On-Farm Training in Organic Pest Management Practices for Small, Diversified Farms

Final Report for ES10-106

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $83,775.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoff Zehnder
Clemson University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Project members and stakeholders met in January each year to identify specific topics for inclusion in the training, and to develop a schedule of training events for the year. A total of nine, one-and two-day training events involving classroom, laboratory and on-farm sessions were conducted during the project period (2010 – 2012). A total of 537 agriculture professionals representing 1862 and 1890 Extension, NRCS and NGO agencies attended. Farmer educators participating in the South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program were also invited to participate. First year training focused on the concepts of ecologically-based disease, insect and weed management, and subsequent trainings focused on more advanced topics including specific pest problems and solutions. Results of participant surveys indicated that over 90% were highly satisfied with the training format and content, and viewed the training as a valuable professional development opportunity that enhanced their ability to help farmers implement sustainable/organic pest management practices. As a result of the program we now have a core group of agriculture professionals with expertise in organic/sustainable pest management who are now helping farmers with implementation of effective, biologically-based pest management strategies. Thus the benefits of the project will continue beyond the project period through a network of cooperating farmers and agriculture professionals who will share information and personal experiences with pest problems and solutions.

Project Objectives:

1. With stakeholder input identify key disease, insect and weed management strategies and resources promulgated in the “Pest Management for Organic Crops” Curriculum that are appropriate for on-farm training in sustainable/organic pest management.
2. With cooperating farmers and instructors develop the training curriculum and schedule for a series of on-farm classes to demonstrate preventative and biologically-based disease, insect and weed management strategies.
3. Promote and conduct the on-farm classes over a two-year period with instructors experienced in sustainable/organic farming and in disease, insect and weed management.
4. Conduct follow-up interviews with training participants to assess their level of satisfaction with the training, and whether they were able to use the knowledge and skills gained to effectively teach farmers about the concepts of sustainable/organic pest management.

Introduction:

Public demand for fresh, locally-grown foods in South Carolina, the region and nationally has increased dramatically within the past few years. Key contributing factors are increased public awareness of the health benefits of fresh, whole foods, and the increases in fuel and transportation costs. Currently in South Carolina and the region, the demand for locally grown food is much greater than the supply.

A primary focus of the South Carolina (Clemson and South Carolina State University) Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SC SARE) Program is on creating opportunities for beginning and transitional farmers and landowners who are interested in starting small-scale, diversified farming operations to meet the demand for local food products, particularly for high-demand horticultural crops like vegetables, including ethnic and heirloom varieties. To this end SC SARE organizes workshops and other educational events for farmers and for Clemson (1862) and South Carolina State University (1890) Extension agents based on stakeholder-identified needs and priorities.

In South Carolina as well as other southern states the warm, humid growing conditions favor the development of diseases, insect pests and weeds that pose major challenges to farmers being able to produce sufficient volume and quality of horticultural crops to meet the growing demand. According to a recent survey, the top research priority for organic horticulture in the Southeast was the development of more effective insect, disease and weed management strategies (SARE Project LS02-142; http://www.sare.org/reporting/report_viewer.asp?pn=LS02-142). SC SARE stakeholders have also identified a need for training of Extension agents and other agriculture professionals in sustainable/organic pest management as a top priority. While cognizant of the abundant pest management information and guidelines available online and in print form, they emphasized the importance of on-farm training as the most effective means to provide experiential learning in a real-world setting.

This project will address these stakeholder needs through the development of on-farm and hands-on training in sustainable disease, insect and weed management strategies. The focus will be on how to implement strategies including cultural practices to prevent or avoid pest problems before they occur. The target audience for the training will be Extension agents, NRCS personnel, farmer educators and other agriculture professionals who are in a position to advise farmers. Although the training will be appropriate across all crops, the focus will be on implementation of preventative pest management strategies for certified organic production of high value, diversified horticultural crops.

The pest management concepts and practices to be taught in the training program will be taken from a comprehensive curriculum developed over 4 years by pest management experts in the southern region, and updated with latest research findings in sustainable pest management, as well as farmer experience. (Project LS04-213: Development and Integration of Sustainable Agriculture Core Curriculum Training into the Southern Region Extension Education System). The project addresses SARE PDP Program priorities to 1) enhance environmental quality through the adoption of more environmentally friendly pest management practices, 2) integrate natural biological cycles and controls given the project focus on training in holistic and biologically-based pest management programs, 3) sustain the economic viability of farm operations by training agriculture professionals how to advise farmers on the implementation of cost-effective pest management strategies for production of high-value crops, and 4) enhance the quality of life of farmers and society by facilitating the adoption of effective sustainable/organic pest management programs for small-scale vegetable production in the south, thereby creating greater economic opportunities for new and existing local farmers to meet the increasing public demand for sustainable/organic and locally-grown produce.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

This project will address these stakeholder needs through the development of on-farm, hands-on training in sustainable/organic disease, insect and weed management strategies for Extension, NRCS and DNR personnel and other agriculture professionals. The focus of the training will be on how to implement strategies including cultural practices to prevent pest problems before they occur.

Pest management information and strategies incorporated into the training program was adapted from a previously funded Southern Region SARE PDP project to develop a sustainable agriculture training curriculum for agriculture professionals. The curriculum entitled “Pest Management for Organic Crops” is comprised of 11 modules describing the concepts and methods for implementation of ecologically-based pest management strategies. The curriculum was developed by regional experts on disease, insect and weed management using research based information and recommendations.

The training courses were taught by regional experts in sustainable/organic disease, insect and weed management, and were held at the Clemson University Campus and Organic Farm, at Presbyterian College and Bush River Farm in Clinton, SC, and at the Clemson Coastal Research and Education Center and Ambrose Family Farm in Charleston, SC. A total of ten, one-or two- day training events devoted to ecologically-based disease, insect and weed were conducted at the three locations during the project period. The course instructors included land-grant university disease, weed and insect pest management specialists, pest management consultants/scientists, and experienced organic farmer-educators with pest management expertise. A majority of the pest management specialist/instructors have extensive experience with certified organic vegetable crop production and/or research. The course format varied depending on topic, and included a classroom/laboratory session followed by lunch, and an afternoon session on the farm to observe pest problems and to discuss solutions.

The focus of the training was on non-chemical, preventative disease, insect and weed management strategies appropriate for the southern region. First-year courses focused on the concepts of biologically-based pest management and pest identification and scouting methods. Second-year courses addressed implementation of specific preventative pest management tactics for key diseases, insect pests and weeds. The training emphasized a holistic, integrated and systems approach to solving disease, insect pest and weed problems. A participatory training approach was emphasized where participants were given pest problem scenarios and were asked to discuss in groups and identify appropriate solutions. Participants printed resource materials relative to the topics being taught.

Outreach and Publications

None to report

Outcomes and impacts:

A total of nine, one-and two-day training events involving classroom, laboratory and on-farm sessions were conducted during the project period (2010 – 2012). A total of 537 agriculture professionals representing 1862 and 1890 Extension, NRCS and NGO agencies, and farmer educators with the SC New and Beginning Farmer Program, participated in the training program.

Existing and beginning farmers lacking knowledge of sustainable/organic pest management may be reluctant to transition from conventional pest management methods or to begin a sustainable/organic farming operation, respectively. By addressing this knowledge gap the training project will create greater economic opportunities for new and existing local farmers to meet the increasing public demand for sustainable/organic and locally-grown produce.

As a result of the program we now have a core group of agriculture professionals with expertise in organic/sustainable pest management who are now helping farmers with implementation of effective, biologically-based pest management strategies. Thus the benefits of the project will continue beyond the project period through a network of cooperating farmers and agriculture professionals who will share information and personal experiences with pest problems and solutions.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Project team members and stakeholders met during winter of the first project year to identify specific topics for inclusion in the on-farm training in sustainable/pest management and to develop a schedule of training events for the year. Key pest management strategies from the web based “Pest Management for Organic Crops” curriculum that were recommended by the team and stakeholders as most appropriate for small scale farmers were selected for inclusion in the training. Project team members met subsequently in-person and by conference call to develop the training curricula for each year, and to finalize a schedule and locations for on-farm training events. Information on the training program and schedule of events was disseminated by the South Carolina SARE Program, Clemson and South Carolina State University Extension, and other organizations including the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and Lowcountry Local First. The project advisory group recommended that training events include laboratory sessions when possible where participants can gain experience with disease and insect identification. Therefore training events at Clemson and Presbyterian College (Clinton, SC) were organized to include laboratory sessions for hands-on training in disease and insect identification. A total of five training events were held in Year 1 with 251 participants, and four training events were held in Year 2 with 286 participants, including 1890 and 1862 Extension agents, NRCS and South Carolina Department of Agriculture personnel, and farmer educators. Instructors for the training included Dr. Powell Smith (Insect Management), Dr. Mark Boudreau and Dr. Tony Keinath (Plant Disease Management), Dr. Mark Schonbeck (Weed Management), Mr. Daniel Parson (Integration of Pest Management Strategies into the Farm Plan), and Dr. Geoff Zehnder (Insect Management and NOP guidelines). Online surveys completed by training participants indicated that over 90% were highly satisfied with the training format and content, and viewed the training as a valuable professional development opportunity that enhanced their ability to help farmers implement sustainable/organic pest management practices. Follow up surveys indicated that a majority of participants were better able to assist farmers with implementation of environmentally-sound pest management strategies than before the training, suggesting a change in behavior resulting from the training.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

The primary contribution of the project is a core group of agriculture professionals with expertise in organic/sustainable pest management who are now assisting farmers with implementation of biologically-based pest management strategies. Farmers who have the knowledge to o develop cost-effective and environmentally sound pest management plans will be more competitive in the marketplace and will be able to meet the increasing demand for local and sustainably-grown foods. The benefits of the project will continue beyond the project period through a network of cooperating farmers and agriculture professionals who will share information and personal experiences with pest problems and solutions.

Future Recommendations

At the South Carolina SARE Advisory Committee meeting in January 2013, the members recognized that the SARE PDP IPM training program has provided benefits to South Carolina and the region including agriculture professionals better equipped to assist farmers with IPM implementation, and ultimately greater adoption of ecologically-based IPM by our growers. They have recommended that we continue IPM training to help new and beginning farmers, conventional farmers who want to transition to more sustainable pest management practices, and also to address new pest problems as they emerge.

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.