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Organic farming in Minnesota comes of age

Agreement will facilitate growth

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

When Ron Desens wanted to learn more about organic agriculture, he talked to other farmers.

There wasn't one place to go for information on organic agriculture or any great resources.

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That's changed in the 20 years since he started raising organic livestock and hay.

Today, a publication, the "Organic Broadcaster," put out by an organization in Wisconsin, is filled with information about organic agriculture and the University of Minnesota has conducted organic agriculture research.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota and its Extension Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency signed an agreement to share resources to serve organic producers in Minnesota.

Desens, who raises dairy beef, chickens, free-range veal, turkeys, geese and hay in Meeker County, is optimistic that the agreement will allow the agencies to dovetail their efforts. He's served on the MDA organic advisory task force for 10 years.

The task force advises agriculture commissioner Gene Hugoson, said Jim Riddle of Winona, who chairs it. Riddle is a consultant who trains organic inspectors and does organic policy work.

Riddle said the agreement should open the lines of communication between the organizations involved. As a result, a farmer could go to the local NRCS office for example, and be connected with resources provided by the Extension service, U of M, FSA or MDA.

Minnesota was one of the first states to have organic regulations -- they date to the mid-1980s -- and has been a leader in nurturing organic agriculture in many ways, Riddle said.

Organic agriculture isn't a fit for every farmer, but for those who are interested, it might be the ticket to higher prices, said Meg Moynihan, MDA agricultural diversification specialist.

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Moynihan was able to obtain federal grant money to set up six training sessions around the state to educate people who work with farmers about organic agriculture. The next session is July 12 in southeast Minnesota.

Although organic agriculture is growing rapidly, it is still a fairly small segment of agriculture, with 421 of the state's farmers certified organic.

Moynihan says the agreement will facilitate growth that was already going to happen in the organic industry and hopes it will result in less frustration and more communication.

Agri News is a weekly agricultural newspaper published by the Post-Bulletin Company, LLC.

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