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Improving Organic Farming Systems and Assessing Their Environmental Impacts Across Agroecoregions


The goal of this project is to provide research-based organic farming systems support and information applicable to local and regional organic farm systems. <P>We will focus on four aspects of organic farming systems that were identified as crucial by our stakeholders: 1) nutrient and weed management, 2) antioxidant production in organic grains and seeds, 3) biodiversity conservation and farm assessment, and 4) on-farm research capability. <P>This multi-dimensional approach will allow the project team and cooperating farm operators to make progress toward developing organic farming systems that are adapted to the diverse agroecoregions of the Great Plains and in compliance with the NOP Standards. <P>Project objectives, developed in collaboration with our Citizen Advisory group stakeholders, focus around the four certified farming systems. Objectives:<ul> <LI> Determine a) the effect of organic amendments on crop performance under organic production on organic farms, b) determine the interaction between general fertility levels and integrated weed control, c) assess nutrient balance on farms, d) use extension outreach to raise knowledge within the organic community on exported nutrients.<LI> Evaluate an integrated organic approach for weed control based on mechanical cultivation and/or flaming in corn and sunflower. <LI> Determine the effects of organic farming practices on antioxidant levels of at least two cultivars of organically grown crops compared to conventionally-grown check varieties in four Nebraska agroecoregions.<LI> Quantify the effect of organic management on breeding success of regional farm bird populations and institute long-term ecological monitoring on organic farms. <LI> Incorporate outputs of objectives 1-4 into the Healthy Farm Index. <LI> Advance and deliver the Healthy Farm Index to organic farmers as a model for farm assessment and structured decision making in organic farm management. <LI> Establish and provide the guidance, encouragement, and technical support required for the sustainability of three organic farmer research groups in Nebraska

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Non-Technical Summary: Research and extension professionals at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL Organic Working Group) in response to the growing demand for information on alternative production systems and input from our organic farmer advisory groups will continue to develop organic farming systems and recommendations adapted to the diverse agroecoregions of the Great Plains. The team will utilize four certified organic research sites across Nebraska and a network of private organic farms established through the previous grant to focus research and outreach on four farming system issues that have been identified as crucial by stakeholders: 1) nutrient and weed management, 2) biodiversity conservation and quantifying impact on natural resources, 3) antioxidant production in organic grains and seeds, and 4) on-farm research capability. Using standard research protocols it is anticipated that the nutrient and weed management research will provide specific recommendations to organic farmers concerning nutrient flows on their farms and the optimum use of non-mechanical (flaming) weed management practices. The impact of management on biodiversity will be quantified, and using the nutrient and weed management results made available to growers through the development of a structured decision support system being developed as the Healthy Farm Index (HFI). Management impacts on antioxidant production in grains will be determined and the results incorporated into the HFI. Three organic farmer research groups will be organized to encourage improved organic production. <P> Approach: Research will take place on 3 university farms, 16 cooperating organic farms and 9 additional farms (on-farm research groups) across Nebraska. Nutrient studies will focus on the impact of manure on the nitrogen and phosphorus on crop productivity with the goal of defining the nutrient flow of N and P. Manure, soil, crop and weeds will be sampled. Interaction with weed populations will be determined. Weed levels will be managed with inter-row cultivation and flaming with and without manure applications. Newly designed hoods for the flamers will be assessed with visual ratings of weed populations. Antioxidants levels and bioactivity of grains produced with all treatments will assessed with standard procedures. Avian biodiversity of the16 cooperating farms will be assessed, breeding bird success will be determined and related land-use and land cover patters at the field, farm and landscape scales. Long term monitoring of avian diversity on 8 of the 16 farms will be initiated using remote recorders managed by cooperating farmers. Results from the nutrient, weed management and biodiversity studies will be incorporated into the Healthy Farm Index. Three, on-farm research groups will be established to enable farmers to conduct independent research of interest to them. Each group will be mentored by experienced Extension educators. The goal is to move to self-sustaining groups assisted by local Extension educators.

Shapiro, Charles
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
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