Extension Educators Liz Bosak and Dave Hartman review this past year's Organic Field Crop Study Circles and share planned topics for upcoming meetings. This past year, Penn State Extension Educators have organized on-farm field days and study circles for the organic field crop farming community. Study circles use an unique format for farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange. This format is very popular with organic field crop farmers in Pennsylvania. When participants are asked in the post-event evaluation, "What information today was particularly useful for your operation?" or "Do you have any additional comments?", answers include: "Listen[ing] to participants", "looking forward to the next meeting", "great conversation, love open format", "hearing from farmers", "time well spent" et cetera.
In prior years, the Southeast PA study circles were organized by Mena Hautau, retired Penn State Extension Educator for Berks county and Tianna Dupont, former Extension Educator for Lehigh and Northampton counties. This year, Liz Bosak, based in Dauphin and Perry counties facilitated study circles in the Southeast and Southcentral regions. In February, organic field crop farmers met in Lancaster County to discuss how they use different equipment to manage weeds and prepare fields for planting corn, soybean, small grain, and forage crops. Participants for this study circle have over 3300 acres in organic field crop production. Based on participant suggestions, Agronomy 201 was selected for the next topic. Unfortunately, the Agronomy 201 study circle was cancelled due to a snowstorm that delivered about twenty inches of snow on March 14. We will kick off next winter with the Agronomy 201 circle discussion which will include the following topics: planting dates, seeding rates, planting depth, variety selection, and cover crop termination.
In March, for the first time, a study circle was held in Dauphin County to discuss growing and selling small grains. A wide array of topics related to small grain production were discussed including cover crops, mixes, disease identification, availability and efficacy of OMRI approved fungicides for small grains, locating markets for spelt, heritage wheat varieties and barley. Participants, representing over 1900 acres in organic production, decided to focus on organic crop marketing for next year's study circle in Dauphin County.
The Central Susquehanna study circle events, facilitated by Dave Hartman, were on February 23, 2017 and March 23, 2017 at the Bonanza Steakhouse at New Columbia in Union County. Participation at both events totaled 34 people. At the February meeting we focused on the main topic of tillage and weed control in organic systems. We discussed topics such as tine weeders, blind cultivation, roller crimping, moldboard design, optical guidance systems for cultivating, and weed control in new alfalfa seedings.
Based on input from the February 23rd meeting, the group decided to use the main topics of markets, post-market management, and cover crops as the topics for the March 23rd meeting. Within that framework we discussed cover crop mixtures, winter-killing covers, canola, hairy vetch feed value, and preferred cover crop mixtures. Andrew Smyre with Perdue Ag gave a brief presentation on his observations regarding organic transition for field crop growers as well as big picture organic grain market observations. We also discussed the newly approved hemp production projects which will include a project in Montour County which will compare seed varieties under different growing conditions (sowing, harvesting, growth, wellness, and yield); explore fiber uses, seed use for culinary oil, and end-user markets. The host farm is certified organic.