Organic Soil Health Education Online Course and Resources for the Southern SARE Region Farmers and Ranchers

Project Overview

LS20-324
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2020: $49,882.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipients: Organic Farming Research Foundation; NCAT
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Brise Tencer
Organic Farming Research Foundation

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, technical assistance, workshop
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and key partners, including NCAT's Southeast Regional Office, University of Kentucky, and Tuskegee University, propose training and outreach to farmers and ranchers in the Southern region to increase their knowledge, understanding, decision making skills, and practical application of soil health practices. By improving soil health, producers can enhance their productivity and profitability, optimize on-farm resource use efficiency, protect soil and water resources, mitigate climate change effects, and protect the health and safety of those involved in food and farm systems.

    Our goal is to provide training based on the Soil Health and Organic Farming series of guidebooks developed during 2017-19 by OFRF and other organic research resources, which will be tailored to Southern region climates, soils, pest pressures, and production systems. Our primary audience will be organic producers, especially minority, new, and transitioning farmers; however, the information will be applicable to all production systems.

    We propose offering an online course to provide scientifically based practices that build soil health, and address research needs of organic farmers in the Southern U.S. Topics will include: crop rotation, cover crop selection and management, organic amendments, integrated systems of practices, nutrient cycling and management, the roles of soil organisms in nutrient cycling and plant protection, soil friendly approaches to tillage and weed management, water quality and water use efficiency in relation to soil health, and the potential role of crop cultivar genetics in supporting best soil health practices. Additional topics may be selected based on input from Southern region farmers and service providers regarding the specific soil health challenges and best practices for the region. The training course will include ample time for questions and answers, dialogue, and information exchange to point the way to effective new soil health strategies.

    Participants will be surveyed through the Canvas platform to assess the value of the information presented, changes in their understanding of soil health practices, and how they intend to use knowledge gained to improve their farming or ranching operations.

    OFRF will develop a Southern Region Soil Health Guidebook that will serve as the primary text for the short course. This guidebook will address the Southern region’s soil health challenges, weed and disease pressures, and producer needs and priorities.

    OFRF will also conduct two webinars and post the online course and all related resources on our website, which is open-access.

    At the beginning of the project, OFRF will convene an Advisory Committee (AC) of farmers, ranchers, researchers, and extension professionals from across the Southern region. The AC will meet periodically to provide support on the project through feedback on the course, development of materials, facilitating aspects of the course and webinar, and ensuring relevance to Southern region producers, as well as scientific merit.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1) Provide practical and adoptable soil health information specific to the Southern region’s soils, climates, farming and ranching systems, and cultural practices.

    2) Deliver scientific findings that are not readily available to producers in a format that is easily understood and applicable for on-­farm use.

    3) Explain the role of soil management in building healthy soils, mitigating aspects of climate change, and protecting soil from erosion or degradation.

    4) Help farmers develop an understanding of how improving soil health will lead to improved net economic returns.

    5) Increase producer access to and utilization of science-based soil health information resources via ofrf.org and regional partner outreach sites.

    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.