As part of a training session, the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association helped some students and community members learn about organic farm management.
Held at the Schmeeckle Reserve visitor center on Oct. 6, the training was designed to introduce agriculture and land conservation professionals to organic farming. Throughout the day, participants explored ways to help landowners who are practicing, transitioning to or interested in producing food without synthetic pesticides.
A United States Department of Agriculture grant funded the training, and professionals from several agencies presented about regulations, certification and supportive programs in addition to technical information.
“Organic farmers kind of approach agriculture a little bit differently,” said Harriet Behar, senior organic specialist of Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. “When they come into their county conservation office, they’re almost speaking a different language.”
The USDA regulates organic accreditation, and the process of certification can be difficult, she said.
Behar started off the training with information about regulation and transition processes and said many differences exist between conventional and organic agriculture.
“They see nutrient management in a much more holistic way,” Behar said. “Organic farmers really look to feed the soil, not the plant.”
The number of Wisconsin farmers shifting toward organic production is increasing, so agriculture and land-use professionals need to stay updated to assist landowners, said Kelly Jacobs, land conservation division supervisor of Eau Claire County.
Jacobs was the opening speaker and began the day by asking attendees what their level of experience was and what they hoped to learn. The idea was to set some goals and determine areas to focus on.
Most of the professionals already had experience working with farmers, who are familiar with traditional assistance programs, but wanted to be well-versed in the organic sector.
“What do we need to be aware of as conservation professionals?” Jacobs said. “How can we pair the programs for conventional farms with organic?”
Chris Schlutt, outreach coordinator for Wisconsin Land and Water, said more consumers are interested in local and sustainable agriculture, which is one reason farmers are making the switch.
“I think people are going to farmers markets and learning to appreciate where their food comes from,” Schlutt said. “It’s a very positive thing.”
Wisconsin land and water hosts several events and programs throughout the year covering a variety of topics, and Schlutt encouraged students looking to enter the agriculture field to consider attending.
“We’re always looking for ways to reach out to people, including college students,” Schlutt said.