Organic Agriculture Grows in Iowa

ISU course offers information on transitioning to organic production


AMES, Iowa – Organic agriculture continues to grow in Iowa, with the state boasting the sixth-largest number of organic farms nationally and ranking 10th in total organic sales. The state’s 800 organic farms produce $103 million toward the farm economy.

Richards family standing in soybean fieldFarmers looking to transition to organic production need specialized training that can be provided through an Iowa State University course titled Transitioning to Organic Agriculture. The 16-week course was taught during the Spring 2017 semester by Kathleen Delate, professor and extension organic specialist in horticulture and agronomy at Iowa State, and was available both to students on and off campus through a classroom setting and online. Forty-four people took the class, which was offered not only to Iowa State undergraduate and graduate students, but to interested farmers who sought to increase their knowledge about organic agriculture.

“This class is designed to inform people on the best practices of transitioning to organic production,” Delate said. “Its objectives include training in organic certification, nutrient management, pest management, livestock production, economics, organic grain, vegetable and fruit production and government programs to support transition.”

Jane Richards, along with her sister Beth, are working to transition their family farm to organic production. Jane enrolled in the class to learn more about land stewardship and how they can transition a farm that previously had been a conventional crop operation.

“Taking this class helped me learn about organic grain farming and whether that might be a feasible option for us,” Richards said. “Organic grain farming no longer seems like an impossible undertaking. Any conventional farmer interested in organics should participate in this class. I think they might be surprised how useful and thought-provoking the information is. They will gain a new perspective from which to evaluate their current operation, which given the current farm economy is particularly valuable.”

The course also allowed Amber Testroet, a graduate student in sociology at Iowa State who enrolled in the course, to meet with Richards throughout the semester.

“Working with an actual producer was a fun part of the course,” Testroet said. “Meeting Jane and learning the challenges one faces when transitioning a farm from conventional to organic can be daunting without some assistance, which has been provided through this class.”

In a post-course evaluation, 84 percent of those who took the course rated their knowledge of organic regulations as very good or excellent, a significant jump from the 75 percent of students who began the class rating their knowledge as fair to poor. Additionally, 40 percent of participants stated they would begin or continue organic farming after the course, and 50 percent had interest in organic research or working with an agency helping organic producers.

The class is offered every two years and will be available again in 2019.

PHOTO: The Richards family is working to transition their farm from conventional to organic agriculture.