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Economics, Ecology, and Education: An Integrated Approach to Ensure the Success of Organic Vegetable Growers

Investigators
Gibson, Kevin
Institutions
Purdue University
Start date
2010
End date
2013
Objective
Our long-term goal is to increase the number of economically viable organic farms in Indiana and the Midwest and to contribute to the growing body of scientific and economic knowledge regarding organic agriculture.

Our short-term goals are to identify economic and marketing constraints to the adoption of organic agriculture in Indiana and develop strategies to address these constraints, evaluate strategies to optimize soil-building and pest management, evaluate tomato cultivars, develop a training program for county Cooperative Extension personnel, and engage university students in organic agricultural practices and research activities.

Specifically, we will (1) assess economic opportunities for organic growers in Indiana and identify key barriers to transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture, (2) evaluate the effect of cover crops and intercropping on soil-building and pest management, (3) compare soil-building and pest management in two cropping systems, (4) conduct on-farm research to evaluate growth of tomato cultivars following cover crops, (5) evaluate interactions between tomato cultivars and soil microbes and identify suitable varieties for organic production, (6) develop, test, and implement a program to train Extension Educators to work with organic growers, and (7) develop teaching plots and a student-run organic garden that will provide students with hands-on opportunities to learn about organic agriculture and serve as living laboratories for existing courses in the College of Agriculture.

More information
Non-Technical Summary: The number of organic farms in the Midwest continues to increase. However, many new farmers have little experience operating organic farms and face steep learning curves. Research universities and Extension Educators can increase the success rate of new and existing organic farms by providing research-based recommendations for farm management practices, by helping growers identify markets and develop solid business plans, and by facilitating knowledge transfer from experienced organic growers to growers starting organic farms. The specific objectives of this project are to (1) assess economic opportunities for organic growers in Indiana and identify key barriers to transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture, (2) evaluate the effect of cover crops and intercropping on soil-building and pest management, (3) compare soil-building and pest management in two cropping systems, (4) evaluate the response of tomato cultivars to soil pathogens, (5) develop, test, and implement a program to train Extension Educators to work with organic growers, and (6) develop teaching plots and a student-run organic garden that will serve as living laboratories for agricultural courses at Purdue. Our project will facilitate the development of organic agriculture production, identify tomato cultivars for use in organic breeding programs, evaluate economic benefits to organic producers, and identify marketing constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture. Our project will also develop and implement education training programs and develop programs to address pests and pest-related problems.

Approach: We will examine the effect of cover crops, living mulches, and crop rotations on pests and pest management. We are particularly interested in reducing the need for manual cultivation in vegetable crops through the use of living mulch between crop rows and timely mowing. This novel approach has the potential to substantially reduce hours spent on manual cultivation for small-acreage farmers. We will assess the growth of current and heirloom tomato varieties, particularly their interaction with soil microorganisms, as the first step in developing a breeding program for organic production systems. We will develop, test, and implement a program to train Extension Educators to work with organic growers, and develop teaching plots and a student-run organic garden that will provide students with hand-on opportunities to learn about organic agriculture and prepare them for careers as Extension Educators. We will also conduct economic analyses of production costs and benefits and of current and potential markets for organic growers; we will make that information available to Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals who advise organic growers.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
IND011276G1
Accession number
222372
Categories
Education and Training
Commodities
Produce