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INTERAGENCY GROUP WILL DEVELOP SUSTAINABLE FARMING PROGRAMS
Source: Purdue Univ. news release

Purdue University and two government agencies have created an interagency group to support Indiana farmers interested in alternative agriculture and provide resources to integrate best organic practices into more conventional farming systems.

The 19-member team, which includes representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and Indiana's Soil and Water Conservation Districts, developed action plans after receiving training at the oldest organic farm in the U.S., the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa., in May. They learned about no-till organic systems, soil health, nutrient management, composting and integrating livestock in organic production.

The training was planned specifically for the Indiana group.

"The training built on the organic knowledge and organic farming experience I already have and reinforced the importance of soil health," said Amy Thompson, Purdue Extension agriculture and natural resources educator in Monroe County. "The trip reenergized me to carry that message forward."

The experience will enable the team to provide education and training in Indiana for new farmers and also large-scale production farmers interested in diversifying their operations, such as by growing fruits, vegetables and specialty grains.

At the end of the three-day program, the team developed four goals to implement in Indiana:

Build an inventory of Indiana resources, such as people, websites, available research plots and equipment and publications, to help farmers interested in sustainable alternative farming methods.

Meet quarterly through webinars to discuss educational needs and develop research and training programs.

Present roundtable discussions throughout the state to determine farmers' needs and create support networks.

Set up demonstration plots at various sites statewide to experiment with roller crimpers, implements that roll over a cover crop and suppress weed growth once a different crop has been planted within the residue, and expand the research of that technology.

The team members, who completed a course titled "Enhancing Environmental Protection through Organic Production," toured Rodale's experimental plots, including three-decade comparison plots of organic and conventional grain cropping systems. They saw a roller crimper in action and toured a USDA-certified organic dairy operation. They also toured a USDA-certified organic produce farm to see the farmer's community-supported agriculture program, which provides produce each week for its 250 members.

The Extension service and agriculture professionals who work with farmers need this type of research and training to help find solutions to organic production issues, said Maria Pop, education and outreach manager for the Rodale Institute.

"We have to rely on each other. We have to create a network of people who have experiences and are willing to share," Pop said.

The training was funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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