Organic Seed, Soils, and Sustainable Business: Three Intensives and an Online Tutorial

Final Report for EW10-017

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $76,712.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Micaela Colley
Organic Seed Alliance
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Project Information

Abstract:

As part of the 2011 Organicology conference, this project hosted one-day organic seed, soils, and sustainable business intensives, where experts trained 49 agricultural professionals. Online seed production tutorials were created on eOrganic/eXtension from the seed production intensive. To date, over 9,000 individuals have accessed these tutorials. A webinar and live trainings were conducted to teach 62 agricultural professionals how to use the tutorials. Of the agricultural professionals who completed post-event evaluations, 92% felt the trainings increased their knowledge, while 75% felt that they would apply that knowledge in their work.

Project Objectives:

We anticipate at least 40 participants at each intensive (120 total). We anticipate reaching at least an additional 75 targeted Extension and agricultural professionals in our subsequent trainings on the advanced seed tutorial. Once posted online we anticipate a minimum of 200 hits accessing the online tutorial.

Introduction:

Organic farming represents a significant production sector in Oregon and Washington states with over 200,000 combined certified organic acres (Kirby and Granastein, 2008). The region also has a large population of growers interested in transitioning to organic production, or who produce under other sustainability-oriented labels such as Food Alliance. The topics of seeds, soils, and sustainable business were ranked as highest priorities by participants at the 2009 Organicology conference, comprised largely of farmers and agricultural professionals from OR and WA. Seeds and soils are also topics that rank high in the national organic agricultural research agenda and have been prioritized for research funding in the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative, reflecting the strong information need nationally.

Organic producers are required by the USDA NOP to use organic seed when commercially available. This regulation has stimulated an increase in organic seed production, both for commercial sale and on-farm use. The Pacific Northwest has long been a world supplier of vegetable seed and organic vegetables, which makes it uniquely situated to produce organic vegetable seed. A growing number of certified organic producers in the region are entering into seed production. Many are ready for continued and more advanced education particularly on crop specific techniques and hybrid seed production. Seed companies are increasingly moving into organic, hybrid seed production, which offers a higher rate of return, but they are challenged by lack of producers with advanced production skills. Conventional seed production methods, as well as most Extension recommendations, commonly emphasize unsustainable practices for fertility management, weed control, and pest and disease management. Project participants held successful workshops in beginning seed production at the 2008 Organic Seed Growers Conference and created an online Organic Seed Resource Guide. This project will build off of prior work, offering more advanced trainings currently in demand, and creating an online tutorial that compliments the Resource Guide.

Healthy soil management is the basis of sustainable farming practices and research and education on soils is repeatedly a core area of information requested by organic farmers. Soil microbial life, fertility management, and soil quality were identified as high priority areas in the National Organic Research Agenda set by the Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research (Sooby, 2007) and were similarly prioritized by past Organicology attendees. The value of carbon sequestration in sustainable soil management has also increased the awareness of healthy soil management as an important aspect of environmental stewardship (Hepperly et al, 2007). A day long intensive on soil management, focused on the functions of soil microbial communities, current research on carbon sequestration, and tools for organic soils management including cover cropping, on-farm compost production, and fertility management will provide tools for farmers to improve and monitor their soil quality.

Beyond the field, farmers today are grappling with issues of sustainability in their business and marketing efforts. As business people they need the foundational frameworks to understand and communicate the basics of “sustainability”, as well as tools to evaluate their business practices in order to stay competitive in the market place. Natural resource limitations, rising input costs, and increasing income gap and food insecurity are pressing challenges facing industry. There’s also increasing demand for “sustainable” and “socially responsible” products and local food on the consumer end, and an explosion of businesses touting practices and products as “green,” “low carbon,” and “fair trade.” It is critical for organic farmers and industry to have a solid foundation to measure, manage and communicate about their sustainability impacts—social, environmental and economic. Sustainable business practices ranked highest in participant requests for future training from the Organicology evaluations in 2009.

Sooby, J. 2007. National Organic Research Agenda. Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Kirby, E. and D. Granastein. 2008. Current Status of Organic Agriculture in Washington State. Washington State University.

Hepperly P, Seidel R., Pimentel D., Hanson J. and D. Douds. 2007. Organic Farming Enhances Soil Carbon and its Benefits. Soil Carbon Management. Economic, Environmental and Societal Benefits. CRC Press. pp 129-153. ISBN 1-4200-4407-9.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Connie Carr
  • Micaela Colley
  • Matthew Dillon
  • John Navazio
  • Mellisa Schweisguth
  • Jared Zyskowski

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Intensive workshops:

We created day long intensives (trainings) on seed, soils, and sustainable marketing which were offered concurrently on the first day of the three day conference. Participants had an option of just attending the intensive trainings as a single day event or registering for the intensive along with the following two-day conference. OSA coordinated the seed intensive. Oregon Tilth coordinated the soils intensive. FSTLA coordinated the sustainable business intensive.
The seed intensive provided practical field-based knowledge and current research on organic seed production practices. The intensive targeted farmers with previous seed production experience who wanted to improve their skills, learn advanced techniques such as hybrid seed production, and gain knowledge of recent research on organic seed production and seed treatments. Topics included advanced seed production, hybrid seed production, managing isolation and genetic contamination, organically approved tools for horticultural management in seed production, organic disease management and seed treatments, and seed maturation, harvesting, cleaning and handling information. Presenters included experienced organic seed producers, organic seed specialists from the OSA staff, and experienced seed industry professionals.
The soils intensive focused on practical organic soil management tools for farmers and the research principles they are based on. Topics covered included on-farm composting, understanding soil microbiology, cover cropping, understanding carbon sequestration and building soil organic matter. Specific tools were presented for estimating fertility contribution of cover crops, monitoring soil quality, and managing and assessing on-farm compost quality. A combination of researchers, farmers and independent soil specialists, including Nick Andrews, OSU Small Farms Team, presented and coordinate the intensive.
The sustainable business intensive focused on defining “sustainability” as it relates to organic businesses and providing practical guidance to help businesses improve and communicate about social, environmental and economic impact from seed to plate. Topics covered included foundations of sustainability, addressing climate change, smart energy use, zero waste, farm labor and ethical trade programs, and communicating with stakeholders. This was be a follow-up from the well attended and highly acclaimed Sustainability Intensive held in 2009, helping businesses apply the concepts presented there and take concrete action to make a difference for people, planet and organic businesses. Speakers included representatives from successful businesses from farm to retail that have instituted sustainability practices, representatives from non-governmental organizations, key researchers and industry experts.

Online Tutorial:

This project created an online tutorial on organic seed production based on the content from the seed intensive. The outline of information and materials presented was used as the core of the content. The intensive was be filmed and video clips of key topics from the speakers were inserted into the tutorial. The tutorial did not have long segments of lectures, but utilized print, pictorial, video, and additional resources identified by OSA staff and intensive speakers. Jared Zyskowski, of OSA, coordinated the creation of the tutorial working with speakers and OSA staff to gather materials for content. He attended the seed intensive, record detailed notes, and subsequently create the tutorial. He used Moodle, a course development program and worked with the eOrganic technical staff to launch it through eOrganic and post it to eXtension.org.

Tutorial Trainings:

Trainings on the how to access and use the online tutorial were held through eOrganic (as a webinar). Trainings were also presented at the Organic Seed Growers Conference and at four agricultural colleges.

Outreach and Publications

Education and outreach programs and events:

– Organicology intensives:
o Seed intensive
o Soil intensive
o Sustainable business intensive

– Online organic seed production tutorials
o Available at http://campus.extension.org/enrol/index.php?id=377
o Choosing seed crops for your climate
o Onion seed production
o Beet and chard seed production
o Brassica seed production
o Carrot seed production
o Lettuce seed production
o Wet-seeded crop production
o Seedborne diseases
o Seed quality

– Webinar and tutorial orientation workshops
o eOrganic webinar (available at http://www.extension.org/pages/65533/using-the-eorganic-organic-seed-production-tutorials-webinar)
o Mendocino College orientation workshop
o Cabrillo College orientation workshop
o Cosumnes River College orientation workshop
o Cal Poly San Luis Obispo orientation workshop
o Hartnell College orientation workshop

Evaluation results:

Detailed above in Outcomes and Impacts

Outcomes and impacts:
Seed, Soil and Sustainable Business Intensives:

Three one-day intensive trainings were conducted as part of the Organicology conference on February 10th, 2011. 49 agricultural professionals were among the 229 participants in the seed, soil, and sustainable business intensives. Of those who did participate, 39 agricultural professionals completed a survey post-event. 92% of the agricultural professionals who responded indicated that they had moderately or greatly increased their knowledge in the topic areas. 62% of responding agricultural professionals said that they would change their educational programming or advice to farmers as a result of having been through the training.

Online Seed Production Tutorial:

A set of online multimedia tutorials were developed on campus.extension.org based on the seed intensive sessions. These tutorials covered organic production of beet seed, carrot seed, onion seed, lettuce seed, and cucurbit seed; as well as seed climatic considerations, seed diseases, and seed quality. Over 9000 individuals have used the tutorial during the life of this project. An online registration and evaluation system could not be implemented until November of 2012. Since the registration and evaluation system was implemented, only 4 participants have completed an evaluation, none of whom were agricultural professionals.

Tutorial Trainings:

53 individuals, including 24 agricultural professionals, attended the live webinar training on November 16th, 2012. The training provided an overview and orientation to the online seed production tutorials. Of the 24 agricultural professionals attending, 13 completed the evaluation post-event. 96% of those who completed the evaluation felt that the webinar improved their knowledge of the topic, and 96% indicated that they would apply the knowledge gained in the webinar. Ag professionals also received training on using the tutorials at the 2012 Organic Seed growers Conference, and at workshops at the following agricultural colleges in California: Mendocino College, Cabrillo College, Cosumnes River College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Hartnell College. A total of 62 agricultural professionals attended these in-person tutorial trainings. Of those attending, 38 completed evaluations. 92% of those completed evaluations indicated that they felt the training improved their knowledge of the topic, and 79% felt that they would apply the knowledge they gained.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A major and lasting accomplishment of this project is the development of the online seed production tutorials. These tutorials have received heavy visitation since they were first created, and are serving as a model for new online course development for eOrganic and eXtension.org.

Partnerships between the project cooperators (Organic Seed Alliance, Oregon Tilth, and Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association) were strengthened by this project. Thanks to the success of the 2011 Organicology conference, the project partners are hosting another Organicology conference in February 2013.

The partnership between Organic Seed Alliance, Oregon State University, and eXtension.org was strengthened by the cooperative development of new content for eOrganic and eXtension.org

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

As indicated by post-event evaluations (See Outcomes and Impacts above), the seed, soil, and sustainable business intensives at the 2011 Organicology conference increased both agricultural professional and producer understanding of agricultural topics including:
– Nitrogen management and monitoring
– Management of other soil nutrients
– Long term soil management
– Cover cropping and soil fertility
– Conservation tillage techniques
– Effects of management practices on soil
– Fertilizer and cover crop calculating
– Soil testing
– Biochar effects on soil
– Climatic constraints on seed production
– Carrot seed production
– Onion seed production
– Beet and chard seed production
– Brassica seed production
– Wet seeded crop seed production
– Lettuce seed production
– Seed disease management
– Seed quality

In addition, the online seed production tutorials provide a long-term tool for increasing agricultural professionals’ and farmers’ understanding of organic seed production.

Future Recommendations

This project demonstrated the benefits that can be obtained by using a coordinated approach to creating educational products. By incorporating the workshop intensives into the Organicology conference, this project was able to effectively leverage the marketing and facilities of the conference to provide an excellent educational event at a reasonable cost. In addition, by using videos and presentation notes from the seed intensive as a major part of the core content of the online seed production tutorials, this project was able to create rich, detailed instruction that extended beyond a single event to reach a broad audience. We would recommend this synergetic approach to content creation and delivery to anyone developing similar projects 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.