Workshops Promote Adding Value to Agriculture through Organic Production

Marsha Laux, Madeline Schultz and Margaret Smith, ISU Extension Value-Added Agriculture Program


Agriculture in Iowa and most of the nation is predominantly commodity-focused.  Recently, producers are faced with even higher costs of inputs, especially related to energy and fertilizer costs.  One system of lowering input costs and tapping into a premium market is organic agriculture.  Demand for organic food products has grown steadily over the last few years and now, according to the Organic Trade Association, organic food has reached the $14 billion sales mark, representing 2.5 percent of all retail food sales.  The group estimates the sales will reach $16 billion in 2006.  Additionally, the Nutrition Business Journal found that organic meat sales grew by 55 percent in 2005.  To tap into the growing industry, agricultural producers need to understand the certification process, the production and the marketing avenues associated with organics.  Especially difficult is the period of transition from conventional to organic production, when premiums cannot be captured yet yields are often lower. 


The Iowa State University Value-Added Agriculture Program successfully secured outside funding in the amount of $20,000 from an anonymous private funding source, to leverage existing staff resources to provide the specific research, resources and training needed for agricultural producers to better understand and evaluate organic agriculture for their individual enterprise.   The project (entitled Organic Market Opportunities and Transitioning to Organic Production for Iowa Farmers) objectives were to research organic market and production trends for Iowa producers and present this information to farmers along with information on transitioning to organics, economic aspects, and organic certification. The organic project goals included delivery of information through workshops, Extension publications and web site development. 


      Six Workshops Held in Iowa - The VAAP team was able to conduct four workshops, as specified in the grant application to the outside funder, as well as two additional workshops though collaborations.  The focus of the organic workshops was narrowed to field crop and livestock production. It was determined that farmers interested in vegetable, fruit, or flower production have very different information needs. The workshop agendas were designed to bring several organic experts together including organic marketers and commodity buyers, organic farmers, organic certification staff, CEEDs, and Extension Specialists.   Over 140 people attended the workshops held in locations around the state. 

a.     Transfer of Knowledge - Participants were asked to self-rank their knowledge of organic agriculture before and after attending the workshops. Evaluation results showed the workshops helped the attendees increase their knowledge of organic farming. Before the workshops 33% said they had a good understanding of organic agriculture by ranking themselves as a 5 or 6. After the workshops, 58% ranked themselves as a 5 or 6. Those coming to the workshops with little knowledge also improved their understanding. Participants ranking themselves as a 2 or 1 before the workshops were 23%. This decreased to 2% after participating in the workshops.

b.     Likelihood of Making Changes - As a result of the workshops 49% of the respondents indicated they are likely to change some aspect of their current farming operation. There were 13% of respondents who were not sure if they would make changes. Of the evaluation survey  respondents, 23% indicated they were not likely to make changes. In addition, there were 15% of respondents who indicated the question was not applicable since they are not currently farming or for some other reason. Nearly one half of all respondents indicated specific production and marketing methods or general moves into organic farming as changes they are likely to make. In another evaluation response, 25% of the respondents planned to increase their organic production in some way due to the workshops and 4% stated they would encourage others to grow organically due to the information gained at the workshops.

c.     Resource packets were assembled and distributed to all workshop participants and to others who were interested in transitioning to organic but could not attend the workshop.  A total of 175 people received resource packets that provided information on the following topics:  Guides to organic production, lists of certifiers, buyers and processors, lists of organic industry and educational resources, trade associations and University resources, newly created Extension publications on transitioning to organic, general profitability worksheets and other economic information, production practices, available markets, presentation materials, and other resource information.

      Extension Fact Sheets, Publications and Web Resources

a.     Organic Crop Production Enterprise Budgets This 7 page document was created by ISU staff Craig Chase, Margaret Smith and Kathleen Delate as a result of this project.  

b.     Organic Certification (under development) This document is in the final stages of being developed and will assist producers in the transition to organic certification.

c.     Web resources Additional emphasis was added to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Centers organic food, and other specific organic agriculture pages (i.e. pork, poultry, etc.) sections to bring easy access to the materials created in this project, for additional resources, and to provide updated information on organic production.

The Organic Market Opportunities and Transitioning to Organic Production for Iowa Farmers project helped to transfer knowledge and to create the tools and resources with which farmers could more easily make informed decisions about entering into organic production.  The project identified additional needs and gaps in the ability to continue transferring the knowledge to producers, and ISU VAAP is continuing to seek additional outside funding sources, with a follow-project likely. 

If interested in learning more about this project, contact the ISU VAAP at 515-294-0588 or visit the following web sites: 


August 2006

121 Adding Value and Enhancing Agricultural Products


Page last updated: September 5, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,