Farmer-to-Farmer Directory and Field Days (LNE91-29)
1. Create a directory of farmers who have implemented sustainable systems that includes a brief description of each farm and the sustainable practices and their effectiveness.
2. Conduct an annual regional farmer conference to share information on practices, transition strategies, economics, etc.
3. Develop support materials so that the directory and conference can serve as a model for other states.
Surveys of conventional farmers have identified the lack of useful information as the major impediment to adoption of sustainable practices. Furthermore, farmers seeking information have difficulty in obtaining it from traditional sources such as extension educators or farm chemical and feed dealers. Surveys of farmers already using sustainable practices indicate that they have relied on other farmers for guidance. The conclusion is that the major barrier to conversion is identification and contact with enough successful growers.
The aim of the directory is to augment the exchange of information by facilitating more contact between farmers. The directory includes short descriptions of individual sustainable practices or whole farm systems. Sustainable practices were identified by the major participants and cooperators. The project coordinator has worked with the farmers and major participants to write short descriptions of the practices. The descriptions have been incorporated into the directory.
The indexes help users locate specific information. The directory is indexed by county and by significant practices.
Additionally, in order to further facilitate exchange between farmers at different stages of adoption of sustainable practices we have developed and sponsored annual farmer to farmer conferences. The heart of the conferences have been direct farmer to farmer exchange of information in addition to lectures and workshops. This SARE grant helped support the early conferences in 1992 and 1993. In November of 1994 and 1995 we held conferences that were nearly self supporting. Furthermore, we have now brought in extension as cosponsors of the conference, which widens the audience.
The project coordinator and major participants identified approximately 250 farms across the state of Maine. The farms were identified as having particular noteworthy practices or whole farm systems that illustrate low-input sustainable agriculture. We were able to get 70 of the approximately 250 initially selected farmers to reply. Each response included a description of the noteworthy practice or request from the farmer for a visit by the project coordinator to see the farm workings and write up a description together. The project coordinator and some of the major participants visited 58 of the 70 farms finally selected for the directory. The project coordinator edited and either wrote or modified the descriptions of each farm. The descriptions are brief and serve as a means for farmers to identify other farmers of interest. The goal of the directory is to initiate contact among farmers. It is not intended to be a how-to manual.
Sustainable practices that have been documented include:
o Excellent mechanical weed control with state-of-the-art cultivating equipment such as Lily springtines, Buddingh basket weeders, Budding finger weeders, Swedish tines and home-made equipment. Frequently these are mounted on specialized tractors designed for cultivation.
o Crop rotations that frequently include the use of green manures, cover crops, and living mulches. Specific rotations are designed to 1) add nutrients to the system by the use of legumes in crop rotations, 2) recycle nutrients within the farm system by the use of cover crops between cash crops, 3) prevent the loss of nutrients (that can end up as contamination in ground and surface water) by the use of catch crops, 4) control weeds, and 5) condition soil.
o Erosion control by cover cropping and strip cropping.
o Pest management including IPM and non-chemical insect and disease management.
o Manure management to conserve nutrients and prevent the pollution of ground and surface water.
o Marketing innovations.
We have been approached by many other organizations for advice on developing a similar directory. We will develop a packet of information and sample copies to be distributed to interested farmer organizations as soon as they are available.