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Deepen your Knowledge & Your Topsoil by Attending our No-Till Track at the 2019 Winter Conference

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 December Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell, NOFA/Mass Education Director

Learn about tillage reduction from other farmers at the NOFA/Mass Winter Conference.

Here’s an interesting fact: there is approximately 15-20 times as much land under conventional (herbicide-dependent) no-till farming in the United States than there is total acreage under organic management, tillage-based or otherwise.

According to an article from The No-Till Farmer, “As of 2012, there were more than 389 million acres of total cropland in the U.S…. with 96 million acres falling under no-till practices for all crops — up from about 88 million acres… estimated in a November 2010 report.” But recent numbers ontotal acreage under organic management of any kind have ranged from 5 million acres (2017 USDA Agriculture Census Data) to 6.5 million acres (Mercaris Acreage Report).

The majority of acres in organic management rely on plowing, harrowing, stale bedding and bare-soil cultivation methods, so no-till organic farms are rare, and usually very small. While the buzz around no-till small-scale farmers like Jean Martin Fortier and Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser is huge, the actual amount of acres in no-till are ‘probably negligible’ according to everyone I’ve asked. Whatever the actual number is, it’s too small for the USDA Ag Census or any other agency to bother tracking, as there was no data available that I could find.

Of course, those ‘negligible’ no-till acres probably produce more than their fair share of food-- check out this related article for more on that topic. For now, let’s talk about the fact that organic no-till farms are lagging behind conventional no-till farms by orders of magnitude! How can we change this?

One way is for farmers and homesteaders to learn best practices in tillage reduction from farmers who have been trialing and experimenting and honing effective systems on their own farms.

NOFA/Mass is committed to exploring the practices, systems, science, and theory of organic no-till farming, and helping Northeast farmers develop and share methods for reducing or eliminating tillage. In fact, we received a 3-year NRCS grant to work with farmers who are innovating in reduced till and no till systems to track soil health gains, pest and disease pressure, and to teach other farmers how to adopt successful methodologies. Some of these farmers will be teaching in no-till tracks at our Winter Conference for the next three years, along with the many other innovative no-till farmers also trailblazing in the local organic no-till scene.

2019 NOFA/Mass Winter Conference No-till Track

So who is on deck to teach about no-till this year? Here is the lineup:

Instructor:  Julie Rawson.  Certified organic farmer at Many Hands Organic Farm since 1982 where we integrate everything.

Workshop:  The Evolving No-Till Farm (All Levels)

After 4 years in various stages of tillage reduction on 2 acres (vegetable crops integrated with animal rotations and perennial crops) we are still learning. 2018 delivered excessive rain in July-August after heavy April snow followed by drought in May-June. I will share our ongoing evolution as we strive to be more successful and mindful in our care of the land.

Instructor: Joy Gary  Former manager of ReVision Urban Farm; works in small farms and community development.

Workshop:  No-Till Tomatoes in the Intensive Small Farm (Intermediate)

In this session we'll discuss proven methods for growing healthy and delicious tomatoes without tillage.  We'll dive deep into selection, care, and harvesting of tomatoes, and touch on methods for getting a continuous harvest July through October.

Instructor: Jack Kittredge.  Jack has been a certified organic farmer for 30+ years and is editor of the NOFA journal The Natural Farmer.

Workshop: The Hows and Whys of Fungal Friendly Farming (Introductory)

Soil biology—especially fungi—play a critical role in plant health. This workshop will center on the importance of fungi in the farm ecosystem and will describe ways of helping fungi thrive while producing healthy crops and maintaining farm viability.

Instructor: Chuck Currie. Runs Freedom Food Farm, a 90-acre four-season certified organic farm producing meat, grain, produce & eggs in Raynham, MA.

Workshop:  Reducing Tillage at Freedom Food Farm (Intermediate, Advanced)

At Freedom Food Farm we have been working to reduce our soil disturbance on our 10-acre scale, and have made some strategic changes to our crop residue and bed preparation practices. In this workshop we will go into detail on our mechanical practices as well as the practices we are trialing (solarization, no-till) in our hoophouses and high-rotation areas.

Instructor: Jen Salinetti. Co-owns a regenerative, no-till, bio-intensive vegetable farm, CSA and education center in the Berkshires.

Workshop: Systems & Methods of Regenerative Farming for Carrots & Lettuce  (Intermediate)

Learn the essentials of bed prep in a no-till, permanent bed system for both direct seeded crops and transplants. Dive deeper into our comprehensive system for successive crop production of carrots and lettuce to learn how to maximize yields while growing nutrient-dense and beautiful food.

Other Workshops by No-till Farmers and Homesteaders

Some farmers who practice no-till will be teaching about topics that are not directly about soil management, but you can still learn a lot about soil health from them-- and the soil-health-centric philosophy infuses and informs everything these presenters do. So check out:

Workshop: Balancing Plant Nutrition in a Time of Climate Disruption (All Levels)

Farming is becoming more difficult as seasonal weather patterns become increasingly erratic. This talk draws on skills from traditional agronomy, biodynamic principles, and visual assessment to help growers to make decisions about increasingly unpredictable field situations.

Instructor: Bryan O'Hara. Bryan O'Hara, Has grown vegetables at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT for 25 years.

Workshop: Crop Health Improvement Through Foliar Spray Application: Materials & Practices (Advanced)

Foliar application can be very beneficial to the overall health of crops, and therefore yields and profit. We will cover the basics of various materials, preparations, and application of appropriate materials for specific crop situations. Herbal extracts, biodynamic preparations, and mineral materials all blended with thought and intention.

Instructor: Bryan O'Hara. Bryan O'Hara, Has grown vegetables at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT for 25 years.

Workshop: Guerrilla Propagation Tactics for the Backyard Farm (All Levels)

Growers often feel compelled to copy conventional wisdom regarding planting dates, seeding protocols, and transplanting routines. But what happens when you the break these “rules”? Dan will describe his opportunistic propagation and season extension methods for growing year-round food on marginal space, in low tunnels and cold houses, using little machinery, capital or fossil fuel.

Instructor: Daniel Botkin.  Owner/operator of Laughing Dog Farm, a permaculture-inspired, backyard farm and teaching space in Gill, MA.

Workshop: The Climate Battery Greenhouse: Planning, Installation & Resourcing (Advanced)

The Climate Battery is a low-input heat transfer system for greenhouse temperature control. This relatively simple technology reduces fuel inputs and increases plant health by providing a more moderate temperature than venting alone. In this workshop, we will discuss in detail the planning and building of a greenhouse that incorporates the climate battery system.

Instructor: Jim Schultz.  Co-owns Red Shirt Farm in Lanesboro, MA.

You can also check out other great soil health and eco-farming topics like Agroforestry & Permaculture and on our Tracks List, or you can browse the workshops by schedule.

Share & Connect at the NOFA/Mass Winter Conference

Even if you’re not a farmer --of carrots or other crops-- there is an abundance of value at the 2019 Winter Conference. We have three intensives:

The Principles and Science of Developing Regenerative Agriculture Ecosystems with John Kempf

Mushrooms as Medicine: Growing Culinary and Medicinal Fungi with Alex Dorr

And Planning a Traditional, Four-Square Kitchen Garden with Christie Higginbottom

Check out our Intensives Page for more information.

We will have a keynote on the connection between crop nutrient value, soil health, and crop health from John Kempf and a strong overall program of 60+ workshops with wide-ranging topics including silvopasture, herbal infusions for immunity boosting, building a mobile pasture chicken coop, equity and anti-racism in the food system, understanding your gut microbiome, seed saving, MA agricultural hemp regulations, and season-extension for various scales (from garden to medium-scale vegetable farm).

As always, we will have a great children’s program, a wonderful local organic lunch, and lots of great activities like a seed-swap, meetups on various topics!

Early bird deadline ends on December 15th! Register now at https://www.nofamass.org/content/2019-registration

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