cows in field

Field Days 2010


An interested crowd learning about MOFGAÕs 5KW wind turbine.

NODPA’s 10th Annual Field Days Wrap Up

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Exec Director and Nora Owens, NODPA Field Days Event Coordinator

Added November 15, 2010. NODPA’s Annual Field Days and Producers’ Meeting took place at the height of the autumn color on October 7th and 8th in Unity, Maine at the wonderful Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s (MOFGA) Common Ground Fairground and Education Center. We could not have chosen a better venue or a more helpful and welcoming host.

The program started at 1:00 pm on Thursday with a new feature for Field Days: interactive displays, demonstrations, workshops and tours showcasing practical examples of renewable energy on the farm. Before departing on the mobile wind and solar tour, participants had an opportunity to see the Small Farm Methane Digester and hear about it from its operator, Jeff Bragg who uses it on his Rainbow Valley Farm. Woods End Labs’ Will Brinton was on hand to answer questions and discuss its merits for a family size dairy farm. Upstairs in the library, a workshop on Oilseed Production took place with a slide show intelligently narrated by the dulcet tones of NODPA President Henry Perkins. Following these sessions, everyone headed out on the tour. Despite the winter weather and light rain, attendees filled the buses that took them on a tour of MOFGA’s wind turbine, Half Moon Gardens Solar Thermal System and the nearby 4.5 MW Beaver Ridge Wind Farm in Freedom to hear from retired organic dairy farmer Ron Price about how these three grid-scale turbines interface with his ongoing farming business on the same property. Ron also shared challenges of which farmers should be aware, such as neighbors’ concerns and municipal impacts of wind turbine installations. Some participants skipped the tour and participated in a PowerPoint presentation on conducting an energy audit; a workshop about USDA NRCS’ resources available to farmers; or went on the MOFGA Solar and Cool Bot Tour let by MOFGA’s Vern LeCount. The schedule included many repeat sessions of these workshops so that everyone could participate.

Following the afternoon activities, attendees gathered for the social hour and a very full trade show. While feasting on delicious cheeses, crackers, vegetable plates, cider and punch, everyone visited trade show booths and networked with fellow attendees. At the same time, many folks watched the documentary film, What’s Organic about Organic?, being shown in the library. The documentary was very well received and many viewers purchased a copy to take home. At start of the evening’s dinner, Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director, got up from his sick bed to welcome attendees and gave some history of MOFGA and the beautiful building housing our event. He managed to start the process of corralling participants, infamously difficult, to stop chatting with each other and eat a wonderful local meal prepared by Crosstrax Catering. After dinner, Maine’s Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture, Ned Porter, gave welcoming remarks and introduced the head of the National Organic Program (NOP), Miles McEvoy, with a humorous story about the production of organic marijuana in Maine. Miles gave a great keynote speech on the structure and priorities for the NOP and answered questions from the audience with a clarity and assurance that illustrated his long history with organics and his knowledge of the regulations. In responding to questions, he urged organic producers to communicate with the NOP directly, or through NODPA, their concerns about regulations or how the regulations were being interpreted and implemented. Those attending took full advantage of having the head of the program with them in person.

The NODPA business meeting kicked off with special presentations to outgoing president Henry Perkins and retired USDA NOP Director Richard Mathews, acknowledging, in different ways, their years of dedication to ensuring the success of organic agriculture. The late John Rutter was formally honored with a presentation that recognized his service to organic dairy and his legacy as a steward of the land and leader in the field of organic farming. Ed Maltby presented the NODPA Year in Review and updated everyone on FOOD Farmers’ supply management work. After listening to feedback from previous years about how tired farmers were by the end of the first day of these meetings, we moved the Producer-Only meeting to 7:00 am, the following day. Instead, we ended the evening by having an open meeting on setting NODPA’s 2011 priorities. A lively discussion pursued and participants raised the following:

  • That NODPA should be involved in advocating for a third party to decide what is the right standard for deciding cost of production, similar to the non-organic dairy industry. Standardize the criteria across the regions and how to judge what is fair across all the regions
  • Scientific research on safety standards quality
  • Peer mentoring from some of the leaders and pioneers in the organic dairy industry. We need the next generation to understand the history of organic dairy.
  • Many producers did not come to the Field Days because they could not find good coverage/relief help.
  • A strong and stable organic grain market (less volatility). Have a summit of organic grain and dairy producers.
  • Producers need to make themselves familiar with the regulations
  • Effect of ethanol on organic corn

Rick Segalla, NODPA President, taking a closer look at the
Solar Thermal System at Half Moon Gardens

An early continental breakfast chock full of delicious bakery goods, fruit, juices and plenty of coffee greeted those attending the Producer Only Meeting at 7:00 am Friday morning. During that time, other meeting attendees were able to view a second showing of What’s Organic about Organic? The full meeting began at 9:00 am with a Pasture Rule presentation and Q & A session with Miles McEvoy and Melissa Bailey, NOP’s Standards Division Director. They answered questions and shared information about the implementation of the Access to Pasture Rule, Origin of Livestock and ‘The Age of Enforcement.’ More about this session can be found on page 10 of the newsletter.

From 10:30 to noon, Ed Maltby moderated a session on supply management with a panel featuring Lawrence Andres, Canadian organic dairy farmer, Travis Forgue, Organic Valley farmer and Board member, and Ed’s perspective as a member of the USDA’s Dairy Industry Advisory Committee. Discussion focused on the various options that have been used/may be used, and how the non-organic dairy proposals for change now being discussed will affect organic dairy farmers. The outcome of these discussions will be taken to the national Federation of Organic Dairy Farmers (FOOD Farmers) committee on supply management.

After a delicious lunch and annual door prize drawings, our featured speaker, Lawrence Andres, organic dairy farmer and owner and president of Harmony Organic Processing, Ontario, Canada, presented a short video on his farm and processing operation in Ontario and then spoke on calf care, with a special focus on nurse cows and optimal cow comfort, driving home the point that paying close attention to the cows and what they are communicating will always result in the best care and most productive farm.

Next, Mary Ann Hayes of Maine Rural Partners moderated a panel discussion entitled “What’s In Your Farm’s Energy Tool Room?” Farmers Jeff Bragg, Anne Weston, Lance Gatcomb and Henry Perkins, and applied technology educators from Farm Energy Partners Mick Wormsley (Unity College) and Andrew Plant (University of Maine Extension) shared their experiences using wind, solar, manure, oilseeds and grass in new ways. The panel, which looked at energy as a potential asset on a dairy farm, each shared stories of energy innovation journeys, many with surprising twists and turns; and provided practical answers to questions from the audience.

Rounding out the afternoon was Heather Darby, Agronomist and Nutrient Management Specialist with University of Vermont Extension, who brought great energy to the topic of renewable energy and the production of small grains and oil seed. She shared practical information and current field-based research that indicates how local farmers have a significant opportunity to produce more of their own liquid fuel, livestock feed, and other high value co-products through oilseed crop production in a crop rotation that is compatible with forage production.

The Field Days ended late Friday afternoon but not before everyone had an opportunity to network with industry personnel, fellow farmers, certifiers and USDA NOP’s current and former leaders. We were all fortunate to have a wide array of learning opportunities, great local food and good conversation in a warm and wonderful setting at the main hall of MOFGA’s beautiful Education Center.

Thank you to all our wonderful sponsors who made this Field Days possible: Horizon Organic, Lakeview Organic Grain, Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative, American Organic Seed, Farm Energy Partners, Fertrell & Fedco, Unity College and Hannaford Supermarkets.