Organic Grain Production Another Way

Final Report for ENE98-038

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1998: $90,100.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
John Hall
University of Maryland
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

a) Provide professional development education to Cooperative Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals in the holistic decision-making process required when exploring organic grain systems as an alternative farming system.

b) Provide professional development education to extension and other agricultural professionals in the “how to” of organic grain production; i.e.: planting, cultivation, nutrient management, cover crops, harvesting, pest management and grain marketing.

c) Provide professional development education to extension and other agricultural professionals with incentives to become the facilitator for extension/farmer organic grain study groups throughout the region.

d) Provide professional development education to extension other agricultural professionals with an organic grain systems resources directory for the mid-Atlantic region.

e) Provide professional development education to extension personnel and other agricultural professionals with incentives to become the facilitator for extension/farmer organic grain study groups throughout the region.

Four organic growers in the mid-Atlantic were identified as filming sites. Additional mid-Atlantic sites showcasing organic grain research was incorporated into this component. These sites included the USDA research plots at Beltsville, Maryland and Delaware State University legume/no-till organic grain research plots in Dover, Delaware. Region-specific fact sheets comprise the second component of this project. The natural sub-regions of the mid-Atlantic region will develop the fact sheets. Northeast SARE publications “Managing Cover Crops Profitability” “Steel in the Field” and “Rodale’s Cover Crop Fact Sheets” and others were used in this component.

Introduction:

Two recent developments appear to have changed agriculture in the mid-Atlantic region in recent years. The 1995 Farm Bill reduced government involvement in agriculture by reducing government subsidies. Prior to the 1995 Farm Bill, farmers were given incentives to follow certain cropping rotations, which served to control land in production, which, in effect, controlled supply. This incentive program geared farmers to follow incentives instead of true market indices. About this same time, scientists were making major advancements in biotechnology. Bovine somatotrophin, (BST), was one of the first significant breakthroughs in biotechnology; injection of this product allowed dairy cows to increase production by as much as 10%. This technology, along with genetically engineered plants, certainly followed the mind-set of maximum-performance production agriculture has followed in recent years.

It appears, however, that something was different this time. Consumers had become more health conscious in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. They also had more disposable income to allow them to purchase food for reasons other than cost and nutrition. It was during this time that the organic natural food movement began to gain momentum. Four relatively large dairy companies were organized and made significant strides in the marketplace by filling the consumer requests. It is not the intent of this proposal to pass judgment of the movement, but to follow the intended purpose stated in the 1995 Farm Bill, that being “to allow the free market to exist.”

The dairies that organized during this period appear to be flourishing. A nationwide demand for dairy products does exist. Further, sales have become significant enough to cause USDA to consider tracking volume. Whether this increased market demand is driven by consumer preference or innovative marketers will not be addressed here. The fact is there has been a significant increase in organic dairy farms in the mid-Atlantic region.

With increased dairy production, an increased demand for organic feed has developed. This increased demand has stimulated Cooperative Extension personnel and many non-organic cash grain farmers to explore organic grain production as another way, an alternative farming method to fulfill a market demand. This farming alternative however, provides a tremendous paradigm challenge. Although organic farming requires a thorough understanding of best management practices that we all accept, it requires us not to use the biotechnology and chemistry developed in recent years. For many, it becomes a step backward.

The professional development project, “Another Way,” will provide extension educators of the mid-Atlantic region a professional development program that will address the paradigm shift required, and the peer pressure, which will follow if the producer chooses to try another way. It will also address critical growing-point decisions that will be required for successful adoption of organic practices. This component of the training will focus on maximizing sustainable practices of pest management, nutrient management, and the use of cover crops. This component may spark renewed interest in ICM/IPM practices on conventional farms.

“Another Way” will develop an organic grain systems workbook package consisting of videos, organic grain systems resource directory and regional specific fact sheets for CBS personnel and other agricultural professionals, including farmers. This project combines the collaborative CBS resources of Cornell University, Delaware State University, University of Maryland College Park, Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jon Danko
  • Mark Davis
  • Ed Fry
  • Mena Hautau
  • Gary Ingraham
  • Kevin Kimbles
  • Klaas and Mary Howell Martens
  • Anusuya Rangarajan
  • Hans Schmidt
  • Lew Schrawder
  • John Teasdale

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Video 1: “Farm Decision Making: One Family’s Story” (15:32). This video addresses the challenge to change. Scripted actors representing a typical farm family address looking at alternatives. The wife and mother is required to go back to school to get new skills for her off-farm job. The wife’s off-farm income is keeping the family solvent. The farmer questions the time required to do this. The son comes home and asks for farm management information to use at school on a special project. The video captures the struggle the farmer is going through, and how the farm family must work together to set goals. Change is very difficult. This video is intended to be used in a study circle setting. The intent was to show a typical farm family in need and possible solutions. Solutions come by recognizing the need to change followed by action. Thanks go to Anusuya Rangarajan for her assistance with the script and to Gary Ingram for locating the actors and developing the sets.

Video 2: “Choosing Organic” (16:20).
This video is a collection of dialogue from producers from Maryland to New York. The producers range from being in transition to having over 25 years of experience in organic. The video addresses: a. Why am I farming organically? b. The decision to change, c. market considerations, d. the certification process, e. weed concerns, and f. peer pressures. This video reinforces the fact that changing to organic agriculture involves a huge paradigm shift that includes peer pressure.

Video 3: “The Transition to Organic.”
This video takes a holistic view of organic grain production. This video describes soil health and the cultural practices required to build soil health. It emphasizes soil quality and the importance of building and sustaining healthy soils for organic production. It addresses the need to plant roots and cover crops as well as the need for crop rotations. The video explores alternative cropping methods and how each method effects soil quality, weed management, disease management, and insect management. The video showcases new concepts such as “farmscapes” as an insect management tool. It addresses this from a researcher’s point of view as well as farmers’ point of view. In addition, farmers and researchers with years of experience address actual how-to methods. Tillage methods, management weed seed germination, designing farmscapes to management insect populations are all addressed.

We are very appreciative to the researchers that helped make this video work. The researchers included:

Dr. Ray Weil, Soil Scientist, University of Maryland

Andy Clark, USDA SARE

Dr. John Teasedale, Agronomist, USDA Beltsville

Dr. Paula Schrewsbury, Entomologist, University of Maryland

Dr. Kevin Thorpe, Entomologist, USDA Beltsville

Dr. Arvydas Grybauskas, Plant Pathologist, University of Maryland

Performance Target Outcomes

Outcomes

As of February 20,2003 Cornell university distributed the following:

70 complete packages nationwide

32 sets of the video tapes have been sold

Leon Weber, Rodale Institute, used these materials for a professional development training held in April 2001. Thirty educators from four states received these materials at the training.

Approximately 120 farmers annually see the soil health potion of video three, “The Transition to Organic,” in Kent County Maryland.

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.