Organic Farming Education for Agricultural Professionals

Final Report for ENC02-066

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $88,170.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Faye Jones
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service
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Project Information

Abstract:

A total of 262 Agricultural Professionals have been trained on the basics of organic production and certification. These attendees are more confident of their ability to respond to constituent questions on organic production. They have comprehensive resources that they may copy and send to farmers requesting follow up information. Attendees have gone on to host their own training sessions for farmer constituents. Over 800 Agricultural professionals and others in the Midwest and beyond receive regular information on current organic opportunities, research and events through regular Organic Update e-newsletters.

Project Objectives:
  • Comprehensive 2 year organic-specific training for at least 100 NRCS, CES and other Federal, State and agency professionals.

    Twelve short courses over two years on organic farms in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

    Monthly project electronic newsletter including a regional events calendar and reports on new organic resources

    Continuous updating of electronic version of Midwest Organic Resource Directory

    Participation in organic farm tours, field days and workshops at the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference.

    Increase general knowledge of organic agriculture, markets and other factors.

    Increase knowledge of organic crop, livestock, dairy and fruit and vegetable production and practices so ag professionals will feel confident and comfortable discussing organic agriculture at meetings and with individual farmers.

    Convey a general knowledge of organic standards, record keeping, approved practices and learn where to refer farmers requesting more specific information.

    Become familiar with organic certification agencies serving the 3-state region.

    Help Ag professionals develop their own initiatives to serve organic farming clientele.

Introduction:

Organic farming is growing in the Midwest. Most growth is in the field crops and dairy sectors that have established organic markets and price premiums. A growing number of Cooperative Extension Service (CES) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) professionals have expressed interest in doing more to serve these traditionally under-served farmers and meet information needs of farmers considering a transition to organic farming. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in November, 2001, NRCS professionals for the first time were instructed to help prepare organic farm plans and provide other assistance to organic farmers.

When the Organic Foods Production Act was implemented in October, 2002, farmers for the first time began requesting specific information on standards, allowed inputs, and other federal certification requirements. Most of the traditional sources of advice to farmers, including Extension staff and NRCS personnel did not have training or resources available to them to serve the needs of this growing constituency.

This project was designed to, and has succeeded at, offering in-person training and resources to CES, NRCS and other agricultural professionals and has enhanced their ability to serve their constituents.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

  1. Early in 2003 contacts were made in WI, MN and IA with leaders in NRCS, Extension and Departments of Agriculture about the project offerings. Agreements were made for leaders to distribute issues of the web-based “Organic Update” monthly email newsletter. Conversations were begun on appropriate sites and area partners for organic short courses.

    The first electronic “MOSES Organic Update” was sent out in mid-February, 2003 to approximately 50 direct e-address and through 5 networks, including UW- Extension, IA-Extension, MN-Department of Ag and WI and MN NRCS. The Organic Update was continued as a monthly offering through the end of 2004 with direct e-mails to 200 addresses and 5 networks, offered bi-monthly in 2005 and suspended for most of 2006. It was re-instituted as a bi-monthly e-newsletter in January 2007 with a direct mailing to over 300 individuals and 5 networks, for a total distribution to approximately 800 ag professionals. The Organic Update will be continued as a service of MOSES.

    A web page titled “Information for Agriculture Education Professionals” is created on the MOSES website, highlighting the project, listing appropriate resources, including links to past Organic Updates and prepared as a venue for announcements of upcoming trainings. www.mosesorganic.org/mosesgeneral/edprof.htm

    Instructors, locations, partners and farm visit sites for the first series of short course (Introduction to Organic Agriculture) were recruited. Dates for the short courses are selected in consultation with Extension, NRCS, and other agencies to avoid conflicts with agency training or other events.

    Individual programs are developed for each planned training. A basic course, titled “Organic Agriculture: Production and Certification” is designed by experienced organic educator Harriet Behar, who begins as a consultant to the project and is hired as MOSES staff in May of 2006. A 2-hour Powerpoint presentation is designed. Modifications to the basic module are made as requests for different topics are submitted. Additional topics include: Organic Dairy Production, Grains and Row Crop Systems, Vegetable Crops, Organic Vegetables and Open Pollinated Corn, Organic Market Garden Production, and Organic Crops and Livestock. Each variation has a custom-prepared Powerpoint presentation prepared.

    Resource notebooks for each course are designed, organized and assembled. A basic book is created as a template, with materials added and taken away to fit the specific topic of each training. Notebooks include resources produced by MOSES, ATTRA, USDA and other educational institutions and include agendas for the training session, table of contents of materials and additional resources, including current copies of the Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory. Notebooks are designed to contain materials that participants can later copy and distribute to constituents and are assembled in 3-ring notebook binders. MOSES contact information is included throughout the book to encourage participants to contact us with follow-up questions or requests.

    Publicity is planned for each short course. Posters are created and made available to hosts, area project partners and via electronic listserve. “Organic Update” e-newsletter announces each short course, as does the bi-monthly “Organic Broadcaster” newspaper. Project collaborators publicize short courses to their employees and partners.

    Short courses are held in 14 locations over four years. 262 agricultural professionals and farmers attended. Course instructor for a majority of the courses is experienced organic inspector and educator Harriet Behar. Other instructors include Faye Jones, MOSES Executive Director and Joyce Ford, MOSES Board President and independent organic inspector.

    Evaluations are collected from each participant of each training. Evaluation results are compiled and assessed as further programs are planned. A final evaluation is designed.

    The Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory is maintained on-line consistently throughout the period, with updates made via external requests and regular updating. A mass mailing is done in early 2003 to fully update the information contained in the 72 page printed document. The printed version was re-printed in June 2003, summer 2004, July 2005, June 2006 and January 2007, when the 7th edition came out and 8000 copies were printed for distribution.

    In March 2007 copies of the updated 7th edition of the UMORD were mailed to 250 individuals who had attended trainings hosted under this agreement. A final evaluation of the project was included in that mailing.

    Participants in trainings are added to the MOSES database and invited to attend Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conferences and Organic Universities annually. 83 Extension, NRCS or USDA employees attended at least one of these events during the four years of the project.

    Annual reports, project invoices and a final report are submitted to NCR-SARE.

Outreach and Publications

  • There are several materials produced as a result of this project. (enclosed)

    Notebooks of organic resources for course participants

    Powerpoint presentations of trainings to agricultural professionals

    “Organic Update” e-newsletters

    Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directories

    14 trainings, with dates and locations listed on pages 3 and 4 of this report.

Outcomes and impacts:

Organic Production and Certification Trainings
A total of 262 agricultural professionals and farmers attend a total of 14 trainings held in three states.
o One training was held in 2007:
§ 20 attend, January 11th, 2007 in Cresco, IA, titled Organic Crop & Livestock Production and Certification
o Four trainings were held in 2006:
§ 10 attend, August 23, 2006 in Chaska, MN, titled Organic Training for Agricultural Professionals, with a focus on beef and feed crop production.
§ 20 attend, Sept 21, 2006 in Arlington, WI, titled Organic Dairy Farming Training for Agriculture Professionals with a visit to the Arlington Research Station
§ 19 attend, September 28, 2006 in Cherokee, IA, titled Organic Crops and Organic Livestock Training for Agricultural Professionals.
§ 27 attend, October 11, 2006 in Marine on St Croix, MN, titled Organic Market Garden Production: Training for Agricultural Professionals.
o Two WI and two IA trainings were held in 2004:
§ 15 attend, June 24, 2004 Stratford, WI, Organic Agriculture: Dairy Production and Certification
§ 12 attend, June 29, 2004, Mt Vernon IA, Organic Vegetables and Open Pollinated Corn
§ 14 attend, July 21, 2004, Hancock, WI, Organic Production and Certification of Vegetable Crops
§ 14 attend, September 16, 2004, South English, IA, Organic Production, Livestock & Certification
o Four WI trainings and two IA training were held in 2003:
§ 31 attend, May 20, 2003, Jefferson, WI, “Organic Agriculture: Production and Certification Training”.
§ 12 attend, July 30, 2003, Shelburg, IA “Organic Agriculture: Production and Certification Training”
§ 17 attend, August 13, 2003, Rosendale, WI, Organic Agriculture: Dairy Production and Certification
§ 19 attend, Sept 10, 2003, Eau Galle, WI, Organic Agriculture: Dairy Production and Certification
§ 34 attend, Nov 5, 2003, Black River Falls, WI, Organic Agriculture, Regulations and Production

Organic Update
The first electronic “MOSES Organic Update” was sent out in mid-February, 2003 to approximately 50 direct e-address and through 5 networks, including UW- Extension, IA-Extension, MN-Department of Ag and WI and MN NRCS. The Organic Update was continued as a monthly offering through the end of 2004 with direct e-mails to 200 addresses and 5 networks, offered bi-monthly in 2005 and suspended for most of 2006. It was re-instituted as a bi-monthly e-newsletter in January 2007 with a direct mailing to over 300 individuals and 5 networks, for a total distribution to approximately 800 ag professionals. The Organic Update will be continued as a service of MOSES. Archived issues may be viewed at www.mosesorganic.org/update/index.htm

The “Information for Agriculture Education Professionals” webpage received 5047 hits during 2005 and 2006, indicating the relevance of this resource for ag professionals.

UMORD
The UMORD was updated as the 6th edition in June of 2006 and the 7th edition in January 2007, with continuous updates of the online version occurring before and after that printing. The online version can be viewed at www.mosesorganic.org/directory.htm — 250 copies of the 7th edition were mailed to participants of the SARE PDP trainings in March of 2007. 8000 paper copies of the Directory were printed for distribution.

The online version of the UMORD received 31,901 hits to individual pages during 2005 and 2006. The print-ready copy of the Directory received an additional 29,158 hits during the same period.

Organic Farming Conference and Organic University
All participants of this projects offerings were invited, through direct mailings and e-newsletter invitations, to participate in the annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conferences and the 7-10 annual courses in the Organic University. An increasing number of agricultural professionals have availed themselves of this additional training. A total of 83 individuals from Extension, NRCS or USDA have attended either the Organic University or UMOFC between 2002 and 2007. Of these, 14 have attended four or more times, 20 have attended 3 times and 35 have attended twice.

General Discussion of Project Findings
At the time this project was first proposed in 2002 there was very little information available to agricultural professionals about the issues and regulations related to organic production and certification. From the project’s first trainings in early 2003 we have received very hearty positive responses from participants. Evaluations and comments show that the material presented was unique, needed and extremely well presented. Numerous comments focus on the professionalism and comprehensive knowledge of the MOSES trainer. Many participants commented that site-visits to organic farms helped to cement the classroom learning, and also added credibility to the statements that were made. Farm visits always included not only a tour, but also a question-and-answer session, generally facilitated by Harriet Behar, the MOSES trainer. Harriet learned to ask the farmers to talk about their practical experiences relating to questions that had been asked during earlier classroom sessions- such as what were the biggest challenges to organic certification, how hard is the paperwork to complete, and whether they were glad they had converted to organic production. A majority of participants offered very positive comments about the combination of classroom and farm experience.

Trainer Harriet Behar notes that the earliest trainees knew very little about organic production and certification, with the material being entirely new to them. She notes that the later groups (past 2 years) were more interactive and asked many good questions. Their questions were based in real life situations and how the organic regulations and production methods specifically can relate to their production systems or their region.

In the four years since 2002 the number of organic acres and organic farmers in all three states covered by this project have vastly increased. For instance, the amount of Minnesota farmland dedicated to organic production increased more than 50 percent since 2000, according to a new Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) report on the state’s organic farming sector. This growing group of farmers continues to look for resources to help them not only convert to, but also to improve as organic farmers. The base group of 262 individuals that have been trained through this project are now available to assist the growing population of organic producers. As planned, the project has had a strong domino effect, in vastly increasing the number of resources accessible to farmers interested in organic production.

We also have received very positive feedback about the value of the resource notebooks that were distributed as an element of the trainings. Hefty 3-inch binders (in 2006-07 we switched to spiral bound) were well organized and full of a wide diversity of educational material and resources. The binders were designed to not only offer follow-up education, on details such as organic corn or small grain production or samples of certification applications and documentation forms. They also included a series of “fact sheets” that have been prepared by MOSES in another funded project that have been designed as easy, 2-page “quick-views” of important organic certification questions. Titles range from “Transitioning to Organic Dairy Production” to “How to Choose a Certification Agency” and “Marketing Organic Grains.” Harriet encouraged training participants to not only read the fact sheets themselves, but to freely offer them to constituents who may call or stop in looking for basic organic agriculture information. Many of the resources available in the notebooks are also available as downloadable materials on the MOSES website. Our view in creating the notebooks is to increase the capacity of NRCS, Extension, Department of Ag and other ag professional personnel to meet the needs of their constituents for knowledge and resources pertaining to organic. Evaluations show us that both the trainings and resource books have helped in significant movement toward that goal.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Overview
Project coordinators have been extremely pleased with the broad success of this project. The primary product of the project was a planned series of trainings on organic production and certification to agricultural professionals. Our initial assumption was that 100 agricultural professionals would attend a total of 12 trainings. Over the extended duration of the project, with conservative spending allowing us to host 14 trainings, a grand total of 262 were trained by the project, two and a half times the expected number of agricultural professionals directly impacted. We were thrilled to see a broad diversity of ag professionals in the audience. Attendees have included bankers, lenders, ag liaisons for state legislators, tech school, high school and university teachers as well as students, Extension, NRCS, RC and D, economic development arms of county governments and many more. Colleagues communicated with each other and encouraged participation at later scheduled sessions.

Ongoing strong partnership was key to the success of this project. The MOSES name is well known throughout the region for offering quality educational programming. Combined with support from state and regional Extension and NRCS offices and word-of-mouth recommendations from past attendees, programs were well attended with engaged participants. Field trips offered at a majority of the trainings proved to be a real draw, as participants were able to see successes and talk to organic producers first-hand. The farm visits reinforced and clarified the outlined production and certification techniques given in classroom session.

Evaluation results
Evaluations were collected after each session from participants. A follow-up evaluation was sent via U.S. mail, with an updated 7th edition Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory, in March of 2007 to collect information on longer-term project impact. Participants were highly enthused by the subject matter, presentation, presenter, farm tours and resource material. Evaluations responses were highly favorable. Collated results of session evaluations are found in Appendix A.

Comments immediately after the session averaged scores of from 4-5 (with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “great”) in answer to the following questions:
· Was today’s training a good use of your time?
· How would you rate today’s classroom presentation?
· How would you rate today’s farm tour?
· Do you feel you will be able to help your clients understand organic production? and
· How well did today’s session help to improve your ability to understand organic systems and production?

In answer to the question “Do you have suggestions on how we could improve the session” many choose to comment on what they liked about the session:
· Excellent session. Very good presenters.
· This was pretty new for me. I really enjoyed it and feel like I learned a lot!
· The binder resources are OUTSTANDING.
· More time for questions would be great. Very informative—take home information will be useful. Will recommend to others.

Information collected from 19 participants who sent in the follow-up evaluation was very interesting. Collated results are included in Appendix B.

Comments to the questions “Overall, how effective do you feel the resources offered by MOSES through this project have been in helping you provide services to constituents interested in organic production?” include:
· It opened my eyes to the high level of record keeping required. I now know how to visit with folks interested in going organic.
· We have several projects the materials are useful for.
· Helped tremendously! I have referred several farmers, organizations, educators and businesses to your speakers for help and info on transitioning to organic, and referred people to the Organic hotline.
· Extremely helpful, it’s the first place I look when searching for info
· MOSES is doing a fabulous job of providing relevant and useful materials
· Very helpful. I knew little about organic agriculture before hand. Now I can at least talk intelligently.
· I have downloaded several fact sheets and made copies for meetings- This has been very useful.
· It is our resource when developing projects, such as the creation of the “Central WI Farm Fresh Atlas”
· You have been our most important organic resource at UWRF
· Very good – It is very technical and it is good to have an expert to refer to.

The mailed evaluations were highly complementary, although a very small sub-sample of the overall attendees (19 responses out of 250 mailed). We did receive one negative comment in the mailed evaluation, from someone working for the NRCS. The negative comment was regarding the lack of conservation information in our program. We did address this issue in later sessions, and included slides in the presentation about conservation practices and erosion control resources.

In response to the questions “Have you referred to the information you learned through the MOSES Training in the past three years?” and “Have you referred to or made copies of the materials given to you in the training resource notebook you received at the training?” responses varied, but were generally either “less than 10 times” or “10 to 30 times.” We did not ask when evaluators had attended the trainings, and so these answers do not have a time element attached. We also asked “In the past three years, has the demand for your services by those involved in or considering organic production grown?” and then “estimate percent growth” and received answers ranging from “not at all” to “300%” with quite a few noting the demand had doubled.

It was interesting to note the comments made in regard to a question “Are there other trainings or resources that would be helpful to you to help in serving constituents interested in organic production?” A few people noted that they would like ongoing access to these kinds of trainings, or “refresher courses” to move them along in their understanding. Some requested field days, others very specific topics such as organic marketing or more detailed production information. These trainings were designed to offer only the most basic understanding of organic certification for a diversity of farm types, and although production methods were discussed in this context, production was not a focus of the sessions. Obviously education on successful organic production methods (which are the focus of both the Organic Farming Conference and the Organic University) are desired by this audience.

The data collected in these limited evaluations indicate that demand for information on organic production and certification from ag professionals is definitely increasing, and that the materials and trainings provided by MOSES has helped these professionals serve their constituents. Although we may have hoped that the participants might have used to resources more frequently, the written comments express the attendees’ gratefulness and comfort with their access to the materials for those occasions that constituents do call with questions. It is not unreasonable to assume that constituents are still learning that these providers of traditional ag resources can be a source of information about organic methods and certification. To date they have been under-prepared to respond to these requests, and so constituents turn elsewhere or self-educate. It may take time for the pairing of educated traditional providers and questioning farmers to connect over organic methods.

Post-event surveys, feed-back and conversations show that this project has had a positive impact on the knowledge of Agricultural Professionals in WI, MN and IA regarding organic issues. Attendees feel more confident in their ability to answer constituent questions, and use the notebook of resources and the MOSES website to back up their knowledge with written materials. Incoming calls to the MOSES office from participants of the trainings show that attendees trust us as an accurate and efficient source of information about organic production and certification. Several past participants of our trainings are now hosting farmer sessions on organic production and certification, showing that their confidence level has reached the level we have hoped for, in this train-the-trainer project. In one instance, a regional conference was developed by participants in our project and recently completed its second year. (See Appendix C)

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Economic Analysis

Looking at the direct, measurable results, it cost us $88,170 to directly train 262 ag professionals on organic production and certification. This breaks down to $336.53 per attendee. However, there were other, immeasurable, outputs to this project.

Each of those attending this “train the trainers” project is impacting hundreds of constituents annually, and dispersing the information made available to them through this project. We have been hosting a regularly emailed Organic Update that goes to at least 800 individuals, with news and information about the organic industry. We also have a regularly updated “Agricultural Professionals” page on the MOSES website with access to fact sheets, an online calendar and other resources which received 4,087 hits in 2006. We also have an online and hard-copy version of the Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory, which also receives 12,000- 14,000 web hits per year. The hard copy was printed in 8000 copies in early 2007.

We conclude that the financial investment is rather minimal in relation to the long-term effects of the project.

Farmer Adoption

Data on the adoption of organic farming techniques, although now being collected by the USDA Ag Statistics Service, is challenging to collect in a timely manner. The most recent statistics available in Wisconsin and Iowa date back to 2003, with 91,000 acres of crops and 28,000 acres of pasture and 659 farms reported to be involved in organic production in WI. Iowa is recorded to have 448 certified organic farms in 2003. Both states are seeing overall growth of both numbers of organic farmers and organic acreage of over 40% over a 5-year period. According to “The Status of Organic Farming in Minnesota; a Report to the Legislature” Minnesota had more than 525 certified organic farms in 2006, and certified organic acreage in the state grew 57 percent from 2000 to 2005, to slightly more than 129,000 acres.

Looking at the limited data collected from our end-of-project evaluation, we can generalize some numbers as to the overall farm impact of the project.

We trained and gave resources to 262 agricultural professionals. Those evaluated noted that they have used the resources we gave them an average of 10 times. If we extrapolate, saying 200 of our attendees use our resources each 10 times with farm constituents, then we can assume the project has impacted 2,000 farmers in WI, MN and IA. It should be safe to say that we have impacted a greater number than this, as there are an additional 600 individuals receiving the Organic Update e-newsletter whom one can assume are also somehow using this information to educate or support their constituent farmers. Extrapolating that 60% of these ag professionals are using the information 5 times per year, then the impact to farmers grows by an additional 1800 farmers. The Upper Midwest Organic Resource Directory, partially funded by this project, was printed and distributed to 4,000-8,000 farmers per year during the 5 years of this project.

Using these calculations, we can safely assume that a minimum of 8,800 farmers have gained at least some knowledge of organic production and certification, or learned of an organic-focused event or of resources relevant to organic production through the reach of this project. Many of the project outputs, including the Ed Professionals webpage, notebook materials and Organic Update will continue to be useful after the project is over and so the project impact will continue to expand over time.

In our long experience of working with organic farmers we have learned that the conversion to a full understanding of successful organic production is a long and detailed process. It is not an easy thing for farmers to succeed at organic production. There is much to learn and understand, and not a lot of resources. Each piece of knowledge or resource that we at MOSES can filter into the broader ag professional population increases each farmer’s chance of success in their undertaking of organic production. We encourage anyone considering organic production to not only access their trusted ag professionals, but to also visit organic farms, attend as many field days as possible and attend any educational opportunities, such as the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference and Organic University, as possible.

Future Recommendations

We were surprised and pleased to see how frequently it was mentioned in the final evaluations that the trainings should continue. Regular “refresher” courses are definitely something we should seek funding for. Our partner state of Minnesota has succeeded at getting funds to offer continuing trainings to ag professionals on organic issues. We regularly refer our audience to these opportunities through our e-newsletter.

It is obvious that the community we approached through this project is primed for more in-depth information on organic production techniques. Any opportunities for them to participate in advanced training will most likely be well-received. MOSES offers programs, such as the Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference and Organic University, where attendees come to centralized locations, but we will continue to explore other options where we can bring resources more directly into communities through in-person trainings or other resources. We will continue to add to the listings of agricultural professionals in our database, so that they will receive future notices of events and activities.

MOSES has received positive feedback on the value of the e-newsletter, and we plan to continue offering this educational service into the future.

MOSES is very grateful to the USDA-SARE Professional Development Program for funding this high-impact project. We feel that the project will have many long-term ramifications, not the least of which is exposing many agricultural professionals to the wide array of resources MOSES and others have at hand to enhance their ability to serve the needs of farmers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.