Sustainable Organic No-Till Systems: A Training Program for CES and NRCS Field Professionals
Recruitment exceeded all expectations in 2006 (phase I). Two sessions—totaling three full days —were held at Virginia Tech. Forty participant trainees received intensive hands-on training on principles and implementation techniques for adoption of organic no-till systems. In addition, four one-day workshops were held for the trainees on organic farms. This training helped set the stage for phase II (2007) when the trainees will recruit and assist organic and transitioning-organic growers to explore no-till systems. To facilitate accomplishing phase II, trainees were organized into eight regional working groups committed to a mandate of promoting organic no-till systems.
This proposal seeks to inform and train Cooperative Extension Service (CES) and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field agents in 1) cover crop based organic no-till production systems, and 2) beneficial habitat plantings (farmscapes) for biological insect pest management, for vegetables and agronomic crops. The proposed training will utilize and compliment the project director’s on-going research and outreach program in organic no-till vegetable production and farmscaping. SARE-PDP funds will be used to develop a broad-scale demonstration and teaching plot at Virginia Tech and smaller satellite plots at North Carolina A&T State University and two working farms. Training-the-trainers sessions for CES and NRCS professionals will take place at each site during 2006 (phase I), and trainees will train farmers in these techniques in 2007 (phase II), with support and guidance form project staff. Training manuals on cover crop based organic no-till systems and farmscaping will be drafted, utilized in the 2006 sessions, updated based on user feedback, and published in final form at the conclusion of the project.
This SARE-PDP consists of two distinct phases. First, in 2006, the PDP principal investigators (PIs) (Ronald Morse, Virginia; and Keith Baldwin, North Carolina) were responsible for recruitment and training of CES and NRCS field agents. In essence, the objective in phase I was to inform and train the participant trainees in the principles and implementation of organic no-till systems and farmscaping. Second, in turn in phase II (2007 and beyond), these trainees will recruit, train and support farmers and fellow CES and NRCS professionals who show interest in exploring cover crop based organic no-till systems and farmscaping. In the activities outlined below, farmscaping was normally included in the organic no-till systems, although not specifically mentioned.
Recruitment. The original SARE-PDP budget called for training a maximum of 30 CES/NRCS field agents. However, the response to our recruiting efforts far exceeded this number; and eventually 40 trainees were enrolled. Although the proposed budget was cut by 10%, we proceeded with the original training objectives and conserved travel and supplies expenses whenever possible to include the extra trainees (total of 40).
In-depth training sessions at Virginia Tech. In 2006, two sessions—totaling three full days of intensive training—were held at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Agricultural Research Farm, near Blacksburg. Training was provided by the two PIs and eight additional instructors from Virginia and North Carolina, who combined have a wealth of experience in farmscaping and cover crop based organic no-till systems for vegetables and other crops. Exit surveys revealed that the sessions had been well received and valued. A training manual compiled by the ten instructors was provided for all participants. This manual-binder contained a wide array of materials, written by the instructors and other knowledgeable authors, and covered all subjects taught in the training sessions. Numerous field plots, farmscape plantings, and specialized no-till equipment were available on site that served as demonstrations and visual aids for practically all principles and lessons taught during the 3-day sessions.
Regional workshops in Virginia and North Carolina. One-day regional workshops were held at four sites (two each in VA and NC) in 2006 for the 40 trainees. These workshops were conducted on certified organic or transitioning organic farms that were just beginning to explore cover crop based no-till or reduced-till productions systems. Exposure to these organic farmers and their triumphs and failures provided valuable insight and will help the 40 trainees to assist interested farmers in their counties or regions who want to adopt organic cover crop based no-till systems.
Working groups organized to facilitate Phase II (2007) objectives. The 40 trainees involved in the 2006 (phase I) training sessions were divided into eight regional working groups, with the implicit mandate to carry out phase-II objectives—i.e., recruit and assist local certified or transitioning organic farmers who want to explore using cover crop based, no-till or reduced systems for production of vegetables and/or other crops. Each working group elected a chairperson who is responsible for holding meetings to plan activities, secure necessary funding, and support interested organic farmers in 2007 and beyond. The PDP PIs (Ron Morse in VA, and Keith Baldwin in NC) will coordinate closely with the working groups to provide encouragement and support the efforts of the eight working groups. These working groups have made plans and are actively conducting various projects and activities with local organic and sustainable farmers, and organic grower organizations.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The training sessions and manual used during phase-I activities (2006) have provided valuable knowledge and tools for 40 CES/NRCS trainees. In phase II (2007 and beyond), the trainees with the support form PIs and other instructors will recruit and initiate activities with farmers and fellow CES/NRCS workers who have interest in exploring cover crop based organic not-till systems. Although challenging, organic no-till systems hold great promise to conserve natural resources and benefit both producers and consumers alike. ow.