The latest annual Organic Confluences Conference in the United States brings together organic researchers, farmers, policy-makers, and industry to examine how information is communicated to organic farmers.

 

This year’s annual Organic Confluences Conference was held by the Organic Center, eOrganic, and the United States Department of Agriculture on May 21-22, 2018 in Washington D.C., United States. The conference is attended by a wide diversity of stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, industry members, policy makers, educators, among others. This year the conference will focus on how best practices and technologies are communicated to organic producers – taking a deep look into successful, innovative techniques, as well as how to improve and connect current strategies for transferring knowledge to organic farmers.

 

Organic farmers are expected to farm in a sustainable manner using techniques that decrease the use of off-farm inputs, reduce resource consumption, increase biodiversity, and preserve productivity while simultaneously tackling a diverse array of on-farm challenges including fertility management, weed and pest control and agro-economic challenges such as yield constraints, crop failure and supply chain shortages. While organic and conventional farmers face many of the same agronomic concerns and rely on technical assistance and educational support to help them maintain successful operations, organic farming is fundamentally different from conventional farming. Because the majority of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited from use in organic, organic producers must instead rely on complex biological processes in lieu of chemical inputs. This dichotomy between the needs of organic growers and the conventional farming community has constrained the ability of the traditional extension system to successfully communicate and collaborate with organic farmers. While this is problematic for all organic farmers it can put new and transitioning organic farmers at a particular disadvantage.

 

While the existing body of literature provides a clear picture of the educational challenges faced by organic farmers 10 and 20 years ago, the last decade seen very little formal evaluation of the effectiveness of extension and education for organic farmers in the U.S., creating a significant knowledge gap. The Organic Confluences Conference addressed this knowledge gap through panels, case studies and discussions, while providing a venue for scientists, farmers, policymakers and organic stakeholders to assess barriers to knowledge transfer in the organic community.

The Conference included the following sessions:

 

Extension: Past, Present and Future

This panel examined the history of the Extension system in the United States in the context of organic, and look at where organic Extension stands today.

 

Public-Private Partnerships

Industry can have an important role in ensuring that organic farmers have the knowledge and technology they need to succeed. This panel highlighted a few such partnerships, and discussed their importance in the technology transfer landscape.

 

Importance of Communication Among Diverse Stakeholders

Because the organic sector includes farmers from a wide variety of backgrounds, it is important that knowledge transfer techniques do not exclude underrepresented groups in the organic farming community. This panel explored the importance of inclusive communication in the organic sector.

 

Assessing the effectiveness of extension requirements in organic agriculture research funding

Funding requirements for education and extension are a driving force behind much of the organic information transfer to farmers. This panel explored those requirements, their efficacy, and how researchers have incorporated them into current and past organic research projects.

 

Information Transfer to Transitioning and Split Operations

To succeed as a sector, organic must be able to recruit farmers that are new to organic techniques, and be amenable to farmers who are interested in producing both organic and conventional products. This panel examined ways that extension and other information transfer can connect with farmers who currently use conventional techniques without alienating them.

 

Innovation in Information Transfer

In addition to the above panels, the conference included a lightning-session where stakeholders shared innovative programs for information transfer. This session included short presentations from a wide diversity of individuals actively engaged in education and extension with organic farmers.

 

Synthesis Discussion and Development of Recommendations

One of the most successful parts of the Organic Confluences Conference is the engagement of attendees. Stakeholders who attended this year’s Confluences Summit participated in small group discussions targeted at tackling the challenges addressed in the conference, and helped develop recommendations for improving the outlook for organic as a whole. This is one of the only venues where stakeholders from all parts of the organic sector can converge and address issues that need cross-sector input and involvement to overcome large-scale challenges.

Recommendations derived from discussions among attendees included additional networks at the national level, partnered with region and crop-specific information. Attendees highlighted the need for increased farmer participation and ownership of research and extension activities. Discussion outcomes also detailed the role of technology in information-sharing among organic farmers.

 

Meanwhile, The Organic Center has prepared a White Paper from discussions emanating from the 2017 Organic Confluences: Making Research Count. Entitled “Making Organic Research Count: Outcomes from the 2017 Organic Confluences Summit,” it can be downloaded here

 

More information about this year’s Summit and The Organic Center is available on The Center’s website.

 

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Dr. Alex Racelis of University of the Texas Rio Grande Valley discusses diversity in organic farming

 

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Dr. Mathieu Ngouajio, of the United States Department of Agriculture, discusses extension requirements in USDA funded grants

 

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ISOFAR Board Member, Prof. Dr. Victor I.O. Olowe, Nigeria attended the conference as a participant, and is pictured here with the Director of Science Programs for the Organic Center and ISOFAR Board Member, Dr. Jessica Shade, and Associate Director of Science Programs at the Organic Center, Dr. Tracy Misiewicz


Author:

Dr. Jessica Shade, The Organic Center

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www.organic-center.org