Training for Organic Farming and Ranching in the Great Plains

2007 Annual Report for ENC06-092

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Charles Francis
Grain Place Foundation
Shannon Moncure
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Training for Organic Farming and Ranching in the Great Plains


Organic products are the most rapidly growing sector of the U.S. food system. Farmers and ranchers in NE, KS, ND and SD have lagged behind those in other states in recognizing and exploiting the potential of these markets. One reason for low client interest has been lack of experience in organic production and limited resources to provide recommendations on the part of Extension educators and high school teachers. Key farmers and ranchers in each state who are already certified for organic agriculture production are willing to share their experiences with interested educators.

This grant describes the ‘train the trainers’ program to provide educators in Extension and high schools with practical information and hands-on experience in organic farming and ranching system practices and design. Nebraska experience with the North Central Regional PDP Project in sustainable agriculture training and workshops across the region in the 1990s convinced us that having information in the system is not sufficient. Educators need to see things in practice, discuss systems with others in the field, and learn through experience about the potentials of new innovations in agriculture.

This project will organize and implement four workshops in KS, SD, ND and NE in 2007 and four more in 2008 to help provide needed information and experience. Trainers will be farmers and ranchers who are already active in organic production, and results will be summarized and provided to those who attend and to others in the region. Farmer organizations will be partners in the organization and implementation of workshops.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Initial planning for the workshops involved the identification of key players in each state that may have been involved or interested in organic farming and ranching.

An introductory email was sent to all on this list (generated from grant project partners and state organic contacts) to develop a database of contacts for each state. This email was sent out in early March identifying the project coordinator and requesting contact information from a targeted audience of those already associated with organic farming and ranching.

Responses to these emails were helpful in further identifying those in each state who we could count on as key players once we began the actual planning of projects. Those that responded with more than just the required contact information typically were those with stronger interest in the project and were more willing to take on a leadership role in their state.

Workshops: Training for Organic Farming & Ranching on the Great Plains
North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, 2007 & 2008

1. To increase knowledge about organic farming and certification among Extension educators & specialists, NRCS technicians, high school teachers, and public sector administrators
2. To increase the role and visibility of organic farmers in educational planning and programming in the four-state area
3. To create an information exchange network among organic farmers and public sector educators to improve profitability and sustainability of farming

When: June and July, 2007; June and July, 2008

Where: Workshops to be held on farms in the four states, with farmers as hosts

Presentations: Most presentations will come from farmers, plus some from experts in organic certification and extension

Tentative Program: One-day format, from 9 am to 5 pm, including a working lunch:
1. Pre-workshop reading materials available for preparation for workshops
2. Presentations, hands-on practice, coffee-shop type discussions, evaluation
3. Post-workshop follow through to evaluate impact on participant activities

Planning: Cooperative planning by local organic farmers, Extension, NRCS, other interested agencies

Time Line:
1. Planning for 2007 workshops in March-April
2. Preparation of workshop talks and materials in May-June
3. Workshops in June-July
4. Evaluation in August-December
5. Planning for 2008 workshops starts in January

Decisions to Make at Planning Meetings:
1. Location and date for workshop, identification of host
2. Speaker names and contact information
3. Program content, involvement of Extension, NRCS
4. Establish specific time line for each workshop

For information
Ashley Colglazier, 308-352-4240 (office) or 308-352-6563 [email protected]
Chuck Francis, 402-472-1581 [email protected]


Planning in earnest began with a schedule of face to face meetings and travel from March 13-15. Dr. Charles Francis and Ashley Colglazier first drove to Sidney, NE to meet with the Nebraska OCIA Chapter 2 whom we identified as partners for the Nebraska workshop. Dr. Francis helped to identify this group through conversations at an earlier held conference on organic farming in Lincoln. The Nebraska planning meeting involved five farmer/OCIA chapter members whom would eventually take ownership of the workshop and go on to plan a great majority of it. A date of June 26, 2007 was determined at this meeting as well as a very rough draft of the topic outline. It was also decided to arrange the Community Hall in Lodgepole, NE as the central meeting point for the day. A second planning meeting was scheduled for April 4th which neither Dr. Francis nor Colglazier were able to attend. The main contact generated from this first meeting was Marva Holt, Chapter Administrator of High Plains OCIA NE 2.

At the completion of the first meeting, Dr. Francis and Colglazier drove to Scottsbluff to meet with Dr. Alex Pavlista at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center. The original meeting was supposed to include Dr. Drew Lyon as well, but he was away at meetings. This stop proved very unfruitful as Dr. Pavlista did not have much experience with organic farming or ranching and he knew very few farmers in the area that did.

Upon the conclusion of the 2nd scheduled Nebraska meeting, Marva Holt emailed the workshop schedule that was decided upon and also outlined the food and refreshment arrangements that were being taken care of on their end. A final planning meeting was scheduled for June 12, 2007 in Sidney. Colglazier was able to attend this meeting. Final details were discussed with much of the meeting focus on advertising.

Prior to the meeting, Colglazier had emailed a press release to all regional newspapers and was in contact with a local radio station. Special emails were also sent out to Nebraska Extension, Natural Resource and Conservation Service, and Nebraska Farm Service Agency personnel with limited response. It proved unsuccessful to try to contact area high school agriculture educators as school was not in session and many of them were hard to reach due to summer jobs. Advertising did however generate interest from other farmers who had been considering organic as well as an area real estate agent. More advertising could have been done on the radio at a cost of $100, but this was not opted for as our target audience was not the general public, but rather our professional personnel. Dr. Francis helped to develop a university press release that was posted on the IANR website, sent to local papers and utilized on KRVN radio. The farmer-planners of the workshop did an excellent job of encouraging their own educators and bankers to attend. One would think that a face-to-face invitation would yield the highest results anyway. As a note for the future, maybe written invitations could be used to plan the next workshop targeting our audience. It would useful to try to obtain some sort of database of Nebraska high school ag educators and touch base with them towards the end of the school year depending on the scheduling of the next workshop.

South Dakota
Our contact in South Dakota became Thandi Nleya. She is an educator at the West River Extension and Research Center in Rapid City, SD. Thandi did an excellent job of rounding up a diverse group for our workshop planning meeting which was held on Wednesday, March 14th at the extension center in Rapid City. The participants included: agriculture educators, farmers, ranchers, district specialists and representatives from the Department of Agriculture. The planning meeting was very productive and concluded with the identification of a smaller planning committee that would meet to iron out the details of the workshop. Planning committee members included: Thandi (extension), Rhoda Burrows (extension), Ken Olsen (extension livestock specialist), Bob (Dept of Ag), Adele (extension) and Augustine (extension). As you may have already noticed, the biggest difference between the Nebraska and South Dakota workshops, was the group who planned it. Extension took on a much larger leadership role in South Dakota.

Planning meeting members decided that the 2007 SD workshop should be held in the West River district with a majority focus on organic livestock production and minor focus on organic cropping systems. The 2008 SD workshop would then be held in the East River district with a majority focus on organic cropping systems with a minor focus on livestock production. The terms ‘west river’ and ‘east river’ refer to position in relation to the Missouri River. At the first planning meeting, we were able to determine that the workshop would be held on Tuesday, July 10, 2007 beginning at the farm of Ray Berry (Norris, SD). Dr. Charles Francis also pursued teaming up in 2007 with April Borders from East River to help put on a two-day organic workshop held at the eastern end of the state. It was determined that limited slots should be available for this workshop and that a nominal fee could be charged to recover food costs. We initially decided that this workshop could support 30 participants. The initial planning meeting concluded with the establishment of the planning committee and arrangement of a conference call to take place on April 12, 2007 at 1:00 pm. Thandi became the main contact and was very good at maintaining correspondence with the overall project coordinator. She can be credited with the majority of the success of the South Dakota workshop.

North Dakota
Our points of contact in North Dakota were Frank Kutka, NCR-SARE state coordinator for North and South Dakota, and Pat Carr, extension specialist at the Dickinson Research and Extension Center. We were able to arrange a meeting with them and local farmers that they arranged to attend the initial planning meeting on Thursday, March 15th at the newly finished Dickinson Research and Extension Center. Farmers attending the meeting included: Pat Frank, Roger Kudrna, Duane Boehm and Don & Jeannie Dukart. Workshop topics were discussed including: transitioning to organic production, protection from genetic drift, and financial comparison of organic v conventional. All of the farmers present were open to hosting the workshop on their farms as long as the conditions were favorable and roads were not muddy. Thursday, June 28th and Thursday, July 12th were the two dates suggested at the planning meeting. After the meeting, Frank Kutka did some inquiring within extension as to which of these dates would work best. It should be noted at this time that the summer is a very, very busy time for extension meeting and plot tours. Going any later into July, we would have hit fair time or even possibly the beginning of spring wheat harvest. However, sometimes the later you are able to hold the workshop, the more crops are available for viewing on the farms. The meeting was good in the fact that we got a lot of input from the organic producers that attended. Most of the planning was yet to be done however. We did end up having a conference call in June to iron out more of the details. During the call, we decided to utilize the new research and extension center as a central meeting point and go out on tours in the morning and afternoon, returning to the center for lunch and a certification presentation. Roger Kudrna and Pat Frank volunteered to host the tour on their farms. A tentative schedule very similar to that utilized for the Nebraska workshop was outlined, as well. Frank Kutka agreed to develop a one-page schedule. Tour hosts were also asked to develop a map and/or set of directions to their farms to hand out so no participant would get lost. More of the planning responsibilities fell on the overall project coordinator as opposed to a state specific coordinator which made things a little more difficult. This was especially so when trying to line up catering. A local contact would have been much more helpful in this situation.

A 2007 organic workshop was not held in Kansas. Contacts from this state discouraged planning a summer 2007 workshop stating that extension educators in the state were busy aiding those areas affected by tornadoes. It was suggested that a workshop be planned for April 2008. In order to fulfill the two workshop grant proposal, we will plan to do a two-day workshop or two one-day workshops in different areas of the state. Planning for these workshops will begin in January 2008.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In 2007 there were some real successes, as well as some disappointments that we hope to overcome in the second year. The former included excellent meetings in cooperation with OCIA in Lodgepole, NE (50+ people), south central South Dakota (40 people), and Dickinson North Dakota (35 people). There was very good NRCS attendance in NE, impressive Extension attendance in SD, and good farmer participation in all three places … reaching our goal of having the educators mix with farmers in the field. In all three tour/workshops, we only had one agriculture teacher in ND. So that was a disappointment. There was no meeting in Kansas, due to late arrangements with key people and our failure to identify key partners in time.

A late footnote to the report: we have just lost two of our organic farming pioneers in the Panhandle of Nebraska. Darrell Holt of Dalton passed away in early March after suffering from cancer for many months. Larry Glassburn, who was on our program in Grant, Nebraska in a cooperative workshop with NRCS, died on his farm a week later when a trench collapsed. We will miss these two leaders in OCIA and the organic community [update April 2008].

Future Plans for 2008

Our plan for 2008 is to schedule similar meetings in all four states in early summer and through the fall. The idea is to again partner with appropriate organizations … OCIA, NRCS, and this time the statewide vocational agriculture teachers’ organizations. It seems that the only way to reach some of the intended audiences is to go to where they will be. For example, we are planning a presentation to the statewide vocational agriculture teachers convention in Kearney in June … where we will have a joint presentation by the Center for Rural Affairs and SARE with emphasis on beginning farmers and on organic certification and production. One key item will be to prepare a folder of key resource information to hand out to all 130 participants. I anticipate doing something similar in the other states if we can arrange it. We are partnering with NRCS for an organic workshop in Grant, NE on March 19 [update: 30 people attended the session, with NRCS and Extension people on the program and in the audience], and with a coalition of groups in eastern Kansas for November. It seems that we can reach a much larger number of people if we can work together with other key organizations, especially those with members who are certified organic and those interested in sustainable agriculture.

Our current project coordinator, Justin Van Wart, is a graduate student working on a PhD degree in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. As part of his work in organic farming education, he plans to participate in a workshop for new organic certifiers in Iowa in late April. This will greatly enhance the capacity of the project team to present current information of certification, and to improve the understanding and skills of educators in the organic farming planning and implementation process.

Phone links with cooperators in the four states have been established, and conference calls will be conducted in April to determine specific dates and places, as well as tentative program plans, for the 2008 training sessions.


Ashley Colglazier

[email protected]
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Perkins County Extension Office
200 Lincoln Ave, PO Box 99
Grant, NE 69140
Office Phone: 3083524340
Shannon Moncure

[email protected]
Project Coordinator
3740 Everett St.
Lincoln, NE 68506
Office Phone: 4025706409
Justin Van Wart

[email protected]
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
215 Keim Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0953