Organic Conservation Training for Western Region Conservation Professionals

Final Report for EW12-031

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $98,288.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Sarah Brown
Oregon Tilth
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Project Information

Abstract:

This was a collaborative project to build the capacity of conservation professionals to assist organic and transitional farmers in planning and implementing conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative (EQIP OI). Oregon Tilth partnered with other regional nonprofit and public agencies to deliver a series of intensive trainings designed to increase conservation planners’ knowledge of organic management practices and ability to integrate conservation planning with these practices and organic certification requirements. The project built on an established relationship with NRCS through Oregon Tilth’s Organic Conservation Program and previous Western SARE-funded training on the conservation/organic interface.

Project Objectives:

The project targeted natural resource professionals in Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada who directly assist producers with conservation planning. Oregon Tilth proposed the following trainings, based on requests from NRCS leaders: four two-day field trainings in Oregon (expected 30 attendees/training =120 total); four two-day trainings in California (expected 30 attendees/training=120 total); one two-day training in Nevada (expected 25 attendees) ; and three two-day field trainings in Idaho (expected 25 attendees/training=75 total). In addition, 60 professionals representing conservation districts, technical assistance providers, and others were expected as well as at least two Extension personnel at each training. A minimum of two organic farmers would be recruited to share their experiences at listening sessions and farm visits in association with each training.

Proposed project products included: five organic job specification templates, training curricula that will be replicable in other regions or future training sessions, field tour schedules and proposed instruction, web-based resources including links from appropriate agencies and relevant information for students, a recorded webinar that is publicly available for future playback, and an updated resource CD and handouts of relevant conservation and organic materials (updated from information developed in previous WSARE grants).

Introduction:

The project addressed the lack of expertise, tools, and program coordination identified by NRCS, and the larger organic community, as a barrier to effective implementation of the EQIP Organic Initiative (OI). The EQIP OI has been challenged by limited staff understanding of organic production practices and certification regulations, insufficient technical resources for conservation plan development, and inadequate coordination of NRCS, organic certification, Extension, and other agencies and programs. Proposed activities were delivered through Oregon Tilth’s Organic Conservation Program (OCP), a novel partnership with NRCS designed to integrate EQIP OI assistance with organic certification standards and practices. The program, which began in 2010, has delivered training to more than 800 conservation professionals in the region. WSARE funding enabled the OCP to respond to regional needs for customized training, technical assistance and coordination. It built institutional capacity in the regional conservation system and enabled producers to more effectively access public conservation resources.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nick Andrews
  • Rex Dufour
  • Jennifer Miller

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

Key project activities included:
a. Development of guidance and organic job specification templates related to nutrient management, cover crops, integrated pest management, crop rotation, and on-farm composting. Topics were prioritized based on information gathered from training evaluations and data collected by the OCP. NCAT led the project team in developing these organic job specification templates, with input from a workgroup of farmers, natural resource professionals, and University Extension representatives.
b. Training sessions for natural resource professionals on how to use and tailor the organic job specification templates, as described above. NRCS participants received continuing education credits. Sessions included in-class training, listening sessions, and field components, covering the following content: 1) scope of conservation programs and practices and their relationship to NOP regulations and conservation programs ; 2) use of organic job specifications templates, addressing common challenges associated with NOP prohibited inputs, diversified livestock and crop operations, specialty crops, and small-scale producers; 3) Organic Fertilizer & Cover Crop Calculator for use in developing organic nutrient budgets[1][2][3]; 4) field demonstrations to share farmers’ first-hand experience and perspectives; and 5) guided hands-on exercise to practice developing job specifications. (In Nevada, training also covered organic certification basics as requested.)
c. One-on-one coaching for each NRCS State Office for adapting organic job specification templates for local needs and conditions.
d. Webinars to provide training to individuals unable to attend the on-site training session. These were posted online for future public access.
e. Networking and facilitation of information-sharing systems to strengthen collaboration among natural resource professionals, university researchers focused on organic systems, nonprofit service providers, and producers.

 

[1] Estimating Nitrogen Contribution from Cover Crops in Organic Vegetable and Cane Berry Farms, WSARE Grant #FW06-301

[2] Increasing Grower Adoption of Adaptive Cover Cropping Systems: Effects on Vegetable Production and Nitrogen Cycling, WSARE Grant #FW09-328

[3] Adapting the Oregon State University Cover Crop Calculator for Idaho Growing Conditions, Idaho NRCS 2010 Conservation Innovation Grant, http://www.id.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/cig/projects_fy10.html

Outreach and Publications

The type and structure of the technical documents developed through this project shifted based on NRCS changes in conservation planning implementation. Job specifications evolved into ‘implementation requirements’. NRCS leadership advised Oregon Tilth to develop associated implementation guides and resources rather than attempt to incorporate organic technical guidance and considerations into the implementation requirements themselves. Based on this guidance and the initial assessment survey sent out to conservation planners the following five regional documents have been developed:

  • Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems: Western State Implementation Guide (Authors: Rex Dufour (National Center for Appropriate Technology-NCAT), Sarah Brown (Oregon Tilth), and Denise Troxell (NRCS). Contributors and reviewers: Dan Sullivan (Oregon State University), Ben Bowell and Carrie Sendak (Oregon Tilth), Jennifer Miller (Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides-NCAP), Giulio Ferruzzi , Rich Fasching, and Dennis Chessman (NRCS))
  • Cover Crops (340) for Organic Systems: Western State Implementation Guide (Authors: Rex Dufour (NCAT); Sarah Brown, Ben Bowell and Carrie Sendak (Oregon Tilth); Mace Vaughan and Eric Mader (Xerces Society). Contributors and reviewers: Nick Andrews and Stephen Machado (Oregon State University); Eric Brennan (USDA Agricultural Research Service); Doug Collins, Steve Fransen, and David Granatstein (Washington State University); Christi Falen and Lauren Hunter (University of Idaho); Giulio Ferruzzi, Karen Lowell, Angie Quintana-Jones, Mary Beth Smith, and Denise Troxell (NRCS); Jennifer Miller (NCAP))
  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems: Western State Implementation Guide (Authors: Rex Dufour (NCAT); Sarah Brown, Ben Bowell and Carrie Sendak (Oregon Tilth); Jennifer Miller (NCAP); Mace Vaughan, Eric Mader, Jessa Guisse, Jolie Goldenetz Dollar, and Brianna Borders (Xerces Society). Contributors and reviewers: Giulio Ferruzzi, Thad Heater, Dean P. Moberg, Albert Mulder, and Loren St. John (NRCS); Gwendolyn Ellen (Oregon State University); Jennifer Reische (Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation District); Richard Straight (USDA National Agroforestry Center))
  • Resources for Conservation Planning on Organic and Transitioning-to-Organic Operations (Authors: Sarah Brown, Ben Bowell and Carrie Sendak (Oregon Tilth). Contributors and reviewers: Jennifer Miller (NCAP); Rex Dufour (NCAT); Denise Troxell (NRCS))
  • Common NRCS Practices Related to Pest Management on Organic Farms (Authors: Sarah Brown (Oregon Tilth) and Giulio Ferruzzi (NRCS). Contributors and reviewers Derek Tilley, Dee Carlson, Denise Troxell, and Adam Reed (NRCS); Rex Dufour (NCAT); Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth))

With the support of NRCS state offices, some of the documents were revised to create eleven state-specific versions:

  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems: California Implementation Guide
  • Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems: California Implementation Guide
  • Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems: California Implementation Guide
  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems: Idaho Implementation Guide
  • Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems: Idaho Implementation Guide
  • Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems: Idaho Implementation Guide
  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems: Nevada Implementation Guide
  • Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems: Nevada Implementation Guide
  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems: Oregon Implementation Guide
  • Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems: Oregon Implementation Guide
  • Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems: Oregon Implementation Guide

The five Western State versions of the documents and a some of the state-specific versions (Oregon, California, and Idaho) can be found online at the national NRCS Organic (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/organic) and Oregon Tilth (www.tilth.org ) webpages. 

Outcomes and impacts:

At each training participants completed a pre-evaluation to rate their skills and knowledge on 8 topics covered in the training (cover crops, buffers, nutrient management, EQIP OI, resources, etc). A total of 138 pre-training evaluations were collected. Shortly after the training, participants received a post-training evaluation via SurveyMonkey which asked attendees to rate their skills and knowledge on the same 8 topics. A total of 78 post-training evaluations were received. Knowledge and skills increased in every category after each training. Prior to the training, skills and knowledge across all 8 categories averaged 2.5 (scale of 1-5); after the training, the average increase to approximately 3.5 (scale of 1-5).

Several months after each training, Oregon Tilth sent a second follow up survey to participants to understand the longer-term impact of the training. 58 attendees responded:

  • A large majority has used the knowledge and resources. When asked about frequency of use they stated: somewhat (48%), quite a bit (21%), very little (19%), a great deal (7%), and not at all (5%).
  • Most has used the knowledge and resources to work with producers; they worked with 1-5 producers (72%), 0 producers (16%), 11 or more producers (7%), and 6-10 producers (5%).
  • A majority had shared the knowledge and resources with colleagues; they share the information to varying extents: small (53%), moderate (24%), large (14%), very large (5%), and not at all (3%).

 

As a result of this project, Oregon Tilth has worked with NRCS leadership in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and New England to create regionally adapted versions of the guides:

  • Conservation Buffers in Organic Systems (New England, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania)
  • Cover Crop (340) in Organic Systems (Kentucky and Pennsylvania)
  • Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems (Kentucky)
  • Resources for Conservation Planning on Organic and Transitioning-to-Organic Operations (Pennsylvania)

Additionally, NRCS national leadership has identified these documents for national adoption into the NRCS Organic Guidebook. The development of the national guidebook and facilitation of the regional guides is being led by Ben Bowell, Organic Education Specialist, Oregon Tilth.

Oregon Tilth and partners continue their engagement with NRCS state offices and other conservation organizations to provide continued and expanded organic related assistance. Recently NRCS unveiled a new Conservation Activity Plan designed to serve as part of an Organic System Plan. The effort to reduce redundancy between NRCS conservation plans and Organic System Plans was led by Oregon Tilth staff working closely with leadership from NRCS and the NOP.

Additionally, Oregon Tilth is working to ensure that organic principles and considerations are included in the NRCS Soil Health Initiative. In 2014 Oregon Tilth helped coordinate and facilitate a national soil health training on an organic farm in Oregon. Soil health on organic farms has been the topic of two national NRCS webinars in the past year and been the focus of six national NRCS producer profiles.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

TRAININGS

The proposed training timeline and locations were modified to meet changes in NRCS budgets and availability.

Completed trainings are listed here:

  • July 15-16, 2013- Salinas, CA: 23 attendees total: 15 NRCS and 8 Resource Conservation District (RCD) personnel. Farm Tour at Javier Zamora’s farm. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Rex Dufour (NCAT), and Nick Andrews (Oregon State University)
  • July 18-19, 2013- Colusa, CA: 14 attendees total: 9 NRCS, 3 RCD, 1 Chilean Agriculture Counselor, and an agriculture air quality advisor. Farm Tour at Benden Farm. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Rex Dufour (NCAT), and Nick Andrews (Oregon State University)
  • August 20, 2013- Olympia, WA: 25 attendees total: 25 NRCS. Training on Nutrient Management Plan (590) in Organic Systems only. Trainers: Sarah Brown and Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth)
  • September 9-10, 2013- Indio, CA: 14 NRCS attendees total. Farm tour at Bautista Family Farm. Trainers: Sarah Brown (Oregon Tilth) and Rex Dufour (NCAT).
  • 12-13, 2013- Hanford, CA: 12 attendees total: 9 NRCS, 1 organic inspector, and 2 ag. professionals. Farm tour at Fukagawa Family Farm. Trainers: Sarah Brown (Oregon Tilth) and Rex Dufour (NCAT).
  • In January 2014 four two-day trainings were held in Oregon in Medford, Pendleton, Redmond, and Salem. There were 75 attendees total. 33 from NRCS, 20 farmers, 12 RCD, and 10 other agricultural professionals. Farm tours visited: Fry Family Farm, Nelson Grade Organics, Oregon’s Wild Harvest, and Spring Hill Organic Farm. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Sarah Brown (Oregon Tilth), and Nick Andrews (Oregon State University), Jennifer Miller (Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides), Dan Sullivan (Oregon State University), and Mylen Bohle (Oregon State University), Stephen Machado (Oregon State University).
  • May 6-7, 2014- Fallon, NV: 13 attendees total: 11 NRCS and 2 NV Department of Agriculture. Farm tour at Lattin Farms. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Peggy McKie (Nevada Dept of Agriculture), Jeff Knight (Nevada Dept of Agriculture)
  • May 19-20, 2014- Jerome, ID: 14 attendees total: 14 NRCS. Farm tour at King’s Crown Organic Farm. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Jennifer Miller (NCAP), Lauren Hunter (University of Idaho), Amber Moore (University of Idaho), Dick Johnson Idaho NRCS)
  • May 22-23, 2014- Lewiston, ID: 14 attendees total: 14 NRCS. Farm tour at Harvest Ridge Organics. Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Jennifer Miller (NCAP), Diana Roberts (Washington State University), Dick Johnson Idaho NRCS)
  • September 9-10, 2014: 40 attendees, all NRCS: National Soil Health Course. ‘Soil Health on Organic Farms’ and an organic farm tour.
  • September 22, 2014- Carson City, NV: 52 attendees total.  Building Healthy Soils Workshop.  Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Albert Mulder (NV NRCS).
  • November 8, 2014- Vancouver, WA: 90 attendees total.  “Tools for Creating a Nutrient Management Plan in Organic Systems” workshop at Tilth Producers of Washington conference.  Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Adam McCurdy (Oxbow Center & Organic Farm), Doug Collins (Washington State University)
  • January 23, 2015- Monterey, CA: 160 attendees total, 40 ag service providers and 120 farmers. ‘Soil Health Strategies on Organic Farms’- Ecofarm Conference.
  • February 2, 2015- Portland, OR: 50 farmer attendees total. ‘Crop Rotations in the Pacific Northwest’- Organicology.
  • February 6, 2014- Portland, OR: 85 attendees total.  “Soil Health in Organic Systems” workshop at Organicology conference.  Trainers: Ben Bowell (Oregon Tilth), Mark “Coach” Smallwood (Rodale Institute), Doug Collins (Washington State University)

  • In-Person Training Summary To-Date: 276 NRCS, 23 RCD, 61 other agricultural professionals, 321 farmers: 204 Total Participants 

The initial proposal listed one webinar and we are pleased to have delivered three.

Completed webinars:

  • July 9, 2013: ‘Common NRCS Practices Related to Pest Management on Organic Farms’ was presented as a live webinar for the California attendees. This enabled us to focus the in-person training sessions on the more complicated documents and topics. The webinar was recorded (23 attendees)
  • February 25, 2014: ‘Common NRCS Practices Related to Pest Management on Organic Farms’ was presented as a live webinar for Oregon attendees.. The webinar was recorded (21 attendees)
  • December 2, 2014: ‘Nutrient Budgeting: Organic Considerations for Implementing NRCS CPS 590’ was presented as a live national webinar through NRCS.

  • Webinar Training Summary To-Date: 159 USDA/NRCS, 91 Private, University, Other: 250 Total Participants

 

OTHER

One of the primary purposes of this project was to increase awareness among agricultural professionals about the services that NRCS has to offer organic producers. As part of this project, Oregon Tilth and project partners have made significant efforts to reach the larger agricultural service provider network.

NCAP wrote an article for an extension newsletter about the grant project and trainings. It went out to county faculty, specialists and administrators. Additionally, NCAP sent an email announcement about the EQIP OI funding, including at least 20 University of Idaho extension members who work with organic growers. NCAP also secured media coverage of the funding in the Capital Press (‘Grant funding for organic producers unused’, Nov 2, 2016). 

Oregon Tilth presented information about the EQIP Organic Initiative at the 2013 and 2014 Oregon State University Small Farm Conference, the 2013 Organicology Conference, the 2013 and 2014 North Willamette Horticulture Socity’s Annual meetings, and through their newsletter (reaching ~1,100).

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Conservation and certification staff continue to need targeted information and training. In a national survey of NRCS staff, 96 percent of respondents said that more training and technical assistance are needed in order to work effectively with organic and transitioning farmers (Oregon Tilth 2014). Certification staff have a unique opportunity to identify conservation problems and risks through their early and regular interaction with farmers. They are required to have conservation training and encouraged to provide allowable technical assistance and direct farmers to resources for help (NOP 2013). Many transitioning farmers communicate with a certifier as their first step toward transition. Certifiers are an important link between farmers, NRCS staff, Extension, TSPs, and other support providers, including Soil and Water/Resource Conservation Districts, that work directly with farmers on conservation. A survey of certification personnel conducted by Wild Farm Alliance and the International Organic Inspectors Association (lOlA) identified significant needs for conservation education (Baumgartner 2014) for both certifiers and farmers, as did detailed comments submitted by the Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA 2014) on the NOSB’s “Assessing Soil Conservation Practices Document” (NOSB 2014). 

Oregon Tilth and Wild Farm Alliance will begin to address this need with the recently awarded WSARE project entitled ‘Growing the Field for Organic Conservation: Training on NRCS CAP 138 and NOP Conservation Standards’. The purpose of this project is to advance conservation and organic professionals’ understanding of organic conservation so they can educate and assist organic and transitioning farmers to improve conservation outcomes. We will develop a suite of training and resources for NRCS staff, certification staff, TSPs, and other providers to increase their knowledge of organic conservation practices and how certification and conservation programs work together, and grow their shared capacity to help organic and transitioning farmers meet their conservation, production, and certification needs and goals. The project builds on this award, but distinctly addresses the timely need for targeted education on the revised CAP 138 and the new NOP conservation guidance.

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.