On-Farm Demonstrations and Research of Low-input Sustainable Farming
Most farmers in North Carolina (NC) are interested in decreasing their dependence on chemical inputs, but do not know what alternatives are available to replace synthetic fertilizers and pesticides without reducing farm profitability. They need to see how these alternatives work on actual farms with constraints similar to their own before they are willing to risk their time and resources to make changes from conventional to lower-input practices.
The project encouraged growers with small to medium-sized farms to substitute more sustainable, lower-input practices for heavy use of synthetic chemicals. Project staff and consultants worked with demonstration farmers to plan appropriate reduced-input transition sequences for their farms, establish on-farm demonstrations and applied outreach programs to help other farmers adopt low-input practices. Networks of farmers, researchers, agricultural educators, and technical and marketing consultants supported demonstrations and outreach programs. This project was built on groundwork already established with a 1988-89 Planning Grant from the USDA Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA)’s working relationship with other agricultural organizations and institutions. It was integrated with ongoing NC projects in sustainable agriculture to maximize its educational impact.
In 1992, this project worked with six farmer participants to establish or revise five on-farm demonstrations. On one farm we began the initial planning, but additional planning needed to be completed before we could proceed. This will become part of our on-going on-farm demonstration program. Over the three year period thirteen on-farm demonstrations were undertaken.
The Green Book listing local markets continues to be promoted. An additional 120 books were distributed this year. In cooperation with the “Ways to Grow Program” at NC Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&TSU), the Green Book is being revised and expanded to include South Carolina, border markets with Tennessee and Virginia, and other alternative markets. The Mountain Organic Growers Marketing Cooperative, located in Asheville, NC, has become another marketing avenue the project has indirectly worked to develop. Additionally, we have worked to help growers strengthen their market through collaboration rather than competition, linking southeastern NC growers with the mountain growers. We have sponsored the Marketing Conference as a member of the Southern Sustainable Ag Working Group, to be held in Raleigh, January 7-10, 1993.
To establish and revise on-farm demonstrations, technical committees were assembled to provide valuable expertise and participate in problem-solving/brain-storming sessions. These interdisciplinary teams were an exciting component of the entire project. They helped us avoid unnecessary duplication, strengthened the project design, fostered communication between technicians, specialists, and practitioners, and gave farmer-demonstrators easy access to information from specialists. Field days brought members of the technical committee together again to provide supporting information to the farmer’s presentation of their demonstration, giving many more farmers access to technical expertise.
Outreach has been on-going. In 1992 four field days/farm tours were held, attracting over 150 people through mailed notices, and news releases to print and electronic media. One tour was coordinated with NCA&TSU which helped to pave the way to our partnership on the revised Green Book. The 7th Annual Sustainable Ag Conference attracted 160 participants. Three LISA demonstrators presented their results, one major participant from the Extension Research Center and the project director presented material on various aspects of the project. Participation in CFSA Board, Certification, Conference Planning and Regional group meetings provided more opportunity to share specific information on related activities.
Five conferences have been attended at which material was distributed or information dissemination was facilitated through networking. Participation in various sustainable ag committees, (including the NC Sustainable Ag Working Group, the Southern Organic Farmer Associations Council, the Chatham County Cooperative Extension Advisory Committee), has given the project opportunities to share activities and findings. Presentations were given both formally and informally throughout the year. Information continues to be exchanged with other LISA/SARE recipients (Dr. Mary Peet and Dr. Larry King). Articles in the Stewardship News have provided another avenue for outreach. Finally, we joined a computer network to help reach more people. There are many ways to share information. We chose those we felt would most effectively reach the people we most wanted to reach —-the farmers.
(1) On-farm demonstrations and applied experiments of sustainable low-input farming practices will be established.
(2) Farm-specific transition sequences from conventional to sustainable low-input farming will be documented.
(3) Marketing resources needed by farmer participants for crops raised with less or no synthetic pesticides or fertilizer will be developed.
(4) Interaction between farm participants and technical advisors who can help growers draft farm plans and solve specific farming or marketing problems will be coordinated.
(5) Outreach programs to publicize demonstration farms and disseminate information about possible transition methods will be administered.