1 month ago

Auburn University gets $3 million grant to increase innovative conservation practices

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn University College of Agriculture research and extension faculty will be using a $3 million grant to help forge a future for Alabama agriculture by encouraging the use of innovative conservation practices among the state’s row crop farmers.

The grant comes from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials (On-Farm Trials), a new component of the Conservation Innovation Grants first authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Auburn’s $3 million grant is the largest to a single entity of the more than $24 million awarded. The grants are designed to help partners implement and evaluate innovative approaches that have demonstrated conservation benefits on farmland.

These conservation practices are sorely needed on Alabama farms for several reasons, said Rishi Prasad, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and leader of the research project.

“Many soils in Alabama are severely degraded and have low organic matter content,” Prasad said. “It is important to rebuild soil health to conserve soil for use by future generations. Increased adoption of cover crops by Alabama farmers can create sustainable row-crop production systems while protecting the state’s soil and water resources.”

Another aspect of the grant will be the demonstration of water-smart irrigation practices, he said.

“Summer droughts in Alabama are very common, often causing yield losses,” Prasad said. “The adoption of water-smart irrigation in Alabama is considered one of the most important strategies for mitigating the negative impacts of drought. This project will demonstrate the use of these technologies and help increase the adoption of irrigation in Alabama.”

The project also will help farmers evaluate nutrient losses and demonstrate the agronomic, economic and environmental benefits of improved conservation practices compared to farmers’ “business-as-usual” practices, he said.

“Fertilizer is one of the major inputs used in crop production,” Prasad said. “However, more than 50 percent of the purchased fertilizers ends up getting lost in air or water. This project will help farmers evaluate those losses.”

Three Alabama farms have been selected as cooperators for this project: Posey Farms in north Alabama, Lazenby Farms in central Alabama and L.C. Farms in south Alabama. These farms will be used to demonstrate the innovative conservation practices.

“The interesting part of this project is that any farmer who wants to adopt cover crops or smart irrigation technologies will receive incentive payments that include assistance for cover crop seed, planting and termination costs, labor charges and forgone income,” Prasad said. “Farmers also can borrow inter-seeder, roller crimper and soil moisture sensors from selected NRCS offices as a part of this project.”

A network of learning sites will be established at the extension offices located in Lawrence, Geneva and Lee counties, said Audrey Gamble, assistant professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, who also is involved in the grant. Project meetings with cooperating farmers and neighboring farmers will be organized, and information on the project will be presented.

“Farmers will be called for face-to-face meetings, dinner meetings, workshops and field days where information on topics related to cover crops, water-smart irrigation strategies, nutrient budgets and nutrient-use efficiencies will be presented,” Gamble said. “As project data becomes available, information will be shared with farmers at learning sites. The project already is underway, and we will be instrumenting these demonstration farms in the fall of 2020.”

For Brenda Ortiz, professor and Alabama Extension specialist in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences, the grant marks the continuation of on-farm irrigation projects she initiated in 2017.

“The important thing about this project is that we will look at the whole system—the impact of cover crops on soil health and soil structure that will impact soil water storage and movement which, in the end, will impact water availability for the crops and improved nutrient and water-use efficiency,” Ortiz said.

While technological changes take time, there is a greater awareness in Alabama now of what technology can do to increase irrigation efficiency, she said.

“Farmers and consultants have gained knowledge on the use of soil sensors for irrigation scheduling, and we have been able to demonstrate the impact of variable-rate irrigation at some sites,” Ortiz said. “However, more work is needed.”

Ortiz hopes the innovation grant will increase the adoption of practices such as irrigation scheduling.

“If we can accomplish this, it will be a great success story and will result in possible environmental and economic benefits,” she said. “The other piece of the puzzle is nutrient management. This project has a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship.”

Leah Duzy of the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory is working on the economic aspects of the grant. Innovation grant awardees are required to evaluate the economic and conservation outcomes from these practices and systems, giving NRCS critical information to inform conservation work in the future. That’s where Michelle Worosz, professor of rural sociology in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, will play a role in implementing the grant.

“Production agriculture by its very nature is sociological—there is nothing that is not a product of human activity and/or social interaction,” Worosz said. “In the case of our grant, I will examine the conservation-based decision-making processes that take place on the three selected farms. These farms will serve as case studies of technological change, adoption and adaptation.

“I also will observe the extension team as they interact with a broader range of participants during workshops and field days. It is hoped that data from the case studies and the observations can be used by the team to improve conservation technology. In other words, this feedback loop is a means of co-developing knowledge about conservation strategies, particularly smart irrigation and cover cropping.

The grant’s implementation on “real” farms is important to its success, Worosz said.

“Understandably, producers can be quite skeptical of experimental plots on research farms,” she said. “Because research plots are often smaller, they may receive an unrealistic amount or type of care, they may not be subject to the same rules or regulations, the farm manager and researchers might have access to more or different resources such as advanced technologies, the plots are not required to produce the same yields or produce the same return on investment, and they may be located in a place that is not comparable to producers’ farms.”

It’s also important that the conservation technologies will be co-developed by faculty and extension specialists working alongside farmers, Worosz said.

“This is a way to develop a more robust set of bundled technologies—technologies that will be more user-friendly and better able to meet the needs of the user while also meeting larger environmental goals,” she said. “If the user has input, it will help with a broader buy-in of these conservation technologies by other producers.”

(Courtesy of Auburn University)

46 mins ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.

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There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.

(BamaTracker)

Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.

(BamaTracker)

The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

2 hours ago

Black Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans member opposes monument, flag removal

Daniel Sims, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has added a unique perspective to the debate over removing Confederate monuments and flags from public display.

Sims, who is black, interviewed with Huntsville-area WHNT about the subject this week.

Wearing both a hat and shirt depicting the Confederate flag, while also holding a full-size Confederate flag on a staff, Sims told WHNT, “Regardless [of] how the next person feels, I’m not going to take my flag down.”

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“If I’ve got anything to do with it, ain’t no monument going to come down,” he added.

Sims was reportedly adopted as a child and now holds his adopted family’s heritage as his own.

“My whole family’s white,” Sims explained. “[I] went to an all-white school, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. My grandfather was white, and he was the main one who fought in this war here (the Civil War). And he’s taught me everything I know.”

WHNT reported that the interview took place in Albertville, which is located in Marshall County. According to the most recent data published by the Census Bureau, the county’s population is 79.8% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino and 3.2% black.

About the push to take down a confederate monument and flag specifically outside the Albertville courthouse, Sims added, “It may make my blood boil if they just come up here and feel like they could just tear it down. I don’t see me still living if they do that right there. That monument ain’t hurting nobody. That monument ain’t killing a soul. It ain’t talking bad to nobody. It ain’t even racist.”

Watch:

The clip has gone viral, garnering about 400,000 views in 12 hours. The WHNT reporter who conducted the interview noted in a tweet that Sims has reminded some viewers of an old “Chapelle Show” character, Clayton Bigsby.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Byrne thanks Trump admin for ‘continuing to put American workers first’ by holding off on adding component parts to Airbus tariffs

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) praised the Trump administration’s decision this week to hold off on implementing new tariffs on component parts used in Airbus’ Mobile assembly plant.

Airbus, headquartered in Europe, has been in the middle of a trade dispute between the United States and the European Union since 2004.

The company has an assembly plant in Mobile that employs 1,100 people, and business groups in the area have long sought to keep the imported component parts that are fashioned into aircraft at the plant from being added to the list of products subject to a tariff by the U.S. government.

“I thank the Trump Administration for this decision and continuing to put American workers first,” Byrne said in a statement on Thursday after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer decided against placing tariffs on the component parts.

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The United States kept in place tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of goods from several European countries as part of the ongoing dispute. Many of the goods remaining under tariff are consumer products like food and beverage products.

The ongoing dispute was heightened in October 2019 after the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling in the United States’ favor, saying that many European nations had never ended their improper subsidies for Airbus that have long been at the heart of the issue.

The Trump administration first decided not to impose tariffs on the imported components shortly after the October decision by the WTO, a choice met at the time by the City of Mobile with “a great sense of relief and gratitude.”

In further praise of the extension of that decision, Byrne said on Thursday, “I have no doubt we will see the fruits of this decision as Mobile continues on the path to being a worldwide center of aviation excellence.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

7 Things: Alabama passes a grim coronavirus milestone, Biden and Harris make their debut, Doug Jones raising money off Harris and more …

7. No surprise: People are losing faith in elections

  • After years of the media and their Democrats declaring the current President of the United States a treasonous fraud and fake calls of voter suppression and attempts at creating vote-by-mail requirement because they cannot get over the fact that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, a majority of the American people now lack confidence in the presidential election process.
  • When voters were asked, “How confident are you that the November election will be conducted in a fair and equal way?” 56% responded that they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident.” The promises of delayed and contested results around the country should only make this worse.

6. Small business outlook not optimistic

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  • The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) conducted a study that shows small businesses have seen a 14% month over month drop in expecting the economy to improve, but while there’s been a drop in optimism with small businesses, there are still jobs available.
  • According to the survey, 27% of businesses are still looking for skilled workers and have been unable to fill those positions, but in Alabama, there have been improvements with NFIB State of Alabama director Rosemary Elebash saying unemployment was down “to 7.5 percent in June, a big improvement from April’s high of 13.8 percent.” She added that in July, “tax revenues grew by 4.27 percent after two months of declines.”

5. America’s confidence in police officers has fallen

  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 48% of American’s have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police, compared to last year at 53%. This poll was taken not long after George Floyd died in police custody.
  • This year, 19% of black respondents to the survey said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police, but 56% of white people had the same confidence. This is the largest gap seen between these groups since Gallup has been conducting this annual poll.

4. Cases are appearing at universities and high schools

  • At Troy University, a student living in the dorms has tested positive for the coronavirus and there are three other students who are quarantined that live in the same suite. All three students already have plans to be tested and the university is encouraging all “students to take advantage of free COVID-19 testing available to all college students in Alabama through the GuideSafe program” and to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing.
  • A Georgia high school that did not require masks has gone to virtual learning after 14 coronavirus cases with 15 other tests have been done and now has over 1,100 students and staff in quarantine.

3. Doug Jones is fundraising off Kamala Harris

  • In a recent email sent out to all of U.S. Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) supporters, Jones again voices his support for his “friend” U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), advocating for the “unity” that former Vice President Joe Biden and Harris bring as running mates.
  • Jones continues on in the email to say that the current “election is going to come down to the contrast between unity and division” and that “we also have to energize traditionally underrepresented communities like Black and Latinx voters, and makes sure to add a fundraising link at the end of the message.”

2. Biden and Harris have made their debut with lies

  • Together in Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) took the stage together for the first time to debut as running mates on the 2020 Democratic ticket, with Biden saying there is “no doubt I picked the right person to join me as the next vice president of the United States of America.” He then lied about President Donald Trump’s record on Charlottesville, social security and national security.
  • Harris wasted no time to take shots at Trump, saying, “America is crying out for leadership, yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him.” She also took time to compare the handling of the coronavirus to the way President Barack Obama handled the Ebola crisis, saying that Obama and Biden “did their job.”

1. Alabama surpasses 100,000 coronavirus cases

  • The spread of the coronavirus definitely appears to be slowing in the state of Alabama and around the country with two straight days of sub-1,000 cases in the state. The retransmission rate is below the number that shows exponential growth, and it will now take 51 days for the new case number to double.
  • While Alabama’s mask mandate may or may not be responsible for the slowing numbers, states like Illinois are so concerned about the lack of masks they are now actively fining businesses and have made assaulting a retail employee over masks a felony.

6 hours ago

College football already has a leader and he’s in Alabama

As two college football conferences muddled their way through season cancellations this week, loud cries rang out for a centralized leader of the sport.

The poor decision-making in those conferences could have been prevented by a single, national voice coordinating the process, they say. Without a doubt, the players, coaches and universities in the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have been failed by their leadership. There’s no need, though, to make this more complicated than it needs to be.

Contrary to what you may have heard the past week, college football does have a leader.

And he’s right here in Alabama.

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Greg Sankey, commissioner of the SEC, has navigated the most challenging year in college football history with a steadiness envied by other programs not fortunate enough to be part of the nation’s reigning conference.

Had other conference commissioners followed Sankey’s leadership model, they would not be in such a self-inflicted mess.

Sankey’s approach has been methodical. He and the conference’s member institutions have been steadfast in their reliance upon medical professionals in assessing player safety and establishing essential protocols. Some of the world’s most renowned physicians and researchers reside within the SEC’s footprint, and Sankey and his university leaders have counted on their input from the beginning of the pandemic.

In addition, Sankey has displayed a thoughtfulness throughout the process. There has not been a day when the SEC appeared not to have a plan.

Perhaps the least thoughtful people in all this have been the national sports media. Listening to them, one would believe blame for the current state of the season should fall on nearly everyone except the virus itself. A popular target is the NCAA. Sports media hysteria at one point reached such a fevered pitch that Dabo Swinney and Danny Kannell found themselves in the crosshairs. Columnist Pat Forde went on a wild rant blaming President Donald Trump for the cancellation of football games.

The unhinged nature of sports media comes from its view of the college sports world. No one really thinks sports media wants to kill the season and risk losing their jobs. But they are in conflict. They believe college football players are exploited and, in their view, chaos will topple the power structure for which they have so much disdain.

That notion demonstrates the complete lack of thought on the part of sports media, and it is where the conflict comes in. Sports media wants to punish the power structure of college football but in doing so the season may get blown up and players, coaches and college communities become collateral damage.

Not to be outdone by sports media, the appointed authorities of the Big Ten turned their process into a complete debacle, leaving behind scant evidence of any thought whatsoever.

Almost immediately after announcing its schedule, the Big Ten decided to cancel the season. Its leaders leaked the news out as a trial balloon.

When that did not go well, the Big Ten gave the go-ahead to reporters on a scary health report it had already leaked out. Astonished that other conferences not named the Pac-12 had failed to bend at the knee to its decision, the Big Ten backtracked until it ultimately announced it would pursue an unrealistic spring football season.

There are a few reasons why the Big Ten plan is so bad. Chief among them is that nothing changes except Saturdays. Teams are allowed to continue to practice and meet 20 hours per week, and players will continue normal campus activities with tens of thousands of other students. But simply playing on Saturdays was deemed too dangerous.

Then there are the unintended consequences. Noted quarterback guru and private coach Quincy Avery has already said he will help organize national 7-on-7 leagues for players unable to showcase their skills this fall. Do not expect those players to receive anything close to the carefully monitored care they would receive in-season as part of a college football program.

Unsurprisingly, national sports media has failed to scrutinize any of the holes in the Big Ten plan and its unintended consequences. Media member Stewart Mandel said that players in conferences still playing should demand some sort of an accounting of medical advice received by those conferences. Fox analyst and former college quarterback Joel Klatt smartly pointed out that it is the players being denied the opportunity to play that deserve an explanation.

Sankey’s methodical and thoughtful leadership was on full display Monday while chaos and misinformation erupted in other conferences.

In a timely social media post he wrote:

Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: “Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day.” [The SEC] has been deliberate at each step since March…slowed return to practice…delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester… Deveoped [sic] testing protocols…We know concerns remain. We have never had a FB season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so…every day.

Numerous players and coaches in the Big Ten have complained about a lack of communication coming from conference leadership. The absence of similar complaints in the SEC is notable. Integral to Sankey’s leadership model has been a commitment to communication.

Under Sankey, the SEC has gathered information, set benchmarks, met benchmarks and explained its process along the way. “One step at a time,” he cautioned.

As the opening week of college football season nears, no one really knows whether the season will get started, much less completed. But Sankey has put his conference in the best position possible to handle these extraordinary circumstances.

In the aftermath of whatever happens, the lesson is not to create a king of college football. The lesson is for conference commissioners to do their homework, stick to their plan and keep the lines of communication open in all that they do.

College football does not need a czar. It needs its leaders to simply be like Sankey.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia