Organic training for Montana's agricultural technical service providers

For the past 15 years, Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) members throughout Montana have been experimenting with and developing sustainable and organic production and marketing systems. This network of farmers and ranchers has been openly sharing their work with other interested producers and agriculture service providers. Although we have seen a tremendous increase in Montana acreage transitioning to sustainable and organic practices, most agriculture service providers (by their own admission) lack the background and understanding to assist farmers and ranchers wishing to incorporate sustainable and organic practices on their farms and ranches.
Our goal for this project was to increase Montana’s county and state agriculture technical providers’ knowledge of sustainable and organic principles and practices through informative, hands-on collegial training settings. A statewide network of informed agriculture service providers is critical for continued adoption of organic and sustainable principles. We gained a considerable measure of success in this arena through the efforts of this project.
AERO and a collaboration of partners hosted fourteen sustainable and organic field tours in 2003, ten field tours in 2004, organized a statewide training for agriculture service providers 2003, and hosted two “transitioning to Organic” risk management workshops in 2005. AERO was also a principle sponsor and collaborator for two statewide organic conferences, one in 2003 and the other in 2005. Sustainable agriculture and organic principles relating to dryland and livestock production were the main focus of the tours, trainings and conferences. Over 750 total participants attended the tours, trainings and conferences over the three-year period of this grant. Participants included Montana Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Extension, land grant researchers, Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), farmers, ranchers, economic development corporations, Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) staff and related for-profit and non-profit businesses and organizations.
A summary of accomplishments for this project include: highly effective evaluation & assessment that continually fed into improving the outcomes, innovative and participatory educational venues, collaborative leadership between farmers and ranchers, multiple agencies and non profits, and broad participation with over 750 individual attendees.
Matching support for this project was provided by Western SARE, Montana NRCS, Washington State University Center fo Risk Management