642 A Training Series in Organic Farming Systems

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  • 1 Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695
  • | 2 Department of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695

Consumer demand for organically produced food and the desire by many farmers to eliminate chemical fertilizers and pesticides is increasing the need for research and educational programs to support organic farmers. To date, the land-grant universities and the cooperative extension service have been viewed by organic farmers as unresponsive to this need. The primary reason for the unresponsiveness has been inadequate training and resource materials available to extension agents. In 1998, we conducted an intensive training for agriculture agents in North Carolina. Funding was provided by the USDA SARE Professional Development Program. More than 50 agents participated in a series of workshops that were offered together as a graduate course worth four NCSU credits. Much of the training was conducted on the Organic Unit at The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), a 100-acre facility dedicated to research and education in organic farming systems. The hands-on training consisted of lectures, demonstrations, field trips, and class exercises. The topic areas included soil biology/ecology; crop rotation; organic nutrient management; composting; cover crop management; organic weed, insect, and disease management; appropriate tillage practices; organic greenhouse management; marketing organic produce; integrating animals into organic crop production systems; delivery systems for disseminating information to organic producers, and; social and community development aspects of sustainable agriculture. Unique features of the workshops were the interdisciplinary approach to teaching them, and the integration of information about interactions between production factors. The training was very well-received and will serve as a model for future extension programming. A training manual, slide sets, extension publications, and a Web site are being created to further support agents as they conduct programming in their own counties.

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