Kansas NRCS Organic Training Program

Final Report for ENC09-108

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $54,074.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Mary Fund
Kansas Rural Center
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Project Information

Abstract:

In 2010, the Kansas Rural Center (KRC) in partnership with the Kansas NRCS State Office, Kansas State University, Kansas Organic Producers and several organic farmers, undertook organizing six training sessions on organic farming systems and certification for the Kansas NRCS staff and Kansas State University Extension. Like NRCS offices across the country, the Kansas NRCS State Office was responsible for implementing the Organic Initiative under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program under the 2008 Farm Bill. However, they had limited understanding or knowledge of organic farming. A secondary audience was Kansas State University Extension so they could provide outreach on organic farming and the certification process to their clientele to enhance farmer knowledge of organic farming systems and the USDA organic programs.

KRC proposed to develop/compile training materials, identify organic farmers as educators, and organize training sessions to be held in different agronomic regions of the state so that the sessions could be tailored to practices appropriate to the local area.

Anticipated Outcomes included:
* Increase in enrollment in the EQIP Organic Program due to NRCS staff more knowledgeable about organic farming;
* Increase in the number of Extension personnel able to answer organic transition questions,
* Increase in organic research projects at the land grant university as they learn more about organic farming needs,
* and a network of organic farmers willing to serve as educators, mentors and resources for each other and newly transitioning organic farmers.

In 2010 and 2011, KRC organized and conducted six organic trainings in six locations around the state reaching a total of 210 mostly NRCS personnel and a handful of County Extension Agents. The number of EQIP Organic contracts approved in Kansas was 16 (2009, first year of the program), 54 in 2010, and 49 in 2011. The need for a different approach to training for Extension personnel, a need for a more aggressive outreach campaign for the EQIP Organic Programs to increase enrollment now that trainings have been held, and a need for an organized organic farmer mentoring or support network were all identified for future work.

Project Objectives:

Below are the objectives as listed in the work plan. Accomplishments or updates for each of these are described below in the Outcomes and Impacts, and Accomplishments sections.

A. KRC will organize six workshops (3 per year). In year one (2010), three regional workshops will target NRCS staff reaching 90 participants. Workshop format will include classroom presentations, farmer panels, training materials, and a tour of an area organic farm. In Year two, 2011, three more workshops will be held focusing more on recruiting Extension personnel to attend.

B. Three organic farm tours will be held each year in conjunction with the training workshops.

C. KRC will develop and compile a training notebook, updating it on an ongoing basis during the two years of the project. The notebook will include information on organic farming basics, organic certification process, the organic system plan, crop rotation planning guide, and a list of miscellaneous resources.

D. KRC will develop and maintain a base network of organic farmers as teachers, mentors and resources who may become official technical service providers (TSPs) for NRCS, or serve as independent mentors and teachers.

E. KRC will provide presentations to Extension and other resource professionals on organic farming and the EQIP Organic Initiatives Program so they can promote the program and help farmers enroll.

F. KRC will update its crop rotation planning guide and collaborate with KSU to update and revise its Organic Certification Bulletin for distribution.

Introduction:

Kansas has a healthy number of certified organic farmers though the number varies based on the source. The 2008 Ag Census showed 109 certified organic farms on 53,000 acres
(the 2007 USDA numbers showed 155). While those numbers are low compared to states like California, New York, and Wisconsin, the number is comparable with most other states. Demand for organic products is however on the increase and the need for increased production presents an opportunity for those willing to make the transition to organic farming. Kansas Organic Producers Marketing Association cooperatively markets organic grains for 40 to 60 organic farmers in Kansas plus some from surrounding states, and finds that the supply of organic grains is not meeting demand.

The 2008 Farm Bill established the Organic Initiative under the USDA NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program to assist organic farmers in the adoption of conservation practices and to assist want-to-be organic farmers in the transition to certified organic. Increasing the number of organic farmers and acres under organic production would be one outcome of the USDA program, along with increased conservation practices on organic farms. NRCS personnel have the responsibility to implement the program, but lacked the necessary understanding of organic farming systems and the organic certification process.

The Kansas Rural Center (KRC), in partnership with Kansas Organic Producers Association, and Kansas State University (KSU) proposed to develop/compile training materials, identify organic farmers as educators, and organize training sessions to be held in different agronomic regions of the state.

The intent was for NRCS and Extension staff to gain confidence in helping organic farmers with organic transition questions and the new EQIP Organic Initiative Program, as they developed an understanding of organic farming practices and the certification process. Also although many organic farmers adopt conservation practices, the trainings offered NRCS an opportunity to see how standard conservation practices can help organic farms, and what kinds of adaptations for organic farms are needed in their official conservation standard practices.

KRC has a long history of working with organic farmers and others farmers in Kansas
through its 15 year old Clean Water Farming Project which has helped over 300 farmers with whole farm planning and development of action plans to adopt management practices to improve natural resource management. The Kansas NRCS Organic Training Project thus built on our existing relationships with county conservation district offices and KSU Extension.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Eric Banks
  • Dr. Dan Devlin
  • Mary Fund
  • Jack Geiger
  • Oren Holle
  • Dr. Rhonda Janke
  • Jim Keating
  • Jackie Keller
  • Dr. Deanne Presley
  • Edward Reznicek

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

KRC has a long history of working with Kansas farmers who are seeking to make management changes on their farms and adopt practices that are considered more sustainable. In KRC’s Clean Water Farm Project, we have worked with over 300 farmers statewide to develop whole farm plans and action plans to implement structural and management improvements on their farms. This project has also worked with over 150 farmers in funding and implementing cost-share projects on-farm. Our work brought us into close contact with NRCS and with County Conservation District staff. KRC also has a long- standing relationship with Kansas Organic Producers Marketing Association, so we communicate regularly with organic farmers in the state. We also have worked with KSU Extension staff in a variety of projects and have identified key county agents and extension staff with interests in sustainable agriculture issues.

KRC worked with Kansas State NRCS staff in 2009 to secure funding from Kansas SARE for a small pilot project to organize a training session on organic farming and certification. Following that successful training in 2009, we met with NRCS state office staff to plan the Kansas NRCS Organic Training Project. The classroom/farm tour format was chosen over webinars and shorter trainings. We involved the state office in every step of the planning process, and earned the commitment of the State Conservationist to mandate participation of NRCS staff in the trainings.

The agreement to require NRCS county staff to attend at least one of the trainings over a two year period also meant that NRCS’s preferences for timing and locations were given priority.

KRC staff and the Kansas SARE and Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops (KCSAAC) Coordinator also provided KSU Extension information on the trainings numerous times using the weekly e-letter sent to all extension agents across the state, issued direct invitations to counties surrounding the location of the trainings, and offered travel scholarships to attend.

The six trainings relied largely on Kansas experts including working organic farmers to provide practical information and well as technical knowledge of organic farming systems. Three one and a half day trainings were held in September of 2010 and again in Sept. 2011.

In both years, the training agenda included the below presentations. Also as requested by year one’s evaluations, year two included one Advanced Training, with more in-depth presentations. Also year two included an independent organic certification inspector
at all of the trainings, also a request from the attendees of year one.

Getting Started: The Basics of Organic Agriculture- by Dr. Rhonda Janke, Kansas State University. (This session covered the history and background of organic farming, resource conserving aspects of organic production, and provided an overview of research findings. Presented at five of the six trainings.)

Transition Strategies for Organic Crop and Livestock Production- Ed Reznicek, Kansas Organic Producers, Kansas Rural Center, and organic farmer. (This session gave an overview of crop rotations, fertility, weed control, insect and disease prevention and treatment, and livestock practices. Presented at all six trainings)

Organic Certification Basics- Ib Hagsten, Independent organic certification inspector and one of a few NRCS Technical Service Providers on organic nationwide. (Hagsten covered basics of organic certification, and the organic system plan, and the inspectors’s role. Presented at all three trainings of year two)

Organic Producers Survey Results- Frannie Miller, KSU Integrated Pest Management Program Coordinator. Miller presented preliminary results of a spring 2011 survey of organic producers in Kansas on pest management practices, knowledge, and research needs. Presented at all three trainings of year two.

High Tunnels or Hoophouses: Construction, Production, and Management-
Dan Nagengast, hoophouse farmer and co-author of the “Hoophouse Handbook”
In all three trainings of year one, and Smith Center year two; Bill Hanlon, former director of Flint Hills Technical College’s Sustainable Living Center, and experienced hoophouse builder, Emporia training year two; and Dr. Carey Rivard, KSU Horticultural Department, and director of the KSU Olathe Horticultural Research Center, home to KSU’s hoophouse research, Sabetha Advanced Training Year 2. These sessions covered basics of hoophouse construction, production and management. Rivard presented only at the advanced training session in Sabetha, year two.

Organic Farming Research Findings and Conservation Benefits- Dr. Kathleen Delate, Iowa State University. Dr. Delate covered the research she has been doing on organic crop rotations and impact on yields, etc. as well as provided an overview of research nationwide. She presented only at the advanced training session in Sabetha, Ks. Year Two.

EQIP Organic Provision Technical Overview- Corey Nelson and Lyle Frees, State NRCS Office. A nuts and bolts review of the administration and implementation for the EQIP program was done by Kansas NRCS State Office staff at all six trainings.

Farmer Panel on Transition Strategies- Twenty-one farmers participated in six panels and six farm tours offering short summary descriptions of their operations, and answering questions from the audience for at least 90 minutes up to two hours per workshop. In all but one of the panels, the farmer whose farm would be toured the next day was present and could set the stage for the tour. These panels were rated the highest of the day’s presentations in the evaluations.

Farm Tour- Day Two featured a three- hour tour of an area certified organic farm, and giving more detailed look at a working organic farm. The tours ranked high in terms of usefulness to the participants.

A training notebook with materials on organic certification, organic farming methods and resources was provided to participants at all of the trainings. NRCS provided actual physical notebooks for some, but made the information available on their resource sharing website for all Kansas NRCS. KRC had notebooks available for any extension or other personnel who signed up for the training.

Notebook materials available included the power point presentations of all presenters, farmer profiles, and other resources. For these other materials, rather than reinvent the wheel, KRC relied primarily on materials already available from a wide variety of resources, such as sample Organic System Plans from certifying agencies, a bulletin on the organic certification process from ATTRA, lists of organic certifying entities operating in Kansas and links to the USDA nationwide list, and miscellaneous publications, plus URL links to numerous entities with more resources. Below is a list of the supplemental materials included in the notebook.

Organic System Plan samples:
* 2011 Organic System Plan Crop & Livestock Production form OCIA
* 2011 Organic System Plan Livestock Production Form OCIA
*2011 Organic System Plan Greenhouse Production Form OCIA

Organic certification materials
* Basic Organic Certification Requirements by Jim Riddle, University of MN
* ATTRA Organic Certification Process
* Organic System Plan Summary by Brian Baker

Organic Resource List with URL Links
*Organic Certifying Agents in Kansas (August 2011)
* KRC EQIP Organic Initiative Program (From KRC’s webpage)
* “So You Want to Put Up a Hoophouse” MOSES May-June 12010
* Misc. Research URL’s: : ARS Long Term Field Experiment. Organic and
Conventional 2008; New Tools for Organic No-till (2003); and USDA ARS
Organic Beats No-Till 2007

Evaluations were handed out at the end of day one of each training prior to the wrap-up session, so that participants were compelled to complete them. (We got the least responses from the one training where we had to hand out the evaluation on the farm tour.) Participants were asked to rank their knowledge before the training and after. They were also asked how the trainings contributed to their professional development and how they would use the information gained. A short online survey was conducted in Feb. 2012 of participants to determine if they were actively working with organic farmers and if they were receiving applications to the EQIP organic programs or organic farming inquiries.

Outreach and Publications

The project identified a need for more outreach to farmers regarding the EQIP Organic Initiatives in order to see greater use of the programs. NRCS does the initial news releases announcing the program, and any subsequent deadlines, but is busy implementing the program, and can’t be expected to advocate one program any more than they do others. There is a need for non-profits or farmer organizations to get the word out about the opportunities for organic and transitional farmers.

The training notebook is the only “publication” from the project, and it needs to be updated on a yearly basis to remain relevant, so has limited long term use.

Outcomes and impacts:

Training Participation. The Kansas Rural Center and its partners organized and conducted six organic farming and certification trainings in six different locations in Kansas reaching 210 individuals. (This count does not include speakers or farmers.) Six of the participants were Extension and three were from resource related non-profits, and the remaining 201 were NRCS staff. As stated in the above Methods section, NRCS required their staff to attend at least one of the trainings. In year one NRCS asked their county District Conservationists (DC’s) to attend, and in year two they asked the county technical staff and any DC’s who had not been able to attend in year one to attend. The Advanced Training included probably 25 to 30 individuals who had attended a training session in year one.

While we tried to engage county extension agents and other faculty and extension personnel at KSU especially in year two, we were not successful. The land grant operates differently than NRCS, who had a mandate to implement organic programs, thus were obligated to learn what they could in order to respond to potential clientele.

Responding to our inquiries, some extension agents claimed that they felt the trainings were geared only to NRCS. The agenda and list of presentations shows that the topics covered –except for the NRCS technical review at the end of the day—were basic and beneficial to anyone interested in organic farming and certification, and not solely for implementation of the EQIP program. But the perception that the trainings were primarily for NRCS and their EQIP program implementation played a major part in extension not attending. Feedback from extension agents also showed that the timing was poor; their involvement in the Kansas State Fair in mid-September interfered with attending any of our September trainings However, NRCS had stated that September was the best time for them and they had obligated a sure audience. We had not requested enough funding to host a separate set of training meetings for extension.

Other extension agents told us that until they have clientele coming in their doors requesting information on organic, they don’t have reason to attend the trainings. Interestingly the preliminary results of the survey of organic producers in Kansas that was shared at the year two trainings, found that organic producers list Extension as one of the top sources they ask for information. The survey did not delve into whether or not the farmers were satisfied with the information provided or not.

For a few campus faculty and extension that we had hoped to draw to the advanced training in Sabetha on September 14, 2011 in Northeast Kansas, our timing was again off. The NC SARE staff scheduled a visit to the Manhattan campus the same day as our advanced training. (In hindsight if we had posted our training schedule on the SARE calendar, we might have avoided this.) Several Extension folks we had hoped would attend opted to stay in Manhattan to learn more about NC SARE grant programs.

Training Evaluations. According to the training evaluations, the majority of those attending over the two- year period came away feeling they had gained knowledge to help them better provide technical information and assistance to farmers. Training evaluations asked participants to rank their knowledge before and after the training, and to rate presentations for usefulness and to list additional information needs.

139 of the 210 attendees returned the evaluations ( not all answered all of the questions.) Before the basic trainings, eleven claimed no knowledge, 86 claimed to be beginners and 5 claimed to be knowledgeable. After the trainings, no one said they had no knowledge, 11 still considered themselves beginners, but 78 now claimed to be knowledgeable and felt they could provide some technical information to clients. So the majority of the participants felt they had benefited and now knew more about organic farming and certification.

The most common responses to the question of how the programs had contributed to their professional development was that the program provided them educational information for programs, and new knowledge and technical mastery, and would help them engage with new people and opportunities. When asked how they would share the information with their producer audience, the most responses were to “answer client questions” (89%) “bring new information to regular programming”, (36%) and “develop new contacts and partners” (25%).

The evaluations and discussions after the trainings indicated that participants considered the farmer panels and the farm tours to be the most useful parts of the trainings. Three presentations also earned high marks from the surveys: Transition Strategies for Organic Cropland Livestock Production and Certification (Ed Reznicek), Organic Certification Basics (Ib Hagsten), and the High Tunnels 101 (Dan Nagengast, Bill Hanlon and Carey Rivard).

The benefits of hearing working organic farmers describe their operations and the challenges they faced in transition and the challenges they still face, and why they farm organically helped participants understand organic farmers and their farming system. Then seeing the system in the field during the following day’s farm tour was critically important. When asked about further information needs, several suggested that more field tours in their own locales would be most helpful.

In year one, 57 percent said they would attend another training if available. For Year two, although this was the last of the trainings KRC had scheduled for Kansas under the NC SARE grant, 70 percent said they would attend another training. Additional training needs identified are for more detailed or specific information on crop rotations, cover crops, non-chemical livestock and pasture management, and more on organic crop rotations and irrigation for western Kansas’s drier climate.

Impact on EQIP Contracts. In terms of impact on approved EQIP program contracts, in 2009, the first year of the EQIP program, the NRCS EQIP Organic Initiative had only 16 contracts in Kansas. By the end of 2010, there were 54 contracts; and 2011 had 49 contracts.

In the 2012 online survey as follow up to the trainings, 89% of the respondents claimed they had had no inquiries for assistance in enrolling in the EQIP Organic Iniative. This survey had only 45 responses or 21% response rate so it was limited. But it indicates that the low enrollment numbers are not completely the fault of NRCS.

Less information in the news about the 2011 sign up may have contributed to the slight decline. Some speculate that high crop prices in conventional production in 2010 and 2011 have made organic certification (and the organic premium market prices) less appealing to producers at this time. Also an increase in cash rental prices for cropland may have altered interest in tackling any risky transitions to organic in 2011. A more aggressive outreach campaign either by NRCS or by outside organizations like KRC might have increased the interest in organic. It is clear that without this, farmers are not as likely to use these programs.

Farmer Needs/TSP’s. KRC worked directly with twenty-one organic farmers in Kansas to provide the panel presentations and farm tours. We also talked with many others in the process of identifying these willing participants. We discussed the need for technical service providers (TSP’s) to help want-to-be organic farmers with their Organic System Plans as part of their EQIP application. But no one was interested in becoming a TSP for NRCS. The process for becoming certified as a TSP is not necessarily difficult, but it is time consuming and cumbersome for the average farmer, and unappealing to most organic producers. Some feel that the potential financial benefit is so low and so unclear as to discourage anyone from undertaking it. This is not an isolated problem for Kansas, but nationwide. There are only half a dozen or so TSP’s on organic in the country, though more are slowly being added.

One need that was made clear in talking to the organic farmers, though, is the need for
a mentoring or support network of other organic farmers to share information and advice.
KRC is working on developing a framework to help get this started. Several county level Kansas NRCS staff expressed interest in attending any local groups that get started.

KSU Organic Research. One of the project’s long term projected outcomes was that the trainings would educate county agents and extension researchers on organic farming systems, and they would learn more about the research needs of organic producers, then develop research projects and write grants to begin addressing some of these. Although extension participation in the trainings was disappointing, other avenues have proven more fruitful.

KRC staff met with several extension researchers in the summer of 2010 to discuss organic farming research needs. We continued informal communications on the topic,
helping each other with proposals and applications. More extension researchers are expressing interest, and we’ve begun partnering with several to submit proposals. We have identified the common need for better communication and input from organic farmers, and have realized that some of the questions organic farmers have are also
shared by conventional farmers concerned about soil organic matter, biological health of soil, and nutrient management, etc. We are working with Extension researchers on having organic research plots at KSU and on recruiting organic farmers for on-farm research. These are potentially big steps forward for organic research in Kansas.

Overall Impact. The overall impact of the trainings was that USDA NRCS staff in Kansas now have a much better understanding of organic farming and are more likely to have a better experience with any organic or transitional farmer who comes in their door. However, there are not big numbers of farmers coming forward to take advantage of the opportunity the EQIP Organic Initiative provides.

Organic farmers have expressed a need for mentors and an interest in local organic farmer networks to share information and get advice. KSU Extension researchers are showing more interest in organic systems, and we are working toward establishing organic research plots at KSU and on recruiting organic farmers for on-farm research plots, which should enhance the chances for proposals to be funded.

For future work, we have: 1) identified the need for a different approach to training for extension personnel; 2) a need for a more aggressive outreach campaign for the EQIP Organic Programs to increase enrollment now that trainings have been held, and 3) a need for an organized organic farmer mentoring or support network, which also might help increase the number of farmers using the EQIP programs and increase the number of organic farmers.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The following are the specific objectives for the project with a brief description of the accomplishments for each. Much of this has been covered above.

Objective A. KRC will organize three workshops… and B. KRC will conduct three organic farm tours…).
KRC organized and conducted six training workshops across Kansas in September 2010 and 2011. Each training covered one and a half days, with day one in a classroom setting with presenters in the morning, and a farmer panel in the afternoon, followed by an NRCS session on the nuts and bolts of the EQIP Organic Initiative implementation. Day two was a half –day farm tour hosted by an area organic farmer, with the group adjourning for travel home at noon. The training agenda is included under Methods above.

210 people attended the six trainings. Six Extension staff and three from resource non-profits attended, with the remaining 201 from NRCS.

Six farm tours were held in conjunction with the trainings. Below is a list of the training dates and locations.

2010
South Central Kansas, Newton, Ks. Sept. 1-2, 2010
Farm tour at Mark Andres farm 40 attended
Southeast Kansas, Chanute, Ks. Sept. 8-9, 2010
Farm tour at the farm of Roger and Jason Elliot, Chanute, Ks. 22 attended
West Central Kansas, Scott City, Ks. Sept. 15-16, 2010 50 attended
Farm tour at the farm of Jerome and Jason Berning, Scott City, Ks. 50 attended

2011
North Central Kansas, Smith Center, Ks. Sept. 7-8, 2011
Farm Tour at Marvin Whitney Smith Center, Ks. 34 attended
Northeast Kansas, Sabetha, Ks. Sept. 14-15, 2011
Farm tour at the farm of Lynn and Steve Edelman, Sabetha, Ks. 32 attended
South Central Kansas, Emporia, Ks. Sept. 21-22, 2011
Farm tour at the farm of John Crisp, 32 attended

C. KRC will develop and compile a training notebook, updating it on an ongoing basis during the two years of the project. The notebook will include information on organic farming basics, organic certification process, the organic system plan, crop rotation planning guide, and a list of miscellaneous resources.
A training notebook with materials on organic certification, organic farming methods and resources was provided to each participant. NRCS provided actual physical notebooks for some, but made the information available on their resource sharing website for all Kansas NRCS. KRC had notebooks available for any Extension or other personnel who signed up for the training. Notebook materials available included the power point presentations of all presenters, farmer profiles, and other resources. For these other materials, KRC relied primarily on materials already available from a wide variety of resources, such as sample Organic System Plans from certifying agencies, a bulletin on the organic certification process from ATTRA, lists of organic certifying entities operating in Kansas and links to the USDA nationwide list, and miscellaneous publications. KRC intends to make the training materials available on our website. Because so much of the material was provided via website, costs for printing notebooks was limited, and KRC did not expend all of the grant funds available for this.

D. KRC will develop and maintain a base network of organic farmers as teachers, mentors and resources who may become official technical service providers (Taps) for NRCS, or serve as independent mentors and teachers.
KRC worked with twenty-one organic farmers recruiting them for the panel presentations and farm tour hosts. We also discussed technical service provider (TSP) needs in Kansas and other educational needs with them. No one was interested in becoming a TSP. This is not an isolated Kansas issue, but is a nationwide problem. The process to become a TSP, while not hard, is cumbersome for many organic farmers, and the reimbursement for acting as a TSP to help an organic farmer with his OSP is not enough to entice many takers. The organic farmers did identify a need for a farmer mentor or farmer network to help each other with practical questions, and KRC maintains contact with these producers. But such an endeavor needs seed money to get it up and running. KRC is pursuing potential funds from other sources.

E. KRC will provide presentations to extension and other resource professionals on organic farming and the EQIP Organic Initiatives Program so they can promote the program and help farmers enroll.
KRC presented information about the trainings to extension personnel via both personal invitations to the agents in surrounding counties to the trainings and announcing it in their weekly e-newsletter distributed to all agents across the state more than once prior to the trainings. Travel Scholarships were also offered, but there were only a couple of takers.
Presentations to Extension professionals did not take place due to lack of opportunity and interest.

F. KRC will update its crop rotation planning guide and collaborate with KSU to update and revise its Organic Certification Bulletin for distribution.
KRC revised the crop rotation planning forms from its crop rotation planning guide, and used those extensively in the trainings. We did not update the entire guide. KRC and KSU began discussing the update for KSU’s Organic Certification Bulletin, but ran into time and budgetary constraints and did not accomplish the revision. With other updated publications available (i.e. ATTRA), this was not a priority for KSU re-publication. We may pursue it under the KS SARE program or Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The trainings created an opportunity for us to work more intensely with Kansas organic farmers as we recruited them for panel presentations and farm tour hosts, and helped them prepare their presentations. Working with the farmers helped us identify organic farmer needs—both in research and in more immediate practical information needs. Our work with extension researchers as we tried to recruit them to attend trainings, opened up opportunities for dialogue about organic farmer research needs. Working with State NRCS staff, especially the state office staff, opened up dialogue about overall soil quality needs, cover crops, extended crop rotations, and non-chemical weed control, no till, , as well as prompted discussions about needing to adapt conservation practice standards fro organic farmers.

All of these have the potential to impact not just individual farmers by making the EQIP Organic Initiative work better for them, but have opened new relationships with old and new partners. One outcome of this project not specifically in the plan is the potential to open new doors for research and collaboration on ecological farming systems for the future.

Future Recommendations

For future work, KRC has identified:
1) the need for a different approach to training for extension personnel. While we do not yet know what that is, it may require working with organic farmers to identify their needs and then going to extension with their questions and needs to provide evidence that organic farmers need their assistance. A lot of information on organic is already available via webinars and internet sources so creating the need for extension to know may be more important than providing the training at this point.
2) a need for a more aggressive outreach campaign for the EQIP Organic Programs to increase enrollment now that trainings have been held. An outreach component should have been a major part of this proposal. If the USDA program is to succeed and receive continued funding, farmers will have to use the program.
3) a need for an organized organic farmer mentoring or support network in Kansas. This might also help increase the number of farmers using the EQIP programs and contacting extension for information on organic practices, and thus increase the number of organic farmers in Kansas.

KRC will continue to work with KSU Extension researchers to develop research projects and find funding for research to benefit organic farming systems. Researchers need to identify organic farmers to work with, and KRC and the Kansas Organic Producers can help facilitate these connections.

KRC will continue to seek a way to build a mentoring project or network
of organic farmers to share information on practices. (One NRCS suggestion was to start something like the old “Residue Alliance” that predated the No Till groups.) Several NRCS county staff indicated they would be willing to meet with small groups of organic farmers in their area and offer any assistance they could.

KRC also has funding from an NRCS CIG Grant (in partnership with several other organizations across the country) to do one more training or conference in Kansas to bring NRCS staff and organic farmers together in 2012. This provides an outreach opportunity to organic and transitional farmers on the EQIP Organic Program, and an opportunity to add to the NRCS training already done. We will try once more to bring in Extension, although the funding for this training focuses on NRCS.

The number of organic farmers in Kansas is still small enough that having opportunities for sharing information farmer to farmer and getting advice is limited. Another of KRC’s programs funds a monthly teleconference call for farmers and ranchers on grazing management issues, hosting 5 to 15 or more callers. Two KSU grazing specialists and KRC’s grazing specialist are on the calls to answer questions, present information, and refer people to other resources. This model might help organic farmers and want-to be organic farmers without requiring expensive travel, and it is more personal and accessible for most farmers than webinars.

An organic farmer network might also result in more Kansas organic farmers participating in the SARE Producer grant programs as they recognize common research issues and potential experiments for their farms.

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.