Start at the top to prevent soil erosion

Mike Harding of Geosyntec Consultants creek-side near his home town in Indiana. Photo supplied by Mike Harding.

Mike Harding near his home town in Indiana. 

“Treat soil as a resource not a pollutant,” said Mike Harding of Geosyntec Consultants. It takes 10,000 years for nature to make an inch of topsoil. Harding explained, “Vegetation is the skin of the earth, and when vegetation is removed, the earth bleeds. That’s what we call erosion.” Behind population growth, the World Bank has recognized that conserving topsoil is the second biggest global challenge.

Harding urged anyone disturbing soils to:

  • Control water, beginning at the top of the slope
  • Prevent erosion by limiting the amount of area disturbed
  • Minimize erosion on all slopes
  • Do more than just install silt fence at slope bottoms

Silt fences and other sediment control devices do not prevent erosion. When property installed and maintained, they contain runoff and sedimentation before it can move offsite or pollute waterways.

Read more here.

Photo supplied by Mike Harding.

Weed control for vegetable crops

Dr. Rich Bonanno

Dr. Richard Bonanno

Good weed control leads to stronger plants, higher crop yields and higher farm profits. “Effective weed control starts with proper identification,” said Dr. Richard Bonanno, UMass Extension and GAP Educator, at a recent pesticide-training workshop held in Warwick, RI. He recommended growers verify weed ID using the “New England Vegetable Management Guide” or a good a field guide.

Growers should note weeds, treatments and weather each season and use past years’ notes to determine likely locations and times for outbreaks. Scout potential trouble sites to verify the need for treatment. For peak effectiveness, apply just enough of the right treatment at the weed’s most vulnerable life stage. Read more here.

Starting a Farm

Rachel Armstrong

Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons

Many states are growing new farms and farmers, according to preliminary reports from the latest USDA Agricultural census. Consumer support of local farmers continues to grow. Farmers markets, direct sales and agritourism help make farming a viable occupation in many regions.

In her webinar called “Starting a Farm,” Rachel Armstrong of farmcommons.org explained how to establish a new farm business. She covered legal issues of starting a new farm: buying land and equipment, leasing, forming a business, buying insurance and protecting the farm. New farms may be started by buying or  inheriting land and/or an existing farm operation.

Armstrong’s goal is to help farmers build good relationships with landlords, vendors,  lenders and customers to ensure good communications. Formalizing business arrangements can help prevent misunderstandings. [Learn more here.]

Use micronutrients to increase crop yields and nutrition

Derek Christianson

Derek Christianson of Brix Bounty Farm

If you could increase your yields and your markets demanded more produce, would you spend money on soil amendments? Derek Christianson of Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth, MA has long recommended farmers pay attention to soil micronutrients. He said soil amendments or foliar sprays are easy to justify with increased yields in healthier plants.

Christianson described the benefits of improving micronutrient availability in an Advanced Growers Workshop for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of RI (NOFA/RI). His program explored the nutritional needs of different crop families, key minerals needed to support healthy growth and the role of fertility management in achieving optimum yields. Christianson covered five crops, their fertility needs, cost and expense considerations and growing season management. Crops included beets, onions, spring cabbage, tomatoes and winter squash.

Thorough, accurate soil tests are critical for any grower.  Site analysis and test results help determine ideal crops for a particular site as well as appropriate amendments. [Read more here.]

Tomato variety trials

Tomato taste test at Twilight Meeting

Tomato taste test at URI’s Twilight Meeting

13 tomato varieties were tested during the 2013 growing season. The trials were conducted at four Rhode Island farms and funded through a 1-year $15,000 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Partnership Grant titled “Realizing the potential of high tunnel tomato production and income in southern New England.”

Learn which varieties were most successful here.
Photo by Heather Faubert.

Preparing successful farm business plans & loan packages

John W. Nelson, III

John W. Nelson, III

Many farm and business owners have not created a written business plan or have not verified their plan is realistic. Former Bank Vice President, John W. Nelson, III explained that too many businesses are ill prepared; they spend too much money on poor advice and lack accurate financial records or projections.

Nelson shared his insights on creating realistic business plans. This is critical when seeking bank loans or investor funding. Nelson led a workshop called “How to Construct Business Plans and Loan Presentations That Raise Capital” at the Newport County Chamber of Commerce in Middletown, RI. [Learn what to include in a farm loan package here.]

Farm Succcession Planning

Surprisingly few farmers, ranchers and foresters have made a retirement plan. Only 27% of farmers have succession plans to transfer their farmland and farm business to the next generation, according to Katie Cavanagh, a fifth-generation farmer and Farm Succession Planning Program leader. Sound retirement and estate plans are critical to leaving a viable farm business and legacy. Many farmers want to keep their land in agriculture but need their land’s equity to support their retirement years.

A Farm Succession Planning Workshop, held at Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI, addressed concerns for farmers, ranchers and forest/open space landowners. A panel of professionals explained many legal tools available for retirees and family members. Sponsors, Chuck Allott of Aquidneck Land Trust and Rupert Friday of the RI Land Trust Council welcomed attendees.

Cavanagh described her family’s 3-year transition process. She stressed the importance of planning for farm succession and involving all family members – siblings, children and anyone with a stake. Cavanaugh described their three-year process and the benefits of bringing in outside mediators. [Learn more here.]