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

2013 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


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

Southern SAWG will 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. We work with a highly qualified team of consultants and trainers and have qualified staff who assist at each session.

This project will include workshops in Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana and will build off of our successful workshops in North and South Carolina.

We work with a team which consists of farmers, extension personnel, USDA-NRCS personnel and scientists, and through feedback from agricultural professional participants to refine our program agendas. 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

Goals and Objectives

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.

Specific objectives include: 1. At least 210 agricultural professionals in three states (70 professionals in each state of Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana) will participate in trainings offered through this project. 2. Participants will gain improved understanding of the principles and the practices of organic farming systems and high tunnel production. Lessons to be taught will Include, but not be limited to, principles of diversity and holistic systems; and practices to build soil health, control pests, produce healthy crops and conserve resources; emphasizing the differences In how this Is done In a high tunnel vs. In the open field. 3. Participants will take home tools and resources that can be readily accessed to gain further knowledge about these farming systems. This will Include user-friendly electronic and hardcopy materials on organic practices, high tunnel production, research and resources, and related NRCS programs that they can easily share with others or refer to when called upon to provide needed technical information to area producers. 4. Participants will gain improved capacity to deliver technical assistance to producers seeking to develop economically viable farms using organic and/or high tunnel production systems. This capacity will be gained by utilizing the Information presented in the training and in the take-home materials. 5. Participants will be better able to help more farmers gain access to USDA farm programs that are right for them because of information and resources about organic and high tunnel production that they gain through these trainings. 6. Southern SAWG and project collaborators will gain improved understanding of where further training is needed In order for NRCS and Extension agents to better serve new client farmers using organic and/or high tunnel production systems. Evaluation: Description of evaluation methods to be used, Indicating how the project process and project outcomes will be assessed. Using a program logic model, we will identify and track the activities necessary to achieve each of our objectives, the evaluation evidence of each activity (outputs), and the evaluation evidence of each of our expected outcomes. We will utilize pre- and post-training questionnaires for both formative and summative evaluation of this project.


Evaluations and Adjustments Completed

Working with John A. Lee, Jr. State Conservation Agronomist for the state of Arkansas; US Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service in Little Rock, AR, as well as working with Institutional and farmer partners to make adjustments as necessary, we are planning the training events, and adjusting instructional materials as needed.
Our team of three consultant trainers and two staff will provide two, 2-day sessions for twenty five NRCS personnel each session.

General Topics to be covered during classroom sessions included the following: • Principles of organic and natural farming systems, and how the principles are implemented; • Building and managing soil health and fertility in an organic system; • Crop diversity and crop rotation, including complex rotations as management strategies; • Weed, pest and disease management in organic systems; • Organic standards and approved materials; • Protecting organic certification in presence of potential contamination by air or water; • High tunnel siting, construction, ventilation, and material/design options; • Basic production in high tunnels, including bed design, irrigation, ventilation; • Critical factors for profitable high-tunnel hoophouse production; • How market opportunities influence natural resource management decisions; • Economic viability on a small farm: Markets, customers, enterprise diversity, labor availability & cost; • Working with small plot sizes and small equipment, including in hoophouses; • Irrigation on small acreage; • Program outreach to new audiences using a grassroots approach. The full two day agenda included registration and there was a short pre-test and post test taken by all attendees.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Evaluations and Impact

Pre and post evaluation forms are being revised for these new training sessions in AL, AR and LA.
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. Relevant videos from Southern SAWG’s Natural Farming In the South video series will also be provided. Other materials, such as summaries of new USDA programs for organic and high tunnel producers, me training presentations, and the handouts used to augment the In-class training will be compiled on a CD for participants to take home.

These trainings are designed to expand the expertise 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. We expect that the ability of participants to assist producers in increasing economic sustainability will be improved, thus adding to the economic sustainability of rural communities and the development of more sustainable food systems.


Eric Schwab

Conservation Agronomist
3381 Skyway Drive
Auburn, AL 36830
Office Phone: 3348874548
Pamela Kingfisher

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

1389 Cornhill Road
Hartsdale, AL 35640
Office Phone: 2565202400
Mark Cain

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

State Conservationist Agronomist
4 Congressional Drive
Little Rock, AR 72210
Office Phone: 5013013100
Chris Coreil, Jr.

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

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

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

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

State Conservationist Agronomist
3737 Government St.
Alexandria, LA 71302
Office Phone: 3184737805