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Late Blight: A Ripening Issue for Central Pennsylvania Farmers

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Many farmers in central Pennsylvania would aptly agree to this notion after experiencing above average amounts of rainfall this summer. In fact, rainfall during June and July in central Pennsylvania was more than four inches above average. The high summer temperatures coupled with these increased wet conditions quickly produced ideal habitats for many plant borne diseases. One disease in particular that inflicted dramatic damage upon many local farmers this past summer was late blight. One may recall that this was the plant disease responsible for the Irish Potato Famine back in the mid-nineteenth century. In memory of this historical event, late blight is nothing to take lightly. 

From Tomatoes to Yarn: Value Added Producer Grants Help Agriculture Entrepreneurs Get Ahead

“When you are a small farm, you don’t have a lot of capital.” says Julie Donnelly of Deepwoods Farm, a small tomato farm she runs with her husband in Bradley County, Arkansas. Despite being in an area known for its tomatoes, Deepwoods Farms was having a hard time getting ahead.  “We couldn’t get past the commercial tomatoes.” Julie remembers.  “We were almost bankrupt. I thought ‘I’ve got to do something!’ ”

What Julie decided to do was diversify her tomato crop to produce more varietals, including heirlooms and different colored tomatoes. She believed this would give her farm a competitive edge and open up new market opportunities. The tomatoes were growing well and tasted good.  However, no one knew the Donnelleys were doing something different than before. Deepwoods Farms needed marketing and branding support to tell customers why their tomatoes were different.   “When I heard about the Value Added Producer Grant, I thought this might be the answer,” said Julie.

Strengthening Produce Businesses, One Program at a Time

Successful businesses all seem to have a common bond – a commitment to quality, consistency, and integrity. During a recent trip with my colleagues, I saw firsthand the many ways that companies are turning to my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – to provide these factors to pave their path to success.

Our first stop was the packinghouse at West Coast Tomato LLC in Palmetto, Fla. Thanks to meeting USDA audit requirements, the high-volume packer can confidently sell its tomatoes to restaurants, grocery stores, and re-packing companies. The fascinating thing about West Coast Tomato LLC is that the facility is nearly completely automated. Almost all of the tomatoes are sized and sorted mechanically. “Our use of technology has significantly decreased our re-packing,” says plant director John Darling. “As a result, we’re better equipped to meet buyer requirements.”

Breeding a Tastier Tomato

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

If you want to stir consumers’ passions about produce, just mention tomatoes. There’s no shortage of outrage about those supermarket tomatoes that look as pretty as a picture, but sometimes aren’t much tastier than the carton in which they’re shipped.

It’s not like consumers aren’t willing to give store-bought tomatoes a try; tomatoes are a $2 billion crop in the United States.  But there’s a tug of war between large-scale producers and consumers: The producers need firm tomatoes that can withstand long-distance shipping and long-term storage, while consumers want that garden-fresh taste.

High Tunnel Gives Kentucky Farmers Advantage with Berries and Other Produce

Similar to the old adage, when Chris Adams married the wife, he married the family – and the family farm. Lucky for him, he loves farming and enjoys working with his in-laws to manage the 4,000-acre farm of soybeans, wheat and corn.  Now it’s his full-time job, working with his brother-in-law to raise fields of commodity crops each year. But recently, Chris and Tracy Adams, and the rest of the family, began experimenting with farming at a much smaller scale.

They built a seasonal high tunnel, a greenhouse-like structure that produces a plentiful supply of strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and peppers. High tunnels are made of plastic or metal pipe and covered with sheeting, typically made of plastic. Unlike greenhouses, they require no energy to heat, instead relying on natural sunlight to create favorable conditions for growing vegetables and other specialty crops.

New Mexico Farmers Supply Local Food to Community with Conservation

Everything that siblings Adán and Pilar Trujillo do on their Chimayó, New Mexico, farm connects with the community. Their lettuce and chile peppers feed students at local schools. And they sell their rhubarb, rainbow chard and red Russian kale at the community market just down the road in Española.

Conservation work helps the brother-and-sister duo make this possible. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is honoring contributions made by Hispanic Americans like the Trujillos to our nation during National Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual commemoration held Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Summer Harvests Can Turn Into Summer Meals for Kids

Summer is the season when harvests of healthful foods are most abundant: gardens overflow with zucchini and berries, trees are laden with sweet, ripe fruit, and farmers tend and harvest crops from dawn until dusk. Despite the seasonal abundance, many children go hungry when school is out and the food programs that fed them during the year are no longer part of their daily routine.

Bringing summer’s bounty to hungry kids is “just common sense” according to Cathy Rogers, School Food Service Director for Pipestone Area Schools, located in a small city of 4,000 in the southwest corner of Minnesota. Every day during the summer months, she serves fresh foods from local producers to 400 of her students.

Reducing Food Waste: It's More Than Just Cleaning Your Plate

When you think of steps that can be taken to improve our environment and mitigate climate change, "reducing food waste" probably doesn't come to mind right away.  But in fact, food waste is an important factor in climate change, because wasted food represents 20 percent by weight of the solid waste going to landfills. This decomposing food quickly generates methane, a greenhouse gas 21 percent more potent than carbon dioxide.

Wasted food also represents a drain on natural resources–after all, land and water are needed to produce that food.  That's why the U.S. Department of Agriculture has collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, calling on producer groups and others to join in efforts to reduce food loss and waste, recover wholesome food for human consumption, and recycle discarded food to feed animals, produce compost or even generate energy.

Yeast Genes Improve Shelf Life of Tomatoes

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA's rich science and research portfolio.

By Avtar Handa, Purdue University

I don’t know about you, but I find it frustrating to go into the grocery store looking for fresh fruit only to find the selection has already started to shrivel. Shelf life can be a problem all across the United States for regions that need to ship in produce. And it’s an even bigger problem for countries in Southeast Asia and Africa that cannot afford controlled-environment storage.