News from the Wild Side - June 2020

Catch up on the latest happenings with Wild Farm Alliance!

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In this Issue

The Moment at Hand

Effects of Field and Landscape Scale Habitat

Pinnacle Farm

Confronting a Pandemic

Mass Extinctions are Accelerating

Payments for Ecosystem Services, New ATTRA Publication

Organic Farmer Survey

Science Notes


The Moment At Hand 

In this time of change, Wild Farm Alliance will continue to be a leader in the fight to conserve, restore and benefit from wild nature in our agricultural landscapes. The last few months have been chaotic and crisis filled - the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with its economic fallout and skyrocketing unemployment and now the long-overdue and searing national soul searching around racial injustice. And there is the ongoing decline and destruction of our Earth's biodiversity. 

We are on the side of the millions of people who are demanding change. 

Our work is centered around supporting native species and ecosystems on farms. Agriculture is only possible because of the complexity and biological diversity that nature embodies. Without biodiversity, agriculture would not survive.

Our humanity is the likewise the same. We can only survive when we support each other and when we all are operating on the same playing field. Systemic and institutional racism destroys the critical webs among us.

Our food and farm systems need to reflect that same sentiment, with a diverse and equitable baseline. It is crucial to support racial equity as a first step toward becoming anti-racist and dismantling the long history of racism in the way we grow and distribute food. Diversity makes us stronger, healthier and more resilient. We are joining with allies from across the country to address these problems.

It will require careful, attentive listening and learning to become better allies of diverse communities. We are committed to working towards making our human and wild communities safer and more inclusive.

We are continuing to move forward on these important issues with your support.

There is no going back - moving forward and working through the challenges is the only way. We look forward to learning from and with you and others in how we can meaningfully address these issues and do our part. Please don't hesitate to contact us, we would love to hear from you. 

In peace,

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9664667103_04f5dbe966_o.jpgWoody Vegetation Along Sunflower Field Edges Increases Pest Control of Insects Without Increasing Bird Damage

A research project conducted by Sara M. Kross, Breanna L. Martinico, Ryan P. Bourbour, Jason M. Townsend, Chris McColl, and T. Rodd Kelsey shows the importance of diverse rich land and farmscapes in limiting insect and bird damage to sunflowers. 

Growers should think twice before removing shrubby edge habitat. Researcher Sara Kross, along with her team, determined that woody vegetation along sunflower field margins provides farmers with pest control services. These hedgerows and other habitats also benefit the wildlife that uses them.

Sunflowers were damaged by the sunflower moth, Homoeosoma electellum, nearly four times as much in fields that had bare or weedy margins (23.5%; $877/ha) compared to fields with woody vegetation (5.9%; $220/ha). Birds did cause some damage, especially along the edges, but it was similar across research sites with and without woody habitat, and they caused significantly less sunflower seed (2.7%) damage than did the pest insects.  Avian species richness nearly doubled in fields with woody margin habitat compared to fields with bare/weedy margins in both the breeding season and in fall.

These results indicate that the benefits of planting or retaining woody vegetation along sunflower field margins could outweigh the tradeoffs of minor bird damage, while simultaneously increasing the biodiversity value of intensively farmed agricultural landscapes. 

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Phil_Foster.jpgPinnacle's Phil Foster Committed to Soil Management

Article was originally published in Organic Grower, March 11, 2020 edition. Written by Stephen Kloosterman. 

Call him a grounded grower.

Phil Foster is committed – not only to his customers and employees, and not only to his business’s success.

He’s committed to the ground itself.

Although most organic growers would profess some dedication to healthy soil, he’s dug a bit deeper, getting heavily into composting, elaborate cover crops and reduced-tillage agriculture. He said that commitment is not only addressing environmental sustainability but also the very practical concerns of staying in business.

Foster was the grower on a panel of speakers last December at the Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, California, where Haley Baron of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) organized a session on reducing risk through soil management practices.

“Be it drought, be it inclement weather, be it pest cycles that are changing – there is a lot going on in the farm, and there’s a lot of potential risk,” Baron said in introducing the speakers. “However, perhaps the greatest risk of all is the loss of the hardworking capital – your healthy, fertile soil. And compaction, declining soil organic matter, decreased fertility, soil erosion are all silently undermining production.”

The OFRF recently released a series of publications on best practices for reducing risks faced by organic growers.

“We feel that soil erosion and degradation is perhaps the greatest threat of all,” Baron said. “And we know while hail can destroy the current crop and issues like compaction or low fertility can be corrected within a few years, it takes nature some 500 years to replace an inch of topsoil lost to wind or soil erosion.”

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When Confronting a Pandemic, We Must Save Nature to Save Ourselves

Article originally printed in Center for American Progress April 20, 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brutally and tragically exposed the extent to which the health and well-being of every family in America depends on the health and well-being of nature—both here at home and around the world. Nature is connected to human health, from the inherent mechanisms through which ecosystems regulate the emergence of new pathogens to the health benefits of spending time outdoors. But in our destruction of earth’s natural resources, we are losing these free services and reducing our resilience to new diseases.

The current focus should remain on the immediate medical and socioeconomic needs in the United States. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has laid bare the need for a more proactive and integrated approach to fight infectious disease epidemics, which are becoming more common in many regions around the world. Specifically, alongside investments in epidemiological research and healthcare, we need to address the problem at its root: the destruction of nature.

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Mass Extinctions are Accelerating, Scientists Report 

Originally printed in New York Times, June 1, 2020 by Rachel Nuwer.

We are in the midst of a mass extinction, many scientists have warned — this one driven not by a catastrophic natural event, but by humans. The unnatural loss of biodiversity is accelerating, and if it continues, the planet will lose vast ecosystems and the necessities they provide, including fresh water, pollination, and pest and disease control.

On Monday, there was more bad news: We are racing faster and closer toward the point of collapse than scientists previously thought, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The extinction rate among terrestrial vertebrate species is significantly higher than prior estimates, and the critical window for preventing mass losses will close much sooner than formerly assumed — in 10 to 15 years.

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New ATTRA Publication: Payments for Ecosystem Services

ATTRA has released a new publication that outlines the different programs farmers can apply for to help reward farmers for implementing practices that improve and maintain ecosystem services. By implementing and getting paid for these practices, farmers are contributing to a healthier environment and improving water quality, air quality and managing disease regulation. 

This informative publication outlines four types of programs and describes multiple case studies: direct payments, certifications, tax incentives, and ecosystem service markets. It also offers considerations that farmers can use to decide if enrolling in an ecosystem services market is a beneficial business decision.

Learn More


Farmer Survey: Farmer Feedback on Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is seeking feedback from organic farmers on the USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) direct payment plan for farmers, to better understand how to advocate for meaningful support for organic farmers.

Are you an organic farmer, and have you considered applying for the CFAP?

Click here to complete this short survey


Science Notes: How Pesticide Sampling Can Help Restore Imperiled Western Monarchs

Milkweeds are critical for the dwindling population of western monarch butterflies to breed in California and other western states. Xerces scientists partnered with researchers from the University of Nevada Reno to investigate pesticide contamination of milkweed plants in California’s Central Valley.

The study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, shows that milkweed plants in California are contaminated with a cocktail of pesticides. Nearly one third of the samples tested had insecticides at levels known to be lethal to monarchs.

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