First Annual Wyoming Organic Conference marked as successful by attendees
Torrington – The University of Wyoming (UW), in conjunction with the University of Nebraska, sponsored the First Annual Wyoming Organic Conference at the Goshen County Fairgrounds in Torrington at the end of February.
“We had a variety of speakers at the conference, and in general, the feedback was very positive,” says Renee King, soil science PhD candidate for UW. “We had 40 attendees, and we really appreciate all the folks who came out for it.”
“They asked some great questions, and the conference was a great way to spend a Saturday to get geared up and excited about farming, growing food and agricultural in general,” adds King. “We had people from Nebraska and Wyoming, and we saw good regional presence at the conference.”
“We would like to make this an annual conference around the state, and there were a lot of requests to offer it again with more sessions,” says King.
Topics discussed at the conference dealt with the use of cover crops, soil fertility, organic weed control, organic small grain varieties, farm economics and market access for organic products.
“It was good to have people with a lot of experience to share their input with farmers who are either interested in going to organic farming or who have a lot questions about it,” describes King. “It’s also good to get information versus a producer trying to do everything on their own.”
Topics attendees wanted future sessions in the next organic conference to cover include smaller-scale organic horticulture production, livestock and an all-inclusive explanation on all organic processes and how to become organic certified.
“People really want to know more about what it takes to become certified organic,” explains King.
The idea for the conference was part of a requirement from a USDA grant King received for her PhD research in soil science at UW.
“Part of the grant requires an educational component where we share what we have learned from our research with farmers, producers or a targeted audience that is appropriate for the grant project,” explains King. “We knew we wanted to do some sort of conference that was educational to meet that grant requirement.”
Torrington was picked for the location of the conference due to the presence of organic farmers in that region of Wyoming and in neighboring Nebraska, as well.
“We tried to figure out issues farmers have questions about or need answers to and topics they wanted to learn more about,” states King.
The larger topics covered at the conference were cover crops and market access for organic products. These were topics King says people have a rising interest in and want to know more about.
Doug Crabtree, owner and operator of Vilicus Farms, covered the topics of cover crops and organic farming and talked about his success utilizing cover crops on his organic farm.
“They’ve had some real success using cover crops, and that was one of our more popular sessions with general feedback on what people learned,” says King.
Eric Arnould and Melea Press, former professors at UW, were also partners in the UW organic project. At the conference they shared their research findings on marketing analysis of organic products.
“We will definitely continue to explore market access because it is really difficult being an organic commodity producer,” describes King. “It’s completely different when producers go into the certified organic realm because they have to establish new relationships for selling and marketing their product.”
“They need to find outlets for their products, and it sometimes can be difficult to break into that group, or at least find that group they need to contact to sell their products and get them trucked out,” added King. “There is a lot of learning and relationships that need to be done to facilitate the marketing of organic products.”
The issue of organic market access is one that many people are unaware of, and King compares it to organic producers having to start over.
When market access improves in Wyoming, neighboring states and the region, it will benefit organic farmers significantly.
Another area King wants to explore and discuss more at another organic conference is the requirements to become organically certified.
“One of the issues with organic farming is that there is a lot of paperwork involved,” explains King. “It’s just part of the process and is an annual requirement by the National Organic Program (NOP).”
King states several people are well versed in all the paperwork and documentation of organic farming and how to regularly maintain all the things a producer needs to prove what they are doing on their farm to meet NOP requirements.
“When a producer first starts out, it can be overwhelming, and it’s nice to know what resources are out there to support people who want to move into that certified organic direction and see where someone was,” says King.
“It’s a very steep learning curve for some people, and it’s certainly not a farming approach that is going to fit everyone’s personality or management styles,” explains King. “The people who hate paperwork are never going to find the certified organic approach very beneficial.”