Organic Farming Principles, Practices, and Materials: Resources for Western Region Extension and USDA Professionals

Final Report for EW02-005

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $101,907.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Sean Swezey
Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food System
Co-Investigators:
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Project Information

Abstract:

As the number of organic farmers and ranchers continues to increase and acreage in certified organic production expands in the Western Region, more cooperative extension professionals and federal agency field personnel are being asked questions related to the certified organic production practices, particularly allowable methods and certification rules and procedures. This project was aimed at helping this audience respond to the needs of their clientele in this growing area, and develop the skills and expertise necessary to providing high quality education and information in organic production. Specific objectives were to: 1) provide Western region extension personnel and federal and state agricultural professionals a clear understanding of practices, materials, and processes that comply with organic standards; 2) give Western region agricultural professionals access to expertise and other information resources on organic farming that will enable them to stay current on the most effective organic practices and materials; 3) enable Western region extension personnel to adequately answer questions from their clientele regarding effective practices that meet organic standards. To accomplish these objectives, project cooperators organized 6 workshops on organic production and compliance (4 on-site events and 2 satellite conferences), and produced an organic compliance training manual for Cooperative Extension personnel and other ag professionals. This manual is available on the Web at http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/organic/complianceguide/. Educational goals related to the workshops were assessed through a workshop evaluation conducted on the day of the event. Accomplishments related to the training manual were evaluated through feedback gathered during development and review of the publication, and assessments conducted at training events where the manual was used. Cooperating organizations on this project include: University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Washington State University, Oregon State University, New Mexico State University, and Organic Materials Review Institute.

Project Objectives:

• To provide Western region extension personnel and federal and state agricultural professionals a clear understanding of practices, materials, and processes that comply with organic standards.

• To give Western region agricultural professionals access to expertise and other information resources on organic farming that will enable them to stay current on the most effective organic practices and materials.

• To enable Western region extension personnel to adequately answer questions from their clientele regarding effective practices that meet organic standards.

Introduction:

As the number of organic farmers and ranchers continues to increase and acreage in certified organic production expands in the Western Region, more cooperative extension professionals and federal agency field personnel are being asked questions related to the certified organic production practices, particularly allowable methods and certification rules and procedures. This project was aimed at helping this audience respond to the needs of their clientele in this growing area, and develop the skills and expertise necessary to providing high quality education and information in organic production. Specific objectives were to: 1) provide Western region extension personnel and federal and state agricultural professionals a clear understanding of practices, materials, and processes that comply with organic standards; 2) give Western region agricultural professionals access to expertise and other information resources on organic farming that will enable them to stay current on the most effective organic practices and materials; 3) enable Western region extension personnel to adequately answer questions from their clientele regarding effective practices that meet organic standards. To accomplish these objectives, project cooperators organized 6 workshops on organic production and compliance (4 on-site events and 2 satellite conferences), and produced an organic compliance training manual for Cooperative Extension personnel and other ag professionals. This manual is available on the Web at http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/organic/complianceguide/. Educational goals related to the workshops were assessed through a workshop evaluation conducted on the day of the event. Accomplishments related to the training manual were evaluated through feedback gathered during development and review of the publication, and assessments conducted at training events where the manual was used. Cooperating organizations on this project include: University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Washington State University, Oregon State University, New Mexico State University, and Organic Materials Review Institute.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Brian Baker
  • David Granatstein
  • Steve Guldan

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Methods and descriptions of training events included in following Accomplishments section.

Outreach and Publications

The major product/publication from this project is "Organic Farming Compliance Handbook:
A Resource Guide for Western Region Agricultural Professionals" available on the Web at http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/organic/complianceguide/

Outcomes and impacts:

Outcomes and Impacts are incorporated into each of the state summaries following in the Accomplishments section.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Individual State Summaries (includes Methods, Accomplishments/Milestones and Impact/Outcomes)

California
Leaders: Sean Swezey and David Chaney, UC SAREP

County Extension Faculty Workshops. Two workshops for county-based extension faculty were supported through this grant, and were strategically integrated with existing professional education programs that production ag advisors in the state attend each year.

Workshop 1: UC ANR Vegetable Crops Conference / Organic Compliance Training
This workshop was held December 4, 2003 at the University of California, Davis. It was organized as an extended 2-hour segment within the UC ANR Vegetable Crops conference, held annually for all vegetable crop farm advisors in the state. Thirty extension faculty attended the event. The agenda for this intensive training is included as Attachment 1. Written evaluations conducted at the end of the training indicate that the workshop was well-received by our target audience. Participants answered the following questions very positively, with average response scores all in the 4 to 5 range (5 being the highest level of agreement):

Question Numerical Score
Were your expectations for this course met? 4.25
Were you satisfied with the material covered? 4.25
Did the workshop increase or enhance your knowledge of NOP compliance? 4.25
Do you expect to use what you have gained in this event in your work? 4.1
Were the handout materials useful to you? 4.25

Workshop 2: UC ANR Pomology Extension Continuing Conference / Organic Compliance Training
This workshop was held March 18, 2004 at the University of California, Davis. It was organized as an extended 2-hour segment within the UC Pomology Extension Continuing Conference, held annually for all pomology farm advisors in the state. Twenty-five extension faculty attended the event. The agenda for this intensive training is included as Attachment 2.

Washington / Pacific Northwest
Leaders: David Granatstein, Washington State University; Alex Stone, Oregon State University; Carol Miles, Washington State University; Brian Baker, Organic Materials Review Institute.

Satellite Workshops. Two national satellite workshops were produced through this project: 1)
National Organic Standards on March 21, 2003; and 2) Organic Livestock Principles, Practices and Prospects on October 29, 2004.

National Organic Standards (3/21/03). This event was broadcast from WSU in Pullman, Washington, to 60 downlink sites in 21 states, with an estimated participation of over 600 people. The audience was a mix of extension service providers, researchers, growers, and agency and industry representatives. Presenters included Miles McEvoy, Organic Food Program manager at Washington State Dept. of Agriculture; Jim Riddle, organic consultant and member of the National Organic Standards Board; Marilynn Lynn, organic soft fruit grower from Bridgeport, WA; and David Granatstein, Sustainable Agriculture Specialist at Washington State University. The broadcast included two time slots where viewers could interact with the panel via phone, email, or fax with their questions.

Participants were requested to complete an evaluation form which local downlink coordinators then collected and sent in to WSU. A summary of the evaluations is included as Attachment 3. Over 95% of those responding to the survey rated it as very useful/useful and very interesting/interesting, and were interested in a follow-up broadcast. Based on the evaluations submitted, the overwhelming majority of viewers liked the time and format, and would be willing to attend a future broadcast. Three topics were rated for the highest interest for a future broadcast: weed management, soil management, and using amendments/ compost.

The broadcast and all questions and answers are posted on-line at http://ext.wsu.edu/noas .
This Web site has been widely advertised in the Pacific Northwest through meetings, handouts, and emails to encourage agricultural professionals to use it.

Organic Livestock Principles, Practices and Prospects (10/29/04). This second satellite broadcast was downlinked at 93 locations in 24 states, reaching at least 400 people. Presenters/panelists included Joel Huesby (Thundering Hooves Ranch, Touchet, Washington); Becky Weed (Thirteen Mile Farm, Belgrade, Montana); Ann Wells (DVM, Springpond Holistic Animal Health, Prairie Grove, AR); Mike Gamroth (Extension Dairy Specialist, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon); Thierry Pomerleau (organic inspector/reviewer, Oregon Tilth, Salem, Oregon); and Sarah Bratnober (Communications Director, Organic Valley Family of Farms). As with the initial program, this broadcast also included time slots where viewers could interact with the panel via phone, email, or fax with questions.

Participants were requested to complete evaluation forms which were then sent back to WSU for processing. A summary of the evaluation responses is included as Attachment 4. 100% of the respondents said they would like to participate in a future broadcast, and marketing was identified as the priority topic. Ninety percent of the respondents saw their need for information on organic agriculture increasing in the future, 10% saw it staying the same, and none saw it decreasing. 97% expected to use something learned from the broadcast directly in their work. About half were already working with organic agriculture. The broadcast was extended 30 minutes due to the high level of questions from viewers. This had been anticipated and arrangements were made in advance for this option. The broadcast is available as an on-line videostream at the same site as the first broadcast (http://ext.wsu.edu/noas).

Demonstrable impacts for this component of the project include the high level of participation in the broadcasts and the expectation that knowledge gained will be used in people’s work. The broadcasts are available on-line and we continue to get inquiries about them. We plan to continue to offer satellite training on organic agriculture topics in the future as funding can be secured. We developed the second broadcast in cooperation with ATTRA and that is a partnership we plan to continue, as WSU can provide a distance education capability for ATTRA programs.

On-Site Workshops. Two consecutive workshops for extension professionals were held February 24 and 25, 2004, in Wilsonville, OR. Planning for these workshops began with several meetings of project organizers and other extension faculty interested in organic farming. One meeting was held in Ellensburg with Washington State University faculty and staff. Two additional planning meetings were held at Oregon State University during the summer of 2003. The planning team was made up of the following individuals: David Granatstein, Washington State University; Alex Stone, Oregon State University; Brian Baker, Organic Materials Review Institute; Peter Miller, Oregon Tilth; Carol Miles, Washington State University; Laura Morrison, Organic Materials Review Institute.

Agendas for each of the workshops are included as Attachment 5.

The first workshop, Organic Farming Rules and Resources, provided training on the basics of organic farming, especially the regulations, and the information resources available to ag professionals. About 105 people attended this session, with a relatively even distribution among research/extension participants, NRCS and conservation district personnel, ag suppliers, and growers. Each attendee was provided with a resource binder developed by the project (with OMRI as the lead), and numerous other handouts were available for free choice pick up. The following topics were covered during the day: What is organic farming? (status in the region, fundamentals, grower perspectives), regulatory framework, certification, materials allowed, information resources, case studies, and discussion.

The second workshop, Ecological and Organic Weed Management, was added on to the training to provide information on the topic of most concern to organic practitioners – weed control. The agenda combined research presentations with grower presentations and a poster session. Growers represented about 55% of the audience this day. Handouts were available during the poster session, and each participant received a copy of the proceedings, which contained summaries of the posters. The proceedings are available on-line at http://csanr.wsu.edu/InfoSources/WilsonvilleProceedings.pdf

A summary of the evaluation responses for both workshops is included in Attachment 6. Responses for the first workshop showed that over 90% of respondents gained new knowledge at the workshop and intended to use that knowledge in their programs or work. All sessions were ranked similarly in terms of usefulness (3.0-3.4 out of 4). About 80% of the respondents indicated they would attend a similar event in the future. We had a number of verbal comments, particularly from NRCS and conservation district staff, as to the value of the day and their desire to have organic systems more recognized within their agencies. The training met its goals of helping those with little or no understanding of organic farming to better their knowledge and be able to find information to answer future questions.

Participants at both events indicated they would attend similar trainings in the future and suggested a number of possible topics. Most people indicated that they did learn something new and expected to put it to use in their job or on their farm. The project has strengthened the working relationship between Washington State University and Oregon State University, and with Oregon Tilth, Organic Materials Review Institute, and Washington Tilth. The weed control workshop provided growers, consultants, and extension with many ideas for organic weed management which will be tested in the field.

New Mexico
Leader: Steve Guldan, New Mexico State University

Workshops addressing organic certification and production were held in Albuquerque (May 25, 2004) and at Sunland Park (December 2, 2004).

Albuquerque workshop. Thirty-six people attended this organic training workshop. Of those attending 15 were Cooperative Extension employees; others were farmers/ranchers (including some speakers), and representatives from the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission (including a speaker). Several attendees were from Arizona and Colorado. The agenda for this workshop is included as Attachment 7. Each participant received a copy of the compliance guide binder (see below under “Western States Compliance Guide”).

Based on the overall evaluation scores and comments, the workshop was well-received and relevant to attendees. There was good support from NMSU personnel beyond the Southwest cooperators on the project (Guldan, Walser, and Jimenez); also, Rob Call from University of Arizona Extension was very helpful. New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission was also involved. A strong element of the program was the diversity of speakers we were able to bring in to participate. A summary of responses to the workshop evaluation is included as Attachment 8: 76% of respondents (19/25) indicated the highest or next-to-highest rating on the question asking if they expected to use in their work what they gained from the event; 100% (22/22) of respondents indicated the highest or next-to-highest rating on the question asking if the handout materials were useful.

Sunland Park workshop. A WSARE sponsored Sustainable Agriculture Workshop was held in Sunland Park, NM on December 2, 2004 to help bring together growers, educators, extension and research personnel under one roof. The one day workshop concentrated on marketing, using SARE resources, and working with organic commodities (see Attachment 9). Fifty-two people attended the workshop with 10 extension agents and specialists, 8 university researchers, 12 university students and teaching staff, 10 growers, 5 crop consultants, 2 state agency staff (NMOCC & NM Farmers Marketing Association), and five speakers.

Twenty-two of the participants filled out the workshop evaluation form. In responding to the question: “Are you involved, or do you plan to get involved in organic research and/or extension projects as part of your work?” -- 55% (12/22) indicated they were already involved, and 32% (7/22) indicated they plan to get involved within the next 18 months. These responses indicate that the workshop was relevant and useful to the participants.

It is a little early to say what the demonstrable outcomes are, but just getting that many people together in the southern part of the state to talk about sustainable agriculture is an accomplishment. The southern part of the state is traditionally the larger-scale, commercial farming part of the state. As urban growth continues in the southern part of the state, the role that traditional agriculture takes will be different as influenced by the new urban audience and potential market. One grower told me he was thinking about converting to a CSA type marketing program for his crop. Other farmers are considering forming a marketing coop and being able to sell products to many markets.

Overall, the level of knowledge on organic production, rules, and regulations is now higher among extension educators in New Mexico. Just as important as direct increase in knowledge level are the reference materials provided that will make it much easier to find and provide answers on any specific questions on organic agriculture that may come up.

Western States Organic Compliance Guide

Farmers and ranchers look to Cooperative Extension and other agricultural advisors as a resource for educational materials and information on organic farming. A major component of this project was the development of an online organic farming compliance guide to assist these professionals in their role as information providers. The guide is posted on the SAREP Web site at http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/organic/complianceguide/ (see Attachment 10).

The contents of the guide are based in part on materials that were assembled in notebook/binder format for the Pacific Northwest workshops held in Wilsonville, Oregon in 2004. These materials were reviewed, edited and updated and supplemented with additional resources to produce the online guide.

The objectives of the resource guide parallel those of the project as a whole, to:
• provide Western region extension personnel and federal and state agricultural professionals a clear understanding of effective practices, materials, and processes that comply with organic standards.
• give Western region agricultural professionals access to expertise and informational resources on organic farming that will enable them to stay current on the most effective organic practices and materials.
• enable Western region extension personnel to adequately answer questions from their clientele regarding effective practices that meet organic standards.

The extension service is an appropriate provider of such advice and recommendations, and has this as part of its core mission. However, to do so, farm advisors, county agents, and other agency personnel need to become familiar with the standards and practices that organic producers must meet, as well as the best sources of information to handle on-going requests.

The online version is organized in 7 major sections, corresponding to binder tabs:

1. Introduction
2. Principles of Organic Agriculture
3. National Organic Program Standards
4. The Organic Systems Plan
5. Materials
6. Marketing and Economics
7. Resources and Organizations

When users click on the tab for each major section, they are taken to the list of resources available under that heading. All items on the list can be immediately accessed as PDF files. The resources in each section include original papers developed as part of this project, as well as publications available from other Web sites.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Organic farming is a rapidly growing segment of agriculture. All the activities associated with this project were aimed at helping agricultural professionals understand the fundamentals of organic agriculture and provide advice that enables producers to meet the organic standards. The extension service is an appropriate provider of such advice and recommendations, and has this as part of its core mission. However, to do so, farm advisors, county agents, and other agency personnel need to become familiar with the standards and practices that organic producers must meet, as well as the best sources of information to handle on-going requests.

The value and contribution of this project and the information developed and delivered through the workshops and resource guide are evident in the results of the workshop evaluations, and in the comments that participants offered (see previous section). To summarize:

• more than 1,200 people participated in the events sponsored through this project and learned about organic farming and NOP regulations.

• workshop participants found the educational programs to be useful and said they planned to use what they learned in their work.

• there is a need for more educational programs on organic farming and this project provides some guidelines and direction for the type of information that people are looking for.

• the online guide extends the results of the project beyond the immediate audience of workshop participants to other extension service providers, professionals, and farmers and ranchers in the region.

In the workshops, resource materials, and online compliance guide, we have provided what is to the best of our knowledge the most current information regarding compliance with the NOP Rule. As organic farming regulations change and new information and resources become available, the information in this online guide can be easily updated or revised.

Future Recommendations

Based on our experience with this project, there is a continued need for education and training in organic farming and the new NOP regulations. Extension service providers play a key role in assisting farmers and ranchers through this process. Even though questions from a producer regarding organic certification compliance -- particularly with respect to the use of materials and methods -- should always be directed to the certifier of that producer’s operation, county agents are often the initial line of inquiry for a farmer or rancher when it comes to making changes in their production system. Western SARE should continue to support research and education in organic farming as a small part of its portfolio.

The online organic farming compliance handbook that was developed as part of this project can be easily modified and updated as new information becomes available. State PDP coordinators and others in the Western Region may wish to submit other items that could be added to this resource guide. The project cooperators would be happy to work with Western SARE on a process for reviewing and preparing items for inclusion in this guide in the future.

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.