Jan 10, 2014 at 11:27 am
ST. CLOUD (KNSI) - The word "organic" has become a hot ticket in recent years, and today, downtown St. Cloud is bustling with the major players in Minnesota's organic farming movement.
The 13th Annual Minnesota Organic Conference, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, brings together midwestern organic farmers, producers, consultants and technology specialists to learn about best and newest practices in organic farming at the River's Edge Convention Center.
Department of Agriculture Agronomist Meg Moynihan, the conference's organizer, says the two-day event includes 80-90 presenters on topics specifically geared toward people involved in the process of organic farming.
"It's not an organic lifestyle or consumer conference," Moynihan explains. "It's very practical - nuts and bolts - how to do organic agriculture, what's expected, marketing opportunities."
Moynihan says there has been a shortage of organic product in recent years around the country, and so the conference also connects producers with potential buyers they otherwise might not have found.
The conference has always been hosted in St. Cloud, which Moynihan describes as an accessible and central location for attendees.
It's a particularly central location for Glen Borgerding. He runs Ag Resource Consulting in Albany, which specializes in nutrient and manure management for livestock producers.
He says the, as the organic farming industry grows, the challenges it faces mount.
"The production methods tend to be more traditional - we rely less on chemicals and more on practices," he explains. "When you look at organic farming, you have to be proactive. You have to anticipate problems and how to avoid them, whereas in traditional farming, you're reactive. When you have a problem, there's spray to take that out. So, the value of a conference like this is that it pulls everyone together."
Challenges aside, organics thrive in Minnesota. Moynihan says the state was an early adopter of organic farming practices, and now boasts somewhere in the area of 725 organically-certified farms, some a few acres in size, and some thousands.
Moynihan says many traditional crops are facing challenges related to climate and pests, which has prompted some members of the organic community to dig into raising unusual products.
"We have a session here, run by farmers from North Dakota, on what we call 'ancient wheats," she says. "These are specialty grains - einkorn, emmer, spelts. You can find references to these in the Bible. There's interest in the food community in using new types of ingredients with an old heritage."
The conference runs throughout today and tomorrow. Moynihan says they expect between 500-575 attendees from around Minnesota and the Dakotas.
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