Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and High Tunnels

2012 Annual Report for ES12-112

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $99,736.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Jim Lukens
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and High Tunnels

Summary

Expanding the Expertise of Agricultural Professionals to Serve New Constituents: Practical Training on Organic Horticulture and Hoop house

This project contracted with Southern SAWG to provide practical training and supplemental resources on organic horticultural crop production and high tunnel production for NRCS, Extension and other agricultural professionals in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama. Final sessions in Alabama are being finalized now. Designed by teams of farmers, extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, our trainings were once again refined through feedback from agricultural professional participants. This training continues to be timely for these professionals due to the cost-share program for high tunnel construction recently implemented by NRCS.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Training NRCS Professionals

The overall goal is to expand the expertise and knowledge skills of participating agents so that they can provide effective technical assistance to new constituents – current, transitioning and aspiring organic farmers, and farmers developing high tunnel production systems. Organic production topics covered included principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity; crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics to be covered included advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, construction, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing income. The focus will be on systems used by small-scale horticultural producers. PowerPoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations will complement the presenters’ verbal instruction. On-farm instruction illustrates and elaborates on the principles and practices covered in the classroom. Production and marketing practices during various production cycles of the year will also be discussed. Host farms are economically viable enterprises where there is a farmer capable of and willing to provide in-depth instruction and an interactive learning environment. The selection of the farm hosts was be in cooperation with partners in each state. Our goal is to train at least 210 professionals with this project .

Accomplishments/Milestones

Refining Our Agenda and Materials

We are working with our team to plan and conduct a total of 6 trainings for NRCS, Extension and other agricultural professionals – two each in AL, AR and LA. Each event will consist of Vh days of classroom instruction followed by a Vi day of training at a successful, diversified organic farm using high tunnels. Trainings will be scheduled during the growing season when ongoing farming activities can illustrate principles and practices effectively. The exact content of trainings at each site will be determined in consultation with our NRCS, Extension and farmer collaborators. Classroom instruction will be provided by a team of three trainers, each witti a strong track record of providing effective instruction.

Dr. Schonbeck, an Independent consultant in sustainable agriculture, will provide science-based instruction on the principles and practices of organic production. He has been conducting organic related research and developing organic resources in cooperation with land-grants, nongovernmental agencies and farmers for 25 years. His science-based, yet practical approach ensures trainees understand scientific applications in organic farming enterprises.

Mark Cain, operator of a successful organic farm in Arkansas for over 25 years, will provide instruction on the practical applications of organic and high tunnel production techniques. Mr. Cain produces mixed vegetables, flowers and fruit in high tunnels, greenhouses and In the field, and direct markets all of his products. He has extensive experience conducting classroom and on-farm trainings, and has assisted numerous agricultural professionals in research and educational projects. His ability to analyze farming practices and marketing, and his practical and straight-forward presentation style keeps trainees actively engaged.

Andrew Williams, retired Alabama NRCS Outreach Liaison, will provide instruction on applying the principles and practices of organic and hoophouse production when working with farmers enrolled in, or seeking to be enrolled in, specific USDA programs. His knowledge of NRCS programs and processes, and his knowledge of organic and high tunnel production make him a unique person to serve as a bridge between producers and agricultural professionals.

Organic production topics to be covered Include principles of organic and holistic farming systems; building soil health and fertility; crop diversity and crop rotation; drip irrigation; weed, pest and disease management; certification; marketing; and maintaining economic viability. High tunnel topics to be covered include advantages & disadvantages, designs, costs, suitable crops, best practices, seasonal usage, and maximizing Income. The information will be framed in a way that helps agents understand how their expertise (on resource management, production issues, etc.) and how government programs they work with these new client farmers’ needs. It will also help agents understand what information they may need beyond their current expertise. Powerpoint presentations with key points illustrated by farm photos, as well as hands-on demonstrations will complement the presenters’ verbal instruction.

On-farm instruction will illustrate and elaborate on the principles and practices covered. The three classroom tratrters will also provide on-farm instruction, augmented by the host farmer and by other experts If needed. (For instance, if agents in the state request specific information about pollinators, Southern SAWG can bring in someone with expertise In organic pest management systems and pollinator habitat.) Host farms will be economically viable enterprises where there is a farmer capable of and willing to provide in-depth Instruction and an interactive learning environment.

The selection of the farm hosts will be In cooperation with partners in each state. A library of take-home resources, including Southern SAWG’s interactive Organic Vegetable Production and Marketing in the South CD-ROM, will be provided lo each course participant. This comprehensive educational tool incorporates volumes of materials developed by land grant universities and others, complemented with real life examples from a successful organic farm. It also contains a list of farmer- recommended resources. We will include new materials from each trainer along with other materials, such as summaries of new USDA programs for organic and high tunnel producers, training presentations, and the handouts used to augment the In-class training will be compiled on a jumpdrive for participants to take home.

A training flier is being developed to assist in announcing the training events, which will be promoted through NRCS and Extension Service communication networks. We aim for enrollment of about 35 professionals for each two-day event.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Intended Outcomes

In this project, Southern SAWG will provide training to meet the needs of NRCS and Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals In AL, AR and LA. Each training will build on those that were conducted and are being conducted by Southern SAWG in 2009-2011 through two previous SARE-f unded projects – ES09-099 and ES11-109. In those projects. Southern SAWG provided training to agents in VA, TN, AL and AR, as well as NC, SC and MS.

Where trainings have been completed, participants report an improved understanding of the topics covered, an improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to current and aspiring organic horticultural producers, and an improved capacity to help organic and transporting organic producers gain access to federal conservation and farm credit programs. In post-training evaluations from the 2009 project, 96 percent of the participants stated that their confidence to assist growers in the topics covered had increased as a result of participating in the training, and 98 percent of participants said they would recommend the trainings to other agricultural professionals. One participant from the training wrote, “(I am) able to communicate about organic farming with my clients in a knowledgeable manner as well as present NRCS programs to them.”

The training will provide participating agricultural professionals with essential information they need to: • Understand basic organic farming practices and principles, and hoophouse production methods, • Understand how US DA programs fit the practices of small scale organic farmers and those using hoophouse production, and how to translate program guidelines to serve them, • Readily access further resources, and • Feel greater confidence In assisting farmers who are utilizing or want to use these production systems. Behavior-based Objectives: Concise list of project objectives, including desired changes In the behavior of those receiving training.

Collaborators:

Eric Schwab

[email protected]
Conservation Agronomist
USDA NRCS
3381 Skyway Drive
Auburn, AL 36830
Office Phone: 3348874548
Pamela Kingfisher

[email protected]
Program Specialist
Southern SAWG
P.O. Box 36
Moodys, OK 74444
Office Phone: 9188683727
Website: www.ssawg.org
Karen Wynne

[email protected]
1389 Cornhill Road
Hartsdale, AL 35640
Office Phone: 2565202400
Mark Cain

[email protected]
Organic Producer
Dripping Springs Garden
1558 CR 548
Huntsville, AR 72740
Office Phone: 8705453658
John Lee

[email protected]
State Conservationist Agronomist
USDA NRCS
4 Congressional Drive
Little Rock, AR 72210
Office Phone: 5013013100
Chris Coreil, Jr.

[email protected]
State Conservationist Agronomist
USDA NRCS
3737 Government St.
Alexandria, AL 71302
Office Phone: 3184737751
Website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/la/contact/
Andrew Williams

[email protected]
Retired NRCS/Producer
5850 AL Hyw 66
Safford, AL 36773
Office Phone: 3346273276
Mark Schonbeck

[email protected]
Trainer/ Soil Scientist
205 Tanager Lane NW
Floyd, VT 24091
Office Phone: 5407454130
Josh Hardin

[email protected]
Organic Producer
Laughing Stock Farms
7621 Hwy 46N
Sheridan, AR 72150
Office Phone: 8708663753
Chris Coreil, Jr.

[email protected]
State Conservationist Agronomist
USDA NRCS
3737 Government St.
Alexandria, LA 71302
Office Phone: 3184737805