Seems like every time we put out a feeler about
Extension and organic, we get a reaction. We recently
ran a piece by Elizabeth Lamb, a State Specialist
in Extension at the University of Florida, listing
four ways organic growers could help Extension
be more effective. (See 4
ways organic & sustainable producers can help
extension serve them better.)
We got two long responses, one from Cornell Extension,
and one from a worried organic grower. We decided
to share both of them with you, and keep the Extension
discussion cooking. In this piece, Jim Ochterski
of Cornell Extension in New York reports on the
results of a meeting held earlier this year where
organic growers and state Extension shared ideas.
When Jim sent it to me by email, he said, “Seeing
the online articles about the hot / cold relationship
between organic farms and Extension, I would like
to add an article I wrote for the Northeast Organic
Farming Association of NY magazine, published
Spring 2003.” It would be interesting to
see how other Extension programs stack up to Cornell
in terms of the services they provide.
For an opposing perspective on Extension and
John C. Simmons’ piece. Simmons is an
organic grower from North Branch, Michigan.
As always, we welcome your comments. Tell us
how you feel on this or any topic. keep the dialogue
Chris Hill, Executive Editor NewFarm.Org
As cold winds
blew outside the Candor Fire Hall in late February 2003, sixteen
farm operators (mostly organic), four regional Cornell Cooperative
Extension Educators, and representatives from Northeast Organic
Network (NEON) and NOFA-NY gathered to exchange ideas about
programs and services that Cornell Cooperative Extension can
offer in South Central New York. Knowing that many organic
farmers have distanced themselves from the Extension system,
we sought out those suggestions that could be of greatest
practical benefit. Our conversation was lively and wide-ranging,
and included the voices of all present.
One thread of understanding running through this meeting
was that, at times, Extension has not been recognized for
providing useful information to organic farmers. By fine-tuning
the questions asked of Extension, and the answers provided
by Extension, a new level of cooperation could be at hand.
Here is an example:
Can you give me recommendations for controlling X beetles
Old answer: Probably not, but
we can give you an IPM approach.
New question: Can you help
me identify and understand the life cycle of the X beetle,
so I can devise a way to reduce crop damage?
New answer: Yes . . . let's
figure out the bug, go over the life cycle, and consider possible
Honestly, the answers you can get from Cornell Cooperative
Extension will vary from region to region, based on staffing
levels, staff experience with organic production, and the
priorities of the local offices. Nonetheless, organic farmers
and Extension can build up to higher levels of communication,
idea exchange, and consumer education.
Below are some of the points addressed in the South Central
New York organic farm / Extension regional meeting. They are
intended to expand your understanding of what organic farms
can expect from the Cooperative Extension system.
What Extension is
already providing to organic farmers:
- One-on-one assistance with pest identification, understanding
pest life cycles, and soil health concerns.
- Extension newsletter articles about cultural practices
that apply to organic farming. Occasional pieces about other
- Cornell web site visits for articles and information.
- Soil testing and recommendations for soil amendments that
do not specify source of nutrients.
- Occasional farm visits, though not enough to be a significant
Extension activity so far.
- Organic Dairy Farm Business Summary.
- Arranged farm tours and non-production farm workshops
(business planning, marketing, grants).
- Recommended varieties for fruit and vegetable plantings.
- Irrigation and pond management recommendations.
- Documentation of "what works on farms" (Sustainable
Agriculture Research and Education model of technology transfer).
Topics listed as
priority by organic producers at this meeting:
Consumer education & marketing
- Providing buyers with a clearer explanation of organic
farming and reasons to purchase locally grown food.
- Nutrition comparison between organic and non-organic food.
- Display-exhibit about encouraging consumption of local
- Dealing with plant diseases and insects - especially during
outbreak years when pressure is high
- Lack of good organic options for some of the major pests
especially when pressure is high (flea beetle, Colorado
potato beetle, and potato leaf hopper)
- Herd health; fly control around livestock, worming organically,
- Apple thinners
- Fact sheets for organic pest management
- Irrigation and water management practices
- Frost protection ideas
- Dealing with weather, hoop house use, and crop planning
for weather fluctuation.
- Cover crop choices, benefits of cover crops, timing of
tilling, nutrient value.
- Seed production and breeding
Cooperative Extension can do for organic farmers (coupled
with assistance noted above):
- Identify troublesome pests and provide understanding of
pest life cycles.
- Soil sampling and testing for optimum soil health.
- Improve communication about what Extension is offering
- Focus on existing strengths of Extension system to assist
- Avoid positioning Extension as authority on organic production.
- Educate public about the decisions they make as consumers.
- Avoid being "wishy-washy" when asked direct
questions about conventional versus organic and sustainable
Suggestions for a
more successful relationship between Cornell Cooperative Extension
and organic farmers:
- Extension staff should visit organic farms.
- Have additional regional meetings to gather and prioritize
ideas and projects.
- Host meetings for specific commodity needs vegetable,
dairy, livestock, fruit, and integrated systems.
- Include organic information in newsletters.
- Educate consumers by promoting organic home gardening;
educate children about food choices and eating local and
- Circulate lists of information sources for organic producers.
These ideas are forming the basis of improved
Extension outreach to organic farms in South Central New York.
If you have additional items to add, please keep us all informed.
Comments about this article can be directed to Jim Ochterski,
Cornell Cooperative Extension - South Central New York Agriculture
Team, (607) 535-7161, email@example.com