Soil & Nutrition Conference: Nurturing Nature for food Quality

Amazing Line-Up of Speakers

Our SN2016 speaker biographies are now available online for you to peruse. We think you'll be as excited as we are to learn from this impressive group of farmers, researchers, authors and health professionals – each one of them innovating in regenerative farming and food systems in a unique way.

SN2016 Scholarship Awards

Thanks to SN2016 sponsors Globetrotter Foundation and Vermont Compost, plus a recent contribution from Farm-Aid, BFA has been able to award 18 full and partial tuition scholarships to a very worthy mix of farmers, graduate students, nutritionists and community garden and food system advocates. We look forward to meeting our scholarship award winners!

About Farm Aid's Farmer Leadership Fund

This Farm Aid fund supports family farmers in developing leadership skills and elevating their voices in a variety of circles in which their expertise, experience and best interests are essential to the conversation. We know it costs money and time for farmers to leave their farms and businesses to attend these important events. We also know we can't make progress as a nation without them at the table.

We look forward to seeing you February 8-9 in Stockbridge!

Register today

Food for Thought

Reflections on Food Quality by SN2016 Speaker Phil Simon, Research Geneticist and Prof. of Horticulture, USDA-ARS and University of Wisconsin

Dr. Phil Simon is a USDA, ARS Research Geneticist and Professor of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His research in vegetable genetics and breeding has focused on carrot improvement, targeting improved flavor and nutritional quality, nematode, disease and abiotic stress resistance. On Monday, February 8 at 10:30am, he will present "Plant breeding to improve both quality and yield - the impossible dream?" at the Soil and Nutrition Conference in Stockbridge, MA.

Q: Dr. Simon, where do you see the greatest potential to improve the quality of food we grow and harvest in the United States?

A: In my personal opinion, an expansion of field and market trialing of existing crops in existing production regions that includes a greater emphasis on evaluating quality as part of the trial data gathering, has great potential. I will restrict my response to food crop quality, not animal product quality.

Trial results often drive the decision as to what will be grown and harvested, and consequently trialing is already an integral part of production agriculture. For good, and obvious, reasons, the emphasis in trials is on quantity more than quality, and that will always be the case. But often, trial reports do not have as much to say about quality, as what could be reported. That is not surprising since trial managers are busy and may not get much encouragement from stakeholders to evaluate quality much beyond asking the question "Can this commodity be marketed?" Furthermore, quantity is easier to measure and tabulate than quality. So, taking an additional step to evaluate quality more extensively will not be easy, but in terms of improving food quality, this approach is among those with great potential because it involves expanding what is already being done.

In at least some cases, the production management systems, available cultivars, and/or postharvest handling techniques may already be developed to produce a higher quality crop than is currently being grown and marketed in a given production region, but a suboptimal crop continues to be delivered to consumers. Providing growers and marketers with more input and feedback on quality could result in a higher quality crop for consumers. If agriculture industries realize an added value (greater yields and/or higher unit value) with a crop that has improved quality, consumers will more likely find that improved quality in their marketplace. If no added value is realized, there is little incentive to deliver improved quality to consumers.

To facilitate the evaluation of quality from crop trials, stakeholders must provide input to trial managers regarding their definition of quality and how to measure it. This may be the greatest challenge in improving food crop quality. And once quality parameters are defined, stakeholders may need to assist the trial manager in gathering that information.

As a plant breeder, I will point out that there is also a second area of great potential to improve the quality of the food we grow and harvest in the U.S. in the process of cultivar development. For most crops there is significant potential for breeders to tap into the genetic variation in the crops they work with to improve quality. It is not unusual for plant breeders to be asked if they can develop a cultivar that yields and markets as well as the leading cultivars, but is improved for quality. If quality can be bred into cultivars being used, the deck is stacked in favor of consumers receiving improved quality. And, in fact, this may be possible. The challenge in delivering higher quality cultivars to the production industry is the same as that noted above - unless the stakeholder receives added value for improved quality, the grower, shipper, and processor using cultivars with higher quality will have little incentive to adapt to using the higher quality cultivar in their production system. The challenges in improving food quality are difficult.

Thank you, Dr. Simon, for your thoughtful reflection. We look forward to continuing the conversation at the upcoming Soil and Nutrition Conference!

For a list of minerals with basic descriptions and prices, and a downloadable order form, click here.

Note: Access to the mineral depot pricing is a benefit of BFA membership. You must also belong to an active local chapter which collectively orders above a certain minimum threshold (or are a farm member ordering a large volume of materials), so please join today!

Mineral Depot Update

Check out our newly updated mineral price list and get your order form in for Spring delivery now!

Orders for minerals have been trickling in all winter but as we approach spring, we're hoping that will turn into a flood (of orders, not rivers!). For many of you who placed orders already, you haven't received minerals largely because not enough of your neighbors have taken advantage of our mineral depot offerings. Since shipping very small quantities is outrageously expensive, we really need to reach pallet quantity before it makes sense (some of our forthcoming offerings of biological products and foliars can be shipped in small quantities). Furthermore, the mineral depots are really intended to be a collaborative chapter "activity", so we'd like to encourage you to please talk up the minerals with your neighbors and fellow chapter members.

For those of you in areas without an officially recognized, or active, chapter, perhaps this is the incentive you need to get one started. It's really not hard to get started. Reserve a space in a library, church, or coffee shop and put up fliers and email contacts with an invitation to come talk about food quality and farming.

We're very pleased to announce that we have an ever-growing list of minerals available to our members, and at prices that are very competitive. We will be continuing to add more minerals so check back often. The materials will be brought in as demand warrants, so please get your pre-order forms in quickly. We have some minerals on hand right now and will be bringing more in.

If there are additional amendments you would like, or if you know of better prices, please contact me at

David Forster — BFA Staff Soil & Farm Consultant

Upcoming Agronomy Conference Call:
Jan 26 at 7pm EST
Details here.

Grower members!
Contact David Forster to schedule a free consultation. Not a Grower Member yet?
Learn more about the benefits of membership.

Agronomy Consulting

with David Forster, BFA soil & farm consultant

One of the new membership benefits we have for 2016 is the inclusion of an hour of free consulting for all Grower Members. We will be launching an online signup form to make your consulting appointment, but until that's live, please email to schedule your consultation. Additionally, all BFA members get discounted one-on-one consulting services. Email for details.

We're also pleased to announce the next Agronomy Conference Call with David Forster, our in-house soil and farm consultant. The next conference call will be Tuesday, January 26 at 7pm EST. These calls are 1-hour calls that are open to members and non-members alike. Our focus for this call will be on mineral depot amendments and getting ready for spring. Please post your questions ahead of time in the agronomy forum to be sure we get to them, and to make our limited time more effective and efficient.

Check the Agronomy Consulting page for dial-in numbers and additional details.

Learn more and find a local chapter near you!

Some chapter benefits:
Mineral Depots,
Food Cooperatives,
Consumer Education,
Grower Education,
Networking w/ Allies

Questions about chapters?

Local Chapter Update

Our chapter network continues to grow and we hope to see many of you at the Soil & Nutrition Conference in a couple weeks!

Chapter leaders are encouraged to tell their local chapter members about the Agronomy Conference Calls (open to BFA members as well as non-members), and to talk up and encourage ordering through the mineral depot system.

To help us coordinate local chapter formation, we would also like to remind you to update your user profile at to include your local chapter. The chapter selection button is at the bottom of the form. Click here to update your profile or register a user account, which will provide you access to the forums, where you can interact with other users and post questions for the Agronomy Conference Calls.

And if there isn't a chapter in your area, please let us know where you are, and whether you're willing to help start a chapter (which anyone can do!).