Preparing Small Scale Limited Resource Vegetable Farmers for Organic Farming in North Florida

Report for LS10-235

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Grant Recipient: Florida A&M University
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Odemari Mbuya
Florida A&M University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Organic farming has many definitions but it can best be characterized in terms of the cultural practices, and pest and disease control measures which are allowed, restricted, or prohibited. It is a production system which avoids or excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and growth regulators. It relies upon crop rotations, use of crop residues, animal and green manures, mechanical cultivation, and biologically based pest control to maintain soil productivity, supply nutrients, and control insect pests, diseases, and weeds. Despite the advancement of modern agriculture, pest (mainly insects, nematodes and weeds) control and soil fertility management remain to be major challenges in organic agriculture. Organic food production has not kept pace with consumer demand which has risen quickly over the past decade (Greene et al., 2009). The growing consumer demand highlights urgent need to overcome constraints in organic food production. Stringent organic production standards developed by the National Organic Program (NOP) and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and a complex certification process required by different states are among the constraints facing small scale organic farmers (Treadwell, 2007). The planning project brought together a multidisciplinary team of agronomic and horticultural crop production specialists, entomologists, soil scientists, weed scientists and agricultural economists from FAMU, UF and USDA-ARS, and stakeholders including the Florida Organic Growers and Consumers, Inc. and others to identify opportunities and developed appropriate partnerships with a specific focus on production research that will address: i) soil fertility and health: the use of different organic fertilizers (animal manure, plant manures, compost, cover crops/green manures, natural soil amendments/lime and mixed organic fertilizers), ii) pest management: biological control of pests (insects, nematodes and weeds), iii) crop and land management (crop rotation, tillage, mulching, plant spacing, time of planting) and iv) water management in vegetable production. The project activities focused on recruitment of new organic vegetable farmers and seminars on organic farming and organic certification requirements in Florida. Before this planning grant,FAMU did not conduct any research on organic agriculture. Through this planning grant, FAMU has partnered with UF/IFAS and USDA-ARS in promoting organic agriculture in North Florida. A site dedicated to organic agricultural research (10 acres)was secured at the FAMU Research and Extension Farm and a second site at FAMU main campus dedicated to Integrated Pest Management (IPM. Development and offer of new courses in organic agriculture at FAMU is an overarching goal of the project. Among key outputs realized from the planning grant are: i) increased partnership and collaboration among research scientists in organic agriculture at FAMU, UF/IFAS and USDA/ARS, ii) increased interaction and sharing of knowledge between research scientists and stakeholders, iii) collection of pertinent information regarding organic farming iii) development and offer of a course with focus on IPM and organic agriculture at FAMU, iv) development and submission of two research proposals to USDA-NIFA (both proposals were funded)on IPM/organic agriculture and iv) increased awareness of organic agriculture to existing and new organic farmers through workshops and seminars.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of this project were to initiate planning for comprehensive organic vegetable production research and education at FAMU and recruitment of organic vegetable farmers in North Florida. The project was successful in building and strengthening existing linkages between organic farmers and extension/marketing efforts currently pioneered by the Cooperative Extension Programs at FAMU and UF/IFAS. FAMU did not conduct any research on organic agriculture prior to this grant, but successful collaboration and partnership with UF/IFAS, FAMU has initiated organic research and education. Partnership synergy between FAMU (an 1890 landgrant institution) and UF (an 1860 landgrant institution) has helped FAMU to initiate research and education on organic agriculture. Faculty from both institutions participated in joint seminars/workshops to train organic farmers and potential organic farmers about organic farming, best management practices and integrated pest management (IPM). Research on organic vegetable production is still lagging behind the well developed comprehensive guide and best management practices for conventional vegetable production.
The following performance targets were attained: i) establishment of partnership and collaboration on organic research and education between FAMU and UF/IFAS, ii)visit several small scale organic farmers and potential organic farmers in North Florida (Leon County, Jefferson County and Gadsden County), iii) establish several demonstration plots on organic agriculture and IPM at the campus of FAMU, iv) conduct several workshops on organic agriculture and IPM targeting local farmers, v) secure a 10 acre plot for certified organic research at the FAMU Research and Extension Farm at Quincy, Florida, vi) develop and offer a graduate course on IPM and vii) develop two research proposals (a. Supporting Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture through Development of Sustainable Crop Pest Management Systems and b. Enhancing the Capacity of Urban Agriculture in North Florida Using Best Management Farming Practices ....both proposals were funded by USDA-NIFA) to sustain the effort of organic farming in North Florida.
The consumer demand for organic produce is expected to continue rising, driven largely by an increasingly health-conscious population and a general sense of environmental responsibility. The overall adoption level for organic agriculture is still low, with only about 0.5% of all cropland in United States certified organic in 2005 (Greene et al., 2009). As the market grows, so does opportunity for organic growers, hence the need to recruit more farmers into organic farming and improve production techniques through production research. At present organic products account for only 1% of national food sales. Pests and soil fertility management still remains to be the major problems facing organic vegetable production.

Cooperators

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  • Dr. Raymond Hix
  • Dr. Moses Kairo
  • Dr. Jesusa Legaspi
  • Dr. Oscar Liburd
  • Dr. Jennifer Taylor

Research

Participation Summary
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.