An Introductory Virtual Training Curriculum for Crop Advisers and Extension Educators Working with Transitioning Organic Grain Crop Producers

Project Overview

ENC18-166
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2018: $68,437.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2020
Grant Recipient: American Society of Agronomy
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Christopher Boomsma
American Society of Agronomy

Information Products

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, no-till, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, varieties and cultivars, water management
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultivation, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, organic certification, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Abstract:

    This project developed webinars, podcasts, a video, and fact sheets for North Central SARE Region agricultural professionals that work with grain crop farmers either transitioning or considering transitioning to organic production. This curriculum provided the sustainable agronomic guidance these advisers need to help their clients succeed during this three-year period. It also highlighted the unique, sustainable business opportunities both growers and their advisers have during this timeframe. The target audience was the Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) and Extension agent communities present in the North Central SARE Region that focus on grain crop production, though the materials were also made available to producers, other agricultural professionals, and the general public. The project leveraged the American Society of Agronomy’s (ASA) Member and CCA rosters; the project team’s collective grower and Extension network connections; ASA’s webinar, podcast, video production, graphical design, marketing, and survey and analytical capabilities; and transitioning and organic grain crop production experts to produce and deliver a five-part webinar series, four-part podcast series, a single video, and five fact sheets. Materials covered areas in which CCAs must acquire Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and many Extension agents must be proficient: nutrient management, soil and water management, pest management, and crop management. This project’s education materials also focused on the business case for working in transition grain crop production. Surveys were used to assess knowledge gains and implementation among learners. Over half of those individuals that responded to the post-project survey used the project’s education materials to support grain farmers working through the organic transition period. Even after this project’s extensive education efforts, many advisers remained uncertain of (i) the business opportunities associated with organic grain crop consulting and (ii) their ability to deliver the business and certification acumen and skills required for advising growers through the organic transition. Survey results suggested that follow-on education is needed, particularly in input cost and revenue estimation, organic system planning, and weed management. 

    Project objectives:

    Short-term Objectives:
    1. Certified Crop Advisers (CCAs), Extension educators, and other agricultural professionals will gain an improved understanding of the opportunities and challenges of sustainable organic grain crop production and will have a sound grasp of whether or not they wish to advise transitioning growers. They will also gain a basic understanding of the sustainable agronomic practices needed for helping growers transition from conventional to organic production in an economically- and environmentally-sustainable manner.
    2. Conventional, transitioning, and organic growers will have a better understanding of and appreciation for the agronomic complexity and sustainability focus associated with transitioning and organic grain crop production systems.
    3. American Society of Agronomy (ASA), University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the organic grain crop production community will create partnerships with each other as they create and promote the project’s education materials. These partnerships will enable them to seek funding for follow-on training programs.
    4. The project will create webinars, podcasts, a video, and fact sheets that will serve as permanent resources for agricultural professionals in their work with transitioning and organic grain crop farmers.

    Intermediate-term Objectives:
    1. Information presented in this project’s education materials will be routinely used by advisers helping growers make the transition from conventional to organic gain crops. The project’s education materials will promote and enable demonstrable, sustainable change in on-farm practices and provide curriculum participants with expanded experiences, business opportunities, and impact in transitioning and organic grain crop consulting.
    2. The positive impacts of this project’s educational materials and the collaborations formed during their creation will result in follow-on grant funding for this project’s creators and their future collaborators to support the creation of expanded organic and sustainability education curriculums that provide agronomic guidance for cropping systems in the North Central SARE and other SARE Regions.

    Long-term Objective:
    With the support of ASA, Extension educators, and the organic production community, the materials created through this project will continue to support a robust network of agricultural professionals who provide research-driven, sustainability-focused information to transitioning and organic grain crop farmers. Not only will this increase the success of these grain farmers in the North Central SARE Region, but it will also help insure the sustainability of their farms beyond the transition period.

    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.