11th Annual Iowa Organic Conference Set for Nov. 21



AMES, Iowa — The 11th Annual Iowa Organic Conference, to be held Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State campus, will offer many educational opportunities for those interested in organic agriculture research and practical applications for farming systems. It will cover topics of interest to organic and conventional farmers, extension staff, industry representatives and students who want to learn more about science-based research and how farmers involved in organic production apply the research.

Organic and transitioning farmers benefit from educational and certification services provided by Iowa State University (ISU) organic agriculture program and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) organic division; services rated among the top in the country. The Iowa organic conference hosted by Iowa State University is one such educational event.

Conference keynote speaker is Joe Bennett, organic agriculture manager at Cascadian Farms/Small Planet Foods, of Rockport, Wash. Bennett has a M.S. in plant pathology and a B.S. in horticulture from Oregon State University. He is currently involved in extensive on-farm research trials with Oregon State University. Cascadian Farms represents a prime example of how the demand for organic foods in the U.S. propelled a company from a small, backyard operation to a well-recognized food processor and national distributor, while remaining true to their original organic principles of growing and sourcing crops free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic farmers who produce crops for the Cascadian Farms brand consist of small and large operations, all united by the same goal of supplying healthy, fresh food to the increasing number of organic consumers.

Conference speakers include a variety of university researchers:

  • Erin Silva, University of Wisconsin, Dale Mutch, Michigan State University, and Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota, will present research results from their organic grain crops, cover crops, vegetable and organic food research.
  • Jeff Moyer and Christine Ziegler of the Rodale Institute will address the potential for organic no-till, what some are calling the “Holy Grail” of organic production.
  • Area organic farmers will be offering tips for best practices during transition to organic farming, including weed management strategies.
  • New research from Iowa State will include robotic weeders for organic vegetable crops.
  • Kathleen Delate, Iowa State professor of agronomy and horticulture, and Craig Chase, ISU Extension program specialist, will discuss crop, soils and economic data from the 14-year LTAR (Long-Term Agroecological Research) comparison of organic and conventional rotations at the ISU Neely-Kinyon Farm in Greenfield, Iowa. In 2010, organic corn and soybean yields were equal to conventional yields, at 147 and 57 bushels per acre, respectively.
  • Cynthia Cambardella, USDA National Laboratory for Ag and the Environment, Ames, has quantified carbon sequestration benefits of the LTAR organic rotations, which can help offset harmful global CO2 emissions.

“Farmers, both conventional and organic, have had many challenges this year,” Kathleen Delate said. “The cold, wet spring delayed growth and the dry periods in the middle of the season affected corn pollination and overall crop production; but prices are high and organic promises an excellent return to management, with organic corn selling for $12 a bushel and food-grade organic soybeans reaching $22 a bushel. The demand for organic foods has not ceased, even during the recession.”

Craig Chase said that the time to transition into organic is as good as ever. With conventional commodity prices so high, even with a lower yield during the two-year transition to organic, farmers will have the buffer of high conventional prices; and can apply for Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and certification cost-share programs, according to Chase. Iowa currently ranks tenth in the nation in the number of organic farmers.

2011 organic conference agenda details

An all-organic lunch, featuring local organic chicken, squash, broccoli, onions, tomatoes and apples transformed into a gourmet meal by the ISU Dining Services (DS) will be served at the conference. According to Nancy Levandowki, DS director, Iowa State students see the value of eating more sustainable foods, and are willing to pay a small premium to support family farms and the environment. One of the examples of food sourced for ISU Dining Services is the Wills Family Farm of Adel. Organic ‘Liberty’ and ‘Redfree’ apples produced by Maury Wills, head of the IDALS organic division, will be used in apple tarts topped with organic cinnamon ice cream for conference-goers.

In addition to 12 workshop sessions, 25 educational and industry exhibits will be on display at the conference. Vendor set-up and reception begins Sunday, Nov. 20, from 5 to 7 p.m.; the full conference starts with a 7:30 a.m. registration on Monday, Nov. 21, at the Scheman Building in Ames. The complete agenda is available on the conference website: www.ucs.iastate.edu/mnet/organic11/home.html.

Registration and additional conference information also is available on the conference website. For information about the program content contact conference coordinator, Kathleen Delate, at 515-294-7069 or kdelate@iastate.edu. For information about registration, contact registration services at registration-info@iastate.edu.

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PHOTO: (1.9 MB) Rolling rye and planting soybeans, a no-till organic concept, will be discussed at the conference.