CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nationally, about 6.5 million acres are certified organic, with about 68,500 acres certified in Illinois.

“This is a small share of the land, but is growing at about 3% per year,” said Mallory Krieger, farmer education director for The Land Connection, a non-profit based in Champaign that’s dedicated to sustainable and organic food systems.

“Demand for organic products is far outpacing the supply, and with low commodity prices in the conventional sector, more farmers are beginning the three-year transition process to capture that price premium and to improve the environmental impacts of their operations,” she continued.

These growing pangs in the organic agriculture industry also mean there’s also a growing need for science-based educational opportunities.

The Land Connection has worked with other industry influencers to help host the Organic Agronomy Training Series — East on July 24-25 in Crawsfordsville, Indiana.

This is a first-time opportunity designed as a train-the-trainer workshop. Organizers are targeting agricultural professionals — agronomists, certified crop advisors, extension agents and technical services providers — working with organic or transitioning producers.

The two-day training provides education and guidance on organic production methods and certification necessary to serve the needs of certified organic grain producers.

“This is a pilot series for this curriculum. Three trainings are being held in the Midwest — one in Crawfordsville, Indiana, in July; one in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in August; and one has already been completed in March in Bismarck, North Dakota. The Bismarck training was very well received,” Krieger said.

While she said it’s too early to measure impact on business practices and outcomes for those attendees, preliminary evaluations were positive.

About The Workshop

As a “science based” program, Krieger said the curriculum was created by a committee of experts including organic crop researchers, CCAs, agronomists and extension agents.

They laid out a curriculum drawn from research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Western Illinois University and the Rodale Institute, among other research stations.

“We are presenting content derived from measurable and verifiable data, accompanied by real-world working farm experience,” Krieger said.

Presenters range from the public sector to private interests, but organizers focused on drawing from “our home territory, and building an expert and speaker base that knows our growing conditions, soil types, climate and markets,” she said.

Speakers include Michael O’Donnell of Purdue Extension, Steven Mirsky of USDA Agricultural Research Service, Craig Tomera of Grain Millers, Andrew Smith of Rodale Institute, Will Glazik of IDEA Farm Network and Dani Kusner of The Andersons, among others.

The program covers key areas of certified organic production: Basics of organic production (weed control, nutrient management, crop rotation, pest management), systems thinking and long-term strategies, risk management during transition, the certification process and record keeping, National Organic Program rules and regulations, marketing and crop diversity, networking and on-farm and hands-on experiential learning.

There’s already follow-up training lined up. The OATS Consortium recently received funding from the Organic Trade Association’s GRO program, and Krieger said phase 2 development will be rolled out over the coming year.

“We plan to analyze the pilot trainings, make adjustments based on lessons learned and expand our offerings to include more regional trainings in the future,” she said.

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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