The University of Minnesota announced earlier this week it has approved a plan that will create new resources and programs for sustainable and organic agriculture. This is the result of an overall increase in funding for agricultural research and outreach that the University received from the 2007 Minnesota Legislature.
The Land Stewardship Project worked to secure funding for this work from the 2007 Minnesota Legislature and provided input to the University on how to effectively allocate it, meeting this winter with Beverly Durgan, Dean of University of Minnesota Extension, and Allen Levine, Dean of the U of M’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. (To listen to a recent podcast featuring Minnesota farmers talking about the need for organic and sustainable ag programs at the U of M, click here. It’s episode 46.)
“This is an important investment in a quickly growing segment of agriculture that needs more research and outreach from the University,” said Florence Minar, an organic dairy farmer in New Prague and member of the Land Stewardship Project’s State Policy Committee. “Organic and sustainable agriculture production systems are attracting new farmers and new students to study agriculture, while helping existing farmers stay in business.”
Many of Minnesota’s small- and medium-sized crop and livestock operations are searching for markets that fit their systems in order to remain profitable. Sustainable and organic production offers that potential. However, there are challenges to profitable sustainable and organic production that the University can be a leader in addressing.
“The University is committed to meeting the needs of all of agriculture and that includes sustainable and organic farming,” said Durgan. “There are growing opportunities in sustainable and organic agriculture and we want to help Minnesota be a leader in realizing this potential.”
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, “organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture for over a decade.” Minnesota is a leader in organic production. Economic Research Service data shows that in 2005, Minnesota was fourth in the nation in organic cropland and fifth in the number of organic farms. There are about 560 certified organic farms in Minnesota, as well as more than 170 certified organic processors that turn organic raw materials into organic food and feed products, according to recent Minnesota Department of Agriculture estimates.
“Organic food and agriculture is growing quickly and the University wants to provide the science needed to support that growth,” said Levine.
The new resources for sustainable and organic agriculture includes:
- Establishing a faculty position at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences focused on organic and sustainable food systems.
- Making the alternative livestock coordinator position at the University an ongoing position within University of Minnesota Extension. This position has helped provide critical assistance and information to farmers raising livestock.
- Establishing a faculty position at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton devoted primarily to organic crops.
- Providing funding for two or more graduate assistantships for organic research and extension.
- Establishing an organic dairy herd at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris.
In addition, Deans Levine and Durgan are exploring the creation of an Organic Advisory Task Force comprised of organic farmers, University faculty engaged in organic research and outreach, and members of the organic business community.
“This is a smart use of resources and all Minnesota farmers can benefit from it,” said Minar. “The Organic Advisory Task Force can be one critical link between the University and the organic agriculture community.”
Rep. David Bly of Northfield, a leader at the Legislature in passing the funding increase for sustainable and organic agriculture, was pleased with the University’s announcement.
“This is a good start on meeting the growing needs of organic and sustainable farmers,” said Bly. “Consumers are demanding this food, paying a premium for it, and farmers are profiting. That’s a model we want to promote.”