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Montana Ag Network: transitioning to organic

Posted at 4:08 PM, Dec 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-06 18:26:42-05

GREAT FALLS — The National Center for Appropriate Technology along with some nationally recognized organic leaders made their way to Great Falls as part of the Organic Academy Road Show (OARS) training.

During the event, beginning farmers and ranchers in Montana got the chance to learn more about regenerative, certified organic production systems for livestock, grains, oilseeds, and pulses.

"The Organic System Plan is our opportunity as organic farmers to map out how are we going to identify those challenges that are going to be inherent to organic farming," said Belgrade farmer, Nate Powell-Palm. "Be it weed or pasture disease control, how we're going to buy organic feed, how we're going to manage organic livestock. All of that gives us a roadmap for how we're going to execute this over the, three-to-five-year rotation that we have on our farms. It also gives organic certifiers a clear idea on what's going on in the farm so that they can be sure to have an idea on paper, as well as something to check when they actually do their on-site inspection."

The event consisted of intensive training sessions as well as one-on-one technical assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, Consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown significant growth since the 1990s.

"There is such a demand for organic," said Margaret Scoles, Executive Director for International Organic Inspectors Association. "It's growing every year in the United States that we are importing a shocking amount of organic food when we should be producing it ourselves."

While the Organic System Plan was the main topic of discussion, that led to the importance that livestock plays in organic farming.

"When you think about the first product that an organic consumer might reach for, it's usually milk and eggs," said Powell-Palm. "It's the new mom who says, 'how do I buy the best food for my kids?' Those are the staples. Livestock is the drive of the organic industry because it consumes so much grain and it is so directly soluble. You don't have to process it very much to get organic eggs and milk to the consumer. It's a very recognizable product."

The OARS sessions are part of the three-year federal Beginning Farmers and Rancher Development Program, "Preparing a Resilient Future," in partnership with the Montana Organic Association, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Center for Rural Affairs, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, International Organic Inspectors Association, North Dakota State, and University of Wyoming.

The project targets medium to large-scale field crop and livestock operations, unlike most programs focused on beginning farmers and ranchers. This project was selected in a national competition under the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program funded through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.