Training for Organic Farming and Ranching in the Great Plains

2008 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


Project Summary from the Pre-Proposal

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 potentials 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

Overall Project Objectives

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


2008 Nebraska Workshops

Two workshops were completed in Nebraska in 2008. The first, in Grant, NE, consisted of interactive discussions and panel presentations by farmers and NRCS personnel. This workshop was attended by four Extension and five NRCS participants, and also included a large contingent of farmers: eight organic producers and 13 considering transitioning to organic. There were 33 participants overall.

This workshop’s most popular topics were all connected with the actual practices of organic farming, especially organic inputs and the experiences of the currently practicing organic farmers. The attendance and interest of the NRCS participants, who worked in the area of water quality, brought an added benefit to the program.

The second Nebraska workshop took place in Kearney, NE, and was part of the larger Nebraska Agriculture Education Association annual conference. Ninety attendees participated in a presentation led by Chuck Francis, and received a new grant-supported resource: a folder containing both actual organic farming resources, as well as a list of online resource links the participants could investigate on their own after the conference. This new resource also was disseminated at other events and sites throughout Nebraska once it had been created for this purpose, especially through the Center for Rural Affairs.

The most important impacts of this change in methodologies were twofold: first, the creation of an extensive resource that could both supplement in-person experiences and also stand alone meant that the organic agriculture education "news" could spread in a different way throughout interested educators. Many NAEA participants, for example, expressed satisfaction at having something to hold in their hands, take back to their workplaces, and even reproduce for their students and fellow educators. Second, the ability to speak with so many high school educators after struggling to do so throughout 2007 was a great success. It had been essentially impossible to attract these teachers to stand-alone conferences, but the fact that so many made the annual NAEA conference a must-attend event made it clear that we had made a significantly positive change to our planning.

2008 South Dakota Workshops

Two workshops were completed in South Dakota in 2008. The first, in Madison, SD, was hosted by the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and consisted of two on-farm tours and an interactive discussion at the conclusion of the day. This workshop was attended by eight Extension, ten NRCS and two high school educator participants, and also included a large contigent of farmers: 12 organic producers and 25 considering transitioning to organic. There were about 67 participants overall.

Both of the farms involved in this event were large and diverse, providing a huge amount of information and examples of concepts for the participants to experience firsthand. The panel discussion at the end of the day gave all participants a way to ask questions connected to the earlier tours, and to integrate their new knowledge into their existing frames of reference.

The second South Dakota workshop took place in Pierre, SD, and, similarly to the Nebraska Agriculture Education Association annual conference, integrated a presentation by Chuck Francis into the South Dakota statewide vocational agriculture educators’ conference. Seventy-nine attendees participated in this presentation, and received the resource folder described in the previous section. Twenty-five other conference participants picked up a copy of the resource folder as well, citing personal interest or the intent to give the folder to a friend or relative who was in need of such information.

The same impacts were realized by this resource development and integration into high school educator annual conferences in South Dakota as in Nebraska: the ability to reach new audiences and a wider ultimate impact on both educators and the young people they teach.

North Dakota 2008 Workshop

In North Dakota, the 2008 workshop (which consisted of an on-farm tour and break-out sessions in the afternoon, in and near Tappen, ND) was attended by currently organic producers, producers thinking of going organic, extension educators, resource management staff and agricultural educators. The workshop was sponsored by FARRMS and the Mercer County Extension office.

Participants in this workshop also received the same resource folder provided to Nebraska and South Dakota participants.

Evaluations were positive. Suggestions included start to finish farm planning (“whole farm planning process”) and information on “microproducers” (urban producers, market gardeners etc.). The topics were all marked “important” by at least one attendee and “somewhat important” by others.

Kansas 2008 Workshop

The 2008 workshop in Kansas was a cooperation between the north central region of SARE, the Kansas Rural Center, the Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops, Kansas State University Research and Extension, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. There were 25 attendees, including some from Extension and NRCS.

This workshop, in and near Sabetha, KS, consisted of participatory discussions throughout the morning, with a tour of a grain mill and an organic farm in the afternoon. Participants in this workshop also received the same resource folder provided to Nebraska and South Dakota participants.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The project objectives of bringing current and relevant information about organic farming to educators in the four-state region of the Great Plains were realized through a series of workshops that included farmers, NRCS specialists, and extension specialists as instructors. We purposefully planned these meetings in collaboration with farmer organizations such as the Organic Crop Improvement Association. We invited farmers to join educators at the workshops in order to enrich the learning environment in the field with exchange of information and a n informal teaching role for the farmers in a one-on-one situation with educators. While we did not reach as many educators (voc-agriculture teachers, NRCS, Extension educators) in the ways that we had anticipated in the grant proposal, we modified the approach in order to go to meetings where they were when they did not come to us. This proved especially successful for the vocational agriculture teachers.
It is always difficult to do a quantitative evaluation of impact, and likely much of the change as a result of this series of educational activities will not be realized in the short term. With the results of evaluation surveys from the workshops, we have some indication of impact on those who attended, what they learned, and what they intended to do with this information. A thorough evaluation of impact will await a follow-through survey that will be accomplished during a no-cost extension of the project.

The additional dimension of working together closely with the OCIA to organize workshops, and developing an informational “green folder” that included information from the Center for Rural Affairs on beginning farmer opportunities were emergent properties of the development of workshops and programs. They were logical extensions of the planned work, and provided vehicles to reach more people in more venues, and to help advertise the events.


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