Organic training for farmers who want to transition

Producers who were prevented from planting conventional crops this past spring may have a head start on going organic

The historically wet spring of 2019 prevented many conventional and organic farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest from planting corn and soybeans.

However, those who ended up planting a cover crop on their prevented planting acres may have an advantage if they want to transition to organic.

“The cover crop year will provide a good opportunity as your first year in the three years of organic transition (T-1; organic certification in 2021),” said Kathleen Delate, professor and extension organic specialist in horticulture and agronomy with Iowa State University.

An upcoming, two-day Organic Agronomy Training Series (OATS) event in La Crosse, Wisconsin, will provide valuable training on organic production, certification and marketing, including best strategies for transitioning. The August 14-15 training will include information geared toward those who planted cover crops on prevented planting acres, in addition to a full program on the organic industry.

Farmers who purchased crop insurance for their unplanted crop should follow the United States Department of Agriculture’s rules governing crop insurance, made available on the Risk Management Agency website.

Producers can plant a cover crop after the late planting period, and, for the 2019 crop year, hay, graze or cut for silage (haylage or baleage) before September 1 and receive 35% of a prevented planting payment for the first crop, or wait to hay, graze or cut for silage (haylage or baleage) on or after September 1 and receive a full prevented planting payment for the first crop.

ISU Extension and Outreach’s Ag Decision Maker newsletter provides information on detailed crop insurance payments.

Learn from experts
While the OATS training is designed primarily for service providers, farmers are also welcome to attend. Participants will learn from experts, researchers, agronomists and organic farmers while also visiting a nearby organic farm that features certified-organic row crop production.

Speakers include Delate, who will speak on organic pest management and lead a panel of experienced organic farmers, including Tom Frantzen, of New Hampton, and Paul Mugge, of Sutherland, Iowa.

OATS is supported by the Organic Trade Association, Albert Lea Seed, Grain Millers, AgriEnergy Resources, Cashton Farm Supply and Blue River Organic Seed.

Continuing Education Units for Certified Crop Advisors have been requested for the session.

OATS Central Training will be held August 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., CDT; and August 15 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Radisson Hotel La Crosse, 200 Second St. South, La Crosse, Wisconsin. The registration deadline is August 7 and can be done online. Walk-ins are welcome and payable at the door.

Organic outlook
According to the Organic Trade Association, sales of U.S. organic products have grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to nearly $52.5 billion in 2018. While organic food sales make up 6% of total U.S. food sales, less than 1% of U.S. farmland is dedicated to organic production, leaving much room for more transitioning farmers to enter the organic marketplace.

After completing the OATS training, participants will be able to:
- Provide basic agronomic services to certified/transitioning organic producers
- Discuss successful organic crop production strategies
- Understand thoroughly the organic certification and inspection process
- Advise producers on compliance with all applicable USDA rules and regulations
- Recommend profitable, diverse crop rotations that meet rotational requirements
- Understand organic weed-control strategies, including cultural and mechanical
- Advise on the integration of cover crops and reduced tillage into organic systems
- Recommend organically approved pest-control strategies
- Advise on basic organic fertility programs
- Refer to current research relevant to organic production systems

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