Organic Ag Specialist Uses Italian Sabbatical to Benefit Iowa Farmers

AMES, Iowa — Organic agriculture specialist Kathleen Delate went on sabbatical in Italy seeking information to benefit Iowa farmers.
Delate, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialist, professor in agronomy and horticulture and head of the ISU Organic Ag Program, spent the 2014 spring semester in Italy for her faculty Professional Development Assignment.
“My clients in Extension and Outreach are organic farmers and farmers interested in transitioning to organic,” said Delate. “Knowing what’s coming up in organic regulations, especially for those who want to sell in Europe, will help them meet this market.”
During her five-month leave, Delate worked in a lab dedicated to organic agriculture production and provided advice on the uses of roller/crimpers to researchers from the Center for Agricultural Research, the Italian equivalent of USDA-ARS.
“I collected field and lab data from research fields that used cover crops in organic systems,” said Delate. “The researchers were investigating the best methods to terminate cover crops, which would allow for satisfactory vegetable plant growth and yields.”
On-farm, or participatory research, is a relatively new concept in Italy, compared to Iowa where Delate’s program, for example, has hosted more than 30 on-farm trials since the start of the Organic Ag Program at ISU in 1997.
Four years ago Stefano Canali, a CRA scientist, spent his sabbatical in Delate’s lab, where she trained him in organic no-till practices. After Canali returned to Italy, he worked with local manufacturers to modify the roller/crimper to include an in-line cultivator used for terminating cover crops that also creates a furrow, a sort of trench that helps vegetable transplants be easily positioned — an operation that currently requires two passes in Iowa.
Delate was introduced to the new method this spring, and it is now being discussed with the ISU patent office. She believes it will be a great innovation for organic farmers in Iowa and that the system also will save farmers time and money.
Another project during Delate’s Italian sabbatical was a comparison of greenhouse gas emissions in organic and conventional farming systems that she conducted with CRA scientist Roberta Farina. “I was exposed to organic regulations from the European Union, which the United States follows and has a reciprocal agreement,” said the ISU professor.
Italy and the European Union are ahead of the United States in their regulations to reduce carbon emissions and help make global climate change less severe. “Italy has so much to offer the United States in terms of technological innovations and their role in developing European Union organic and climate mitigation regulations,” said Delate.
Delate observed the unpredictable weather patterns first-hand during her study period, which included a warmer winter and heavier-than-normal rains. An additional outcome of the sabbatical was Farina’s post-doc plans to conduct greenhouse gas emission research in Delate’s lab in 2015.
Delate said that she encourages all faculty to take sabbaticals to learn new skills and bring new information to help their clientele.
Photo on left: The roller/crimper with in-line cultivator crushing a cover crop of hairy vetch and rye before tomato transplants; the subject of a new patent with Italian researchers.
Photo on right: K. Delate discusses on-farm research plans with Italian farmers in Monsompolo, Italy. Organic artichokes in background.