OARS Scholarship Recipients Share Experiences

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With funding support from Ceres Trust, OFRF awarded 20 scholarships to help with the cost of attending the 2017 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium held earlier this year in Lexington, Kentucky. Scholarships were awarded based on the need and merit of applicants.

Scholarship recipients were asked to submit a write-up of their experiences at the conference. Here are a few excerpts from their reports.

Aspen Hattabaugh from the University of Georgia: Dept. of Crop and Soils, Sustainable Ag. Lab

The presentations spanned a wide range of topics pertaining to organic and sustainable agriculture, which was great, because I learned quite a bit of new information over my two days in attendance. It was also pretty neat to have such a mixture of professionals and students together. I met people who worked for extensions, who were new to farming, who were fellow grad students focusing on different areas of research, and who were professional researchers. It’s fascinating to see various research projects and ideas and the progress different people have made in their respective fields! It can be easy to find yourself “stuck” in a niche of whatever branch of Ag science you specialize in, but conferences like this pull everyone from their different branches of research together to see the whole picture. The scholarship offered made it easy to attend and present research, which is wonderful for graduate students like myself. Thank you for the opportunity to attend this symposium.

Christina M. Bavougian, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska Lincoln

I enjoyed learning from the diverse group of participants at OARS! The topics ranged from industry-wide perspectives to specialty/niche crop production issues. Of particular interest to me were the presentations on cover crops and mulches. These strategies have inspiring potential to reduce labor required for weed management in organic systems, and also to lessen conventional growers’ reliance on synthetic herbicides. I also appreciate OFRF’s work to identify the priorities of organic producers. This information will help to inform future research and extension efforts at the University of Nebraska.

I really valued the opportunity for networking after a break from academia and as someone relatively new to the field of organic agriculture research. The symposium helped me to see the connections between my emerging professional role as an organic ag researcher and my personal commitment to supporting local, sustainable food production. I’m very grateful for the funding assistance from OFRF, especially since fiscal uncertainty and budget cuts at the state and university levels have made travel difficult.

Patrick Banks, Madison Area Technical College

As a new student of organic sustainable agriculture, I did not know what to expect coming into the 2017 OFRF Symposium. On the initial meet and greet, I felt a little intimidated by all the various scholars and educators of the broad field that is sustainable agriculture, but I quickly learned that every field of the expansive topic was well represented. From professors to grad students, to scientist and economists and then ultimately to farmers and aspiring farmers like myself; I quickly became at ease in attending the conference.

The education that was presented at this year’s OFRF Symposium is unparalleled to any classroom setting that I have ever had. Attending conferences like this allows for great networking for aspiring farmers like myself. The connections I made with my fellow peers at the conference is just as important as the information offered at the symposium. I look forward to following the progression of the experiments presented and I hope to attend the OFRF symposium again in the future!

The first session started off with presentations on soil health. I found the University of Georgia’s grad student, Kishan Mahmud, and his work with Microorganisms in broiler compost particularly interesting. I believe with further research and opportunity, there could be a big break through with composting with microorganisms and could hopefully lead to overall healthier soils. 

During session two, I enjoyed learning about new approaches to pest management. Who knew that simply putting a bag over a peach could decrease its chance for disease while maintaining its complexity and flavor? I allowed my mind to wander and thought maybe this practice can be taken to other fruits and vegetables as well. I look forward to hopefully experimenting with this new found knowledge. I was also astonished to discover the break through that Ayanava Majumdar of Auburn had discovered with high tunnel pest management. To be able to maintain proper airflow while simultaneously keeping harmful pests out will prove most useful for any organic farmer.

Session 3 & 4 proved to be the most fascinating. One of my biggest pet peeves in sustainable agriculture is the waste of plastic mulch. I was excited to find out that there is work in progress to develop a biodegradable option for farmers. Even though it has not yet been developed, the information provided on how to know if the plastic mulch is biodegradable or not will help me throughout my future endeavors in practicing sustainable farming. Session 4 provided me with precise information on different kinds of organic farming systems. I was aware of No-till farming but was not quite certain on how it worked and David Robb’s presentation allowed for further understanding the benefits that no-till farming can provide for profitability and sustainability in organic farming.

Sessions 6, 7 and 8 presented useful information on how our society’s view of organic agriculture is shifting. Whether it be economic and geographical trends, to even adopting and experimenting with industrial hemp, attending these sessions confirmed that our societies view on agriculture is shifting to a more sustainable way of farming.

Jim Embry, Farmer, Madison County, Kentucky

As a new or beginner farmer my desire is to attend the conference to gain skills, obtain information, meet other farmers, gain networking opportunities all important elements for long term farm sustainability! Without the scholarship I would not have been able to attend. This day and a half symposium provided very practical information that can be applied immediately. Good organic production begins with health and fertile soil that can produce delicious products but also resist insects and infections.

Thanks again to Ceres Trust for making these scholarships possible.

View the 2017 OARS program and abstracts here.