouts from the roots can replace these but I will still have lost a couple years of cropping before the new vines will begin fruiting. Looking at the southern extent of the freezing temperatures, this will probably be true for muscadines all over Arkansas and probably throughout the South.

In the parts of the South where sub-tropical plants like figs, Asian persimmons, pomegranates, black mulberries, loquats, and similar plants can grow, these will probably be devastated. Some of these, like the figs, can come back from the roots. Luckily, the snow that accompanied the cold provided some insulation keeping soil temperatures considerably higher than the air temperatures. But there will be heart-breaking losses to many homeowners and some commercial growers. I’m thinking sadly of some of the huge dooryard fig trees in East Texas where I grew up that are most likely doomed.

Truthfully, I feel lucky. It’s not as bad as I had feared.  Probably most of the fruit growers farther north from me will only suffer minor damage.  It’s the folks who grow perennial fruits farther south that are and will be experiencing the worst losses. If you’re not a fruit grower you probably won’t be able to tell but it’s almost certainly worse than it looks.

 All photos by Guy K. Ames.

By Rex Dufour, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

Photo: Cover crop mix on April 28, 2020. Red crimson clover, mixed with orange California poppy, blue California Phacelia, and pink Persian clover (lower left). These flowers support large populations of predators, parasites, and pollinators.

For the past growing season, my staff and I have been involved with designing and managing a cover crop mix in pecan orchards in Northern California to attract beneficials, which provide some control of two species of pecan aphids. This monitoring took me back to the days in the early 1980’s when I was working as a licensed pest control advisor in Corralitos, CA, monitoring mites, fruit tree leaf rollers, and codling moths in apple orchards in the area.  I enjoyed the work then, and I continue to enjoy observing the progression of a crops biology.  Controlling aphids in pecans with chemicals generally requires two or three spray applications over the season. By planting a cover crop, we believe the grower has saved one or two sprays, one of which would likely have been a neonicotinoid, a class of insecticides which have been banned from Europe due to impacts on non-target organisms.  We’ve also learned that alternate row mowing of the cover crop can extend the flowering and, therefore, the availability of nectar and pollen for supporting a wide variety of beneficial insects that suppress aphid populations. On a personal note, it was an absolute joy to walk around in a diverse cover crop mix, with the perfume of Persian clover all about, while listening to and seeing the incredible diversity of life these practices bring into an orchard, compared to a bare dirt orchard floor. It was a privilege to do this work.

With funding from California Wildlife Conservation Board, this project is a collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) to work with two pecan orchards: one at PacGold in Colusa, owned by Ben King; and one at Bypass Farms, managed by Reyes, on the north side of the Sacramento River, just east of Route 5. The goal is to develop habitat in or adjacent to the orchard that can support beneficial insects, including monarch populations.

The major pests of pecans in California orchards are the yellow pecan aphid and the black margined pecan aphid. The yellow pecan aphid is the more benign pest of the two and generally appears first, in the late spring and early summer. Unless honeydew generated by the aphids becomes a problem, the economic threshold for the yellow pecan aphid is an average of 20 aphids per compound leaf during this time of year. It should be noted that these thresholds and dates (outlined below) were developed for conventionally managed pecan orchards without any cover crops.

  • Before June 1: Apply an insecticide for aphid control if honeydew is accumulating
  • June 1 to August 15: Apply an insecticide if the total number of aphids exceeds an average of 20 per compound leaf
  • August 15 to leaf fall: Apply an insecticide if the total number of aphids exceeds an average of 10 per compound leaf

To date, the cover crops have saved the grower of the larger orchard (Pacific Gold, 197 acres) at least one spray, perhaps two. (See Table 1 for cover crop species mix and comments.) Because of the low price of pecans, this grower made a commitment not to spray for the whole season. This is fortunate for us because we can observe the pest-predator evolution throughout the season. The NCAT team does three types of monitoring.  Every two weeks, we sweep at 10 locations in the larger orchard to better understand what beneficials are coming into the cover crop. We also place new sticky traps in the pecan canopy to better understand if the beneficials from the cover crop are moving into the canopy, as well as to determine which parasites and predators are in the canopy. We’ve found many green and brown lacewing adults, other predators, and many species of small, parasitic wasps.

We perform weekly monitoring of aphids in the pecan canopy. This information provides the grower with some good data for making spray/no-spray decisions. We select three compound leaf samples from each of 20 trees located around the 200-acre orchard and count the aphids, as well as green lacewing eggs, and other predators, such as all life stages of ladybird beetle, assassin bugs, syrphid flies, and spiders. The aphid counts are listed in the graph below by date. As you can see, the aphid counts peaked in late August and then plummeted pretty dramatically as predator populations caught up with the aphids. The aphid populations slowly increased and exceeded the late-season threshold of 10 aphids/leaf, but aside from some honeydew and some sooty mold (which grows on the honeydew but doesn’t damage the leaves), I didn’t observe any damage from the late-season yellow pecan aphids. And the late-season counts never exceeded the early-season threshold of 20 aphids/compound leaf.

The aphid populations are being managed by the changing array of predators, including very tiny spiders that weave small webs on the leaves. These tiny spiders feed on the first and second instars of the aphids, just as newly hatched ladybird beetle larvae do. Small predators, small prey. But we also found that small predators, such as very small lacewing larvae and lad bird beetle larvae (second or third instars for you entomologist-types) will attack winged adult aphids (see photos).

In the sticky traps, we found many very small wasps that are either insect egg parasites or aphid parasites, but because of the heavy predation of the aphids, we found very few aphid mummies (aphids that have been parasitized). There was likely a high turnover of aphid populations due to predation, so the wasp parasites didn’t have enough time to mature before their host was eaten.  Having a diverse array of predators and parasites, with different prey and host preferences, provides dynamic and flexible aphid suppression. The photos show some of the predators and parasites we’ve found.



Photo (right): This second-instar green lacewing larva is taking on a larger, winged yellow pecan aphid. Green lacewing larva are voracious predators of aphid and other small, soft-bodied insects.






Photo (left): A mama spider and her egg mass. We found many spiders smaller than this preying on aphids.





Photo (right): Assassin bug nymphs and adults are later-season predators.  The smaller, newly hatched nymphs feed on yellow pecan aphids.




Table 1: Cover crop species, seeding rates, and some observations

CC Species Name Comments
Persian Clover Seed mix drilled @ 15 lbs/acre on 197 acres. Persian clover (an annual) dominated late spring, and came on after crimson clover.
Crimson Clover Seed mix drilled @ 15 lbs/acre on 197 acres.  Crimson clover (an annual) dominated early spring, and went to seed earlier that Persian clover.
Red Clover Seed mix drilled @ 15 lbs/acre on 197 acres. Red clover (a perennial clover) flowered after first mowing in early/mid June.
Cayuse Oats Seed mix drilled @ 15 lbs/acre on 197 acres.  Oats only appeared occasionally.
Narrow leaf milkweed Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12lbs/acre on 119 acres.  Neither milkweed species were observed at PacGold, but did grow at Bypass farms.
Showy milkweed Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres. Some did grow at Bypass farms.
Common yarrow Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres.  Yarrow was rarely observed.
Lacy phacelia Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres
California phacelia Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres.  California phacelia bloomed early spring in some patches but was not widespread.
California poppy Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres.  California poppy was seen at the edges of dense legume cover crop, and in some of the sparser cover crop mid-spring.
Creeping Wild Rye Part of seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres. Did not observe this growing at PacGold.
Sweet alyssum Seed mix broadcast @ 12 lbs/acre on 119 acres. Sweet alyssum was able to grow at the border of the alley and tree row, where herbicides controlled weeds.



Alleys in orchards are underutilized as habitat for beneficial insects. What we found was not surprising—planting cover crops in the alleys can provide nectar and pollen resources for a wide range of beneficials, some of which migrate into the pecan canopy in search of prey. It’s good to remember that cover crops, which require management inputs, are an investment in the biological system of checks and balances which supports populations of parasites and predators of aphids and other insects. Investments such as seed costs, planting costs, and other management considerations (e.g., seed drill or broadcast?), mowing costs, can have significant returns. There is, however, a learning curve related to how best to manage the cover crop. Knowledge about when to plant the cover, what species to include, and when to mow, will be guided by experience.

If you’re interested in planting cover crops, there are many resources, including NRCS, RCDs, NCAT, other nonprofits, and seed suppliers. For example, we found mowing alternate rows is less disruptive to beneficial insects. Cover crops are also an investment in the soil, supporting a healthier soil, which will store and cycle nutrients more efficiently, and absorb and store more water.

Due to their long growing season and late harvest, pecans are ideally suited to cover crops. They’re generally harvested in October, and if the trees are irrigated with microsprinklers, cover crops can be grown in the alley for several months to attract and maintain populations of beneficials. Alternate mowing of alleys, spaced about every two weeks, can allow cover crops to go to seed, and at the same time help extend the time flowers can provide nectar and pollen resources for the beneficials.

This blog has described just a few aspects of this project. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at, or 530-792-7338. For information about a wide range of sustainable and organic practices, visit NCAT’s ATTRA website at

Related ATTRA Resources:

Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures

Cover Crop 340 for Organic Systems

Cover Crop Options for Hot and Humid Areas

A Pictorial Guide to Hedgerow Plants for Beneficial Insects

All photos by Rex Dufour, NCAT


By Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director, Armed to Farm Program Director, and Agriculture Specialist

My day begins with a hot cup of coffee and a quick check of our farm. What a thrill to find a new baby calf from our Belted Galloways, to watch the antics of our pig, to have my girls gather farm-fresh eggs, and to watch the goats grazing. Livestock bring life to the farm!

Then again, livestock can bring difficulty. The bull escaped; we need to return him to the pasture and fix the fence. The processor doesn’t have a slot for the pig, the price of chicken feed rises, and the goats get into mischief.

While I can’t imagine life without livestock, I recognize that they don’t fit on every farm or for every farm family. Let’s consider the benefits and some of the challenges of living with livestock.

 Benefits of Livestock

Goats and pigs eating discarded pumpkins.

Livestock can turn your over-ripe or excess vegetables into meat. On the Hale farm, goats and pigs take care of the discarded Halloween pumpkins. Photo: Margo Hale, NCAT.

On our farm, and yours, livestock turn pasture and browse into healthy meat. Pasture-raised hogs and poultry need other feed as well, but the meat and eggs produced on pasture are healthier for our family and community. Those grazing animals improve the fertility of our land and boost soil health. And during the garden season our livestock “recycle” excess or over-ripe vegetables, turning waste into meat or eggs. Farms that already have a customer base will find that adding farm-raised meat or eggs can really boost sales and bring in new customers.

There are also many intangible, but real, benefits, as we have learned. Livestock are fun to watch and interesting to raise. They’re valuable for teaching children to be responsible, observant, and curious. They teach kids how science and nature work and how food is grown. These life-long lessons were given to me as a child, and it is satisfying to pass them on to my children, as well.

Assessing Resources

For our family, livestock are a perfect fit. Are they for you?

Before getting started with any enterprise, it is important to consider the goals you have for your farm, family, and lifestyle. How will livestock help you meet your farm goals? Your farm goals, including financial goals, will impact the livestock species you choose, your scale of production, and marketing streams.

A black chicken exits a wire enclosure.

Chickens are easier to contain and need much less space than cattle, so they can be a good fit on small acreage. Photo: Robyn Metzger, NCAT.

Next, what are your available resources? Consider land, money, infrastructure, and time. Some enterprises lend themselves best to smaller acreages: poultry, rabbits, and bees take little space. Grazing livestock need more area so that you can protect soil and pastures and keep livestock healthy.   If you have sufficient acreage to raise larger livestock, then the type of forages may influence your decisions. Woodlots are a good fit for hogs and goats, whereas farms with mostly grass pastures best suit sheep and cattle.

Another factor that influences your choice of enterprise is the money you have available to invest in livestock and infrastructure. You can start small with any enterprise, but some are easier and cheaper to contain, such as poultry and rabbits. Grazing livestock need a larger enclosure and are therefore more expensive to start. If there is existing infrastructure, that is very helpful. If not, you will need to budget funds for fence, water, and needed equipment. These up-front costs can be significant, but they are vital. You don’t want an angry phone call from your neighbor about your goats killing their fruit trees!

Having a way to deliver adequate quantities of water to your livestock is also imperative and can be tricky to figure out. In addition, livestock usually need supplementary feed. Poultry, rabbits, and hogs need grain, while grazing animals need hay in winter. Where can you source feed, for what price?  Where can you store feed to keep it dry and protected from livestock and rodents? Feed goes into the budget, as all feed costs are paid before you get meat to sell.

Shelter may be an issue. In our moderate climate and with our choice of hardy cattle and goats, we rarely need shelter. However, baby goats born in a cold rain will suffer. If they get too chilled to nurse, they will die. Therefore, we need a plan for circumstances where the livestock do need shelter.

Local markets and processing may also influence your choice. Pasture-raised eggs are always popular, but what is the selling price for a dozen in your area? Can you make money selling at that price, given your feed cost? Similarly, meat enterprises may be feasible or not, depending on the local prices, processing, and feed costs. You will need to do some homework, investigating the local situation and plugging the numbers into a budget to see if the enterprise makes sense. The sample budgets in ATTRA’s Small Scale Livestock Production publication can serve as a starting point. Also see publications on the ATTRA livestock page about whatever enterprise you are considering. Know before you begin what you can produce and for what cost—this knowledge can help guide your choice of livestock enterprise and save your family from a costly mistake.

Time is a precious resource and your farm setup and the enterprises you choose must take this into consideration. Our family includes two children and two full-time, off-farm jobs; therefore, one of our goals is to have easy-to-manage enterprises that don’t take much time. That is important when we need to leave the farm; also, our farm sitter needs the chores to be low-stress and easy to complete. We accomplish that by being intentional in our enterprise selection, infrastructure setup, and our management. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by taking on more than you can easily manage in the time you have available.

In next week’s blog, I will share some of the strategies and infrastructure we use on our farm to save time and money. Stay tuned!

Learning More

No matter what livestock you choose, it is best to start small. Learn with a few animals so your mistakes—and you will make mistakes—won’t be as costly. Continuously monitor your enterprise and adjust as needed. Remember to keep your farm and family or lifestyle goals in mind. Is this livestock enterprise helping you meet those goals? For example, while our sheep were profitable, we found that we didn’t enjoy raising them and they took too much time. In contrast, my coworker, NCAT Livestock Specialist Linda Coffey, found that sheep worked better than meat goats on their farm. Their customers wanted lamb and the sheep made best use of the pastures. We sold our sheep, and Linda sold the meat goats. Both of us are happier.

There is much to learn about raising and marketing livestock. I would suggest finding a mentor who you can learn from and lean on for advice. Connecting with local producer or grazing groups is a great way to find a mentor. ATTRA has many resources (linked below), and our Livestock Specialists are available to answer questions and talk with you about these considerations. Linda and I will be discussing species specific considerations in an upcoming podcast. Send your questions to us at and

ATTRA Resources

Getting Started with Livestock Podcast

Small Scale Livestock Production

ATTRA Livestock and Pasture resources

Livestock as a Tool: Improving Soil Health, Boosting Crops

Integrating Livestock and Crops

Managed Grazing Tutorial

Healthy Animals, Happy Farm

Working With Your Meat Processor

By Jamie Fanous, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

Like many, during these challenging times, I’ve turned to home gardening! I’ve used gardening as an opportunity to reconnect with nature and clear my head, all while staying close to home during the quarantine.

Interested in home gardening? Need to build a raised garden bed frame? Check out this amazing video on the NCAT Youtube page with Jeremy Prater!

Over the course of these summer months, I’ve grown a variety of fruits and vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes, melons, summer squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatillos, and even herbs and flowers. Since home gardening is often at a very small scale, it can allow for more time to dedicate to monitoring and tending. I’ve been able to carefully monitor my garden’s water moisture, soil quality, and plant health, as well as identify plant diseases, pests, and beneficial insects.

I’ve also maintained a variety of beautiful native plants such as ceanothus or California Lilacs, which serve as a valuable habitat for beneficial insects! Having various native plants, flowers, and herbs has been instrumental for the garden particularly for pest suppression and pollination. Insects like native bees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybird beetles, lacewings, and spiders are vibrant additions to the garden which have encouraged the fruits and vegetables to flourish and reduce pressure from damaging pests like aphids.

Interested in more information on Beneficial Insects? See this ATTRA Publication: A Pictorial Guide to Hedgerow Plants for Beneficial Insects

Since I began gardening I’ve seen so many exciting beneficial insects with one, in particular, standing out –  the Praying Mantis (Tenodera aridifloia sinesis)! Known for its bulging eyes and head that can spin 180 degrees, the praying mantis is a valuable predator to have in the garden. The praying mantis has earned its name by the way in which it waits for prey, by folding its front legs inward, which appear as praying hands. The praying mantises are stunning predators and are valuable to the garden, however, they do not pick and choose their prey and have been known to consume both pests and beneficial insects.

It has been an exciting journey tending to the garden and I look forward to continuing it. The fall is just around the corner which means new vegetables to grow and new beneficial insects to discover!


Relevant Resources:

Build a Basic Wooden Raised-Garden Bed Frame –

A Pictorial Guide to Hedgerow Plants for Beneficial Insects –

Beneficial Insects You Want in your Garden – California Gardening

CNN Article about Mental Health & Gardening –


By Guy K. Ames, NCAT Horticulture Specialist

It’s the time of year when apple and pear growers are watching their trees like hawks. . .because the crows are watching the trees, too—like, well, crows.

Ripening fruit becomes attractive to crows and many other critters. The fruit sugars are just too much to resist. And beating the other critters to the fruit is one of the reasons you need to know when to pick. This is not always as clear as you’d think because, when it comes to apples and pears, there is ripe and there is “ripe.”

Ripe for the Picking

Pome fruits, apples, pears and quince, are “physiologically ripe” (the seeds are mature) sometime before they are their sweetest and before they begin falling from their parent trees. This is important because as soon as they are physiologically ripe they can be picked and expected to finish ripening off the tree! Fruit left on the tree past this first stage of ripening will continue to sweeten and change color and texture. There is nothing wrong with letting an apple reach peak sweetness on the tree. But doing so could compromise its firmness and storability. . .and it remains on the tree for the crows to find.

Pears, at least the European types, are a somewhat different story. European-type pears—like the familiar Bartlett and Comice—ripen best off the tree. This is not true for Asian pears, which ripen fine on the tree. If left to ripen on the tree, European pears generally start ripening from the inside out and can be grainy or mushy. These pears are best picked just shy of full ripe (but physiologically ripe) then chilled and “cured.”

Curing is simply a matter of allowing the pear to reach perfection at room temperature on your kitchen counter or table. If you’re in a hurry you can put the pears in a paper bag. Bag with a banana to further hasten the process. To check for perfect ripeness, hold the pear in your hand and push on the fruit near the stem area with your thumb. When the pear gives just a little to your thumb pressure it is ready to eat.

Follow the Signs to Ripe Fruit

But back to physiological ripeness and other indicators of ripeness. Here are some important indicators:

  1. The hanging fruit begins to change color. Even green apples like Granny Smith and most pears have a subtle color shift when ripening begins in earnest, but the untrained eye might not see it. But red apples will show a more obvious color shift from green toward red as they approach ripeness.
  2. Some fruit begins to fall. This is usually a solid giveaway, but it doesn’t mean that every fruit on the tree is at exactly the same stage. As fruit approaches maturity, a layer of tissue on the stem accumulates abscisic acid in preparation to drop the apple or pear. The grower can exploit this phenomenon to determine ripeness. Gently lift a fruit from the vertical hanging position to something approaching horizontal. If the fruit is ready, the abscission layer will break cleanly where it joins the twig or spur it is attached to.
  3. The seeds are hard and brown or black. This is the surest indicator of physiological ripeness because, after all, that’s what this whole thing is all about. The fruit gets sweet to attract creatures like us to eat it and spread the seeds. If the fruit gets eaten too early, before the seeds are ready, then the whole thing was for naught! Seeds that are soft and white are not ready and the fruit isn’t ripe. If you were to pick the fruit before the seed is mature, the fruit will not continue to ripen.
  4. The fruit pleases your palate. Hey, there’s no substitute for your taste. If you like it, then it’s ready!

There are four key indicators of ripeness in apples and pears.The professionals have other tools, like a starch test and a refractometer for measuring sugars, but even the pros will use the four other indicators listed above.

Storing Apples and Pears

If your intent is to store your apples or pears, then catching them right when they are first physiologically ripe will allow you to take these fruit while still firm and store them. Sometimes they will last for months depending on what you might have to keep them cool.

Interestingly, it could be argued that pome fruits are still very much alive after picking. They are still respiring (exchanging gases like oxygen and ethylene) and starches are continuing to convert to sugars. We’ve already mentioned that European pears reach their highest flavors after storage and curing. Similarly, many apple varieties don’t achieve their finest, most complex flavors until they’ve been stored for a while.

Happy eating!

Additional Information on Apples and Pears

For more on apple and pear production, see the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture publications Apples: Organic Production Guide and Pears: Organic Production. You’ll find many other resources on fruit production on the ATTRA website’s Fruits page, including publications, podcasts, and videos.

Guy has written several blog posts on the joys and challenges of fruit production. His previous posts include Pear Trees Exemplify Resilience, Restorative Pruning, Dwarfing Apple Rootstocks: Pros and Cons, Fall Planting Fruit Trees, and Battling Borers in Organic Apple Production.

You can contact Guy or other NCAT agriculture specialists by email at or 800-346-9140.

By Ann Baier, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

Foreword: After the recent passing of her mother, Ann reflects on some valuable lessons and preparations, especially relevant in the time of a pandemic.

Building resilience in agriculture and communities is at the heart of our work at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). For over 40 years and continuing in this time of the pandemic, we persist in agricultural endeavors that support just and ecological food and farming systems in the midst of racial and economic inequalities and the public health implications of COVID-19.

Unexpected things happen all the time, in food and farming businesses, and in life. For a farm business to be resilient amid the unpredictable, we develop risk management plans and integrated pest management strategies to minimize loss and weather adversity. We create standard operating procedures, food safety plans, quality control measures. We analyze hazards and address critical control points and develop recall plans. We buy insurance. We set emergency preparedness plans in place, considering regional probabilities of a wildfire, flood, earthquake, hurricane or tornado, illness, or death.

Each of us has some capacity to prepare, prevent, or mitigate unpredictable events that may or may not happen in life and business. We also need to prepare for the inevitable (death)—that which will happen; we just don’t know how or when. During a pandemic, we are slightly more aware of our mortality, that any one of us could suddenly reach the end of our life. Our lives, no matter how long they may be, are finite. Even though talking about death may seem difficult at first, preparing for its eventuality won’t cause it!

Last year, my women’s group began discussing aging. (We are all aging, no matter how old we are!) We committed to meeting regularly to support and inspire each other to prepare for life’s eventual end. Each month we address a topic, such as Health and Medical Care, Legal Arrangements, Information for Survivors, Legacy / Succession, and Death Cleaning. We share meaningful reflections, practical help, and even laughter as we work toward clarity and organization. Our experience may be helpful to others.

The best time to make emergency preparedness plans is before the emergency begins. I’ll gather my important papers, map out an escape route, decide on an out-of-state contact and a family gathering place before a disaster looms and communications are lost. The best time to prepare to die is while we are healthy and of sound mind. When the possibility of illness and the eventuality of death seem far-off in the future rather than imminent, I can work with a clearer mind, and ground my decisions in carefully considered and dearly held values. It is quite all right to set arrangements in writing and not need them; it is more costly, legally complex, and emotionally exhausting to need, and not have them. Putting my affairs in order can give me peace of mind while I’m alive, especially understanding how I can minimize the legal, financial and emotional burdens on my loved ones–or business partners–when I cross life’s finish line.

Part I: Health and Medical Care: Advance Health Care Directives

My Mom used to joke, “None of us is going to get out of here alive!” Indeed, she made a timely exit from her life’s journey earlier this year. Her passing was peaceful and consistent with her values, thanks to her preparations. Mom completed both an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) and Physicians Orders on Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, I had copies, and both documents were on file with her health care system. Mindful that someday she would take “that journey that needs no baggage,” my Mom had put her wishes in writing years prior when thoughts of physical frailty or mental incompetence were merely hypothetical.

No matter my age or current health status, I can consider various scenarios and write down my wishes. What if I get into an accident or fall suddenly ill, get a brain tumor, or lose my memory? There are times when discussing the real possibility–or probability– of disability or death might feel like taking away someone’s hope. It is best to prepare now, while I can still reason clearly and speak for myself. Knowing I have discussed my values and criteria for decision-making with my family and my doctor and filed my advance health care directive with my health care system, I can be at ease.

My Mom had a fall. At age 95, it was not her first, but this one was different. The doctor who assessed her condition asked if we wanted to honor my mother’s POLST. “Yes,” I said, knowing we’d had the necessary conversations ahead of time. “Then we are providing comfort measures.” I clarified, “This may lead to the end of her life?” “Yes.” Having Mom’s wishes in writing gave me peace of mind. I did not need to second-guess, or worry that a family member would question her end-of-life care. It also allowed her a natural death, free of invasive medical interventions. She was able to die as simply as she lived, with modest use of finite medical resources.

Advance Health Care Directive templates are easy to find; many health care systems provide them. Physicians Orders on Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST, is described in “All adults should have an advance directive to help identify a surrogate decision-maker and provide information about what treatments they want for an unknown medical emergency. A POLST form is for when you become seriously ill or frail and toward the end of life. A POLST form does not replace an advance directive — they work together.” The POLST form has three sections with checkboxes to express your wishes with respect to: A) Resuscitation (Attempt or Not); B) Medical Interventions (Full, Selective or Comfort-Focused Care); C) Artificially Administered Nutrition (Long-term, Trial or None), followed by D) Information and Signatures—yours and your doctor’s. That’s all. Together, the AHCD and POLST can save costly confusion for family members and care providers when life hangs in the balance. It is reassuring to have written guidance about when to try what kinds of interventions, and when to accept death when it is time.

Part II: Legal Affairs

Making legal arrangements, appropriate to one’s family composition and farm business, is a worthy investment of time and money. Get reliable legal advice! Key documents often include a Will, General Durable Power of Attorney, and a Living or Revocable Trust. A Trust complements the Will, and allows the property to be transferred to beneficiaries without the expense and delay of probate court proceedings. A Trust is “funded” by titling items of value (such as bank accounts and real property) in the name of the Trust, and recording deeds with the county.

A Trust names beneficiaries and Successor and/or Co-Trustees. “We wouldn’t want to declare you incompetent!” explained my Mom’s estate attorney, as she drew up the Trust.  And explained the key distinction between Co-Trustee and Successor Trustee. Being named Co-Trustee gave me the legal authority to take care of Mom’s affairs as her energy waned, her eyesight faded, and her hand grew increasingly unsteady over several years. The latter would have allowed me to act only if and when the primary Trustee was declared physically or mentally incapable by a medical professional. Because life provides no guarantees about a person’s longevity or the order of death (one of my mom’s children died before she did), it is good to name more than one Co-Trustee, and the order in which they would serve.

Making necessary legal arrangements does not mean giving up or losing hope. It’s simply a good idea. At any moment, I may find myself needing to act, in some legal capacity, on behalf of my spouse, sibling or business partner—or one of them for me! Some people lose capacity gradually, with age or dementia; others more suddenly, due to an accident, stroke, heart attack, or some rapidly progressing illness. Human beings may find it increasingly embarrassing, frightening, or uncomfortable to speak of getting one’s affairs in order when failing health or death become real possibilities. Anyone’s judgment can be clouded by emotion, fear, or stress when the balance of life itself or the future of business seem to hang on some critical decision. Why not set things in order now?

Further Reading:

  • Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  • Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To by Melanie Cullen, September 2018, 8th Edition, NOLO Pres