2012 Search for Excellence National Finalists
Finalists of the 2012 SARE/NACAA Search for Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture program are:
North Central Region
Jill Sackett, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota
The Third Crop Program is led by the University of Minnesota Extension Educator – Conservation Agronomist funded by the non-profit Rural Advantage and the watershed group the Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance. The mission of this position is to increase citizen knowledge-base around conservation and sustainable agriculture principles and methods. The Third Crop Program is an example of this effort. The short-term objective of the Third Crop Program is to increase knowledge about third crops (alternative crops). This increase in knowledge is hoped to result in the mid-term objective of an increase in third crop acres. The long-term objective is an increase in water quality. There are two main program activities. The Third Crop Producer Meetings are a series of four meetings held each winter. The Third Crop Walk-n-Talks are a series of eight to 10 field days held each summer/fall. Primary teaching methods for the Third Crop Program include presentations, tours and visuals, and publications. Evaluations are conducted to guage program interest and value. Evaluation results have shown an increase in knowledge of third crops as well as increased use of third crops.
In the US, Florida has the highest percentage increase (27%) in number of small farms growing specialty crops. Consumers are demanding locally grown food yet the production and distribution is not able to meet this demand. In NW Florida, specialty crops have been successfully grown and marketed, however, production occurs only in the spring-summer growing seasons and a lack of local and regional markets has limited the specialty crop industry. To meet the need of farmers and then consumers, a partnership was formed between the West Florida Research and Education Center, UF/IFAS Extension, and Panhandle Fresh Marketing Association. The three partners together are working toward two goals: To increase the supply of specialty crops by extending the growing season to provide year round sales opportunity and expanding markets by providing farmers with a distribution system. Researchers are working to gather data on extending production under several protected culture systems, while Extension agents have hosted and are planning outreach programs to producers. Production during the first year was lower than expected, mostly due to extreme weather conditions, but significant progress was made in showing the productivity of a low cost production system (shade house, hydroponics, high tunnel). The team hosted four field days, several food safety demonstrations, and tours in 2011 and will be increasing outreach programs through the Extension agents in 2012. The team also hopes to increase the number of specialty crop farmers by 20% in 2012, thus opening more opportunities for residents or businesses to buy local.