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Sustainable Agriculture

Organic Workshops Shine Light on Grain, Livestock Enterprises

With commodity prices stagnant, many Ohio crop farmers, like their counterparts across the country, are eagerly weighing the profit potential of transitioning to organic production.

After Ohio State University Extension and other state educators reported an increase in organic farming inquiries, the nonprofit Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) held a series of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)-funded workshops and farm tours for agricultural professionals to illuminate some of the key strategies for successful transition from conventional to organic production. Spanning 2 years, the educational effort focused on organic grain and livestock production, two key systems in Ohio.

Organic is “a growing business here, and more and more people are interested,” said Margaret Huelsman, an OEFFA educator who planned the professional development project. “Extension agents can be the bridge for people thinking about organic and actually implementing it on their farms.”

Workshops with scientific presentations were augmented by tours featuring some of the state's most successful organic producers. More than 80 people, including area farmers, attended a tour at the Spray grain farm near Mount Vernon, and more than 50 enjoyed a day of multiple farm stops throughout central and northern Ohio.

The tours had a great impact, Huelsman said. “You can talk and read about things, but once you see, feel, and touch something, it becomes more real,” she said. “A lot of these [educators] have never been on an organic farm, and to see that [these practices] actually do work is very important.”

The comprehensive information was put to good use by Mike Hogan, an Ohio State University extension educator, who presented his own set of farmer-oriented workshops a year after the OEFFA experience using many of the same materials. Some 40 growers attended the university training, and at least two grain farmers from Carroll and Stark counties have begun transitioning acres to organic.

Their switch “came from the workshop we taught, and we were able to teach it because of the professional development workshop we participated in,” Hogan said.

 

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