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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Annual organic farming conference set for mid-February

ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico Department of Agriculture Secretary Dr. I. Miley Gonzalez will welcome organic farmers and producers to the New Mexico Organic Farming Conference being held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16 and 17, at the Marriott Albuquerque Pyramid Hotel, 5151 San Francisco Road NE, at Paseo del Norte and I-25.

Gonzalez, a long-time producer and supporter of organic farming, has worked to extend support to family-scale farmers in New Mexico as they face challenges ranging from water availability to finding appropriate markets.

The conference is organized by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission and Farm to Table, a non-profit, educational organization.

The keynote address will be given by Miguel Altieri at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Altieri, associate professor of agro-ecology at the University of California-Berkeley, has a worldwide reputation for developing the concept of agro-ecology.

Altieri defines his field of study as "the discipline that provides the basic ecological principles for how to study, design, and manage sustainable agro-ecosystems that are both productive and natural resource conserving, and that are also culturally sensitive, socially just and economically viable."

During the conference, 33 workshops will cover a host of subjects such as greenhouse diseases, record keeping, conservation easements, dairy goats, organic pig production, holistic management, pest management, saving seeds, small scale seed production, organic fruits and berries, organic certification and inspection, top vegetable varieties, cover cropping and tool maintenance, soil management and more.

Hands-on demonstrations will be presented in poultry, drip irrigation, Web site development, worms, bees and grafting fruit trees.

New this year will be three open networking sessions in the general subjects of livestock, crops and value-added products. These sessions are specifically intended to encourage networking between conference participants, to the benefit of all farm businesses.

"This is the premier organic agriculture production conference for the Southwest and is definitely a place to be if you're interested in being part of the organic industry," said Del Jimenez, agricultural specialist with NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

"This conference has been available to Southwest farmers for 18 years or so," said Le Adams of Farm to Table. "I found, when I was growing commercially, that it was the best place all year to learn the science, as well as the hands-in-the-ground tips, that help make growing in our less than ideal conditions successful. Besides the production information, it's also a great place to reconnect with fellow growers in this planning season."

"Organic farmers and ranchers are the caring stewards of over 75,000 acres of New Mexico's land, providing nutritious and delicious food for New Mexicans while building habitat for a diversity of wildlife, and creating a fertile soil that conserves water," said Joan Quinn of the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission. "In the past couple of years the numbers of farmers turning to organic methods has greatly increased as many conventional farmers transitioned to organic in order to access a market that is growing at around 20 percent a year."

Craig Mapel, marketing specialist for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, added, "During 2006, we saw the certification of the first two organic cow-milk dairies in New Mexico. For some family-scale farmers, organic transition provides the revenue farmers need to continue farming the land their families have cared for over generations. This conference brings together organic producers from around the Southwest to share information gained over decades of organic farming in the high desert."

Registration opens at 7:30 a.m. Friday. Cost for the two-day event is $100. Participants will be served snacks during both days and lunch on Saturday that will feature locally grown organic foods. For more information call (505) 841-9067 in Albuquerque or (505) 473-1004 in Santa Fe.