Extension Ag Update
November/December 2002
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University of Illinois Listening Sessions Conducted with Organic Growers

Listening sessions were conducted as part of the ongoing process of University of Illinois Extension and the University of Illinois Organic Task Force to obtain farmer input on research and outreach programming needs. Two listening sessions, one in Lincoln and the other in DeKalb, were conducted this summer. People participating in the listening sessions identified a need for education and research in areas such as increasing consumption of locally-grown food, reducing pesticide drift problems, interpretation of local and national regulations, and information on transitioning to organic agriculture and the future of organic farming as more corporations try to buy into this niche market.

Listening session participants also identified a need for consumer-friendly, easy to access directories, including organic farmers, supplies, consultants, and markets; along with information on machinery and implements necessary for organic farmers. There were a number of issues (i.e. pesticide drift, GMO pollen) related to the "interface" between conventional and organic producers that needed further research and education. Information on alternative crops (i.e. amaranth, mulberries) is needed so farmers can move away from the corn/soybean model and disconnect from farm subsidies.

Farmers at the listening sessions felt that the University of Illinois should be coordinating field days and on-farm research related to organic agriculture. It should encourage farmer participation in research and recognize the research already being conducted by organic farmers. There were a number of concerns about the funding sources and focus of current University of Illinois research. Also the participants felt too little UI research farm acreage was dedicated to organic farming.

Overall, participants in the listening sessions were willing to give the University of Illinois a chance to play a role in organic research and education, but want to see some results soon. Examples of outcomes the Organic Task Force is starting to foster include organic field days, on-line databases, participatory research with organic farmers, and a directory of local organic farmers, farmer markets and specialty stores, and allocation of land on the South Farms to organic research. For further information or to provide input contact the Task Force Co-chairs Martha Bazik bazik@uiuc.edu or 309/796-0512, or John Masiunas masiunas@uiuc.edu or 217/244-4469.