Sustainable ND: SARE fellows visit the state
GRAND FORKS — Stacey Jones and Michael O'Donnell believe strongly in sustainable agriculture and are committed to learning more about it. Their first visit to North Dakota helped them do that.
"This is a great opportunity. There's a lot to see and learn," Jones said.
Jones is area specialist agent for greenhouse and nursery crops with the North Carolina State Extension. O'Donnell is Extension educator for organic and diversified agriculture with the Purdue Extension in Indiana.
They were among the eight Extension officials who visited North Dakota during the week of Sept. 25 in a fellowship program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education, or SARE.
SARE, split into four regions, is a competitive grants and outreach program. In the fellowship program, two Extension officials from each region visit different states to learn more about sustainable agriculture there.
North Dakota is a leader in sustainable ag, though state residents may not always realize it, said Karl Hoppe, area Extension specialist/livestock with the Carrington (N.D.) Research Extension Center. He led the fellowship group touring the state.
"We have so much diversity in sustainable ag. Those of us who live and work here sometimes just take that granted," Hoppe said.
One drawback, however: North Dakota's small population works against organic farmers developing sizable in-state markets, he noted.
Sustainable ag — of which organic is only a part — is defined in different ways by different people and organizations. Hoppe said SARE, for its part, sees three components in sustainable ag: environment, profitability and society.
"All three are necessary for sustainability," he said.
The SARE fellows made several stops in northeast North Dakota on a cool, rainy day Sept. 26. The group was scheduled to visit central and western North Dakota on Sept. 27-28, meeting farmers, ranchers, extension researchers and Native Americans.
Corn and soybeans are common in Iowa and part of the Corn Belt, and some agriculturalists associate the state with conventional farming. But sustainable ag is winning more attention in Iowa, O'Donnell said.
His advice for conventional farmers interested in sustainable ag: start small, connect into a network of people with experience in sustainable ag, and experiment initially "on your best ground, not your worst."
Jones assists primarily large commercial growers in 28 North Carolina counties. The greenhouses she works with raise ornamental plants sold at garden centers and home improvement stores. The nurseries with which she's involved grow trees and shrubs.
When Jones first became a SARE fellow, she wasn't sure if what she learned in North Dakota and elsewhere would transfer back to North Carolina growers.
"But there have been quite a few times when I was visiting my growers — and while it wasn't the exact situation, it was a similar situation — I was able to go back to something I learned in SARE," she said. "It's really amazing that, if even if you're growing ornamental plants, something to do with livestock can be pretty applicable."
Asked for an example, she said, "Water would be the largest issue. Whether it's runoff from a dairy or runoff from a nursery, there's a lot of similarities with water and erosion."
Both she and O'Donnell encouraged other extension officials to learn more about SARE and the fellowship.
The organization's web site is www.sare.org.