Facilitating Change: Reducing the Risks of Transitioning to Organic through a Comprehensive Farmer-and Extension-Based Training Program

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $144,543.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Kathleen Delate
Iowa State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, wheat
  • Fruits: apples, grapes
  • Vegetables: sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, agricultural finance, risk management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, botanical pesticides, competition, cultural control, flame, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mating disruption, physical control, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, traps, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures


    Making the transition from conventional to organic farming requires a skill set that is often not taught at land-grant universities. This project was established to support farmers and agricultural professionals in obtaining hands-on instruction for learning organic certification rules and practices to aid the transition. Thirteen courses and trainings in organic agriculture, to a total of 501 Extension, NRCS, producers and students, were supported from 2010 to 2012 by this USDA-SARE-NCR grant project. Evaluations from courses and trainings showed a very good to excellent rating from 82% of attendees and extensive knowledge gain (average of 80% reported increase in knowledge). In 2012, a 16-week course on Organic Agriculture was held from January to May 2012 for 34 attendees and an intensive Field Day/workshop emphasizing organic vegetable production practices was held on July 23 for 66 participants. Barriers to organic transition identified through these trainings include the need for greater availability for cost-share programs and additional training from Extension and land-grant universities.


    Since 1996, the U.S. organic industry has grown from a $4 to $31 billion industry in 2011, and Iowa has experienced a five-fold increase in organic acreage during the same period. Iowa was listed by the USDA-Economic Research Service (ERS) as having the tenth largest number of organic farms in the U.S. in 2008. Technical assistance to expand the productivity and scope of organic and alternative horticultural/agronomic operations has assisted in Iowa’s ranking as one of the most productive organic states in the country. USDA-NASS (2011) cited Iowa as producing the largest amount of organic soybeans, oats and hogs in the country, and Number 2 in organic corn bushels. Organic agriculture was a comparatively new industry in the U.S. and in Iowa in 1996, so methods to support organic producers, processors and marketers in their educational training needs has been a cornerstone of the Iowa State University Organic Ag Program. A USDA-SARE-NCR project was established in 2009 to support specific “transitioning to organic training.”

    Project objectives:

    (1) Determine perceived organic production adoption barriers; (2) Develop a responsive web-based (Adobe Connect™) and face-to-face Extension-led training program; (3) Train and support interested producers, private and public agriculture professionals and organic farmer-mentors in the Iowa Organic Association, in maintaining good organic farming practices and prudent production, marketing, financial and risk mitigation strategies; and (4) Evaluate the training through surveys and personal interviews with participating audiences.

    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.