Developing On-Farm Research Expertise Among Farmers in Vermont
Sixty-two growers, and eight agricultural service providers came from six New England states to hear five farmer speakers and three agricultural service providers talk about how to keep good records to evaluate production practices, the value of on-farm research growers had conducted, and resources for conducting research at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s (NOFA Vermont) two-day farmer-to-farmer conference: Answering Questions on the Farm: Conducting Research, Maintaining Records, and Evaluating Production Practices in January, 2009.
Growers at the conference were asked to write at least three on-farm research priorities. We outlined these research priorities and distributed the document titled: New England Farmers’ On Farm Research Priorities 2009 to 108 university researchers, extension personnel, state agencies of agriculture, farm bureaus, and organic agricultural service providers in nine states in the Northeast region who work with vegetable and fruit farmers.
Our project was approved to modify our on-farm research target to season extension, winter growing and storage. Winter growing generated the most on-farm research priorities than any other topic at our conference. One of the benefits for growers is that the research can be conducted at a time of year when growers have more time available.
Ten growers developed proposals and set up research projects to conduct on-farm research on season extension, winter growing and storage. Farmers conducted their research; we provided support through email and phone communication and on-farm visits. Four of these speakers spoke about their on-farm research results to date to 66 attendees at the NOFA Vermont Winter Conference Advanced Track on Season Extension, Storage and Winter Growing: On-Farm Research and Practices on Saturday, February 13th, 2010. Research results are being finalized and final research reports are due mid-April.
- Our overall goals for our performance targets are:
1. 60 farmers will attend the farmer-to-farmer conference,
2. A document that summarizes farmers’ on-farm research priorities will be shared with University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Extension System, and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
3. 10 farmers will develop research plans,
4. 8 farmers will set up research projects,
5. 6 farmers will complete their research,
6. 3 farmers will disseminate their results at the NOFA Vermont Annual Winter Conference or other Northeast conferences, and
7. Results will be published in newsletters in Vermont.
We met stated objectives/performance targets 1-6; objective 7 will be completed after grower final reports are received in mid-April. However, there were challenges. Of the ten farmer-collaborators, three were unable to complete their research. Two farmers trying to extend the season by growing outside under row covers lost their crops due to cold and wind; one grower lost a hoop house when 97 mph winds hit their farm. Farm visits were very important to some growers; others completed their research without them. Growers do have more time for on-farm research during the fall and winter season, but still need reminders to maintain a focus on the project.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Answering Questions on the Farm: Conducting Research, Maintaining Records, and Evaluating Production Practices: This two day farmer-to-farmer conference was an overwhelming success. Five farmer-speakers discussed 1) their farm system (planning, management, and record-keeping; crop plans: planting schedules and timing; soil fertility management, cover crops, and rotations; pest management: weeds, insects, and diseases; post harvest handling and storage; and marketing and markets), and 2) the on-farm research they have conducted, including details on how they did the research, what challenges arose, what they would do differently, and how they used the information to improve their farming systems. Farmer participants were provided with time and a structured exercise to develop their own on-farm research priorities at the conference. Provided in the farmers’ conference notebook was the SARE bulletin, “How to Conduct Research on Your Farm or Ranch,” as well as a resource guide to grants document created for the conference to help farmers conduct on-farm research. Growers liked the presentation and handouts and enjoyed the lunchtime discussions; all growers said they would make changes to farm planning, record keeping or production practices as a result of attending the conference.
New England Farmers’ On- Farm Research Priorities 2009
This document was sent to 108 university researchers, extension personnel, state agencies of agriculture, farm bureaus, and organic agricultural service providers in nine states in the Northeast region who work with vegetable and fruit farmers. It was well received; some comments are listed below.
• Cornell University: Thanks so much for sending this report! Last week at our Northeast Vegetable IPM Working Group meeting, members decided to respond to organic growers’ concerns, possibly by writing a grant proposal to address specific issues, so this report is very timely. I will make sure they see it.
• Cornell University Extension: Thanks so much for doing this great work! This is a really nice, specific list of priorities, something we have struggled with getting in NY. We were just about to put together an online survey to update our research and extension priorities for NY organic growers, and now we don’t need to! We plan to share your results with our group and see if anything else comes up in discussion….
• Cornell University Extension: Thank you for this valuable information. An item that is requested more frequently in proposal writing is documentation that the proposed work is an industry priority. This document will be useful for that process. Also, I am copying this reply to the NE IPM Center. They maintain a repository of these types of priorities on their website in order to assist in proposal preparation. I would suggest that the two of you consider inclusion of your document in that repository. (This was done.)
• NOFA- MASS: Thanks, Good stuff here. Do you have a planned next step? It would be great to do some regional work on many of these topics. I am copying our extension minded staff and friends in NOFA/Mass.
• Rutgers Experiment Station: It amazes me how…A) Most wish list items were asked and answered long ago, and/or results, technologies, or economic data are available. The problem is inexperienced, new, poorly capitalized farms can’t afford adoption, not that the answer does not exist or needs research. This goes for items like washing delicate greens, economic benefits of irrigation, boron on beets, managing weeds in beds which vary according to amendment sources, etc. It’s all known. B) Most list items are the same whether new/small/inexperienced farmer was using organic practices or not. The difference is inability of organic farmers to effectively combat weeds, or rather the excessive management hours and intensity to combat weeds, which diverts attention from sales or other farm management goals. C) Defining sustainability markers remains elusive. A famous New Mexico State Ag economist once quipped to me, “If you can write a check for it, you don’t have a problem.” Since resources have prices, ALL sustainability is economic. Most U.S. sustainable Ag policies (short of Dust Bowl) emerged from some farmers’ inability (differential ability) responding to technology advances; leading to “Economic Dislocation” of less competitive, less efficient, less well-capitalized, poorly managed farms. Not about resource input measures, nor distorted, biased resource prices because of policies, but rather the economic dislocation from endless economic competition; which will never, ever go away. It can’t go away. If you want to measure sustainability progress, measure inputs and costs per unit of output (sales revenues), measure cash flow, and account for everything. Hard to do! Most of us are not management economists.
• UVM – Extension: This was interesting. Wish we had a huge team of researchers to do a lot of the work! There were some great ideas there.
Season Extension, Storage and Winter Growing: On-Farm Research and Practices
This workshop was the best attended of all sessions in the vegetable and fruit advanced track with 66 growers attending. We invited additional farmer speakers from New York to share information on winter growing and on-farm hoop-house temperature research they conducted; four on-farm researchers from this grant spoke. The workshop session was highly rated. On a 1-5 scale, with 5 being best, this workshop was rated as a 4.56. Comments were incredibly positive and included:
• These (Season Extension) were the kind of practical sessions I was looking for.
• Season Extension: good information; good topic. Knowledgeable presenters (Arnolds).
• The Season Extension workshop was really effective in having so many people researching a similar topic.
• Season Extension: Excellent, useful info from real growers.
• Season Extension was extremely useful, well presented, dense with information.
• Very informative, lots of specific information, research-based.
Farmers were also asked how they would make use of the information they learned.
• Yes – tight spacing, interplanting, multiple row covers.
• I think I have a better idea of what is still uncertain about winter growing and where there is room to continue experimenting and researching.
• Yes some good points: timing on 2nd row cover removal, height on second row cover, sidewall height difference.
• How to grow in high tunnels, varieties to grow will be used.
• We are expanding our hoop houses and plan to work on extending seasons—the Arnolds gave excellent information.
• Lots –tunnels.
• Yes, we are planning on starting a farm specializing in winter growing , storage crops, and high tunnel crops.
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