These two-page summaries showcase NCR-SARE projects funded on a variety of topics.
Agroforestry practices can help landowners diversify products and markets, boost farm income, improve soil and water quality, and reduce erosion, non-point source pollution, and flood damage. NCR-SARE values the integrated practices of agroforestry and has funded grants that have enhanced wildlife habitat and improved biodiversity while sustaining land resources for generations to come.
Since 1995, NCR-SARE has invested in alternative marketing strategies through competitive grants to help regional farmers and ranchers develop skills and supportive relationships with others that assist them in creating and sustaining profitable, sustainable ag marketing ventures, and to help make more direct connections between food buyers and food producers in the region.
Honeybee losses compounded with rising rental rates for pollination are a concern for many producers. Not only are growers looking for alternative pollinators to improve crop security, but they also want to learn how to manage on-farm habitats for native bees and other pollinators. NCR-SARE has supported researchers, educators, and producers who are researching, rearing, and managing species that provide pollination alternatives to the declining honey bee.
Aquaculture and Aquaponics
Aquaculture is the cultivation of ﬁsh, aquatic animals, and plants. Aquaponics is a bio-integrated system that links recirculating aquaculture with hydroponic vegetable, flower, and/or herb production. In aquaponics, nutrient-rich effluent from ﬁsh tanks is used to fertigate hydroponic production beds. SARE has supported advances by producers, researchers, and educators that are helping to advance aquaculture and aquaponics into working models of sustainable production.
Beekeepers are stewards of an essential resource; the plants that bees pollinate constitute more than 30 percent of the food we eat and the beverages we drink. While the role of alternative pollinators is vital, bees continue to provide an important service to agriculture in our region. From research projects about Colony Collapse Disorder, to educational programs around beekeeping, to innovative hive designs, NCR-SARE has funded a wide variety of grants to help beekeepers.
A farm is to a beginning farmer what a blank canvas is to an aspiring artist, which makes it no wonder that beginning farmers and ranchers are some of agriculture’s greatest innovators and experimenters. In fact, studies have found that most innovation takes place within the first five years of a farmer’s operation. SARE has made fostering the next generation and its ingenuity a priority.
Black carbon produced from wood chips, plant residues, manure or other agricultural waste products is known as biochar. When utilized correctly, biochar can help increase soil carbon, revitalize nutrient impoverished soils, and boost plant productivity. NCR-SARE has funded several research projects that have examined at how biochar interacts with soil and crops in order to maximize its potential benefits.
Politicians, farmers, and investors across the U.S. are enthusiastic about the potential economic benefits and use of energy crops to revitalize the rural landscape. NCR-SARE hopes to more clearly articulate the need to use a systems approach to identify critical questions, develop innovative solutions, and solve both on-site and off-site problems that might limit the sustainable development of bioenergy production. NCR-SARE has invested in research and education projects to help achieve the sustainability of all aspects of bioenergy and those communities that support bioenergy.
Business planning can help alternative and sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs transform farm-grown inspiration into profitable enterprises. NCR-SARE funded research is helping farmers learn how to set goals, research processing alternatives, determine potential markets, and evaluate financing options. NCR-SARE has invested in more than 150 research and education business planning projects to help achieve the sustainability of operations and to optimize production, discover or develop markets, and enhance environmental benefits.
NCR-SARE is committed to creating and managing a system that encourages the involvement of farm and non-farm citizens in the process of discovery and learning that leads to achieving a more sustainable, environmentally benign agriculture. NCR-SARE has invested in hundreds of projects that support the sustainability and well-being of all aspects of agriculture and those communities that support agriculture.
Cover Crop Termination
Farmers use cover crops to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, and increase biodiversity on their farms. Although cover crops can be partially grazed or used as forage, they are usually terminated before planting production crops. While row crop producers tend to prefer using herbicides to terminate, most vegetable/horticulture crop producers employ tillage as their primary means of termination. Some organic no-till producers use roller-crimpers to kill the cover crop and leave the mulch on the soil surface to conserve water. NCR-SARE has supported various research projects that have explored the advantages and limits of various cover crop termination strategies.
Cover crops can slow erosion, improve soil, smother weeds, enhance nutrient and moisture availability, help control many pests, and bring a host of other benefits to farms across the country. NCR-SARE has supported projects by researchers, producers, and educators who are using this time-tested method of revitalizing soil, curbing erosion, and managing pests.
Crop rotation is the ancient practice of growing a wide variety of crops in a sequential system throughout a field in order to avoid a buildup of disease and pests. Strategic crop rotations can help producers promote good soil health by alternating crops with different nutrient needs and benefit overall soil structure by breaking up subsoil by alternating deep and shallow rooting plants. NCR-SARE supports research and education projects that study the applications of crop rotation-including improving soil quality and health, and managing pests, diseases, and weeds.
The sustainability of a dairy farm relates to many factors revolving around farm management, use of resources, and quality of life. NCR-SARE has supported research and education opportunities in a wide variety of dairy topics including organic dairying, value-added dairy options, pasture productivity, animal management, milk marketing, small ruminant dairies, and farm energy.
As opportunities have emerged to increase both the production and processing of elderberries across the value chain, the historically medicinal plant is gaining popularity among farmers. With the resurgence of elderberry cultivation in the North Central region and the rest of the United States, NCR-SARE has funded a variety of projects featuring elderberries.
Environmental Stewardship and Conservation
Environmental stewardship and conservation are necessary in sustaining the future of any farm or agricultural business. Whether it be conservation training for agronomy professionals or recultivation of native grasses into rotational grazing, SARE has supported recent advances by producers, researchers, and professionals to make environmental stewardship and conservation a high priority in the agriculture industry.
To keep food safe, farmers, processors, and aggregation and distribution facilities need to stay up-to-date with new rules and regulations on food safety. As farmers and ranchers produce, pack, handle and store our food, NCR-SARE has supported their food safety goals through research and education on a variety of food safety topics, from the development of food safety plans to building good agricultural practices (GAPs) networks.
Grazing and Pasture Management
Grazing management is critical to any pasture-based livestock farming system. Practices such as rotational grazing, intensive rotational grazing, and management intensive grazing can be critical to successful and sustainable grazing systems. NCR-SARE has supported research and educational opportunities around the topic of grazing and pasture management in order to help producers reduce costs and increase profits.
Craft beer brewing has enjoyed a resurgence in the United States over the last 30 years. As small breweries spring up, so does the opportunity for nearby farmers to supply them with locally grown hops. From weed management, to pest management, to exploring marketing strategies, NCR-SARE has supported work by farmers, researchers, and brewers that has promoted sustainable hop production practices.
Integrated Pest Management
While every farming system is unique, the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) apply universally. NCR-SARE funds projects on ecologically-based pest management strategies that farmers throughout the region are using to address pest problems. This investment in pest management strategies helps develop more complex, diverse ecosystems in the region.
A growing group of people are interested in getting more local foods into the hands of consumers—and providing additional marketing channels for farmers to produce sustainable, local foods. “Scaling up” local food refers to the process of building the system necessary to make local food available to a wider segment of the population than currently possible. NCR-SARE has supported research and education in some of the key challenge areas to scaling up local foods including agricultural production, storage and transportation, and marketing and sales.
Organic agriculture is a whole-farm management system that replaces synthetic inputs with methods that mimic natural ecological processes. Demand for organic food is far outpacing supply, as U.S. sales in this dynamic sector have nearly quadrupled in the last decade. NCR-SARE has invested in more than 100 projects to help achieve the sustainability and well-being of all aspects of organic agriculture and those communities that support organic producers.
Permaculture practitioners strive to build sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems that are modelled after natural ecosystems. Permaculture can include concepts such as agroforestry, silvopasture, no-till, rainwater harvesting, mulching, managed intensive rotational grazing, and keyline design. NCR-SARE has supported work in permaculture as practitioners explore biodiverse agricultural ecosystems that sustain both themselves and their stewards.
Healthy soil is essential for maintaining efficient growth, fertility, and water quality in crop production. SARE has supported advances by producers, researchers, and educators as they examine the on-farm benefits of using cover crops, crop rotation, manure amendments, composting, and more.
From Aronia berries to elderberries, wine grapes to bitter melon, NCR-SARE-funded research is helping specialty crop farmers across the region use sustainable practices to battle pests, tap into lucrative markets, and increase yields. 16 percent of NCR-SARE’s 20-year research portfolio has been devoted to growing fruits, nuts, vegetables, and other specialty crops in ways that boost profits, protect the land, and strengthen communities.
The integration of agriculture into urban settings is not a new concept, but it is gaining support among all over the country. Throughout the North Central region, residents and organizations in urban settings are stepping up to integrate sustainable food systems into their immediate environment while teaching youth and communities the value of sustainable growing methods. NCR-SARE has shown support for innovative projects that work to combine the benefits of urban living with the concepts of sustainable agriculture.
Wine and Grapes
From organic grape production to the integration of sheep grazing in vineyards, NCR-SARE-funded research is helping vintners and farmers across the region use sustainable practices to battle pests, tap into lucrative markets, and increase yields. NCR-SARE grants have supported producers who grow grapes and produce wine in ways that boost profits, protect the land, and strengthen communities.
The youth of today are the farmers, educators, scientists, and stewards of tomorrow. NCR-SARE recognizes that youth programs are a way to introduce new and exciting farming and ranching options to youth, parents, and community members.