The long-term goal of this project is to provide individual organic growers with research-based tools and recommendations to guide them in selecting practices to optimize the conservation, greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation, and soil quality benefits of their production systems (ORG Priority 1); and to provide metrics relevant to organic production systems that allow growers to quantify environmental services, qualify for current cost-share programs or potential carbon credit programs, and predict optimal practices (ORG Priority 2). <P>The specific objectives proposed in support of this long-term goal are as follows: <P>Research Objectives: <ol> <LI>Evaluate the carbon sequestration potential of organic farming systems in comparison to their no-till and conventional counterparts in a variety of regions within the state of Illinois. <LI>Use on-farm research to critically assess and/or validate tools farmers can use to improve management of soil organic matter, soil and water quality, and nutrient use efficiency and to reduce their carbon footprint. <LI>Identify and refine tools or protocols that help a diverse array of organic farmers achieve their stewardship goals in a socially and economically viable manner. </ol> Education and Extension Objectives:<ol> <LI> Hold a conference to raise awareness among organic farmers and other conservation-minded growers about the potential for farming practices to contribute to carbon sequestration and other conservation goals, and about opportunities to benefit from conservation programs and carbon markets; and to develop contacts between farmers and agency/service providers.<LI> Provide online educational resources for organic and other conservation-minded growers about farming practices and their relationship to carbon sequestration and other conservation goals, and about supporting programs and markets.<LI>Develop a training module and supporting educational materials to train certified crop advisors, Extension educators, and other service providers about the role of organic and other conservation practices in promoting carbon sequestration and other environmental services, and about conservation programs, tools, and markets that can reward farmers for adopting these practices. </ol>Furthermore, an outreach effort will be implemented to make this information more available and accessible to farmers, Extension educators, and decision makers wishing to apply and improve organic soil management practices in order to achieve both conservation and production goals. Outreach objectives will be met through delivery of educational materials to raise awareness of C sequestration and other conservation practices by using conference settings, factsheets, webinars, and other web related resources.
Non-Technical Summary: This project quantifies the C sequestration potential and, thus, opportunities for participation in carbon trading markets of Midwestern organic grain production systems, in comparisons with their conventional and no-till counterparts, and critically assesses and validates the tools used by NRCS to rank applications for enrollment in the CSP. The results generated from farm surveys for the Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) and Soil Conditioning Index (SCI) out of RUSLE2 will be compared against direct measures of soil performance in organic, conventional, and no-till management systems. The education and outreach components of this project will deliver research results and address basic questions identified by our group of stakeholders. In addition, a conference on Organic and Carbon Sequestration and the development of training modules for Certified Crop Advisors, Extension educators, and other service providers will set the stage for other activities designed to promote awareness and increase stakeholder knowledge of C sequestration and other conservation goals, C markets, and their benefits. <P> Approach: Farm fields will be selected that are areas in which the Delta Institute has farmers enrolled in the Illinois Conservation and Climate Initiative, which is a voluntary C trading program, for the adoption of non-tilled management practices. Neighbor farmers working with organic and conventional management practices will be identified and asked to participate in the project. Soil samples from working farms will be taken in the spring before crop establishment. Samples will be used to 1) determine C sequestration, and 2) determine dynamic soil properties that can be linked to the soil and water concerns defined in the Natural Resources Conservation Services' Conservation Management Tool (CMT). Measures of organic matter and dynamic soil properties will be assessed in multiple soil depths. Samples will be taken in two consecutive years (first two years of the project) to allow us to capture information about field-to-field and yearly variability within farms as fields progress through their rotations. Participating farmers or field managers will be interviewed to gather data about their farming inputs, practices and infrastructure that are needed to run simple computational tools using NRCS tools for different habitats and farms. Surveys will capture data on field location, climatic information, drainage class, topography, tillage use, crop rotations (length, diversity, inclusion of cover crop within the rotation), water conservation, residue, nutrient, salinity, and irrigation. Associated outreach efforts will include organization of a conference on Organic and Carbon Sequestration, and development of internet resources posted through the eOrganic CoP. Materials will highlight research results and practical applications for producers and introduce guidelines for interactive use and interpretation of farm assessment tools and field indicators of soil resource conditions.