Organic Broadcaster

Full-day Organic University builds farming skills

By Audrey Alwell, MOSES

Experienced farmers, researchers, and agriculture professionals will present in-depth, practical information on specific farming topics during Organic University Feb. 27, 2020, just before the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The 10 classes run from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Early registration opens Dec. 3 with classes priced at $160, a $60 discount off onsite tickets.

Each class comes with a custom-made resource book with space for notes. New this year, participants can select a full-color ebook as a “green” alternative to the standard black and white spiral-bound books.

For more information about each class and registration, go to

Rotations for Reduced Tillage & Resilience
Sound and strategic crop rotation plans set the foundation for successful organic grain production. Creating a purposeful crop sequence that integrates cash crops, cover crops, and soil-building phases can reduce weed and pest pressure, improve soil fertility, and decrease the need for tillage.

Erin Silva teaches and researches organic cropping systems at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and leads the OGRAIN training program. Brian Luck specializes in biological systems engineering for University Extension. Dave Campbell is a longtime organic farmer from Illinois. John Wepking is exploring organic small grains on his Wisconsin farm.

This group of experienced professionals will walk you through strategies for creating resilient and functional rotations that build soil while maximizing ecosystem function. They’ll address crop selection, cover crops, and the equipment that can help you reach your goals.

Financial Impact of Organic Grain Transition
If the premium prices for organic grain have grabbed your attention and you’re considering a switch to organic, you need a clear picture of your path forward. This class will help you understand the opportunities and challenges in the organic grain market and give you tools to forecast your potential profits and prepare for a smooth transition.

Paul Dietmann is a senior lending officer at Compeer Financial, a member-owned rural lending cooperative that’s part of the Farm Credit System. He is a co-author of the book Fearless Farm Finances: Farm Financial Management Demystified, which you’ll receive in this class. Jim Munsch, a grass-based beef producer, is one of the developers of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Compass” software tools that help producers analyze their operations to make data-driven financial decisions.

They’ll walk you through crop budgets, cash flow projections, and financing options for the transition process, and introduce some handy decision-making tools. They’ll be joined by a panel of farmers who recently transitioned to organic and can share advice to help smooth the path for new growers.

Conservation Programs to Support Organic Farms
Organic standards emphasize protecting and improving the natural resources of agricultural land. Fortunately, there are many conservation programs farmers can tap for either technical assistance, financial support, or both to achieve their goals. These programs can support a wide variety of conservation efforts, such as creating wildlife and pollinator habitat or addressing erosion and water quality issues. There is even a program that repays farmers to have a planner help write a farm’s organic transition plan and guide the farmer through the process. Unfortunately, many farmers aren’t aware of the help that’s available. This class aims to change that.

You’ll hear from Brian Pillsbury, who has worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for 22 years; Karin Jokela, an organic farmer and a pollinator conservation planner with the Xerces Society; Chuck Anderas, a MOSES organic specialist who has been working with NRCS agents to explain organic production and farmers’ support needs; and, Mark Doudlah, an organic farmer who used several conservation programs as he transitioned his Wisconsin farm to organic production.

Whether you are transitioning to organic, wanting to improve your existing organic farm, or working with farmers to implement conservation practices, you’ll find this class provides the details you need to pair these valuable programs with the work you’re doing on the land.

Healthy Small Ruminants
Learn the principles of small ruminant health from Gianaclis Caldwell, author of Holistic Goat Care and the Small-Scale Dairy. She’ll explain how small ruminants developed from their wild ancestors to today’s working farm animals and how you can use that knowledge to meet your animals’ primal needs for a high-functioning, healthy, and more profitable herd or flock. Her practical approach will cover not only how to manage your animals’ nutritional, physical, and psychological needs, but also how to mimic the genetic strengths of natural selection as you develop your herd.

Gianaclis will help you understand small ruminant anatomy and physiology so you can care for your livestock. She’ll discuss feeders and fencing, pastures and paddocks, parasite issues and control methods, and culling options. She’ll also provide an in-depth look at health intercession measures, and much more.

Five Steps to a Fair Farm
Social justice and workers’ rights are essential to a sustainable food system. By empowering everyone on your farm, you can strengthen your farm’s resilience as well as its capacity to produce food that meets the highest standards of food safety. Join the movement of family-scale farms following Agricultural Justice Project guidelines and show that you run a fair, safe business.

Elizabeth Henderson is with the Agricultural Justice Project. She farmed at Peacework Organic Farm, one of the earliest CSAs in the country, and has written several books on sustainable farming. Luke Zigovits farms at Higher Level Organic Farm, the first-ever certified fair trade hemp farm in the world.

They’ll explain the principles of food justice—fair pricing, health and safety, conflict resolution, fair employment policies—and demonstrate the value of those principles for farms like yours. You’ll come away with draft fair labor policies for your farm, a checklist to assess your policies, and the foundation for a comprehensive health and safety plan—everything you need if you want to apply for Food Justice Certification.

Managed Grazing for Healthier Dairy & Beef Herds
The quality of your pastures impacts rumen fermentation and the health of your animals. When you understand the biology behind this relationship, you can make management decisions that benefit your animals, pastures, and human health.

Greg Brickner is a veterinarian and grazing specialist for Organic Valley. He has been practicing management intensive grazing for 33 years. He’ll explore the relationship between bovine genetics and plant genetics to help you understand how pasture fits into your herd’s total ration. He’ll teach you how to recognize plant characteristics at proper maturity to make the most of perennial swards. He’ll cover the use and limitations of annual forages and give you tools for problem-solving during weather challenges. He’ll also arm you with mineral supplementation strategies.

Come with aerial maps of your farm and pastures to calculate standing dry matter to ensure your pastures are sized correctly to meet your herd’s ration requirements.

Start a Producer-Owned Cooperative
The cooperative model works well in rural America. If the local infrastructure isn’t supporting your operation, a producer-run cooperative can be just the ticket to getting the job done. This class will put your cooperative on the path to success, covering the fundamentals of cooperative principles, structure, governance, and finances.

Kelly Maynard works for the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. FL Morris is a certified organic farmer and founding member of the newly formed South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative. Rod Ofte is an organic livestock producer who helped start the Wisconsin Grass-Fed Beef Cooperative.

They’ll walk you through the steps for starting a new cooperative, including key questions to ask, common stumbling blocks, and decisions you’ll need to make. They’ll look at scenarios from their co-ops and other producer-owned cooperatives to explain the challenges faced by real businesses and strategies to meet them.

Whether your cooperative is still a dream or something you’re actively planning, you’ll find this class relevant. Work through your ideas and leave with a rough business outline and actionable steps.

Manage Your High Tunnels for Long-Term Success
Nearly 20,000 high tunnels have been built in the U.S. over the past decade. These high-value growing environments require specialized management to maintain productivity and profitability season to season.

In this session designed for experienced high tunnel growers, you’ll learn how organic management strategies and rotation choices can affect soil health, nutrient management, water salinity, and pest pressure.

Hallie Anderson has been growing year-round in heated and unheated high tunnels on her farm in Minnesota since 2011. University of Minnesota horticulture professor and researcher Julie Grossman is leading a multi-state federal research grant to improve soil health in organic high tunnels. Anne Pfeiffer provides hands-on support for this research. Cary Rivard is an Extension specialist managing the high tunnels program for Kansas State University.

They’ll help you understand the issues involved in high tunnel soil management and offer tools, tips, and tricks you can use to increase the long-term sustainability of your valuable high tunnel production system.

Strategies for Successful Organic Tree-Fruit Production in Midwest
Raising organic tree-fruit is tricky in the Midwest where growers must manage more insects, diseases, and weeds than in arid regions. Timely management and a clear understanding of the pest complex of tree fruit are essential to the success of small and midsize orchards.

Wisconsin apple grower Rami Aburomia, owner of the certified organic farm Atoms to Apples, is a grower-educator with the University of Wisconsin’s Beginning Apple School. Peter Werts of the IPM Institute of North America works with commercial orchards to implement Integrated Pest Management systems and conservation practices.

They’ll share their knowledge of horticultural, nutrient and pest-management practices and explore how different production systems, variety selection, and the local marketplace influence organic-pest management, to help you grow a bountiful crop of organic tree-fruit in the Midwest.

Highs and Lows of Growing CBD Hemp
The robust demand for CBD hemp products is creating opportunities for farmers who grow hemp for CBD. Along with huge potential, this newly reclaimed crop has some challenges. You need solid information from experienced growers to be sure this is the right crop for your farm.

Leah Sandler, the education director and research agronomist at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, has been growing and researching hemp since 2015. She joins farmers Patrick McHugh and Dylan Bruce to explain best practices for CBD hemp from planting through harvest, as well as strategies to manage pests, mold, and fertility. They’ll also talk about processing hemp for CBD oil and accessing the market.

Before you jump into the “green rush,” join this discussion of lessons learned and pick up tips to avoid the pitfalls that can happen when growing CBD hemp.

Audrey Alwell is the MOSES Communications Director.



From the November | December 2019 Issue


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