Source: UNIV OF MINNESOTA submitted to
PRINCIPLES FOR TRANSITIONING TO ORGANIC FARMING: E-LEARNING MATERIALS AND DECISION CASE STUDIES FOR EDUCATORS
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
EXTENDED
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Annual
Accession No.
1000447
Grant No.
2013-51106-21005
Project No.
MIN-13-G27
Proposal No.
2013-03973
Multistate No.
(N/A)
Program Code
112.E
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2013
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2017
Grant Year
2013
Project Director
Sheaffer, C.
Recipient Organization
UNIV OF MINNESOTA
(N/A)
ST PAUL,MN 55108
Performing Department
Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Non Technical Summary
Our outreach, education and Extension project is based on the critical need for quality educational materials on transitioning to organic farming. Our team will create a series of online, interactive educational modules with a focus on the fundamentals of organic agriculture and how to transition to organic farming. Modules will cover important crop production topics including rotation, soil fertility, crops to grow during transition, weed and pest management, and many other subjects for both agronomic and horticultural producers. Each of our modules will be composed of a core-principle component and a decision case study. The core-principle component will be designed to provide fundamental information that will be combined with interactive learning such as self-guided quizzes and tests, as well as multimedia aspects such as video, music and narration. The decision case studies component will engage higher level learning in each subject through the study of dilemmas based on experiences of organic producers in our region. By utilizing e-learning tools and teaching methods that enhance critical thinking skills, we will increase the value and availability of educational resources on transitioning to organic agriculture. Modules will be used by university instructors, Extension educators, and regional sustainable agriculture organizations to educate transitioning farmers, undergraduate students, and organic consultants. Our e-learning resources will be designed to be adaptable for multiple uses including workshops, an intensive training class on transitioning for farmers, and undergraduate agriculture classes.
Animal Health Component
(N/A)
Research Effort Categories
Basic
(N/A)
Applied
(N/A)
Developmental
(N/A)
Classification

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
90360303020100%
Goals / Objectives
Transitioning to organic farming can be a risky prospect for those who have only farmed conventionally. A transitioning organic farmer is thrown into a whole new world with new rules, new methods, and unfamiliar problems. When this new world is combined with a much-reduced support system, the risk of failure can be great. Information is available to farmers regarding the basic facts about organic agriculture, but real world situations that are beyond commonly-available knowledge can stymie even experienced producers. Undergraduate education is in transition. The conventional mode of lecturing by faculty with passive learning of facts by students is being reevaluated. In many fields, educators can now rely on interactive online tools to disseminate important information, while reserving classroom time for collaborative group work and faculty-guided discussions that provide a greater emphasis on higher learning processes that develop critical thinking skills. Developing deeper thinking skills for undergraduate courses is important for organic and sustainable agriculture topics. There is a critical need for quality educational materials on transitioning to organic farming for farmers and students. Our project will design a series of online, interactive educational modules with a focus on fundamentals of organic agriculture and how to transition to organic farming for selected agronomic and horticultural crops. Each of the 14 modules will have a core-principle component and a decision case study. The general model of disseminating information to the public by university and extension personnel has evolved over the years. We will use all the modern tools available to promote learning to a higher capacity. In summary, our overall objective is to develop the next generation of educational materials in organic agriculture, specifically designed for active learning and development of critical thinking skills. Our materials will be used by university instructors, Extension educators, and regional sustainable agriculture organizations to educate transitioning farmers, undergraduate students, and organic consultants.
Project Methods
The primary project activities that will lead to accomplishing our objectives are described below. Learning group meetings. Learning groups are an innovative technique where producers, educators, and researchers interact with the goal of education for all involved. We have a network of organic farmers throughout the state with whom we meet periodically on other projects or to do on-farm research. We will meet with organic farmers in learning groups at all steps of the process - to review subject matter, to interview for decision case studies, and to test out the modules when they are complete. We will hold learning group meetings with our established members and invite newly transitioning farmers to meet each other and discuss our topics. One of the most important factors in organic farming success, according to our learning group members, is having a good network of other organic farmers. We have found that learning groups are great ways for established farmers to network and discuss their experiences and learn from others; this model would also greatly benefit transitioning farmers. Learning groups will offer the opportunity for transitioning farmers to meet experienced organic farmers in their areas and add to their support system. We have also discovered that when we hold learning groups, all parties benefit, especially us as educators and researchers. Outcome: we will form three learning groups in different regions that meet three times a year. Train-the-trainers. The University of Minnesota Extension Service will play a large role in reaching farmers. Extension educators who have promoted organic agriculture in Minnesota will work on this project to help develop content. These lead educators will offer classes on learning materials and train Extension personnel in utilizing the interactive materials and decision case studies. Outcome: Train 10 Extension educators. Workshops on transitioning topics. Extension educators will hold several workshops on topics relating to transitioning in different sections of the state. We will gauge the demand for length, timing, and frequency of offering the workshops and training. Extension educators will hold workshops in several locations across the state every year. We will apply for Continuing Education Units (CEU) for Certified Crop Advisers through the Certified Crop Adviser Program. Crop consultants will be able to take these workshops with Extension personnel's guidance for CEUs. Outcome: Use materials to teach 100 transitioning farmers, organic farmers and other interested individuals each year. Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. An in-depth training course on transitioning using these materials will be offered at our field stations. This course will integrate the entirety of the learning materials we develop into a comprehensive class. Outcome: Use materials to train 25 transitioning farmers each year. Educational materials for undergraduate students. The University of Minnesota is in the process of developing a Food Systems major that will include a track on Organic and Local Food Productions. Our modules will be used in several of the classes within the major by our faculty to teach undergraduate students in this program and perhaps even in conventional agricultural classes. Being on a large university campus, we have many students that can "beta test" the modules for interest in the subject matter, level of engagement and overall function. We will hold focus groups to test the materials with undergraduate students. These materials will be available to faculty at other colleges and universities in the U.S. Outcome: Use materials in 5 undergraduate courses at the University of Minnesota to teach 125 students per year, instructors at other colleges to use materials for 100 students per year. Educational materials for regional organizations. Our partners, MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) and the CIAS (Center for Integrated Agricultural systems), have extensive relationships with organic farmers in WI, both with agronomic and horticultural farmers. MOSES will utilize and evaluate the materials at workshops during their annual conference and at other less formal educational events. Another partner, eOrganic, will aid us in obtaining a national audience of farmers and students by publishing our versions of our modules for the general public on eOrganic's YouTube channel. We will make our educational resources available to other regional organizations as well. Outcome: Reach a regional audience of 300 farmers per year and national audience of 3,000 people each year. Adaptability of materials. We will design our e-Learning materials to be truly modular. Many of the elements can be stand-alone products. For example, a professor could use one of the decision case studies in a class on sustainable agriculture. Versions of the modules, perhaps without some of the interactive elements like quizzes, can be played during lecture, just as an educator might use a video. An extension educator could use our modules on weed control to educate both conventional and organic audiences about the overall principles of weed management. While the components can be used on their own, they will also function together as a course. We will provide an instructor's manual to guide educators in using the materials as a course.

Progress 09/01/15 to 08/31/16

Outputs
Target Audience:We have a broad target audience including organic producers, Extension educators, organic agricultural professionals, college teachers, undergraduate students, and sustainable agriculture organizations. Our efforts to reach our target audience include the following: During our outreach activities for this project, we have encouraged attendees to sign up for our mailing list. We maintain regular contact with those who are interested and let them know about upcoming project activities, in addition to other events of interest, through our email list. We have a project webpage on eOrganic. This site connects the general public to information about our project including our objectives, details of our e-learning modules and decision case studies, and our project team. The site is located at http://eorganic.info/transitioning. Our project has a strong outreach component as part of our primary objectives. As a result, we are in contact with our target audience routinely through our listening sessions and workshops, in classrooms where we test decision cases, and at conferences we attend. For more details, please see the "Accomplishments" section of this report. In the recent review of organic research "Taking Stock: Analyzing and reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002-2014" conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation, our "Principles to Transitioning" project was listed as one of the projects "that seemed especially effective and innovative in their approaches to producer engagement." Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?Several of our team members are being provided with new opportunities to work with organic producers and organic professionals. Our partners at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (University of Wisconsin), as well as several of us from the University of Minnesota, have learned the details of how to develop decision case studies. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Presently, none of our products (decision case studies and e-learning modules) have been published and thus we do not have those results to share at this time. However, we are using these materials in our workshops and classrooms and so have presented these products there to farmers and students. Also, in our workshops and other outreach activities, we are regularly communicating our plans to our audience and are incorporating their ideas into our project. Interested parties can sign up for our e-mailing list and can review our progress on our project website at http://eorganic.info/transitioning. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?Objective 1: Listening Sessions. While we do not intend to hold further official listening sessions, we plan to incorporate short listening sessions within the framework of our transitioning workshops to get farmer input on our materials. From our previous listening sessions, we have enlisted volunteers who will review our materials on their own and offer more substantive input than we can get in group settings. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. Our decision case developers will continue to create more case studies that complement the topics of our e-learning modules. We will complete the three decision cases that are in progress, and complete six new ones. These materials will go on a dedicated website aimed at educators once our projected is completed. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. We will have the e-learning module content reviewed and revised. Once all content has been finalized, we will finish the interactive functionality. These materials will go on a dedicated website aimed at educators and the general public once our project is completed. Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. In December, we will hold three day-long workshops on transitioning at three sites in our region. These workshops will be led by Kristine Moncada, Carmen Fernholz, Gigi DiGiacomo, Connie Carlson, and Adria Fernandez. The curriculum will include versions of our modules and our decision case studies. However, the materials we present in this workshop series will be different than the first series. We will market this second series as Part 2 to last winter's Part 1 and encourage last year's participants to attend this one as well. The materials we plan to present will be on Weed Biology, Mechanical Weed Control, Marketing Organic Crops, Soil Microbial Communities, and a decision case study on how to provide fertility to organic crops. We anticipate up to 100 farmers in total attending our workshops. Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. Some of this audience (NRCS and Extension personnel, etc) have attended our workshops and some of these professionals will likely attend our second series of workshops. This objective will be addressed more completely in Year 4 when the intensive training course (See Objective 6) is completed. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. The workshops we conducted in the last reporting period and the ones we are planning for the end of this year will be combined into a multi-day course. This objective will be addressed more fully in Year 4.

Impacts
What was accomplished under these goals? Objective 1: Listening Sessions. Participants completed detailed surveys that provided feedback that we will use to improve our project. They recommended we continue to cover the topics of our first series of workshops to help others; that we do a similar workshop on advanced transitioning topics; that we give more case studies; and that we provide more information on marketing, economics, crop rotation, crop production, split operations, and soil health. We feel confident based on these responses that our materials will address the concerns of our target audience. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. Six additional decision case studies were completed for a total of nine. We have increased our case study target to 18 to encompass more areas where farmers encounter problems. We now have an economist on our project team who will author case studies on marketing and business planning, which we found to be important areas where more information was needed. Three case studies were completed previously and are described in last year's report. The current case studies completed include: An experienced organic farmer has reduced the amount of tillage in his operation to protect his soils, but Canada thistle has become prevalent, threatening his crops. An organic apple orchard grower's struggles with fire blight. One treatment is going on the prohibited list and she is worried about how she will manage to stay profitable without it. An organic farmer explores organic options to suppress Canada thistle such as soil amendments, cover crops, smother crops, and alfalfa in his rotation. New organic vegetable growers are struggling with whether to use plastic mulch to manage weeds because they believe that plastic mulch is not sustainable. A grass-fed beef operation is considering converting to organic because they believe in the sustainability of organic, but it may not make financial sense for them. An established organic farmer has avoided soybeans in his rotation because of difficulties in pest control. He starts growing them again and has to decide how to manage soybean aphid. We have four other cases that are in progress: 1) an organic grower grappling to provide enough nutrients to his crops, 2) a conventional field crop producer not far from retirement deciding whether to convert to organic, 3) problems with transitioning rental land, and 4) enterprise diversification on an organic grain farm. We have tested our case studies on farmers in our workshops and on undergraduates in university classrooms. So far, they have met our expectations in provoking critical thinking and greater understanding of the case topics. When we conducted a discussion on the winter wheat in rotation case where the farmer was developing a problem in Canada thistle, participants provided many different solutions, some of them novel. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. We have developed most of the content for our modules. We have sent them out for review and have tested or will soon test them in our workshops. Once we have made final revisions, the Adobe Presenter functionality will be added. We have revised our original plan to include more topics based on input from farmers in our workshops. Modules include: What is Organic? Guiding principles, National Organic Program standards, how organic is regulated, and who are organic farmers. Resources for Transition: Educational resources for transitioning farmers, how to find organic seed, verifying organic inputs, NRCS programs, working with a certifier during transition, MN Transition Cost Share Program, finding a certifier, and resources for questions. Certification: Who needs to be certified, who are certifiers, choosing a certifier, application, OSP, overview of certification process, cost share programs, and yearly re-certification. Record Keeping: Transition and Beyond: What needs to be documented, field maps, field history, activity log, other records, items to save for future reference, and the Organic System Plan. Crop Rotation: Rotations under NOP rules, benefits of diverse rotations (soil health, weeds, insects), and rotation examples for agronomic crops. Weed Biology and Management: Life cycles, reproduction, seed banks, emergence, weed effects, cultural weed control, mechanical weed control, equipment, and scouting for weeds. First Steps in Transition: Why consider organic, common misconceptions, common challenges, what to expect during transition (yields, soil health, labor, and weeds), which fields to transition first, the best crops to grow, timing the transition, buffers, providing nitrogen, and split operations. Row Crops: Management of corn and soybean, variety selection, planting, weed and pest management, their competitiveness with weeds, nutrient requirements, crop effects on soil health, and harvesting. Small Grains Crops: Management of oats, spring wheat, winter wheat, barley and rye; variety selection; planting; weed and pest management; their competitiveness with weeds, nutrient requirements, effect on soil health, and harvesting. Forage Crops: Management of forages, variety selection, planting, weed and pest management; their competitiveness with weeds, nutrient requirements, effect on soil health, and harvesting. Soil Health: Soil organisms, soil properties, organic matter, tillage, soil conservation, essential soil elements, and soil testing. Soil Fertility: Adjusting pH, organic fertilizers (green manures, animal manures, compost, and other organic amendments) and crop nutrient needs. Cover Crops: Benefits of cover crops, ways organic farmers use cover crops, determining your goal for cover crops, selecting cover crops, planting (after small grains, after row crops; drilling vs broadcast), and terminating. History of Organic: The history of organic agriculture in the United States; the beginnings of the organic movement, how the NOP developed, growth of organic agriculture, and the state of organic agriculture today. Other Crops: Management of alternative crops (field beans, field peas, sweet corn, canning peas and snap beans), variety selection, planting, weed and pest management, nutrient requirements, and harvesting. Preventing GMO contamination: Primarily focusing on corn; ways contamination can occur, and ways to prevent contamination in the field and during other steps after harvest. Marketing; Developing market plans, how to decide which crops to grow, marketability of various crops, knowing the customer, buyer specifications, transportation, storage, and contacts for potential contracts. Economics of Growing a New Crop: Helping producers decide if growing alternative crops will make sense financially, will include a crop enterprise budget. Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. Our project has conducted several workshops using the materials we have developed on transitioning. We held three workshops in Lamberton, Rochester, and St. Cloud, MN with 70 participants total. 10 of the participants came from other states including Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. The topics covered in these workshops included What Is Organic, Resources for Organic, Certification and Record Keeping, a decision case study group discussion, Transitioning Soil Management, and Transitioning Weed Management. We surveyed the participants before and after the workshops. Of the people who answered this question: "Overall, how satisfied are you with the Transitioning to Organic Workshop?", 95% replied they were "much satisfied" or "very much satisfied". Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. Extension educators will offer classes on our learning materials and train other Extension personnel in utilizing the interactive materials and decision case studies in Year 4. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. We will develop the training course for transitioning farmers in Year 4.

Publications


    Progress 09/01/14 to 08/31/15

    Outputs
    Target Audience:We have a broad target audience including organic producers, Extension educators, organic agricultural professionals, college teachers, undergraduate students, and sustainable agriculture organizations. Our efforts to reach our target audience include the following: Jill Sackett, our Extension outreach coordinator, gave a presentation about the project at the Southern Minnesota Organic Crops Day in Owatonna, MN on March 31, 2015. She provided an overview of the project to get people interested in either participating in our upcoming events or as subjects for our decision case studies. During our outreach activities for this project, we have encouraged attendees to sign up for our mailing list. We maintain regular contact with those who are interested and let them know about upcoming project activities, in addition to other events of interest, through our email list. We have a project webpage on eOrganic. This site connects the general public to information about our project including our objectives, details of our e-learning modules and decision case studies, and our project team. The site is located at http://eorganic.info/transitioning. Our project has a strong outreach component as part of our primary objectives. As a result, we are in contact with our target audience routinely through our listening sessions and workshops, in classrooms where we test decision cases, and at conferences we attend. For more details, please see the "Accomplishments" section of this report. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?Jill Sackett, our Extension outreach coordinator, is being provided with new opportunities to work with organic producers and organic professionals. Her previous background is in sustainable agriculture so this current work will allow her to expand her role in Extension to other organic projects in the future. Our partners at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (University of Wisconsin), as well as several of us from the University of Minnesota team, have learned the details of how to develop decision case studies from Dr. Steve Simmons, our decision case consultant. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Presently, none of our products (decision case studies and e-learning modules) have been published and thus we do not have results to share at this time. However, in our listening sessions and other outreach activities, we are regularly communicating our plans to our audience and are incorporating their ideas into our project. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?Objective 1: Listening Sessions. We plan to continue holding listening sessions several times per year throughout the project to get farmer input on our materials. From our listening sessions, we have enlisted volunteers who will review our materials on their own and offer more substantive input than we can get in group settings. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. Our decision case developers will continue to create more case studies that complement the topics of our e-learning modules. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. By the end of Year 3, we will have the e-learning module content completed and the interactive functionality finished. Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. In December, we will hold three day-long workshops on transitioning in Morris, Lamberton, and Rochester, MN. These workshops will be led by Kristine Moncada, Jill Sackett and Carmen Fernholz. The curriculum will include versions of our modules and our decision case studies. We will also include a question and answer session led by Carmen Fernholz, an organic farmer for over 30 years. We plan to hold another day-long workshop led by Carmen Fernholz, on transitioning to organic in conjunction with the Minnesota Organic Conference in St. Cloud, MN in January 2016. In 2016, we will also hold several more workshops in other regions to test out additional educational materials. Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. This objective will be addressed in Year 3. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. This objective will be addressed in Year 3.

    Impacts
    What was accomplished under these goals? Objective 1: Listening Sessions. We organized two listening sessions in St. Cloud and in Owatonna, MN. Attendees included agricultural professionals such as organic crops consultants, organic inspectors, and organic grain buyers, as well as organic and transitioning farmers. Our discussion topics included: what are the best ways to reach transitioning farmers, what they thought was preventing more conventional farmers from transitioning, what are the biggest obstacles to transitioning, and who organic farmers turn to for help during transition. This year, we noticed that a large number of participants were concerned about marketing, which we will address in the development of our marketing e-learning module. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. Three decision case studies are completed. The first case profiles an organic grain farmer from Minnesota and his struggles with incorporating cover crops into his rotation. After completing this case study, learners will understand the NOP rotation guidelines, become familiar with the potential benefits and risks of using cover crops, and use critical thinking skills to form an opinion on the next step this farmer should take (either continuing or discontinuing the use of cover crops). The second decision case profiles someone who is new to farming. A recent college graduate, he has plans to attend law school. However, he now has an opportunity to farm land his parents recently bought. He needs to decide whether to get a law degree or become an organic farmer. This case will help the audience (especially undergraduate students) to better understand what farming entails and the considerations of transitioning into organic production. The third decision case study is about a couple who have a profitable conventional apple orchard, but yet they feel organic was more consistent with their values. Student will consider whether they should risk transitioning. This case offers a good example of how community and support from others can be important for making decisions during the transition phase. We have two decision case studies that are in review. The first is about an experienced organic farmer who has reduced the amount of tillage in his operation to protect his soils. However, as a result, Canada thistle has become prevalent, threatening his crops. Students will learn how there may be tradeoffs in the decisions that farmers make. The second case is about an organic apple orchard and the grower's struggles with fire blight. The NOSB may be putting the best treatment (an antibiotic) on the prohibited list and the grower is worried about how she will manage to stay profitable without it. The audience will learn about disease management in organic systems. We have two other cases that are in progress; one concerns variety selection in organic grain systems and the other involves vegetable production. We have tested our case studies on farmer and undergraduate audiences several times. So far, they have met our expectations in provoking critical thinking and greater understanding of the case topics. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. We have developed much of the content for our e-learning modules. We have revised our original plan to include a few more topics based on input from farmers in our listening sessions. A summary of the modules is below. What is Organic? Guiding principles, NOP standards, how organic is regulated, who are organic farmers, and history of organic farming Should You Go Organic? Why consider organic, common misconceptions, what you will need to become organic, common challenges, and a decision checklist Resources for Transition: NOP standards, how to find organic seed, verifying organic inputs, NRCS programs for transitioning producers, working with a certifier during transition, MN Transition Cost Share Program, and finding a certifier Record Keeping - Transition and Beyond: What needs to be documented, field maps, field history, activity log, other records, items to save for future reference, and the Organic System Plan Certification - Post-Transition: Who needs to be certified, who are certifiers, how to find certifiers, choosing a certifier, application, OSP, overview of certification, cost share programs, and re-certification Production Strategies in Transition: What to expect during transition, gradual vs whole farm transition, which fields to transition first, the best crops to grow, timing the transition, buffers, providing nitrogen, and split operations Crop Rotation: Rotations under NOP rules, benefits of diverse rotations, rotations for agronomic and horticultural crops Row Crops: Management of corn and soybean, variety selection, planting, weed and pest management, nutrient requirements, harvesting Small Grains Crops: Management of oat, spring wheat, winter wheat, barley and rye; variety selection; planting; weed and pest management, nutrient requirements, harvesting Forage Crops: Management of forages (alfalfa, red clover, perennial grasses, and pasture), variety selection, planting, weed and pest management, nutrient requirements, harvesting Other Crops : Management of alternative crops (field beans, field peas, sweet corn, canning peas and snap beans), variety selection, planting, weed and pest management, nutrient requirements, harvesting Soil Health: Soil organisms, soil properties, organic matter, tillage, soil conservation, essential soil elements, and soil testing Soil Fertility: Adjusting pH, organic fertilizers (green manures, animal manures, compost, other organic amendments) Cover Crops: Benefits of cover crops, ways organic farmers use cover crops, what is your goal for including cover crops, selecting cover crops, and terminating Weed Biology: What is a weed, life cycles, reproduction in weeds, weed seed banks, weed emergence, and weed effects on crops Weed Management: Cultural weed control, mechanical weed control, equipment, rescue operations, and scouting for weeds Preventing GMO contamination: Corn susceptibility, ways contamination can occur, ways to prevent contamination Marketing; Developing market plans, how to decide which crops to grow, marketability of various crops, knowing the customer, buyer specifications, transportation, storage, and contracts Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. Our project will incorporate several workshops on topics relating to transitioning. Our first workshop was held in 2015 at the Minnesota Organic Conference in St. Cloud, where we tested the decision case study on cover crops. We have four more workshops planned (see section on plans for the next reporting period). Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. Extension educators will offer classes on our learning materials and train other Extension personnel in utilizing the interactive materials and decision case studies in Year 3. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. An in-depth training course on transitioning using these materials will be offered. This course will integrate the entirety of the learning materials we develop for a comprehensive class. We will develop the training course for transitioning farmers in Year 3.

    Publications


      Progress 09/01/13 to 08/31/14

      Outputs
      Target Audience: We have a broad target audience including organic producers, Extension educators, organic agricultural professionals, college teachers, undergraduate students, and sustainable agriculture outreach organizations. Our efforts to reach our target audience include the following: We publicized the start of our project with an announcement on the SUSTAG and Organic Network listservs that includes producers, agricultural professionals, college students, and other interested parties from around the region. We participated in the Sustainable Agriculture Open Forum Discussion on February 11, 2014 at the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) in Lamberton, MN. One of the main topics for this session was transitioning to organic farming. It was a facilitated open forum where everyone had the opportunity to interact with others including experienced farmers, marketers and product end users. Carmen Fernholz, the organic coordinator for the University of Minnesota, introduced our project and handed out flyers to participants. Several participants of this forum signed on to be listening session participants for our project. Jill Sackett, our Extension outreach coordinator, gave a presentation about the project at the Southern Minnesota Organic Crops Day in Owatonna, MN on March 19. She provided an overview of the project to get people interested in either participating in our upcoming listening sessions or as subjects for our decision case studies. Agrinews interviewed Jill Sackett, the Extension educator on this project, about the launch of our grant and project in April 2014. See this link for the article - http://www.postbulletin.com/archives/u-of-m-to-launch-organic-project/article_14c98355-7b29-508b-a458-691542f3ff75.html We were part of the Organic Field Day at the Lamberton Southwest Research and Outreach Center held on July 11, 2014. Jill Sackett had a booth display set up that included information on this and other organic projects. She was on-hand to answer questions about our project. This field day is the largest in the state and generally has at least 100 attendees including producers, agricultural professionals, and students. We made contact with our target audience through our listening sessions. For more information on these, please see the “Accomplishments” section of this report. Changes/Problems: Nothing Reported What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Jill Sackett, our Extension outreach coordinator, is being provided with new opportunities to work with organic producers and organic professionals. Her previous background is in sustainable agriculture so this current work will allow her to expand her role in Extension to other organic projects in the future. Our partners at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (University of Wisconsin), as well as several of us from the University of Minnesota team, are learning the details of how to develop decision case studies from Dr. Steve Simmons, our decision case consultant. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? Presently, all of our products (decision case studies and e-learning modules) are still works in progress and thus we do not have results to share at this time. However, in our listening sessions and other outreach activities, we are regularly communicating our plans to our audience and are incorporating their ideas into our project. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Objective 1: Listening Sessions. We plan to continue holding listening sessions several times per year throughout the project to get farmer input on our materials. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. Our decision case developers will continue to create more case studies that complement the topics of our e-learning modules. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. By the end of Year 2, we hope to have most of the 14 e-learning modules completed. Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. We will be holding a day-long workshop led by Carmen Fernholz, on transitioning to organic in conjunction with the Minnesota Organic Conference in St. Cloud, MN in January 2015. Included in the curriculum will be some of our decision case studies. This will be a great opportunity to test and fine-tune these case studies. In Year 2, we will also hold several half-day workshops in other regions to test out additional educational materials. Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. This objective will be addressed in Year 3. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. This objective will be addressed in Year 3.

      Impacts
      What was accomplished under these goals? Objective 1: Listening Sessions. We organized 4 listening sessions around the region this past spring with 3 sessions for grain/forage producers and one session for fruit and vegetable producers. However, the one at Lamberton, MN (grain/forage session) was canceled due to flooding in the area. The other three sessions were held in Waite Park, Farmington, and Rochester, MN. Attendees included agricultural professionals such as organic crops consultants, organic inspectors, and organic grain buyers, as well as organic and transitioning farmers. For this first round of discussions on transitioning to organic production, we gathered input from our participants on our project plans. Our discussion topics included: what are the best ways to reach transitioning farmers, what they thought was preventing more conventional farmers from transitioning, what are the biggest obstacles to transitioning, and who organic farmers turn to for help during transition. Participants noted the great need for these types of educational materials due to the risk associated with the transition process. We reviewed the 14 module topics and summaries for this project with them for input on topics they thought should be included. As we anticipated based on our previous work with learning groups of organic farmers, weed control and fertility were at the top of the list of their concerns for transitioning. Objective 2: Decision case studies for farmers and undergrads. We held several meetings with our project partners, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (University of Wisconsin), to determine the format of the decision case studies with our consultant Dr. Steve Simmons. Once we determined the format, case study developers chose possible topics and the group selected the ones with the best potential for quality case studies. After the topics were determined, the case study developers met with their farmer subjects for several interviews. Three decision case studies are nearing completion. The first profiles an organic grain farmer from Minnesota and his struggles with incorporating cover crops into his rotation. After completing this case study, learners will understand the NOP rotation guidelines, become familiar with the potential benefits and risks of using cover crops, and use critical thinking skills to form an opinion on the next step this farmer should take (either continuing or discontinuing the use of cover crops). The second decision case study is about another Minnesota grain farmer who is in the process of transitioning to organic. This farmer is struggling with choosing fertility inputs and developing the best rotation. This case will help the audience to better understand the importance of fertility in organic systems, the benefits of having a diverse rotation, and the process of moving into organic production. The third decision case study is about a couple who grow apples in Wisconsin and their decision process in how to transition and the challenges of a split operation. This case offers a good example of how community and support from others can be important for making decisions during the transition phase. Objective 3: e-learning modules for farmers and undergrads. We are in the process of developing materials to use in the e-learning modules. Using the input from farmers from the listening sessions, we are tailoring materials to our audience. A summary of the 14 modules we are developing is below. What is Organic? NOP guidelines, basic overview of the differences between conventional and organic farming, organic philosophy, who are organic farmers, and organic farming in our region. Crops for organic systems: Widely-grown agronomic crops (corn, soybean, small grains, alfalfa, red clover, perennial grasses), and alternative agronomic crops (amaranth, millets, field beans, peas, lentils) and widely-grown horticultural crops (peas, sweet corn, snap beans) and other selected crops; their competitiveness with weeds, nutrient requirements, effect on soil health, and marketability (based on Midwest organic prices). Soil Health: Soil organisms, soil properties, organic matter, tillage, soil conservation, essential soil elements, and soil testing. Soil Fertility: pH, organic fertilizers (green manures, animal manures, compost, other organic amendments). Crop Rotation: Benefits of diverse rotations (soil health, weeds, insects), allowed rotations under NOP rules, recommended crop sequences, rotations for agronomic and horticultural crops, annual and perennial crops in rotations, and cover crops in rotations. Weed ID: Weed species, describe weed biology and life cycles, weed emergence, and weed effects on crops. Weed Management: Cultural weed control, mechanical weed control, equipment, rescue operations, and scouting for weeds. Pest Management: Insect control, disease control, cultural pest management (rotation, resistant varieties), scouting for pests. Should You Go Organic? Will help growers determine if they are ready to start the transition process by covering what to expect, what the differences are between conventional and organic farming, and the economics of organic farming. Cropping: The First Three Years: What to expect during transition (weeds, fertility, and crop yields), the best crops to grow, the organic certification process, reducing risks. Record Keeping and NOP Rules: Organic System Plans (OSP), working with organic certifiers, suggestions on record keeping, and current National Organic Program regulations. Agronomic Cropping Systems: Management of row crops, small grains, and forages; variety selection; weed and pest management. Horticultural Cropping Systems: Management of horticultural crops, variety selection, weed and pest management. Marketing; Developing market plans, how to decide which crops to grow, knowing the customer, buyer specifications, transportation, storage, and contracts Objective 4: Workshops on transitioning. Extension educators will hold several workshops on topics relating to transitioning in different regions. We will use decision case studies and modules, once they are developed, in our workshops on transitioning. These workshops will occur in Year 2 of the project. Objective 5: Train-the-trainers. Extension educators will offer classes on our learning materials and train Extension personnel in utilizing the interactive materials and decision case studies. Once we develop all the decision case studies and e-learning modules, we will be able to develop a train-the-trainer program in Year 3. Objective 6: Intensive training course for transitioning farmers. An in-depth training course on transitioning using these materials will be offered. This course will integrate the entirety of the learning materials we develop for a comprehensive class. After we have completed all the decision case studies and e-learning modules, we will be able to develop the training course for transitioning farmers in Year 3.

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