Recent Highlights from the Northeast Region

  • Farmers are the core of every aspect of Northeast SARE, and they engage in the program as teachers, learners, teammates and, as in our Farmer grant program, researchers and project coordinators. Acknowledging the importance of providing adequate funding to farmers, Northeast SARE raised the Farmer grant program maximum request to $30,000 per project to better support projects that include multi-farm collaboration, provide intensive education for other farmers and/or service providers, and conduct applied research that is replicated over multiple years or locations.
  • To better center Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and other historically marginalized communities in the work of Northeast SARE, we have begun a three-year partnership with an experienced educational organization that will assess our program, provide professional development training and develop a strategic plan to help us better address unconscious bias and to incorporate diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in our program operations.
  • Despite challenges created by the pandemic, Northeast SARE staff supported our grantees who were able to complete 154 projects over the past two years. These projects reached 31,589 farmers and 9,752 agriculture service providers through education and outreach; as a result, 1,530 farmers reported making changes on their farms based on what they learned.

Total Grant Awards 1988-20211

2,299 Grants

Northeast grant awards

$86.6 Million

Northeast grant money awards

Grant Proposals and Awards 2020-2021

Grant typePreproposals Received2Full Proposals InvitedFull Proposals ReceivedProposals FundedFunding Total
Research and Education144655521$3,655,067
Professional Development Program51383315$1,933,176
On-Farm Research/PartnershipN/AN/A9153$1,402,320
Graduate StudentN/AN/A13149$721,365
Research for Novel Approaches171625519$2,954,326

1These totals exclude additional direct funding given each year to Cooperative Extension in every state to support state-level programming on sustainable agriculture.

2The use of a preproposal process varies by region. It serves to screen project ideas for the larger and more complex grant programs, and to reduce applicants' proposal preparation burden as well as the proposal review burden for SARE's volunteer reviewers.

Centuries-Old Nursery Methods Prove Successful in Rice Paddies

The Challenge

Rice is a staple in the diets of more than half the world’s population, but U.S. consumers often rely heavily on imported rice from thousands of miles away in order to meet their needs. As rice has grown in popularity in the United States, farmers have begun producing the crop locally to both meet domestic demand and to cut its carbon footprint. Though a number of rice varieties can be grown in the United States, the tropical crop is somewhat at odds with the shorter growing season of the Northeast. Farmers in this region need best practices to optimize their rice production within a shorter time period than those in other parts of the country. The spring planting window is small, so successfully establishing the crop from transplants is critical.

This is what we know: grow what you eat; eat what you grow.”

Nfamara Badjie, Ever-Growing Family Farm

The Actions Taken

Using funds from a SARE Farmer grant, Dawn Hoyte and Nfamara Badjie of Ever-Growing Family Farm in Ulster Park, N.Y., set out to compare two different nursery methods for rice production in the Northeast. The research objective was to determine more robust seedling establishment methods that shorten the rice production cycle and increase rice productivity. Badjie, originally from Gambia, wanted to compare the established plug-tray method to the Diola-style field nursery, a centuries-old method of the Diola (or Jola) people of West Africa, in which field nurseries are constructed as raised beds next to rice paddies. With guidance from their technical advisor, Erika Styger of Cornell University, the team—which included Badjie, his cousin Moustapha Diedhiou and his son Malick—established a randomized block experimental design that looked at sowing and transplanting timing for both nursery methods. They used two rice varieties in the study: an Asian rice variety now commonly grown in the Northeast and Ceenowa, an heirloom rice from Africa and the farm’s commercial flagship variety.

Rice seeding transplant
Nfamara Badjie (left) and Moustapha Diedhiou (right) transplant rice seedlings into paddies that they started using the Diola-style field nursery. Photo courtesy Ever-Growing Family Farm

The Impacts

Over the course of the experiment, the team hosted over 200 people at community transplant days, community harvest days, school trips, farmer organization field trips and frequent visitors. Specific impacts include:

  • Enhanced productivity: The team found that, on their farm, the Diola-style nursery method resulted in more robust seedlings and required less transplanting time.
  • Season extension: The Diola method allowed the farmers to extend the window to transplant and shortened the overall production cycle.
  • Ease of use: The nursery method is a simplification of established strategies and does not depend on costly materials. It is easy to adopt and farmers can further adapt it to their local conditions. 

Learn more: See the related SARE project FNE19-933.

Farmer-Focused Research Identifies Practical Climate Change Adaptation Strategies 

The Challenge

Farmers and outreach professionals find themselves on the front lines as the effects of climate change disrupt the success and viability of farm businesses worldwide. Most farms across the United States are not adequately prepared to deal with the extreme weather events associated with climate change, and farmers find themselves in need of data-driven solutions that can support them as they adapt their farms to a changing climate. 

Our project directly influenced the level of comfort and conversation about climate change among the vegetable and fruit growing community in the Northeast.”

Alissa White, University of Vermont graduate student

The Actions Taken

A recent SARE Graduate Student Research grant project drew upon the expertise of vegetable and berry farmers in northern New England to identify information critical to supporting climate change adaptation and to assist in overcoming the climate information usability gap—the divide between climate science data and adaptation strategies farmers can implement. University of Vermont graduate student Alissa White, assisted by advisors and a group of undergraduate students, partnered with farmer organizations to conduct surveys with 250 regional growers. The survey sought to collect information on 1) adaptation practices already in use that address drought and extreme precipitation, 2) promising strategies for extreme weather challenges, 3) perceived barriers and tradeoffs associated with adaptation strategies and 4) farmers’ use of cover crops, a practice that has shown to buffer the effects of both droughty and wet field conditions.

Top strategies identified for proactively mitigating the effects of climate change included soil health improvements, cover crop use, crop diversification and efficient water management. Respondents noted a lack of adequate on-farm technical assistance, and a need for both adaptive management cost-share programs and collaborative problem-solving opportunities as potential barriers to successful adaptation to climate change.

Alissa White UVM
University of Vermont graduate student Alissa White presents findings from her project on strategies Northeastern farmers can use to adapt to climate change. Photo courtesy Alissa White

The Impacts

When the project completed in 2019, results showed that 72% of participants had made changes on their farm because of an experience with, or concern about, heavy precipitation or flooding, and 61% planned to make changes to help manage that risk. Another 66% of participants had made changes due to drought, while 39% planned to make changes to manage that risk. Specific impacts include: 

  • Stakeholder feedback: Following the completion and evaluation of the surveys, the team convened 90 farmers in focus groups to make recommendations about how to support peers as well as vulnerable community members in planning for extreme weather events.
  • Broad reach: The data and recommendations were presented to farmer networks and regional Extension agents at numerous outreach events, in online materials and at conference poster sessions and panels.
  • Critical insights: This farmers-first, context-specific research offers an important perspective into the adaptation efforts and needs of farmers as increasingly extreme weather events lead to crop loss nationwide.

Learn more: See the related SARE project GNE17-163.

Attracticidal Spheres and IPM Help Wage War on Invasive Pest 

The Challenge

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has become a serious threat to small-fruit growers in the United States. The spread of SWD across the Northeast in recent years has decimated crop yield and quality, with annual losses estimated to reach $718 million. This invasive fruit fly attacks healthy blueberries, brambles, strawberries and cherries by laying eggs in ripening fruit. Emerging maggots feed in the fruit causing quality decline and making the fruit unsellable. Tens of thousands of acres in the Northeast are threatened, and farmers may need up to five or more insecticide applications per season to manage the pest, causing some producers to cease production altogether. It is clear that in the war against SWD, integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that reduce the number of insecticide applications, prevent outbreaks of secondary pests and improve ecosystem services from beneficial organisms are needed. 

When spotted wing drosophila densities are extremely high, other strategies ... will be necessary as well, though attracticidal spheres can provide an additional mechanism for managing this pest.”

Kevin Rice, USDA Agricultural Research Service 

The Actions Taken

Researchers from the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Appalachian Fruit Research Station secured a SARE Research and Education grant to investigate potentially effective, economically viable IPM strategies for managing SWD and to educate growers about the threat of SWD and the benefits of IPM tactics. Attracticidal spheres, which look like fruit and combine an attractant and insecticide, are not yet commercially available, but the project team partnered with seven growers to deploy these experimental devices on fields and to observe their efficacy over the course of two growing seasons. They hoped that the sphere system would reduce damage, delay the need for insecticide and increase the time between sprays. Results were mixed but promising: At low to moderate populations, the study indicated that attracticidal spheres reduced fly densities and infestations in raspberry and blueberry crops, but less so in blackberry brambles. At higher densities, the spheres needed to be supplemented with insecticide applications for appropriate pest control. The team suggested that the spheres may be used as a monitoring trap and would be a useful tool to provide a threshold indicating the need for insecticide application.

People in a field harvesting
An attracticidal sphere deployed among raspberry bushes. Photo courtesy Tracy Leskey, USDA ARS

The Impacts

A key component of this grant was the research team’s outreach to small-fruit growers in the Northeast. Specific impacts include:

  • Grower involvement: Nearly 400 growers attended meetings where a comprehensive SWD curriculum was provided, including the benefits and challenges of using the attracticidal sphere system. The need for monitoring traps was also discussed.
  • Behavioral change: Grower survey responses indicated a strong interest in IPM tactics and monitoring tools. Subsequent surveys following the SWD curriculum showed an increase in their use. If it was commercially available, growers indicated they would likely use the sphere system on their farms.
  • Commercial interest: Two meetings were held with commercial businesses that had visited the research facilities and expressed interest in making the attracticidal sphere system commercially available to farmers.

Learn more: See the related SARE project LNE16-350.