Organic Grains Cropping Systems - Marketing: In-Service Education

2001 Annual Report for ENE00-058

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $95,005.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Bill Liebhardt
The Rodale Institute

Organic Grains Cropping Systems - Marketing: In-Service Education

Objectives/Performance Targets

Increase the expertise of thirty extension staff to support farmers who want to make the transition to organic grain production.

Increase access of extension agents to resources on organic grain production that can be used by extension staff in their own local education programs by developing and distributing a handbook for organic grain production.

Distribute organic grain videos for training farmers.


  1. A committee has been formed that represents states in the mid-Atlantic region and different areas of expertise, including researchers, extension specialists, and field agents. This committee plans the training and makes decisions concerning curriculum content, faculty, and logistics.

    The training has used a combination of passive and active communication. Lerctures, for example, have focused on information transmission—useful for introducing a topic or covering large amounts of data—and have been interspersed with experiential activities in the lab and field to help learners integrate new information.

    Part of the in-service training has been conducted at the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm, where there is the access to the Farming Systems Trial. This is a 20-year-old living experiment that compares conventional and organic grain production systems; in addition, we also have several short-term experiments aimed at expanding and improving specific management techniques such as multi-species cover crop options, weed control in organic soybeans, and evaluations of edible soybean varieties.

    A third educational mode—small group discussion—is used for sharing ideas and providing feedback. This is particularly good for providing information on production techniques: All of the participants have experience with these crops and can support each other through transitions. A group of farmers has also presented a panel discussion and farm tours; their role is to provide agents with specific examples of successful organic grain production and to prepare the agents for the problems faced by conventional farmers transitioning to organic.

    During the first year, a workshop was held at the Rodale Institute Experimental Farm that included a visit to an organic grain farm in the region. During the second year, a field day at one or more farms in New York and a second field day at one or more farms in Pennsylvania or Maryland will teach organic grain farming practices.

    A handbook on organic grain production will be developed; this will be a comprehensive source of information on the underlying concepts of organic agriculture, certification requirements, farm management decisions, production techniques, and marketing. Research on organic grain systems as well as farmer experiences will be included. Also, the project will serve as a venue for publicizing and distributing the vidoeos developed during SARE project ENE98-38, Organic Grain Production/Another Way. A set of videos about will be purchased for each participant to use in their education programs with farmers.

    A first workshop was carried out in April 2001 at the Rodale Institute with twenty-eight participants from five states, and included several sessions by successful organic farmers of New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Farmers documented their process of transition for grain, dairy, and a combination of grain and dairy operations, outlining and exploring the major challenges, risks, strategies, and results. There was a vigorous discussion where lessons were shared and rapport developed, and we consider this type of exchange a crucial component of the grant.

    Information was also shared with the extension agents through handouts, the videos, two books, extension service publications from Cornell University, and a Rodale Institute information packet. A survey instrument was administered to the participants before and after the workshop to measure short-term impact, and several follow-up telephone calls have explore how much of the information is being used.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We have been able to analyze the results of the April workshop surveys, and can report that they show a statistically significant increase in knowledge in the biological components of an organic cropping systems, federal organic standards, criteria for choosing a certification agency, record keeping requirements for certification, economics of marketing organic grains, organic grain marketing options for farmers, food and feed qualities required by buyers of organic grains, and management of organic nutrients in organic cropping systems.

A second questionnaire will be mailed to all participants in the spring, following the final workshop, to assess how extension personnel are incorporating the workshop material in their work with farmers. For example, the number of extension staff using workshop materials will be one indicator of success, since it indicates that farmers have improved access to information about organic grain production


Bill Cox

Professor of Crop Science
Cornell University
Evelina Panayotova

Monitoring and Evaluation Manager
The Rodale Institute
Evy Weaver

Grants Accountant
The Rodale Institute
Maria Pop

Training Coordinator
The Rodale Institute
Mena Hautau

Extension Agent, Agronomy
Penn State Cooperative Extension
Jeremy Singer

Assistant Extension Specialist
Rutgers University
Gregory Roth

Associate Professor of Agronomy
Pennsylvania State University
Jeff Moyer

Farm Manager
The Rodale Institute
John Hall

Kent County Extension Educator
Maryland Cooperative Extension