Showing 1-12 of 12 results


Project Highlight: Replacing Summer Fallow with Grain-type Field Peas in Semiarid Cropping Systems

As farmers in western Nebraska face higher cash rents and property taxes, many want a more profitable, sustainable alternative to fallow for crop rotation. Strahinja Stepanovic, a University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension educator, received a SARE grant to find suitable crops for the mix.

Some farmers in the High Plains have begun to use spring-planted pulse crops as an alternative to summer fallow. Pulse crops are legumes harvested for their beans and include chickpeas, lentils, and field peas. Replacing fallow with a pulse crop can help farmers cope with the weather- and market-related fluctuations by improving soil health and diversifying the crop mix. However, while many farmers in Nebraska are interested in pulse crops, they have been reluctant to adopt them due to a lack of local markets and research-based information on growing pulses in local conditions.

With support from SARE, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educator Strahinja Stepanovic organized a team of researchers and farmers to develop agronomic best practices for growing field peas and spur farmer adoption. Stepanovic notes that before 2013, farmers raised only 10,000–20,000 acres of field peas in the Nebraska Panhandle. Between 2014 and 2018, as farmers became familiar with peas through research and outreach efforts by Stepanovic and others, acreage grew to 70,000 and spread into central and eastern Nebraska. Production is slated to continue to expand.

Depending on the year, farmers may report gains of $50 per acre. That is a significant improvement compared to $40–$90 per-acre expenses associated with spraying herbicides to control weeds in fallow. There are three pea processors in Nebraska and about eight seed companies, so getting good quality seed and marketing is much easier now.

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number ONC16-021. 


Project Highlight: Organic Control of Canada Thistle in Mulched Orchards

Organic apple growers Chris and Juli McGuire were concerned about the proliferation of Canada thistle in their Lafayette County, Wisconsin apple orchard. The McGuires raise two acres of apples together with other fruits and market them through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and local grocery stores. Like most apple growers today, they raise dwarf apple trees because the compact dwarf trees are easy to work with, and they bear fruit quickly, providing a rapid return on investment.

After years of struggling with Canada thistle and watching it spread through their orchard, the McGuires received an NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher grant to trial organic methods for controlling the troublesome weed. Over two growing seasons, they reduced Canada Thistle populations from over 1,300 shoots to zero in experimental plots within their orchard. They found that hoeing and string trimming were more efficient than hand-pulling or spraying an organic herbicide.

“The key,” said Chris McGuire, “is to kill the thistle shoots every three weeks repeatedly. They grow back, and then you kill them again three weeks later. We found that any method of killing the shoots is effective – cutting, pulling, or spraying with an organic herbicide. In the past, we would chop out thistle patches every 5-8 weeks, and that’s not often enough. The short, three-week interval exhausts the plants and depletes their strength, gradually killing them. By the end of a single growing season, only a few straggler plants remained in our plots, and by the end of the second year, we eradicated them.”

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC19-1181

South Dakota

Project Highlight: High-Efficiency, Year-Round, Tropical Greenhouse

In South Dakota, soybeans, corn, wheat, sunflowers, and alfalfa come to mind when contemplating the state's number one industry - agriculture. In Aurora, South Dakota, Wayward Springs Acres boasts 30 acres of pasture, 20 acres of grass hay ground, sheep, cattle, and goats on their farm. But some of the crops at Wayward Springs have veered in a different, more exotic, direction.

As a child, mechanical engineer Shannon Mutschelknaus developed an interest in horticulture and eventually began saving seeds and growing tropical and sub-tropical trees.

"I discovered the demand for exotic tropical fruit trees was robust because they are regularly ravaged by seasonal hurricanes," said Mutschelknaus. "Examples of the many plants I’ve successfully propagated include soursop, mamey, Garcinia humilus, Garcinio madruno, cherimoya, Monstera deliciosa, and passion fruit."

Mutschelknaus wanted to use his engineering, research, and horticultural expertise to build a specialized greenhouse to expand his exotic plant business. With support from a SARE grant, he built a greenhouse with an insulated rear wall, passive solar heat, and an in-ground "climate battery." Climate battery greenhouses like Mutschelknaus's use the earth below the greenhouse to manage excess heat captured during the day. Tubing is buried beneath the greenhouse, and a fan circulates air through the tubing. Warm, humid daytime air circulates underground, where it cools down before re-entering the greenhouse. And at night, fans push the cool air underground to absorb the earth's heat and bring warmth back into the structure.

Mutschelknaus now grows leafy greens and tomatoes in his greenhouse along with novel fruits like lowquats, soursops, and cherimoya. His plans are available to the public with easy-to-read graphs, illustrations, videos, and clear guidelines.

View Wayward Spring's greenhouse plans and instructional videos at; search for project number FNC19-1185


Project Highlight: Measuring Advertising ROI

How do local food producers and entrepreneurs draw attention to their products when there's so much competition for people's attention? Advertising can help. With support from a SARE Farmer Rancher grant, Ohio's Buckeye Valley Beef Cooperative set out to gain insight on the return on investment (ROI) of four advertising channels of interest: billboard displays, radio ads, Facebook ads, and Google AdWords. 

Their cooperative members divided responsibilities for their project as they gathered baseline data, studied how to use the various marketing channels, consulted with advertising companies, and set up their marketing schemes. They allowed three months per method and then looked at the sales impact of each strategy. 

Advertising ROI

Overall, the team determined that of the four methods, Facebook ads was most effective, followed by radio ads, Google Ads, and billboards.

  • - Success with Facebook: Their Facebook campaign was a resounding success. Nethero said it was the easiest, simplest, and quickest of the four advertising methods to implement. “We were told by marketing experts through the year that they were moving into different directions away from social media,” said Nethero. “So we weren’t expecting much out of it and yet, it was incredibly successful. A 10,900% ROI speaks volumes. We spent $600 and made $66,000 in sales.” 
  • - Time investment: Researching advertising ROI was a lot of work. The 8-person project team each devoted significant time and energy to figuring out which strategy made the most sense. 
  • - WOMM wins: Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) was more effective than any of the new advertising strategies they tested.

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers FNC19-1186.

North Dakota

Project Highlight: Bale Grazing for Soil Health

When siblings Erin and Drew Gaugler, who grew up on a farm, decided to turn to agriculture full time as adults, they found themselves ranching on land in North Dakota severely degraded from years of mismanagement by previous occupants. Farming and overgrazing had left the soil with low fertility and susceptible to wind and water erosion.

The Gauglers began to rejuvenate the land with cover crops and intensive rotational grazing. They also became interested in bale grazing, or the practice of leaving hay bales in fields during the winter for livestock to graze. University research has shown that bale grazing can increase soil health and reduce winter feeding costs, but the Gauglers couldn’t find good examples of how to bale graze on a working ranch, giving them little guidance on moving forward.

Supported by a SARE Farmer/Rancher grant, the Gauglers set up and monitored a system that involved planting multi-species cover crops and grazing them in the fall, then putting out bales for livestock to graze over the winter. They used permanent and temporary fencing to rotate the animals and control their access to the hay. Bales were placed in areas that had especially low levels of organic matter. The Gauglers took soil samples and tracked body condition scores.

While some of their work is ongoing, the Gauglers have achieved one of their primary goals: showing themselves and their neighbors that bale grazing is viable. “Folks in the local area have asked us several questions about what we are doing with the bales, and they wonder how it works,” said Erin. “Drew and I have noticed that a handful of those same people have begun implementing bale grazing on their own operation.”

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC20-1218


Project Highlight: Urban Farmers Adopt More Efficient Soil Management Practices

When it comes to keeping their soils healthy and productive, most farmers willingly put in the work. For urban growers like Adam and Melissa Millsap, who operate Urban Roots Farm, an intensive production system on less than one acre near downtown Springfield, Missouri, soil management can come with unique challenges. They say that managing the nutrient cycle on their vegetable beds while maximizing crop outputs was a time-consuming job that led to degraded soil. Instead of letting crop residue decompose gradually on beds after harvest, they had to haul it off to compost piles and return with fresh compost to plant the next crop quickly. They also relied on tillage to incorporate the compost and prepare seedbeds, leading to weed seed emergence, compaction, and poor soil structure.

Interested in ways they could maintain sustainability while improving their efficiency, the Millsaps received a SARE grant to try a completely new approach. They had read about it in a book, but nobody in their area was testing it. After harvest, the first step is to pulverize crop residue with a flail mower and leave it on the bed. Then, cover the bed with an opaque plastic sheet for one to three weeks, which creates a warm, dark and moist environment. During this time, the residue decomposition speeds up, and weed seeds germinate, then die due to a lack of light. Lastly, remove the sheet and plant the next crop.

The Millsaps compared this technique to their typical management over two years during their SARE-funded project. They also used a reduced tillage technique on the test plot to prepare the bed for planting, which resulted in less soil disturbance. The new system was so successful that the Millsaps began using it on their entire farm, except for their control plot, before they had finished their two-year trial.

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC15-1006. 


Project Highlight: Sustaining the Sugarbush in a Tribal Community

Eric DuPuis has been running a sugarbush (a stand of sap trees) for more than 15 years as part of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, an Anishinaabe band located near Cloquet, Minnesota. In addition to running a sugarbush, DuPuis works with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College's Thirteen Moons program to increase awareness of natural resources, provide new opportunities for social interaction, and increase knowledge of the Ojibwe culture. 

In 2019, DuPuis received SARE support so he could increase his sugarbush production, reduce the amount of fuel he was using to boil sap, and share information about making maple syrup with his Tribal community.

Making maple syrup from sap requires a lot of evaporation. Operators cook the sap at a steady rate until it reduces into syrup. The ratio of sap to syrup for the sugar maple is 40 to 1 (40 gallons of sap yields one gallon of syrup), so the amount of cooking time is significant. DuPuis updated his evaporating pans and filtration process and was able to increase the amount of syrup he made from 1 cord of wood from 15 gallons to 20 gallons. He decreased the amount of energy needed to produce syrup, both in terms of wood supply and labor needed to cut and haul wood.

DuPuis wanted to share the process of starting a sugarbush operation with his community. Through workshops, community members learned how to identify maple trees during the winter months, tapping techniques, how to install and maintain a tubing system, boil sap, make sugar, make candy, and finish syrup.

"One family became involved with the sugarbush workshops from the beginning," said Dupuis. "Most participants are single participants, however, this group was a family that included their 11-year-old daughter. Their participation was a great example of community participation." 

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC19-1160


Project Highlight: Physical Weed Control Strategies for Midwest Vegetable Growers

Managing and controlling weeds can be a challenge and frustration for farmers, no matter the farm size or crop. Michigan State University's Daniel Brainard knows that weed management represents a significant barrier to the sustainable production of field and vegetable crops and has been researching and demonstrating tools and techniques for physical weed control.

"Advances in material science and engineering have resulted in new tools and techniques for physical weed control (PWC) that can help address these constraints and simultaneously improve profitability and environmental health in the North Central region," said Brainard.

Brainard works with a network of farmers and researchers that has been working to generate practical, farm-tested, and detailed observations on the best methods and tools for managing in-row weeds. The team has explored in-row, mechanical cultivation with torsion weeders, flex-tine cultivators, finger weeders, and disk hillers in crops like squash, carrots, beans, and beets. With support from SARE, they have created videos of the various tools in action and recorded interviews of farmers and manufacturers describing the tools. They have also hosted multiple Midwest Mechanical Weed Control Field Days, the nation's largest event devoted to weeding tools.

A Brainard lab alumnus and horticulture instructor at Lakeshore Technical College, Sam Hitchcock Tilton, says the greatest expense in vegetable production is weed control, especially within the crop row. He says these in-row tools can substantially reduce hand-weeding costs for vegetable growers.

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers GNC16-223, ONC17-025, GNC19-284, and GNC21-324.


Project Highlight: Advancing Hemp Production in Kansas

In 2018, the Kansas Legislature legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp. But growing hemp is challenging – from equipment and license requirements to managing markets and aphids. Still, several Kansas farmers are growing hemp and sharing their experiences with others.

The Kansas Hemp Consortium is a group of licensed hemp producers, processors, dryers, chemists, soil and water scientists, farmers, ranchers, and business developers interested in hemp-related businesses. They collect data on seed sourcing, genetics, planting dates and techniques, precipitation, fertilization, pest pressure, weed management, harvest techniques, yields, and plant characteristics.

In 2021, the Kansas Hemp Consortium started testing six hemp varieties with Kansas farmers in different growing climates and soil types across various parts of Kansas, with support from a SARE grant. In 2022, they received a second grant to provide farmers with recommended genetics, planting techniques, and guidance through changing regulations.

They share what they learn as they work to build a knowledge bank for hemp production in Kansas and the central plains. Their "Kansas Industrial Hemp Planting Best Practices Guide" includes information on regulations, seasonal timing, genetics, equipment, and environmental conditions. 

"Today, little information is available for hemp producers to make decisions," said Sarah Stephens, President of the Kansas Hemp Consortium. "The farmers and respective farms involved in these projects hope to promote the growth of the industrial hemp industry in Kansas."

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers FNC21-1307 and ONC22-105.


Project Highlight: Prairie Strips as a Farmland Conservation Practice

For almost 20 years, farmers and researchers in Iowa have been experimenting with prairie strip plantings to help reduce surface runoff from agricultural fields. Prairie strips are a conservation practice that uses strategically placed native prairie plantings in crop fields to retain soil and prevent runoff. STRIPS, which stands for "Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips," is a group of scientists researching the benefits of integrating prairie into crop production systems. 

They started this work back in 2003, and in 2007, Seth Watkins near Clarinda, Iowa, was the first farmer to work with the STRIPS project. In 2009, the STRIPS project applied for a SARE grant to expand their research. With the grant, they investigated and demonstrated the effects of incorporating perennial vegetation in the form of restored native prairie into row-crop agriculture at 12 watersheds at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City, Iowa.

Dozens of Iowa farmers adopted STRIPS in the time following the findings from the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge. Today, prairie strips are part of the continuous Conservation Reserve Program under CP43. More than 14,000 acres of prairie strips have been planted in more than 14 states.

Dan Stoffel worked with the Sand County Foundation on a 2016 SARE project to extend and adapt the experience of the Iowa State University prairie strips project into Wisconsin. Stoffel grows soybeans, alfalfa, and oats on 800 acres of rolling terrain that has been in his family since the late 1870s. On Stoffel's farm, two fields, in particular, had some problematic water flow areas.

"Initially, I wanted just to get a sense of how they look and work," said Stoffel in a 2018 interview. "Two years into this, I've found their root structures and plant residue makes a big difference. They hold their own against the water."

For more information on these projects, see, and search for project numbers LNC09-314, LNC16-378, and GNC18-257.


Project Highlight: Online Budgeting Tools for Small-Scale Livestock Producers

"I grew up on this farm and had no desire to be a farmer," Liz Brownlee says of the 250- acre property near Crothersville, Ind., where her parents spent 15 years raising beef cattle, corn, soybeans, and other crops. They got out of farming during the 1980s farm crisis and instead began renting out their land.

Eventually, that feeling changed for Brownlee and her husband Nate, as they came to see farming as the ideal way to combine a passion for food with an ethic of environmental stewardship. After spending five years working on farms in the Northeast, the Brownlees came home in 2013. They started Nightfall Farm on the family property, where they raise hogs, turkeys, chickens, and sheep using rotational grazing practices to sustain the land. They sell meat and eggs through a 50-share CSA, at farmers' markets, and directly to area chefs. In 2018, they teamed up with Indiana University specialists and another livestock farm in the area to conduct a SARE-supported feasibility study on creating a small-scale butcher shop capable of serving producers who focus on direct sales.

"Our feasibility study confirmed a true need for a farmer-focused butcher shop(s) and that a version of this business could be economically viable," said Liz Brownlee. "Thanks to our SARE project, we have a floor plan, an equipment list, a cash flow analysis, a business plan, an understanding of regulatory requirements, and contacts nationwide. We also learned what questions to ask and how a group might need to learn and process together if they want to open a butcher shop."

Still, their ambitions go beyond their pastures. Their next primary task is to decide who wants to open a small-scale butcher shop and how. They are now considering things like zoning approval and potential grants and loans. Compiling and sharing the business planning documents from their feasibility study will serve as a resource for other farmers with similar needs. In addition, the Brownlees are founding members and officers of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, a state chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC18-1115


Project Highlight: Bringing Fresh Foods to Illinois Schools and Institutions

While fresh, local foods have become very popular in grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers' markets, "institutionalized food is the forgotten part of the food revolution," says Ann Swanson, the farm director at Hendrick House. This private business offers housing, catering, and dining hall services for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The institutions that provide dining services for grade schools and higher education tend to favor pre-packaged, processed foods over fresh, homemade foods because they are cheaper to source and nutritional guidelines are easier to track. Also, food service employees often lack the training to prepare fresh foods. To ensure the Hendrick House Farm's long-term survival and create new opportunities for other local farmers, Swanson set out to bring the local food revolution to her company and schools in her community.

Supported by a three-year SARE Farmer/Rancher grant, Swanson launched a series of educational activities for multiple audiences based out of Hendrick House's kitchens and at its 10-acre farm, which includes a one-acre demonstration area. She created a guidebook and held workshops for food service staff on storage and preparation of fresh foods, and worked with chefs on how to plan for and procure local, seasonal produce.

Swanson also teamed up with area nonprofits and schools to bring youths to her demonstration farm so they could see where food comes from and learn how to make healthy food choices. She hosted a range of groups, including kindergarteners, middle and high schoolers, STEM classes, and a group of at-risk boys. During the project, her outreach grew to include the Illinois Master Gardeners and Parkland College, which held horticulture and culinary classes on the farm.

"This project has changed our company immensely over the last two years," says Swanson, citing positive results of new partnerships with area schools and nonprofits.

For more information on this project, see, and search for project number FNC17-1101.