AIC Notes TopIssue 2011-38            October 27, 2011 
In This Issue
Canadian Journal of Soil Science
Research Shows Organics Are No Longer Marginal
Precision Farming Gets Thumbs Up: Study
Tweeting Farmers Bridge Gap Between Farm, Table
Two UG99-Resistant Wheats Developed in Kenya
Selling Confidence and Authenticity Alongside Pork Chops and Pears
Federal Government Funding for Flax and Hemp Farmers
Dividing Corn Stover Makes Ethanol Conversion More Efficient
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
Coming Events

Canadian Journal of Soil Science


The Canadian Journal of Soil Science, Volume 91, Number 5, October 2011, is now available online.


Sample Abstract

A history of soil classification and soil survey in Canada: Personal perspectives

Darwin W. Anderson, C. A. Scott Smith

A history of soil classification and soil survey in Canada: Personal perspectives. Can. J. Soil Sci. 91: 675-694. This paper presents an overview of soil classification and soil survey in Canada based on both historical documentation and the personal experiences and perspectives of the two authors. The first soil surveys in Canada beginning in Ontario in 1914 are described along with the earliest systems of soil classification. The roots of the current system of soil classification in Canada can be traced back to the establishment of the first meeting of the National Soil Survey Committee (later the Canada Soil Survey Committee) held in Ottawa in 1945. The Committee met every 2 to 3 years and a hard-cover "first" edition, "The Canadian System of Soil Classification" was published in 1978 and a slightly revised second edition in 1987. The third edition (1998) includes a more complete key and a tenth order, the Vertisolic Order. The four to five decades starting in the late 1940s were the glory years for soil survey in Canada, with well-funded and productive programs in all provinces and territories, with major outputs like the Canada Land Inventory. The period between mid 1990s and 2010 saw declining activity in new field survey and reductions in staff levels by government agencies, but a rise in private sector soil survey, largely for environmental assessment purposes. There is a renewed and on-going interest in and need for soil information. The challenge for pedologists is to provide reliable information in innovative and proactive ways.


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Research Shows Organics Are No Longer Marginal


Organic farmers and their customers have had to put up with a lot of crap from their fellow producers over the years.


The labels are one thing, such as "crunchy granola set" or "hippie dippies" or "organic freaks."


But by far, the biggest insult was simply being dismissed as inefficient and ineffective when it comes to the serious question of how to best feed the world's growing population.


The mainstream industry and research establishment have long written off organic agriculture because of the widely held belief it can't keep up to the productivity of conventional systems. And a few years ago that was right.


The reason organic foods could command a hefty premium in the marketplace, and why some argued they were only accessible to the wealthy elite, was yields have tended to be lower.


Critics could justifiably claim that to feed the world using organic agriculture, more of the earth's surface would have to be converted to crops, and that would be bad for the environment.


For example, a recent report CropLife Canada financed concluded that without pesticides, fertilizers and biotechnology, Canada would need another 37 million acres of cropland -- the equivalent of the total annual cropped area of Saskatchewan, or four times that of Ontario -- to produce the same amount of food.


The report says crop-protection products, fertilizer and biotechnology advancements add a whopping $7.9 billion to the Canadian economy.


Plus, organic agriculture's traditional reliance on tillage to control weeds instead of herbicides was believed to make it more energy-dependent as well as contributing to the global problem of soil erosion.


There was also the quality issue. Who wants to eat apples that have insect marks or scabs?


But that's not necessarily the case anymore. Just as conventional agriculture has made gains, notably due to huge investments in research and development from both the private and public sectors, so has organic through shoestring research budgets allocated from non-government foundations, universities and public funding.


New research is emerging, based on long-term, scientifically valid trials, to show that organic yields of field crops can mimic conventional yields and in some cases, overtake them. And they can do this while consuming less energy.


The latest such effort has emerged from the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, which released a report last month based on a 30-year research trial comparing conventional and organic production methods.


"Organic farming is far superior to conventional systems when it comes to building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil," the institute reports. "For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional. When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage and human health, it's clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not."


The trials, which were based on corn and soybean crops, found over the 30-year period organic yields not only surpassed conventional systems, the organic trials outperformed conventional during drought conditions, they consumed 45 per cent less energy and they were more profitable. The study also found the conventional approach produced 40 per cent more greenhouse gases.


That's all well and good in Pennsylvania and using dominant U.S. crops, but what about here on the Canadian Prairies, where farmers grow a wider range of crops in a more challenging climate?


Energy-efficiency findings are similar in a long-term research study at the University of Manitoba's Glenlea Research Farm south of Winnipeg that dates back to 1992, but yields aren't yet as high as conventional systems. It's also a younger trial.


The Rodale trials found the productivity of organic systems improved over time as soil micro-organisms became more active. Conventional systems feed and protect the crop. Organic systems focus on building the soil.


It's highly unlikely all producers are achieving these levels of productivity, but the promise is there and far more tangible than some of the claims made by researchers focused on genetically modified solutions.


And of course, this is a good-news, bad-news story. If organic production systems can match the productivity of conventional systems, it won't be long before consumers start questioning the premiums for organic products they pay at the grocer's. But if organic farmers don't have to buy all of those products, they can receive the same prices and still be ahead on money.


The market keeps growing, too. The Canadian organic market has grown from $2 billion in 2008 to more than $2.6 billion in 2010.


The fact that this is National Organic Week in Canada suggests organic agriculture still ranks among the marginalized in society. But its hippie-dippie days are over.


Laura Rance, Winnipeg Free Press, October 22, 2011 


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Precision Farming Gets Thumbs Up:  Study 


A new research study says a growing number of western Canadian grain producers are adopting precision farming methods.


Blacksheep Strategy, a branding and research firm, interviewed 300 Prairie farmers this summer. All participants had at least 2,000 cropped acres and discussed the precision farming practices on their farm, as well as their future plans.


Precision farming covers a wide spectrum of technology including GPS-based manual guidance systems, automatic boom control devices, geo-referenced soil sampling and various field mapping systems.


"It is really quite striking in terms of how many farmers really want to adopt this," says Joanna Karman, one of the study's lead researchers. "There is a wave underway and some of these things could be highly mainstream within five years." 


The study concluded that the farmer's age and education are not factors in the adoption of new technology. 


"Certainly, the farmers who are larger are further down the adoption curve, but when it came down to it, how old you are really didn't have a lot to do with whether you were interested in bringing this on to your operation or not," Karman says.


Most growers are looking at precision farming techniques to reduce operating costs and enhance profitability. A smaller percentage are interested in time efficiency and convenience. 


In response to the survey question, "Why are you interested in precision farming?" (more than one response was allowed), 41 per cent of respondents indicated the opportunity to save money, reduce costs and reduce inputs as their main reason.


Other results included:
- 16 per cent said profitability - to make more money
- 14 per cent want better efficiency, productivity and time savings
- 12 per cent were interested in accuracy - reducing overlap and having straight rows
- 11 per cent liked new technology
- 10 per cent selected improved yields and better crops
- 9 per cent stated ease, convenience and reducing fatigue
- 2 per cent selected environmental reasons.


Growers were asked to list the precision farming technique that adds the most value to their operation. Autosteer leads the way, followed by variable rate technology and automatic boom control devices.


There was also a question about the crop input retailer's knowledge of precision farming techniques and practises.


"There are some retailers that didn't get rated very highly," Karman says. "Others did much better, but it (tells us) that some of the retailers might not be quite as ready for precision farming as the farmers themselves are."


One farmer noted in the survey that precision farming "makes my life simpler. Autosteer, weed mapping... technology does most of the work." 


Neil Billinger, FCC Express, October 21, 2011 


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Tweeting Farmers Bridge Gap Between Farm, Table  


When Wayne Black is finished tapping out his latest tweet, he puts his iPad back in the tool box on his tractor or slides it down beside his seat.


The tweeting started after he began using "the toys that made us more mobile." But for the southwestern Ontario farmer, there's nothing flip or fanciful about dashing off a 140-character missive about his corn or soybean harvest.


Coverage of the latest small business news, trends and issues, as well as advice from experts on everything from starting and marketing a business, to managing staff and improving the bottom line.


Like more and more farmers across Canada, Black has found that Twitter has become, among other things, a way to bridge the gap between farm and table, and connect Canadians wanting to know more about where their food comes from with the people who make their living producing it.


"We're able to explain what we do on our farm," says Black, who farms with his father in Huron County, near Goderich.


In one exchange, Black answered questions on pesticide use. In another, he invited a consumer from Ottawa to come and walk in his soybean field.


Black is by no means alone in connecting this way.


At Fox Hill Cheese House in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, Amy Dukeshire keeps her Twitter feed current. She tells followers about the farm business's latest products and whether the cows are out to pasture; and she fields questions on everything from hormones to antibiotic use in the dairy herd.


"There's that misconception that there's hormones everywhere throughout the milk, and of course that's definitely not the case," she says. "We're not organic, but we do everything as natural as we can."


Fox Hill Cheese House, part of a sixth-generation family operation, started tweeting last year and has found Twitter to be very effective when it comes to introducing new products.


"It's allowed us to interact with our customers even more," Dukeshire says. "I don't see us stopping using it, that's for sure."


Know your food


The social gap between farm and table has been growing for decades in Canada. The country's farm population has been in steady decline and fell another 6.2 per cent between 2001 and 2006, according to Statistics Canada.


Eighty years ago, one in every three Canadians lived on a farm. In 2006, it was one in 46. So farmers and consumers are seeking new ways to keep alive the connection to the land.


Andrew Campbell, who farms with his wife and parents west of London, Ont., frequently turns to his BlackBerry to send off a tweet about what's going on in their dairy and cash crop operation.


"I think the big thing is you want to make sure that people are comfortable with the processes that you're doing on your farm," says Campbell, who also has a media consulting firm. "The big thing right now is local food and knowing where your food comes from."


He estimates he gains up to five followers each day.


"Hopefully it keeps the customers you've got, and keeps them more comfortable with what you're doing, and also makes people realize it is important to support Canada or Ontario or whatever local is to them."


But social media is more than a way to connect and build trust with food-savvy consumers. For farmers, it is also becoming a key business tool, whether for marketing products, following commodity prices and crop information, or just staying connected with other farmers.


"People still have somewhat of a romantic image of a farmer," says Stewart Skinner, a pork producer who tweets about the "farrow-to-finish" operation he and his family run near Listowel, Ont.


At the end of the day, though, "we're just like any other small business owner, and the world moves at a pretty fast pace."


First in the pool


In other words, time is money. For the farmer, getting an update on crop prices in the U.S. Midwest with a quick glance at a tweet can have a distinct advantage, particularly at planting and harvesting time.


What's more, for the people who want to communicate that information to farmers, Twitter is becoming more and more important.


The Alberta Canola Producers Commission began sending tweets two years ago, for example.


"We started to see a little bit of activity in Twitter in terms of agriculture and we figured if we're going to jump in, we may as well be first in the pool rather than last in the pool," says Rick Taillieu, the organization's grower relations co-ordinator.


None of this is to say Twitter is revolutionizing farming, or that farmers are setting any records in the Twitter-verse.


Farmers like Campbell, Black and Skinner have Twitter followers in the hundreds or low thousands, nothing in the 13-million-plus territory of teen idol Justin Beiber, as Skinner wryly notes.


Not every farmer has a smartphone. And tweets, by their very nature, offer little opportunity for instant in-depth information sharing - although they can give links to any number of sources.


But for the canola commission's Taillieu and others, Twitter is the trend to watch.


"We feel that Twitter is going to become the primary way we connect with our growers within a few years."


'They can vent'


Taillieu estimates about 250 of the 13,000 canola growers in Alberta are now on Twitter, up from about 25 at the start of this year's growing season.


"As more and more farmers get on it, it's going to grow exponentially."


His organization has no plans to drop traditional means of communication with farmers - newsletters, mail, media releases.


But Twitter is the information channel he likes best, whether it's to tell producers about a new disease that's been spotted in a canola field - the sooner it's known, the sooner it can be stamped out - or about meetings that are coming up.


"There's no easier way to send information out quickly that's storable than a way like this."


For farmers, there is also a social and psychological element to Twitter. Those little bursts of communication, sent from the solitude of the stable or a tractor cab, suddenly connect that person with the outside world.


"Farmers don't feel so isolated any more," says Black.


"Farmers in rural Ontario or rural wherever, they don't have that same social communication with their neighbours or that social interaction like people in the city.


"It can be a struggle on the farms some days .... By using social media, they can vent."


Political voice


They can also have discussions. In some ways, the Twitter world has become the local coffee shop that farmers would otherwise drive to.


And some of the ideas they share get directly to the politicians who are making agricultural policy decisions. Both Black and Skinner have discovered that Twitter provides a direct link to legislators, who have staffers plugged very firmly into the Twitter world.


After Black tweeted last summer about an issue regarding Ontario's Environmental Farm Plan, he saw the provincial agriculture minister at a meeting. She approached him, mentioned the tweet and suggested further discussion.


Many farmers take care to separate the useful information from the drivel that can crop up in the Twitter-verse - the wheat from the chaff as it were.


"You can't control who follows. For a farm business, it's really important to be professional about everything that goes up there because you don't know who's following you," says Mary Forstbauer, whose family runs an organic farm in Chilliwack, B.C.


But while no one is suggesting Twitter is essential for all farmers, it is becoming harder to ignore.

"You could survive without being on social media, that's for sure," says Black. "[But] is it going to be an advantage to you to be on social media as a farmer? It could be."


For him, "the return is getting the message out there and explaining to consumers what we do in modern agriculture. It's not all the fear-mongering that they're hearing from the activist groups."


Plus, he can say it in less than 140 characters before he puts the iPod back in the tool box and heads back down the soybean field again.


Janet Davison, CBC News, October 20, 2011


Two UG99-Resistant Wheats Developed in Kenya 


Two wheat varieties resistant to the deadly Ug99 strain of stem rust are set for release in Kenya, says a report from United Nations' Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (IRIN). 

The two varieties, dubbed Eagle10 and Robin, were developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).


Ug99 is named after its discovery in Uganda in 1999 and it is currently spreading across Africa, Asia and most recently into Middle East.


The rust strain is widely viewed as a major threat to world food security, as few, if any, of current wheat varieties are immune to the strain, which reportedly cuts yields by 50 to 70 per cent.


Kenyan farmers have been abandoning wheat due to losses caused by Ug99. The IRIN report says production costs went up by 40 per cent between 2001 and 2011 with farmers this year having to spray wheat three times a season at a cost of Sh9,000 (US$90) per acre.


"That disease (Ug99) was a disaster to wheat farming; it turned out that I would not make any profit having spent too much on fungicides," former wheat farmer Peter Thiongo said in the report.


"I planted corn in my five-acre farm, where I had for many years been growing wheat, but I am optimistic that the new varieties will save me money which I spent on fungicides, and I am ready to plant when seeds are available," he said.


Since 2005, KARI has screened over 200,000 wheat germplasms, of which only 10 per cent were found to have some resistance to Ug99. Of the 10 per cent, only a handful could adapt to the Kenyan environment, said KARI plant breeder Peter Njau. He said both new varieties have very good baking and bread-making qualities.


KARI is working with the Kenya Seeds Company to multiply the varieties. "We are expecting to have produced more than 10 tons of the new seed variety by the end of this year," said KARI director Ephram Mukisira.


Country Guide, October 25, 2011


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Selling Confidence and Authenticity Alongside Pork Chops and Pears


Commentary by John Clement, General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario

Farmers may think that they're just selling products like pork chops or pears to consumers. But they're selling much more. They're also selling health, environmental sustainability, animal welfare and a host of associated "values." By understanding these consumer values, farmers can capitalize on this knowledge to develop strategies that increase or diversify sales.

John Scott, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, understands well the linking of products and values. He is of the opinion that farmers and processors need to take a hard look at how they put their products into the system. Scott says that "one size fits all" no longer works in today's retail sector, with farmers and processors increasingly needing to develop product and marketing strategies that take consumer values into account.

According to Scott, there's been an explosion in the food retailing sector, with food being sold by more and more vendors, utilizing more and more strategies. In addition to traditional supermarkets, there are also "soft discount" stores, "hard discount" stores, ethnic and specialty stores, plus offerings from retailers who may currently be selling clothes, pharmaceuticals or hardware.

At the heart of all these different strategies and retail offerings are a handful of consumer values that are driving diversification. According to Scott, price remains one of the prime values due to consumer concerns about mounting public and private debt around the world, plus the rising cost of oil. House brands and no-name products are flourishing due to these price concerns.

But price isn't the only value that is driving things. Health ranks high on the list as people increasingly become aware that what they eat is important for disease prevention. Some stores have gone as far as having a diabetic's educator at their stores to help people shop for items that will help control blood sugar. Rounding out the list of consumer values is confidence in the food that's being purchased, authenticity amongst retailers and product providers, convenience and environmental sustainability.

In my opinion, Scott's analysis of retailing is good news for farmers because it means there's more than one market for food, which creates a lot of options for product development. Also, farmers should be able to give solid delivery on the creation of confidence and authenticity in the story behind the food they provide. However, challenges probably still exist in increasing the amount of solid communication throughout the product development chain. Farmers, processors and retailers are talking to each other, but it appears that more talk is needed to make the most of market opportunities.

Regardless of the challenges, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that food and consumer values are intricately linked. In that understanding are market opportunities waiting for development.


AgriLink, October 24, 2011


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Federal Government Funding for Flax and Hemp Farmers


The Government of Canada is investing in innovation that will help create new bio-composites derived from flax and hemp fibres. Member of Parliament Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South), on behalf of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, today announced an investment of more than $100,000 for the Composites Innovation Centre (CIC) to study flax and hemp fibres with the goal of eventually making composites that perform better than plastics and fibreglass.


"Finding new and innovative uses for our flax and hemp will greatly benefit farmers and the economy in Western Canada," said MP Bruinooge. "This investment will enable farmers to adapt their growth and harvesting regimes to optimize fibre performance, increasing the demand for their crops and resulting in increased profitability."


The investment through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) is designed to help the CIC work with Canadian Light Source's synchrotron facility in Saskatoon to study the sub-molecular structure of flax and hemp fibres. The synchrotron is a source of brilliant light that enables scientists to study the micro-structure and chemical properties of materials.


"This exciting collaboration between the CIC and our world-class Canadian synchrotron facility will provide our local and national biomass industries with a key competitive edge in a growing international marketplace," says CIC Manager of Product Innovation Simon Potter. "The information we generate with the Canadian Light Source will support the high penetration of agricultural fibres into building materials and composites for automotive and aerospace products."


"The Canadian Light Source welcomes this opportunity to work with Manitoba's burgeoning bio-composite sector on a project that will not only benefit Manitoba, but fibre growers throughout Western Canada and manufacturers around the world," says Jeffrey Cutler, the synchrotron's deputy director and director of industrial science.


This project is being funded under the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP). In Manitoba, CAAP is delivered by the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council (MRAC). CAAP is a five-year (2009-2014), $163-million initiative that aims to help the Canadian agricultural sector adapt and remain competitive.


AAFC Press Release, October 21, 2011


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Dividing Corn Stover Makes Ethanol Conversion More Efficient  


Not all parts of a corn stalk are equal, and they shouldn't be treated that way when creating cellulosic ethanol, say Purdue University researchers.


When corn stover is processed to make cellulosic ethanol, everything is ground down and blended together. But a research team found that three distinct parts of the stover -- the rind, pith and leaves -- break down in different ways.


Michael Ladisch, a distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of Purdue's Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering; Eduardo Ximenes, a Purdue research scientist in LORRE; and doctoral graduate student Meijuan Zeng are trying to determine if there is a better method to process corn stover and optimize efficiency.


Cellulosic ethanol is created by using enzymes to extract sugars from cellulosic feedstocks, such as corn stover, grasses and woods, and then fermenting and distilling those sugars into fuels.


"Today, researchers grind the parts together and treat it based on what's needed to get at the hardest part," Ximenes said. "We show that there are major differences in degradability among the tissues."


Stover's pith, the soft core that makes up more than half the weight of a corn stalk, is the easiest for enzymes to digest, according to the findings in two papers published in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering. Rind is the most difficult, while leaves fall in between. Significant amounts of lignin, the rigid compound in plant cell walls, make the cellulose resistant to hydrolosis, a process in which cellulose is broken down into sugars.


Ximenes said converting the rinds only adds about 20 percent more ethanol while requiring 10 times more enzymes, driving up the price of the process.


"Is that extra 20 percent worth the added cost?" asked Nathan Mosier, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and co-author of the study. "Because if there is a way to separate out pith, you could burn the leftover rinds to generate steam, creating energy needed to operate the plant."


Ladisch added that separating pieces of corn stover and treating them differently would be a new way of approaching cellulosic ethanol production.


"It uses existing conversion technology, but it enables us to think about a new way of getting the most from that technology," Ladisch said. "There is absolutely no reason a ligno-cellulosic non-food material such as corn stalk cannot be used to make ethanol if you understand the science."


Also involved in the research were Youngmi Kim, a Purdue research engineer; Wilfred Vermerris, an associate professor of agronomy at the University of Florida; Debra Sherman, director of the Purdue Life Science Microscopy Facility; Chia-Ping Huang, microscope technologist at the Life Sciences Microscopy Facility; and Bruce Dien, a chemical engineer with the Bioenergy Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.


Ladisch and Ximenes said they would next work with colleagues to explore ways to improve the ability of enzymes to create sugars from cellulose and remove the compounds that inhibit those enzymes, as well as adapting the findings for other feedstocks such as switchgrass and wood.


Ladisch is chief technology officer at Mascoma, a renewable fuels company based in New Hampshire. He received no funding from the company for this research, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Purdue Agricultural Research Programs and a David Ross Fellowship.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted frommaterials provided by Purdue University. The original article was written by Brian Wallheimer. 

Purdue University (2011, October 25). Dividing corn stover makes ethanol conversion more efficient. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/10/111025135934.htm


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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food


The Committee is meeting twice this week to continue hearing witnesses on its study on the new agricultural policy framework Growing Forward 2 (Science and Innovation). Witnesses representing the University of Guelph, Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Canada Organic Trade Association, Sustainable Chemistry Alliance and Canadian Horticultural Council, along with a number of individuals, are appearing.   


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Coming Events



Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, National Hemp Convention, Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 21-22, 2011 


Canadian Weed Science Society Conference, Niagara Falls, November 21-24, 2011 


15th Annual Fall Canadian Agriculture Outlook Conference, Calgary, December 1-2, 2011


Canadian Forage and Grassland Association Conference and AGM, Saskatoon, December 13-14, 2011


Canadian Agricultural Economics Society, Growing Forward in a Volatile Environment, Second Annual Canadian Agriculture Policy Conference, Ottawa, January 12-13, 2012


Canadian Organic Science Conference, February 21-23, 2012, Winnipeg, Manitoba 


6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012


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Frances Rodenburg, Editor