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EnergyAg Newsbriefs

December 2011

Welcome to this edition of EnergyAg Newsbriefs brought to you by the Washington State University Extension Energy Program Library. Please forward this issue to those of your colleagues interested in energy-efficient agricultural practices. Archives of past messages

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Multi-state study of comprehensive biofuel system

Researchers and Master Gardeners from the University of Minnesota Extension will take part in a multi-state research study to investigate a biofuel production system incorporating native grasses, pyrolitic fuel production, and the use of biochar as a soil amendment. The 5-year, USDA-funded study will include the participation of five universities as well as USDA laboratories and the U.S. Department of Energy. To learn more, read "U of M Scientists, Master Gardeners Part of Team to Analyze Biofuel Production, Land Use," published November 7, 2011, on the University of Minnesota Extension website.

Sweet sorghum as a biofuel crop

"Sweet Sorghum for Biofuel Production," updated on the eXtension website on November 8, 2011, examines the potential of sweet sorghum as a biofuel feedstock. An overview of the plant's biology and production is provided, as well as links to further resources. The report concludes that the greatest challenge to widespread cultivation is the lack of commercial-scale harvesting equipment for sweet sorghum.


ARS biochar research is a work in progress

"Carefully Unraveling the Intricacies of Biochar," published in the November/December issue of Agricultural Research Magazine, provides details about USDA Agricultural Research Service investigations into the efficacy of biochar for improving soil structure, increasing nutrient uptake, reducing greenhouse gases, and absorbing environmental pollutants. The results so far have been promising, but mixed in most areas. More research is pending to discover how to optimize biochar production and application for specific uses and soil types.


Tips for efficient tractor and machinery operation on the farm

The following five articles were updated on November 22, 2011 on the eXtension website:

"Machinery Maintenance for Energy Efficiency" presents evidence that tune-ups substantially increase both fuel efficiency and maximum horsepower, and provides tips for the upkeep of tractors and other motor-driven farm implements. Links to further resources are provided.

"Ballasting Tractors for Optimal Fuel Efficiency" explains how tractor ballasting, weight distribution, and tire slippage can influence the energy efficiency of tractor operation. Tips are provided for how to most effectively distribute ballast and control tire slippage. The relationship between ballast, field speed, and tire slip is briefly explained, as are the effects of too much or too little ballast on field speed and drive wheel slip.

"Optimize Wheel Slip to Save Fuel" offers advice to reduce the loss of power which results when tires are turning faster than the ground speed of the tractor. While some slip is necessary, too much can be wasteful; this article explains how to measure wheel slip and achieve an optimal 10 to 15 percent.

"Optimizing Field Efficiency to Save Fuel" explains how to improve the efficiency of field operations by adjusting factors such as turning time, tillage direction, wheel traffic pattern, and tillage depth.

"Reducing Tillage to Save Fuel" presents various opportunities to cut down on tillage, such as reducing or combining field operations or using alternative implements. Further resources and links to informative studies are provided.


USDA crop insurance for camelina

On November 30, 2011, the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) introduced a pilot insurance program for farmers who agree to grow camelina as a biofuel crop. The camelina must be spring-planted and grown under contract with a processor. Losses to be covered include those from fire, earthquake, and inclement weather events. For more information, read the USDA press release.

Crop insurance programs should take climate change into account

A new report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), A Risky Proposition: Crop Insurance in the Face of Climate Change, November 15, 2011, explains how government assistance programs such as those proposed in the 2012 Farm Bill fail to weigh the risks of climate change variability. Practices such as crop diversification, which would help make farms more resilient to floods, drought, and temperature variability, are discouraged rather than encouraged. The authors propose that the adoption of these practices should be mandatory for farmers receiving funding.

BC farmers to be compensated for clean water and habitat preservation

In British Columbia, Canada, the Ecological Services Initiative will test a model whereby farms and ranches will be compensated for creating and maintaining clean water and wildlife habitat on and around their farms. The initiative is being jointly sponsored by government, academic, and conservation groups, and will work by placing a monetary value on clean water. For more information, see "Paying Farmers to Protect Habitat Could Save Environment and Cash," published November 15, 2011, in the Vancouver Sun.

Commission recommends steps towards a sustainable global food system

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an international commission of climate and agricultural scientists, recently released a set of recommendations to world policymakers for increasing global food security in the face of climate change. The November 2011 document, Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change, recommends major interventions to increase the adaptability of agricultural systems, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure a plentiful and fairly distributed global food supply.


BCAP funding announced

On October 31, 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced funding through the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels (BCAP) for 156 advanced biofuel producers in 39 states to support the production and expansion of advanced biofuels. To learn more and see the list of recipients, read the USDA press release.


Acres USA Conference
December 8-10, 2011, Columbus, Ohio
The annual Acres U.S.A. conference sets the standards for innovation and learning. It is where you find farmers and consultants from every side of eco-farming who come together to share their experience and expertise. Attend the non-stop event, learn the latest in cutting-edge technology and methods, and return home ready to make your farming operation the best it can be.

Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course
December 9, 2011, Mount Vernon, WA
Sponsors: Western SARE, Xerces Society, NRCS
This course is tailored to the needs of NRCS, SWCD, Cooperative Extension, and state department of agriculture employees as well as crop consultants, natural resource specialists, non-governmental conservation organization staff, and producers of bee-pollinated crops, and will include both classroom and field training components. Introductory topics include the principles of pollinator biology, the economics of insect pollination, basic bee field identification, and evaluating pollinator habitat. Advanced modules will cover land management practices for pollinator protection, pollinator habitat restoration, incorporating pollinator conservation into federal conservation programs, selection of plants for pollinator enhancement sites, management of natural landscapes, and financial and technical resources to support these efforts. Throughout the short course these training modules are illustrated by case studies of pollinator conservation efforts across the country.

2012 No-Tillage Conference
January 11-14, 2012, St. Louis, Missouri
Once again, we've lined up nearly 40 of the very best no-tillers, crop consultants, agronomists and researchers to deliver cutting edge ideas, tips, and techniques to raise your no-till profitability, efficiency, and effectiveness to a higher level. Our theme, "Two Decades of No-Till Know-How," reflects the effort, dedication and perseverance of growers, consultants and researchers throughout the world seeking to make no-till an integral business strategy and lifestyle among farmers. This 20th annual National No-Tillage Conference offers 7 general sessions (with 16 powerful presentations), 20 No-Till Classrooms and 60 invaluable No-Till Roundtables. Plus, nearly 30 hours of valuable pesticide recertification and Certified Crop Advisor credits are available.

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