Field Course for Agricultural Professionals on the Common Goals and Strategies of USDA’s National organic Standards and Resource Conservation Programs

Project Overview

EW03-004
Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Rex Dufour
National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Animal Production: preventive practices
  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, riparian buffers, wildlife, hedges - woody
  • Pest Management: cultural control, prevention
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: urban/rural integration

    Abstract:

    NCAT developed 4 grant-funded workshops specifically targeted to California NRCS staff. The workshops provided participants with a general background on the organic certification process and standards, and discussed organic production methods and their conservation benefits. All workshops had speaker panels of organic farmers, and took place on—or included field trips to organically managed farms. The workshops took place in Winters (April 2004), Stevinson (Northern San Joaquin Valley, October 7, 2004), Hopland, (North Coast, October 30, 2005), and Bakersfield (Southern San Joaquin Valley April 11-14, 2006). NCAT also held 10 grant-funded workshops with Resource Conservation Districts around California.

    Project objectives:

    NCAT was contracted by WSARE PDP to deliver 4 workshops/trainings about organics to NRCS and other agricultural professionals around the state of CA. Through the small grants program, NCAT provided trainings to 10 RCDs and their members in California, including one Tribal RCD.

    Objective 1: To provide agricultural professionals with greater understanding of USDA’s National Organic Program

    Comments: NCAT delivered 4 workshops/trainings about organics to NRCS and other agricultural professionals around the state of CA. Through the small grants program, NCAT provided trainings to 10 RCDs and their members in California, including one Tribal RCD. In addition, NCAT gave a presentation about organics to NRCS’s California State Technical Advisory Committee (11/21/06) as well as to the Field Office Technical Guide Committee (11/29/06). Total attendance at all these workshops was 396 people, a majority of whom were NRCS staff or staff/members of RCDs. The remainder, roughly 100 people, was staff from other USDA agencies (i.e. RMA), farmers, UC Cooperative extension agents, county agricultural agents, and representatives of agribusinesses. Evaluations via telephone interview of NRCS personnel conducted after all 4 trainings were completed revealed that 90% of participants surveyed found the workshops useful and had occasion to use information received at the workshop. In response to 3 basic questions about organics, 90% of respondents knew what a typical transitional period was (3 years), 80% correctly answered how often farms are inspected (1 year), but only 60% knew what entity is responsible for organic standards program (USDA). In more detailed evaluations done after each NRCS workshop, participants emphasized the helpfulness of having a hands-on component to the training (having the training held at a farm or include a visit to an organic farm). The fact that all the workshops included a panel of experienced organic farmers was also well received. Please see in the attachments samples of workshop agendas, which outline the topics covered during the workshops.

    The speakers, both farmers and scientists, provided a good overview of organic agriculture, and much of the discussion by participants during the workshops centered on organic standards, organic certification and the NOP. For the final NRCS workshop, NCAT collaborated with the NRCS Soil Quality Cadre to include an organics component in a three-day soil quality training. This was an opportunity for some basic information about organics and organic practices to be a component of on-going NRCS soil quality trainings held around the country 8-10 times per year. There will be a follow-up NRCS Soil Quality Workshop with an organics component held in June of 2007 in California.

    The RCD workshops encompassed the whole state and provided an opportunity to discuss organics, organic practices and organic standards with RCD staff and members. These workshops were funded through the Small Grants program included in NCAT’s proposal.

    Objective 2: To describe and demonstrate the common goals, strategies, and practices of national organic standards and conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Security Program (CSP).

    Comments: The goals, strategies, and practices of national organic standards were well covered in the NRCS and RCD workshops (see sample agendas). Also, a pamphlet developed by NCAT was presented to participants, the NRCS-Organics Conservation Practices Cross-Compliance Chart, (see Appendix III) which outlines practices mandated by organic standards and relates them to some equivalent NRCS Practice Standards (i.e, crop rotation, pest management).

    At all the NRCS workshops, soil aggregate stability demonstrations were done which showed how organically managed soil reacted differently when mixed with water compared to conventionally managed soil of the same parent material. These demonstrations were done “blind”, meaning that the participants did not know which soil samples were which, and would take samples of 2-3 soils managed in different ways, mix them with water and make observations. In all cases, it was easily apparent which soils were conventionally managed and which were organically managed due to the lack of aggregate stability in the conventionally managed soils. These demonstrations became excellent focal points for discussion on soil function, water quality and soil management. Because of this, these demonstrations were generally done at the beginning of the workshop.

    Objective 3: To increase the capacity of agricultural professionals to appropriately address the informational needs of organic, transitional and aspiring organic farmers

    Comments: Each participant at the 4 NRCS workshops was provided with a small package of what we felt were the most appropriate reference materials on organics for certification, regulatory and technical information (see methods section for a complete listing). This packet included a copy of the National Organic Standards and several ATTRA publications in addition to other reference materials. In addition, presentations at each NRCS workshop discussed resources that can be easily accessed and that provide a wealth of information on various aspects of organic production. A similar, but smaller packet of information was provided to the RCD workshop participants. The RCD packet consisted of ATTRA publications: Organic Farm Certification & the National Organic Program, Organic Certification Process, and, Preparing for an Organic Inspection: Steps and Checklists. Depending on the type of agriculture in each region, other ATTRA publications would also be included, such as, Organic Livestock Documentation Forms, Organic Orchard, Vineyard, and Berry Crop Documentation Form, and Organic Field Crops Documentation Forms.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.