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04

May
2018

In Blog
Featured
Future of Ag

By Admin

60 Minutes: CRISPR: The gene-editing tool revolutionizing biomedical research

On 04, May 2018 | In Blog, Featured, Future of Ag | By Admin

A new tool could be the key to treating genetic diseases and may be the most consequential discovery in biomedicine this century.

It’s challenging to tell a story about something that’s invisible to the naked eye and tricky to explain. But it’s one we undertook, because rarely does a discovery come along that could revolutionize medicine.  It’s called CRISPR and it stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR sounds more like a refrigerator compartment than a gene-editing tool, but it’s giving scientists power they could only imagine before – to easily edit DNA – allowing them to reprogram the genetic code of living things. That’s opening up the possibility of curing genetic diseases. Some researchers are even using it to try to prevent disease entirely by correcting defective genes in human embryos. We wanted to see for ourselves, so we went to meet a scientist at the center of the CRISPR craze.

“There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.”

Bill Whitaker: This is CRISPR?

Feng Zhang: This has CRISPR in it.

Bill Whitaker: So– this is what’s revolutionizing science and biomedicine?

Feng Zhang: This is what many people are using– in research — and trying to develop treatments.

Bill Whitaker: That’s wild.

Feng Zhang: Yeah.

That little vial is igniting a big revolution that is likely to change the way doctors treat disease in the future. One of the brains behind it, is baby-faced Feng Zhang.

crisprpreview.jpg

Feng Zhang speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

At 36, he’s already a tenured professor at MIT and a scientific celebrity because he figured out a way to override human genetic instructions using CRISPR.

Bill Whitaker: So, the CRISPR is not the liquid, the CRISPR is in the–

Feng Zhang: It’s dissolved in the liquid. There are probably billions of molecules of CRISPR…

Bill Whitaker: Billions?

BOTH: In here.

Feng Zhang: That’s right. And the way we use it is we take the liquid and apply it to cells.

For the last seven years, Zhang has been working on CRISPR at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a research mecca brimming with some of the brightest scientific minds from Harvard and MIT on a mission to fight disease. CRISPR is making medical research faster, cheaper, easier. Zhang’s colleagues predict it will help them tackle diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.  

Bill Whitaker: How many diseases are we talking about that this could be used to treat?

Feng Zhang: There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them.

Bill Whitaker: Most if not all of them?

Feng Zhang: That’s the long-term hope.

Bill Whitaker: So we’re talking diseases like Huntington’s—

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: Sickle Cell.

Feng Zhang: Yup. ALS—hemophilia.

Eric Lander: I think CRISPR, it’s fair to say, is perhaps the most surprising discovery and maybe most consequential discovery in this century so far.

lander-walk-talk-2.jpg

Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, speaks with correspondent Bill Whitaker

 CBS NEWS

To understand exactly what CRISPR is, we went to Eric Lander for a quick science lesson. He’s director of the Broad and Zhang’s mentor. He’s best known for being a leader of the Human Genome Project that mapped out all of our DNA, which is like a recurring sequence of letters.

Eric Lander: During the Human Genome Project, we could read out all the human DNA, and then, in the years afterwards, find the misspellings that caused human diseases. But we had no way to think about how to fix ’em. And then, pretty much on schedule, this mind-blowing discovery that bacteria have a way to fix those misspellings, appears.

Bill Whitaker: This comes from bacteria?

Eric Lander: This comes from bacteria.  Bacteria, you know, they have a problem. And they came up with a real clever solution. When they get infected by viruses, they keep a little bit of DNA, and they use it as a reminder. And they have this system called CRISPR that grabs those reminders and searches around and says, “If I ever see that again, I am gonna cut it.”

Zhang used that same bacterial system to edit DNA in human cells. Our DNA is made up of chemical bases abbreviated by the letters A, T, C, and G. As you can see in this animation from Zhang’s lab at MIT, a mutation that causes disease reads like a typo in those genetic instructions. If scientists can identify the typo, they can program CRISPR to find it and try to correct it.

Bill Whitaker: You program it? You say–

Feng Zhang: That’s right.

Bill Whitaker:  “I’m looking for this string of letters.”

Feng Zhang: Uh-huh.

Bill Whitaker: And the CRISPR will go in, and out of all of the billions and billions and billions of– of letters on your DNA, find the exact ones that you have programmed?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. CRISPR will allow you to– do many different things. You can cut it– to edit it.

Bill Whitaker: So you can snip out the bad part and you can add something that you want as well?

Feng Zhang: That’s right. You can give the cell a new piece of DNA that carries the sequence you want to incorporate into the genome.

Bill Whitaker: You say this so matter of factly. This is amazing.

Feng Zhang: It is pretty cool.

Bill Whitaker: How many other labs around the world are working with CRISPR like this?

Feng Zhang: Many. One of the things that we have been doing is to make the tool available to researchers. To date I think we have gotten it out over– 45,000 times, to 2,200 labs, in 61 countries.

Bill Whitaker: What are they doing with it?

Feng Zhang: They are using it to do everything.  A lot of applications of CRISPR. It’s really a Swiss army knife.

Cue the worldwide CRISPR frenzy. At the University of California, scientists used a form of CRISPR to edit mosquitos so they can’t transmit malaria. Their colleagues are modifying rice to better withstand floods and drought. In China, scientists tweaked a gene in beagles to make them more muscular.

crispr-full.jpg

A CRISPR vial from Zhang’s lab made its way to Dr. Kang Zhang. He is an ophthalmologist and a professor at the University of California, San Diego and wanted to see what all the hype was about.

Bill Whitaker: What did you think when you first heard of CRISPR?

Kang Zhang: I was a little bit skeptical.

Bill Whitaker: Why skeptical?

Kang Zhang: It worked so well. Too well to be believable.

He decided to experiment on mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic form of blindness. He conducted a vision test using a mouse with the disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is the blind mouse?

Kang Zhang: This is the blind mouse. And– obviously, you can see that he is ignoring the rotating stripes.

His researchers injected CRISPR into the eye of another blind mouse. The CRISPR was programmed to find the main gene associated with the disease and turn it off. It takes three months to see the results.

Kang Zhang: Now, let’s see how he’s responding to the light.

Bill Whitaker: He’s following it around.

Kang Zhang: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: Look at that. You’re sure that he is seeing these lights?

Kang Zhang: This is actually a very commonly used test for vision.

Bill Whitaker: How much of their sight do they recover?

Kang Zhang: About 30, sometimes even 50% of the sight for– for mice.

The next phase of Dr. Zhang’s research is to see how CRISPR works on one of our closer relatives. He sent us this video from his lab in China where he’s studying monkeys with retinitis pigmentosa. The blind monkey ignores the food. He says this monkey was treated with CRISPR and it’s easy to see the difference. Dr. Zhang hopes to try this on humans soon.

If CRISPR is used to treat disease or make a drug it could mean big bucks. The Broad and Feng Zhang hold a primary patent for CRISPR’s use in human cells in the United States. But no technology is developed in a vacuum. Biochemist Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley and her team made landmark CRISPR discoveries.

This week, they are challenging Zhang and the Broad in court for the rights arguing in part that Zhang’s advance was derived from her team’s breakthrough. It’s a high stakes battle. CRISPR is projected to be a multi-billion dollar market in a decade.

Bill Whitaker: Does that mean big business for you?

Feng Zhang: I think we’re– we’re still– quite a ways away from developing– CRISPR into a real therapeutic.

Bill Whitaker: I think you’re being a little bit modest. I mean this is sparking an incredible boom in biomedicine. And you’re in the center of it.

Feng Zhang: I think there is still really a lot of work that still needs to be done,  developing the systems so that they are efficient enough, making sure that they are safe enough, but these are things that– that we’re working hard to– to make possible.

“While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades.”

But, what if it were possible to stop disease from even occurring? That sounds like science fiction, but a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon say with CRISPR, it’s now a reality.

Bill Whitaker: You correct it at the very, very earliest stages of life.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Right.

Bill Whitaker: In the womb.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Even before the womb.

Manipulating embryos has been the focus of Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s career. He runs the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University. Mitalipov is a maverick. He regularly makes headlines with his innovative, sometimes controversial methods to prevent genetic disease.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Preventing is always more effective– so there would be no– no recurrence of new disease. Particularly when we’re talking about heritable– diseases that parents pass to children.

So Mitalipov and an international team of scientists decided to use CRISPR on human embryos to correct a single genetic mutation that causes a deadly heart disease called hypertropic cardiomyopathy.

They got healthy eggs from donors and sperm from a man who carries the disease. At the same time the eggs are fertilized, they also get an injection of CRISPR. Mitalipov enlarged the microscopic procedure over three hundred times so we could see it.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Here we have our pipette with sperm inside, which has been already exposed to CRISPR.  And this is a egg. And so what we need to do is pierce through, and then we break membrane. And now –

Bill Whitaker: Release the sperm into the egg.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yeah. And now this is the sperm coming in.

Bill Whitaker: Wow.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Now it’s inside there.

Bill Whitaker: Just like that, that egg has been CRISPRed?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: CRISPRed, fertilized.

Bill Whitaker: And you have changed the genetic destiny of that embryo.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes, we believe so.

These embryos will never be implanted, but they are grown in an incubator for three days and then checked to see if they carry the disease mutation.

Normally, 50 percent would. Mitalipov says with CRISPR, 72 percent were free of the mutation that would cause the heart disease.

Bill Whitaker: This is a huge– advance in science and medicine.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: We hope so. I think we– we’re still kind of in the early stages. I wouldn’t say that we are ready to– to go to clinics now.

He knows his results have to be replicated by an outside lab before they’re accepted by the scientific community. But if they hold up, one day CRISPR could be used to help families that have been plagued by inherited disease for generations.

Bill Whitaker: Is that what drives you?

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: Yes. Of course, it’s a suffering of children, but also the guilt the parents have at saying, “I passed it to my child.” So it’s like, “I caused this disease.” And I think now, we have a tool where we could help these families.

Mitalipov wants to use CRISPR to eliminate disease, but the concern is his research has created a blueprint for less scrupulous doctors to design human beings – to edit embryos to make babies that are smarter, taller, stronger. Mitalipov says that’s not even possible right now.

Bill Whitaker: Your critics say that you’re playing God.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov: I think– you could say to– to every treatment that they– humans and doctors develop that– we– we’re playing God. God gave us brains so we could find a way to eliminate suffering of human beings. And if that’s– you know, playing God, I guess that’s the way it is.

Bill Whitaker: So what do you think about editing an embryo to prevent disease?

Feng Zhang: We don’t really understand how complicated biology is. There’s a gene called PCSK9. If you remove PCSK9, you can reduce cardiovascular disease, heart attack– risks significantly. But it also has been shown recently to increase risk for diabetes. So how do you make the judgment call between these tradeoffs? And there will likely be other—impacts we haven’t yet identified. So I think we need to wait and be more cautious.

Eric Lander: I don’t think we’re close to ready to use it to go edit the human population. I think we’ve gotta use it for medicine for a while. I think those are the urgent questions. That’s what people want right now, is they want cures for disease.

Those urgent questions might soon be answered. A small clinical trial, the first in the U.S. using CRISPR to target certain types of cancer, is now enrolling patients.

Eric Lander: I wanna always balance hope versus hype here. While it’s not gonna affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is gonna have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades. And for the next generation, I think it’ll be transformative.

Produced by Nichole Marks. Associate producers, Kate Morris and Jaime Woods.

01

May
2018

In Blog
Featured
Pollinator Health

By Admin

VT Digger: Art Whitman: Judicious use of neonics appropriate

On 01, May 2018 | In Blog, Featured, Pollinator Health | By Admin

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Art Whitman, who is president of the Vermont Feed Dealers & Manufacturing Association.

Bees are an important part of Vermont’s ecosystem and protecting them is a high priority for all of us both for pollinating purposes and production of honey.

In an effort to protect and promote a healthy pollinator population, a few years ago the Legislature passed a bill to create the Pollinator Protection Committee which was charged with coming up with recommendations to maintain bee health.

Recommendations from this group included an apiary inspection program, promotion of more diverse forage availability, education around pesticide use, and beekeeper education on disease threats and hive location.

One of the findings of the Pollinator Protection Committee was that Vermont is one of the few states in the U.S. that has not experienced colony collapse disorder. There is no clear understanding what causes colony collapse disorder but it is a very troubling disorder and finding that it has not occurred here was welcome news.

Science has shown that the five main threats to pollinators are the parasitic Varroa mite, a lack of quality forage, poor genetics, pesticide use and inconsistent bee management practices.

Vermont is working to reduce all of these threats in order to strengthen our pollinator population. Increasing the availability of quality forage can be achieved by working with farmers to add flowering plants to their buffer zones and by helping solar farms incorporate flowers into their fields.

Vermont will be instituting a bee hive inventory and inspection program that will be designed to improve management and education of hive owners.

In order to reduce the possible risk of pesticide exposure to bees, Vermont will continue to do water testing, develop educational ads that remind homeowners to follow label instructions when using pesticides and work with farmers to be sure that the use of neonicotinoids does not threaten Vermont’s bees.

The reality is, these pesticides are beneficial when used properly. They allow farmers to get higher yields while planting less land, which means less overall pesticide use. That’s good for the environment. And let’s not forget that bees’ exposure to neonicotinoids (or neonics as they’re called) in fields is limited as the field crops grown in Vermont that use neonics are not pollinated by bees so exposure is accidental.

Our farmers have implemented several best practices that are conducive to bee health, such as no till cropping, the use of cover crops, and planting flowering buffer zones. Some Vermont farmers rely on bees to pollinate their crops. It’s in their best interests to protect them.

Vermonters are doing a good job protecting our pollinators and we should look to improve and enhance these practices. Several beekeepers in Vermont have testified that their losses are as low as they have ever been, around 4 percent even though their bees forage in the middle of high density conventional agricultural land.

One of the many non-farm uses of neonics is to protect public health by preventing ticks and the Powassan virus, which can lead to meningitis, encephalitis and/or death. In addition, they protect the health of our trees by fighting against pests such as the ash borer which has now been found in Vermont and threatens our forest ecology and rural economy.

Every new pesticide introduced is designed either to eliminate a new threat or to reduce the risk of currently used products. Neonicotinoids are much safer than their pesticide predecessors, and as research continues, there’s no doubt they’ll continue to improve. But Vermonters should rest assured. There is no bee-apocalypse.

Art Whitman: Judicious use of neonics appropriate

Anson Tebbetts: Agriculture sector working for water quality

On 25, Jan 2018 | In Blog, Featured, latest-news, Progressive Farming, water quality | By Admin

VT Digger

As you go about your day, it’s likely you pass a farm – or two or more – along the way. Hidden in hamlets and stretched out in the valleys, Vermont’s farms are part of our daily lives.

And although farmers have worked the land for over a century, there may be something unexpected, yet rooted in Vermont, happening behind the scenes.

Something innovative. Something progressive. Something that’s making a difference, over time, in our land, waterways, farms and communities.

Vermont farmers, along with many others in our state, are working for water quality.

A closer look at Vermont farms shows how cutting-edge technology is increasingly becoming the new norm. From state-of-the art waste management systems to cover crops that keep agricultural fields growing biomass year-round preventing soil from eroding, Vermont agriculture is evolving once again. New generations, along with legacy farmers, are actively making improvements on their farms and they are networked for change: In 2017, 3,137 farmers, partners and members of the public took in 5,011 hours of education at 93 water quality events. Last year 70 Vermonters received advanced certification in manure application. It’s progress.

And that’s just the beginning. In 2017, the state invested $17 million in related water quality projects across all sectors. As part of this investment, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture devoted $5.2 million in technical and financial assistance, engagement and outreach, rules and regulation, and inspection and enforcement — it’s the biggest water quality investment in the history of Vermont.

The Agency of Agriculture’s work over the past year includes $1.1 million in grants for on-farm projects such as fencing, manure storage and barnyards, $1.7 million in Clean Water Initiative grants to partners for education, implementation and phosphorus reduction alternatives beyond traditional conservation practices. There are 31 people at the Agency of Agriculture’s water quality division focused on ensuring the regulations are achieved, designing conservation practices, and offering education and technical assistance to help farms make the necessary changes for water quality. Grants and the technical support offered by the agency are a tool for farmers who are motivated for change and all grants require money from the farmer.

In addition, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation, inspects farms and jointly enforces water quality regulations. In 2017, Agency of Agriculture investigators performed 392 inspections including investigating 150 complaints – 100 percent of those received. Farmers who knowingly do not comply with laws face action: In 2017 farmers received 93 enforcement actions from the agency, a 145 percent increase over 2016. This increase is due to more boots on the ground inspecting.

Despite this progress, we at the agency must do more. We will expand implementation of best management practices as well as thinking of innovative ways to reduce phosphorus. We need policies that create new markets to export phosphorus and create incentives for farmers to keep phosphorus off the land.

Farmers are stepping up because they, too, are passionate about the land, water, animals and communities. They are passionate about the jobs that they provide and committed to making the best award-winning products from Vermont. Passion extends to many others as well. The Agency of Agriculture is working closely with partners such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Vermont Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lake Champlain Basin Program and many more.

Certainly, there is much more work to do. But by working together with investment, education, enforcement and assistance, Vermont is on an upward trajectory, aiming high for quality in land, water and agriculture. We are all committed to a greener Green Mountain State, and unified, we will get there.

12

Sep
2017

In latest-news
Pollinator Health

By Admin

Call off the bee-pocalypse: U.S. honeybee colonies hit a 20-year high

On 12, Sep 2017 | In latest-news, Pollinator Health | By Admin

washington post

You’ve heard the news about honeybees. “Beepocalypse,” they’ve called it. Beemageddon. America’s honeybees are dying, putting honey production and $15 billion worth of pollinated food crops in jeopardy.

The situation has become so dire that earlier this year the White House put forth the first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, a 64-page policy framework for saving the nation’s bees, butterflies and other pollinating animals.

The trouble all began in 2006 or so, when beekeepers first began noticing mysterious die-offs. It was soon christened “colony collapse disorder,” and has been responsible for the loss of 20 to 40 percent of managed honeybee colonies each winter over the past decade.

The math says that if you lose 30 percent of your bee colonies every year for a few years, you rapidly end up with close to 0 colonies left. But get a load of this data on the number of active bee colonies in the U.S. since 1987. Pay particular attention to the period after 2006, when CCD was first documented.

As you can see, the number of honeybee colonies has actually risen since 2006, from 2.4 million to 2.7 million in 2014, according to data tracked by the USDA. The 2014 numbers, which came out earlier this year, show that the number of managed colonies — that is, commercial honey-producing bee colonies managed by human beekeepers — is now the highest it’s been in 20 years.

So if CCD is wiping out close to a third of all honeybee colonies a year, how are their numbers rising? One word: Beekeepers.

2012 working paper by Randal R. Tucker and Walter N. Thurman, a pair of agricultural economists, explains that seasonal die-offs have always been a part of beekeeping: they report that before CCD, American beekeepers would typically lose 14 percent of their colonies a year, on average.

So beekeepers have devised two main ways to replenish their stock. The first method involves splitting one healthy colony into two separate colonies: put half the bees into a new beehive, order them a new queen online (retail price: $25 or so), and voila: two healthy hives.

The other method involves simply buying a bunch of bees to replace the ones you lost. You can buy 3 pounds of “packaged” bees, plus a queen, for about $100 or so.

Beekeepers have been doing this sort of thing since the advent of commercial beekeeping. When CCD came along, it roughly doubled the usual annual rate of bee die-offs. But this doesn’t mean that bees are going extinct, just that beekeepers need to work a little harder to keep production up.

The price of some of that extra work will get passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, for instance. And Kim Kaplan, a researcher with the USDA, points out that pollination fees — the amount beekeepers charge to cart their bees around to farms and pollinate fruit and nut trees — has approximately doubled over the same period.

“It’s not the honey bees that are in danger of going extinct,” Kaplan wrote in an email, “it is the beekeepers providing pollination services because of the growing economic and management pressures. The alternative is that pollination contracts per colony have to continue to climb to make it economically sustainable for beekeepers to stay in business and provide pollination to the country’s fruit, vegetable, nut and berry crops.” We have also been importing more honey from overseas lately.

But rising prices for fruit and nuts hardly constitute the “beepocalypse” that we’ve all been worried about. Tucker and Thurman, the economists, call this a victory for the free market: “Not only was there not a failure of bee-related markets,” they conclude in their paper, “but they adapted quickly and effectively to the changes induced by the appearance of Colony Collapse Disorder.”

Washington Post Article

 

Burlington Free Press: Data – phosphorus runoff drops

On 06, Aug 2017 | In Blog, Featured, latest-news, Pollinator Health | By Admin

Lake Champlain is a valuable and treasured resource in Vermont. It provides drinking water, recreational opportunities and, of course, spectacular scenery. Through voluntary conservation, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked hand-in-hand with local producers to plan and improve soil and water management practices throughout its adjacent watersheds.

Although NRCS is just one of the many entities working in close partnership with farmers to ensure the future health of Lake Champlain, I am pleased to report that recently analyzed models indicate a reduction of phosphorus runoff into the lake as a result of these effective efforts.

This is encouraging, especially during this time of the year, when we see the impacts of polluted runoff in the form of blue-green algae blooms, which can be harmful to pets and people. This data is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the farmers in the basin. I applaud each and every one of you for going above and beyond to ensure that your farming practices are helping improve soil and water quality.

In 2015, NRCS developed a “Strategic Watershed Planning Approach.” This five year plan targets the most impaired watersheds – those known to contribute higher concentrations of agricultural phosphorus runoff to the lake. Over the past two years, we have targeted financial and technical resources to St. Albans Bay, Pike River, and Rock River in Franklin County, and McKenzie Brook in Addison County. We worked closely with our state and local conservation partners to help farmers install conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, including practices such as reduced tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, permanent seeding, buffers, and prescribed grazing.

I am thrilled we are able to use these early estimates to let farmers know their efforts are making a difference in the health of Lake Champlain. And I urge farmers in these four target areas to visit with their local NRCS office to explore the assistance available to them.

We have estimated total phosphorus reductions for the first year of the five year project, and you can see these encouraging results at http://bit.ly/VTwatersheds

We remain committed to working with Vermont’s farmers, in the basin and beyond, who are doing their part to ensure our state’s natural resources are protected. And, the recent rollout of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is an ideal way to reward and recognize Vermont’s conservation farmers. This unique program is a partnership effort between the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, USDA-NRCS, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.

I believe that farmers who are going above and beyond to protect and improve the natural resources on and around their farming operations should be publically recognized for their stewardship.

Our ultimate goal is to show measurable water quality improvement as a result of targeted conservation efforts, and we will continue to monitor our progress and share the impacts of conservation within the Basin. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement on additional target watersheds. There is much more work to be done, but I am confident that the dedication and perseverance of Vermont’s farmers will help the state reach its goals, and that collectively, we can protect our beloved Lake Champlain.

Vicky M. Drew, of Georgia, is the the state conservationist with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Burlington Free Press

02

Aug
2017

In Blog
Featured
GMO’s and The Environment

By Admin

10 myths about farming to remember on your next grocery run

On 02, Aug 2017 | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

Most of us don’t spend our days plowing fields or wrangling cattle. We’re part of the 99 percent of Americans who eat food but don’t produce it. Because of our intimate relationship with food and because it’s so crucial to our health and the environment, people should be very concerned about how it’s produced. But we don’t always get it right. Next time you’re at the grocery store, consider these 10 modern myths about the most ancient occupation. Read more…

31

Jul
2017

In Blog
Featured
GMO’s and The Environment

By Admin

Times Argus: Farmers as stewards of land

On 31, Jul 2017 | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

July 29

There are a lot of exciting things happening on Vermont’s farms these days. We’ve just had the second Breakfast on the Farm event this year, where Vermonters from all over got a taste of what it’s like to live and work on a dairy farm. And, the University of Vermont is holding several Crops and Soils Field Days to highlight innovations, research and new approaches to farming. Read more…

Anson Tebbetts: Future of Family Farms

On 01, Jul 2017 | In Blog, Featured, Weed Management and Pesticides | By Admin

Vermont Agriculture Secretary, Anson Tebbetts, on his career and the importance of farming. Learn about how agriculture can at times be a challenge! Read more…

GMO grasses could provide healthier forage for livestock, reduce environmental impact

Grasses of the future will make animals healthier, more productive and reduce their impact on the environment.

AgResearch scientist Tony Conner said advances in modern grasses would bring many advantages to farming.

The forage science group leader said the conference was timely given the work the organisation was doing in the area of forage science.  He said there were many benefits for New Zealand in building upon the DairyNZ forage value index and the emerging pastoral industry forage strategy.

“Our teams are engaged in underpinning science and plant breeding research to create high-performance forage legume and grass varieties for New Zealand farms and the international market,” he told farmers at the NZ Grasslands Association conference in Timaru last week.

“We develop animal safe endophyte strains that add value to production from elite grasses, and are also pursing research and development related to biofuels, speciality forages, new endophyte traits and animal/forage interactions. Our group is home to world-leading teams in the genetic development of forages and encompasses a broad range of capabilities with staff working in areas from fundamental to applied research.”

Most of the cultivars are commercialised through Grasslanz Technology.

An investment of $25 million over five years into genetically modified forages research was made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour fund

“What we are doing is enhancing the ryegrass so that there is more energy and nutrition stored in the grass,” Conner said.

“This means the animals feeding on it are healthier, and therefore they become better producers for the farm. The result will be a major boost for the agricultural economy.”

“What we are also finding is that a by-product of these changes to the grass will be important gains as far as the impacts on the environment. This includes less methane gas produced by the animals and the change in nitrogen requirements with these grasses could reduce nitrate runoff.”

“We are mindful of the need to continue strong working relationships in this sector, including the scientists and its many stakeholders so that our advances are relevant to the industry.”

NZGA president, David Stevens of AgResearch, said the conference had been an opportunity for farmers and their agricultural industry business partners to hear from and quiz scientists who were taking the industry forward.

“It’s really about the interface of science and practice: what works and how can you get it to work. It’s summed up in the association’s motto: fuelled by science, tempered by experience.”

Leading local farms hosted  field trips during afternoon sessions including  a robotic but pasture-based dairy farm, intensive sheep and beef finishing with and without irrigation, and a more traditional breeding-finishing operation making use of some of the latest forages.

Taken from:

2017-06-08_09-40-13

18

Apr
2017

In Blog
Featured
GMO’s and The Environment

By Admin

CLARA AYER: EARTH DAY IS EVERY DAY ON OUR DAIRY FARM

On 18, Apr 2017 | In Blog, Featured, GMO’s and The Environment | By Admin

April 16

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Clara Ayer on behalf of Fairmont Farm. She is a third-generation dairy farmer at Fairmont Farm Inc., which has two East Montpelier farms and one in Craftsbury. Fairmont currently employs 40 full-time and part-time employees and is a member of Cabot Creamery Cooperative.

More than one billion people will celebrate Earth Day all around the world on April 22. Here in Vermont on our dairy farm we treat every day like Earth Day.

Our mission at Fairmont Farm is to be a profitable dairy farm with the utmost consideration for the safety and happiness of our people, the cleanliness of our environment and the health of our animals.

We are responsible for over 3,600 acres of land which is used to plant and harvest corn and hay to feed our cows. We have worked with the Vermont Land Trust and currently own 1,675 acres of conserved land, however the best way to preserve land is to keep farms in business – our farm fields cover East Montpelier, Plainfield, Marshfield, Barre, Berlin, Calais, Montpelier, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro and South Albany.

Soil health is crucial to the health of our water and food supply. When a farm field is left bare, the topsoil can get blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain. We keep our soils in place by covering our fields with plants all year long. In the spring, we plant our corn. It grows through the summer and is harvested in the fall. Then, in the fall we plant a protective cover crop like the cereal grain winter-rye that grows through the winter. This keeps the soil in place through the snow melts and spring rains. Each 1 percent increase in healthy soil organic matter helps the soil hold 25,000 more gallons of water per acre.

Our corn and cover crops are planted without tilling up the soil, we leave the land intact and plant the seeds directly into the ground through any existing vegetation. When the soil is undisturbed the healthy root systems, the worms and the bugs all help the soil to retain nutrients much better while also doing the tillage work themselves, creating pathways for the water and nutrients to be absorbed. There are added benefits too – less equipment trips over the field which reduces soil compaction and fuel usage.

In 2016 we began piping manure to many of our fields instead of trucking it. Manure is transported to the fields through a pipeline hose that is connected to a tractor in the field and either spread or injected directly into the soil, sometimes up to 12 inches underground, which protects water quality and improves soil health. This further reduces the equipment trips over the field but also reduces the road traffic again helping with soil compaction and fuel consumption.

To watch a video that shows how cover crops and manure injection work visit:
go.uvm.edu/protecting-the-soilgo.uvm.edu/feeding-the-soil.

And, when you look out on the beautiful fields and open spaces of Vermont, remember the dairy farmers who are working hard to protect our most important natural resources.