Archive | November, 2014

Meet an Eco-Farmer: Spellcast Farm

Spellcast Farm Eco-Farmer

Michelle Bernard & Wally McSwain, Spellcast Farm. Photo by David O. Brown.

Why did you begin farming?

I began farming the day I was laid off from my high-paying job as a commercial real estate paralegal. The day I was laid off, I was due to pick up my first dairy goat. I almost did not due to worries about finances, but I’m glad I did. That dairy goat started the journey to what is now Spellcast Farm.

Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?

We’ve always tried to be sustainable; this was by necessity. Early on, I did not have a lot of money to invest in the farm. When Wally joined Spellcast Farm, he helped financially, but we have to be creative about what we do. We elected to work with heritage breed rabbits (Silver Fox and American Chinchilla) and ducks (Ancona) to preserve genetic diversity. We use locally grown grains whenever possible and avoid soy and GMO feed.

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Boron Plays Important Role in Corn Development

boron-deficiency-corn-fieldBoron deficiency is one of the most widespread causes of reduced crop yield. Missouri and the eastern half of the United States are plagued by boron deficient soil and, often, corn and soybean farmers are required to supplement their soil with boron; however, little is known about the ways in which corn plants utilize the essential nutrient. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that boron plays an integral role in development and reproduction in corn plants. Scientists anticipate that understanding how corn uses the nutrient can help farmers make informed decisions in boron deficient areas and improve crop yields.

“Boron deficiency was already known to cause plants to stop growing, but our study showed that a lack of boron actually causes a problem in the meristems, or the stem cells of the plant,” said Paula McSteen, associate professor in the Division of Biological Sciences. “That was completely unknown before. Through a series of experiments involving scientists from several disciplines at MU, we were able to piece together the puzzle and reach a new conclusion.”

Meristems comprise the growing points for each plant, and every organ in the plant is developed from these specialized stem cells. Insufficient boron causes these growing points to disintegrate, affecting corn tassels and kernels adversely. When tassels are stunted, crop yields are reduced, McSteen said.

The research evaluated a group of plants stunted by its ability to grow tassels. Kim Phillips, a graduate student in McSteen’s lab, mapped the corn plant’s genome and found that a genetic mutation stunted tassel growth because it was unable to transport boron across the plant membranes, inhibiting further growth in the plants. Continue Reading →