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Conference focuses on growth of organic farming sector

The New Mexico Organic Farming Conference, to be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 to 18, at the Marriott Pyramid North in Albuquerque, is the Southwest’s premier conference for organic and sustainable agriculture.

The event is organized by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau and Green Tractor Farms.

“Organic farming is a growing sector of New Mexico’s agricultural industry,” said Patrick Torres, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service northern district department head.

U.S. Department of Agriculture studies show a growth from 67 organic farms in 2011 to 166 farms in 2014. According to the USDA 2014 Farm Census, 34,431 acres are certified organic in New Mexico, with a statewide value of sales at $34.4 million.

Crops include a wide variety of vegetables, as well as apples, grapes, blackberries and pecans. Also grown are field crops of hay, sorghum and wheat. Cattle and chickens also are raised with organic feed.

The conference provides a wide range of information for organic, and conventional, farm operations.

“Through this conference, farmers may obtain information that can help their operations to prosper,” Torres said.

The keynote speaker at the Saturday luncheon, which features an organic food menu, will be Paul Muller and Dru Rivers, partners in Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley in Northern California.

During the past 32 years, Full Belly Farm has strived to evolve a farm system that would serve as a healthy alternative to the conventional farm model. As partners, Muller and Rivers have helped create a 450-acre diversified organic farm that focuses on local/regional marketing; diverse cropping patterns; ecological health and diversity; soil building; carbon sequestration through cover crop management; innovative market strategies; growing new farmers through internships and new farm enterprises; and fostering vibrancy and beauty.

The farm received the prestigious Aldo Leopold Award in 2014 for outstanding conservation measures practiced on a farm.

During the two-day conference, 35 workshop sessions will focus on a variety of topics ranging from crop production, soil health, business planning and regulations impacting organic farming presented by NMSU Extension specialists and researchers, federal agency representatives, industrial experts and agricultural producers.

A fair with 38 exhibitors will share additional information with participants.

Among the workshops on Friday will be a session on hops presented by Rob Sirrine, Michigan State University senior Extension educator and co-founding member of the Great Lakes Hops Working Group. He will give an overview of hops production, including setup, trellising, fertility, pest and disease control, and basic cost information.

Continuing Education Unit credits for pesticide applicators and certified crop advisers will be available for some sessions. Master Gardener CEUs are not available.

Registration for both days of the conference is $110; individual days is $70. The Saturday luncheon is included for the first 650 to register. For more information, call 505-490-2822 or email sagefaulkner@yahoo.com.

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