Training a network of educators for outreach on reduced-tillage organic feed and forage systems
Farmers need research-based information to help them manage their crops with confidence. Researchers would like to disseminate research results to those who need it most. Extension educators and other ag professionals seek to understand the research and bring it to farmers to put into practice. They are the link between the researcher and the farmer. This project helps certified organic and transitioning growers access research-based information by training a network of educators about organic feed and forage production, including information from Penn State’s research on cover-crop based reduced tillage organic systems.
We know there is a high demand for locally produced organic grains in the Northeast and many conventional farmers are ready and willing to step in to meet that demand. Lack of knowledge and support is a strong barrier to initiating and successfully completing the transition to organic production.
Solution and Approach
The Penn State reduced-tillage in organic systems research is the keystone of this project and also the key to its success. The study is in its 5th year and researchers have conducted on-farm demonstrations and events to transfer what they’ve learned in their research. The on-farm component of this research has been conducted on six farms and directly involved three educators, so that the number of farmers able to directly access this information has been relatively low. This professional development project will take the proven on-farm results to the next level by training a larger group of educators who will in turn provide guidance and instruction to many more farmers. The likelihood of success is high due to the proven results already experienced on a small scale among few farmers, who have greatly benefited from the knowledge.
The outcome of this project will be increased success of farmers transitioning to organic feed and forage production that will contribute to the diversification and profitability of Northeast agriculture by helping to meet the growing demand for locally grown organic feed crops and securing organic premiums for their efforts. Adopting reduced-tillage organic practices will help farmers use resources wisely, reduce the risk of erosion, increase carbon sequestration, reduce pesticide use, and support beneficial insects. These results not only benefit the farmer, but also lead to improved quality of life and a positive influence on communities and the environment.
Twenty  agricultural service providers deliver university research-based information and technical support on transition to organic and certified organic production, including reduced tillage, diverse cover crop selection, inter-cropping, rotations and organic certification to 250 grain and/or dairy producers who manage 20,000 acres of grain crops.
- 75 agricultural service providers are selected for recruitment by the project team based on their knowledge and history of educational outreach and interest in organic grain production and will receive invitations to participate in the project. Outreach will begin in 2016 via email and direct contact with the assistance of extension educators and will consist of project goals and performance target, a timeline of participation, and how the project relates to the benefits received by farmers. Fourth Quarter 2016
The Project Advisory Team, consisting of 23 people, is in place and has been meeting regularly since 8-30-16 (8/30/16, 10,12,16, 12/2/16, 12/14/16). Through conference calls and email the team has discussed the performance target, timeline and benefits to farmers. The team has set up a shared Google drive folder with relevant documents.
- 40 agricultural service providers agree to participate in the program by the end of January 2017. Educators are presented with an information packet including an event schedule, resources, and detailed outcomes projections. Educators have the knowledge they need to commit to the project and incorporate it into their work plan.
The Project Team developed an application/registration form and website and has begun extensive outreach towards the goal of recruiting 40 agricultural service providers to participate in the program. for attendees of our 2017 program of events. The Project Team created an outreach plan, which includes a list of listservs, mailing lists, websites and contacts where we will market the program. PCO staff have are compiling the packet of information as described above in Milestone 2 to send to registrants in January.
- Thirty  service providers complete initial training workshop in the first quarter of 2017 and learn about the organic reduced tillage system experiments being conducted in the Northeast US, organic certification requirements, organic transition program requirements, and organic technical assistance procedures.
This training workshop is scheduled for March 15, 2017, in Spring Mills, Centre County, Pennsylvania. A draft agenda including topics and speakers has been created. Team members designed two “Save The Date” announcements and handed them out at the Pennsylvania Women in Agriculture Network (PA-WAgN) and Growing Pennsylvania’s Organic Farms (GPOF) conferences in December 2016. A spreadsheet has been created to record the invitees and attendees. A page on the PCO website (paorganic.org/sareconference) has been created and social media posts have been designed and scheduled for promotional purposes.
Registration will be open January 3 – 31, 2017. The training will be recorded and made available to other service providers on the aforementioned website.
- The educators and service providers who enroll as participants, other Extension educators or specialists, PCO personnel and agency/industry partners identify 250 grain farmers with expressed interest in transitioning to organic to participate in cohorts of farmer-learners to receive education and technical support from project participants. Project leaders will facilitate the connection of interested farmers with appropriate service provider participants based on geographic area and/or farmers’ learning needs. Second Quarter 2017
The project team has begun to compile a list of names of potential farmer participants. Recruitment is also planned at the March 15th, 2017, workshop.
- The 30 trained service providers will create individual Action Plans for teaching/advising farmers including those in the farmer-learner cohorts. Actions may include any or all of the following examples, or other methods; Workshops, Field days/On-farm demonstrations, Meetings or webinars, Individual consultations. Action Plans will include target goals of how many farmers they hope to reach. Second quarter 2017
A session on creating Action Plans is included in the March 15th, 2017, workshop agenda.
- 20 service providers will receive update training by attending one of two field days per year at organic grain producing farms and/or research sites, as well as one annual 2-3 hour workshop/webinar that will be recorded, on relevant topics including the most current information about: organic cover crop based reduced tillage systems, and organic certification requirements. Winter 2017 – Summer 2019.
Service providers will be expected to attend one of two field days scheduled from the list created in Milestone 4. An update training workshop/webinar will be planned for the winter months and will be recorded and made available along with the initial training workshop.
- Throughout the project, the 20 service providers will receive individualized technical support as needed from the project team via phone conferences, and update training on latest research or topics of particular interest via periodic webinars or other methods.
The Project Team will provide and track this support as needed.
- 20 agricultural service providers report annually to the project team about their activities teaching and advising farmers for verification of the performance target. The project team provides recording tools and assistance with verification. End 2017, end 2018, Aug 2019
Meetings have been scheduled to create recording tools that we will hand out at the March 15th, 2017 training.
PCO Membership & Development Specialist
106 School St.
Spring Mills, PA 16875
Office Phone: 570-898-0540
PSU Department of Entomology
Penn State University
State College, PA 16801
Office Phone: 814-863-2982
SCNY Dairy & Field Crops Team, Team Leader & Field Crops Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension
60 Central Avenue, Room 105
Cortland, NY 13045
Office Phone: 607-391-2660 x414