Field Course for Agricultural Professionals on the Common Goals and Strategies of USDA’s National organic Standards and Resource Conservation Programs
On May 6 & 7, 2004 NCAT hosted the first of four workshops entitled, “Organic Agriculture for Ag Professionals.” It was held at the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA. There were 28 participants from NRCS, RMA, CalEPA, Campbell Soup, and farmers.
David Granatstein and Jill Clapperton, our non-NCAT invited speakers, received very good evaluations, as did the workshop as a whole. Six farmers also participated as speakers. The venue, the Center for Land-Based Learning, has organically certified walnut orchard on the grounds, which was incorporated into the small-group problem solving sessions that ended the workshop. The 28 participants were divided into three groups and each group had an opportunity to go to each of the three problem-solving stations.
NCAT has tentatively scheduled the second in this series of workshops for October 7 & 8, at Double T Acres (the first certified organic dairy in CA) in Stevinson, CA.
NCAT is contracted by WSARE PDP to deliver 4 workshops/trainings about organics to NRCS and other agricultural professionals around the state of CA. The first workshop is completed and comments about the first training as it relates to each objective are provided under each objective.
Objective 1: To provide agricultural professionals with greater understanding of USDA’s National Organic Program
Comments: Please see the workshop agenda, which is attached to the hardcopy report, and which outlines the topics covered during the workshop. The speakers, both farmers and scientists, provided a good overview of organic agriculture, and much of the discussion by participants during the workshop centered on organic standards, organic certification and the NOP.
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 workshop, and one section of the workshop discussed what other states are doing in using EQIP funds to incentivize transition to organic production. Also, a table was presented to participants which outlined organic standards and some equivalent NRCS Technical Standards (i.e, crop rotation, pest management).
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 was provided with a small package of what we felt were the most appropriate reference materials on organics for certification, regulatory and technical information. In addition, several presentations touched upon resources that can be easily accessed and that provide a wealth of information on various aspects of organic production.
NCAT has completed the first of four workshops. The general approach used during this first workshop will be used, with some modifications in the next workshop, tentatively scheduled for October 7 & 8. NCAT has developed a draft of what we’re calling the “Cross-compliance checksheet,” which lists the required organic practices side by side with various aspects and practice standards of NRCS conservation programs.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Twenty-eight people from NRCS, RMA, Cal EPA, farmers and company representatives attended the workshop and participated in discussions about organics, NOP and the organic standards, resource conservation as it relates to organics (both pro and con), and were given the opportunity to use this knowledge in practical, problem-solving exercises.
According to our evaluations, the participants came away with an improved understanding of what organics is, and isn’t, and of the process of certification and some of this information will be transferred to farmers that the participants work with. Some sample comments from participants (in response to the evaluation question, “Was this training valuable—how, why and in what ways?”
“Yes, helped me understand the purpose and regulations of the new organic standards.”
“It was very valuable as I will go back and use the information provided to help farmers implement organics into their existing systems.”
“Yes—I was looking for information to take back to the growers I work with on a daily basis and I got it! I was also looking for NRCS standard to work with growers and I think you set us on the right path as well. I am disappointed NRCS is again not taking the lead in such an important forefront.”