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By Brian Barth

Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn't end when cold weather comes, there's surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you'll be ahead of the game in spring.

By Brian Barth

Late fall, after the last crops have been harvested, is a time to rest and reflect on the successes and challenges of the gardening year. But for those whose need to putter around in the garden doesn’t end when cold weather comes, there’s surely a few lingering chores. Get them done now and you’ll be ahead of the game in spring.


Tool Maintenance

Tools take a beating during the year, and the offseason is the perfect time to give them a little TLC. At a minimum, wash off the dirt, dry them with a towel, and store them in a rain- and snow-protected place. You may also wish to sharpen cutting blades, and oil the joints on pruners and other hinged equipment. Hardware stores often offer the service for a modest fee.

Hose Repair

Ditto on the TLC treatment for your hoses. There always seem to be a few leaky connections that you never have time to repair throughout the year. Often, all that’s required is a new rubber washer in the female end of the hose. Any out-of-commission hoses that were cut or split open during the year can be repaired with an inexpensive coupling, rather than discarding them. You will find hose washers and repair kits at any garden center or hardware store.

Mulching

Wise gardeners know that bare soil is the enemy. It washes away in the rain and turns into a brick in the summer sun. Late in fall, after the vegetation has died down, is a great time to take stock of the places in the garden that could use a covering of mulch. Besides, you’re likely to have some fallen leaves on hand, a free and high-quality form of mulch that enriches the soil more than wood chips.

Build Something with Wood

Not all gardening projects need to take place outdoors. If you have a shed, garage or basement, along with a few power tools and a little carpentry know-how, now is a prime window for building that new planter box you’ve been dreaming of or the hand-painted birdhouse that your spouse would love as a Christmas gift. Avid gardeners never have time for such indulgences during the growing season, so knock yourself out while you can.

Reposted with permission from Modern Farmer.

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By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

By Dan Nosowitz

It’s no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.


Freak weather, oversupply, trade wars, pesticide damage — it’s been a perfect storm, on top of all the regular storms, for American farmers. The American Farm Bureau Federation, commonly just called the Farm Bureau, released a study examining the end result of all of that damage: bankruptcies.

The Farm Bureau, a lobbying group that typically leans to the corporate side of farming, analyzed statistical data from the U.S. Courts concerning bankruptcy filings. For the year leading up to September 2019, American farm bankruptcies were up by a whopping 24 percent compared to the year before. During this mostly-2019 period, there were 580 Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings.

Chapter 12 is a form of bankruptcy filing that was first passed in 1986, specifically for farms or fishing operations. The restrictions are brutal, requiring millions of dollars of debt, so it’s even more concerning that so many farmers qualify.

The Farm Bureau’s data analysis drills down further, finding that the highest number of bankruptcy filings were in Wisconsin, followed by Georgia, Nebraska and Kansas. Wisconsin’s 48 bankruptcies in 2019 are likely high because of the dairy industry; an estimated 40 percent of dairy farms in the state nicknamed “America’s Dairyland” have gone out of business in the past decade, according to NPR.

The number of farm bankruptcies over the past few years is still not quite at the heights of the 1980s farm crisis, where a combination of a Soviet embargo, record supply, and an extreme drop in the value of farmland led directly to the creation of Chapter 12 bankruptcy in the first place. But the pattern is alarming, with the trade war continuing and a sudden brutally cold stretch of weather affecting harvests. The USDA is attempting to address these problems with bailout money, but uneven distribution and timing issues may mean that funding is too little and too late to save many farm businesses.

Reposted with permission from Modern Farmer.

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By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.


“My anger toward him got replaced with the realization that he felt as trapped as the chickens,” says Garcés, who is the president of animal rights group Mercy for Animals.

Ever since then, Garcés has been thinking about how she could work with farmers, rather than against them. In order to solve the problems of factory farming, she couldn’t simply advocate to take away the livelihood of poultry farmers. She would need to offer a sustainable alternative.

This week, her organization, Mercy for Animals, is launching a new project called the Transfarmation Project which looks to transition poultry farmers into plant-based farmers.

Most chicken farmers work under contract with large poultry companies, and many agree to take on considerable debt to do so. Advocates say that farmers often find themselves unable to pay off unsurmountable levels of debt, as they are on the hook for required upgrades and for when their livestock is devastated by disease. Groups that represent poultry farmers have argued that their contracts are too restrictive and that poultry companies often use unfair pay systems.

As an example for how farmers can transition, Mercy for Animals points to Mike Weaver, a former contract poultry farmer in West Virginia. Two years ago, Weaver decided he had had enough of raising chickens for Pilgrim’s Pride and converted his barns into a hemp-growing operation. Weaver was able to pay off his debt, and he stresses the importance of doing so to farmers who want to get out of poultry farming.

“It’s really easy when you get that chicken check to go buy a new pickup truck, or something for the kids, a piece of land or whatever suits your fancy,” he says. “But the best advice I could give them is to get out from under that debt. Get that paid off so you’re not a slave to the poultry company. Then you can decide what you want to do.”

Through the Transfarmation Project, Mercy for Animals is hoping to create a network of farmers, innovators, engineers and advocates to tackle how they can help farmers leave poultry farming behind. The project aims to start by holding an incubator with a group of thinkers in the start of 2020. Then, Garcés says the group will run pilot projects with five to ten farmers.

It’s unclear what will stop other farmers from simply taking the place of those that transition out of contract poultry farming, but Garcés says that’s one of the problems the group will have to think through.

“I worry if we’re just taking out what the industry would see as the squeaky wheels,” she says.

Mercy for Animals is looking for poultry farmers who would be interested in participating in the project, and it hopes to connect with them through its website, www.TheTransfarmationProject.org.

Reposted with permission from Modern Farmer.

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