New Guy in Town
Thomas Schroeder has joined Mike Morris, Robert Maggiani, Justin Duncan, and Kevin Ellis as the fifth staff member in our office. Thomas brings a wealth of experience with local food and small-scale crop and livestock production. He managed the Texas State University student farm, worked for a number of organic farms (including Green Gate Farms in Austin and My Father’s Farm in Seguin), and also worked for several years for Whole Foods as a head chef. Originally from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, Thomas holds a B.A. degree in Anthropology from Marquette University and a B.S. in General Agriculture from Texas State University. Welcome to the team, Thomas!
Catching Rainwater with Cows, Soil Microbes, and Electric Fencing
Now in its second year, NCAT’s Soil for Water initiative has already taught over 150 people, mostly landowners, how to build healthy soils that catch and hold more rainwater. In the late spring and summer our research team, led by students and faculty from Texas State University, set up monitoring sites and took baseline measurements at four large ranches that have agreed to participate in long-term ecological monitoring. This fall the project focused on the Blanco River Basin in central Texas, with a series of workshops that showed landowners how to set up multi-paddock grazing systems, identify upland and riparian plants, monitor pasture health, and use temporary electric fencing. Soil for Water is directed by Mike Morris and funded by the Dixon Water Foundation and the Meadows Foundation. Our good friend Peggy Sechrist serves as lead trainer, and workshop speakers have included leading grazing experts from around the state. The project is expected to expand in 2017. For more information visit soilforwater.org.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas (including Organic Farming Potential)
Mike Morris and Robert Maggiani have co-authored a new report, Who Are the Organic Farmers of Texas? Although Texas is a national leader in organic cotton, rice, and peanuts, it has a lower percentage of organic farms than any other state. The report found that just 40 farms of any size were certified to grow organic vegetables—a shockingly small number in a state with a year-round growing season and almost 250,000 farms. The gap between consumer demand and the supply of Texas-grown organic food is wide and growing. Texas consumers spend over a billion dollars per year on organic food, but only a tiny percentage of this food is grown in Texas. The report concludes with 12 recommendations for stimulating the growth of the Texas organic sector.
Read the report here.
Is Organic Farming (Really) Risky?
Historically organic farms have had limited crop insurance options, reducing their access to loans and their ability to survive disasters. This situation improved greatly in 2016 when the USDA began offering Whole Farm Revenue Protection—a new kind of crop insurance tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farms—in every county in America. Mike Morris is directing a four–year USDA–funded project called "Is Organic Farming Risky?" that is studying crop insurance options for organic growers. We encourage all farms, however small or diversified, to check out this new insurance product. Information is available on the website of USDA's Risk Management Agency, or by contacting our office.
Justin’s Cover Cropping Webinar Goes Viral!
As the name implies, the main purpose of cover crops is to keep the soil covered instead of leaving it bare and exposed to sun, and wind. Among many other benefits, cover crops can reduce weeds and erosion, improve soil health, capture rainwater, boost crop yields, and increase biodiversity. Nonetheless, cover cropping remains uncommon in the hot humid South, where there has been little research on the best methods. Drawing on his own extensive experience with cover crops in Texas, Justin Duncan has recorded a 40-minute webinar, Cover Crop Options for Hot and Humid Areas. After going over the basics of cover cropping, the presentation gives detailed and practical information about many cover crops that will thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 8, 9 and 10. Since it was posted on the ATTRA website, Cover Crop Options for Hot and Humid Areas has already been viewed over 1,200 times. Check out Justin’s video here.
In August, NCAT Poultry Specialist Kevin Ellis travelled to Iowa to help start a pastured poultry cooperative. The plan is for participating small-scale poultry producers to aggregate their flocks, creating enough volume to support a USDA-inspected processing plant. Having a USDA-inspected processing plant would in turn allow these farms to sell across state lines, accessing markets with high demand. During Kevin’s week-long trip he met with eight of the pilot project farmers, provided one-on-one instruction on pastured poultry basics, distributed manuals covering poultry nutrition and daily care, and visited prospective plants. Over the winter months, the team will evaluate the results of the first season and make plans for the spring of 2017. The goal is to get more farmers involved in all aspects of the program and make the cooperative self-sustaining. This project is led by the Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development, which received a Local Food Promotion Program grant from the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service.
Closing the Organic Production Gap
In late August NCAT teamed up with Farm Aid and the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (TOFGA) to co-sponsor the first-ever Closing the Organic Production Gap meeting in Austin, Texas. The purpose of the meeting was to increase the percentage of organic food consumed in Texas that is grown in Texas. High-level staff attended from USDA Rural Development, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, and Risk Management Agency, along with representatives from Whole Foods and leading Texas organic farms: South Tex Organics, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and PPC Farms (formerly Plantation Produce). The meeting has already yielded some impressive results. For example, our friends at PPC Farms have enrolled in a number of NRCS and FSA programs and submitted a successful Value Added Producer Grant request to USDA Rural Development (with help from Robert Maggiani).
Come See Us at TOFGA!
The Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) will hold its annual conference January 12-14 in Mesquite, Texas. We’ll have a booth and Justin, Robert, Thomas, and Kevin will all be giving workshops. Please consider attending this fantastic conference, put on by our one and only statewide membership organization for sustainable and organic farmers and gardeners. Register here.
Out and About
- Growing Farm Profits (San Antonio, TX): Robert Maggiani presented “The ATTRA Website as a Grower Resource.” (We also helped plan this workshop, put on by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.)
- Intersections 2016 (Houston, TX): Mike Morris presented “Who Are the Organic Farmers of Texas?” as a part of a Sustainable Food Systems Panel.
- Southern Soil Health Conference (Belton, TX): Robert Maggiani, Justin Duncan and Thomas Schroeder all attended.
- NIFA Organic Project Director Meeting (Washington DC): Mike Morris offered a poster and gave a presentation, “Is Organic Farming Risky?”
- National Small Farm Conference (Virginia Beach, VA): Justin Duncan presented “Scientific Justification of Companion Planning.”
- Farm and Ranch Leadership Conference (Bastrop, TX): Mike Morris presented “New Crop Insurance Options for Diversified and Organic Farms.” Kevin Ellis also attended.
- Grow Me the Money! Resources for Organic Family Farms (Austin, TX): Robert Maggiani attended.
- Closing the Organic Production Gap (Austin, TX): Mike Morris presented “The Texas Organic Production Gap: What Do We Know?” Robert Maggiani also attended. (We also helped plan this workshop, which was sponsored by Farm Aid.)
- Sustainable Agriculture Workshop (D’Hanis, TX): Kevin Ellis presented "Food Labeling and Terminology."