Experiential Education to Form an Extension Organic Production Team in Georgia
The university of Georgia, Fort Valley State University,USDA Agricultural Research Service, and Georgia Organics worked together to from a group of interested county agents, extension specialists, researchers, NGO personnel and farmers that would supply training and technical support to farmers interested in sustainable and certified organic production practices.
Our goal was to have University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University county agents who were knowledgeable about organic production systems in every extension district in the state. We wanted these agents to have specialized training in:
– organic production systems,
– soil quality and fertility,
– organic IPM, and
– organic weed control.
We felt for maximum impact, farmers should be involved in this training and as much material as possible should be hands-on.
We also wanted the Team to serve as a resource throughout the state for training other agricultural professionals and farmers.
The University of Georgia (UGA) and Fort Valley State University (FVSU)began the formation of a team of county agents, extension specialists, researchers, the Farmer Liaison from Georgia Organics, and farmers in the winter of 2009. Our core planning team held several conference calls to develop a training program. This committee also worked with the Professional Development Coordinators in each Cooperative Extension District to select agents who were interested in participating and serving as a resource for their area. Eight county agents from UGA and four from FVSU were selected. This included five agents from the Northeast District, two from the Northwest District, three from the Southeast District, and two from the Southwest District. This distribution gave us good coverage over the state.
We conducted the first training workshop for our new Organic Production Team agents in May 19 to introduce a systems approach to organic production. Topics covered in the classroom included:
• An introduction to the National Organic Program,
• A case study from a farmer illustrating crop rotation, soil building, production, marketing for Piedmont,
• A discussion of how these systems are different in the Piedmont versus the Coastal Plain.
• Soil quality with the importance of soil organic matter, strategies for building soil fertility, pH, nutrient availability from organic sources, effect of cover crops and plant rooting depth on fertility, soil testing and the sufficiency and cation balancing perspectives.
• Soil Biology – Basic soil food web, role of biological activity in fertility and disease suppression
• Cover Crops- Use of legumes, use of cereal crops, use of mixtures, summer and winter cover crops.
The afternoon included a tour of the Organic Agriculture Program Horticulture Farm, equipment demonstration and a hands-on evaluation of soil quality.
After this initial training, the Farmer Liaison from Georgia Organics paired with experienced organic farmers in their area. The agents visited these farms over the course of the growing season and were given farm systems worksheets to fill out. The worksheets asked the agents to investigate the soil type, equipment, number of employees, crop rotation strategy, soil fertility strategy, markets, and other aspects of the farm.
On December 5, the Team gathered again to hear the results of the farm visits. Each agent gave a presentation on the farm they had visited and the group discussed the similarities and differences in the approaches seen. This exercise broadened the collective experience and also had the effect of connecting organic farmers to extension. Several agents reported being called on for their expertise in a variety of areas. At this meeting the group decided to adopt the name – Sustainable and Organic Production Team.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
After the initial workshop and farm visits, the evaluation indicated these agents were more confident in answering farmer’s questions on organic production and presenting extension programming. Most agents indicated they were likely to provide an informational program or answer inquiries in the next 12 months. Several agents used the information from these two trainings. Two agents developed a new workshop on soils for their area – The Soils Connection. Another developed a presentation on biological control of insects. A third gave a presentation to a Young Farmer’s group on organic production.
Fort Valley State University
Emanuel County Extension PO Box 770
Swainsboro, GA 30401
Office Phone: 4782371226
200-A Ottley Dr
Atlanta, GA 30401
Office Phone: 6787020400
Fort Valley State University
214 C.W. Pettigrew Center
Fort Valley, GA 31030
Office Phone: 4788256296
University of Georgia
Department of Horticulture 1111 Miller Plant Science Bldg
Athens, GA 30602
Office Phone: 7065422471