Anonymous Gift Grows More Space for Organic Agriculture
Wisconsin is among the nation’s top producers of organic agriculture. It ranks second in number of organic farms, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state’s leadership in this area has spanned more than a decade, and demand for Wisconsin’s organic products continues to grow.
UW has 42 faculty and staff involved in advanced research and outreach who are committed to helping organic producers satisfy this growing appetite. For this purpose, they have access to more than 145 certified organic acres at multiple CALS research stations. But finding space for these projects can still be difficult.
“With the expanding number of research projects led by CALS faculty and staff, our certified organic land base was not sufficient to support the needs of researchers wanting to conduct research on certified organic land,” says Erin Silva, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology.
Fortunately, an opportunity to expand arrived not long ago. In 2018, the owners of 70 acres adjacent to the Arlington Agricultural Research Station offered UW the chance to purchase the land, and an anonymous donor gave CALS $500,000 to put toward the deal. CALS then matched the donation for a combined $1 million to purchase the land and boost its organic agriculture acreage.
“Organics is a growing program that needs more dedicated acreage to meet our research mission,” says Mike Peters BS’95, director of the UW Agricultural Research Station network. “We can do a better job having more robust demonstrations and options for visitors who come to the station to learn how they can adapt on their own farms some of the methods that our researchers are using.”
The new organic acres, which will be managed and stewarded as required by National Organic Program regulations, will allow the station to have more organic crop rotations and more space to compare organic and conventional methods. The expansion will also help the station engage with more farmers and other researchers through outreach programs and provide additional opportunities for students.
One research project planned for next season will investigate no-till organic dry bean production. This study builds on the UW organic team’s success in growing organic soybeans without tillage by instead using a winter rye cover crop as a weed suppression tool and utilizing a roller crimper to terminate winter rye.
“We hope to extend this work in the coming years to include growing dry beans under organic no-till conditions,” says Ben Brockmueller, a research specialist in the plant pathology department. “Dry beans are an emerging crop in organic markets, and our work looks to optimize their agronomic management by identifying varieties and seeding rates suitable for organic no-till production.”
Other projects slated for the new acreage include testing organic relay crop systems (in which crops are planted in close proximity with overlapping growing seasons) and developing organic no-till systems for corn. Pursuit of these and other studies is vital for the future of organic agriculture, Silva says.
“Research delivers valuable information, tools, and resources that help all farmers — both organic and nonorganic — increase the environmental and economic sustainability of their operations,” says Silva. “The continued growth of organic agriculture requires investment in research, education, and extension programs that provide sound information and assistance to America’s farmers.”This article was posted in Fall 2022, Food Systems, Health and Wellness, Healthy Ecosystems, High Yield and tagged Arlington Agricultural Research Station, Ben Brockmueller, Erin Silva, Mike Peters, National Organic Program, organic agriculture, plant pathology, UW Organic Collaborative.