Michigan Organic Listserv

April, 2012

Offered by: Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University


For additional information on these topics or aspects of organic production contact Vicki Morrone at [log in to unmask] or 517-353-3542


Note any product or commercial process mentioned in this newsletter is not promoted by MSU. Please use this information to improve your farm business and knowledge.


Note we have a new section at the bottom of this newsletter: Farm Classifieds: Please send me any classified that are items for sale that are for use in farming or items that you are seeking.


Local Food News


Something to chew on: HomeGrown Local Food Summit looks to the future

Monday, April 2


Washtenaw County’s local food movement is about more than just getting a locally grown tomato onto the dinner plate of local eaters. It’s about encouraging food processors such as Ann Arbor’s The Brinery, which makes kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut, to buy local produce, process it and then sell it locally, adding value along the way, said JasonFrenzel. Frenzel is co-chair of the planning committee for the fourth annualHomeGrown Local Food Summit, held Monday on the campus of Washtenaw Community College. The event attracted 300 farmers, businesses and non-profits linked to food issues.


Susie Baity and Rex Roof, board members of the Selma Cafe, attended the 4th annual HomeGrown Local Food Summit at Washtenaw Community College.


Slow Food Huron Valley organized the summit, assisted by a host of volunteers. “The local food movement isn’t only about farmers at the farmer’s market or food coops,” Frenzel said. “It’s about diversifying and increasing the number of people involved. It’s about the breadth becoming bigger.”


Take, for example, Nifty Hoops, a new Ann Arbor hoop house maker that has responded to the local food movement’s desire to expand the growing season, Frenzel said.


The local food movement is about getting locally grown food into institutions, from schools to hospitals, and into the hands of people who don’t traditionally have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And it’s about creating the next generation of farmers, Frenzel said. While the younger generations in long-time agricultural families may be moving off the farm, there’s a wave of young people who don’t have farming roots anxious to farm. “We need to find a way to watch these (two groups) up, either through grants or some kind of mortgages,” Frenzel said.


These issues and more were addressed Monday at the all-day summit. Amanda Gallaher, a summit volunteer, gave a presentation about the latest victories in the local food movement, from getting local food into school cafeterias to Food Gatherers, which stocks local community pantries and kitchens, increasing the amount of fruit and produce it distributes by 50 percent.


She gave a nod to a number of localbusinesses connected to the local food movement, from Mindo Chocolate Makers to the Local Honey Project through the Ypsilanti Food Coop to Sweet Heather Anne, cake makers who use local ingredients and who are moving to a new location on North Main Street.


And Gallaher applauded the growing diversity of the Community Supported Agriculture concept. Under a CSA, farmers sell members shares of their harvest to community members. The number of traditional CSAs, where customers receive weekly allotments of produce, hasgrown. Meanwhile, other kinds of CSAs are emerging, such as Stone Soup Grainand Root, which sells shares of crops such as wheat and rye berries, oat groats and popcorn.


While the summit focused on the year’s successes, it also had an eye on the future of the local food movement. Similar to the speed dating routine and with the hopes of winning $500 mini-grants,about 20 participants stood on the stage and delivered one-minute pitches about future endeavors: Salomon Jost wants to create an investment club to fund organic farms; Lindsey MacDonald is looking for help establishing a University of Michigan student farm; Victoria Bennett wants input on a new WCC farm degree program; and Jeff Tenza is starting the Ann Arbor Seed Co.


The audience was invited to huddle with the participants before lunch to expand on their ideas and exchange contactinformation. And perhaps plant the seed for the next local food dream.


News about Organic Production


Soil moisture sensors tell you when, how much to water


By Tom Burfield


Growers first experimented with drip irrigation in the 1940s, but with the advent in the 1960s of polyethylene plastics to make the drip tubes, the practice quickly became widespread. Today, drip is an irrigation method of choice throughout the United States, especially for high-value crops. The process continues to be refined as technology improves and as water conservation becomes an increasingly significant concern.


At the forefront of these refinements is Gilbert Miller, area vegetable specialist who heads the soil moisture monitor project at Clemson University. Miller has come up with a system that uses moisture sensors to determine when and how much to water crops. The sensors have copper bands that send radio waves through the soil at depths of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 inches. By monitoring the strength of the radio waves that come back to the transmitter, Miller can determine how much moisture is in the soil.


Find complete article here: Soil moisture sensors tell you when.pdf


Crop budgets may need last-minute update

March crop report may have changed picture

By Dennis Stein, Michigan State University Extension

Apr. 5, 2012 2:06pm


With commodity markets now focused on the 2012 production year, most farms have put together the final adjustments to their 2012 crop budgets and crop rotation plans.


However, if you are starting to second guess your plan and want to do some quick evaluations of how your current crop mix will stack up, you can consider your options by utilizing a crop production cost template (2012 Crop Budget Simulation Template) provided by a MichiganState University Extension educator. You can find two updated excel templateversions available for your consideration.


One template will allow you to input your farm’s seed, fertilizer and chemical options, and use a set of custom machine costs to allow you to look at how your farm could cover some of its fixed and overhead costs. The second option is a more detailed production and cost budget that asks you to estimate your farm’s overhead and operational costs.


Both templates are designed to allocate your farm’s production costs on a crop by crop format giving you a picture of how your crop-mix compares using a similar budget format. These templates are a quick way for you to compare the expected returns for each crop enterprise.

Every farm has the challenge of pulling together their own farm’s cost estimates and the projection of their potential returns.


Using a computer simulation model allows you the option to quickly make adjustments to current changes in thecost of inputs or the crop market price shifts and estimate various “What ifs?” These “What if?” events that impact your farm’s bottom line each day depending on a wide variety of variables from weather to political events that are taking place around the world.

Freezing Temps Following Record Warmth May Pose Threat To Alfalfa

Walk your fields to assess any possible damage to alfalfa stands

Apr 5, 2012

By Phil Kaatz


Reports of freezing temperatures below 20°F across Michigan following the unseasonable warm weather in March have producers wondering if there has been any damage to their alfalfa stands.


Several factors may lead to either having damage or not having damage. These include maturity of the alfalfa, age of stand, duration of the freezing temperatures, soil moisture levels, soilpotassium levels, and varietal selection. The damage the alfalfa plant willnormally be to the stems of the plants. Generally, temperatures lower than what was experienced this week are required to kill alfalfa stems.


To assess the damage after frost occurs, wait until the air temperature recovers, usually that same afternoon. A hard frost will cause the alfalfa stems to either "shepherd hook" or act as a lazy stem. If, after a warming period, the stems straighten back up, the stem is uninjured and will resume growth as if no frost had occurred.


Since most of the alfalfa in Michigan has just begun to grow, harvesting or cutting the alfalfa is not recommended. The alfalfa will recover from the crown or active axillary buds on the lower portion of the plant.


While the freezing temperatures mayhave some effect on alfalfa stands, it's always advisable to walk your fields and assess alfalfa stands following the winter to determine the level of winterkill and heaving established stands may have received. To determine if there has been damage to the stand, random plants can be dug to evaluate the plant crowns and taproots. Healthy taproots are creamy-white and firm. Freeze-injured, heaved or winterkilled plants will have a "watery" tan or brown appearance and be soft. If widespread damage is present in thestands, consider planting a new alfalfa stand in another field.


State office can help Michigan farms find labor

April 2012

By Derrek Sigler,  Assistant Editor


Last year marked the first time Michigan farms had difficulty finding enough labor to harvest their crops, said Belen Ledezma, division director for Migrant, Immigrant and Seasonal WorkerServices with the state of Michigan.


With job openings in ag abundant, finding the right kind of skilled labor can be difficult. That is where Ledezma's office comes in, she said in a presentation given at the West Michigan Ag Labor meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., in February.


Ledezma's office runs the Agricultural Recruiting Service (ARS) out of Michigan Works!, the job fulfillment office of the Michigan Department of Labor. ARS actively recruits for agriculture andspecializes in filling jobs with migrant workers. Having a shortage of workers raised a red flag for Ledezma.


"Last year, we had 18,000 contracts for labor issued," Ledezma said. "We were only able to fill 13,000. That is a loss of 5,000 contracts, meaning we were unable to fill those positions. We've never had an issue filling contracts before."


Growers who need labor should be aware of the services ARS offers. Notify the office of your labor needs at least eight weeks prior to the time you actually need it, to give them time to recruit for you, she said. Be specific about what you want in a worker, what crops will be worked with and the employment period.


There are some requirements for growers as well, Ledezma said, such as a contract that is binding. Wages must be the highest of the three between the state of Michigan minimum wage, the national minimum wage or the highest prevailing wage in your area for similar work. Piece-rate work and bonuses must also be spelled out in full detail, as well as any deductions. Housing must also be provided at no additional cost and be available to family members. Transportation is not a requirement, unless it is a prevailing trend in your area.


"If all the farms in your area are paying the transportation costs to get labor, then you will be required to as well," Ledezma said. "If we're bringing in workers for you from Florida or Texas, you might want to consider offering transportation anyway, as a way to ensure your labor needs are filled."


There is a reason Ledezma suggests making this offer. With the current climate for immigration reform and several states passing Arizona-style regulations, many migrant workers are unwilling to make major cross-country moves to find work, she said.


"They aren't willing to risk it, even when they are legal," she said. "It can be a major hassle, and too much for some to be willing to deal with."


When Ledezma's office has sufficient job request orders, it often will set up a job fair in Texas or Florida. Technology can help the process. Web cams or Skype can allow employers to interview potential workers and hire them on the spot, she said.


Ledezma made one point very clear. The ARS office does not fill out I-9 or E-Verify paperwork. Those tasks are strictly the responsibility of the grower after the work is hired. She alsosaid the contracts are binding to the grower only. There is nothing binding the employee, other than a desire to work.


"You have to keep in mind that the workers that you're going to attract through this type of program - they want to work," Ledezma said. "If you've got good housing and are paying a competitive wage, they will come, stay and work for you."


New Web-based tool helps growers gauge sustainability

By Vicky Boyd, Editor



Bayer CropScience of Research Triangle Park, N.C., has introduced the Good Growing Link, a web-based program that allows growers to analyze their practices for sustainability and generate reports.


Although the tool was tested last season in tomatoes, potatoes and citrus, it theoretically could be used for any crop, Brian Hrudka, Bayer CropScience food chain manager, wrote in an e-mail response. The password-protected website was developed by FoodLogiQ LLC of Durham, N.C.


The tool is designed to meet the increasing requests for sustainability data from buyers to which growers sell, he says. Good Growing Link contains components, such as water, emissions, pesticides and soil, that are based on the Global Reporting Initiative sustainability reporting framework, Hrudka says.


There are no set targets. Instead, the tool allows growers to record, measure and report on their own operation, set their own targets or measure against targets set by buyers. Users enter their own growing and production information or use data derived from other sources.


The tool then generates a customized Web-based report, known as a dashboard or a snapshot.


Users either can link directly to their own website for public review, or they can print a hard copy to send to customers.


During the 2011 season, Bayer teamed with the National Potato Council to pilot test the Good Growing Link tool with three large potato growers—Wada Farms, a fresh-stock grower based in Pingree, Idaho; Warden Hutterian Brethren, a Warden, Wash.-based grower for the french fry market; and Black Gold Farms, a chipping stock grower based in Grand Forks, N.D.


Black Gold started working with thetool early this year. "We're not far enough along to really have a good handle on it, but we anticipate good things out of it," says Eric Halverson, Black Gold vice president of technology. The operation collects data on a multitude of practices from irrigation to pesticide applications.


The challenge will be to move the volumes of data into the Good Growing Link tool. "It's a cumbersome project, no doubt about it," Halverson says. But he says he's hopeful that the tool will produce information that's meaningful to both the operation and their chipping customer.

"We wouldn't have gone into this unless it was going to be of value to our customers," Halverson says.


Once they transfer the data and compile the reports, he says they may have to slightly modify the output based on customer suggestions. That's why Bayer wanted to have a representative fromeach sector, Halverson says. A fresh-market customer may have slightly different needs as far as sustainability than a chipping or french fry customer. The beta testing will continue during the 2012 season to gauge user friendliness and the appropriateness of the information for buyers.


Finding answers with on-farm crop research

Well-carried out on-farm research can help farmers determine if added inputs or changed practices really do provide a positive return on their farm.

Published April 3, 2012

Dan Rossman, Michigan State University Extension


High corn and soybean values enhance farmers’ desires to achieve maximize economic yields. Producers are faced with decisions about whether to add additional inputs or chance production practices. These might include foliar fungicides, specialized fertilizers, advanced genetic traits, seed treatments, tillage systems, planting methods, seeding rates, the use of cover crops, addition of irrigation, adoption of new technology, utilization of manure or countless other choices. Each one is promoted to add yield and gain net profit. The question is, “Do they really accomplish this?” The product or practice might work well for a researcher or another farmer, but it might not be a good choice for everyone. Well-designed, on-farm research projects can help determine the answer for a producer’s specific situation and conditions.


Valuable on-farm research projects start with a well-designed plan or protocol. It is not worthwhile comparing the practice or product used in one field to a field without it or even in a single, side-by-side evaluation in the same field. The results can be totally misleading. Variable conditions exist even in the most uniform fields. Tilelines, soil types, compaction, fertility and pest pressure are just a few variables that may over power the treatment and give false conclusions. To help insure that the comparison results are indeed due to the practice or product and not some other variable, multiple replications of the treatment need to be conducted.


A good rule of thumb in conducting on-farm research is to keep it simple. Test just one input or practice at atime. Also, take time to select a site that is as uniform as possible. Try to have at least four replications of each treatment. On-farm research gains its power in replication. More comparisons increase the confidence in the results. The conclusions are further validated if similar results occur over severalyears and over numerous sites.


Assistance in conducting an on-farmresearch comparison can come from your agribusiness agronomist or MSU Extension educator. They may have protocols already developed for you to utilize. They may also provide assistance in the field in setting up the trial and obtaining data at harvest. If the trial is set up properly, they can help run the statistical analysis with the results. The Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee is especially interested in working with soybean producers with on-farm research trials. Mike Staton, MSU Senior Extension educator, coordinates the SMaRT soybean trials statewide. He can be contacted at 269-673-0370.


Michigan field crop Extension educators also work with farmers on a regular basis in conducting on- farm trials. Each year, the results of dozens of trials are shared statewide through the Field Crop Team’s On-farm Research and Demonstration report. This report is available at most MSU Extension county offices


Frost alarm available now on Enviro-weather

Get notified of potentially freezing conditions 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Published April 3, 2012


If you’d like to receive advanced warning of potential frost-freezes, Enviro-weather’s new Frost Alarm may be just what you are looking for. This new, premium service is available by subscription. For $50 per year, you can monitor weather at one or more Enviro-weather stations and choose the exact weather conditions you wish to be notified for. If the selected station records weather data meeting your specified conditions, an alarm is generated and you are notified by text message or email.


For each station chosen, you can select a combination of temperature, dew point, wind speed and temperature drop (over a three-hour period). For example, you can choose to receive a notification if the temperature at your chosen station drops below 32°F (Service #3, see image).


You can combine as many weather conditions (temperature, temperature drop, wind speed and dew point) as youwish for an alarm. For example, you can choose to be notified if the dew point is less than 32°F and the wind speed was less than 5 mph (Service #1, see image). In that case, an alarm would be generated if dew point was 29°F and the wind speed was 4 mph, but not if the dew point was 29°F and the wind speed was 7 mph.


You can also create multiple “situations” (unique combination of conditions) for a station. Each “situation” will generate a separate alarm when conditions are met. For example, you can create an alarm if the temperature is less than 35°F and the temperature dropped at least 6 degrees over the past three hours, or if the dew point was less than 33°F (Service #2, see image). An alarm would be generated if either of these two scenarios occurred.


You can also choose to monitor conditions at as many stations as you wish. The user in the image has set alarms for three different stations (Bath, East Lansing MSUHort, and Leslie). To sign up for the Frost Alarm, please visit:

For more information, please contact Beth Bishop at [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask] or 517-432-6520 with your questions, comments and suggestions.


Animal Production


‘Pink slime’ is not really pink slime

Recent media stories regarding so called 'pink slime' are missing key facts regarding lean, finely textured ground beef.

Published March 30, 2012

Jeannine Schweihofer, Sarah Wells, Michigan State University Extension and Departments of Human Nutrition and Animal Science


Lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) is the proper term for the beef product that is being referred to as ‘pink slime’ in recent media reports. It is beef, 100% beef, but in a finely textured version. The safety concern that many have expressed is not valid. The process used for making LFTB from beef trimmings is an approved process by both USDA and FDA. 


Not all beef can become a steak or roast. When meat cuts are trimmed to remove excess fat, some lean is also removed, resulting in beef trim that has a high percentage of fat. It wouldtake too much time with a knife and highly skilled meat cutter to separate this product manually, but again it is pure beef that is being removed from trimpieces that include fat and/or connective tissue. Briefly, the process of making LFTB is as follows: Beef trim that includes fat, small pieces of meat, and bits of connective tissue is heated to about 100° F. The beef is then spun to separate the lean from the fat/connective tissue. Because the temperature of the meat is raised above refrigeration temperatures in the process, there is potential for microbial pathogens present to replicate more rapidly at thistemperature. Any time there is potential for microbial growth, food processors must include an intervention step that will minimize the risk. Thus, a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas is applied to the beef. This increases the pH of themeat and creates an environment that does not allow pathogens that might bepresent to survive.


The ammonium hydroxide gas added almost entirely evaporates; hence, it is not considered a food additive. The resulting product is still 100% beef. The process BPI uses has been approved and used for 30 years without being involved in a recall or safety related issue. Ammonium hydroxide is a naturally occurring compound in beef, other proteins and thehuman body. Actually, it is used in many other foods during processing as well, both for food safety and as a leavening agent. The use of ammonium hydroxide is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Examples of other foods that use ammonium hydroxide during processing include cheeses, baked goods, chocolates, puddings, caramels and other foods. If any levels of ammonium hydroxide do exist in foods, it is at a very small level that has been tested and determined safe by both USDA and FDA.


Approximately 10-12 pounds of 94-97% lean beef is recovered from each carcass using this process. The LFTB is blended with other ground beef at a rate of no more than 15%. Thus, LFTB can be added to ground beef of higher fat content resulting in a leaner end product while maintaining the desirable texture of traditionally ground beef. The USDA has reiterated the safety of LFTB but the National School Lunch Program will now have the choice of purchasing ground beef with or without LFTB. Economists expect a spike in price and potential shortage of lean and very lean groundbeef as major fast food and grocery chains have pulled LFTB from the groundbeef they use as a result of consumer backlash. Currently, the beef industry has the lowest inventory since 1952. It is estimated that 1.5 million more head of cattle per year would need to be harvested to compensate supply if LFTB is not used. Ultimately, not utilizing LFTB could lead to increased imports oflean trim (from Australia and S. America) to fill the demand for lean groundbeef.

Field Crop Production


Vicki Morrone
Outreach Specialist for Organic Vegetable and Field Crops
480 Wilson Rd Room 303
East Lansing, MI 48824
517-353-3542/517-282-3557 (cell)
If you would like to access a searchable archive of the all the previous Mich-Organic listserv postings copy this URL and paste in your browser address field