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January 31, 2003

Small farm conference offers big ideas for profit

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Low commodity prices are squeezing the life out of many small farms. To survive the market's lethal grip, more producers are turning to organic and other alternative crops.

A conference and trade show co-sponsored by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service in Tippecanoe County shows operators of small farms how to enter the growing organic industry.

The 2003 Midwest Small Farm Conference and Trade Show takes place Feb. 21-22 at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1401 Teal Road, Lafayette, Ind. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. both days.

More than 20 workshops will address topics ranging from producing organic grains to marketing products on the Internet. The trade show features companies that sell machinery or products to assist farmers in producing specialty crops.

Much of the emphasis is on organic crops, said Steve Bonney, president of Sustainable Earth Inc., a West Lafayette, Ind.-based organization that is one of the event sponsors.

"Organic farming is the primary focus, because that's a niche that is growing by 20 percent a year," Bonney said. "There's a lot of consumer interest in organics, and we're trying to link consumers with direct marketing. If farmers can find some kind of crop that appeals to consumers and can market it directly to them, it will bring them a higher return. This is a niche that continues to build loyalty among consumers, and we think it's a good opportunity."

Organic production requires the use of land free of agricultural chemical applications for three years, Bonney said. "Organic grain farmers have enjoyed substantial premiums for their crops. However, organic cropping systems require specific management strategies for successful production."

Midwest Small Farm Conference speakers include a mix of producers, agribusiness people, researchers and educators. Among them: a couple who grow organic grains and vegetables on 1,300 acres in western New York; an Indiana farmer who sells products direct to Chicago restaurants; a gardener who operates a solar greenhouse; and a beekeeper who controls mites without chemicals.

Three Purdue agriculture experts also will lead workshop sessions: Keith Johnson, Extension forage specialist; John Graveel, professor of agronomy; and Kirby Hayes, assistant professor of food science.

"Keith Johnson will talk about forage selection for year-round grazing. We think that's an important aspect to our grazing systems," Bonney said. "John Graveel is going to talk about soil basics. We think most of the farmers who attend these conferences don't have the proper background and understanding of how complex a soil system is. Kirby Hayes has a great understanding of the value-added process and how one looks at a product and takes that to market."

Two-day conference registration is $45 per person or $65 per family. Single-day registration is $30 per person or $50 per family. Those fees apply to registrations received by Feb. 19. All registrations after Feb. 19 are $10 more per person or family.

Admission to the trade show is free.

For conference registration or additional event information, contact Sustainable Earth at (765) 463-9366 or via e-mail at sustainableearth.steve@verizon.net. Information also is available on the Sustainable Earth Web site.

Sustainable Earth is a not-for-profit membership organization committed to the development of sustainable farming and community food systems that support family farms.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Source: Steve Bonney, (765) 463-9366, sustainableearth.steve@verizon.net

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web sites:
Purdue University Department of Agronomy
Purdue University Department of Food Science


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